Saturday, August 31, 2019

Will they and can they respond

Basketball coaches tweak their game plans constantly during the game. That means nothing, of course, if the team is not able to execute those changes. First of all, the coach has to have enough on-court control of the team that they do what he tells them to do. Second, they have to have the basketball smarts to understand what it is he wants them to do. When both those are present, it makes a team exceptionally hard to prepare for.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Two things that are there every game

From a comment by an opposing coach about Tony Bennett's Virginia Cavaliers:

"When you watch them on film, everything they do looks so simple, so you think it's easy to prepare for. Then you get out there and realize you can't prepare for how hard they play, how they don't beat themselves."

"Play hard. Don't beat yourself." Pretty simple. And those two things are there every game.

Thursday, August 29, 2019


Andy Katz has Virginia #12 in his latest rankings: "The more I think about the Cavaliers, the more I want to continue putting them higher. They don’t fade under Tony Bennett."

"They don't fade." That is just another way of saying that Bennett is a great coach who has his system entrenched. I love it! Let the fancy dan programs get the press. Virginia just wins.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Bluegrass grumbles?

I see where a few notable people are beginning to question how much value per buck Kentucky is getting for John Calipari (as in, who couldn't win with the talent he gets?). He gets players, but he doesn't keep players much.

I would be complaining if I were a Kentucky fan. Sleezipari has been at KY for ten years, with billion dollar talent every year, and has ONE national title to show for it. One year he did not even make the NCAA tournament. It has been four years since he has made a Final Four, and with the talent he gets, a FF-less stretch that long will get Wildcat fans asking, "What have you done for me lately?"

Monday, August 26, 2019

Cronin's first big recruit

Mick Cronin has a culture war ahead of him, but he has proven early on that he can land a big-time recruit from the west coast, a 5-star point guard from Alaska by way of Las Vegas. Cronin is famous for his "intense" coaching style and hard-nosed, physical style of play - none of which are things that have been noted in LA lately. So much remains to fall out in the new arrangement, but at least one blue chip has been reeled in - and he knew what he was getting into when he committed.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Multiple foreign players

I do not know if it is deliberate or not, but I like it that we have multiple players from many of the foreign countries from which we get student-athletes. Germany, Brazil, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, South Afrida and Canada all have multiple athletes in Little Rock. I figure that has to be a help when you are that far from home, to at least have someone you can talk to in the home language, or reflect about things back home.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Turnovers: the MUST IMPROVE stat

We were dead last in turnover margin in the SBC last season. We were next-to-last in assist to turnover margin. We led the league in turnovers.

Your shooting percentage on possessions where you have turnovers is always .000. If I had to put a finger on how we could have such high-powered scoring last season and still lose 20 games, turnovers would be the reason. Our defense was not great, but not completely awful. But our ball handling was AWFUL.

It was as though Walker just was not willing to do what it took to get us off the playground and onto the basketball court. Markquis Nowell is the heir apparent at point and has the tools to be one of our greatest at that position. BUT he has got to take much better care of the ball. And that is all on the coach. Tough love is obviously going to be needed.

It would be a CRYING SHAME to squander all the talent there is on this team just because the coach is not willing to make the team play the way they ought to play.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

I agree with the coaches

CBS took a poll of coaches as to who was the best off-season hire.
#1 - Fred Hoiberg, Nebraska
#2 - Buzz Williams, TAMU
#3 - Mick Cronin - UCLA

All three of those are quality hires. Expect Hoiberg to do at Nebraska what he did at Iowa State, although it might take a little longer, which is not a bad thing. Buzz Williams at Texas A&M was a home run in every respect. Cronin in Tinseltown is a little more problematical, given the culture there, but I am betting that he will win over the fans, bring a new look to west coast basketball, and get the job done. There again, it may take him a while to get a roster of players who buy into his philosophy of take-no-prisoners defense.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Cronin gets a good start

Lots of folks are doubting that Mick Cronin can get the job done at UCLA because of stylistic factors. But he just landed a 5-star point guard into a program that likely will be defense-first.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Don't belittle the code

Steve Shields used to take a lot of flack from run-and-gun fans because he would teach his players, "Pass up a good shot to get a better shot." But after all, that is Coachspeak. He is talking to a bunch of kids who are hungry for the bright lights and ready to jack it up at the first opportunity. Good is good to the players. "Better" is better to the players. A lot of players never saw a shot that wasn't a good shot, so you have to by-pass that one in their thinking to get to an acceptable shot. "Pass up a borderline shot to get a good shot," is what the coaches really mean.

