Posted on: February 16, 2009 3:04 am

Team Profile: Oklahoma Sooners

After posting about the Connecticut Huskies being the best team in the country, it didn’t take very long for me to wonder whether it will be proven in the tournament. UConn lost a huge offensive weapon in Jerome Dyson when he went down with an injury last week. He wasn’t the Huskies’ best shooter, but he took very good care of the basketball and was an effective go-to guy for the most part. I still think the Huskies can do it, but I am not as confident. Now let’s look at another highly ranked team, Oklahoma, and see if they pass the test.

Oklahoma has only one loss on the season, and their best player Blake Griffin is probably the National Player of the year. Despite all the success and big victories, I don’t think the Sooners have what it takes to cut down the nets in the Final Four.

The Sooners are a great team, but that greatness is very much due to their offensive production. They are currently 4th in the country in points per possession at 1.19 ppp adjusted for all games.

To breakdown the Sooner’s offense, it all starts with the big man Blake Griffin. He is by definition a go-to scorer who uses up 31% of Oklahoma’s possessions. When he gets the ball, he is extremely efficient, making 63.6% of his 2-point attempts, while getting to the free throw line more than anyone else in the Big-12 except Byron Eaton.

While Blake Griffin scores efficiently inside, the rest of the Sooner offense also contributes to a great field goal shooting team. Freshman combo-guard Willie Warren scores effectively inside and out, hitting 59.1% of his 2’s and 37.5% of his 3’s. Tony Crocker and Austin Johnson also knock down treys for the Sooners, but it is by far the scoring inside that makes Oklahoma shoot such a high percentage. In fact, they shoot a 55.4% field goal effectiveness which is 9th in the nation. On strictly 2-point attempts, they are 5th in the nation with a 55.8%. With Blake and Taylor Griffin hurting opponents inside, Crocker and Johnson hitting treys, and Willie Warren contributing from inside and out, the Sooner offense shoots with the best of them.

The other aspect that Blake Griffin influences on offense is the Sooners’ ability to get to the free throw line. With Griffin getting so many touches inside, it is no wonder the Sooners shoot a lot of free throws. Taylor Griffin and Willie Warren, also get to the free throw line frequently. Combined, the Sooners get to the line almost as much as UConn, at .481 free throw attempts per field goals attempted.

Throw in the fact that all 5 starters take good care of the basketball, and the Sooner offense is extremely difficult to stop. An offense that doesn’t turn it over, gets to shoot on most possessions. And an offense that shoots as well as Oklahoma and rebounds its misses as much as Oklahoma is going to score a lot of points.

Why I don’t like Oklahoma is simply their defense. Something about giving up 72 points in 66 possessions at home to Colorado just doesn’t look good. In their only loss to Arkansas it was 96 points in 78 possessions. Overall, it is a defense that is 51st in the country in defensive efficiency at .933 points per possessions adjusted for all games. They kind of remind of the #1 seeded Washington Husky team of 2005, a top-5 offense with a top-60 defense. Only difference is that Husky team seemed to be disputed as a #1 seed, while this Oklahoma team hasn’t slipped up and lost enough so people are still buying them.

The Oklahoma defense isn’t necessarily full of glaring flaws, it just isn’t great and the stats don’t lie. The crux of the problem for the Sooners isn’t one particular thing. First, they don’t force turnovers in the least bit. They are 267th in the country at .189 turnovers forced per possession. Now, I said this about Michigan State, too: you don’t have to force turnovers to play great defense. However, without a turnover, a possession is likely to result in a shot attempt. Therefore, you have to then force missed shots. Oklahoma does this very well inside where the Griffin brothers roam the paint. In fact, opponents only make 41.6% of their 2-point attempts against the Sooners.

Where the Sooners are deficient in the missed shots category is behind the arc, and this is where a lot of opponents’ points are coming from. Teams are choosing to score from the outside against Oklahoma, attempting 0.351 3-point attempts per total field goals attempted and hitting 34.2% of those 3’s. This is an indication that the Sooners’ perimeter defense is lacking and opponents are taking advantage.

Despite the renowned rebounding abilities of Blake Griffin, Oklahoma’s team rebounding on the defensive end is nothing to write home about. They are allowing opponents to rebound 32.3% of their own misses which is painfully average.

What we have here is a team that isn’t performing defensively in a way that will lead to a deep run in the tourney. Not forcing turnovers leads to plenty of opportunities for shot attempts and or second chance points, and in this case it is both that are problems.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 9, 2009 2:51 am

Team Profile: Connecticut Huskies

Now that I have single-handedly eliminated all of the Big Ten teams from the Final Four, I think I should begin to look at some teams that are good enough to get it done. Actually all joking aside, it only took 3 days after my Michigan State post for the Spartans to lose at home to Penn State. Still, they can always get better, and things seem to be more wide open this year than ever before.

