Friday, January 31, 2020

Still searching for the right tag

No one likes "mid-major." It somehow seems derogatory, especially to those teams that routinely make it to the Top 25, even if everyone understands that it pertains to the conference and not to the team. "Non-power conference team" is accurate, but is just too unwieldy. I don't like it, but there it is. Maybe one of those media hotshots will coin a term that is concise and accurate, but for the moment I expect we will continue to use (and dislike) "mid-major."

Thursday, January 30, 2020

No "Sirs" among these Scarlet Knights

Rutgers is back in the Top 25 after a generation. They are doing it without big name 5-star players. Steve Pikiell is the working man's coach. He has constructed a team (isn't that a novel concept these days!) that is playing to put their alma mater (ditto) back on the basketball map. They haven't said, "We deserve to be here because we are high profile recruits." They just said, "We are going to work hard, listen to Coach, do what it takes, win for the school and the team." And they have done it. Another feel-good story for this season.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Unfolding feel-good drama

If Tubby Smith takes another team to the NCAA tournament, that will make six, and will be the record. So far he has led Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas Tech to the Big Dance. That would further cement his place among the great head coaches in history.

What makes this little question mark really intriguing is that he apparently is finishing out his career at his alma mater, High Point, which has never been to the Division I tournament. (They have been in the NAIA and Division II tournaments multiple times.) If Tubby could set the record by taking his old team to the Tournament for the first time, that would make some really fine feel-good material for the media, and deservedly so.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Our man at the line

Guess who shoots the most free throws on our team. Nowell because he is so quick and hard to guard? Nope. Monyyong because he is so big and plays down low a lot? Nope. Lottie because he is good at driving to the basket? Nope.

It is (drum roll) Kamani Johnson. As I write he has attempted 115 free throws, ahead of Monyyong in second place with 97. And the good news is that he is making them at a 76% rate. When you consider that last season he was making just barely 50% of this charity shots, that is pretty impressive. He has turned the free throw line into an offensive weapon for us. He is bringing home 4 points per game just at the free throw line, not to mention what he does in getting the other team in foul trouble.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Reed's mid-range jumper

Chastity Reed may have been the best player in the conference before she left Little Rock. And if I remember correctly, her little mid-range jump shot was devastating - almost unstoppable. She was agile enough to get into the lane, and then she would pull up and knock down the shot. Over and over again. She spent most of her time facing the basket, and did her best work at about ten feet out - again, working on memory here.

Her senior year Chastity attempted only 29 three-pointers, and made only nine of those, so she was not a great shooter from outside. But she had more than twice as many FGs as anyone else on the team. And, in the process she was only third on the team in FTs attempted, so she was not going to the rim and getting fouled a ton of times or crashing the boards for offensive rebounds, because she had only 9 of those. Just that little deadly mid-range jumper.

I wonder why no one tries that these days. It was a good enough strategy to let Reed average 19.6 points per game.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

In favor of short rotations

I would suppose most coaches use rotations of from 8 to 11 players. There are pros and cons to both ends of that spectrum. You want the best players on the court as much as you can have them there while being rested enough to play full out. That would point toward a short rotation. The farther down the bench you go, the lower the level of ability that is fed into the game. That would say that you keep the starting five in there if at all possible. Media timeouts work in your favor.

However, if players do not have regular game experience, then they are less likely to be ready when you need them, so you need to give players you are likely to need some time in the game in order to keep them game ready. I would assume it is not always an easy decision.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Blue Collar U.

New Joisey is a blue collar state, and Rutgers is a blue collar team. Rebounding, defense, hard work. All the things I love in a team.

"We take pride in our defense." That's Geo Baker, one of their star players and their second-leading scorer. "We enjoy playing defense, and I don't think that's something a lot of teams can say." Note that: "We enjoy playing defense." Instill that attitude in a team and it just makes a huge difference.

Jay Young is now the head coach at Fairfield, but he was Rutgers's defensive coordinator last season, and so he follows the Scarlet Knights closely. "[Playing hard] is probably the most important skill you have. I say to our guys all the time, 'When they throw it up, no one cares how many stars you had next to your name.'"

I like it! Just gritty, hard-nosed basketball. I remember a lightly-recruited kid named Jones-Jennings who was not a great leaper who would have loved it.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Lukic what the doctor ordered?

