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February 17, 2009

Chandler to OKC

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 4:04 pm

Mere minutes after my deadline-related post, we have our first big deal of the week. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported that the New Orleans Hornets are sending Tyson Chandler to Oklahoma City for Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox, with The Oklahoman‘s Darnell Mayberry reporting the Hornets will also get the draft rights to former Cal center DeVon Hardin, drafted No. 50 overall by the Thunder last June.

This is being reported as a straight salary dump by New Orleans, which is reportedly experiencing financial issues and desperately wants to avoid the luxury tax next year. Hence the acquisition of two expiring contracts in Smith and Wilcox. I do wonder about the fact that the Hornets chose to move Chandler without a lot of reports indicating they were shopping other players. Maybe no one wanted James Posey‘s contract, and certainly Peja Stojakovic‘s would have been nearly impossible to move in a buyer’s market. Still, it seems odd that this is twice now that Chandler has been dumped for pennies on the dollar during or after down seasons.

New Orleans will miss Chandler more down the road than this season. Already, they’d played the last 12 games without him because of a sprained ankle, and his absence wasn’t devestating. Over the course of the season, they’re 3.6 points worse per 100 possessions without Chandler. The upside is the Hornets now have more depth in the frontcourt, with Wilcox and Smith taking minutes that had been going to the likes of Melvin Ely and Sean Marks. For the next two months, Wilcox will be on the receiving end of the alley-oop lobs that once went to Chandler. While he’s a major defensive liability, especially at center, a Wilcox-David West frontcourt would present problems for opposing defenses. New Orleans figures to lose a little ground in the crowded race for positioning in the Western Conference playoffs, but this doesn’t look like a tremendous hit in the short term.

My friend Seth joked last night about how most of the Sonics’ problems could be traced to the search for a starting center, which led to overpaid free-agent signings (Calvin Booth, Jerome James, Jim McIlvaine) and a string of failed draft picks (Robert Swift, Johan Petro, Mouhamed Sene). Well, it looks like at long last the franchise has found its center in the first year after moving from Seattle. Chandler’s athletic defensive-minded style is a perfect fit for the Thunder’s lineup, which has struggled at the defensive end since going small and moving Jeff Green (a poor rebounder) to power forward. With Kevin Durant, Green and Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City didn’t need much scoring out of the position, and Chandler is enough of a threat to keep defenses honest.

By dealing expiring contracts, the Thunder is essentially making Chandler its free-agent pickup. That makes a lot of sense because it is going to be challenging to lure free agents to Oklahoma City, and it is looking like cap space will be hard to come by with the cap potentially going down the next two summers. Adding Chandler gives the Thunder four pieces in place, needing only a guard to complement Westbrook and offer additional perimeter shooting. The one downside? I suspect if Sam Presti knew this deal would come available two months later, Oklahoma City probably would not have signed Nenad Krstic, since Nick Collison has been more effective this season and it will be hard to find playing time for three big men with Green at power forward.

Deadline Chatter

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:48 pm

With the NBA’s trade deadline a little over 48 hours away, the rumor mill continues to grind on, even if it now looks like the biggest name on the market (Amar’e Stoudemire) is unlikely to be moved. If you’ve got a question about the deadline deals, All-Star Weekend or any other topic that is on your mind, I’ll be chatting at Baseball Prospectus tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. If you can’t make the chat live, be sure to submit your question now and we’ll get it answered for you.

I also talked trade deadline on last night’s RotoRadio: Hoops Edition with hosts Tom Lorenzo and Tamer Chamma along with breaking down last week’s Miami-Toronto trade, the decision to fire Terry Porter and Kevin Durant‘s big weekend. The podcast of that show is still available.

As news breaks today, tomorrow and Thursday, be sure to check out BP: Unfiltered for immediate reaction as well as our more detailed Transaction Analysis coverage a little bit later.

Blair is Obama, Griffin is Hillary. Discuss.

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:37 pm

I don’t particularly follow the NBA, but one thing even a poseur like me can appreciate about the league is that it nourishes its most intense rivalries in the crucible of the playoffs. When the Red Sox and the Yankees face each other in October it’s always great, but of course the Red Sox and the Yankees don’t always face each other in October. Same for the NFL. Just when you think the Giants and Cowboys are on-track for a nice little NFC feud of consequence, the former’s knocked out in the divisional round and the latter doesn’t even make it that far.

But in the NBA it seems like the team to beat is almost always standing in your way in the playoffs. Back in the day, Detroit had to get past Boston. When the Pistons pulled that off, the next year Chicago had to get past Detroit. When the Bulls performed that feat, the next year New York had to get past Chicago. Most memorably for me (only because I was there), in 2002 Sacramento had to get past L.A. They almost did.