If the coaches were blunter, they might say, "Don't just jack up a 3-pointer the first time you are open for a split second." It is all code talk, and what the coaches meant in their code was good basketball.

Monday, August 19, 2019

DW has to play his best defender

Overall, our defense last season was not horrible, but it also was not very good. Certainly nowhere near outstanding. "Mediocre" comes to mind. It was a team that had the athleticism to be an excellent defensive team, but just did not have the desire to be that, nor the coaching.

I do not know who the player is, but Walker has to have his best on-ball defensive player on the floor as much as possible next season. We have to have a culture change. Alsean Evans might be that player. We need someone who is physically and mentally tough, someone who thinks "defense" all the time. I just don't know if Walker is the man to make that happen. I don't know if he really cares if it happens.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The problem the little guys present

I get a strong feeling that the power conferences in college basketball would love to be rid of the myriad of little guys who muddy up the water. They win an occasional game in the NCAA tournament and mess things up. They embarrass big money programs with regular season upsets. They occasionally pick off a recruit that the bluebloods wanted (although with the transfer rule these days, they probably will get him back before long). They really give off the aura that they would love to create their own super-division, such as football has, and let the little guys scrap among themselves.

The problem, of course, is that if there are no little guys, then the opportunities for buy-a-win decrease dramatically. If they had to go down to a lower division, those wins presumably would not be counted in the ranking calculations, and any occasional upsets would be all the more embarrassing.

I will have to admit that 350+ teams in Division 1 basketball seems like a few too many. The gap between the Dukes and the Gramblings is so huge that any games between them become totally irrelevant, except for the money that the little guys get for getting beat up. And all this is, after all, a money issue, both for the big guys and the little guys. I do not know the answer, but however things get adjusted, if and when they do, you can rest assured it will be to the advantage of the Dukes of the world, and not for the Gramblings and Little Rocks.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Sure-fire answer to Who Is The Best Coach?

Do it by lottery. Put the names in a hat and draw them completely without bias. Then make the coaches play with what they get. The better coaches will overachieve, over time, and the ones that make it on bright lights and sizzle will not. Of course, the possibility is that a coach playing at some lower level will be the best. Many of the top coaches get where they are because they can coach (more so in basketball than in football), but many are also successful because they are great recruiters, not necessarily great coaches. So make the playing field completely level, and then pick the best.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

What we need from the recruits

1.  REBOUNDING, DEFENSE. We need Ruot Monyyong to be a big man. He shot 91 three-pointers last season and made only 30.8% of them, and that was before the arc was moved back. On the other hand, he shot an excellent 60% on his shots from inside the arc. He averaged 10.4 rebounds per game, and 11.9 during conference season, so he can be a force down low. And, he had 90 blocks, so he already has a nice touch on the defensive end. Guys who are 6-11 and can actually play don't grow on trees. Ruot needs to stick with he does well and forget about what he does not do well.

2. DEPTH, EXPERIENCE. Here's hoping that Admir Besovic surprises us on the high side. He does have a little bit of D1 experience. The good news is that he is content to be a big man. He shot 52.5% from the field last season at Santa Fe College, and did not attempt a single three-pointer. He pulled down 5.9 boards per game. The good news is that he blocked 33 shots. So, at the very least he can give us some solid minutes inside, make his shots, and be a rim protector.

3. DEFENSE, VERSATILITY. We need Alsean Evans to pick up some of the scoring that left with Rayjon Tucker - but not to try to shoulder the whole load. Even more so, we desperately need a defensive stopper, and maybe he can play that role for us. He needs to be the glue guy for this team - a little scoring, a little rebounding, a whole lot of defense. (Think John Fowler.)