As I write we are shooting 33.2% from the arc as a team, which is not awful, but also not great. It is nothing that is going to make an opposing coach change his game plan. And basically our only two shooters have been Nowell and Coupet. Palermo has a nice percentage, but hasn't shot often enough to be a factor at this point.

So, having Marko Lukic back shooting 11 of 29 after five games is a nice plus. Having someone you can feed into the fray and know that he can knock down numbers like 5 of 11 and 3 of 6 is a nice feeling.

I am still waiting for Jovan Stulic to get going. He has had his moments, like 2 of 4 against ULM and 3 of 6 against App State. But overall he has not been consistent.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Jack the Bulldog

I have started following Georgetown since Patrick Ewing was hired and Mac McClung was recruited. I did not realize, however, just how much I would love their mascot. Jack the Bulldog. Bulldogs have to be one of the most lovable of courtside real, live mascots. ESPECIALLY if they can ride a skateboard. See below.


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Designated rebounders

I have heard several unsatisfactory explanations for why the NCAA breaks out rebounding records before and after 1973. One reason is that that was when the NCAA went into three divisions, and therefore records before that time were partially against sub-par opposition. But if that is true, why only have the break-out for rebounding? Why not for other stats?

Another reason I have heard is that it was because of the 3-point shot, but that is totally bogus, since the 3-point shot did not start until 1980.

The most likely explanation I have read (and I have not been able to find it again) is that about 1973 there was a significant change in philosophy among coaches as to how the game was to be played. Before 1973 teams had what might be called "designated rebounders." Wilt and Russell, etc., took care of the boards, and other players left it to them and took care of other things (like releasing for the fast break). I read a quote from Oscar Robertson once that went something like this: "When I was in college if a power forward averaged eight rebounds a game, he sat on the bench. Today he is all-conference."

Be all that as it may, I think with our current roster, there is something to be said for that philosophy. Our starting front line (Monyyong, Johnson, Coupet) currently average 22.8 boards per game. That is about 61% of our team average, and that is just those three individual players, not counting any others who may have played those positions this season.

Of course, there will always be incidental rebounds collected by the two guard positions, but if a team takes the attitude that they expect the big guys to take care of business on the boards, instead of adopting the "team rebounding" concept we see frequently today, then the guards are left free to release for fast breaks. People are always wanting to "make basketball more exciting." It looks to me like this would be one way to do it - logically.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Officially a Cougars fan

Put me down among the probably fairly small group of Chicago State Cougar fans. When they hosted Bakersfield recently, the attendance was listed at 255, so there are not many of us.

Are they any good? No, they are downright awful. They are the perennial doormats in a doormat league. But they did win a D1 game this year, which was a big step in the right direction, believe it or not.

So, I am jumping on the bandwagon, while it is moving at a slow speed. Let's hope it will begin moving a little faster soon.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Palermo's value

Isaiah Palermo is 7th on the team in minutes played, averaging 14.4 per game in the 18 games in which he has played. He averages only 2.7 points per game. But as a true freshman on a team that is a little short-handed on the perimeter, he has been a consistent contributor, even if only as a reliable filler of gaps while the starters rest.

One thing he has done well is shoot the three, even if on very limited attempts. He is 6 of 14, which works out to 43%.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Big guys regular at work

In this season when our big guys are the heart of this team, it should be as no surprise that our starting front line are the only three players on the team that have appeared in all 20 games so far. Coupet, Monyyong and Johnson have answered the bell twenty times out of twenty. And, with the exception of three times in the case of Johnson, they have started every game. And they are scoring from 9.9 to 11.9 points per game. Pretty consistent group.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Johnson is an offensive-rebounding machine

I don't know if there are specialists among rebounders, but if there are, Kamani Johnson is one. Ruot Monyyong has 65 more total boards than Johnson has, but Johnson has 10 more offensive rebounds than does Monyyong. Whether that is by Coach's design or just by happenstance according to their peculiar individual skills and role on the court, I could not say.