One thing I really appreciate about Jim Calhoun, then, is that he’s sustained an unusual and indeed NBA-like level of continuity at Connecticut. Not just continuity in results, mind you, but also continuity in style. UConn is always UConn, putting the fear of God into any opponent foolhardy enough to bring the ball in the paint. If you squint hard enough you can ignore 2006-07 entirely–then it looks like the Huskies are a hardy perennial just like Kobe, KG, or Dwight.

Having ever-fearsome UConn on hand year after year means other teams are tested against an enduring standard. George Mason‘s win against the Huskies in the 2006 Elite Eight wasn’t as huge as it was simply because the underdog won. Strictly speaking it would have been an equally big upset had the Patriots won by bombing away from the perimeter. But the fact that Jim Larranaga‘s team took the ball right into the teeth of the UConn defense and won the game in the paint was what made the win an unalloyed triumph and not a mere fluke. (“We got beat in the post, which we really haven’t all year,” Calhoun said that afternoon, “and we got beat good in the post.”)

Speaking of unalloyed triumphs, Pitt beat Connecticut 76-68 in Hartford last night. The Panthers won with serial excellence. First it was feathery jumpers from Sam Young. Then, over a period spanning both halves, it was fearless–and effective–attacks on the basket from DeJuan Blair. Then, finally, it was two well-timed threes from Levance Fields. (Though truth be told the second of the two was achingly ill-advised. When you’re 1-of-9 from the field, DeJuan Blair is your teammate, and Hasheem Thabeet has four fouls, you do not shoot a three early in the clock. But it went in. Hoops rewards accuracy over judgment. Dig it.)

There have been other great games this season, and there have been other games between teams that can win the national championship. But this was the first great game between teams that can win the national championship. Wake Forest and North Carolina played a tremendous game in Winston-Salem on January 11, and the Heels and Duke certainly put on a good show for the first half of their game last week. But neither of those games can compare with what we saw last night. It’s too bad Jerome Dyson‘s out for the year and Connecticut was down a starter for this one (Carolina, of course, would say join the club), but this game was 40 minutes of sustained and ferocious combat between two of the best four teams in the country. When it was over Pitt, and more particularly Blair, had conquered the UConn, and more particularly Thabeet, challenge.

There’s never a bad time, of course, to record a 22-23 double-double, as Blair did last night. But to hang it on Thabeet at his place in front of a flock of NBA scouts on ESPN’s Big Monday would have to qualify as some seriously good timing.

Alert reader David H. writes:

Having just been thoroughly impressed by Mr. Blair’s performance against UConn, and fresh off reading your Unfiltered post on his importance to Pitt, I took a look at his personal stats on kempom.com. I knew he was a good rebounder and post scorer, but what I found blew me away.

I’m sure you already noticed this, and possibly even pointed it out in a post, but by the numbers he is BY FAR the best major-conference offensive rebounder of the past five years. He’s so far ahead it looks like a typo. 

                                            OR%    
DeJuan Blair, Pitt (2009)                  25.7   
Aleks Maric, Nebraska (2008)               16.8
DeJuan Blair, Pitt (2008)                  16.6
Sean May, North Carolina (2005)            16.6
Kevin Young, Missouri (2006)               16.4
Jordan Hill, Arizona (2009)                15.9
Yancey Gates, Cincinnati (2009)            15.7

And he has the best offensive rating of any major-conference player (with 24 percent usage rate or higher).

                                           ORtng    
DeJuan Blair, Pitt (2009)                  129.2   
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina (2009)    126.7
Kevin Love, UCLA (2008)                    126.6
Travis Diener, Marquette (2005)            126.6
Chris Lofton, Tennessee (2007)             125.5
Brandon Roy, Washington (2006)             125.3
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina (2008)    125.2

He’s no slouch when it comes to defensive rebounding, either.

                                            DR%    
Blake Griffin, Oklahoma (2009)             32.4   
Michael Beasley, Kansas St. (2008)         29.9
DeJuan Blair, Pitt (2009)                  28.7
Kevin Love, UCLA (2008)                    28.5
Jon Brockman, Washington (2008)            28.1
Al Horford, Florida (2007)                 27.1
Aaron Gray, Pitt (2006)                    27.0
Aleks Maric, Nebraska (2008)               27.0

David H. 

(BONUS side note! I’m getting entirely too many great emails lately. Tell you what, I’ll start up a weekly mailbag here in Unfiltered from now until Detroit. Call it, um, Unfiltered-Back! I don’t know, I need a name. Anyway, let me hear from you and I’ll respond here.)