That said, the UConn Huskies have showcased themselves as the best team in the country, like I fully expected them to. They are at this point in the season, the best combination of defense and offense, ranking in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

UConn makes basketball a grown man’s game, like a power-running game in football that wears down opponents in the second half. They play the basketball your father grew up watching, specifically on offense. Their offense, by the way, is putting up 1.14 points per possession in Big East games and a total of 1.18 points per possession adjusted for all their games, ranking 5th in the country. How they get it done is what I’m referring to, as they ignore the three-point line almost completely like it was still the early 1980’s. In fact, the Huskies recently went on the road and blew out a very good Louisville team without making a single 3-pointer. For the season, UConn averages 0.229 3-point attempts per total field goals attempted, which is 338th in the country.

It’s no secret that UConn would rather get their scoring from inside the arc and most importantly, the free throw-line. UConn is 4th in the country in free throw attempts per field goals attempted (0.484), because they establish themselves in the post, drive to the basket, and also get offensive rebounds for putbacks at rate of 40.8% of their own missed shots. Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet provide so much size up front that they are a tough matchup for anyone. They score inside posting up, on alley-oops off a screen or drive, off an offensive rebound, and drawing a foul in any of those situations and getting to the line. Gavin Edwards provides that role for them off the bench as well when he gets in the game.

If the ball isn’t going to them, the backcourt is slashing to the basket off the dribble-drive for more 2-point attempts or drawing fouls and getting to the line, whether it be Jerome ‘Slicin’ Dyson, Kemba Walker, or Craig Austrie. AJ Price aka the Amityville Horror is probably the biggest example of a jump-shooter the team has and is a capable 3-point shooter at 44.4%. He also displays a solid mid-range game.

The Huskies are also 7th in the country in defensive efficiency, giving up 0.86 points per possession adjusted for all games. Their defensive style is no secret either, as once again they are among the best in the country at shot-blocking. In this case it is the services of Hasheem Thabeet who provides the shot-blocking presence that UConn seems to have every year. Jeff Adrien, Stanley Robinson, and Gavin Edwards also provide moderate levels of shot-blocking ability. The main point being, that the length of UConn makes it nearly impossible to score inside, as they are 9th in the country in 2-point field goal defense. And they do this all without fouling and sending opponents to the line. In fact, the Huskies are 1st in the nation in opponents free throw rate, allowing only 0.18 free throw attempts per field goals attempted.

The speed of Dyson, Walker, Price, and Austrie also make the defense pretty good on the perimeter as well. Opponents only make 31.4% of their threes against UConn.

Stanley Robinson is the X-factor for this team, after missing the first half of the season. At 6’9” he provides incredible length and athleticism at the small forward position, but can guard multiple positions. With the quickness to guard on the perimeter, and the length to defend in the post. He has shown glimpses, and has matured with the time off.

UConn is beatable, just as any team will be no matter how good they are perceived to be. When I've been critical of UConn is when the defense seems to be lacking. Sometimes the team relies too much on Thabeet and they allow dribble penetration and offensive rebounds. If dribble penetration is allowed, Thabeet blocks the shot or forces a miss, and nobody picks up the rebound, it's as if Thabeet is the only one there and the rest are spectators. That can be frustrating. However, you can't count on this happening to the Huskies, so you need a game plan. The formula for beating the Huskies is simple but difficult to execute, and is almost more of a matchup ideal than anything else.

Going by the Georgetown loss and the tough game against Michigan, it is clear that on defense a zone is preferred. Pack it in and force UConn to shoot from outside. On offense, the system must have a big man that can come out on the perimeter and force Hasheem Thabeet away from the basket. Making three pointers is the great equalizer, as UConn prefers to score two-points at a time.

It sounds easy, but the athleticism and execution has to be there, and that still isn’t always enough. So, with the best combination of defense and offense, UConn is perhaps the best team in the country, as I felt they would be. They are a throw back offense that pounds it inside, controlling the paint like it’s their lifeblood. Defensively, it is the length and athleticism that makes it a difficult task to score inside, and the speed that makes it difficult to score from the perimeter.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 29, 2009 1:40 am

Team Profile: Michigan State Spartans

So I’ve touched on a handful of Big Ten teams, but I have yet to discuss the team in first place that is the Michigan State Spartans. Sparty had some embarrassing losses early in the year, losing by 18 points to Maryland and by 35 points to North Carolina. They have picked up some quality wins since then, including wins over Texas, Kansas, Minnesota, Illinois, and most recently at Ohio State. Michigan State seems to be most often mentioned as the Big Ten team with the most potential to reach the Final Four, albeit we seem to hear that every year.

Part of the reason pundits most likely praise the Spartans is because they are clearly the only Big Ten team with an elite offense, and that is what typically grabs the most attention on the national scale. Michigan State is 10th in the nation at almost 1.17 points per possession, and they haven’t been slowed down that much during conference play where they are putting up 1.12 points per possession. The next closest Big Ten team is Wisconsin at 1.06 points per possession in conference play.

