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January 25, 2009

Beavers Sweep Bay Area

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:56 am

If you’re sick of hearing about the Oregon State Beavers, I apologize. I can’t stop talking about them.

After Thursday’s post–full of wild, cock-eyed optimism–I saw a note on Wazzu blog CougCenter.com pointing out that the Beavers were still behind the rival Oregon Ducks in the Pomeroy Rankings. I suspected this had to do with Oregon State’s terrible start adapting to Craig Robinson‘s system, which included losses to Howard, Yale and Montana State. Alas no. Strictly in-conference, the Beavers’ efficiency differential was still worse than Oregon’s because of a series of lopsided losses.

At that point, I was willing to concede having put too much stock in one win, even one very impressive win. After all, one of the core tenets of my philosophy of basketball analysis is that a wider view almost always tells us more than isolating a hot or cold streak.

This is starting to look like one of the scenarios that requires the “almost” qualifier. How else to explain Oregon State beating Stanford 77-62 Saturday to sweep its road trip to the Bay Area–one I described just a few short weeks ago as “challenging USC-UCLA as the hardest trip in the conference.”

Having won Thursday with solid interior defense and timely scoring, the Beavers used a different gameplan tonight–lights-out shooting and tempting the Cardinal at the three-point line. Oregon State shot 62.0 percent from the field in scoring at an Offensive Rating over 120. Meanwhile, Stanford–playing without starting point guard Mitch Johnson–took an insane 33 of its 54 shot attempts from long distance, hitting eight for 24.2 percent accuracy. The looks were often open, but the Cardinal seemed unwilling to venture inside despite making 15 of 21 two-point attempts. Oregon State also forced 15 turnovers in a little over 60 possessions.

The common denominator between the Beavers’ Pac-10 wins, as astutely noted by FSN, has been scoring production from center Roeland Schaftenaar. Oregon State runs its offense through Schaftenaar in the high post or beyond the three-point line, and when he is hitting defenses have far more options to consider. Schaftenaar had 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting against Stanford and is averaging 19.3 points per game in Pac-10 wins. In losses, that number drops all the way to 4.2 ppg.

January 24, 2009

This Just In: Rebounding Makes You Lose

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:49 pm

Good news for Georgetown fans discomfited by my previous post on the Hoyas’ lackluster defensive rebounding.

No major-conference team in the nation has dominated its opponents on the defensive glass during conference play the way Indiana has. Yes, Indiana, the same team that is 0-5 in the Big Ten, losing each game by an average of 15 points. While you’ve been looking away in Edvard Munch-level horror, the Hoosiers have in fact secured an unheard of 79 percent of their opponents’ misses in league games. Not even Michigan State in 2000 was able to match that figure.

I think the takeaway here is obvious: rebounding makes you lose. Oh sure, traditionalists will tell you that IU’s prowess on the defensive glass is nullified in toto by lights-out shooting from their opponents and, more saliently, by a Hoosier offense that is the weakest the conference has seen since the dawn of tempo-free time.

Pay them no heed! Indiana conclusively proves that if you’re great at defensive rebounding you’ll lose. Players, hear my ukase. Flee those defensive ricochets. Shun them like the plague!  

January 23, 2009

Georgetown’s Internal Bleeding

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 3:12 pm

Since defeating Connecticut 74-63 in Hartford on December 29, Georgetown has been one underwhelming team. The 14-point win over Syracuse at home was nice, of course, but overall in calendar ’09 you are looking at a team with some serious deficiencies. Nevertheless, John Thompson III is trying to stay positive. Last night after his team went down to West Virginia with a whimper at home, 75-58, the coach sounded like someone ready to burn the tape and move on. “Today was a blip,” he said. “Today is not the norm.”

Me, I’m not so sure. The Hoyas have now played a third of their conference slate. There’s plenty of season left to be played, of course, but in order to make something of that season GU will have to improve dramatically on defense.

