Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

February 27, 2009

Chat Today, PLUS: Hoops Audio Note

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 9:21 am

Join me today for the live chat thing. Click here starting at noon Eastern to go live or do it earlier and submit your question in advance. All topics welcomed! Keep me on my toes and make up a team and a player. (“Hey, John, how is it that I’m not seeing Cal State-Oxnard’s Charlie Stratton on any mocks? That kid can flat out shoot the rock!”) 

And because I believe that no Unfiltered post should be limited to a shameless plug for a chat, please accept a comment on the sounds of this here sport:

Last night Memphis beat UAB 71-60 in Birmingham, running the Tigers’ C-USA win streak to a rather ostentatious 55 in a row since March 2006. I’ve been watching hoops since I was a wee lad and I’m not sure I have ever heard a crowd react with an actual audible groan the way the Blazers’ crowd did when Doneal Mack of Memphis hit a three with 2:36 left to play to push the Tigers’ lead to 63-55. Usually the success of the visiting team is met with a telling silence by the home crowd. This, conversely, was sadness that made a sound.

(Speaking of sadness, one Blazer had a bit of an off night.)

February 26, 2009

Breaking: Ben Wallace’s Fibula

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 11:35 pm

Big news during tonight’s TNT broadcast of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Houston Rockets, as Cavaliers forward Ben Wallace broke his right fibula during the second quarter of the game, apparently when he was inadvertently kicked by Houston’s Yao Ming. Wallace continued playing through the third quarter before the pain forced him to the locker room, where the injury was diagnosed.

According to David Aldridge’s insta-analysis, Rockets team doctors told Wallace that this is not necessarily a season-ending injury. Googling past diagnoses, the general timeframe appears to be somewhere between four weeks (end of March) and eight weeks (late April, into the playoffs). The likelihood is that Cleveland would have Wallace back in time for a potential matchup with the Boston Celtics in the playoffs. Still, this injury could have a major impact on the series. Not only is home-court advantage between the two teams up for grabs, so too is the chance to avoid the Orlando Magic in the second round in the playoffs (something which doesn’t loom as large as it did before Jameer Nelson‘s injury, but bigger than it did before the addition of Rafer Alston).

Thursday’s Houston win moved the Celtics a half-game ahead of the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference standings (Cleveland still has a game advantage in the loss column). Boston has had more than its share of injuries while continuing to play at a high level other than last night’s loss to the L.A. Clippers. Wallace’s injury evens things up and may give the Celtics the upper hand.

The Cavaliers will replace Wallace with a combination of J.J. Hickson, more minutes for Anderson Varejao and presumably more smallball with Wally Szczerbiak alongside LeBron James at power forward. Though Hickson has put up strong numbers during his rookie season, Cleveland has struggled with him on the floor, allowing 104.0 points per 100 possessions (per BasketballValue.com). With Wallace on the court, the Cavaliers’ Defensive Rating is an impressive 97.0. So Wallace will be missed defensively. The difference probably won’t mean more than a game or two over the remainder of the regular season (should Wallace miss that long). In this year’s East, however, a game or two could be crucial.

UAB’s Moment

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:33 pm

Tonight Memphis travels to Birmingham and puts their 54-game Conference USA winning streak on the line at UAB (ESPN2, 9 Eastern). I know it may seem like year in year out the Blazers are always the second-best team in C-USA.

Well, they are:

Looking up at Memphis again 
Through games of February 25, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                                    Opp.
                     Pace    PPP    PPP      EM
1.  Memphis          65.8    1.15   0.87   +0.28
2.  UAB              66.3    1.09   0.97   +0.12
3.  Houston          71.1    1.08   1.00   +0.08
4.  Tulsa            65.0    1.04   0.97   +0.07
5.  UTEP             71.2    1.01   0.98   +0.03
6.  UCF              66.2    1.07   1.05   +0.02
7.  Tulane           65.6    0.99   1.02   -0.03
8.  Marshall         65.3    1.02   1.09   -0.07
9.  E. Carolina      64.5    1.09   1.18   -0.09
10. Rice             65.6    0.97   1.07   -0.10
11. Southern Miss    63.7    1.03   1.16   -0.13
12. SMU              65.3    0.91   1.05   -0.14 
 

True, Mike Davis‘ team has benefited statistically from playing three of its last four games against conference opponents with “Southern” in their names (Miss and Methodist). Still, this is pretty clearly the league’s best non-Memphis team. What’s more, the Blazers have made significant improvements in a key area since last year.

