Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

December 2, 2011

The old Calipari D is back

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

Kentucky hosts North Carolina tomorrow, and if you’re thinking it might be kind of fun to watch, say, Terrence Jones go up against John Henson, I’m right there with you. This is a great match-up, even if the Tar Heels’ loss to UNLV last weekend has deprived tomorrow’s game of some of its Game of the Millennium status.

The Wildcats beat Kansas by ten in Madison Square Garden a couple weeks ago, and a few days after that Old Dominion managed to hang with John Calipari‘s team for about 35 minutes on a neutral floor in Connecticut before also losing by ten. Otherwise UK’s logged a lot of possessions while sitting on comfortable leads, up to and including last night’s 81-59 win over St. John’s in Lexington.

The good news is we can still learn things from these possessions, even if they were recorded in lopsided games. Look at Wisconsin. The fact that the Badgers could whomp Kennesaw State by an especially fierce margin even by Kennesaw State standards (54 points) turned out to have predictive value after all. Ask these very same Tar Heels about their close brush with a home loss the other night.

Besides, the reason these games are lopsided in the first place is that Kentucky happens to be pretty good at basketball, especially on defense. Throughout his career Calipari has recruited the nation’s top players and somehow convinced them to buckle down and play amazing D. True, last year did represent something of a blip: UK was very good on defense, but only “very good” and certainly not Alabama-good.

This year already looks like it will represent a return to the old Calipari ways on D. Opponents have managed just 0.77 points per possession, and no one’s scored a point per trip against UK. (Portland holds the current record: 0.91 points per possession in their 87-63 loss to the Cats in Lexington last Saturday. Eric Reveno, I salute you!) And as if to make things easy for you, the viewer of tomorrow’s game, Kentucky has concentrated all of their defensive excellence into just one category: defending shots. Everything else — rebounding, forcing turnovers, etc. — is just what you’d see from a normal team, but when it comes to forcing misses UK’s on another planet. This year opponents have made just 33 percent of their twos and 27 percent of their threes.

Give a lot of the credit for that first number to 6-10 freshman Anthony Davis, who’s blocking an absurd 17 percent of opponents’ twos during his minutes. Even better he’s doing it without fouling — this kid can be on the floor whenever Calipari wishes.

The Cats are pretty fair at offense too, of course, scoring 1.17 points per trip to date and doing so with a remarkably balanced six-player rotation. Behold:

               %Min  %Shots  OR%   DR%  FTM-FTA  Pct  2PM-2PA  Pct  3PM-3PA  Pct
Jones          75.0   22.3   7.0  17.0   25-36   69.4  30-60   50.0   7-11   63.6
Lamb           74.6   20.8   3.2   9.8   25-28   89.3  17-37   45.9  14-29   48.3
Davis          66.4   18.4  12.7  20.6   19-36   52.8  36-51   70.6   0-1     0.0
Kidd-Gilchrist 72.1   19.2   7.3  14.6   21-28   75.0  22-46   47.8   5-13   38.5
Teague         75.4   19.0   2.1   5.9   10-18   55.6  22-46   47.8   7-15   46.7
Miller         71.3   16.8  10.1   8.4    9-11   81.8  18-30   60.0   5-21   23.8

Outside of Syracuse you very rarely see an elite team’s shots distributed this evenly. For instance last year in Lexington Brandon Knight and Jones both carried much larger loads on offense than anything we see from a single Kentucky player this season. So doff your cap to Jones, who’s accepted a big reduction in shots this year, yet has kept his scoring average right where it was previously thanks to some bold tinkering with accuracy as a sophomore.

At some point this season Kentucky will actually play a close game (amazing, I know) and when that happens you’ll see UK fans grow visibly apprehensive if any player not named “Doron Lamb,” “Michael Kidd-Gilchrist,” or “Darius Miller” gets sent to the line. Meantime enjoy this team for what it is. A vintage Memphis-era Calipari defense, with a very good Kentucky-era offense too.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

December 1, 2011

The uniqueness of UNLV and Moser

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 3:30 pm

I have an Insider piece on UNLV forthcoming, but in the meantime I want to add a couple further thoughts that I was unable to fit into what will no doubt be hailed as deathless prose….

A POT that gets offensive boards.
The Rebels have devoted 40 percent of their shots to threes thus far, yet they get offensive boards too (they’ve hauled down 36 percent of their own misses). That’s unusual. Typically when you see a perimeter-oriented team (POT), they’re either just really bad at offensive rebounding because of their personnel and the way they’re spaced on offense, or they actively avoid offensive boards out of a concern for transition defense. And, within reason, all of the above is fine. We’ve seen time and time again that it’s possible for a POT to be really good on offense without being really good at offensive rebounding, the locus classicus being perhaps Wisconsin in 2011. But my question is simply whether such offenses truly have to sacrifice offensive rebounding to be that good, or whether perhaps they could have been better still with a few more offensive boards.

In this vein I think of the Duke national championship team from 2010. Powered by Brian Zoubek, the Blue Devils that year were manifestly beastly on the offensive glass. The only question is whether we can correctly classify a team that took a normal number of threes in a conference which (that year) never shot threes as “perimeter-oriented.” Anyway, first-year UNLV head coach Dave Rice may give us a cleaner test of this proposition. As long as 6-8 sophomore Mike Moser is on the floor, this team will get offensive rebounds. Speaking of Moser….

There’s a reason this never happens.
Moser is a UCLA transfer (so too, of course, is Chace Stanback), one who left the Bruins expressly because of a lack of playing time. Take it from Ben Howland, May 7, 2010:

Mike is a good kid, a great student, and a very hard worker. I have enjoyed having him in our program. He has a great attitude and I’m supportive of him finding a program where he will have a chance to play more minutes than we envision he will have here.

Oops. UCLA’s 2-4, and Moser’s blowing up like DeJuan Blair, Jr. Through games of November 30:

          %Min  %Shots  OR%   DR%  FTM-FTA  Pct  2PM-2PA  Pct  3PM-3PA  Pct
Moser     74.5   28.0  17.1  28.6   28-35   80.0  44-77   57.1   8-26   30.8

It’s early in the day to be touting Moser’s wonders, sure. He’s played all of 440 possessions in Vegas. Then again he did record that 16-18 double-double against Carolina, he did lay down that 34-10 double-double in last night’s double-overtime win at UCSB, and rebounding, where Moser is perhaps most Moseresque, is not the most mercurial of stats. Mark me down as impressed, and the depth of Howland’s regret over the words above will henceforth be directly correlated to Moser’s degree of excellence.

One of my pet peeves has always been fans yelling at a coach when a star recruit doesn’t pan out. I’ve long felt that the fans should be yelling not only at the coach but also at the evaluators from the recruiting services that rated the kid so highly. But once a player is in the program, a coach can evaluate his personnel under conditions that can only be termed ideal. The players do whatever drill the coach says and team up in scrimmage according to the coach’s wishes. The coach sees his players going head-to-head every day and can make direct comparisons. Which is why the list of transfers who leave a program specifically because of a lack of playing time but then go on to be big stars is a very short one. Almost without exception the coach at that first program turns out to be right.

Right now Howland doesn’t look right, but a better question is whether anyone was right about Mike Moser except perhaps Mike Moser. Our College Basketball Prospectus 2011-12, to take one example, didn’t anoint Moser as the next Derrick Williams. Sometimes surprises do occur. We are all Howland.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

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