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Five College Teams That Will Play Slower In 2014-15

Tulsa: Frank Haith took a Missouri team that was 14th in the nation in tempo and slowed the team down to 163rd in the nation. He now inherits a Tulsa team that is 79th in the nation in tempo, and a similar slow-down seems likely. But Tulsa fans won’t be complaining if Haith matches what he did in his first year at Missouri. Even though Missouri’s pace was slower, because his team played in a more controlled style, Missouri had the top offense in the nation and won the Big 12 Conference Tournament title.

Central Arkansas: Former head coach Corliss Williamson learned to play fast as a player under Nolan Richardson. And while Williamson didn’t win at a high level at Central Arkansas, he was able to implement a high octane attack. After he left to become an assistant in the NBA, interim head coach Clarence Finley maintained that same up-tempo attack with the team. New head coach Russ Pennell isn’t necessarily a slow coach, but he is unlikely to maintain the pace of the previous staff.

Maine: Former head coach Ted Woodard was Maine’s coach for a decade. Unfortunately, his final season was his worst, as his team won only 6 games. But if his team was going to lose, at least he let his players have some fun on the court. His final season was also his fastest team, as Maine was the 3rd fastest team in the nation. Bob Walsh is in his first season as a D1 head coach, but he probably won’t implement quite as quick a pace as he tries to let a new group of players learn on the job.

California: New head coach Cuonzo Martin’s fastest paced team ranked only 194th in the nation. Cal’s pace was never ranked that low under Mike Montgomery. Martin had dominant margin-of-victory numbers last year, and won three games in the NCAA tournament, so Cal fans may not mind if his team plays slow, as long as he wins.

Pace Rank

Mike Montgomery

Cuonzo Martin

2014

191st

323rd

2013

163rd

274th

2012

120th

194th

2011

66th

309th

2010

133rd

250th

2009

132nd

280th

Tennessee now has the oddest profile of “firing” head coaches of almost any school. They let Jerry Green leave after he made the NCAA tournament in every season as head coach. Bruce Pearl left after making the NCAA tournament in every season. And now Martin left after making the NCAA tournament. On paper, none of that makes any sense, but when you understand the background, it does. Green failed to live up to high expectations set for the team early in his tenure. Pearl was let go because of recruiting violations. And Martin was fired because he played a boring style of basketball and couldn’t live up to the high expectations set by Bruce Pearl. While I wish new head coach Donnie Tyndall nothing but the best, you do wonder whether Tennessee can every find a way to have, enjoy, and keep a winning coach. 

Oregon St.: New head coach Wayne Tinkle has traditionally had one of the slowest teams in the nation. He sped things up for two years when Montana went 15-1 and 19-1 in the Big Sky conference in 2012 and 2013, but his team still had a below average tempo. To put it another way, Tinkle has never played as fast as Craig Robinson did at Oregon St. last year.

Pace Rank

Craig Robinson

Wayne Tinkle

2014

139th

344th

2013

60th

258th

2012

15th

197th

2011

37th

304th

2010

324th

310th

2009

343rd

307th

Of course coaches do sometimes change their approach. Robinson started off as a slow-paced coach and sped up at Oregon St. when he thought he had the right personnel. It didn’t result in enough wins, because Oregon St.’s defense was too poor, but Robinsons track record shows that coaches will sometimes change their approach. But with Tinkle coming in, a slower season is the safer bet.

Reviewing The 2014 NBA Draft (From A College Perspective)

- I’m looking forward to seeing Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens try to properly use Marcus Smart and James Young. Both have serious flaws in their game. Smart is a terrible shooter, and Young is a terrible defender. (The later fact cannot be understated. Despite NBA size, Young blocked almost no shots, and had a terrible steal rate in college. He simply doesn’t have good defensive instincts.) But if put in a system to emphasize their strengths, both could outperform many of the players drafted ahead of them.