The Hoyas’ relatively slow pace (which by the way isn’t as slow as it used to be) can still fool writers into speaking of a “normally reliable defense.” It’s reliable, alright. Reliable for allowing the opponent to score at least a point per trip, as has every Big East team GU has played. A month ago I remarked somewhat raffishly that Georgetown appeared to be inventing a new category: “oustanding defense without rebounds.” Well guess what. Turns out you need rebounds after all. In a conference with Seton Hall, the Hoyas can at least take solace in the fact that they will always be spared the indignity of being “last in defensive rebounding,” but the truth is their defensive rebounding is terrible.

Which brings me to Greg Monroe. You might remember Monroe, hailed in these parts as the best freshman in the country. In terms of Georgetown’s struggles on D, Monroe’s well-documented failings as a defensive rebounder aren’t directly causal–good defensive rebounding requires more than one player, even for Oklahoma–but they are at least emblematic. When you can’t end your opponent’s offensive possessions, you need to score a lot of points to win. Thompson’s team is good on offense–better than last year–but not good enough to overcome their weak D.

There’s a sense at large that Thompson will right this talented ship and, who knows, that sense may be proven correct. But as of this moment Georgetown has been merely the tenth-best team in Big East play on a per-possession basis. Unthinkable on December 29, but true.   

Change Corvallis Can Believe In

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 5:07 am

On Tuesday, Craig Robinson was front and center during the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Two days later, Robinson took his brother-in-law’s words to heart and struck the biggest blow yet in the effort to rebuild his own struggling corner of America–the Oregon State Beavers. The Beavs stunned a California team that entered the game tied for the top spot in the Pac-10, finishing the game with an 18-3 run to erase an 11-point deficit and win 69-65 at Haas Pavilion.

To be sure, Oregon State benefited from some timely and improbable three-point shooting. Calvin Haynes made a pair of threes during the run; so too did Roeland Schaftenaar, the Beavers’ 7-foot jumpshooting center, a 28.6 percent shooter from beyond the arc over the course of the season who was 4-of-4 on this night.

Where Oregon State earned this win, however, was on the defensive end. The Beavers held a Cal team that came in ranked 13th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted Offensive Efficiency to 103 points per 100 possessions. The Bears were lights-out as usual from downtown (11-of-24, 45.8 percent) yet oddly ineffective on twos (11-of-28, 39.3 percent). Patrick Christopher, the Pac-10’s Player of the Week two weeks running, missed seven of his eight attempts inside the line and was limited to 15 points.

The Beavers have reached the point my colleague John Gasaway assigned to a similarly recently-downtrodden Northwestern squad yesterday: Decency. When Oregon State has been bad during Pac-10 play, it has been really bad: Witness losses by a combined 90 points to the conference’s leaders (UCLA, Washington and Arizona State). At other times, though, the Beavers have looked downright feisty. Had a couple of shots fallen during last week’s OT loss to Washington State, we could be talking about an Oregon State team that is 3-4 in conference play. The message to Pac-10 opponents is clear: Don’t take the Beavers lightly.

(BONUS Gasaway-esque Presidential brother-in-law note: As you may have heard (earlier this post, even!), Craig Robinson is the brother of our newly-elected President. At this point, the ceaseless media references to Robinson’s famous (first) family have for me passed the point of annoyance and reached the absurd, where I now go out of my way to drop said notes even where they don’t belong in a parody of sorts. Your mileage may vary.

Know this, though. The better story is Robinson’s coaching and the turnaround in progress in Corvallis. If that is overshadowed by the Obama factor, it’s a shame.

Iavaroni Latest to Get the Axe

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 4:16 am

The Memphis Commercial Appeal and TNT’s David Aldridge first reported tonight that the Grizzlies will fire head coach Marc Iavaroni, which has since been repeated by multiple sources. Iavaroni will become the seventh NBA head coach to lose his job during the 2008-09 season, which according to Basketball Prospectus’ original research ties the most in any season dating back to 1989-90. There were also seven midseason coaching changes in both 1996-97 and 2003-04.

