Thursday, January 31, 2019

All of a sudden, Rutgers has a win streak

Why should a 3-game win streak be news? Well, this is Rutgers we are talking about - who last went to the NCAA tournament in 1991. Nebraska, Penn State, Indiana, all in a row. None of them was ranked, but they are Big Ten teams, after all, and Penn State was on the road. And you do have to walk before you can run.

Steve Pikiell is doing it with defense and rebounding - my kind of basketball. I don't know how much improvement his AD has mandated for him to keep his job, but I hope he does. The Scarlet Knights' best season under Pikiell was 15-17 in the 2017 season. So far this season they are 11-9, and they still have four games against ranked teams just to get out of the regular season. So, it won't be easy. But here is hoping they make it. And at least they can say they had a streak.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Not many close games

One thing in which this team is not getting much experience is handling close games. Out of 21 games so far, only eight of them have been single-digit margins, one way or the other. Only three have been within five points at the finish, all of which we lost.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Wooden's genius

Many folks no doubt think that John Wooden got all-time great big men on campus and then just reaped the benefits of their stay at UCLA. Well, he did have Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton, and they helped bring home five of Wooden's ten NCAA championships. But what about the other five?

The stars of the 1964 and 1965 champions were Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich, both guards. 1967, 1968 and 1969 were the Alcindor years, but then in 1970 and 1971 they won with Steve Patterson at center, certainly a good player, but not an all-time great. 1972 and 1973 were the era of Bill Walton. Then in 1975 UCLA won Wooden's final title without a real superstar.

Not only were half of Wooden's titles won without one of his two superstar centers, but his opponents enroute to the titles had some superstars facing UCLA. They had to beat Houston and Elvin Hayes in the semis in 1968 (who had beaten them earlier in the year). In 1969 in the finals they beat Purdue, who was led by Rick Mount and his 33 points per game average. 1973 featured Walton's famous 21 of 22 performance, but folks forget that facing him on the Memphis State team was 6-9 Larry Kenon, who went on to average 17 points per game over a 12-year pro career.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Why not get Bankston more involved?

No one would argue that Kris Bankston is a great offensive player. His repertoire is very limited - mainly dunks. He has his place, but his place is strictly limited. On the other hand, no one could argue that he does not do what he does superlatively well. As I write, the kid is shooting 82.4% from the field - and he has been doing that all season long. Frankly, I kept waiting for his percentage to start coming back, but he has been remarkably consistent. When he misses ONE SHOT, he has had an off night. Last game against App State, he was 4 of 5 from the field and his shooting percentage came down, believe it or not; that was below his average. Furthermore, it is not like he just started this eye-catching shooting. Last year he shot a measly 62% from the field (which did not even lead the team, remarkably enough, because of Chris Marcus' 67.5%).

I realize this is a good offensive team, and scoring is not our problem. But even with that, it sure looks like having Bankston shoot more would be a good strategy. Probably his percentage would come down if he did - say, maybe to a mere 75% - but that still would be the best in school history.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Make them pay

Teams that "do it right" make their opponents pay for their mistakes. It is sort of like a game of Chicken: who will blink first. When the other team turns it over, you turn it into a basket. If they miss a rebound, you turn it into a basket. Teams that have confidence in their efficiency can play that sort of game. Team that only have overwhelming talent cannot.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Large discrepancy

How broad is the gulf of talent within D1 basketball? Well, by one measuring stick, as I write Sagarin projects that on a neutral court #1 Duke would beat #353 Delaware State by 49 points (or basically, as badly as they wanted to beat them).

Friday, January 25, 2019

One coach who values posting up

From ESPN on the question, "Who was the toughest coach you ever faced?":

Dan Dakich: "Here's a guy who is a good coach who isn't that well-known: Steve Hawkins, Western Michigan. We used to beat Western Michigan while I was at Bowling Green, but we could never beat Steve. He can get guys to play really, really hard. He demanded that the ball go inside. He didn't always have to have the biggest, strongest guys. They ran the floor hard and posted up really, really tough. Not a lot of guys do that, particular today. Makes it unique a little bit."

