Friday Figures: WVU’s True Problem, Mo Bamba’s Crazy Block Rate, More…

Posted by Chris Stone on February 2nd, 2018

Friday Figures is back after a brief hiatus to run down some of the most interesting statistics from the Big 12 conference. This week we’ll focus on West Virginia’s recent struggles, Keenan Evans’ outlier season and Mo Bamba’s soon-to-be record setting rim-protection.

West Virginia’s shot volume problem. Way back in November, this column made reference to the importance of shot volume for the Mountaineers. Simply put, Bob Huggins‘ squad shores up its lack of shot-making by taking more true shot attempts [FGAs + (0.44*FTAs)] than its opponents. Over the last three-plus seasons of the Press Virginia era, tracking the difference in true shot attempts for the Mountaineers and their opponents has become a seemingly reliable indicator for success. Take 12 or more than the opponent (demarcated by the grey line below) and West Virginia wins nearly 90 percent of the time. Dip below that number and it’s just 43 percent.

Source: Sports-Reference

Offensive rebounds and opponents’ turnovers are critical to creating the differential, but they’ve dipped below that magic number in all five of the team’s recent losses. Why? Iowa State, Kansas, TCU and Texas Tech all protected the ball. Those four games represent the lowest opponent turnover rates for West Virginia’s foes this season. Kentucky, meanwhile, rebounded 55.3 percent of its own misses, creating plenty of true shooting attempts of its own. If the Mountaineers are going to get right over the next six weeks, this is the issue they need to figure out.

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Take Me Home, Country Woes…

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 1st, 2018

Who knew that John Denver could predict the future? Fine, so West Virginia basketball probably wasn’t on the forefront of the late country star’s mind when he wrote his 1971 hit, but the title nonetheless aptly sums up the Mountaineers’ January performance. Bob Huggins‘ team had an absolutely dreadful month, illustrated by a 1-3 mark away from WVU Coliseum and punctuated by last night’s 93-77 defeat to eighth-place Iowa State — a loss as surprising as it was debilitating for West Virginia’s regular season Big 12 title chances. Throw in a second second-half meltdown against Kansas in as many years, and just like that, the team’s hopes of giving the conference a new champion for the first time in 14 years are dead and buried.

A 1-5 skid has Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers searching for answers. (Richard W. Rodriguez/AP)

We can point to a few factors when diagnosing the current skid. The first is a smattering of blown second-half leads. The Mountaineers held such advantages in their games against Texas Tech, Kansas and Kentucky, but let all three opponents overtake them and grab hold of the victory. On one hand, the abundance of high-quality competition in the Big 12 means that top teams aren’t fazed by their peers in any location, but on the other hand, perhaps the biggest distinction between the program that has a seemingly generational lock on the conference title and those that do not is a keen ability to close games out. A dip in effectiveness in West Virginia’s vaunted press has also betrayed the team, as the Mountaineers’ last six opponents have each posted turnover rates below the season-average 25.4 percent clip. As we saw against Kansas, when West Virginia’s opponents avoid mistakes, not only does their shot volume increase but the Mountaineers fail to score in transition. This correspondingly forces them to rely on their half-court offense, which has never been a particular strength.

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The 2017-18 RTC16: Week Eleven

Posted by Walker Carey on January 29th, 2018

It has become that time in the college basketball season when certain teams earn victories that indicate they will be a force to be reckoned with as the postseason nears. #2 Virginia scored one of the most impressive wins of the season on Saturday when the Cavaliers left Cameron Indoor Stadium with a 65-63 triumph over #5 Duke. Tony Bennett‘s squad is now 20-1 overall (9-0 ACC) with its lone loss coming on the road to #16 West Virginia in early December. In looking at the remainder of Virginia’s schedule, an argument can be made that the Cavaliers will be favored in each of their remaining games — is an 18-0 conference season in play? #10 Auburn continued to show its surprising season of success is not some kind of mirage, as the Tigers grabbed two dominant SEC wins over Missouri and LSU last week. Bruce Pearl‘s team is one of the best stories of this college basketball season, and all indicators suggest that Auburn will not trail off over the final portion of the regular season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty analysis is after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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What’s Trending: Weekend of Buzzer-Beaters

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 22nd, 2018

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

Earlier this season, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey made a fashion statement in Hawaii with a casual shorts and t-shirt look. Last week, Kansas head coach Bill Self decided to make his own fashion statement in the Jayhawks’ Big Monday game against West Virginia…

While Kansas ultimately got the victory, West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate had himself a one-man block party…

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Ten Questions To Consider: Weekend Adversity Ahead?

