Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

January 22, 2010

UConn, on and off the floor

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

Let’s do “off the floor” first. 

This week Connecticut announced that Jim Calhoun will be taking a leave of absence of undetermined length for health reasons. Here’s wishing Coach Calhoun good health right away and for many years to come.

Now, I want to talk for a moment about Dom Perno, Bill Foster, and Roy Danforth. Who the heck are Dom Perno, Bill Foster, and Roy Danforth? They are the men who preceded Calhoun at Connecticut, Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, and Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, respectively. I know that Calhoun, Coach K, and Boeheim have been in their current positions forever, but, as hard as it is to fathom, the job will outlive the current occupant’s tenure in all three cases. At some point each of these legends will step aside.

Recent history suggests it’s tough to replace a multi-decade coaching legend without suffering at least a brief programmatic hiccup sooner or later. Whether your example of choice is Georgetown after John Thompson, Indiana after Bob Knight, or North Carolina after Dean Smith (more specifically after Bill Guthridge), we have seen this process play out before. Blue-chip programs can occasionally miss the NCAA tournament, often while they’re reconstituting themselves in the wake of a legend’s departure. Calhoun’s leave of absence merely reinforces what Connecticut, Duke, and Syracuse should all be thinking about and, more importantly, doing in 2010: Succession planning.

Occurring in tandem with the patently surreal college football headlines of the past few weeks, Calhoun’s sabbatical has reminded me anew how D-I schools might want to close thy “gruff yet genial lawyer alum” and open thy “savvy HR type” when it comes to hiring ADs. Just a thought. 

As for “on the floor”….

To this point in Big East play the Huskies have devoted just 18 percent of their attempts to threes. I’ll be interested to see if Associate Head Coach George Blaney lets the team shoot more often from beyond the arc. He should.

Because there are no threes….Huh? There are? 
Fewest threes attempted by major-conference teams, 2007-09
Conference games only

Virginia Tech 2007      20.8
Wake Forest 2009        20.9
Washington 2009         20.9
USC 2009                21.3
North Carolina 2008     21.4
Connecticut 2009        22.2

Far and away the best offense on this three-averse list is the 2008 edition of North Carolina, which reached the Final Four thanks in large part to excellent D and total domination on the offensive glass. Put simply, not shooting threes worked for that team. In ACC play the Tar Heels’ offense was an amazing two standard deviations better than the conference average.

Past Carolina there are a lot of good-but-not-great offenses here, ones populated by players who would be in the NBA the following season, to wit: James Johnson, Jeff Teague, Jon Brockman, Hasheem Thabeet, and A.J. Price. On the other hand the pity-date at this here prom in terms of offense is clearly USC last year, which despite having its own soon-to-be lottery pick (DeMar DeRozan) managed a scant 1.04 points per trip in the Pac-10. In the case of the Trojans, giving up on threes merely made them a much easier scout.     

SC is not alone. Last year Evansville indulged in a quixotic and ontologically doomed attempt to turn the clock back to the early 1980s, devoting just 19 percent of their shots to threes in Missouri Valley play. The direct and indeed entirely predictable result was that opposing D’s happily sagged into a tight little ball directly under the hoop and the Aces scored just 0.97 points per trip in-conference. Basically if four in every five shots are twos, you are announcing in advance to your opponent what you intend to do. Which, again, can work on occasion and maybe even is kind of manly in a Belichickian kind of way. Provided you have the talent backing you up.

Which brings us back to UConn. The Huskies plainly have talent that will soon be on display in the NBA, but the question is whether this particular configuration of players can score points in the Big East when they’ve so clearly telegraphed what they’re going to do on offense. The answer here might be no. Blaney doesn’t need to turn into John Beilein overnight or anything, but I suspect that not being the single most three-averse team in the recent history of major conference basketball would probably help keep opposing D’s a smidge more honest.   

BONUS “Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes” link! Syracuse has an absolute PDF-free jewel of a time capsule at their site. Click here for group photos of every team going back to 1973-74. If you want to track evolving trends in sock heights, hairstyles, and the relative capaciousness of shorts over the decades, this is the place for you. Pay particular attention to the intense looking young assistant coach at the left end of the second row in 1976-77.

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