Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Why Kevin Pangos May Be the Greatest Guard in Recent Gonzaga History


First off, I am a Gonzaga alum. My dad wasn't a Gonzaga alum, but he went to Gonzaga for his first three years of undergrad (he finished at USF, where my grandfather went, so USF always feels like a second-favorite team to me). I lived in Spokane for six years when I was little. So, maybe I am biased toward Gonzaga in some small subtle ways when evaluating WCC teams (though I have gotten better at respecting the WCC as a whole over the past few years; hence the creation of this blog). However, if there is one thing I know, it's Gonzaga basketball history. I remember a day when John Rillie and Kyle Dixon were the starting backcourt for the Zags (Yes, Rillie and Dixon. I'm sure a lot of WCC basketball fans just sports referenced those two).  I'm not just a recent fan of Gonzaga who started liking the Zags because of the Adam Morrison days or if you're real hardcore, the Dan Dickau days. I've seen Gonzaga when they've been great and I've seen them when they were fair-to-middling (I don't remember the days when they outright sucked, which is always exaggerated in my mind; Gonzaga wasn't Gonzaga back then, but people who say the sucked grossly overstate it; they were more like Portland is now). I've seen games when they used to sport the Royal Blue and Red (wish they'd go back) and I remember when they had a coach who used to get so fired up that he made Mark Few look like an altar boy in comparison (Dan Fitzgerald, RIP, who unfortunately was pushed out acrimoniously due to a funding issue when he was AD).

So, when I say guard Kevin Pangos may be one of the greatest guards, perhaps even the greatest in Gonzaga recent history, I am not shooting this from the hip. This isn't a knee jerk reaction. I loved Blake Stepp and Derek Raivio. But Pangos may be better than either of them, and this year, statistically he is proving it. He not only could be the reason the Zags win the crown in a suddenly wide-open WCC, but he could be the reason why they stay competitive on the national college basketball scene.

First off, I am only going to compare Pangos to guards who played at Gonzaga from 2003 on. It's the furthest Ken Pom stats go back. I wish I could go back further, but I don't have the time, stats or resources to compare guys like Dickau or John Stockton or Matt Santangelo to Pangos (on a knee jerk suspicion, I say Pangos is definitely better than Santangelo, maybe same level as Dickau and slightly worse Stockton; Stockton really didn't become legendary until he went to the NBA, though he was pretty good at Gonzaga). One of the projects I hope to do is do some historical statistical analysis on some classic WCC teams. I don't have the time now, but that is something that could happen in the summer, which would make comparisons or posts like these all the more interesting and valuable.

Now, if you have not noticed, statistically, Pangos is having a season that is teetering on legendary when it comes to offensive efficiency. His Adjusted offense according to Ken Pom is 139.2, which is top in the WCC for anyone with at least a 20 percent usage rate. While Gary Bell is close to him at 138.1, Bell's rating benefits from his extraordinary shooting touch (as he has displayed all three seasons at Gonzaga). But, Bell doesn't touch Pangos in terms of creating plays for his teammates as well as taking care of the ball. The difference between Bell's assist and turnover rate is +4.4. Pangos? +12.2, highlighted by a 20.7 assist rate. This isn't a fluke either, as Pangos' difference last year was +2.9 while Bell's was -3.6.

What makes Pangos so great is how he has developed his game since coming to Gonzaga. In high school, Pangos earned a lofty reputation for his ability to shoot from the outside, carry a rather thin team talent-wise and go toe-to-toe with future phenom Andrew Wiggins. If you watch this video, Pangos scored at will against Wiggins' Vaughn team when Wiggins was a frosh. You can see Wiggins eventually switch to guard Pangos after Pangos starts lighting up the Vaughn squad. But even though Wiggins had obvious physical advantages over the smaller guard, Pangos was still able to make Wiggins and Vaughn pay en route to a game high 48 points.

Pangos has showed a similar ability to drop an obscene amount of points at times. He scored 34 points against Arkansas in the Maui Classic this year, and obliterated a Washington State Cougars team with 27 points as well. But, his game has evolved and that what makes the possibility of Pangos being legendarily great in the Gonzaga lore possible. He has lowered his turnover rate to under 10 percent this year after past rates of 15.7 and 16.5 his sophomore and freshman seasons, respectively. His effective field goal percentage has risen to 60.5 after being 54.9 percent a year ago. He is getting to the line more than a year ago (33.3 free throw rate in comparison to the 26.2 rate last year). And he is doing this with  more minutes than in years past (his 85.2 minutes percentage is a career high so far), and a higher usage rate (21.0 usage rate this year). Some players, who get the uptick in usage and minutes struggle to keep the same efficiency they had when they had the ball less in their hands and when they were on the floor less. Not only has Pangos maintained the same efficiency, but he has actually gotten better, which they needed from him after they lost go-to guy Kelly Olynyk from a year ago.