4. SHOOTING. Hopefully Marko Lukic can provide some shooting to replace Tucker from the arc. He put up 20 points per game plus in the last two seasons in Europe.

5. SHOOTING. Jovan Stulic. See Lukic above.

Wouldn't it be something?

If Virginia and Texas Tech were in the finals again next season? Or either of them for that matter. But, of course, they play boring basketball. Defense and all that. No one wants to watch them. Right? Right?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Why Pippins is critical

Ryan Pippins is on the roster, so I am assuming he is going to be available this season, and I think that is critical for several reasons.

1. He is our only senior on a fairly inexperienced team. Throughout his career, Pippins has given off an aura of quiet confidence, and that is going to be important. Last season we had lots of sizzle, but very little steak. We need someone with less flash, but someone who delivers.

2. He is our best returning perimeter shooter. Nikola shot the three better, but on very limited attempts, and I certainly hope he is not spending all his time out on the 3-point line. Pippins shot 39.3% from the arc. Everyone else on the team was mediocre at best.

3. He is our third experienced point guard, and can play both guard positions. Nowell will play the lion's share of the minutes at the point, and Lottie will get most of what remains. But as we have seen so many times before, all it takes is one injury and we have a crisis. Pippins is our insurance policy.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Could be a brilliant stroke by DW

One of Darrell Walker's stated goals in the last recruiting season was to bring in more tall guards. This he did, with three at 6-6: two from Serbia and one juco. If any of the three has a really strong season, he will look like a genius. Here's hoping he does.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Just go to the local gym

Some guy has introduced a Wachability Index, which ranks teams by how "exciting" their offense is. That means, don't work down into the shot clock, don't be patient for a good shot, just jack up a three-point shot, or live off the fast break. That is "exciting." Defense is not "exciting." Virginia is not "exciting." They just win.

Hey, bud: the reason Virginia can run down the clock each possession is that they are confident that their offense is more efficient than yours and that their defense is better than yours. They are going to make better use of the shots they get than you will, so they are not afraid to play the basketball version of Chicken. "We can stop you better than you can stop us, and we will score more points per possession than you will." Isn't that what basketball is all about? Evidently not. Evidently the only thing that matters is how points you score, even if the other team scores more points.

This guy needs just to go to the local gym or playground where defense doesn't matter at all and they all shoot as soon as they cross the halfcourt line. He makes me tired.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Dance is brutal

In the history of the NCAA tournament, 19 teams have finished the regular season. Only 7 of those have won the tournament, and none since 1976.

Among the teams who have made the regular season gauntlet unscathed are some surprising names: Columbia, St. Bonaventure, Rutgers. Those who do not study basketball history probably would not have guessed any of those (and some of us who do). Those three teams have fallen on hard times lately, but at one time they were powerhouses.

Interestingly, John Wooden had four undefeated teams, but if he made it unscathed through the regular season, not once did he fail in the Tournament. Some other pretty good coaches cannot say that: John Calipari, Jerry Tarkanian, Gregg Marshall, Bob Knight, Al McGuire, and Guy Lewis all had undefeated teams that stubbed their toes in the Big Dance.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

How recruiting should be done

The vast majority of college coaches are looking to stockpile the most elite talent they can, any way they can — just add bodies to the pile and then figure out how they fit together. As the saying goes, “It’s not the Xs and Os, it’s the Jimmys and Joes,” which is just another way to say that even a bad coach can look good with enough talent ... and vice versa. (from an article by Jeff Nusser)
I think this guy nailed it, and pretty well summed up one of the main things that is wrong with college basketball. Some coaches, the good ones, recruit with a rifle, not a shotgun; and they bring in their type players who can play their type game. These may not be the most talented players, but they are good firs for their system.
The quote above was about the effort of Kyle Smith to build the program at Washington State - one of the most difficult campuses in the country to recruit to. Here is hoping he gets it done; and with his approach, he might stand a chance. He is looking for multiple-tool players, who sometimes tend to be under-recruited by more successful programs.