It is of course too early for definitive POY distinctions. There’s still five weeks of basketball to be played, three of them before ballots for this kind of thing are due. But, per David’s grunt work, let me state at the top that the fact that there’s already consensus on who will win national POY doesn’t mean we all have to be on board. Surely if 2008 taught us anything it’s that once in a great while the inevitable winner can turn out to be not so inevitable after all, especially when confronted with an unforeseen but extraordinary late entrant to the field.

Not declaring either way yet, mind you. Just saying, my ballot’s still blank.   

February 16, 2009

DeJuan Blair is Extra Super-Duper Important

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:40 am

I realize it’s beyond obvious to say that for Pitt to have a shot at knocking off number 1 Connecticut on the Huskies’ home floor tonight, DeJuan Blair will have to stay out of foul trouble. But allow me to say this:

For Pitt to have a shot at knocking off number 1 Connecticut on the Huskies’ home floor tonight, DeJuan Blair will have to stay out of foul trouble.

In the course of working up my piece on the most inconsistent teams in college hoops, I took a look at the Panthers’ performance on a game-to-game basis. To this point in the Big East season, Jamie Dixon‘s team has been two different units: a very consistent (and pretty good, though not stellar) defense, and an incredibly efficient though fretfully inconsistent offense.

In fact, Pitt has the best offense the Big East has seen in a long while. And if you remember what Georgetown looked like on offense in 2007, you know that’s saying something.

Best Big East offenses, 2006-2009 
Conference games only, 2009 figures through games of February 15
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes     PPP: points per possession                                                            Pace    PPP    
1.  Pitt 2009          65.5    1.18   
2.  Notre Dame 2006    65.2    1.15
3.  Marquette 2009     69.0    1.14
4.  Georgetown 2007    59.4    1.14
5.  Notre Dame 2008    72.2    1.11
6.  Connecticut 2008   67.7    1.11
7.  Connecticut 2009   66.4    1.11
 

On paper this might be the most balanced offense we’ve seen since Chris Paul was at Wake Forest. Pitt does everything well: twos, threes, taking care of the ball, offensive rebounds–everything. 

It is also, however, an inconsistent balanced offense. Moreover the inconsistency can be traced to one primary factor: Blair sitting on the bench with foul trouble, as he did in road losses at Louisville and Villanova. In those two games Pitt scored just 0.87 points per trip. In their ten wins, conversely, the Panthers have been literally unstoppable, recording 1.25 points per possession.

He’s that important. If Blair can just stay in the game tonight, the collision between this offense and the outstanding UConn defense should be well worth the price of admission.  

February 14, 2009

Durant’s Coming-Out Party/Moneyball in the NBA

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:55 pm

First, I urge you: Stop whatever you are doing and read Michael Lewis‘ piece in today’s New York Times: The No-Stats All-Star. Lewis spotlights Shane Battier, someone who will never be part of the NBA’s All-Star festivities, yet still has All-Star-type impact on the floor.

Naturally, Daryl Morey and the Rockets front office is the closest match for the Oakland A’s approach in baseball spotlighted by Lewis in Moneyball, and in Battier he found a fascinating subject. Morey opens up on his philosophy more than he ever has before, and Lewis tries to explain how Battier became what he now is–the ultimate specialist.

One well-known statistic the Rockets’ front office pays attention to is plus-minus, which simply measures what happens to the score when any given player is on the court. In its crude form, plus-minus is hardly perfect: a player who finds himself on the same team with the world’s four best basketball players, and who plays only when they do, will have a plus-minus that looks pretty good, even if it says little about his play. Morey says that he and his staff can adjust for these potential distortions — though he is coy about how they do it — and render plus-minus a useful measure of a player’s effect on a basketball game. A good player might be a plus 3 — that is, his team averages 3 points more per game than its opponent when he is on the floor. In his best season, the superstar point guard Steve Nash was a plus 14.5. At the time of the Lakers game, Battier was a plus 10, which put him in the company of Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett, both perennial All-Stars. For his career he’s a plus 6. “Plus 6 is enormous,” Morey says. “It’s the difference between 41 wins and 60 wins.” He names a few other players who were a plus 6 last season: Vince Carter, Carmelo Anthony, Tracy McGrady.

It’s an absolute must-read, and I only hope it eventually turns into a full-fledged book treatment of the subject.

Now let us turn to our main topic. I love All-Star Weekend in part because I approach it 99 percent as fan and one percent as analyst. I just enjoy the show. Rare is the opportunity to take anything meaningful from an All-Star event. Last night was the exception that proves the rule.