- I feel like Elfrid Payton’s stock shot up far too high. He put up great numbers, but you have to remember that he played in the 20th best conference in the country. He didn’t face a single Top 100 defense in his league. Moreover, in that relatively weak league, he couldn’t even lead his team to a dominating season. Louisiana-Lafayette finished just 11-7 in the Sun Belt. People always seem to be looking for the next Jeremy Lin. (Wait, people don’t seem to love him anymore.) People always seem to be looking for the next Damian Lillard, a small college guy with great college stats who translated well to the NBA. But there are lots of guys who have dominant stats in college and do not make it in the NBA. Perhaps Payton was a late bloomer and he really does have the athleticism to make it at the next level. But it is very hard to have watched a ton of college basketball and believe a player like Payton is better than Tyler Ennis or Shabazz Napier.

(Oh, and by the way, like Marcus Smart, Payton was a terrible shooter. Teams always seem to fall for the mistake that they can teach shooting. But while it is literally true that teams can’t teach athleticism or size, it is usually true that teams cannot teach shooting either. Kawhi Leonard might have learned to shoot in the NBA, but GMs are fired every year because they draft players who never learn to shoot.)

- I agree with everyone who felt Oklahoma City drafted Mitch McGary way too early. McGary was suspended this season because he used marijuana. I certainly understand the scouts that say that drug use happens in the NBA, and this isn’t a red flag. But the reason it bothers me is that McGary’s career effort appears to be so inconsistent. McGary was viewed as one of the top prospects as a junior in high school. But then he didn’t handle success well, and saw his stock plummet as a high school senior. Then, despite joining a team with a great PG and a great offensive mastermind at coach, McGary was invisible for four months of his freshman season. Suddenly, he had one great month in the NCAA tournament and was viewed as a lottery pick. Then he started the next season very slowly. He was injured, but I think we tend to forget that he struggled to be the center of Michigan’s offense. Had he continued to play, he was on pace for a very disappointing season. Basically, when you have a player who appears to have very inconsistent effort and performance, drug use should be a much bigger red flag.

- I agree with those who felt Kentucky’s Julius Randle fell too far in the draft. Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose may be right that experts picked him apart too much because they saw too much of him. But I hate the scouting reports that said that Randle depends too much on strength and overpowering people in the paint, and that won’t work in the NBA. Certainly, there will be older players in the NBA, and Randle won’t have the same size and strength advantage he did in college. But I don’t see how being the rare college player who is physically dominant counts as a major drawback. Randle was a true alpha-dog from the moment he stepped on the floor in November. The fact that six NBA franchises thought there were players better than Randle says a ton about the quality of this year’s draft.

Players Are Not One-Dimensional

NCAA fans face a key dilemma anytime they watch the draft. While they cheer for their former players to do well, the truth is that most fans are not happy to see their favorite players move on to the next level.

This was well-highlighted by John Calipari’s comments a few years ago that a draft with a large number of Kentucky players selected should be a great moment in Kentucky history. When we all step back and look at it, that has to be right. The purpose of a college is to prepare its students for their future careers. If Kentucky is doing that, the UK alumni should be proud, not angry. But as fans, that is a tough pill to swallow. On draft day, college fans are usually a little frustrated that we don’t get to see more from our favorite early entrants.

UCLA’s Jordan Adams is a great example of this. We spent the last two months talking about what a terrible decision he made to go pro. And now today, we were surprised when he was the 22nd pick in the first round. Perhaps the Memphis Grizzlies don’t know how to evaluate talent. Or perhaps we owe Adams an apology for questioning his decision.

But the truth is, we owe Jordan Adams that apology whether he was selected in the first round or not. Jordan Adams wasn’t playing college basketball to make us happy. He was playing college basketball while trying to pursue his dream of playing in the NBA. Only a curmudgeon would nit-pick the decision-making of someone pursuing their dream.

And this is especially true since returning to school is never a guarantee of success. Louisville’s Russ Smith returned to school and was told he needed to improve his passing to have a chance as an NBA point-guard. He did, upping his assist rate from near 20% to near 30%. And yet, no one noticed. Returning to school and once again becoming one of the most dominant players in college basketball didn’t suddenly make him into a first round pick.