That key area is defense. This year UAB has performed the neat rather Purdue-flavored trick of creating more turnovers while slowing their pace. League opponents are coughing up the ball on almost 22 percent of their trips, even though the Blazers have brought their tempo down to 66 possessions per 40 minutes (it was 69 last year). At the same time opposing teams are having significantly less success on their threes. Perimeter D has gone from a weakness to a strength this year in Birmingham.  

All the while the offense has continued to hum at last year’s (pretty high) level. Robert Vaden still shoots an astounding number of threes, and though his results there this season have been just average (36 percent) he does present opposing defenses with the hoops-attention equivalent of a shiny object, one that has helped his teammates to do good works in their own right. Lawrence Kinnard may want to cut down on the threes, but at 6-8 he’s been a force for good inside the arc on offense. Even Kinnard, however, can’t compete with Paul Delaney in that department. The 6-2 senior has posted a two-point percentage this year that fairly screams typo: 65 percent. (And twos constitute the overwhelming majority of his shots.) With Vaden, Kinnard, and Delaney, Davis has a really nice big three.

Speaking of that number, watch the perimeter tonight. UAB is shooting fewer threes this year (you would too if you had a guard making 65 percent of his twos), but for the first time in recent memory Memphis opponents are actually achieving an average amount of success from out there. Who knows: some early threes, a little momentum, a rocking home crowd, and then the Tigers go back home a disgraceful 54-1 since March 2006? Stranger things have happened. 

Chat Tomorrow, PLUS: Tempo-Free Twins!

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:23 pm

Join me tomorrow at noon Eastern for the live chat thing. Click here tomorrow to go live or do it now and submit your question in advance. All topics welcomed! Keep me on my toes and make up a team. (“Hey, John, where’s the love for Cal State-Oxnard? The Mugus really look like they’re peaking at the right time!”) 

And because I believe that no Unfiltered post should be limited to a shameless plug for a chat, please accept this moment of tempo-free Zen:

When two teams in the same conference each score and allow the exact same number of points per trip in league play, those teams are performing at levels that are really, really similar.

Behold the twins 
Through games of February 25, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                                Opp.
                 Pace    PPP    PPP      EM
Kansas           69.0    1.09   0.92   +0.17
Missouri         73.1    1.09   0.92   +0.17
 

Rutgers          67.4    0.94   1.08   -0.14
St. John’s       66.8    0.94   1.08   -0.14 
 

San Diego St.    63.5    1.05   0.99   +0.06
UNLV             66.4    1.05   0.99   +0.06
 

Uncanny!  

February 25, 2009

Pitt May Not Win the National Championship

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:03 am

But even if they don’t, I simply can’t emphasize this enough: a close February road loss is meaningless. Yes, the Panthers lost last night at Providence. Fans storm the court, pundits fret, rankings shift. But the truth is all national champions go through this, often during the last week of February. It’s practically a rite of passage.

On February 26, 2006, Florida lost on the road to Alabama, a team that barely made the NCAA tournament as a 10-seed. 

On February 24, 2007, Florida lost on the road to LSU, a team that didn’t even make the NCAA tournament.

On February 23, 2008, Kansas lost on the road to Oklahoma State, a team that didn’t even make the NCAA tournament. 

Don’t fret too much about Pitt just yet.

