Archive | April, 2015

4/14 Jordan’s All-Watchable Team: Point Guards

15 Apr

As you might suspect, I watch a ton of college basketball. I try to watch every conference (if they allow it…let’s get some free streams going Sun Belt!), and these are the players I found most enjoyable to watch this season. This list isn’t necessarily based on any metric or stat, just who I personally enjoyed watching play night in and night out. Let’s start with point guards…

FIRST TEAM ALL WATCHABLE

Jalan West, Northwestern State– Probably have to start with the PG on one of the fastest teams in the country. West was 11th in assist rate, rarely turned the ball over, shot 44% from 3, hit clutch shot after clutch shot, rarely if ever sat, and was one of the few Demons to play any sort of defense.

Saah Nimley, Charleston Southern– One of my all time favorite players to watch since his FR year, and he had a great bounce back year after being hurt basically all of last season. Phenomenal year given the fact that he thought his knee might prevent him from ever playing again. I’m glad he was able to go out the way he deserved, even if the Big South tournament didn’t go exactly as planned.

Keifer Sykes, Green Bay– Another guy I’m really going to miss. Absurdly quick hands, and would not stop attacking the rim, plus he had the ability to embarrass seven footers routinely when he got there. Watching the Phoenix without Sykes next year is going to take some adjustment. Hopefully he develops a more consistent jump shot and gets a chance in the NBA.

Andrew Rowsey, UNC Asheville– No one is going to mistake him for a pass first PG, but his assist rate did go up slightly this year. More impressively though, his offensive rating was 111.3 in a year when almost every single defense he faced was hell bent on limiting his shots. A born shooter who’s just going in to his junior year, Rowsey also played through a ton of nagging injuries this year.

Mikh McKinney, Sacramento State– Ridiculous on ball defender (20th in steal rate), great vision (95th in assist rate), can beat you off the dribble (best hesitation dribble I saw this year), and a deadly perimeter shooter (42% from 3). I just wish he had a little more height because I’m certain he’d have a place in the NBA.

SECOND TEAM

Cornell “Lil T” Johnson, Eastern Illinois– 5’7 (maybe) 150 lbs (maybe) FR who promptly took over the point and led EIU to just their second winning OVC season in a decade plus. The quickest guard on this list also hit 49 of 98 threes when you backed off him to give yourself a chance as a defender.

Rose Jones, Butler– Jones has to be the most unorthodox PG on this list, and probably in the entire country. It’s like watching a fullback run the point. I mean, he didn’t even attempt a three the entire year, and has only attempted three in his career! Yet he’s still somehow able to get into the lane at will and facilitate the Butler offense. Glad he’s back for another year.

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana– Slight homer bias since I’ve seen every minute of his career at IU, but that lightning quick step back jumper he developed this year made him an offensive threat from anywhere on the court at anytime. Hopefully he stays for another year.

Cam Payne, Murray State- Probably the right decision for Cam to move on to the NBA, because he can’t really show much improvement on the season he just had. 40% assist rate compared to a 15% turnover rate while having the seventeenth highest usage rate in the country. He’s a menace defensively when he wants to be, and he has a jump shot. Fun watching him work in a guard heavy league like the OVC.

Kay Felder, Oakland- Felder went the full 40 (or 50 in one game) twelve times this year, and was sixth in assist rate and dramatically improved his offensive efficiency despite a dramatic increase in usage. It helps to play in Kampe’s system, but he also poured in double digits in every game this year.

THIRD TEAM

Joseph Young, Oregon– Ridiculous offensive numbers across the board, and he did it in the Pac12 when everyone knew he was going to get the ball. He was at his best in March, when the Ducks really needed him.

Chris Fowler, Central Michigan– There’s a lot of responsibility put on the point guard in Keno Davis’ offense, but Fowler excelled on both ends in the “Emmenecker” role this year. The Chips lose practically no one from the 25th most efficient offense in the country, and Fowler could put up some ridiculous individual efficiency numbers next season.

Speedy Smith, Louisiana Tech– Hoping for a “speedy” recovery (sorry everyone) for Smith’s ankle, because I think he can stick in the NBA because he has decent enough size, and of course he’s quick with both hands and feet, and has great vision in full court game.

Mario Dunn, Montana– The best on ball defender on this list. He might not have the quickest hands, but he moves his feet laterally as well or better than anyone in the country. If he becomes a more lethal offensive threat, watch out.