Many of us laugh at the hypocrisy of the NCAA. We watch the O’Bannon vs NCAA trial and chortle at the NCAA’s claims that amateurism means that individuals cannot be recognized and compensated. And yet we often fall into the same trap as fans. We don’t really view the NCAA athletes as individuals who we want to succeed in life. We view them as pieces of a roster for our favorite teams.

Perhaps that’s why I really respect the NBA. While the NFL tries to limit the exposure of its players, (i.e. no one can take their helmet off after a big play without a penalty), the NBA tries to put the players front and center.

The NFL believes that if a team sport focuses on individuals, that it destroys the purpose of teamwork. And certainly this is sometimes true. Focusing on players sometimes leads you to learn that some players are show-offs, ball-hogs, and spotlight stealers. But if knowing about the players makes fans less connected to a sport, that is only because the league’s marketing has failed. The NBA has allowed us to see that players have more depth and nuance than any single highlight clip will ever show.

NCAA fans all know the Lacey Holsworth story, and how Adreian Payne did his best to provide joy for a little girl who died from cancer. And you had better believe the NBA wasn’t going to let its audience miss that story. It was front and center on draft night.

And the Isaiah Austin moment was spot on too. No, I wasn’t talking about the spot where the Commissioner came out and put a spotlight on the Baylor player who has to retire due to a life-threatening medical condition. I’m talking about the fact that during his 30 second interview, Marcus Smart chose to say he was thinking of Austin, and it reminded Smart not to take life for granted.

Marcus Smart is a reminder that we shouldn’t just try to give players one-dimensional labels. I don’t quite believe in all the love the ESPN crew foisted upon him on Thursday. His intensity is not unambiguously good. It often caused him to try to take over games himself and win by himself. It exposed the fact that he was not a pure PG. He did not respond to competitive situations by making his teammates better and rallying in the moment. He reacted with physical aggression and bad shot selection on far too many occasions.

But at the same time, Marcus Smart is exactly why the NBA is so good at what they do. We got to see his interview and see that he is not just the hyper-aggressive competitor on the court. On draft day, he wasn’t thinking about himself, he was thinking about his former rival in the Big 12.

Marcus Smart is a deep and complicated person, just like all of us. And that’s the reason we care about NBA players and teams, and not just our own local squad. Anyone who has watched the early chapters of Marcus Smart’s journey, absolutely wants to see how it ends up. Kudos to the NBA for putting the players front and center, and trying to present them as people, and not just jerseys.

Is The Sophomore Leap Real?

Last week I showed the players with the biggest leaps in scoring from 2012-13 to 2013-14. One thing I didn’t show on that list was the freshmen who burst onto the scene, and the different factors that contributed to their PPG scoring. Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins may have received all the headlines, but they weren’t the only freshmen with amazing scoring numbers. For some of these players, their production is tempo aided. See Q.J. Peterson at VMI. And for everyone but Parker, Wiggins and Fordham’s Jon Severe, they played in conferences where the opposing defenses were not nearly as stout. But PPG scoring at this rate is still special in any league.

Freshman

Team

PPG

Raw Pace

Opp Def

ORtg

Pct Poss

James Daniel

Howard

21.0

67

106

104

34%

Andrew Rowsey

UNC Ash.

20.3

70

108

111

26%

Jabari Parker

Duke

19.1

65

101

112

32%

Q.J. Peterson

VMI

19.0

75

109

107

27%

Jon Severe

Fordham

17.3

69

101

97

29%

Damon Lynn

NJIT

17.2

69

108

106

25%

Martez Harrison

UMKC

17.2

71

106

100

30%

J. Brownridge

Santa Clara

17.2

66

104

121

23%

Andrew Wiggins

Kansas

17.1

69

101

113

25%

Cameron Payne

Murray St.

16.8

68

108

107

30% 

If these players are this good as freshmen, it is tempting to wonder how good they will be next year. If Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge’s ORtg is already 121, is he going to be setting a new record soon for points per possession performance?

After all, the data show that the biggest leap in production is typically between a player’s freshman and sophomore seasons. But we need to be a little careful with this statement. The reason that sophomores typically make the biggest leap is because freshmen tend to make the most mistakes. They take more bad shots and commit more avoidable turnovers. As the following tables show, the improvement in efficiency for freshmen is largely driven by the fact that they make the most mistakes.

