Saturday, January 31

Super Bowl Sunday

Anyone feel gutsy enough to take the Cards? I sure don't.

Monday, January 19

Updated standings

1. John 8 (6-4)
2. Ryan 4 (7-3)
3. Lucy -16 (3-7)

Steelers-Cards in two weeks.

Saturday, January 17

Top Shelf Saturday

Just thought I'd take down some thoughts as I watch a very interesting Saturday in college basketball. A several pairs of highly KenPom-rated teams are going at it today:

(5)G'town @ (1)Duke: Duke won a game that was somewhat closer than the score indicated. With Monroe saddled with 3 fouls the Blue Devils took an 11-0 run to lead 40-29 at the half. Similarly in the second, the Hoyas were within 4 when Monroe picked up #4 (a technical from the bench), without Monroe (the Hoyas main rebounding threat) in the the game, the Blue Devils pulled away, knocking down shots in their 5 guard spread offense. Singler started slowly and shot poorly (7-18, 1-6), but was able to contribute in other ways, mainly with 5 offensive and 13 total rebounds, Henderson was able to pick up the Blue Devils' offense with 23 pts (10-15, 3-6).
Bottom Line: The Hoyas are a good all around team, with a gimmick offense that can catch some teams flat-footed and a true star in Greg Monroe, but the Devils staunch defense and small lineup did a good job defending the "Georgetown" (read: modified Princeton) offense, and without offensive trickery and their star, the Hoyas were somewhat easily vanquished. As always, when the Devils are hustling on defense, they easily outwork their size disadvantage. Similarly on the offensive end, when the shots are dropping for any of their main weapons (Singler, Scheyer, and Henderson)*, the Devils are hard to beat.

(8)Wake @ (17)Clemson: Early, Clemson had seemed to suck Wake in to a helter-skelter, poorly organized, style of play, during which the Tigers were hanging tough and seeming to avoid the Deacons half court defense. Since then Wake has seemed to take control, executing by making open jumpers, running the break well, and keeping Clemson off the offensive glass which helped their defense shine through. Opening the second, the Deacons do their best Tar Heel impression, running out to a 12 point lead on a made three and easy (I mean EASY) transition baskets, including a ferocious dunk by Aminu. The most impressive thing about Wake, aside from their defense, is their laundry list of big bodies to both rebound and play defense. A bonus is that none of them are good enough to be missed when in foul, except perhaps Aminu. Wake Forest's matchup with Duke next week should be interesting, their offensive styles are in stark contrast while they both play excellent defense (#4 and #2 respectively). Needless to say, I am quite jealous of the Demon Deacon defense. They are using a very Tar Heel-esque blueprint of speed and offensive rebounding on offensive, but their zone defense seems to be working better for them than intense switching man-to-man has for the boys in powder blue (come on, Marcus...).
Bottom Line: This is a very familiar Clemson team, who relies on outside shooting runs and full court pressure, that works against 80% of the country, but won't against the top three teams in the ACC. Wake has taken a large step forward, with the addition of a few extra big bodies, and a talented freshman (think Marvin Williams) in Aminu. They will challenge for the ACC and the 3 game lead the Heels have given them will be a tall mountain to climb. The more I watch this game, the better and better I feel about the Heels 3 point loss in Winston-Salem.

(9)Ariz St @ (10)UCLA: Wow, Arizona St's road unis are classy. I'm a sucker for simple, clean, classic designs. I'll also have to confess that I had NO idea Herb Sendek was in the Pitino coaching tree. It will be interesting to watch a Sendek team flow through one player as much as the Sun Devils do, James Harden (if you haven't heard of him, look him up) uses 34% of possessions while playing 83% of the team's minutes. Early, Harden's offensive prowess is drawing the attention of literally every Bruin at that end of the court. The Bruins have no individual defensive stopper with the size and speed to match up with Harden, while his teammates have been able to hit the open shots they've been the beneficiaries of. Arizona St's zone had seemed to perplex UCLA into poor outside shots, and to more than make up for the Sun Devils lack of size (only one player 6-9 on the starting lineup, 201st in effective height). The Bruins have been able to have some jumpers fall and score when the zone isn't fully set (on fast breaks and offensive rebounds) to bring the game to a tie late in the first. The Bruins march continues into the second. They're double-teaming Harden on one end and getting into the fast break and hitting shots opened up by their excellent passing to beat the once perplexing ASU zone.
Bottom Line: UCLA has the offense of past years, while their defense has slipped, Arizona State is in the Georgetown mold, with a go to guy that they are too reliant on, not that I can blame Herb Sendek, because James Harden is a special player now, and will be in the NBA (think Brandon Roy).