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 19th, 2018

As conference play continues this weekend, teams across the country are having to face different types of adversity. Here are 10 questions for games to be played over the next few days:

Michigan State Will Try to Right the Ship This Weekend (USA Today Images)

  1. Are turnovers killing Michigan State? Michigan State has lost two of its last three games and needed overtime to escape at home with a win against Rutgers. The Spartans were -18 in turnovers in those three games. They must limit their giveaways against an Indiana team that ranks second in the Big Ten in forced turnover rate during conference play.
  2. Will Wichita State bounce back from its first conference loss? In Wichita State’s first AAC loss of the season, the Shockers allowed SMU to shoot 76 percent on two-point attempts and 50 percent on three-point attempts. It was the fifth time this season in which Wichita State has allowed an opponent to score more than 1.1 points per possession — something that happened only four times last year. For Wichita State to win the American in its first year in the league, it will need to become more consistent defensively.
  3. Will Kentucky be able to follow up another loss with a win? After each of its previous three losses, Kentucky has returned home and won its next game. After falling Tuesday to South Carolina, Kentucky returns home to play Florida. Kentucky’s current SEC defensive efficiency of 104 points per 100 possessions is the worst of any group of Wildcats since Tubby Smith’s 2005-06 team. Their defensive struggles come from a season long inability to force turnovers, an area where Kentucky currently ranks outside of the top 200.
  4. How troubling is West Virginia’s offense? Since Big 12 play began, West Virginia’s offense has undergone a steady decline. The Mountaineers currently own the second worst offensive efficiency, effective field-goal percentage, and turnover rate in the conference. The Mountaineers will host a Texas team that held Texas Tech to just 58 points in its last game. Read the rest of this entry »
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The 2017-18 RTC16: Week Nine

Posted by Walker Carey on January 15th, 2018

It has reached that point in the college basketball season where you can identify teams that are playing below expectations. #9 Michigan State currently fits that bill. The Spartans possessed a great deal of preseason hype – and with good reason. They returned preseason All-America sophomore forward Miles Bridges, are coached by Hall-of-Famer Tom Izzo, and looked more than capable of easily dominating what was projected to be a down Big 10. Michigan State first began showing cracks in its foundation when it was dismantled at Ohio State last Sunday. The Spartans certainly did not right the ship this past week, as it had to survive a scrappy Rutgers team in a home overtime win on Wednesday before being outplayed throughout a 10-point home loss to rival Michigan on Saturday. There is certainly time for Michigan State to figure it out and once again look like the class of the Big Ten, but if that does not happen in relatively short order, it is going to be quite the climb for the Spartans to take home the regular season conference title. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty analysis is after the jump.

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Can West Virginia Keep It Together?

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2018

For a touch over three years now, West Virginia has experienced consistent success playing one of the country’s most unmistakable brands of basketball. Lest you call the Mountaineers’ pressing style a gimmick, they’re 93-29 over a period that includes two Sweet Sixteen runs, a Big 12 Tournament crown and one other finals appearance. But just like every Big 12 team other than Kansas, a regular season title has eluded Bob Huggins. The ‘Eers have been right in the thick of the race over the last two seasons, finishing second in both, but while banking on the Jayhawks to cede the regular season league title remains a sucker’s bet, West Virginia absolutely has the pieces on hand to finish the job in 2018.

Jevon Carter (left) doesn’t care how quickly Trae Young is rising up the draft boards.
(Ben Queen/USA TODAY Sports)

Though their competition in the run-up to league play was not great, the Mountaineers are nonetheless are off to a 14-1 start with zero losses since Opening Night. Their resume includes an early December win over Virginia that has only escalated in value, and a victory over Oklahoma that doubled as a reminder that Trae Young — as talented and electrifying as he is — is also a human who occasionally has to share a court with the one-man defensive juggernaut that is Jevon Carter. As the unrelenting heartbeat of the Mountaineers, Carter has continued to improve despite the consensus that he first played for Huggins in the old Big East. As good as Carter already was — the senior guard was an All-Big 12 Second Team selection last season — he’s improved his game on both ends, increasing his steal rate, assist rate, ability to draw contact and free throw proficiency. Additionally, in a system that relies on non-stop activity, depth and fresh legs, Miles has played 83 percent of the available minutes during the young conference season.

