Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

December 7, 2009

Weekend in Hoops: Portland Oregon and sloe gin fizz

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:14 pm

What the heck happened to Portland? The Pilots were teed up to be our feel-good story this year and, more pointedly, to give Gonzaga a much-needed run for its money in the WCC. Now all the sudden Eric Reveno‘s team can’t swing a cat without knocking over still another opponent that blew them off the floor. Yes, the 18-point loss to West Virginia in the title game of the 76 Classic was to be expected. The four-point loss at home to Portland State? Less so. Then last night Portland lost at Idaho 68-48.

Granted, Idaho is no tomato can. The Vandals did beat Utah in Salt Lake City, which is way more than Illinois, for one, can say. Still, 68-48? Wow. The Pilots better radio the tower for help! Har! OK, I’ll stop.

Portland’s eight-game rise-and-fall would appear to present a near-classic case of a foreseeable correction becoming an unforeseeable avalanche. This team started the season with an offensive display that would have put Reveno’s group in the same bleachers with 2008-09 vintage North Carolina and Pitt. Feast your eyes:

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Portland offense, first four games (E. Washington, Seattle, Oregon, UCLA) vs. last four (Minnesota, West Virginia, Portland St., Idaho)

                        First 4   Last 4
Points per possession    1.20      0.96
2FG%                     52.8      48.1
3FG%                     53.7      28.7
TO%                      22.3      22.8
OR%                      40.6      35.2

Hindsight’s 20-20 but I swear if you’d asked me about column A on November 26 I would have puffed my chest out rather smugly and said “Portland will not continue to make 54 percent of its threes!” What I wouldn’t have been able to tell you is that the Pilots’ perimeter shooting would veer to the other extreme, or that their D would disappear entirely: Portland State, to take one example, scored its 86 points in a 67-possession game. 

T.J. Campbell has encapsulated this team dynamic rather nicely. He had a perfectly dreadful 1-of-11 night against Idaho, yet on paper he’s still a Harangody-in-2006-level victim of under-use. (Though he is at least starting now.) Even after a tough night in Moscow, Campbell’s still making about 48 percent of both his threes and his twos for the year, while getting to the line frequently and shooting 86 percent there. Yet he’s taking less than 20 percent of the Pilots’ shots during his (team-leading) minutes. Forget the 1-of-11 and give him the ball, Coach!

Portland plays at Washington a week from Saturday, so they’ll have an opportunity to prove they’ve settled on a happy performance medium here. Stay tuned.  

Curses are real. Ask current and former Ohio State players.
Tough weekend for Buckeyes, be they alums or undergrads. First Greg Oden goes down for the season. Then, seven minutes into an easy win over Eastern MichiganThad Matta loses Evan Turner for eight weeks to a back injury that I absolutely refuse to observe with a YouTube link. Call me squeamish.

It’s not often that you lose your point guard and worry about the impact on the glass, but that’s precisely the case here.

This point guard rebounds like Blake Griffin. (Almost.)
Ohio State defensive rebound percentages, through games of December 6

               DR%
Turner        27.0
Lauderdale    13.9
Lighty        12.4 

Sure, that outlandish number next to Turner would have diminished somewhat as the season progressed, but he is clearly this team’s workhorse on the defensive boards. It’s not politic to say it aloud the first week in December, but in the span of eight games Turner had already effectively locked up Big Ten Player of the Year, the only question being whether he would win national POY as well. Now those honors are wide open for the taking, the already thin Buckeyes look much thinner, and the Big Ten is watching a POY-caliber performer struggle with back issues for the second consecutive season (cf. Robbie Hummel, 2008-09). As I said, a curse. 

BONUS curse-on-a-rampage note! Egad! The Buckeye curse has apparently hit the hardworking men and women of the OSU Athletic department. Note to hardworking box score professionals in Columbus: I’m pretty sure the final score of the North Carolina game was 77-73, not 116-106.

Hello? Kentucky? John Wall?
Tune in tomorrow.

Unfiltered-back!
Don’t just mutter inefectually; email me!

An old email I neglected suddenly becomes timely–procrastination or predestination?
A while back when Turner had his dreadful ten-turnover game against North Carolina and everyone was running around screaming with their hands above their heads saying what a dreadful point guard this guy was, I dropped my usual simmer-down gotcha on the crowd and pointed out Turner functioned a lot like a point guard last year. The readers responded!

The difference between Ohio State this season and last is that Turner is the one bringing the ball up the floor on nearly every trip. Last season, Jeremie Simmons, P.J. Hill, and Anthony Crater (before he transferred) were the ones in charge of that.

True, the offense revolves around its best player in Turner, but he was never the primary ball handler last season. (Though as soon as the ball crossed half-court it usually ended up in his hands.)

If there’s one downfall to Ohio State this year it’s not having a true point guard. There are two reasons why Turner plays the point this season. One, he’s a better ball-handler than Simmons or Hill, which really isn’t saying much. And two, it allows Matta to start his five best players.

Matt B.

Thanks, Matt! Excellent points. Already on the young season I’ve made something of a career out of classifying very prominent Big Ten scorers as point-guards-under-the-skin, so let me be clear here….

“Point guard” is a squishy-soft term that we humans came up with long after Dr. Naismith came up with his game. Sometimes the term is indeed useful and apt: Ty Lawson was definitely a scoring point guard, Levance Fields was definitely a point guard for Pitt last year, etc. I just wonder if sometimes the term might create more trouble than its worth, particularly when given a Heideggerian antecedent like “true.”

Maybe it’s an unfortunate discursive habit imported from baseball and football, where players do indeed specialize by position. All I know is not every roster is going to have a player that fits the point-guard mold, just like not every roster is going to have a decent defensive rebounder. That’s where coaches earn their money: You can win games anyway. 

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