I won't be watching (14)L'ville host (4)Pittsburgh, but I will be interested to see how Pitt handles only its second real challenge of the season. The AP #1 Panthers have only played one other team in the KenPom top 50, a win at Georgetown early in the Big East schedule

*I'm intentionally leaving out Smith, who's main contribution is sound ball handing (a 23.5 TORate is an improvement over Paulus who averaged a 30 TORate the last 2 years). His assist and steal rates are respectively 2nd and 3rd on the team, among starters. As a side note, Mile Plumlee has a 45.4 TORate, he's a forward, right? Its no wonder Coach K doesn't run a standard offense.

As a bonus, I'll go ahead and throw together an underrated/overrated list with KenPom and the AP. I'll use the AP rankings out to about 42 (43-47 all only received 1 25th place vote, but I will mention AP #44 Mizzou)

Overrated (AP/KP)
Texas (11/30)
Minnesota (18/40)
Syracuse (8/32)
Michigan (25/51)
Florida St. (31/58)
Notre Dame (12/43)
St. Mary's (30/62)
George Mason (41/77)
Boston College (37/81)
Arkansas (27/90)

Most of the teams are mysterious, I don't know why half of them are on anyone's top 25 ballot, while some are more obvious (BC). Florida St., Syracuse, and Notre Dame are benefiting from playing in strong conferences. I didn't realized George Mason was still riding the publicity bump from 3 years ago. Oh, and who the hell voted for Arkansas?

Underrated (AP/KP) NV=No Votes (appeared on 0 ballots)
Missouri (44/11)
West Virginia (36/7)
Washington (NV/25)
Gonzaga (26/2)
Kansas St. (NV/26)
Utah (NV/27)
Brigham Young (34/13)
Kansas (38/19)
Memphis (29/12)
Illinois (28/16)

USC and Kentucky would be on this list, but KP has taken into account their recent upsets (ASU and Tenn) while the AP hasn't, I'll bet they show up on a ballot or two this week. Some good teams are getting no attention at all (UK, but that will change) Washington, K-State, and Utah are no where to be found, on any ballot. Then there are those that the national media know about but apparently don't respect enough: Gonzaga, West Virginia, Memphis and Mizzou. Obviously due to the absurd nature of polls, teams with 4 losses (Zags, WVU) can't be ranked high nationally, no matter how respectable the losses may be.

Tuesday, January 13

Championship round

That's what they call it, right?

Ravens @ Steelers
Eagles @ Cardinals

Birds abound! Allocate 10 points between the two games any way you please.

Wednesday, January 7

Divisional Round

Ravens @ Titans
Birds @ Cats
Eagles @ Giants
Bolts @ Steelers

Updated standings:

1. Ryan 6 (6-2)
T1. John 6 (5-3)
3. Lucy -12 (2-6)

"My support seems to be the kiss of death."

Monday, January 5

Follow up to Anatomy of an Upset

Ryan's excellent post gave a number of good reasons why we lost. The Ken Pomeroy stats reveal our porous defense combined with poor free throw shooting and rebounding equals a loss. By looking at different games, Ryan shows how we're underperforming.