Characterizing the Michigan State offense is fairly easy. It’s basically a dominant rebounding machine at both ends that attacks the basket very hard and plays at a faster pace than almost every Big Ten team (another reason pundits probably like the Spartans as they don’t slow it down like other Big Ten teams).

About the Michigan State offensive rebounding. It is very good, and it always is under Tom Izzo. Izzo is the only coach in the Big Ten that really emphasizes sending his guys to the offensive glass instead of bringing his defense back to stop transition baskets. As a result, the Spartans rebound 42.2% of their own misses. In the entire country, only Cincinnati, West Virginia, Kansas State, Pittsburgh, and Washington are higher than that. The offensive rebounding is what makes the Spartan offense elite, because they only shoot an average percentage from the field, hitting 37.3% on 3-point attempts and 50.1% on 2-point attempts. The defensive rebounding is also in the top 10 in the country, where they limit opponents to rebounds on only 26.9% of their misses.

Just like they go to the glass for offensive rebounds, the Spartans take it to the glass in the first place to get shot attempts. They actually attempt very few 3-pointers. In fact, only 26.8% of their total field goal attempts are 3-point attempts. More than 300 teams in the nation attempt more 3’s than the Spartans.

The Spartans would much rather get to the rim for two points or get fouled trying to get to the rim. That explains why their ratio of free throws made to field goals attempted is .416 which is the best the Big Ten. They have multiple ways of accomplishing all this. Sophomore point guard Kalin Lucas is continuously getting to the basket or the free throw line with his quickness. Or he can find Raymar Morgan who has a nice post-up game but also the athleticism to face up and score. Goran Suton and Delvon Roe also provide post options when they are in the game.

When the Spartans do attempt threes, it is most likely the 6’3” Chris Allen or 6’4” Durrell Summers. Summers is the best three-point option on the team at 45.5%.

Why the pundits are most likely wrong about the Spartans’ Final Four chances boils down to turnovers and defense.

Turnovers have been a recurring problem for the Spartans over the last few years. They find ways to lose games against teams they should beat usually because their offense ends up being limited by too many empty possessions that result in a turnover. They show the ability to take care of the ball, but the problem seems to pop up like an acne breakout every so often. In the Spartans recent loss to Northwestern, they turned it over 18 times in a 64 possession game and as a result were limited to only 63 points in 64 possessions. That’s not the only case as you can look at their 18 turnovers against Illinois which led to them scoring only 63 points in a 66-possession game. You can also look at their losses to Maryland and North Carolina for more examples.

Turnovers also play a role in me saying the Spartans have an average defense. Michigan State is currently giving up 1.02 points per possession in conference play, in a league that isn’t known for great offenses. Part of the reason for that I believe is that their defense doesn’t force very many turnovers. In fact, there are 238 teams in the country that force more turnovers per possession than the Spartans.

Now, there is no law saying you have to force turnovers to play tough defense. However, if you do not force turnovers than most defensive possessions will result in the opposing team attempting a shot, which means the defense has to be good at forcing misses. The Spartans are nothing special in this regard either. Often times it is either the lack of forcing misses or the lack of forcing turnovers that hurts their defense, and sometimes the combination of both. But to reiterate the point about forcing misses, the Spartans are 138th in the country in opponents’ 3-point percentage and 154th in the country in opponents’ 2-point percentage.

That’s surprising, given all the talk about the physicality of their defense in practice and all that you hear about them using football pads. Where that shows up is in their foul rate on defense, most likely in tightly called games which are a bit rare in the Big Ten.

In summary, Michigan State beats opponents by dominating the glass and attacking the basket for easy lay-ups, post up moves, or drawing fouls and getting to the line. Opponents can put together a highly efficient offense if they take care of the ball, as the Spartans will not force many turnovers. They still have to make shots, which they can against the average field goal defense of Michigan State, or hope for a tightly called game that sends them to the free throw line.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 21, 2009 6:55 pm

Team Profile: Purdue Boilermakers

Coming into the season, Purdue looked like a team that was going to compete for the Big Ten championship. They seem to have fallen off of many people’s minds, but that could also be caused by Michigan State’s lead atop the standings. Last year, Purdue was a big surprise as they went 15-3 in the conference with a very young team. That was the reason for much of the optimism coming into this season. Unfortunately, losses to Oklahoma, Duke, Illinois and Penn State have taken the attention away from Boilermakers. That, and their only tournament quality wins are over Davidson and Wisconsin at this point.

Purdue had a very good season last year for a few reasons. They played great defense, they took care of the basketball, they hit threes, and they could do what no other Big Ten team could do and that is beat Wisconsin. This year they have actually improved defensively, but their shooting has cooled off. The rest of the Big Ten has also improved, so beating Wisconsin is not the only thing they have to worry about.