I like it when coaches use "contrarian" approaches to their offensive and defensive schemes. Opponents are not accustomed to facing systems that are out of vogue.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Bryce Drew can't get a break

He is the coach at a school with very high academic standards, competing against the daunting financial resources of SEC schools. But he comes in, and immediately hauls in a real recruiting coup with local talent Darius Garland. He figures he probably will only get to have him for one season, but he expects to get that from him. So what happens? Garland blows out his leg after five games. Then he announces that he will be withdrawing from school and moving on the NBA. Five games! That is not much return for the investment for Vandy. Oh, well. Regroup and start over again.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Kermit Davis has the last laugh

In 2011 very few were impressed by Kermit Davis. After a fast start at Idaho, he had a 21-loss season at Texas A&M, a losing season in his second go-round at Idaho, and then NINE seasons at Middle Tennessee without a single 20-win season among them, and only one CIT appearance. His nickname among the SBC wiseacres was Kermit the Frog. One questions how he survived that stretch.

But then things heated up, and MTSU went on a tear for seven seasons, and Davis landed the job at Ole Miss. As I write, the Rebels are ranked #20 in the nation. Davis is nothing if not a survivor, and is a prime example of the principle that sometimes, if you can just hang on long enough, the right opportunity will come along.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

FT shooting is a mystery

I think the evidence is in that Wes Flanigan was not a great head coach. He had enough deficiencies that he just did not get the job done. The jury is still out on Darrell Walker, but it appears that he will at least be no worse than Flanigan (which is not saying much).

It appears that Walker is a pretty good offensive coach. We do not have trouble scoring. We shoot well from both inside and outside the arc. One of the main things we do NOT do well, however, is shooting free throws. We are not the worse FT shooting team in the SBC, but we are close. Precisely, we are 10th out of 12 teams at 64.3%.

During Flanigan's administration, we were a terrible offensive team. We couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. But in his first season as a coach, we shot 74.1% as a team. Go figure! So how much difference does that make? That season we shot 582 free throws. We made 431 of them. If we had shot as poorly as we are shooting this season, we would have made 374 free throws, or a difference of 57 points. Not a huge amount, and stretched over a 32 game season, that is a difference of roughly two points per game. In a season when you play a lot of close games, that can be the difference in some wins.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Nikola Maric - Could we be watching an all-time great?

Four years is a long time, of course. Lots of players started well, but didn't finish the course for one reason or another. However, if he should spend four years in Little Rock, Nikola Maric might just end up among the handful of all-time great players to have come through the program. Consider:

He is shooting 55.4% from the field. If he stays there, he would be among the top 12 in FG% for a single season. He has only attempted 17 three-point shots, but he has made ten of them for 58.8%.  He is averaging 10.5 points per game. All this as a true freshman, keep in mind. Add to that the fact that he has been durable, being one of only four players to have played in all 19 games so far.

Compare that to some of the members of our 1000-Point Club. Malik Dixon (#2) averaged 10.2 points per game his freshman year. Josh Hagins (#3) averaged 8.1 ppg. Fish (#4) averaged 7.2. Myron Jackson (#5) averaged 5.9. Mike Rivers (#7) averaged 5.0. Muntrelle Dobbins (#8) averaged 7.0. Derrick Hall (#9) averaged 6.8. Vaughn Williams (#10) averaged 7.0. Nick Zachery (#12) averaged 10.4. He is ahead of the pace in scoring for all of these all-time greats at Little Rock. In fact, the only 1000-point scorers who were here for four years that were ahead of his ppg pace as a freshman were all-time scoring leader James Scott (16.0) and all-time rebounding leader Larry Johnson (#6) at 13.3.

Again, four years is a long time. He has to stay healthy. He has to stay eligible. He has to avoid off-court issues. As a foreign-born player, he has to avoid any factors related to that that might cause him to return home. There are a boat load of things that could happen. But you can't get there unless you start, and he has started very well.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

There must be a defensive mandate

If a team of players who grew up watching spectacular offense on Sports Center is going to play defense, the coach is going to have to remove any other options, right up front, in no uncertain terms. "If you play here, you play defense. If you don't play defense, you don't play here." That includes the guy who scores 20 points a game. That is the only way it is going to happen in the world we have today. Then you foster a culture of pride in defense, and hopefully even the fan base buys into it.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Virginia makes you play half-court

According to NBC, "Virginia, on the other hand, is specifically designed to avoid playing in transition as much as possible. They’ll typically fade the offensive glass, sending three players back and ensuring that the game will be played at their pace. In total, 88.9 percent of Virginia’s defensive possessions have been played in the half court, which is the fourth-highest total of 353 Division I basketball teams."

