Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Does Duke Run an “Offense” and Does it Matter?

A consensus seemed to arise at the end of Duke’s season. That consensus was Coach K’s team didn’t run any semblance of an offense. Now, I’m the first to admit I’m not great with x’s and o’s. I’ve read my fair share on coaching concepts but having never actually coached any, I don’t think I’m qualified to critique that aspect of coaching. Plus, I often question how much gets thrown out the window once the game actually begins, but that’s another topic.

I thought of this again after Jalen Johnson committed to Duke and we got the usual local commentary about how Wisconsin would rather have kids that want to be around and develop for 4-5 years. The comments about Duke coaching came up again as well. 

The eyeball test in March told me Duke was a mess offensively. It seemed like a lot of 1 on 5 while those veteran UCF, VPI and dirtbag Spartan teams were more disciplined and efficient. Maybe these one and done’s were being done a disservice playing for the Duke’s and UK’s of the world. I better check KenPom.

I looked at the last four years of Duke, a one-and-done factory and the paragon of talent development, Wisconsin. 

Team A:
2016: 4th in offensive efficiency, 194th in pace (68 poss. per game)
2017: 6th in offensive efficiency, 175th in pace (68 ppg)
2018: 3rd in offensive efficiency, 93rd in pace (70 ppg)
2019: 7th in offensive efficiency, 72nd in pace (72 ppg)

Team B:
2016: 89th in offensive efficiency, 344th in pace (63 ppg)
2017: 33rd in offensive efficiency, 334th in pace (63 ppg)
2018: 83rd in offensive efficiency, 347th in pace (63 ppg)
2019: 62nd in offensive efficiency, 331st in pace (64 ppg)

Now, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out which team is which. So, I ask the question, which offensive approach is better? FWIW, neither team has made a Final 4 in this stretch. One has made 2 Sweet 16’s, another has made 2 regional finals and another Sweet 16.

What it does tell me, is two things. Whatever Duke is doing on offense works. Single-elimination tournaments are crapshoots but maybe if Duke was more disciplined on offense, they’d be even scarier. Or make sure to have shooters to go with front court monsters. That’s a roster construction issue.

Basketball is played many different ways. Systems abound but when it comes to offense, you can question Duke all you want, but they’re pretty efficient and a few bounces from having two more Final Four appearances. It seems to me, playing there has quite a few bonuses than playing for a school that “develops” players the right way.

Monday, June 24, 2019

UConn Back to the Big East

Rumors began circulating late last week that UConn would be returning to the Big East. Rumors like these had been floating on the inter webs for as long as the new Big East began play in 2014. While sensible from a basketball standpoint, it never seemed possible given the Huskies commitment to football.

UConn’s basketball fortunes had slid precipitously since winning the 2014 men’s title. Truth is, that title was as fluky as any we’ve seen. The Kevin Ollie era was a train wreck and Danny Hurley took over a program, that despite 4 titles in 15 years, needed a reboot.

As football drove them to the AAC, it never was a good fit for basketball. The AAC has schools with strong hoops pedigrees but none of them were ever as good as UConn nor were any a natural rival. Couple that with a terrible bottom of the league, apathy set in for the men’s program and while the women’s team was still as strong as ever, Gene Auriemma was pining for a return to the Big East. It remains to be seen if UConn can be an elite program like they were under Jim Calhoun, but a move to the Big East makes it more likely.

Money-wise, UConn takes a step back but exposure will be greater for them. The fan base, the basketball portion of it, are pumped. An arena that saw attendance slump is far likelier to be filled as classic rivals return. Selling kids on playing local opponents versus East Carolina helps as well. For hoops, there is no downside. As for football, well, they’ve been the worst program in the nation the last two years.  Would staying in the American correct that at some point? I’m not sure the ceiling for UConn football and things get harder moving forward.

The concern amongst some fans of Big East schools is, UConn would bolt as soon as a Big XII or ACC came calling. I don’t disagree with that. I don’t think that should be a concern. Truth is, every league member would bolt if they get that offer. The ACC isn’t adding UConn in the near future. I believe the Big XII will expand sooner than later but it’s not going to be UConn. I think this argument is a non-starter.