Pee Wee Gardner, American- Fairly certain he never sat down on the bench once this season. Improved his perimeter shooting this year in addition to harassing ball handlers without fouling. Also a clutch shooter.

Honorable Mention

Kris Yanku, Northern Arizona– Impossible to keep him out of the lane.

Kris Dunn, Providence– First in assist rate, fifth in steal rate.

Isiah Umipig, Seattle– Shot 42% from three while hoisting up an absurd 279 attempts.

Martez Harrison, UMKC– Could shoot the Roos out of games, but when he was initiating offense and spearheading the pressure defense, he was the best player in the WAC.

Alec Wintering, Portland– Wore down as the season progressed, but when healthy he’s arguably the best PG in the WCC because you can’t stop him in the penetrate and kick game without fouling or totally collapsing.

AJ English, Iona– Explosive offensive player with an NBA body. What’s not to like (except for the questionable decision making at times)?

John Jordan, Texas A&M Corpus Christi– Relentless attacker off the dribble in a league (SLC) where everyone attacks off the dribble. Also 20th in assist rate.

Damon Lynn, NJIT– The key to NJIT’s CIT run. He’s all over the court on both ends, and jacked up 311 threes this year. Only a sophomore.

Taariq Cephas, Coppin State– Only Lil T Johnson rivals Cephas in terms of overall quickness on this list. Phenomenal leading the break on the second fastest team in the country this year.

4/6 National Championship Game Thoughts

6 Apr

Just a few quick notes on what has all the makings of a great title game…

First and foremost, I’m not necessarily sure either defense is really capable of slowing down the opposing offense enough to consider either defense to be a major “game deciding” factor in this game. Both teams are outstanding in terms of taking away the three pointer defensively (Wisconsin 6th and Duke 12th nationally in three point rate defensively), but both offenses have proven capable of not just scoring, but scoring prolifically against defenses that take away the three pointer. Listed below is Wisconsin’s point per possession efficiency offensively vs teams rated in the top 100 in terms of three point field goal attempt rate:

Cal (5th in defensive 3PTFGA rate): 1.11ppp

Duke (12th): 1.13ppp

Chattanooga (14th): 1.29ppp

UW Milwaukee (16th): 1.37ppp

UW Green Bay (58th): 1.27ppp

Indiana (67th): 1.42ppp

Purdue (70th): 1.07ppp and 1.34ppp

Kentucky (71st): 1.22ppp

Arizona (93rd): 1.33ppp

UAB (98th): 1.14ppp

And Duke’s offense vs the same top 100 defenses…

Wisconsin (6th): 1.29ppp

Fairfield (7th): 1.47ppp

Army (26th): 1.29ppp

Utah (31st): .98ppp

Gonzaga (61st): 1.12ppp

Pitt (78th): 1.27ppp

North Carolina State (88th): 1.07ppp and 1.40ppp

Wofford (89th): 1.31ppp

Boston College (90th): 1.31ppp

Notre Dame (91st): 1.07ppp, 1.45ppp, and .97ppp

Louisville (97th): 1.05ppp

So as you can see, while Wisconsin and Duke both utilize the three fairly extensively within their offense, they haven’t had any trouble scoring against teams that are proficient in taking the three point line away (it should also be noted that some of these proficient three point defenses have those numbers because they can’t stop anyone from scoring inside. I’m looking at you Indiana). Generally speaking, these two offenses just create way too many mismatches offensively, and I think we’re likely to see both defenses struggle a bit to slow down the offensive attacks tonight. Yes, a lot has been made about Duke’s spike in defensive efficiency in this tournament, and yes the on ball defense of Cook has been key, as has going smaller with Winslow and the ability to switch on every screen (except for Okafor), but I think they’ve also benefited a bit from opponents (San Diego State) and as much as I cringe when “dome shooting” is lazily referenced, it certainly helps the Duke defense to play two games this tournament in NRG Stadium. Certainly, the defense has improved significantly, as the narrative before the tournament was that Duke would fail to reach Indy because of that unit. However, the most cited reason for Duke’s improved defense has been that ability to switch on almost every screen, and unfortunately, that just doesn’t matter vs Wisconsin. As we saw versus Kentucky, the best defensive team in the country, Wisconsin’s swing principled offense created mismatches galore, and it most importantly forces teams to guard with their bigs outside of the paint. I think Coach K has to keep switching up the defensive scheme, much like he did against Michigan State. Zones and pressure don’t really phase Wisconsin, but it’s better than getting exploited with every single mismatch they create through their offense. As for Wisconsin defensively, you can still exploit them with smaller, quicker guards via penetration, or with athleticism on the wings, which obviously Duke has both of. Attacking them forces Kaminsky and/or Hayes to help on that penetration from the top or the wings, and that naturally opens things up around the rim. I don’t necessarily find too much to glean from the first meeting in Madison. Yes, it was an awfully impressive road win for Duke, but it was so early in the year, Wisconsin had just returned home from the Bahamas, and Dekker wasn’t close to 100%, and he’s obviously the ringleader in terms of those mismatches Wisconsin creates when they run their offense. What stands out the most for me from that game though was the ease in which Jones and Cook penetrated from the top, and as I mentioned earlier, I think that’s going to continue to be a major issue for the Badgers defensively tonight. In short, both defenses are known for their ability to take away the three pointer and not foul in the process. However, as I pointed out, both offenses have been basically lights out when facing defenses similar to themselves. I don’t have much faith, if any at all, in the Wisconsin defense tonight, but I’m also equally not sold on the Duke defensive improvement being enough to slow down the Wisconsin offense, especially after what I saw them do to Kentucky. Coach K’s willingness to switch schemes will help, but the Badgers always figure it out eventually, basically because they’ve seen every defense imaginable this year. Wisconsin wins an instant classic title game that will really showcase how efficient both of these offenses are.