Half-court is the Cavs forte, so they will give up offensive rebounds in order to make sure you do not get out on the fast break. They make you play "on their court" even when they are on your court.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Weird Olympics

Let your mind range out "beyond the dots" to find events for this new Olympic Games we may propose to hold. We use the same track, the same implements: just with somewhat different rules.

1. LOW HURDLES. The 110 meter hurdles, except that the runners go under them instead of over them.

2. HIGH SHOT PUT. Set a bar as you would for high jumping, and the throwers have to throw the shot over the bar. If you miss, you are eliminated.

3. SKIP DISC. Who can throw the discus the farthest, but you have to make it skip one time during the throw.

4. RING TOSS. Throw the discus through a ring that is successively moved farther away.

5. VAULT RELAY. The standard relay events, except you use vaulting poles instead of batons - and you can carry them any way you want to.

6. SLICK JUMP. Standard high jump, except the approach ramp is iced over.

7. VAULT DASH. 100 meter dash, but each contestant carries a vaulting pole, and he cannot run. He can only vault from spot to spot.

8. SAND JUMP. The long jump, except that the contestants start from the back side of the pit, run through the sand, and jump onto the runway.

9. ACCUVAULT. Pole vaulters have to land within a designated spot, far enough out that they still have to get up full speed in the approach.

10. HESITANT DASH. Sprinters have to take two steps forward and one step backward.

11. DODGE DASH. 100 meter dash with finish tapes every ten yards, and the runners are disqualified if they break any of them.

12. TOSS RELAY. Standard relays, except there is a "no run" zone between each runner, and so the baton has to be thrown to the next runner.

And then, just use your imagination. The sky's the limit

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Want proof that things are out of hand?

This from Andrew Joe Potter of "the Score":

A decade ago, the New York Knicks led the league by taking an average of 27.9 3-pointers per game, an all-time watermark for long-range attempts at the time. Today, that rate would rank as the sixth-lowest 3-point output in the NBA.
Need more proof that times have changed? Two NBA records related to 3-point shooting volume fell Wednesday night.
First, the Houston Rockets blew past the single-game record for 3-point attempts, launching 70 in their 145-142 overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets. The previous mark for long-range attempts from a team in a single game was 61.
I shall keep saying it: basketball is degenerating into a glorified game of HORSE.

A pattern that I like

There is a very definite pattern emerging in our stat sheet: we make more FTs than our opponents, and they make more 3-pointers than we do. At the moment we lead in charity makes 268 to 250. (The gap would be considerably more if we could make our shots.) Our opponents lead in 3-pointers 161 to 125, and that does not hinge on shooting percentages, because we shooter better from the arc than our opponents do. "Take less, make more."

Why does that matter? Because it is good basketball. As Coach Knight put it, "Why shoot a 3-pointer early in the time clock? You can get off a deep shot any time you want to. Work the ball inside and get them in foul trouble." Sure enough, we go inside more, and our opponents have more fouls than we do (372 to 348). Not only that, but basketball offenses are becoming blatantly predictable these days: just jack up a three. Fewer and fewer teams have a viable inside game (and so no Plan B), and so they are more and more predictable. We do have an inside game (see the shooting percentages of our big guys).

Our offense is working pretty well, and I like how it is working. We just can't get off enough shots because we are turning the ball over so much.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Will football make the same mistake?

We have a four-team football playoff, and you just have a feeling that that is going to change soon. Probably to eight at least, maybe even to 16. When that happens, will football be in danger of doing what basketball has done, i.e., making their regular season irrelevant?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Turnovers: the real killer

If you take a bad shot, then it is a low percentage shot. There is less chance that you will make it. But if you have a turnover, then there is ZERO percent chance you will make a shot you never took. Turnovers are a killer. Right now our shooting percentages look pretty good, to the credit of coach and team. But what about all those empty possessions when we do not even get off a shot?

Right now we are tied for last in Turnover Margin in the SBC. Not only are we last in margin, we are also last in gross turnovers. In fact, no one is really close. According to the Belt official stats, we have averaged 16.6 turnovers per game. The next worst team (UTA) has averaged 15.5, and after that it drops to 14.4. So, we have the dubious distinction of being the sloppiest, most undisciplined team in the conference. We are pretty good at scoring, but it takes us a lot of possessions to do it.