Last season, three guys took the bulk of Purdue’s three point shots, and they were all close to shooting 44% from behind the arc. Keaton Grant shot 44.0%, Robbie Hummel shot 44.7%, and E’Twaun Moore shot 43.4%. This year, Grant is shooting 32.6%, Hummel 40.8%, and Moore 34.2%. Maybe it’s the law of averages or maybe the move to a further three-point line has affected them. Whatever it is, Purdue is no longer scorching opponents from behind the arc. And this has definitely affected the overall offense which averaged 1.12 points per possession a year ago but is down to 1.07 points per possession this season.

Purdue has seen great improvement from their inside scoring, as JaJuan Johnson has really become a force inside, grabbing offensive rebounds, getting to the free throw line, and finishing plays inside. Without him, the offense could have seen even more of a drop off.

Even though Lewis Jackson is a freshman point guard who has had occasional games with a few too many turnovers, Purdue takes very good care of the basketball. Except against Northwestern. So, though are not giving away possessions, as they are likely to at least get a shot attempt, but the shooting has just fallen off this year and that has hurt the offensive production.

On defense is where Purdue shines. Last year they were an outstanding defensive team, but this year they are an elite team on defense. They are currently 5th in the country in defensive efficiency, allowing just 0.83 points per possession, behind only Louisville, Memphis, Duke, and Wake Forest.

The name of the game for the Boilermakers is field goal defense, both inside and out. They lead the country in opponents’ 2-point field goal percentage at a mark of just 38.0%. This is where the JaJuan Johnson’s length has really come into play as a shot blocker and disrupter. Also credit the increased minutes of 6’9” forward Nemanja Calasan and of course the decorated Robbie Hummel who can play defend inside as well. Johnson isn’t the most intimidating 6’10” center, but he is blocking 10.1% of opponents 2-point attempts while he is on the floor and that puts him amongst outstanding company.

Purdue is also quite strong defending the perimeter, where opponents only make 31.8% of their threes. Chris Kramer is a lockdown defender and reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, but the overall team defense is what stands out. E’Twaun Moore and Keaton Grant are big athletic guards that can disrupt teams on the perimeter. When Robbie Hummel at 6’8” and Marcus Green at 6’6” guard out on the perimeter it takes it to a whole new level.

Finally, Purdue’s pressure defense also forces teams to cough the ball over at a very high rate. They forced a turnover on 25.5% of opponents’ possessions last year, and they are forcing a turnover on 23.9% of opponents’ possessions this year. So that’s not quite as good, but still amongst the best in the country.

Purdue has also improved quite a bit in the rate at which they send opponents to the free throw line. Last year they were atrocious in that regard, as teams attempted free throws at a rate of 42.6% free throw attempt per field goal attempt. That number is down to 31.4% this year. Purdue is getting into position better this year, and they have cut down to the hacking that results from being caught out of position.

In summary, Purdue is under the radar right now as they appear to have slipped offensively. That is the result of slumped shooting percentages, especially from the perimeter. JaJuan Johnson has really become a force at both ends this year, and his impact has led to some outstanding defense inside. That defense is matched by terrific defensive play on the perimeter that forces misses and turnovers without fouling. We should see if the Boilermakers can keep it up with a tough stretch of games coming up with 5 out of their next 7 on the road.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 8, 2009 8:50 pm

Team Profile: Illinois Fighting Illini

I think I am going to keep going with some Big Ten teams, so today we take a look at the Illinois Fighting Illini. The Illini are 13-2 with wins at Purdue, at Vanderbilt, and neutral court wins over Missouri and a decent Tulsa team. Their two losses are to an undefeated Clemson team and at Michigan.

Illinois was a team that, up until the Big Ten tournament, really struggled to figure things out. They went 5-13 in the Big Ten and they were often difficult to watch. Offensively they were terrible as the struggled to shoot and they didn’t take great care of the basketball. Their best offense seemed to come right after Bruce Weber took a time out to draw up a play.

Things are looking better this year. Even with the departures of Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle, it seems the Illini have gotten a huge boost from the play of their big men. Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis have taken on big roles in the offense and they are really opening up the defenses for the rest of the team. Davis and Tisdale run pick and rolls and/or pick and pops with the guards to open themselves up for mid-range jump shots. Both are accurate and have shown nice touch from the mid-range and in. The 6’10” Davis is hitting on 53.4% of his 2-point attempts, while the 7’1” Tisdale is shooting 51.0% on his 2-point attempts. Neither of those percentages are eye-popping but teams have to respect them, and the ability of Tisdale and Davis to shoot free throws means opponents can’t resort to just hacking. Both are huge improvements at the foul line over Pruitt and Randle, and as a result the team free throw percentage has improved dramatically.

With teams respecting the mid-range jump shots of Tisdale and Davis, there is much more space on the perimeter for other Illini shooters. Trent Meachem, Chester Frazier and Demetri McCamey have taken advantage and the Illini as a whole have improved to a very respectable 37.6% on 3-point attempts.

Not only are the Illini shooting better this season, but they are taking better care of the ball. Chester Frazier has cut down on turnovers, and Meachem, Tisdale, and Davis use many possessions without coughing the ball over.