I wanted to poing out some of the x's and o's reasons we lost. Strategically, BC held us out of the break in the first half and most of the second by sending as many guys as possible for offensive rebounds. By pulling down lots of first half offensive rebounds (I believe we were outrebounded but I'll have to verify) and battling for rebounds every other time, we couldn't get into our secondary break. Previously, we saw that sending a safety or two back on defense was the best way to slow our break as Kansas and Valparaiso have shown. This time, we were undone by poor defensive rebounding, leading to few opportunities for run-outs.

Next, BC's flex set offense flummoxed our defense. A basic flex set employs lots of screens, movement and passing to lose defenders or create mismatches. This is used almost exclusively against man-to-man defenses and often means medium-to-long possessions on offense. Other characteristics of the flex set are: it's easy to learn, everyone knows that they should do next, and you don't need to create your own shot to be successful (although nobody told Tyrese Rice).

If you recall BC's offensive sets, they would line up 4 men parallel to the backboard, in between the FT line and 3 pt line. Rice is the odd man out, bringing the ball up the right side of the floor. The flex set would then spring to life as O2 and O4 would set screens for each other and O3 or O5 would stay in the lane while the other drifted closer to the basket. In short, this means a lot of action taking place around the free throw line, where a player can pass off to a 3 pt shooter with relative ease or look for a man posting up down low. Mid-range shots can also open up easily as a player whose defender is tired or confused can be lost in the myriad of screens and end up taking the wrong man.

I've certainly complained about our guards' abilities to communicate and get around screens quicker. Last night, there were missed assignments galore as Rice and Sanders got good mid and long range looks through the flex set. Also, Rice hit some extremely difficult shots that were close to indefensible. Credit him for having the soft touch to hit some step back jumpers and circus shots.

My next bone to pick is with our half court trap. I may never understand why Roy didn't put his foot down at halftime (or sooner) and tell everyone to quit trapping. It felt like the BC-UNC football game, where BC curiously decided to leave Hakim Nicks in single coverage. I wondered why they would risk getting burned over and over and over and over again. Well, Roy returned the favor by allowing us to keep gambling on the half court trap. We got burned over and over and over and over again.

BC got lots of open shots because Al Skinner and Tyrese Rice did their homework. Rice knew where the help would be each time. As a consequence, our defense had to shift and recover, leaving Reggie Jackson open. Since we're known to trap after timeouts, some FTs or out of bounds plays, BC had a fair idea of when the trap was coming. We continued to gamble after halftime to much the same result.

On defense, Boston College did a good job of pulling 4 or 5 men into the lane to force bad shots and turnovers. We shot 9-25 for 2 pt FGs in the 2nd half, a testament to the strong BC defense. The Eagles were physical. Hansbrough was well covered, being forced off the block or doubled to prevent a good entry pass. Although Hansbrough made his shots, Deon Thompson and Danny Green struggled.

If you watched Deon's body language when he shot FT's, it was clear he was winded. Pushing and being pushed often tends to leave one's arms tired. His 1-6 shooting hurt our comeback chances.

Since we were behind for most of the game and didn't have our inside shots falling, we started hoisting 3's with about 7 minutes left. Wayne's 3 pt shot is still MIA. Ty, Danny and Will Graves shot 33% individually and as a whole. Roy may or may not have addressed the eagarness of our 3 pt shooting, but the Heels kept shooting away.

Finally, we didn't try to foul like a team that's trailing should. No one other than Rice was a remarkable free throw shooter, why did we not try fouling earlier? Why not send Larry Drew, Will Graves or Marcus Ginyard to foul the poorer shooters, let the crowd yell during FT attempts, and grab the rebounds? At 78-71, would it have killed us to start fouling to save time and make them earn their points? It's not like we would run out of bench players. This is my boldest assertion of this post, but I'm a bit perplexed as to why we wouldn't make them get their points 1 or 2 at a time instead of 2 or 3 at a time. With guards doing so much shooting, it's less likely to have continuation fouls where the shot counts and a FT is awarded.