Somehow, the Rookie Challenge–an event that usually devolves into And One slapstick by the second half, the occasional highlight-reel clip overshadowed by twice as many turnovers–turned into a semi-real basketball game. That proved a perfect setting for Kevin Durant‘s coming-out party.

Durant has been playing great basketball for the last two months while flying largely under the radar, which is strange given the insane hype that followed him between the time he finished up at Texas and the midpoint of his rookie season in Seattle. I was a part of the media hordes–local and national–that flocked to Durant during that period. Then the team moved, he wasn’t an instant superstar, and the country evidently forgot all about him.

Last night reminded the world why they fell in love with Durant in the first place. At best, his skillset is unparalleled. TNT color analyst Kenny Smith–who evidently needs to invest in League Pass; it sounded like first-half guest analyst LeBron James, who was very good and natural, had seen the Thunder play more often than Smith–was amazed at Durant’s ability to handle the ball. Playing against small defenders the entire evening because he was back at guard for a night (and when you’re 6’9″ or maybe even 6″10, they’re almost all smaller), Durant easily rose and fired from distance all night long when he wasn’t driving past them to the basket for dunks.

The Rookies looked well on their way to ending a six-year losing streak when Durant caught fire, making three triples in a four-possession span to key a 13-0 Sophomore run. He would come up with a couple of important baskets in the final two minutes to hold the second-year players at bay and finished with 46 points–not only 10 more than anyone had ever scored in a Rookie Challenge but also a record for any All-Star competition. He needed just 29 shooting possessions to get them, good for a 79.3 percent True Shooting Percentage. Obviously the defense wasn’t at a regular-season level, but the way Durant got his points is how he has been doing it throughout the last two highly-efficient months.

The scary thing is the development Durant has left to do; he’s still only 20 and is as hard a worker in the gym as almost anyone I’ve ever seen. I put no ceiling on what Durant eventually might become. Just about everyone watching last night’s game had to draw the same conclusion.

February 13, 2009

Marion-O’Neal Deal Apparently Completed

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:55 pm

As first reported by Ric Bucher at ESPN.com, it looks like the Heat and Raptors have completed a deal whose framework we’ve known about for some time centered around Shawn Marion and Jermaine O’Neal. In this case, the particulars seem to be very interesting. Toronto has to take on the onerous contract of Marcus Banks while throwing in forward Jamario Moon and also, depending on your source, a first-round pick (Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo.com has the pick in the deal).

When this deal was Banks and Marion for O’Neal, I hated it from the Heat’s perspective. O’Neal is an upgrade on what Miami has at center–but only when he’s healthy, which has been far from a guarantee in recent years. At this point, O’Neal is a star player in name only. Meanwhile, when I analyzed Marion’s game, I concluded a lot of the drop-off on his numbers is how he’s being used by the Heat. Add in the extra year on O’Neal’s massive contract and the deal looked lopsided in Toronto’s favor.

Everything else, however, tends to even this swap up. In particular, I think Moon is key. He’s fallen out of favor with Raptors fans, but all his numbers remain strong. Moon has been nearly as effective as Marion by my numbers, and Toronto remains a far better team with him on the floor. For what Miami is asking its small forward to do, Moon should be a good fit. So this deal seems to cement the Heat as a threat for home-court advantage in the East.

From the Raptors’ perspective, their falling to the depths of the conference has opposing effects on this deal. On the one hand, adding Marion surely won’t be enough to make Toronto a playoff favorite. At the same time, the Raptors can cut bait and let Marion go at season’s end to save money if rebuilding looks like the best course.

Five (Belated) Portland-OKC Observations

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:21 pm

I made it back down to the Rose Garden Wednesday to watch the Blazers host the Oklahoma City Thunder, but did not keep a live blog. Instead, five observations from the game in what I think might become my new format for games I catch in person.

1. Russell Westbrook is a freak
I’ve been following Westbrook’s bizarre offensive rebound numbers with great interest throughout the season. Westbrook’s offensive rebound rate (8.2 percent) is virtually the same as his defensive rebound rate (8.7). You see this from time to time, but almost always with big men, not point guards. It’s one thing to see the numbers on a spreadsheet, quite another to viscerally experience Westbrook materializing out of nowhere like Agent Smith in The Matrix to grab a rebound. On this night, Westbrook had eight (8!) offensive rebounds amongst his 11. If he gets the jumper, it’s game over.