One area where the Illini miss Pruitt and Randle is on the offensive glass. Both Pruitt and Randle attacked the offensive glass very hard, giving the Illini an offensive rebound on 37.4% of their own misses last season.

The shortfall on rebounding has also translated to the defensive glass, where the Illini have also become fairly mediocre. Still, the defense has not had a dropoff from last year where it was their strongpoint. The Illini are instead playing better field goal defense, especially on the perimeter. It appears that McCamey, Frazier, and Meachem have done a pretty good job defending the perimeter this year and limiting opponents open looks from behind the arc. The 6’5” Calvin Brock also helps in that regard, and the impact of newly eligible Alex Legion, who is also 6’5”, may also help more. Legion may be the x-factor down the stretch for Illinois. The Kentucky transfer scored 12 points in the Big Ten opener against Purdue.

Illinois has been the benefactor of poor free-throw shooting by their opponents, and in that regard I feel they have been a little lucky so far. Opponents are making only 58.7% of their free throws against the Illini, and this is a stat that Illinois has no control over. That number will most likely even out to an average number and that should make the defense appear more mediocre.

In summary, Illinois misses Pruitt and Randle’s rebounding on both ends of the floor, but the offense has improved tremendously with Tisdale and Davis opening up space on the floor with their midrange jumpers and play off the pick and rolls. The free throw shooting of Tisdale and Davis has also made foul shooting a strength of the Illinois offense, which could not be said last year. Defensively, the Illini have maintained relatively the same amount of success without the rebounding prowess of Randle and Pruitt, because as a team the Illini are contesting shots better around the perimeter. There is speculation on whether they will begin to give up more points when their opponents begin to hit free throw shots at a more normal rate.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 7, 2009 6:40 pm
Edited on: January 7, 2009 6:42 pm

Team Profile: Minnesota Golden Gophers

I figure it’s about time to really get this thing going. My last entry, I discussed Ohio State who has really had a drop-off in performance since that post. Losing David Lighty to injury has really hurt them, and anyone expecting Dallas Lauderdale to maintain that off-the-charts level of defense is misguided. The Buckeyes’ most recent loss came at the hands of Tubby Smith’s Minnesota Gophers who will be the topic of today’s post.

Minnesota is 13-1 right now with wins over Louisville and Ohio State, and the lone loss coming to Michigan State. In only Tubby Smith’s second year, the Gophers look to be in the hunt for an NCAA tournament bid after reaching the NIT last year. Minnesota is indeed playing slightly better this year, but their record may be the result of a light schedule thus far.

The main area in which the Gophers are better this year is on offense. Last year they averaged 1.04 point per possession on offense, whereas this year they are slightly over 1.10 points per possession. It’s not a huge improvement, but it is noticeable and it does affect their chance of winning.

I attribute most of the offensive improvement to two things. First, this year’s Minnesota team is much better shooting the basketball from all areas of the court. They have improved slightly from the free throw line and 3-point line, but inside is where the biggest difference is being made. Last year, it was Dan Coleman, Spencer Tollackson, and Damian Johnson roaming the middle and using up possessions inside. Coleman shot 49.2%, Johnson shot 54.7%, and Tollackson shot 52.2% on 2-point attempts last year. This year, Coleman and Tollackson have been replaced by a couple of freshmen in Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III. With Iverson shooting 60.9%, Sampson shooting 52.0% and Johnson improving to 65.2 %, the combination of those three has been a much more effective scoring weapon inside.

The second factor contributing to the improved offense is the development of Al Nolen. He has made a huge leap as a decision maker in just his sophomore. He has severely cut down on the turnovers and is the leading the Big Ten in assist rate at 0.36 assists per field goal made by a teammate. Not only that, but he can get to the rim and to the foul line when he takes on a scoring role, as he leads the team in free throw attempts.

The go-to guy on offense is clearly Lawrence Westbrook, as he attempts close to 30% of the team’s shots while he is on the floor. His scoring rate has also been an improvement so far this season, as he is finishing better inside and has been a very good foul shooter this season. Blake Hoffarber is the other main piece of the puzzle, whose main role on offense has been to knock down treys which he has done so at a 43.3% clip so far.

Defensively, the Gophers still leave a bit to be desired. They were quite good at forcing turnovers last year, and that has continued on to this year. So far they are forcing a turnover on 23.9% of every opponent’s possession. They have also been better this year defending in the paint. Right now they are first in the country in block percentage, at a rate of 20.3% blocks for every 2-point shot attempted. The combination of Colton Iverson, Ralph Sampson III, and Damian Johnson are the main reason behind that, especially with Iverson at 6’10” and Sampson at 6’11”. When not blocking shots, that length has still made it difficult for opponents to score inside, as the Gophers are holding opponents to a 42.8% on 2-point attempts.