February 23, 2009

Unbelievable finish in Jersey

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 11:29 pm

I don’t know how many NBA games I’ve seen in my life, but I just witnessed the most incredible game-winning shot I think I’ve ever seen. If you didn’t see the end of the the Nets-Sixers game tonight, be sure to tune into SportsCenter later to see this. The scenario: Philadelphia’s Andre Iguodala made the second of two free throws, putting the Sixers up 96-95 with 1.8 seconds left. The Nets were out of timeouts. New Jersey inbounded the ball to Devin Harris on the Philly side of halfcourt, along the left sideline. Iguodala reached in and knocked the ball loose, fortunate to not be whistled for a foul, but Harris recovered the ball in full stride and flipped in a shot from a little beyond the halfcourt line to win the game at the buzzer. The shot was called good two or three minutes after the fact thanks to a long replay review. The playback showed that the ball left Harris’ fingertips a split second before the red lights came on. Shot good. Nets win. Unbelievable.

The Weekend in Hoops PLUS: Mailbag!

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:47 am

I’ll try to do one of these each Monday from here on out, but hereafter it will be labeled with the infectious straight-to-viral acronym “TWIH” to free up precious headline space.

Craig Robinson’s had a better month than his brother-in-law
Oregon State has officially progressed beyond the cute “they play hard” stage. Now they’re actually a pretty good team, no patronizing qualifiers needed. Look no further than the Beavers’ 65-54 win against Cal on Saturday in Corvallis. The light apparently went on for Craig Robinson‘s team late in the evening on January 17, after they’d been stomped at home by Washington, 85-69. Since that time OSU’s gone 6-3, outscoring opponents by 0.03 points per trip. The Beavers’ offense and defense metamorphosed simultaneously, with both units going from “Aaaiiieeee!” to “OK, I guess.” Sophomore Calvin Haynes is emerging as a legitimate Pac-10-quality weapon on offense for a team that plays one senior. Right now Corvallis is getting all the stimulus it needs.

Correction: UCLA is bad! Wildly correctly-rated, too!
On Saturday the Bruins mounted a heroic comeback at Pauley Pavilion before losing to Washington State, 82-81. Know what would have been even more heroic? Not spotting the seventh-best team in your league to an eight-point lead with two minutes left on your home floor. Two weeks ago when I proclaimed UCLA underrated, I was looking at a team with an incredible offense and a so-so defense. Never in my wildest dreams did I think Ben Howland could preside over a defense that would actually get worse than so-so. That is precisely what has happened. Over their last four games the Bruins have allowed opponents to score 1.16 points per possession, making mid- to late-February UCLA the rough equivalent of Baylor. On paper this is still the best team in the Pac-10 by a hair (tune in tomorrow for Conference Check), but at this point that’s meaningless. Howland needs to find a way for this team to get some stops. As it is the Bruins may have played themselves into seeing a one-seed in their second NCAA game–assuming they can get that far.     

And then there was DePaul
Oregon got off the conference schneid Saturday, beating Stanford 68-60 in Eugene to reach 1-14 in Pac-10 play. That leaves DePaul as the last major-conference team without a win in league play. It still looks as if the Blue Demons are down to one all-or-nothing shot at evading history: this Saturday’s game at home against St. John’s.

LSU took care of business–now the fun starts
The Tigers beat Auburn 79-72 in Baton Rouge on Saturday, meaning Trent Johnson‘s team enters a long-anticipated big week with an 11-1 record in SEC play. Tomorrow night LSU hosts Florida and on Saturday they visit Kentucky.