But when you compare what he's doing in the lore go Gonzaga history, what Pangos is doing is amazing. Yes, Pangos and Bell could possibly make the best guard-combo Zags fans have ever seen, but what Pangos is doing by himself is pretty darn special. Blake Stepp's best season in adjusted offense came in 2003-2004, where he posted a rating of 117.1. Derek Raivio's best season was 122.7 in 2006-2007, but he only posted positive assist to turnover rates only twice in his career (and in his 2006-2007 season, the difference was only +.5). Jeremy Pargo never posted a turnover rate less than 20 percent and consequently his best season efficiency-wise was his senior year when he had a rating of 107.1 (better than his WCC Player of the Year junior season actually). Matt Bouldin's best year came his junior year when he posted a 119.1 offensive rating, but he also struggled with turnovers over the course of his college career, and he actually regressed in his senior year (his rating fell to 115 his last year). And Steven Gray? After a sophomore campaign when he posted a 120.1 offensive rating, he struggled with more minutes, as he failed to post offensive ratings over 109 in his junior and senior campaigns.

As you can see, there are a lot of names up there, and a lot of quality guards who have had immense impact and success in their tenures with the Zags. And yet, neither of them can touch Pangos' 139.2 offensive rating, and very few have showed the upward progress Pangos has made from his freshman year to his current state. Pangos came in more as a shooter and he has developed more into an overall player that can step up when needed. He has been overshadowed the past couple of years by upperclassmen and bigger stars, but now that Pangos is asked to shine, he has lived up to the hype and then some. If the Zags want to make the tournament, win another WCC title and perhaps make a run deep in the tourney, then they are going to have to lean on Pangos to make it happen, especially with Sam Dower and Bell's health an issue at this point.

And you know what? It most likely will happen, because Pangos has been that good this year and stepped up his game that much. Despite the flaws and question marks of this Gonzaga team, Pangos has continued to keep this Gonzaga team humming and currently cemented in its familiar place in the WCC: the top.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Can Pacific Make a Statement Against a Reeling St. Mary's?

Khalil Kelley (center with ball) and the Tigers Can Make A Strong First Impression in the WCC With a Win Over St. Mary's on Monday

At first, I wasn't totally sure about the decision to include Pacific in the WCC starting this season. For the longest time, the prime candidate to round the conference number at 10 seemed to be Seattle University, who used to be a basketball powerhouse (Elgin Baylor went to Seattle) and were looking to rekindle some of their lost luster with the hire of Cameron Dollar and the move from Division II to Division I a few years back. Add that with the fact that they were also a Jesuit Catholic school (like USF, Santa Clara, LMU and of course, Gonzaga), the move seemed natural for the Redhawks.

Instead, the school in the Northern California from the Big West was given the invitation, not Seattle, and while the "non-Catholic" school count in the WCC rose to three (including Pepperdine and BYU), the decision so far to include the Tigers seems to have been a sound one. The Tigers, under first year coach Ron Verlin are 9-2 to start the year with wins over Utah State (ranked 72 in KPR), Fresno State (154 in KPR) and UC Irvine (110 in KPR). While the Tigers were blown out by Oregon and Princeton (lost by 20 plus in both contests), they have showed that they should be taken seriously in conference, even though the WCC is a big step up in competition over the Big West.

Pacific will get a chance to make a statement on Monday against a St. Mary's squad that is reeling after three straight losses in Hawaii (South Carolina, Hawaii and George Mason) at the Diamond Head Classic. The Gaels continue their holiday travels on the road, and going to Stockton won't be a walk in the park for this 9-3 Randy Bennett-led squad. After all, both San Diego and BYU had their troubles in their first conference road contests of the year, as they dropped games to underdog squds Pepperdine and LMU, respectively. While it will be difficult to say how the home environment at the Spanos Center will be with this Christmas Break still in progress, it won't be an easy contest for a Gaels team that is probably road weary after a lot of travel and a rough tournament showing in Hawaii. Even Ken Pomeroy thinks this game has tremendous potential, as he rates it as the 4th best game of the day with a thrill score potential of 56.6.