This will probably be it as far as coaches losing their jobs this season. The only obvious candidate looking at the standings is the Clippers’ Mike Dunleavy, who wrested control of the team’s front office with Elgin Baylor‘s forced retirement before the season. Dunleavy appears to have the full trust of Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

The Commercial Appeal‘s Ronald Tillery is reporting that the Grizzlies will go outside the organization to replace Iavaroni on a non-interim basis with Lionel Hollins, a long-time assistant in Memphis who previously held the job in an interim role in 1999-00 in Vancouver for 60 games and then coached four games in 2004-05 between Hubie Brown‘s retirement and the hiring of Mike Fratello. Even more interesting is that the Grizzlies will reportedly add former Portland and Philadelphia head coach Maurice Cheeks (one of the seven victims this year) as an assistant.

I wrote last week that Iavaroni had taken a step forward in his sophomore season at the helm, having barely escaped being fired last spring. Apparently it was not enough as Memphis slumped after a strong run in early December, losing 15 of the last 17 games. As laid out in that column, Hollins’ primary goals are twofold: Finding a way for wing scorers Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo to thrive together and getting a long-term solution at point guard. Mike Conley‘s uneven play during his first season and a half was ultimately one key factor in Iavaroni’s dismissal.

As for Iavaroni, the likely conventional wisdom is that he’ll join the group considered elite assistant coaches but not head-coaching material. Iavaroni’s background working under Pat Riley in Miami and Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix, amongst others, was strong. He did not prove as effective managing players as a head coach, and the Grizzlies’ defense was a disappointment to the point that Memphis brought in Kevin O’Neill as a defensive coordinator of sorts over the summer. It’s hard at this point to see Iavaroni getting another chance to run his own team.

January 22, 2009

Northwestern Scored the Night’s Biggest Upset

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:06 pm

Seen purely on paper, Virginia Tech winning at number 1-ranked Wake Forest 78-71 last night was arguably the evening’s biggest upset. Blessed with a preposterously long and athletic front line, the Deacons were the nation’s last undefeated team, a pinnacle they’d reached in part by suffocating opposing offenses. Conversely the Hokies entered this game with the memory of having been shut down completely by Duke in a humiliating 69-44 thrashing. Seth Greenberg‘s team didn’t figure to be the squad that would out-Wake Wake, but that is precisely what they did: Virginia Tech made their twos and went to the line 25 more times than the home team. That qualifies, surely, as a major upset.

But Northwestern? Winning at Michigan State, 70-63? In upset terms, that’s well beyond “major.” That’s shocking.

Yes, I realize that MSU entered the evening a smidge overrated. When his Spartans are winning, Tom Izzo of course always says his team is overrated, but this time he had a case. Looking at conference play only, State started the week as statistically the least impressive first-place team of any major conference. They were fortunate to be 5-0 and, again, to his credit Izzo was saying so.

Still, being a hair less impressive than your record doesn’t mean you’re set up to lose at home to Northwestern, a team that before last night had won four of its last 27 Big Ten road games. If the Wildcats can win in East Lansing (granted on an evening when Raymar Morgan was rendered totally ineffective by flu-like symptoms), those rumors you’ve heard about a newly robust non-Indiana Big Ten may just be accurate. I pledge not to overstate the importance of one victory–indeed, its shock value would be lessened if it had been in any way foreseeable–but the drift of the Big Ten season clearly suggests that the entirety of the league’s non-Hoosier membership really might be more equal than previously thought. After all, Iowa beat Wisconsin in OT in Iowa City last night. Not to mention how everyone’s all lovey-dovey about Florida State these days and Northwestern beat the Seminoles with ease, remember?

Kevin Coble has rightly garnered most of the applause this morning with his 31-point performance, and yet it is NU’s defense that explains their strange new respectability. (Yes, 2-4 in-conference is indeed respectable in Evanston.) The Wildcat D has gone from historically bad in 2008 to merely pretty bad in 2009. Whether it’s due to greater familiarity with Bill Carmody‘s 1-3-1 or simply better execution, Northwestern’s interior FG defense has taken a great leap forward. (Good thing–their perimeter FG defense is shaky.)