PREDICTION: WISCONSIN 74, DUKE 70

ATS: WISCONSIN -1

Final Four Thoughts and Predictions

3 Apr

1 DUKE vs 7 MICHIGAN STATE 

The talk of the tournament probably has to be Duke’s defense. They have yet to surrender close to a full point per possession, and this was the unit that was supposed to be their doom and Coach K’s ticket to another early round exit. So what happened? How did this defense that couldn’t stop penetration or anyone at the rim suddenly morph into Virginia? Simple…Justise Winslow. Since Coach K went smaller and went away from Jefferson, the ball screen defense has been outstanding because they’re able to actually switch 1-4 and not get caught in mismatches. Plus that’s even more of an advantage because Michigan State doesn’t have a lengthy stretch guy that can move Winslow around. I love Dawson, and I’m looking forward to that matchup with Winslow, but he’s not a threat at all from outside. On top of that, Quinn Cook has embraced a role as a lock down on ball defender, and has been phenomenal in shutting down Delon Wright and Kevin Pangos. Add this to the the fact that Duke is still going to hawk the three point line and not foul you (58 three point FGAs and an astounding 39 free throw attempts this tournament) and you’re able to mask the fact that Okafor still isn’t a capable rim protector (plus playing two games in the Bermuda Triangle of stadiums, NRG, helps). Michigan State got here by simply not making mistakes. The Spartans’ turnover rates in their four games in the NCAA Tournament…13% vs Georgia, 11% vs Virginia, 9% vs Oklahoma, and 17% vs Louisville. That has also helped shore up what was a suspect transition defense coming into the tournament. There was no clearer evidence of Michigan State’s turnaround in terms of ball security, half court execution, and taking away transition than the Oklahoma game. Izzo said over and over he was going to run with Oklahoma and their outstanding transition game. Instead we had a 55 possession ball game where the Spartans schooled Oklahoma in the halfcourt. That’s key for Michigan State against Duke. The Blue Devils have an absurd 65% eFG in transition, and Michigan State simply can’t afford to let Duke get into their rhythm offensively. Costello and Schilling have to body up Okafor and not let him bully his way to the rim with his low shoulder. If they pick up fouls in the process, so be it. Whatever it take to keep him out of rhythm. They also have to find a way to attack Tyus Jones defensively. Like I said, Duke’s ball screen defense has been outstanding this tournament, and is really the key to the game, but Valentine and Trice have to attack him off the dribble whenever possible. Valentine is probably the key for Michigan State because of his versatility offensively. He’s a plus shooter, a plus passer, and decent enough off the dribble that he has to be able to exploit Duke’s defense outside with his height and decision making (which can be questionable at times as well). He has to be the catalyst for MSU offensively, because judging by the way Quinn Cook has played defense this tournament, Travis Trice is going to be somewhat limited. All in all, with the way Duke is defending on ball screens thanks to Winslow, and they way they’ve limited penetration (once a major weakness) thanks to Cook, plus the fact that Michigan State has at times too many one dimensional (Forbes) or non dimensional (Nairn) offensive players on the court at the same time, makes me think Duke is probably able to pull away a bit at the end. Michigan State won’t give them extra possessions and beat themselves, but they just don’t have the firepower to keep offensively, especially against a seemingly totally revitalized Duke defense.