At the moment, Johnson trails CCU's Tommy Johnson by one board for the conference lead.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Turnovers are going to bite us

During the Beard season, we averaged 10.4 turnovers per game. Our opponents averaged 14.1. That means that we had four chances to score in which they had zero chance to score. That is a good advantage to have. The reason turnovers were so low that season was obvious if you watched Beard on the bench. If a player got sloppy he came out of the game - maybe not for long, but he came out.

This year we are averaging 16.4 turnovers per game. That means Beard's team had six chances to score (on average) each game that this year's team does not have.

This year so far Markquis Nowell has 71 turnovers (avg. 4.4 per game). In the 30-win season, Josh Hagins had 58 turnovers in the entire season (avg. 1.7 per game). Nowell already has 13 more turnovers than Hagins had in the entire season. Of course, Nowell is not the only cuprit on this year's team, but he handles the ball more than anyone else. And he almost never comes out of the game, no matter how many times he turns the ball over.

This team has some positives that help to make up for our sloppy play. We do a fine job on the boards, and five and a half rebounds per game more than the opponents gives us a lot more opportunities for scoring. This is a good team, but it probably will never be a great team until Walker tells them "or else" concerning turnovers.

Friday, January 10, 2020

How we got here

At least for today, we are a full game in front of the two Georgia teams in the SBC standings. So, what got us here? Obviously, it was not depth. Some gritty play in spite of not having any depth contributed greatly. We have a player who is quick enough and a good enough shooter that he can score when he needs to and at times can take over games. We have had a dominant front line, even without Maric. We have a bona fide rim protector with 32 blocks already. We have had good overall defense, even though our perimeter defense has been weak. We have four (now five) guys who can shoulder the scoring load on any given night. We are plus-5 in the rebounding battle, which to some extent helps to make up for our turnovers.

A lot of positives. The toughest part of the conference schedule still lies ahead of us, but this team is good enough to take care of business.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Unwarranted prejudice

When schools from non-power conferences make it to the NCAA tournament, there seems to be a built-in prejudice against them because "their schedule is weak." Of course (providing they can get the big schools to play them), they can play a tough non-conference schedule, but once conference begins they are limited to those in their conference. Therein lies the problem for non-power conference schools. (Folks conveniently ignore the fact that the bottom half of a lot of power conferences are not very good.)

But if we are projecting whether a team will do well in the NCAA tournament, one of the main things we look at are how likely a team is to avoid losing. That sounds simplistic, but it makes sense when you think about it. When a #16 seed is playing a #1 seed, the main problem for the #1 seed  is to avoid having a terrible off night. If they play at their normal ability, they ought not to lose; but they have to play at their normal ability.

So, if very good team from a lower level conference makes the tournament, and did well in a tough non-conference schedule, and avoided losing in an easier conference schedule, isn't that what teams are supposed to do in the Tournament? They have to avoid losing the early games they are supposed to win, and win in the games where there might be some doubt. So why should there be any prejudice against them? Most of the power conference schools pad their schedules in non-conference with "buy a win" games, but fans apparently don't look down their noses at them for doing that.

Monday, January 6, 2020

When old powers revive

I think it is good for basketball when schools which were powerhouse programs in the house, but fell upon hard times for a generation or so, are revived and brought back to prominence. A case in point would be San Fransisco. Holder of the longest winning streak in history until UCLA broke it, the Dons were indeed the Titan of the game for a few years in the 1950s and early 1960s. Then they virtually disappeared. If they were to become a factor once again, a lot of people would be forced to re-learn a very important era in basketball history, and that is good for the sport.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Rivalries we don't think about

There are only two Division 1 schools in the state of New Hampshire. Those would be UNH and Dartmouth. So, naturally, they would have a rivalry. They play in different conferences, but they are playing for the State Title, so it does mean something.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Staying healthy

I would assume that a coach changes a few things in practice when his bench gets so short that another injury could cripple the team. We are there. There is little you can do to protect from injuries in games, but you can to some extent control what happens in practices. We need to.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Tech will stay good

Busting Brackets has Texas Tech picked to be one of five teams that will be dominant in the next decade. That is not exactly a great revelation - IF Chris Beard chooses to stay there. Some of the other picks were because the schools brought in big-name ex-NBA players as coaches, which suggests they will win because of recruiting as opposed to coaching. But not Beard. Oh, he is a good recruiter, but that is not what is going to keep his program at  the top. They will stay up there because he can coach!