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February 29, 2008
Four-Point Play
All About Mo

by John Gasaway


Behold the Historic Weirdness of Texas

Thursday, my redoubtable colleague Ken Pomeroy voiced this lament: "It's always bothered me how shooting typically dominates the other three factors (turnovers, rebounds and free throws)." So true. For all the analysis we toss around here at Basketball Prospectus, this sport often comes down to a simple rule: make your shots and make the other team miss theirs. Yawn.

Well, be of good cheer, Ken! This year there's a team that's grabbed that "simple rule" by the scruff of the neck and tossed it into the dustbin of history. Take a gander at what the hep-cat Texas Longhorns have been up to in Austin:

Good Offense, 2008: Points per Possession & Effective FG Pct.

BCS conferences plus Missouri Valley
Conference games only, through Feb. 27

                 PPP    eFG pct.  
UCLA             1.13    51.9
Kansas           1.13    52.6
Drake            1.13    53.5
North Carolina   1.12    50.7
Duke             1.11    53.3
Kansas St.       1.11    50.5
Tennessee        1.11    51.2
Texas            1.10    47.8

Note that Texas doesn't shoot anywhere near as well as do their peers in this "good offense" group. In fact, the Longhorns don't even shoot as well as an average Big 12 team. Yet Rick Barnes somehow has his team scoring points at a rate that's on a par with the nation's elite offenses. How can this be?

The Longhorns are able to surmount their relatively poor shooting because they crash the offensive glass and never turn the ball over. That's easy to describe, but it's very difficult to do. In fact, Texas this year is the first team I've seen to combine these two traits, which are customarily antithetical, to such an extreme. Getting to 39 percent of your own misses while committing a turnover on just 14 percent of your possessions is simply unheard of. More to the point, it gives you a ton of shots. Teams facing the 'Horns in the tournament should forget about trying to force turnovers (ask Tennessee) and focus instead on grabbing every available defensive board.

Never Mind the Win at Butler, Drake Peaked on January 22

That was the night they won in overtime at Creighton. That was back when I was Will.i.am to Keno Davis's Obama, trumpeting the first-year coach for national coach of the year honors. If the season had ended that night, Davis would have been a shoo-in.

The last month, however, has not been kind to the Bulldogs. Yes, I know they won at Butler and as a result they basked in a fresh round of applause from national hoops writers. (At least they did until they lost at Missouri State Tuesday night.) Never mind. The applause is ill-timed and Davis knows it: Drake's defense has collapsed, suddenly and completely.

Drake Defense 2008: Opponent Points per Possession & Effective FG Pct.

Conference games only, through Feb. 27

                    Opp.     Opp.
                    PPP    eFG pct.  
First eight games   0.94     46.9    
Last nine games     1.11     58.1

Drake's performance over the past 30-plus days is eerily and ominously reminiscent of the Bulldogs' 2007 season, when an exceptionally weak defense negated a very good offense and dragged the team down to a 6-12 finish in the Missouri Valley. They've come a long way from last year, to be sure, but for the purposes of your bracket in a few weeks, think of Drake as merely a more endearingly cuddly version of Florida or Oregon: a team that can score but is utterly helpless on D.

Is it Possible Eric Gordon Won't Win Big Ten Freshman of the Year?

Well, no, it's not. Should it be? Sure, it should at least be possible. This ain't a monarchy; let's look at the merits of the case. Gordon entered Big Ten play as a 44 percent three-point shooter, but has made just 34 percent of his threes against conference opponents. He's also been dogged by turnovers of late. The Hoosiers have been fortunate that Gordon continues to be one of the top performers in the country when it comes to getting to the line and making the freebies.

Until recently, to raise the question of Gordon's FOY credentials at all would have been laughable. Even once the question is raised, comparing him to any other candidate is tough because he's one of the few freshmen in the conference who's been asked to be his team's main weapon on offense. More often than not, that will drag your efficiency stats down. (See for example Ohio State's Kosta Koufos or Michigan's Manny Harris.) So anyone who's going to give the IU freshman a run for this honor while playing a smaller role within his own offense should beat Gordon statistically with some room to spare.

If there is such a player, it's Robbie Hummel of Purdue. Hummel doesn't get to the line anywhere near as often as Gordon but otherwise he sports stellar numbers across the board. In addition to hitting 44 percent of his threes and 54 percent of his twos, Hummel gets both offensive and defensive rebounds, dishes assists with greater frequency than Gordon, and takes better care of the ball (even allowing for his smaller role within the Boilermakers' offense). Thing is, Hummel's only now completing the transition from being just one of the guys to functioning as one of his team's main offensive weapons. If he'd been the man for a while, he'd have a defensible case for FOY honors. Since he hasn't been, right now I'd have to vote for Gordon.

One's going to be a lottery pick in 117 days--quite rightly so, given his talents. The other will continue savoring the glamour and scenic wonders of West Lafayette for the foreseeable future. Still, looking at Freshman of the Year honors not as a futures market but as an award recognizing performance during 2007-08, it's a lot closer than you might think.

Who's the National Player of the Year?

It might be Michael Beasley, of course. If he wins, it'll be because of his talent and because of the sheer volume of his production, both of which are prodigious. It won't be because of his efficiency, which has suffered as he's continued to absorb an abnormally high number of possessions for his good but not great team.

If not Beasley, then who? If there were a player who went to the line almost as often as Tyler Hansbrough, yet rebounded much better on both the offensive and defensive glass, shot much better from the field, and played an equally large role in his team's offense, he'd at least get a look right?

Decision '08

                     Off.                          Def.        Off.
                     Rtng.    FTRate   eFG pct.  Reb. Pct.   Reb. Pct.    %Poss.
Tyler Hansbrough     127.5     79.8      55.8      20.6        12.6        26.6
Kevin Love           127.3     74.1      61.2      30.5        17.0        27.5

Just saying.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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