ADVANCE: DUKE 69-63 (Under)

ATS: DUKE -5

1 KENTUCKY vs 1 WISCONSIN

So much to talk about in this game, but let’s start like we did with the first game and lead off again with what has been a surprising defensive unit, but in a negative connotation. Wisconsin has been the anti-Duke in terms of defense this tournament. The normally reliably efficient Wisconsin defense has surrendered 1.14ppp to Coastal Carolina, 1.07ppp to Oregon, 1.20 to North Carolina, and 1.22 to Arizona. Of course they have the most efficient offense in the country to compensate, but it’s a major issue, and it all starts with something that has been giving them problems for the past several years, and that’s guard penetration. If you attack Wisconsin, you’re going to have a great chance to move around their defense and find points. They’re not going to foul (unless the Arizona/Wisconsin Elite 8 crew is calling this game), and if your team is quick enough or physical enough, you’re going to be able to take advantage of some slow footedness. Bo Ryan rarely doubles the post, and if you can get into Kaminsky’s body and be physical with him, you’re going to have some success inside as well because again, Wisconsin will not foul you. Obviously, these are two areas Kentucky can exploit because of the versatility, depth, and just general skill of their roster. Cal can obviously feed Towns early and often. If he can’t get going or Ryan shockingly brings a double team, he can switch to that smaller lineup he loves in the second half that can attack and attack with the Harrisons and Ulis on the court at the same time. It’s really unfair at times the chess he can play with this roster, and I haven’t even mentioned Lyles or Booker. So that’s my foremost and primary concern, that Wisconsin cannot stop Kentucky’s offense. They haven’t stopped anyone this tournament, and I certainly don’t see them starting vs the Wildcats and all the mismatches they can create. My second major concern is that Wisconsin won’t be able to create the mismatches their freakishly efficient offense thrives on when they have the ball. The Wisconsin offense is almost always initiated with first looking to see if Kaminsky has the ability to beat his man in the post. If not, and likely not with Towns, Cauley-Stein, or whichever giant is on him (Dakari Johnson shut him down last year), he sets that up screen and this is where the mismatches occur. Now you’ve got a skilled and much bigger perimeter player in Kaminsky being guarded by someone smaller, or a quicker guard being guarded by someone bigger but slower (inverted offense is a key aspect of the swing offense). And Wisconsin always finds the most efficient way to exploit those mismatches. However, against Kentucky, those mismatches just don’t happen because 1) they have tons of perimeter height and 2) their interior height is so athletic that they can switch on those screens, or not switch, it doesn’t matter really, and those “rip cuts” that are synonymous with Bo Ryan’s offense are mitigated and finding the open shooter filling a space becomes difficult as well because there are no big big double teams necessary from Kentucky’s defense. It could be quite a quandary for the Badgers. Under Cal, Kentucky is always going to hawk the three point line, and Mike Brey was smart enough with his pick and roll offense to exploit that and some back door action was available, despite the fact his team’s bread is buttered behind the three point line. It will be interesting to see how Bo Ryan tinkers with the swing offense to exploit that same thing we saw in the Notre Dame game, and I wouldn’t be shocked if it comes from the use of more “Horns” sets to initiate the swing offense because it forces Kentucky to defend against a lot more flex cuts and keeps the Kentucky defense moving, and that’s the key and why I think Wisconsin does have a chance to win this game. Wisconsin’s hyper efficient offense will probably have to settle for just being above average in terms of efficiency, but they WILL force everyone to guard outside of the lane at points in the game, and that means Towns moving around too, and that just opens things up inside, and that’s when Wisconsin has to attack. They’re not going to be able to beat Kentucky by going 10-12 from three like they did against Arizona in the second half. You have to be able to get inside at some point vs Kentucky. Not to mention the offensive glass becomes clearer as well in that situation, which is a weakness definitely worth pointing out for Kentucky. They almost always go for the shot block on weak side help, so they’re almost always out of position to grab the defensive rebound, but they of course compensate so well with their own offensive rebounding prowess (just another one of those game within the game areas to watch with Wisconsin having the fourth best defensive rebounding rate and Kentucky having the sixth best offensive rebounding rate in the country). Personnel wise, we have some incredibly interesting things happening as well. First, Cauley-Stein and Nigel Hayes were non factors last year because WCS was unavailable and Hayes only played seven minutes. This year, WCS is a major major factor, and it’s because he has the athletic ability and roaming ability to stay with Sam Dekker through all the swing iterations that Wisconsin’s clock milking offense goes through. If Cal does indeed sic the freakish WCS on Dekker, that is by far the most interesting matchup of the entire tournament. Hayes is also key because of the same reasons really, and he can check anyone from Towns to Lyles to a Harrison. So, so much going on in this game, and I feel like I’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg in what potentially could be the game of the year. I mean think about it, what more could you want? We have by far the most efficient offense of the KenPom era vs the best defense in the country. Neither team fouls, neither team turns the ball over, and both are incredibly well coached with each coach having a week to prepare for this one. What it boils down to for me is that while Wisconsin’s offense is going to find ways to work against this defense, the Badger defense doesn’t stack up, and that’s where Kentucky wins the game. Should be a classic.