My older brother’s a Northwestern graduate and before every season he asks me if this might finally be the year that his beloved Wildcats are at least decent. Well, listen up, Rob! I don’t want to go overboard here and, to be honest, your ‘Cats could well lose their next game (at Michigan). But Northwestern is, at long last, decent.   

January 21, 2009

Comparing Beasley on Fair Terms

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:32 pm

I’ve been toying with a Michael Beasley column for a while. Given his dominant performance in his lone season at Kansas State, Beasley figured to be an instant impact player in the NBA. While Beasley hasn’t exactly played poorly, nor has he set the league afire. I’ve thought about an Every Play Counts (along the lines of The Painted Area’s recent observations) or even a joint column with John Gasaway bringing together NCAA and NBA perspectives. So I was interested to read today’s column by Dave Hyde of the Sun-Sentinel.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also heard the questions. To satisfy his own thoughts on Beasley’s progress, Spoelstra looked up the rookie statistics of four power forwards who entered the league about the same age as the 19-year-old Beasley and eventually became stars.

Chris Bosh. Dirk Nowitzki. Jermaine O’Neal. Zach Randolph.

“It says something how Michael compares to them,” Spoelstra said.

Setting aside the issue of whether you’d really want your No. 2 overall pick to compare to Randolph. . .here are our numbers for this group of players. Note that I actually used O’Neal’s third season because he was barely 18 when he entered the NBA, while the other three players all turned 20 during the course of their rookie seasons.

Player       ORtg    DRtg   Win%   WARP    TS%    Usg   Reb%   Blk%

Bosh        100.1    99.6   .518    5.3   .513   .184   12.8    2.0
Nowitzki     97.9   100.4   .413   -0.2   .491   .225    9.5    1.3
O’Neal      100.1    99.9   .508    0.9   .457   .167   18.0    2.1
Randolph    103.5   102.7   .526    0.5   .479   .259   17.1    0.8

Beasley     103.2   105.4   .427    0.2   .507   .286   12.3    1.5

From this perspective, Beasley has not been as effective as most of his peers on a per-minute basis. Still, he doesn’t look out of place. The numbers make Beasley look like a better offensive player and worse defender than he is compared to this group because league-wide offense is better now than it was a few years ago when these players were entering the league. (Nowitzki came in the lockout season, the worst offensive year in modern NBA history.) Amongst this group, Beasley’s ability to create shots is unique, and it has to be considered encouraging that both Bosh and Nowitzki dramatically improved their rebounding after it was a weakness early in their careers.

All that said, here’s the thing. Neither Bosh and Randolph tore apart college opponents the way Beasley did. Randolph’s lone season as a Spartan was hit and miss, and while Bosh put up strong numbers at Georgia Tech, he was considered something of a project coming into the NBA. If this comparison makes me feel a little better about Beasley’s chances of reaching superstardom, it also leaves me continuing to wonder whether we need to start applying a huge discount to big freshman numbers like Beasley’s and Kevin Durant‘s in the one-and-done era.

Don’t Stand Next to Georgia Tech

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:30 am

If you did you’d probably be struck by lightning, or a safe would fall on you, or your plane would hit a flock of birds. At least that’s the way things are going for the Yellow Jackets these days.

After last night’s 80-76 loss at home to Boston College in overtime, Paul Hewitt‘s team stands at 0-5 in the ACC. The Ramblin’ Wreck was handled with relative ease by Duke, but each of the other four games has been competitive and indeed three of them have gone to OT. Tech has lost them all.

Clearly this team is on-track to be for 2009 what Illinois was to 2008: cursed with an ugly record, but also achieving respectable performance on a possession by possession basis. Indeed Georgia Tech has actually performed a hair better than 2-2 Miami in per-possession terms. At some point–maybe this season, maybe next–the ball will bounce their way.