But, this really isn't about the Gaels. Yes, the Gaels need a win to rebound after a tough stretch. They need to stay ahead early on in conference play, especially since the conference seems so wide open with BYU's recent loss and the Zags struggling in the post with Sam Dower out due to injury. That being said, this game is equally important to the Tigers. With a win,  they suddenly have a chance to snag a WCC crown that many people thought was well out of their reach in the preseason. With a loss, they may prove again to be another WCC team that feasted from a relatively soft non-conference schedule.

So what are the Tigers' chances in this one? Ken Pom has this one close, as he projects a 74-73 win in favor of the Gaels, and gives the Tigers a 45 percent chances of winning. Those are good odds for the Tigers, even better than the odds the Lions had going into Saturday's contest against the Cougars. But, looking past the individual game itself, this is a vastly different Tigers squad from previous squads under long-time coach Bob Thomasen, and it'll be interesting to see if this "new-look" Tigers squad can continue to develop and earn a big-time win under their first-time head coach.

Verlin was a long-time assistant under Thomasen, so he is familiar with the program and the style that Tigers have preferred over the years. Under Thomasen, the Tigers were a slow-it-down team, their pace usually ranking in the low 60's on an annual basis. This year, with full-control of the reigns, Verlin has elected to speed it up, as the Tigers have increased their Tempo to 68.7, which is higher than anything Thomasen has done since 2003 (the furthest Ken Pom's stats go back). The plan to play a faster-kind of ball has worked well to the Tigers' advantage, as they have been efficiently offensively, as evidenced by their 109.0 Adjusted Offensive rating, which is 69th best in the nation. They have shot the ball well beyond the arc this year (38.3 percent, 58th best in the nation), and have been overall a pretty solid shooting team, as evidenced by their 51.4 effective field goal percentage, which is just outside the Top-100. The faster pace has also made this Tigers a deeper team as well, as Verlin has relied heavy on his bench this year, as he utilizes his reserves 37.1 percent of the time. Considering how heavy Gonzaga and SMC have relied on their starters this year, the deeper Tigers may have an advantage over the long course of the season thanks to the experience the reserves earned during their non-conference slate.

Offensively this is a better team than the one that made the tournament a year ago (they had a 104 rating last year). But defensively, there are still issues that make one wonder how "real" the Tigers are. Last season, the Tigers ranked in the Top-100 in steal and block percentage. This season? They are 139th in block percentage and 269th in steal percentage. They have some size on their team, as evidenced by their +1.3 effective height rating and the presence of players such as 6-10 senior Tim Thomas (who leads the team in block percentage at 5.9 percent) and 6-8 forwards Tony Gill and Khalil Kelley. That being said, how the Tigers will adjust on the defensive end of the court may be the key to whether or not they separate themselves from middle of the pack in the WCC. The WCC has a lot of offensively-proficient squads, with St Mary's and Gonzaga continuing that tradition (both rank in the Top 15 in Adjusted Offense), and San Francisco displaying amazing ability and efficiency on the offensive end (they rank 31st) if not on the defensive side of things (317th in adjusted defense). Pacific certainly can play with the best of them in the WCC when it comes to putting the ball in the hoop. Whether or not they can prevent other conference teams from putting the ball in the hoop will determine whether they are a possible 20-win squad, or just another middling team that hovers around .500.

There is some talent on this Tigers squad that makes a possible WCC crown possible. 6-7 senior Ross Rivera leads the team in offensive efficiency at 118.1, highlighted by a 60.6 true shooting percentage and 40.8 free throw rate (made better by his 90 percent FT percentage). Kelley has been a beast on the offensive glass, as he is posting a 16.4 offensive rebounding rate, 25th best in the nation. And though senior guard Samu Taku hasn't necessarily been the most efficient player on this Tigers squad (96 offensive rating), he has improved from a year ago (91 offensive rating) and his numbers should improve if he can find the better shooting touch he displayed from a year ago (37.1 eFG percentage this year in comparison to the 43.5 percent he shot last year).