The main area of concern on defense is clearly the defensive glass. Minnesota is allowing opponents to rebound 37.1% of their own misses which is not good by any means. In fact, that ranks 294th in the country. They have gotten away with it in most of their games, but it really hurt them in their loss to Michigan State. The Spartans are known for crashing the offensive glass, and they grabbed 53.3% of their own misses against Minnesota last week. The good news however is that almost all the other coaches in the Big Ten don’t send their teams to the offensive glass nearly as hard because they’d rather have their defense back in transition to stop breakaway points.

In summary, I feel Minnesota is a slightly better team this year offensively with better length that allows them to score and defend better inside. Al Nolen also has the offense running much smoother. The defense isn’t anything to write home about, but all in all the easy schedule so far makes it tough to predict how the Gophers will fare in the Big Ten so far. My opinion is that they will be in the middle of the pack with their postseason hopes firmly on the bubble.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: December 17, 2008 7:24 pm

Team Profile: Ohio State Buckeyes

I'm trying something new.  we will see how long I keep it going.

Today, we discuss the Ohio State Buckeyes. In a matter of 11 days, Ohio State went on the road and beat a good Miami Hurricane team, then defeated Notre Dame in Indianapolis, and finished up with close win over previously undefeated Butler. That’s a mighty fine performance from a team that started the year unranked and figured to finish 4th in the Big Ten.

So how are the Buckeyes getting it done? Well, to get right to the point, the answer is defense. Ohio State is currently ranked as the best defensive team in the country, holding opponents to 0.74 points per possession. During the previously mentioned three game stretch, they held Miami to 68 points in 70 possessions, Notre Dame to 62 points in 70 possessions, and Butler to 51 points in 63 possessions. Most impressive of those three has to be the fact that they held Notre Dame to so few points, considering the Irish are averaging 1.23 points per possession.

The thing that has made the Ohio State defense so dominant is their field goal defense when teams try to score inside. Ohio State is holding oppenents to a 37.5% field goal percentage on 2-point attempts, which is 6th in the country. Not only that, but the Buckeyes are blocking 24.0% of their opponents 2-point attempts. Sophomore big man Dallas Lauderdale has had the greatest impact in this aspect of the Buckeye defense. Lauderdale has blocked 23.5% of opponents 2-point attempts while he is on the floor. From the sound of it, you may be thinking Lauderdale is some giant center, but he is only listed as 6’8”. It is rumored, however, that his wingspan is 7’4” which makes him truly gifted. The bottom line is that teams are having great difficulty scoring inside on the Buckeyes, and Lauderdale has been a huge contributor to that fact.

Don’t be fooled to think that Lauderdale is the only reason Ohio State has been playing great defense. The Buckeyes are also playing good defense out on the perimeter. This is evidenced by their opponents shooting 29.4% on their 3-point attempts, which can be attributed to the heavy minutes given to 6’5” David Lighty, 6’6” Jon Diebler, and 6’7” Evan Turner. Thad Matta has the Buckeye’s playing a 2-2-1 press and then a matchup zone in the halfcourt. The matchup zone can look like a 2-3 or a 3-2 zone at times. This allows the bottom corners of the 2-3 zone to come out and guard the perimeter, so Lighty, Diebler and Turner all come out and play the perimeter along with 6’2” starter Jeremie Simmons who is usually near the top of the key in the zone.

The other thing the zone has allowed the Buckeyes to accomplish is a low amount of free throw attempts for opponents. They are typically in position to make opponents shoot over them or disrupt their shot altogether if it’s not blocked. As a result opponents only attempt 0.21 free throw attempts for every field goal attempted.

With all the missed shots from opponents, it is essential that the Buckeyes rebound on defense. The worst defensive game for the Buckeyes in terms of points was the Miami game when they gave up 68 points in 70 possessions. It is no surprise then that this was the Buckeyes worst rebounding game as well, as they allowed the Hurricanes to rebound 44.3% of their own missed shots. For the most part though, the Buckeyes have done a decent job on the defensive glass, allowing opponents to rebound only 28.6% of their own misses which is 46th in the country. An occasional steal also helps defensively, and Evan Turner has played a key role in that so far with 19 steals on the season in only 6 games.

Where the Buckeyes are lacking so far is on the offensive end. They have been an average team offensively this season, averaging 1.03 points per possession which is 119th in the nation. They rely heavily on leading scorer Evan Turner, who has been very good at times. Turner is a workhorse who uses up around 30% of his teams possessions. The only problem is he hasn’t been the most efficient scorer. He shoots a good percentage at around 53%, and he can get to the foul line evidenced by his team leading 35 free throw attempts. However, he has been prone to the turnover. So far he has turned the ball over at a rate of ¼ of every possession. With Turner as a go-to guy, this has limited the Buckeye offense.

Jon Diebler has been the second best scorer on the team, and he shoots pretty well from behind the new arc. He gets almost all of his points with 3-pointers, so an off-shooting night kills his production. Dallas Lauderdale doesn’t use very many possessions offensively, but he can grab offensive rebounds and contribute that way. The highly touted BJ Mullens can provide some offense off the bench, but it has come in small doses so far.