ADVANCE: KENTUCKY 68-67 (Over)

ATS: WISCONSIN +5

NIT and CIT Championship Thoughts

2 Apr

Jim Larranaga has done an outstanding coaching job in the NIT, and particularly after the first half. With the exception of the opening round game vs North Carolina Central, the Canes have made major adjustments in the second half, and have outscored their opponents by a total of 33 points in the 2H in the past three rounds after trailing going into halftime. Those adjustments generally involved extending his guards out to half and three quarter court pressure, and taking away the three point line completely in the 2H. Larranaga has also done this without his best on ball defender, and vs Temple without his rim protector on the back end, plus nagging injuries to basically everyone else on the roster. The Canes will be without ARod and Jekiri again tonight, but Coach L is going to throw everything he can at Randle to limit him, and when you can do that or force him into bad shots (which he’ll take), you’re going to have a great chance to beat the Cardinal. Nastic is coming off his best game of the tournament, but asking him to shoulder the load offensively just isn’t in the game plan for Stanford, even with Jekiri out. From what I’ve seen from Miami this tournament, they’re going to switch defenses frequently, but will constantly be in the face of your best offensive perimeter player at all times. They did it vs Randolph, Anthony, and Cummings, and they’re going to do it tonight vs Randle. Coach L is really extending the defense out and taking full advantage of the 30 second shot clock defensively by forcing teams to beat them inside, but making it difficult to work the ball in consistently. That half and three quarter court pressure essentially leaves offenses with less than 20 seconds to run their offense by the time they get things in motion. Not only does Stanford not have enough of a frontcourt to dominate inside, but Davon Reed can match the length of Anthony Brown on the perimeter as well. Offensively, Miami has struggled to shoot the ball from outside, but they just played two teams who are excellent at pushing you off the three point line in Richmond and Temple. That description does not fit Stanford’s sagging perimeter/amoeba zone defense. In short, Randle is going to be mitigated by Miami’s defense, and Miami’s offense is going to have opportunities to operate, much like Vanderbilt did. Prediction: Miami 67-65 (ATS: Miami +2, Under)

In the CIT final, Northern Arizona travels all the way to Evansville with one day off, but at least they’ve traveled past the Mississippi before, playing a large chunk of their non conference schedule in Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, and Virginia (although they didn’t play particularly well). The issue here is that teams in the CIT are really struggling with Evansville’s off ball motion offense, mostly because they haven’t seen anything like in their conferences. The Aces have gone for 1.11ppp, 1.14, 1.16, and 1.2 in their four games, and I don’t expect much to change tonight at the Ford Center. UT Martin was able to slow the game down by ~10 possessions to what the Aces had been playing previously, but they were still shredded in the halfcourt by all the screens and Balentine’s outstanding movement without the basketball. Offensively, NAU is reliant on Kris Yanku’s uncanny ability to get into the paint via penetration and either get fouled (5th in fouls drawn, 30th in FT rate nationally) or find Upshur or Dixon for a three outside (13th in assist rate). Evansville has had issues closing out on shooters all year, but they’ve also shown an ability to collapse on penetration without fouling. However, I think it’s best if the Aces stay at home on Upshur and Dixon when Yanku penetrates, as he’s shown a propensity for very poor shot selection when he can’t find that open shooter. Additionally, NAU is a team that really attacks the glass on both ends, but their aggressive nature on the offensive glass might backfire against a very good defensive rebounding Evansville team that can absolutely shred teams in transition (20th in eFG% in transition). Prediction: Evansville 77-66 (ATS: Evansville -8, Over)