Ultimately, this is good for UConn Olympic sports and the Big East. While UConn has scuffled the last half decade, they’re still a national brand. Basketball put them on the map. Basketball put the Big East on the map. It makes too much sense. The league keeps its round-robin schedule as it expands to 20 games. The 20 game conference schedule matches what other leagues are doing. The fit is natural and one league expansion that makes sense.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Final Four Preview

Who cares.  Eat at Arby’s

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Why This Virginia Team Broke Through

At the beginning of January, I said this wasn’t a typical Virginia team. They not only played slow, but they scored as well. To me, they looked like the two Badger Final 4 teams. They have a couple of NBA players and others than can score. Fast forward to last night and after the game, local media went after Pat Forde who wrote a scathing article about “Bennett Ball” after they got smoked by UMBC in the most embarrassing lost in tournament history. “Bennett Ball” can win in March and by proxy, Wisconsin had made the Final 4. But, the truth lies somewhere else. System and coach or players? Let’s dive in.

I put together some basic numbers here, comparing the tournament teams under Bennett at UVA (it also includes the ‘13 NIT season). What does it show?

2019: 71.3 ppg (192nd); 123.0 AdjustedO (2)
2018: 67.1 ppg (298th); 115.2 AdjustedO (30)
2017: 66.1 ppg (307th); 112.2 AdjustedO (50)
*2016: 71 ppg (209th); 120.6 AdjustedO (8)
2015: 65.4 ppg (211th); 115.6 AdjustedO (21)
2014: 66.4 ppg (274th); 114.8 AdjustedO (27)
2013: 64.2 ppg (242nd); 107.5 AdjustedO (83) NIT
2012: 62.5 ppg (274th); 105.2 AdjustedO (133)

*- Introduction of the :30 shot clock

The two best teams in March happen to be the two best offensive teams under Bennett, the ‘16 and ‘19 team. The ‘16 team were defeated in a shocker by Syracuse in the Elite 8 when they lost 68-62. Both squads were quite efficient on offense, top 10 and scored 70 points per game. PPG are a terrible way to judge an offense in most cases but I think this reinforces what we see on the court. They’re slow and methodical but can score. It also helps to have NBA players.

What happened in ‘18 was a shocker but they were certainly a 1-seed capable of putting up a stinker. I’d also argue 2018 didn’t have a lot of great teams, so they were over seeded compared to other seasons. Also, scoring was going to bite them at some point and it just happened in the opener.

The 2017 team lost in the Round of 32 to Florida, 65-39. In 2015, it was 61-54 to Michigan State. In 2014, it was 61-59 in the Sweet 16 to Michigan State again. Going back to their first tournament appearance under Bennett in 2012, Florida routed them 71-45. Truth is, “Bennett Ball” has had more flameouts than glory in March.

This reads as a criticism of “Bennett Ball” and in some ways, it is. But, it is a system that gets Virginia into the tournament and high seeds on a regular basis. Ultimately, though, you need the players to get you over the hump. Systems are nice, players are better. Pat Forde was too thick in his critiquing Virginia after UMBC but had valid points just like this run says it “works”. The system has been successful in positioning Virginia on a regular basis. Ultimately, the playmakers mean greater success. The coaches will get the ink this week but it takes the players to win more.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Sunday Picks

Auburn vs. Kentucky 

Auburn has looked impressive in routing Kansas and North Carolina. Kentucky has grinded to wins over Wofford and Houston, impressive in their own right.

During the regular season, Kentucky swept Auburn. Kentucky won by 2 at Auburn and blew them out at Rupp. I’m not sure that means much at this point. If Auburn turns Kentucky over and shoots like they have been, they can certainly win this game. I think Kentucky is a more disciplined defensive team than Auburn has seen so far and that’s the difference.

The Pick: Kentucky 68 Auburn 65

Duke vs. Michigan State

There’s some question whether Nick Ward plays. If he doesn’t, that’s going to be hard to overcome. Tre Jones won’t shoot as well in this game and Cassius Winston will be a problem for him but if he protects the ball and facilitates, that will be enough.