That falls right on the coach. Beard did not tolerate turnovers. Play sloppy and he would jerk you right out of the game. Walker evidently does not mind quite so much. Nikola Maric leads the team in turnovers, but that is almost to be expected from a true freshman post player. The bad news is pretty much spread around after that: our turnovers are a team project.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Would the Beard story have been different?

One of the more enjoyable parts of being a sports fan is getting to play "What If?" What if Ted Williams' career had not been interrupted by military service? What if Satchel Paige had played his entire career in the major leagues? Etc.

By now we know that Chris Beard is an outstanding basketball coach. He was a graduate assistant at Incarnate Word. He was an assistant coach at Abilene Christian and North Texas. He was the HC at McMurry and the ABA Warriors. He was the HC at Angelo State, Fort Scott CC and Seminole State. He spent seven years as an assistant under Bob Knight at Texas Tech, and three years as Associate Coach under Pat Knight. To put it mildly, that is a LONG apprenticeship in coaching.

No one can accuse Beard of skipping any steps along the way. Usually when you see a coach with that sort of a resume, you assume there is something wrong, some reason why he is not able to be a head coach of a major program. Why would he be an assistant for ten years at Texas Tech without procuring a head coaching job somewhere in D1? It is not like other programs did not know about him. Obviously, I do not know the answer to those questions, and they don't matter at this point. The long and short of it is that Chasse Conque did not "pick him green" when he hired Beard. He was "fully ripe" from having hung a long time on the coaching developmental tree.

Now here comes the intriguing "What If?" question. What if Beard had landed a D1 head coaching job before becoming an assistant at Texas Tech? or at some other point along the path? What if his first D1 head coaching gig had not been a good fit and he had not been successful for whatever reason? Instead of climbing up the ladder as an assistant under the Knights, what if he had jumped from being a HC at the non-D1 levels to being one at the low D1 level?  Would that have affected how good a coach he is today? Who knows? He has been a good coach all along, but would he have been quite as good as he is now if his career path had been short-circuited? It wasn't, so we will never know; but it is interesting to speculate about it. We might have watched a classic example of the advantages of being patient and waiting for the right opportunity.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Old timers dribbled lower

Look at video footage of basketball players of years past and one thing you may notice is that they tended to dribble much closer to the ground than players do now. Sort of in a crouch. One obvious disadvantage is that the crouch inhibited the flashy moves we see so much today. However, I would venture to guess that it also cut down on the number of steals made against them. Maybe they swapped flash for fundamentals?

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Walker is building from the opposite site

Chris Beard came into Little Rock and immediately started building a foundation upon defense. You played defense, or you didn't play. Defense, low turnovers, good shots. It is interesting to notice the different approach with Darrell Walker. Being an ex-NBA player and official, defense has not been the priority from the get-go. Our offense is clicking pretty well, but the defense is an on-again, off-again thing so far. Hopefully it will improve, but it was offense that Walker addressed first, just the opposite of Beard.

Friday, January 11, 2019

You had to figure last year was an aberration

The Big Ten was down last season. But the Big Ten is perhaps the most stable league in the country. You knew they would be back. ESPN's Joe Lunardi currently projects them to have ten teams in the NCAA tournament, with two of them (Michigan and Michigan State) being #1 seeds.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

BIG win for Rutgers

I like Steve Pikiell's game, and I like this Rutgers team. He is building a program, and he is doing it the right way - fundamentals first. Defense and rebounding. Blue collar. Last night the Scarlet Knights got their biggest Big Ten win in four years by defeating #16 Ohio State. (I don't like Ohio State, so I especially appreciated that win.) Rutgers is a long way still from being in the top tier of the league, but they are serving notice, little by little, that they cannot be taken for granted. And, after all, that is the first step.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Think Virginia can't play defense?

Boston College was averaging 76 points per game, and shooting 45% overall and 31% from the arc. They host Virginia. They score 56 points, shoot 39% overall and 28% from the arc. It is getting to be a familiar story.

Bennett easily COY so far

The potential emotional trauma which Virginia might have suffered after the embarrassing loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season was something that could have devastated the program. Being the butt of jokes throughout the offseason is never very enjoyable. But, to the credit of the team and the coach, they took up where they left off (before that loss). The Cavs are 13-0, ranked #4 in the nation. Their defense is once again formidable, and they are showing more of a flair on offense this year. Tony Bennett has done a masterful job of getting them back on the beam. Who knows where they will end the season, but to this point, in my mind Bennett is the easy choice for Coach of the Year.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Don't you love it?

when dominant, arrogant programs get handed their heads on a platter like Alabama did last night. Now you know how it feels, Tide.