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The 2017-18 RTC16: Week Eight

Posted by Walker Carey on January 8th, 2018

This weekend in college basketball was defined by a number of major programs suffering surprise defeats on the road. To kick off Saturday’s loaded slate of games, #10 Xavier — which had not lost since late November — was upended at Providence. Later that day, #14 Arizona fell victim to the back half of its Pac-12 “mountain road trip” and dropped a surprising three-point loss at Colorado. In the nightcap, #5 Duke continued to display why there are lingering concerns about the team’s defensive performance in an 11-point loss at NC State. The conference chaos carried over to Sunday afternoon when Ohio State used a late first-half run to post a dominant performance in an 80-64 victory over #4 Michigan State. Conference play is now in full effect, so road losses should not surprise anyone. One reason why we all remain so enamored with this sport is because most teams can rise to the occasion in their friendly confines. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty analysis is after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Play Heats Up

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 6th, 2018

As we turn the corner into 2018 and settle into conference play, let’s examine 10 questions heading into a busy weekend.

Texas Tech Looks to Build Off Its Huge Upset Win in Allen Fieldhouse (USA Today Images)

  1. Big 12, Part 1: Will Kansas leave Forth Worth with one or two conference losses? While Kansas was picked once again to win the Big 12 in the conference’s preseason poll, the Jayhawks are in serious danger of losing two of their first three conference games. Earlier this season, head coach Bill Self noted that “this is the softest team that Kansas has had since I’ve been here. Things have not improved since those remarks as Kansas currently owns the second worst defensive efficiency in the Big 12 and ranks last in opponents’ rebounding rate through two games.
  2. Big 12, Part 2: Who will stay undefeated at the top? While Trae Young shines every night out for the Sooners, Oklahoma has also received consistent contributions from his sidekicks Kameron McGusty, Christian James and Brady Manek. West Virginia will represent the Sooners’ second opponent this season with a defensive efficiency within the top 50. The Mountaineers will get an offensive boost with the return of Esa Ahmad, who was second on the team in scoring last year.
  3. Big 12, Part 3: Should Texas Tech be concerned with Kansas State? After beating Kansas in Lawrence earlier this week, Texas Tech is riding high with a 2-0 record in Big 12 play. With games to come next week at Oklahoma and versus West Virginia, it would be easy to overlook a Kansas State team that lacks a true marquee win. But the Wildcats have four double-figure scorers and are a year removed from having already beaten Texas Tech. Beating Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse was a program-defining win, but it will lose some of its luster if Texas Tech fails to show up against Kansas State.
  4. How will Notre Dame look without Bonzie Colson? While Notre Dame did not miss a beat without the services of an injured Bonzie Colson against NC State, the Irish must now deal with a tricky road game against the Syracuse 2-3 zone.‘s Jeff Borzello reported earlier this week that Colson — who accounts for approximately a quarter of Notre Dame’s points and rebounds this season — is likely to miss eight weeks with a foot fracture. TJ Gibbs stepped up with 22 points in the Irish’s first game without Colson, his fifth time with at least 20 points this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Friday Figures: Home Court Advantage, West Virginia’s Press & Baylor’s Offensive Woes

Posted by Chris Stone on January 5th, 2018

Friday Figures is a (somewhat) weekly feature where we look at some of the most intriguing statistics from the Big 12. This week, we’re diving into the Big 12’s home court advantage (or lack thereof), Bob Huggins’ preseason fib and what’s ailing Baylor.

Home-court advantage ain’t what it used to be. That home teams in the Big 12 have only won two of their 12 contests so far is one of the more startling figures to come out of early conference play. Obviously the first 12 games have been dramatic, but maybe it should not be a big surprise that visiting teams are winning more often. Over the past two seasons, the league registered the first- and third-worst conference home win percentages for the Big 12 of the KenPom era, as the graph below shows.

Source: KenPom

This phenomenon isn’t unique to the Big 12, though. Across the spectrum, home teams are winning conference games less often. Over the summer, Ken Pomeroy put in some work trying to figure out why exactly such a decline exists. His conclusion was that home teams are increasingly losing out on their foul advantage which coincides very well with their decline in home court advantage. So, although it’s unlikely that Big 12 home teams will continue to post a .200 win percentage over the course of the season, it is certainly possible that we’ll see more unexpected road wins like the one Texas Tech pulled off at Kansas.

Bob Huggins is a fibber. Before the start of the season, Huggins suggested that West Virginia may not use its fabled press quite as often this season because of depth issues. “We might be better served to do something else,” he said at the time. “We’re going to keep doing it and see. I’m more convinced we can’t than we can right now.” So far the lack of a deep bench has played out just as Huggins expected, with a Press Virginia low of 34.6 percent of the team’s total minutes coming from the bench, per KenPom. Despite that, West Virginia continues to press just as much and just as well as ever before, holding teams to 0.745 points per possession and a 31.5 percent turnover rate on those possessions.

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