West Lafayette. It is the campus where you are right now while you are being on a campus.
Today’s Leopold von Ranke Award for bold historical revisionism goes to the redoubtable Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star. In West Lafayette to gauge the temperature of the once-heated PurdueIndiana rivalry, Kravitz threw cold water in his day-after piece on any “chat-room crazies” who think the Hoosiers could be competitive again as soon as next year. Noting that next year’s IU team will again be quite young, Kravitz says if “you’re expecting 20 wins in Year 2” of Tom Crean‘s tenure in Bloomington, you need to “get a clue.” I have no clue if IU will win 20 next year, but it seems almost willfully peculiar to make this particular assertion from Mackey Arena, where last year Matt Painter‘s team went 15-3 in the Big Ten by giving 92 percent of the available minutes to players in their first or second seasons in a Purdue uniform. Not that I expect Indiana to repeat Purdue’s 2008 performance in 2010. But that’s precisely my point: last year I didn’t expect Purdue to do it either. Surely the Boilers showed that success can arrive on its own schedule, one not necessarily congruent with auto-pilot coachspeak about “building a culture,” “senior leadership,” “continuity,” etc. BONUS Purdue note! Despite pre-game reports to the contrary, Robbie Hummel did indeed play in the Boilers’ 81-67 win over Indiana.

North Carolina lost on the road. Yawn.
Try as I might, I just can’t work myself up into being worried about the Heels. Last year they lost at home to these very same Maryland Terrapins and still made the Final Four.

Oklahoma lost on the road, but without Blake Griffin for much of the game. Yawn.
Blake Griffin missed the second half of the game against Texas with a concussion. Right now it’s uncertain if he’ll be able to play tonight against Kansas in Norman. Let’s hope so, for Griffin’s sake and ours. We fans out here desperately need a good benchmark for the Sooners. Griffin sitting the second half in Austin means we still don’t have one. Most of what we track here at Prospectus suggests that, despite their ostentatious record, the Sooners thus far are functionally indistinguishable from the Jayhawks or Missouri. Which, actually, is high praise for Jeff Capel‘s team. I don’t think most people yet understand just how good KU and Mizzou have been.  

UAB is coming together with impeccable timing 
In the last two weeks the Blazers have made a compelling case that they are in fact the second-best team in C-USA, with the latest item entered into evidence being their 86-56 mauling of Southern Miss in Birmingham on Saturday. That whole “clear second-best team” thing works out well. Memphis comes to visit Thursday. 

Speaking of Memphis….

Unfiltered-Back!
Don’t just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Winning 53 straight conference games might mean it’s time to shop for a new conference
OK, seriously, WHY IS MEMPHIS STILL IN CONFERENCE USA?

I will continue to pose this question until I receive a satisfying answer.

Dexter F.

Football.

The jumps made by DePaul and Marquette to the Big East notwithstanding, very nearly every decision made today about conference membership is based almost solely on football. And upon closer examination the Blue Demons and the Golden Eagles are actually the exceptions that prove the rule. The Big East already had basketball-only members and decided to go for a 16-team look in hoops. But now the Big East is full and no other conference is going to make a basketball-driven decision to extend an invitation to Memphis.

The tempo-free world: Are we there yet?
Since I think it’s possible that you and Ken Pomeroy have watched a couple games this season, I’m surprised you’re not shouting from the rooftops about the occasional use of what could only be possession-based stats by mainstream (i.e., ESPN) media.

I haven’t been keeping notes and I may be biased, but it seems to me Fran Fraschilla is the main culprit here. Anyway, here are some approximate quotes by actual TV announcers on actual live broadcasts:

“DeJuan Blair rebounds one in four of his team’s misses.”

“Hasheem Thabeet takes just 17 percent of the team’s shots when he’s on the floor.”

“Duke’s offense is in the top five in the country in both offensive and defensive efficiency.”

“Pittsburgh’s offense is the most efficient in the country.”

Unfortunately, I have not heard concurrent mention of the phrase “tempo-free.”

Alex

The actual stuff in question of course dates back a few decades to legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith, whereas the term “tempo-free” was only just cooked up by some doofus in the past few years. It’s far more important that the stuff be used than the term be repeated.

Fran Fraschilla was indeed the earliest of the on-air adopters. Two seasons ago he was virtually alone, and if you’re reading these words right now you owe Fran the hearty fist-pound you’d give any pioneer. Now, as Alex notes correctly, Fran has company. Jay Bilas, for example, says “efficient” an awful lot and what’s more applies that label correctly. Good on you, Jay. However, I would venture to say that the engraved Fran Fraschilla Tempo-Free Announcing Cup goes to someone you don’t even see unless you have ESPNU. Former Wisconsin great Mike Kelley is both an avid user and a skillful peddler of tempo-free wares.