One other factor: Smith wants players where his scholarship offer is the one the player really desires; he wants to be the school of choice rather than the fall back. Those kinds of players are hungry to prove they belong.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Replacing the points has to be an orderly process

With Rayjon Tucker and Deondre Burns we lost 30.3 points per game. That is a lot of offensive firepower to replace. Two 15-point players (averaged) would be a hit to any program. What I am afraid will happen is that Nowell is going to try to be the next Tucker. Hopefully not, but it would not be the first time that sort of thing has happened. DW is going to have to make SURE that the distribution of points is an orderly process. It is not as though we do not have any other weapons. Even among the returning players Maric averaged 10.7 ppg, and Bankston averaged 8.2 ppg on FAR fewer shots than the others. And that is not even taking into account the newcomers. The scoring potential is there; now Walker just has to make sure Nowell gets the ball there.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Five things on DW's "must do" list

(Maybe they are, and maybe they aren't, but they ought to be.)

1. Fix the A/TO ratio among the point guards. It isn't enough to make things happen. We have to make the right things happen.

2. Identify the shooters. Among our returning perimeter players, Pippins is the only one who was impressive. We have several new kids who are supposed to be good shooters, so we need to get them into the system quickly.

3. Emphasize rebounding. That was a glaring weakness last seasons.

4. Get our inside players more aggressive. Maric has the European tendency to float toward the perimeter, and Bankston and Johnson do not shoot enough.

5. Set up a free throw clinic. Pippins, Lottie, Bankston and Johnson were awful last season. That is a quick way to nudge scoring upward.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Dry up, Lebron!

One again Lebron James gives us his unsolicited royal pronouncement concerning something the NCAA has done. For someone who never played a minute of college basketball, he takes a lot on himself to have appointed himself the one-man review board of NCAA actions. He needs to go soak his head.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Buy what you can afford

Defense is always cheap, because most coaches and practically all fans pay minimal attention to it. Supply and demand. Therefore, players who are really good defensively, but only OK offensively, are not going to be as highly recruited, and you can pick up a real bargains "at closeout prices."

Monday, August 5, 2019

Rebounding ought to be a strength

Height certainly is no guarantee of good rebounding, but it certainly helps. Height we have plenty of this year. Besovic and Maric have pretty good bulk. That helps in rebounding, if you know how to use it. Several of our big guys have pretty good hops, which definitely helps. So, the factors are there. What is left? Teaching and desire. Some coaches can teach rebounding, and some evidently do not do so well. Part of teaching is insisting that players do it, and do it right. Some players place a priority on rebounding, and some do not. Last year none of ours did. Maybe that will change this season. I certainly ought to. There is no reason that this team should not be a good rebounding team.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Which new faces will we see?

Nowell, Lottie, Wyatt, Bankston, Maric. We could piece that starting lineup out of our returning players, but those were part of the group that lost 20 games. There is going to have to be some new talent, new energy, new leadership - something - injected into the team if we are going to be appreciably better. And we could be significantly better than last season and still not be very good.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Revive the Pac-12

Basketball needs for the Pac-12 to be better than it has been in recent years. I realize those teams are a long way off, and that we rarely stay up to see them play on television, etc., but UCLA and Arizona, to name a couple, have been a big part of basketball history. And when the west coast is not doing well, it is like a horse hobbling on one leg. Even if they only play the role of hated opponents, basketball needs the West to perk up.

Friday, August 2, 2019

The same old faces

CBS Sports just came out with their bracketology for next year. Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas. Pretty boring. I really with there was some new blood among the bluebloods of college basketball.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Wooden's consistency

The thing that was staggering about John Wooden was his consistency. Oh, sure, he had tremendous talent playing for him, but so have other coaches. So did other coaches in his day. And even the best of coaches have hiccups somewhere along the way. But when you win ten out of twelve, and seven in a row? That requires something beyond mere talent.