The table shows all D1 players in the last 10 years with at least 100 possessions in consecutive seasons. I show how their ORtg changes based on their ORtg in the previous season. For players with low ORtgs, bigger improvements are both possible and likely. When you make more mistakes, you are more likely to improve. But for players with high ORtgs, players that didn’t make a lot of mistakes, the odds of becoming more efficient are smaller. When a player has an efficiency rating over 125, it is highly unlikely that the player will improve on that ORtg the following season.

The next table pulls out the freshmen separately. They are show in red. On the whole, these players perform at a worse level. (Players on the left side of picture have lower ORtgs.) And thus on average, freshmen are more likely to improve. But for freshmen on the right side of the picture, freshmen with high ORtgs, are unlikely to see sizable jumps in efficiency the following season. (Note that freshman with high ORtgs may still earn more playing time and see their PPG production increase for that reason.)

That isn’t to say that some player characteristics don’t matter. The next table pulls out the Top 100 recruits in red. These recruits not only have higher ORtgs in general, they are also more likely to improve. Stated differently, for a player with an ORtg of 110, the Top 100 recruit is more likely to maintain or improve on that efficiency, while the player outside the Top 100 is more likely to slip back.

Of course as the graphs show, almost anything is possible. Quality recruits sometimes don’t get better, and low ranked recruits sometimes do get better. But high school evaluations of a player’s ability do have a small amount of predictive power for improvement.

This is all a long way of telling college basketball prognosticators to be careful. The sophomore leap is real, but it is largely about freshmen correcting mistakes. For polished and skilled freshmen, don’t expect the same huge jump in efficiency.

Notes On The 2014 Jordan Brand Classic

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Why I Love The Nike Hoop Summit

The Nike Hoop Summit is the best of the high school All-Star games. Something happens when players put on the Team USA uniform. This isn’t just an all-star dunk contest. You get to see a little bit more of the player’s character.

A Champion Is Crowned

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Final Four Saturday

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The Worst Game Of Aaron Gordon’s Life

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Every Player In The Sweet Sixteen

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Championship Week Final Wrapup

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Championship Week’s Amazing Thursday

Thursday featured 36 games in the nine major conference tournaments. Here is my running summary of all the games.

Preseason Predictions Revisited

Which teams have performed above the best case I projected in October and which teams have performed below the worst case I projected in October?

Evaluating Recent Coaching Hires And The Meaning Of Coin Flips

Tubby Smith and Larry Brown's turnarounds, plus meditations on close losses and wins for Tom Crean and Jim Boeheim.

Coaches Hurt The Most By New Foul Rules

The impact of the new foul rules on Kansas and Kentucky, the new key to Wisconsin's season, and Florida St.'s poor defensive rebounding highlight this week's column.

Conference Play In Full Force

Why I hate January NCAA tournament talk, players who should stop taking threes, what happens when you are down five players, Duke's struggles, and more.

Coaches That Peak Early In The Year

Explaining how an Iowa vs Iowa St. basketball game can be better than Kentucky vs North Carolina, and how Mike Krzyzewski can show up on a list about coaching disappointment.

From The Champions Classic To Cupcake Week, Part 1

Does a team's performance in cupcake games matter? How did Marquette score 35 points at home? Plus a few words of praise for Michigan St.'s Branden Dawson.

From The Champions Classic To Cupcake Week, Part 2

On Obama watching Oregon State, VCU, Trae Golden, the search for upsets, Branden Dawson at the 4, Harvard Watch and more.

More On Kentucky's Downside

After receiving a ton of questions about how to interpret Best Case and Worse Case Scenarios in the projections, we run models on Kentucky and Michigan from last season as both were outliers.

2013 Holiday Tournament (Part 3)

Looking at Andrew Wiggins and Kansas in the Battle for Atlantis, the Old Spice Classic, Wooden Legacy, Barclays Center Classic, Corpus Christi Challenge, Las Vegas Classic and the Diamond Head Classic.

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