It will be interesting to see how Ohio State’s season plays out. Will they be able to maintain the level of defense they have set so far? They will have to unless the offense improves.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: November 21, 2008 4:22 am

2008-09 SEC Preview

The SEC should be an interesting conference to watch. Most teams lost significant contributors from last year. Tennessee is still the favorite, but Florida looks to be emerging once again. After that, it is not real clear as to who will step up and challenge for an NCAA bid. I expect about 3 other teams to be there in March.

1. Tennessee – The Volunteers had a great season last year, but will be without a number of key contributors from last season. Leading scorer Chris Lofton is gone after a great career at Tennessee. JaJuan Smith, Ramar Smith, Duke Crews, and Jordan Howell are also gone. Good thing there is another Smith that stuck around. Tyler Smith will take over the role of team leader. He will be joined in the frontcourt by Wayne Chism, a matchup problem for opponents, and Brian Williams, a more conventional big man. Ryan Childress will have to finish recovering from offseason surgery before he makes a go. The backcourt will feature more new faces, but will have much more length than last year. JP Prince, listed at 6’7”, returns to join up with newcomers Cameron Tatum at 6’6” and McDonald’s All-American Scotty Hopson at 6’7”. The pressing defense is about to get that much better with so much length. The key for the Vols will be at point guard where Juco transfer Bobby Maze takes over for the dismissed Ramar Smith.

2. Florida – Losing Marreese Speights leaves questions in the frontcourt, but there is plenty of talent for Billy Donovan to work with. He will have to get the Gators to commit more on the defensive end this season. Nick Calathes makes this team go as a 6’6” point guard who will have help in the backcourt from the lone senior, Walter Hodge. Jai Lucas is transferring, so depth will have to come from the newcomers Erving Walker and Ray Shipman. Dan Werner is the veteran up front who seems to have found his shooting stroke, but the other frontcourt position will be by committee. Donovan will look for the right combination from freshmen Alex Tyus, Allan Chaney, and Kenny Kadji. Chandler Parsons will likely start at small forward, for added length but also an additional outside shooter and good athlete.

3. Kentucky – I am writing this after the Wildcats’ 0-2 start, but I still feel this is the right spot for Kentucky. It all starts with Patrick Patterson. Getting him involved early and often will be most important to get the offense going. He will be helped by Perry Stevenson and Ramon Harris. Expect 6’4” guard Jodie Meeks to step up in his production, but the rest of the backcourt will be young and will have some growing to do. Head coach Billy Gillespie could elect to go with a very long backcourt by throwing newcomers DeAndre Liggins (6’6”), Darius Miller (6’7”), and Kevin Galloway (6’6”) into the mix. Otherwise junior Michael Porter will handle the point, until DeAndre Liggins becomes the primary point guard.

4. South Carolina – Darrin Horn takes over at head coach after leading Western Kentucky to the Sweet 16 last year. He will have a solid trio of players returning to provide the scoring punch for the Gamecocks. Point guard Devan Downey led the team in scoring, and is probably the best point guard in the country not named Ty Lawson. Zam Frederick is only 6’0” but is a good-fit to start alongside Downey who is quick enough to set anyone up for open shots. Brandis Raley-Ross, who is the only other guard with significant minutes, will give the Gamecocks a solid shooter off the bench. The frontcourt has a nice tandem in Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes who are undersized but athletic enough to fit in Horn’s system. There could be a nice role for Evka Baniulis to play as a 6’7” set-shooter. The Gamecocks are an experienced bunch, with mostly everyone back from last year, but that could mean a step forward or more of the same losing seasons.

5. Vanderbilt – The Commodores went 10-6 in the conference the last two seasons, but that kind of success will be difficult this year. Shan Foster carried the team on his back at times last year as the SEC Player of the Year. He is no longer around and the same goes for Alex Gordon and Ross Neltner. That said, Vanderbilt will be a team of sophomores and freshmen this year which doesn’t bode to well for head coach Kevin Stallings. His job will be made easier if AJ Ogilvy can maintain his production from the center position. Their could be some potential in the backcourt with Jermaine Beal returning and a pair of highly touted freshmen Jeff Taylor and Lance Goulbourne. Freshman Brad Tinsley is likely to start at point guard. Junior George Drake is athletic but hasn’t emerged for the Commodores yet, but he will get an opportunity this year.

6. Georgia – After a 4-12 record in the SEC, the Bulldogs ran through the SEC tournament to grab an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately it was probably not a sign of things to come for this year. With Sundiata Gaines, Billy Humphrey, and Dave Bliss gone, the Bulldogs will look to Terrance Woodbury to lead the team. Who joins him in the backcourt is a question, whether it is last year’s backup point guard Zac Swansey or incoming freshman Dustin Ware. Returnees Troy Brewer and Corey Butler as well as newcomer Travis Leslie should provide depth in the backcourt. Up front there is little to work with. Jeremy Price and Albert Jackson played in the rotation last year, but not much more than 20 minutes a game.