Off the air, Luke Winn of SI.com is of course admirably fluent, as was his colleague Grant Wahl before he disappeared to wherever he disappeared to. The same fluency has also been shown by Andy Glockner, late of ESPN, now glimpsed at SI.

Otherwise? Still some miles to go before we sleep.

Just as long as it isn’t Demi Lovato
Alert reader Bill perused my piece on Winehouse Factors, an honor I’ve named after the famously erratic British pop diva and one that I give to highly inconsistent teams. Groping for a parallel term to describe consistent teams, I suggested a Miley Cyrus Factor. Bill begs to differ.

I wouldn’t say Miley Cyrus; she did pose “provocatively” for Vanity Fair. How about Kelly Clarkson or Mandy Moore?

Anyway, great illuminating stuff. Hope to make thousands of dollars in March.

Bill

So it shall be! The Tennessee offense is Mandy Moore; the Volunteers’ defense is Amy Winehouse. Man, this works great! Thanks, Bill.    

I defy any other hoops site to post an email this erudite
I was enjoying your post on BracketBusters and saw that you had written “et. al.” The “et” requires no period–“et” is the full Latin for “and.”

Aside from that, cheers all around. You made me want to watch every game for various reasons. 

Mike N.
A Basketballophillic Classicist

Yo, sic transit gloria mundi back atcha, bro.     

February 22, 2009

Five Thoughts: Portland-L.A. Clippers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 9:50 pm

PORTLAND – Admittedly, I was a little dubious about driving two and a half hours both ways to watch the Los Angeles Clippers even before hearing the final injury report for this afternoon’s game. Baron Davis played, but the Clippers were without Zach Randolph (NBA suspension), Chris Kaman (strained left arch), Marcus Camby (inner ear infection), Al Thornton (strained right arch) and Brian Skinner (sore right Achilles). Only the return of rookie Mike Taylor gave L.A. 10 players in uniform, and Taylor did little to help a front line anchored by 6-11 rookie DeAndre Jordan, 6-10 perimeter specialist Steve Novak and 6-6 Mardy Collins (a combo guard by trade).

While the Clippers avoided quitting after going down 22 in the first quarter, their depleted roster made it hard to take a ton from the game, won by the Blazers 116-87. Still, it allowed me to witness two things I have never before seen in an NBA game (followed by three other observations).

1. 14 assists by a player in a quarter.
Actually, the only people who had ever seen that were the lucky fans on hand at the HemisFair Arena on April 15, 1984, when John Lucas handed out an NBA-record 14 assists in the second quarter. Steve Blake matched him in the first period this afternoon, assisting on 14 of the 18 Portland buckets in the quarter. Blake got a bit of a gift from the official scorer to tie the record, getting his 14th assist on a feed to Rudy Fernandez where Fernandez paused behind the three-point line before dribbling twice en route to the basket for a bucket and the foul.

That aside, it was maybe the most impressive display of passing I’ve ever seen in person. Blake completed a pair of alley-oops from near halfcourt and even went over–not behind, over–his head to dish the ball off to Nicolas Batum for a three. The unselfishness started by Blake was contagious, and the Blazers used terrific ball movement to break down the Clippers’ D. Their 38 assists smashed their previous season high of 31.

2. Joel Przybilla as a go-to guy.
OK, it was only a possession or two early in the game, but Portland repeatedly threw the ball to Przybilla in the post. This is unusual for a player who has topped out at 6.4 points per game in his career. It happens when said player is being defended by Novak, giving up 25 pounds (officially; I’d put the difference closer to 50), and Collins, six inches shorter.