My Blogroll

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:13 am

Today’s announcement of the True Hoop blog network is big news in the NBA blogosphere. Many of my favorite bloggers have joined together with “the Blogfather,” True Hoop’s Henry Abbott, in this new ESPN venture. It seems telling that while ESPN.com hired a bunch of former newspaper writers to blog about the NFL (by division) and NCAA Football (by conference), for the NBA it is turning to the bloggers already on the Web. The NBA’s blogosphere has evolved into a strong and diverse voice over the last several years, bigger and better than for the other major sports. Maybe NBA fans translate better to the digital world.

As a relative old-timer on this new-fangled Interweb who was essentially blogging back before anyone had ever coined the term or created the software, the development has been something to behold. About five years ago I first started reading the early NBA blogs, like Blog-a-Bull and KnickerBlogger, and it was fun to keep up with the newcomers. Now there are so many NBA blogs the challenge is finding time to pay attention to all the worthwhile ones. Fortunately, True Hoop and its Yahoo! counterpart, Ball Don’t Lie, do a great job of spotlighting the standouts.

Anyways, since BP Unfiltered does not have a blogroll, I thought I would take the occasion to share my favorites. Apologies to anyone I left out; I may just not have gotten around to reading your blog on a regular basis.

DAILY READS

True Hoop – The dean of NBA blogs
Ball Don’t Lie – My favorite NBA blog, combining J.E. Skeets‘ comedy with Kelly Dwyer‘s trenchant analysis
Blog-a-Bull – The original NBA team blog
ClipperBlog – Kevin Arnovitz might be my closest philosophical match out there, combining statistical analysis with detailed tape breakdown
Forum Blue and Gold (Lakers) – So good even Celtics fans enjoy it
Beyond the Arc (Grizzlies) – Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer combines a big-picture perspective with insider access
KnickerBlogger – Nobody in the blogosphere does statistical analysis like Mike K.
Third Quarter Collapse (Magic) – Quickly becoming one of my go-to reads, and not just because they asked me to do a Q&A this week
Blazer’s EdgeDave Deckard supplies uniquely even-keel perspective, while Benjamin Golliver is in the locker room (and the practice facility)
Sactown Royalty – A blog this good deserves a better team to cover

OTHERS

The Painted Area (which would be a daily read if they only updated a little more often)
FreeDarko (ditto – also Nathaniel Friedman on The Sporting News Blog)
NBA FanHouse
Hoopinion
CelticsBlog
Detroit Bad Boys
Canis Hoopus
Hornets 247
Daily Thunder
Bullets Forever

January 20, 2009

The Irish Aren’t Fighting

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:58 am

When a team returns four of its five starters, including the Big East Player of the Year, it will be expected that said team will improve. In the case of Notre Dame, however, that hasn’t been the case this season. The voters in both polls are rather stubbornly keeping the 12-5 Irish in the top 25, but the truth is that so far this team has performed well below the level it set last year. Indeed against a conference schedule that’s been equal parts malicious (versus Georgetown, at Louisville, at Syracuse) and mild (at DePaul, at St. John’s, versus Seton Hall), Mike Brey‘s team has actually been outscored by 0.03 points per trip.

The problem, as it so often is in South Bend, is defense, specifically a lack thereof. Don’t blame Luke Harangody, who, as always, has been an absolute monster on the defensive glass–otherwise the Irish D would be off-the-charts bad. We knew coming into the season that Notre Dame’s opponents would never turn the ball over. Check. What we didn’t know, however, was that those opponents would shoot so well from the field, especially from the interior. Not only are ND’s Big East foes hitting a robust 53 percent of their twos, they’ve also done their homework and decided to forget about threes. Instead opponents are pounding the ball into the paint, and it’s working: the Irish have given up a shield-your-eyes 1.12 points per possession in conference play. Maybe Rob Kurz was more important than we knew. 

Next up for the Irish are Connecticut and Marquette, due to visit South Bend this coming Saturday and Monday, respectively. Those are two of the Big East’s best three offenses (the third being Pitt), about to collide with a defense that is reeling. At this point you’d have to give better than even odds that ND’s 45-game home winning streak will come to an end in the next six days.  

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