2. Greg Oden looked good
Wednesday was my seventh time watching Oden in person this season, and it’s the best he’s looked in any of those games. Oden avoided the cheap fouls which have been the bane of his existence this season, finished with power in the paint and destroyed all three of the shots he blocked. I would be more concerned about Oden’s up-and-down season if we weren’t seeing these kinds of flashes on a regular basis. Eventually–especially as he cuts down on the fouls–they will become more regular.

3. I still would take Kevin Durant over Oden
I was amongst the handful of folks that favored Durant over Oden in 2007, and his play this season has demonstrated why. There are comparisons for Durant, in particular Carmelo Anthony, but when Durant is on he can control a game in a variety of ways that guys like Anthony simply can’t match. Durant seems to be making similar moves to last year with a little extra decisiveness, and that has made a huge difference. When he comes flying into the lane with a head of steam while still under control, I’m not sure how you handle that defensively. And now Durant (averaging 3.7 assists per game since the New Year) is making plays as a passer too.

4. Sam Presti is going to be busy next week
The Thunder’s GM has to move at least one and maybe two big men in the near future. Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith, two competent rotation players, are splitting about 15 minutes a night behind starting power forward Jeff Green. Smith sat out Wednesday’s game with a minor injury, giving Wilcox a rare chance to play (he responded with a team-high 11 points in the first half). Oklahoma City’s frontcourt rotation is only going to get more crowded when rookie D.J. White is able to return from surgery to remove a growth from his jaw. Nick Collison has solidified his spot as the starting center, and Nenad Krstic has been solid since the Thunder signed him midseason. Wilcox and Smith–both in the final years of their contracts–figure to both be gone by this time next week, and Damien Wilkins (getting only garbage time) and Earl Watson could be in play as well as Presti continues to stockpile assets to go along with five first-round picks over the next two years.

5. Put me on Team Bayless
The Jerryd BaylessSergio Rodriguez debate has divided Blazers fans. Only one can stay in the rotation when starting point guard Steve Blake returns to action after the All-Star break. I was relatively agnostic on the issue before Bayless won me over with his impressive performance Wednesday night, including a career-high eight assists. Meanwhile, Rodriguez was busy coughing up the ball like he was playing hot potato. Court vision is Rodriguez’s major advantage over Bayless, so when the latter is seeing the court as he was Wednesday, there’s little argument for playing the former. I think Rodriguez can be a success in the right system–the similarity scores I calculated for him in a two-part series for the blog Blazer’s Edge were very impressive. He just doesn’t fit Nate McMillan‘s system at all.

BONUS self-aggrandizing note: Oh yes, Wednesday also happened to be the first visit by the Thunder to Portland since leaving Seattle. As a Sonics fan since childhood and an employee for six years, this was kind of a big deal for me. TrueHoop published my thoughts on this element of the game.

February 12, 2009

Freaks and Geeks and Coach K

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:29 pm

It’s been nine years now since “Freaks and Geeks” enjoyed its short happy life on TV, then insured its street cred forever by being canceled after just 12 episodes. In death the series’ legend has only grown, in part because pretty much everyone on it–even the supporting cast–has become famous, a trend helped along greatly by a parallel ascendance in the career of the show’s producer, Judd Apatow.

If you’re new to the legend, I recommend episode 5, “Tests and Breasts.” James Franco plays a stoner, Daniel, who has cheated on an algebra test with the help of his smart friend Lindsey, played by Linda Cardellini. The two of them are hauled in front of the school authorities, where the irate algebra teacher challenges Daniel to simply re-do the first problem on the test in front of the assembled witnesses, including Lindsey’s parents. As Lindsey whimpers in dread, Daniel accepts the challenge defiantly and begins writing in earnest. “See!” Lindsey’s father says approvingly. “Look at him go.” What Lindsey’s father doesn’t know is that Daniel is in fact writing a very ornately rendered “Zeppelin Rocks” on the test.

I’ve loved that “look at him go” ever since, as a reminder of how futile it is to try to watch someone doing what they do. Fred Astaire, Michael Jordan, and Daniel Day Lewis notwithstanding, people who do great things usually do so without putting on much of a display. “Look at him go” cropped up for me a couple weeks ago, when photos were released of President Obama’s first day in office. He looked very earnest and capable, I thought. See, he’s turning this thing around already! Look at him go.

I thought of “look at him go” again last night, as Duke lost to North Carolina 101-87 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. I’ll leave it to media-studies grad students armed with stopwatches and DVRs to confirm my impression, but it’s always seemed to me that Mike Krzyzewski gets more in-game screen time than any coach in the nation, a state of affairs that’s particularly striking when Coach K is pitted against a fellow lion of the profession like, say, Roy Williams. This prominence is no vast Duke-wing conspiracy, I trust, just the unconscious inclination of dozens of different anonymous directors in the proverbial truck.