Sometimes, when a long-term assistant takes over a program, their are some growing pains and some coaches rarely realize the success of their predecessor and mentor. Ed DeChellis (who took over at Rhode Island for Jim Harrick) and Bruiser Flint (who took over at UMass for John Calipari) are prime examples of long time assistants who couldn't match their former coach's success. Verlin has a long way to go, and as stated before, the Tigers feasted on a non-conference schedule that probably could make even the most mediocre of coaches look good. That being said, St. Mary's will be a good barometer check not only for Verlin, but this Tigers squad in general. An upset win, and Pacific will announce to the WCC world that their seasons debut may be the start of something special for years to come.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Could LMU Actually Be Legit Contenders in the WCC?

Max Good is Letting His Players Play, and That Has Had a Solid Effect on This Squad

As expected, the LMU-BYU game proved to be a doozy, as it ended up being an up-tempo affair (78 possessions total in the game), in front of a surprisingly pro-BYU crowd (not surprising considering the whole BYU being the premiere Mormon university, the strong Mormon populations on the West Coast and the LMU student body being on break). Despite these factors though, the Lions ended up whipping the Cougars 87-76 in a game where the Cougars only led once (5-4 at the 16:52 mark in the first half) and were down as much as 21 (63-42 with 14:05 in the second half). The underdog Lions had a 30.8 win probability in this one according to Ken Pom.com, but they looked like the better squad all game, thoroughly outplaying the WCC favorite (they earned 1 first place vote in the coaches preseason poll) on the first day of WCC play.

With the win, college basketball fans are certainly going to take more notice of the Lions now, and it is possible that the Lions could be dark horses for the WCC crown if this first game was any indicator. The Lions' combo of up-tempo play (72.1 pace), offensive efficiency (108.7 adjusted offensive rating) and ability to create second-chance opportunities (38.2 percent offensive rebounding rate, 31st best in the nation) make them a strong challenger to the traditional WCC contenders like Gonzaga and St. Mary's. And while BYU certainly has had their share of issues this year (mostly on the defensive end), I think the loss to LMU may have less to do with BYU's struggles (they are still rated in the Top-60 according to Ken Pom after the loss), and more to do with LMU's potential (they jumped up to 120 in the KP ratings; they were previously 141st).

And what is LMU's potential? To be honest, it is still early to say, and the USD game will be a strong indicator of whether the Lions are for real or not (the true test of a good team is not just winning the big games, but winning the games following those big wins; USD, though they lost to Pepperdine tonight, is still a quality squad and present a style that won't suit LMU as well as BYU). However, I give a few reasons why the Lions could be a sleeper candidate to swipe the WCC Crown from the traditional powers.

1.) LMU Has Quality Talent, and a System That Caters to Their Strengths

You have to give it to coach Max Good. This may be his best coaching job yet, and if he continues to coach in conference like he did today, I think he'll help this Lions squad acquire an unusual amount of success. For starters, the Lions like to run and play a fast-tempo game. However, it's the way the Lions do it is what makes it fascinating. Good places a strong trust in his players, and lets them create for themselves and settle into the game naturally. This plays to their strengths, because this team has a lot of talented players, especially on the offensive end. Anthony Ireland, though he cooled off over the course of the game, got off to a good start that set the tone for this Lions team. Evan Payne achieved a 118 rating with 27 points. And the best stat of all? Only 7 team turnovers, a 9 percent turnover rate in comparison to the Cougars' 16.7 percent turnover rate.

Usually teams that are given more free reign are more prone to turn the ball over, so most coaches hesitate to do so. But, it's obvious that Good has the team meshing to the point that he can be more hands off, and not worry about the consequences as much. He can do that because players like Ireland, Payne and even bench guys like Chase Flint and Marin Mornar have strong abilities and instincts as players, and that was on full display today as they just outplayed BYU in almost every aspect today. LMU will be fun to watch this year, a stark contrast to their more defensive-oriented, grind-it-out years the past few seasons under Good (the only other year their tempo was over 70 under Good was in 2010). That being said, the Lions will also be competitive in addition to entertaining if they continue to play with efficiency like they did today against BYU.

2.) LMU's Style Will Give the "Power Squads" Fits

I figured that LMU, playing their up-tempo style would be their own worst enemy, as BYU did it way more often (they're tops in pace in the nation) and against a better non-conference schedule as well. I figured teams like Portland and San Diego, who play much slower halfcourt-oriented styles, would be tougher opponents for the Cougars than the Lions, whose style resembles theirs. I was dead wrong. Not only did the Lions not change their style of play in this game, but they did it better than BYU. They dared BYU to play up-tempo and they ended up showing that they could do it better than the Cougars. Give it to Good and the Lions. That's a ballsy move, as some coaches may have opted to slow it down to get the Cougars in a funk. Instead, the Lions threw the uppercut and hurt the Cougars early, and BYU was just never able to recover.