1. LSU – Even though the Tigers went 6-10 in the SEC last year, the West Division is up for grabs every year. Trent Johnson takes over at head coach for a veteran LSU team with the talent to get back to the tournament, even without Anthony Randolph who is now in the NBA. Leading scorer Marcus Thornton returns after averaging 19.6 points per game. Senior Garrett Temple returns as a defensive specialist in the backcourt who has started since his freshman year. Tasmin Mitchell’s return to health should really help out in the frontcourt, as he will team up with 6’11” Chris Johnson who averaged 11.6 points per game. Terry Martin provides a 3-point threat off the bench, but the key will be for the Tigers to find a solution at point guard. Either sophomore Bo Spencer or freshman Chris Bass will get their chance to run the point.

2. Ole Miss – Andy Kennedy did a wonderful job as coach of the Rebels last season, taking them to the NIT semifinals. He will have to follow that up with some more magic, as the Rebels lost their top three big men. Luckily, the backcourt remains in tact, including leading scorer Chris Warren. Throw in the former Florida transfer David Huertas and the team’s best defender Eniel Polynice, who each averaged 10.7 points per game last year, and that is a solid nucleus. Trevor Gaskins and Zach Graham provide depth in the backcourt after playing in all 35 games last year. The big questions are up front, where it is one sophomore and a bunch of freshmen. Answers will have to come from Malcolm White who is a terrific athlete, or freshmen Terrance Henry and Murphy Holloway whowere top-150 recruits. Junior college transfer DeAundre Cranston could be a more physical option in the frontcourt.

3. Alabama – After failing to reach the postseason last year, the Crimson Tide got some good news and some bad news. The bad news was that they would be without leading scorers Richard Hendrix and Mykal Riley. The good news is that Ronald Steele was coming back from his medical redshirt. After the knee problems, Steele may never be the same player, but he provides steady leadership and experience at the point. The other good news was that Hendrix’s old spot could be taken up by McDonald’s All-American JaMychal Green. There are another of other players who could emerge. Alonzo Gee returns at small forward after averaging 14.5 points per game. Ronald Steele’s younger brother Andrew is a freshman combo-guard that could contribute right away. Senario Hill, Mikhail Torrence, and Brandon Hollinger also return in the backcourt. Justin Knox, Demetrius Jemison, and Yamene Coleman also return in the frontcourt. On paper it seems Alabama has the pieces to get back to the tournament, but the last couple of years looked promising on paper only to end in disappointment.

4. Auburn – The Tigers are getting close to moving into their new arena in 2010, so it’s time they start getting closer to the postseason. First, Kovortney Barber will have to stay healthy this season after he broke his hand last year. Second, the Tigers will have to find the right mix of guys in the backcourt. DeWayne Reed, Quantez Robertson and Rasheem Barrett return, but they will be joined by promising junior college transfer Tay Waller and freshman Frankie Sullivan. With that there are plenty of scoring options in the backcourt. Third, behind Kovortney Barber and Lucas Hargrove, they will need to find depth from junior college transfers Brendan Knox, Johnnie Lett, Francis Aihe, or freshman Kenny Gabriel.

5. Mississippi State – The Bulldogs had a great season last year, going 12-4 in the SEC and giving Memphis a serious game in the second round of the NCAA tournament. However, they will be without Charles Rhodes, Jamont Gordon, and Ben Hansbrough this year – all big pieces on the team last year. The main returning contributors are Barry Stewart and Jarvis Varnado. Stewart hit 62 3-pointers last year, while Varnado was one of the top shot-blockers in the country. Phil Turner, Riley Benock, and Ravern Johnson played a little last year, but they will have to step up in the backcourt. The point guard position may come down to freshman Dee Bost. Varnado will be joined by a number of new faces. Brian Johnson, Kodi Augustus, and Elgin Bailey return but all played sparingly last year. Romero Osby and Jacquiese Holcombe are the newcomers who will be in that mix of players as well. There are a ton of question for the Bulldogs, but Barry Stewart and Jarvis Varnado provide the most clear answers.

6. Arkansas – The Razorbacks will be almost an entirely new team this year. They lost a ton of key contributors. That includes the frontcourt of Steven Hill, Charles Thomas, Vincent Hunter, and Darian Townes as well as the backcourt of Gary Ervin, Patrick Beverly and Sonny Weems. That said, there is a lot that is left to be answered. Michael Washington played a little in the frontcourt last year, and will be joined by newcomers Michael Sanchez and Andre Clark. Junior college transfer Montrell McDonald could be thrust into the small forward position. The backcourt returns Stefan Walsh, but gets a big lift from incoming freshman Courtney Fortson and Rotnei Clarke. Fortson was Mr. Basketball in the state of Alabama, while Clarke scored 3,758 points in high school.
Category: NCAAB
Tags: SEC
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