Those anonymous directors are on to something. For the past few seasons, maybe ever since Elton Brand left, the unstated expectation brought to any Duke game against an elite opponent has been that maybe Coach K can figure something out and get the W for his plucky dive-on-the-floor Blue Devils. If Jon Scheyer gets caught in the air and tosses the ball out of bounds, the next thing we see should of course be Coach K. He’s not only the leader in career wins among active coaches, he also really does look earnest and capable. He’s thinking. Look at him go.

But we don’t watch other teams that way. We don’t watch North Carolina that way. We don’t wait for Jim Calhoun to hit upon a brilliant scheme that will intercede decisively for his Connecticut team. We didn’t look closely to see the wheels turning for Bill Self last year or for Billy Donovan the previous two years. For those teams, the story is being played out on the floor. The camera follows the story.

Not that Duke lacks for talent, of course. There’s no shortage of McDonald’s All-Americans in Durham. But if I were a Blue Devil I’d yearn for a little less depth in the McDonald’s-blessed Scheyer/Greg Paulus category and for a larger supply of McDonald’s rejects like DeJuan Blair or Luke Harangody or Jodie Meeks, players who author their own plots, who keep the camera riveted on them.

If I were a Blue Devil I’d want players that could make me say “look at him go” more often than I say it about the coach.

Behold the best team in the ACC
Last night codified what our eyes have been telling us for the past week or two. Announcers can fret about the Tar Heels’ depth now that Marcus Ginyard is officially done for the year (and Will Graves‘ 11 minutes per game aren’t coming through that door anymore either), but for now UNC is clearly the class of a conference whose other behemoths are mid-stagger.

It took a while, but after an 0-2 start the Heels are officially back on top.

Welcome back 
Through games of February 11, 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.  North Carolina   76.5    1.16   1.00   +0.16
2.  Duke             68.6    1.04   0.91   +0.13
3.  Clemson          69.5    1.08   1.00   +0.08
4.  Florida St.      69.0    0.99   0.95   +0.04
5.  Wake Forest      74.4    1.03   1.01   +0.02
6.  Virginia Tech    68.9    1.07   1.07    0.00
7.  Miami            66.7    1.06   1.08   -0.02
8.  BC               68.1    1.09   1.11   -0.02
9.  Georgia Tech     72.3    0.89   0.96   -0.07
10. Maryland         70.9    0.95   1.04   -0.09
11. NC State         67.7    1.02   1.11   -0.09
12. Virginia         70.2    0.95   1.10   -0.15
 

BONUS behemoths in mid-stagger note! What in the world’s happened to Wake Forest? Last night they lost to NC State, 82-76, in Raleigh. Last week I noted the Deacons’ recent struggles on offense, but the hitherto offensively meek Wolfpack ringing up 82 points in a 74-possession contest raises a somewhat more ominous possibility. Wake fans, hope against hope that this wasn’t the second act in a full-blown meltdown, one that starts on one side of the ball but becomes so dispiriting that it engulfs the entire franchise.

February 11, 2009

What in the World’s Gotten into Villanova?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:56 am

When you score 204 points in two games against NCAA tournament-quality Big East opponents, you get an Unfiltered post.

Villanova is turning Philadelphia into the college hoops equivalent of Phoenix, circa 2007. A modified “seven seconds or less” is working in Philly, as over the past four days the Wildcats have won home games against Syracuse (102-85, 83 possessions) and Marquette (102-84, 77 possessions).

What’s especially impressive about this explosion is that almost all of these possessions are starting the old-fashioned way, either off a defensive rebound or an opponent’s score. Villanova’s phenomenal shooting over this stretch (44 percent on threes, 63 percent on twos) isn’t coming off of opponent turnovers, which have actually declined at the faster pace.

Whatever Jay Wright put into the Gatorade has made a difference across the board: Shane Clark is suddenly shooting as much as Corey Fisher. Fisher and Scottie Reynolds are suddenly making shots like they’re Dante Cunningham. Cunningham is suddenly making shots like he’s Bill Walton in the 1973 national championship game.

All this has the ‘Cats zooming up the charts in the metrics that matter….