3. I get the hype on Eric Gordon.
The best reason to come watch the Clippers was their highly-touted rookie, currently fourth amongst first-year players in scoring at 15.0 points per game. Before the game, his head coach Mike Dunleavy raved about Gordon, calling him one of the best defensive rookies he’s ever seen. Gordon did a credible job matching up with Brandon Roy. I was more impressed by his quickness, which was better than I anticipated. On one play, the ball was knocked into the backcourt and Gordon recovered with five on the shot clock. That was still enough time for Gordon to get all the way into the paint for an attempt at the rim.

I also liked Gordon’s fearlessness taking the ball to the rack, which matched his impressive free-throw rate. He showed the ability to go off the dribble in either direction and used his body well to finish, which explains why he’s shooting 56.6 percent in shots inside of five feet according to NBA.com’s Hot Spots, much better than similar rookies O.J. Mayo (48.8 percent) and Russell Westbrook (46.7 percent) and just ahead of Chicago’s Derrick Rose (55.7 percent).

4. DeAndre Jordan is getting valuable minutes.
When I asked Dunleavy about the Clippers’ second-round pick, he pointed out that Jordan was expected to have something of a redshirt season. Those plans were scrapped when first Kaman and then Camby were lost for extended periods. Dunleavy has had no choice but to play Jordan, and the rookie has responded pretty well. On a per-minute basis, I have him rated as nearly average, on the strength of 66.2 percent shooting from the field. Jordan competed well during a lengthy stint as the only center available, though the rookie mistakes Dunleavy referenced before the game were also in evidence, highlighted by a silly goaltend of a shot that was obviously coming down.

5. Baron Davis’ body language–not so hot.
I suppose this one doesn’t really come as a surprise to anyone who has watched the Clippers for an extended period this season. Still, it’s impressive in person. After a failed runout on a Blake three-pointer, Davis stopped to pout, apparently in disbelief of his terrible fate. (I also theorized he was upset it was Blake’s first score of the game; I was looking up the most assists in a scoreless game before Blake finally got on the board.) At the end of the half, Davis and Roy bumped ever so slightly on their way to their respective locker rooms, leading to a little jawing. That might have fired Davis up, as he looked a little more engaged in the third quarter. By that point, it was far too little and far too late.

February 21, 2009

No Player is Irreplaceable, Except Robbie Hummel (cont.)

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:45 am

(I realize Unfiltered is fast becoming all-medical here, but, yo, these are all big stories.)

Last night Jeff Washburn of the Lafayette Journal & Courier posted a report on his blog saying that “chances are” Purdue‘s Robbie Hummel “has played his final game of the 2008-09 season.” Washburn reports that Hummel’s vertebrae fracture has worsened.

If Washburn’s sources prove correct, this is terrible news for Matt Painter‘s team. As already noted in Unfiltered, Hummel is absolutely critical to Purdue on both the offensive (three-point shooting) and defensive (rebounding) ends. The Boilermakers simply aren’t the same team without him.

Purdue plays three of their last five at home (Indiana, Ohio State, and Northwestern), with road games at Michigan and Michigan State. Hummel’s absence actually might not impact the Boilers’ record in those five games as much as it will cast doubt on how far this team can go in the NCAA tournament. If true it’s a very, very tough break for the Boilers. 

Boston’s Garnett to miss 2-3 weeks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 9:24 am

The news could have been worse. It looks like the Celtics will be without Kevin Garnett for two or three weeks after the MRI he had in Boston on Friday revealed a posterior muscle strain of the right knee.

In the long run, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue for Boston since KG will have plenty of time to work his way back to full strength for the postseason.

The problem, of course, is that the Celtics are engaged in  a neck-and-neck battle with Cleveland for the top seed in the East.  Boston finishes its current road trip with games in Phoenix, Denver and LA (Clippers). After a soft three-game stretch starting next Friday, Boston then faces Cleveland and Orlando at home and Miami on the road.

The Celtics’ success in winning without Garnett may determine whether his absence is closer to the two or the three week time frame. Last season, the Celtics went 7-2 during the only extended time Garnett missed, so the Celtics can survive this injury. However, Boston’s need to add another big man has become even more acute.

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