Michigan State’s physicality will be an issue for Duke, though it won’t intimidate them. Duke just can’t afford foul trouble. Izzo belongs in jail.

The Pick: Duke 71 Michigan State 66

Friday, March 29, 2019

Saturday Picks

West Region: Gonzaga vs. Texas Tech

KenPom’s top offense takes on KenPom’s top defense. Gonzaga is the offense, Texas Tech is the defense. Did we learn anything last night? I think enough where we can make an educated pick.

The Zags took on a Seminoles team that came in with swag and confidence. They eviscerated them. FSU got close at a point in the second half and the Zags never looked close to breaking. And they did it on both sides of the ball.

Texas Tech and Michigan took turns in the first half disgracing the sport before Texas Tech found a few buckets. They rolled in the second half overwhelming Michigan on both sides of the ball. Unlike Michigan, I can’t see the Zags turning it over as much and missing that many baskets. Truth is, Gonzaga is light years better than Michigan. That’s not a slam at Texas Tech, that’s praise for Gonzaga,

The Pick: Gonzaga 70 Texas Tech 59

South Region: Virginia vs. Purdue 

I really thought Virginia would glide to this game at least. I didn’t think Purdue would make it out of the first weekend. I thought Virginia’s offense had moved past their occasional stinkers. I thought Purdue’s offesne would have a game by now where it cost them. What can I say.

Virginia was clearly the better team last night. They won by 4. Purdue was coasting and then the offesne has its stretch of stink coupled with free throw shooting that was beyond bad. What does it all mean? Beats me. I think Virginia is better and they are favored by 4 in KenPom.

The Pick: Virginia 64 Purdue 60

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Midwest Region: Sweet 16

North Carolina vs. Auburn-

UNC comes in having rolled Washington while Auburn comes in having rolled Kansas. The Tigers look to continue their assault on blue bloods. Carolina possesses the 8th most efficient offense and 11th most efficient defense. Auburn is 6th and 45th. Can Auburn get enough stops?

Auburn is 225th in effective fg% defense. That’s bad. They force a lot of turnovers but UNC is pretty good at not turning it over. Auburn is going to need to turn it over on defense. If they don’t, UNC will feast on offense. Auburn is a bad defensive rebounding team. In fact, they’re amongst the worst in the nation. They foul a ton, too. Given UNC’s offensive rebounding prowess, Auburn is a great matchup for them.

On the other side of the ball, UNC’s defense doesn’t do anything spectacular save rebounding. That said, they are solid across the board without any weakness except fouling. Auburn doesn’t typically get to the foul line, though. One thing they do well and what gives them a chance is shoot 3’s and they shoot and make a lot. Carolina gives up a lot, so it’s possible.

If Auburn is making 3’s, they can win. If they’re not falling, it’ll be a rout.

The Pick: North Carolina 81 Auburn 74

Kentucky vs. Houston-

This has a chance to be another great Sweet 16 game. Kentucky is 7th in KenPom with the 11th best offesne and 8th best defense. Houston checks in at 20 and 12, respectively. Both teams play at about the same tempo. Giddy up.

Houston has the best effective fg% defense. They have the best 3-pt defense and 5th best 2-pt defense. They do foul quite a bit. Kentucky is 72nd in effective fg% offense. They’re one of the best offensive rebounding teams but PJ Washington was a big reason for that. Does he play and is he effective. Kentucky is aggressive on offense and collects a lot of fouls on their opponents. I think Houston’s defense is a huge advantage in this matchup but Kentucky can alleviate that by getting to the line.

Kentucky’s defense is quite good, too. The only thing they don’t do well is turn opponents over. Houston is solid on offense. They don’t do anything great except rebounding. Kentucky matches them with their defensive rebounding. But, part of that includes PJ Washington. If he gives them even 20 good minutes, it’ll be big. If he’s ineffective, I think Houston wins.

The Pick: Houston 66 Kentucky 65