Hoiberg would be a home run

Fred Hoiberg would be an excellent selection for UCLA's next head coach, if they could land him. He has been to the big time, so the glitz of Hollywood would not dazzle him. He has been in the big media of the NBA, so he could handle that. And he is a good coach. Not all the available coaches would be good fits, in my opinion. Chris Beard, for example, would be good for them, but they would not be good for him. UCLA is not his style, and he would not play their style of ball. just not a good match. But Hoiberg would be.

Monday, January 7, 2019

I knew there was a reason I liked the Big Ten

Didn’t see this coming. With 19 percent of the games in the books, the Big Ten’s on track to be the least perimeter-oriented major conference in years.

Less than 33 percent of shot attempts coming from beyond the arc in conference play.

Geese at Philander

Hubert "Geese" Ausbie was one of the more famous members of the Harlem Globetrotters. Lots of folks know that fact. What they might not know is that he played his college basketball at little Philander Smith College right here in Arkansas.

Why was he called Geese? Because there was already a Goose on the Globetrotters, the legendary center Goose Tatum (who incidentally was also from Arkansas).

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Conference play is a killer

Nevada just found that out. They were being touted as a possible Final Four team. And while they might still end up there, the loss this weekend to unranked New Mexico will make it harder for them to fight back into the mix. Conference teams know you better than others do. Plus there is the motivation factor. Plus attendance begins to improve after football fades out of the picture. Even very good teams have a problem with conference play, especially on the road.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

What makes Rajon Tucker effective offensively

It is very common for players who score inside not to be able to make outside shots. Oddly enough, it is not uncommon for the flip side to be true: good 3-point shooters do not shoot a correspondingly good percentage from inside the arc. One of the things that makes Rajon Tucker a good scorer is that he shoots well both places. He is shooting 40% from the arc, which we will take any day. He is also shooting 50.9% overall, which means he is shooting 56% from inside the arc. Obviously, the fact that he is good both places makes him more effective both places, since defenders slack off on him in different situations.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Best conferences going into conference play

It is no news that the Pac-12 is struggling this season. But how do the rest of the Big Six stack up headed into conference play? Here is how Sagarin rates them:

Big 12
Big Ten
Big East

The top five are bunched reasonably closely together, but the Pac-12 is actually closer to "the rest" of the conferences, i.e., the AAC and the WCC.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Good news? Not to me.

It’s not a secret that basketball as a whole has continued to become a perimeter oriented game. According to KenPom, college basketball teams are attempting 38.7 percent of their shots from behind the arc, which is the highest mark since the line’s implementation in the college game in the 1986-87 season. (from Chris Schutte of SBNation)

Could Virginia win it all?

This week Joe Boozell of predicted that Virginia will win it all this season. Who knows if they will. Their game is better suited to a long season than a short tournament, and basketball only cares about short tournaments. They are one of four undefeated teams left, and have wins over Maryland and Wisconsin, who were ranked #24 and #25 at the time.

I hope they do win it all (if Little Rock doesn't). It would be the ultimate vindication of the ugliest loss in NCAA tournament history.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Ominous fact for a short bench

I figure everyone is closing his eyes and just hoping that Darrell Walker doesn't walk into a disaster this season because he left two scholarships unfilled. Let me give you one fact that will make you close your eyes even tighter.

Of the eleven scholarship players on the roster, all but five of them already have missed at least two games. Damir Hadzic has missed all of them. Deondre Burns has missed six of them. Only four players, on the entire roster, have not missed any games. And since walk-on Terrell Curtis has played only six minutes, even with the short roster, I doubt he can be counted on for much help.

And that is after only thirteen games. We still have at least eighteen to go. Think we will dodge the bullet? I hope so. But don't hold your breath. You may want to keep you eyes closed.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

UCLA - appealing job, and then again, not

The good news? Obviously they have plenty of money and recruiting should be no problem. Further, Alford just messed up big time so anyone who follows him is going to look pretty good by comparison. Right now the league is very weak.

The bad news? How much of your time, energy and emotions do you want to expend on that Hollywood circus atmosphere? There will be a certain amount of the negativity that will stick to the program as a whole, and that means to you personally. And of course, you will always be no better than the second-best coach in Los Angeles.