In summation, BC's stratetic moves and our un-strategic moves fueled a significant defeat. I hope that our players and our coaches will realize the mistakes that were made. As a consqequence of this game, we'll see more teams following Boston College's formula for beating us. Hopefully we'll be better prepared to stop beating ourselves and resume beaing our opponents.

The Anatomy of an Upset

(Ok, I apologize for the length of this post, if you want the short and sweet version, scroll down to the "Basically" I've bolded in the second to last paragraph, it is a happy synopsis)

So, remeber how, at the beginning of the season, I remarked that the Heels have won games with several of the 4 factors. Well, since the Oregon game, they haven't exactly won any games with FG defense. In fact, excluding the Nevada game, the Heels defense has allowed 50.9% eFG over the last 5 games. And not against stop notch competition either (ORU, Evansville, Valpo, Rutgers, & BC). This is quite disconcerting, however the Heels defense is built to stand on other factors averaging turnovers on 26% of their opponents possessions in those same games (that would average about 15th in the nation for the season UNC's season average is 23.9 good for 49th).

Now, your opponents can shoot the lights out of the gym if you can limit offensive boards and cause turnovers. For the uninitiated, imagine a team that allows the opponent to make every shot they take, but force a turnover on 75% of possessions, that's as good as forcing 25% shooting while forcing no turnovers. Now, imagine they go up against a team of all point guards, who never turn the ball over. In this matchup, allowing the opponent to sink every attempt causes a huge problem because you don't end the possesions before the shots occur.

Snap back to reality. This is pretty much what UNC did (or failed to do). They were relying on steals and defensive rebounding to cover up their inability to defend shots. Well, BC does a great job taking care of the ball (17.5 TO% 25th) and offensively rebounding (40.9 OR% 16th), countering UNC's defensive strengths.

Now, what was the icing on the cake? The Heels have played defense this poorly before (as you can see above, Notre Dame posted a 119 OE in Maui). However, in this example the Heels offense simultaneously failed them. Shooting 55% from the free throw line won't win you any games (in fact it will lose you many). Also, it was UNC's worst night from the field of the season. This was likely because the turnovers weren't available to lead to layups and fast breaks. Winning on turnovers and with a fast pace is a double-edged sword (much like winning on 3 pointers, yes I'm looking at you coach K), you limit the opponent's shots, but you also give yourself 10 to 12 "bunnies" per game, bouying even the poorest shooting team's field goal percentage. All this lead to UNC's poorest offensive efficiency number of the year, but only by a hair. As you can see in the table above, UNC posted a similarly poor 104 against Kentucky, its other sub 50% eFG game, but forced enough turnover and limited offensive rebounds to win the game (handily).

Basically, if you combine the porous defense against Notre Dame, with the weak offensive output against Kentucky, you get almost identical stats to the BC loss. The Heels have played like this at various times during the year, but the other end of the floor happened to pick them up to hide such ugly performances. UNC's strength is its depth and talent, the Heels can win games in a number of different ways. But take solace, UNC fans, in the fact that a loss like last night's occurs when all of those ways fail.

On another note, and I don't want to sound cocky here, but the looming top ten matchup between UNC and Wake Forest may be more of a dud than a stud, as Wake's turnover rate is something of a bugaboo (21.1 181st), though it should be one horse race of a dud projecting at around 85 possessions. Check back for more on that game and throughout the ACC season.

Friday, January 2

If anyone's interested...

Here are the matchups for the wild card round.

Dirty Birds @ Redbirds
Colts @ Bolts
'Vens @ Fins
Philly @ Minny

This will be separate from the regular season pick'em and will probably just be for bragging rights (since I know Ryan is anxious to display his playoff pick'em prowess). Interested parties (Lucy, this includes you) should pick all four games, weighted. Four points for your most certain pick; one point for your least certain. Incorrect picks will be penalized the amount of the weight, correct picks will be awarded that amount. The lines are all under a field goal anyway, and it's winner advances at this stage, so picking winners feels better.

1. Ryan 4 (3-1)
T1. John 4 (2-2)
3. Lucy -4 (1-3)