Newly elite ‘Nova 
Big East pace and efficiency rankings
Through games of February 10, 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.  Connecticut      66.4    1.14   0.94   +0.20
2.  Pitt             66.1    1.16   1.00   +0.16
3.  Marquette        68.9    1.15   1.02   +0.13
4.  Louisville       68.4    1.00   0.87   +0.13
5.  Villanova        72.4    1.10   0.99   +0.11
6.  Syracuse         72.3    1.09   1.05   +0.04
7.  West Virginia    67.2    1.01   0.98   +0.03
8.  Providence       72.7    1.06   1.07   -0.01
9.  Georgetown       64.4    1.03   1.07   -0.04
10. Cincinnati       65.1    1.02   1.07   -0.05
11. Seton Hall       68.3    1.07   1.12   -0.05
12. Notre Dame       70.0    1.06   1.14   -0.08
13. S. Florida       63.6    0.95   1.05   -0.10
14. St. John’s       67.0    0.94   1.07   -0.13
15. Rutgers          66.2    0.95   1.08   -0.13
16. DePaul           65.5    0.93   1.16   -0.23

Now the bad news. Villanova plays at West Virginia Friday night, a game that has “back to earth” written all over it. The Mountaineers have the best defense in the conference outside of Louisville and Connecticut, with a particular specialty in absolutely brutal perimeter D. (Big East opponents have made just 23 percent of their threes.) If the ‘Cats can venture north of the century mark in Morgantown, it’s officially time to send the Gatorade to the lab for testing.

BONUS top-to-bottom Big East coverage! Per my post yesterday, DePaul did indeed lose at home to Seton Hall last night, 72-49, bringing their record to 0-12 in-conference. Barring a Chaminade-scale surprise, the Blue Demons are now down to one last chance to avoid going winless in the Big East: their home game two weeks from Saturday against St. John’s. Lose that and it’s likely Oregon State in 2008-level infamy for the 2009 Demons.    

February 10, 2009

DePaul, Georgia, and Oregon Don’t Wish to Make History

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

If you’ve been reading along here for a while, you know I have what can only be termed a morbid interest in teams that go winless in-conference. I can’t help it: the O-fer is surprisingly rare and therefore interesting.

Going into last year, no team had gone winless in major conference play since 2004, when Texas A&M went 0-16 in the Big 12. Then in 2008 Oregon State came along, in their pre-Craig Robinson version, and the Beavers joined the club, so to speak, with an 0-18 mark in the Pac-10.

Meaning in the last five full seasons of major conference hoops (2003-04 to 2007-08), there have been over 300 individual conference seasons played by the 73 teams in those leagues. And of those 300+ seasons, just two of them ended without a single win. That’s rare.

A moment’s reflection brings home how hard it truly is to go winless across an entire conference season. Your team has to be either incredibly unlucky or it has to be struggling so badly that it can’t even win a home game against the conference’s second-worst team. That just doesn’t happen very often.

And yet this year there are no fewer than three major-conference teams still without a win even as Valentine’s Day fast approaches: DePaul (0-11, Big East), Georgia (0-8, SEC), and Oregon (0-11, Pac-10). Will any of them join the A&M-OSU club? Will all of them?

Let’s consider each case individually.

DePaul: Rethinking this whole “let’s join the Big East” thing
Big East pace and efficiency rankings
Through games of February 9, 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.  Connecticut      66.4    1.14   0.94   +0.20
2.  Marquette        68.1    1.15   0.98   +0.17
3.  Pitt             66.1    1.16   1.00   +0.16
4.  Louisville       68.4    1.00   0.87   +0.13
5.  Villanova        72.0    1.08   0.98   +0.10
6.  Syracuse         72.3    1.09   1.05   +0.04
7.  West Virginia    67.2    1.01   0.98   +0.03
8.  Providence       73.1    1.06   1.09   -0.03
9.  Georgetown       64.4    1.03   1.07   -0.04
10. Cincinnati       65.1    1.02   1.07   -0.05
11. Notre Dame       70.0    1.06   1.14   -0.08
12. Seton Hall       69.3    1.06   1.14   -0.08
13. S. Florida       63.1    0.95   1.04   -0.09
14. St. John’s       67.0    0.94   1.07   -0.13
15. Rutgers          66.2    0.95   1.08   -0.13
16. DePaul           66.1    0.94   1.16   -0.22

(This is entirely off-subject, but if anyone had told me five weeks ago that Seton Hall would be performing at the exact same levels on both sides of the ball in-conference as Notre Dame, I would have said, “Sheeyah, and I suppose Georgetown will be 4-7.”) 

Note that DePaul plays basically the same level of offense as three other struggling Big East teams. The real problem for the Blue Demons, however, is defense. It was just two short years ago that, led by Wilson Chandler and Marcus Heard, this team actually played very good (if little noticed) D. Those days are long gone. DePaul allowed Big East opponents to score 1.12 points per trip last year and, as seen above, things have stayed essentially the same on that front in 2009.

So while it would be tempting to predict that the Blue Demons will win their game at home tonight against Seton Hall, the Pirates’ slightly above-average offense doesn’t bode well for DePaul fans. Note that SHU has already won road games at St. John’s and Rutgers. And the Blue Demons have already lost at home to South Florida, a team playing at a similar level to the Hall.

Assuming a loss tonight, the date for the Demons to circle here is the February 28 game at home against St. John’s. It’s almost certain to be their last best hope.

DePaul’s chances of going O-fer: Fair.   

Georgia: Embracing the stereotype of non-Kentucky SEC hoops ennui

                                    Opp.
                     Pace    PPP    PPP      EM
1.  LSU              70.1    1.11   0.90   +0.21
2.  Florida          72.5    1.09   0.98   +0.11
3.  Kentucky         70.2    1.03   0.93   +0.10
4.  Mississippi St.  68.2    1.04   0.99   +0.05
5.  Tennessee        70.0    1.11   1.07   +0.04
6.  South Carolina   76.0    1.03   1.00   +0.03
7.  Auburn           69.3    1.00   1.02   -0.02
8.  Ole Miss         68.1    1.02   1.07   -0.05
9.  Vanderbilt       68.3    1.00   1.06   -0.06
10. Alabama          70.4    0.99   1.07   -0.08
11. Arkansas         70.0    0.97   1.10   -0.13
12. Georgia          70.7    0.85   1.04   -0.19

With an OK defense but an extraordinarily impotent offense, the Bulldogs are bizarro DePaul. On January 29 head coach Dennis Felton was relieved of his duties and Pete Herrmann took over on an interim basis. Two days later the Dawgs just missed getting off the proverbial schneid, losing by five at Alabama.

With that opportunity gone, Georgia is done no favors by the imbalance of power in the SEC. The league as a whole may be “down,” but the Bulldogs nevertheless find themselves trapped in the cellar of a six-team SEC East that could quite possibly send four teams to the NCAA tournament. The fifth-best team, Vanderbilt, may not remind anyone of UNLV 1991, but the Commodores are at least respectable and, as it happens, improving rapidly on offense. Even in their previous bad-offense incarnation, the ‘Dores beat UGA by ten in Nashville on January 14. The return date in Athens will be played February 25.

By contrast the easy pickings for Georgia (oxymoron noted, speaking relatively) would figure to be in the West but, alas, the Dawgs get but one bite at each of those apples. And as luck would have it, their game against the SEC’s 11th-best team, Arkansas, will be an away game, to be played in Fayetteville on March 1. (Hey, that’s shaping up to be a big weekend.)

Georgia’s chances of going O-fer: Good. 

Oregon: What happened?

                                    Opp.
                     Pace    PPP    PPP      EM
1.  UCLA             63.4    1.16   0.99   +0.17
2.  Arizona St.      58.4    1.09   1.00   +0.09
3.  Washington       70.2    1.12   1.03   +0.09
4.  Cal              64.4    1.08   1.04   +0.04
5.  USC              63.0    1.02   0.99   +0.03
6.  Arizona          63.3    1.05   1.05    0.00
7.  Stanford         66.3    1.03   1.08   -0.05
8.  Washington St.   57.0    0.99   1.04   -0.05
9.  Oregon St.       56.8    0.94   1.08   -0.14
10. Oregon           64.7    0.97   1.17   -0.20

Note the DePaul-like appearance here, a relatively weak offense matched with an incredibly permissive D.

The Ducks’ prognosis is simple: they’ll have a three-game home-stand between February 19 and March 1, featuring games against Stanford, Cal, and Oregon State. If the Ducks win a game or even two, this home-stand will be where it happens. As both the in-state rival and the league’s ninth-best team, the Beavers in particular loom large. While much improved from last year (and even that’s putting it mildly), Craig Robinson’s team is notably benign on offense, making them the perfect opponent for this Duck defense. That should be a big game.

Oregon’s chances of going O-fer: Poor.

BONUS staving-off-the-bagel note! Behold Air Force, 0-9 in the Mountain West and displaying an efficiency margin in league play (-0.31) akin to what Oregon State laid down last year (-0.30). The Falcons are downright Georgian in their struggles to score. Their best chance to evade history’s cruel grip will come on consecutive Saturdays, February 21 and 28, when the nine-team MWC sends its eighth- and seventh-best teams, Colorado State and Wyoming, to pay visits to Colorado Springs.  

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