And, in addition to getting a quality win, the Lions also showed that this style will be troublesome to Gonzaga and St. Mary's as well. As evidenced by Sam Dower sitting out today, the Zags have serious questions with their size, and not only do the Lions have the guards (Payne and Ireland may be the most underrated combo in the WCC right now) to match up against the Zags' combo of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, but I don't know how the Zags will fare on preventing offensive rebounds (which LMU does well) without Dower in the lineup. Maybe Dower will be healthy by the time they play, but his absence makes this Zags team extremely vulnerable to this Lions squad. As for St. Mary's, they have showed defensive inefficiencies all season, and that all got exposed at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii (three losses). The Gaels will have to outscore the Lions to win it seems unless they make progress on the defensive end. That "outscore them" strategy didn't serve BYU well today and I'm not sure the Gaels are that much better offensively than Cougars.

3.) The WCC is "Wide Open"

Maybe LMU will fall back to earth on Monday against the Toreros. But, if they win, then they could put themselves ahead of the pack and set the tone in the WCC. As displayed in the Santa Clara-Gonzaga game today, the Zags are not the "Dominant" Zags of last year or even a couple of seasons ago. They are very thin and flawed in many areas, and this is a prime opportunity for a team like LMU to expose them. Same goes with St. Mary's as they are coming off a disastrous showing in Hawaii. Furthermore, this conference is experiencing strong parity, as the lowest-rated team in the WCC (Pepperdine) according to Ken Pom beat San Diego, which is rated in the top-half  of the conference in Ken Pom's ratings. There are no cupcakes right now in the WCC, and while that is good for the league overall, it also makes the possibilities of this being a multiple-bid league challenging (I guarantee the top team will have at least two conference losses, maybe more).

Maybe LMU just had a good game against the Cougars, and they'll regress to being a middle-of-the-pack WCC team this season (I honestly do believe anybody is beatable in the WCC right now). After all, they did play lights out on the offensive end (1.12 points per possession), and BYU may just be worse than a lot of people initially thought. However, the talent and offensive firepower is there for the Lions, and with a conference that is suddenly experiencing such parity at the moment, I think those two factors will bode well for the Lions to make a surprising run in conference play.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Recruit Report: T.J. Haws, PG, 6-4, 170 pounds, BYU Commit

I'm not going to go into to much detail here on these reports. These are more just to familiarize WCC fans with some players who are on the horizon and spur some discussion about what players are going to have an impact in the coming years. There will always be video on the recruits, which is important because I want people to gain their own impressions from what they see on tap and furthermore, in this day and age of media an technology, is pretty easy to acquire.

The first on the Recruit Report is TJ Haws, a top-100 national prospect according to ESPN.com committed to play at BYU next season. He is a local kid from Highland, Utah, so it is no surprise that he has committed to Dave Rose's program. Rose has traditionally produced some good guard products out of Provo (Jimmer Fredette the prime example), and Haws looks like he could fit in well witRh the Cougars' up-tempo, offensive-heavy system.

What They Are Saying About Haws

From Future 150.com (graded him a 91, four-star recruit):

T.J. is a scoring sniper from anywhere on the floor. He is the type of prospect who will thrive in a system like BYU. He also will be able to play both guard positions for the Cougars.

From ESPN.Com (graded him an 84, four-star recruit):

Haws is a long and lean wing that is very productive and competes on both ends of the floor. He has a excellent mid range game. He knocks down mid range jumpers off the catch or dribble and is a very underrated driver/slasher. 

From Rivals.com (rated him a four-star recruit):

The BYU bound point guard is a playmaker. He can be a dangerous scorer because of his jump shooting and toughness off the dribble. Changes speeds, is elusive and fires up crowds with his at times flashy passing. Just has to get stronger.

Catholic Coast Hoops Quick Analysis

Haws could be next in line in the tradition of great guards who have come from the WCC, as he displays all the skills and abilities of a good point or shooting guard. On the surface, Haws doesn't look athletic, but he is very crafty not only in his ability to get to the rim and create his own shot, but in creating for others as well. On the tape, it looked like there were some matchups where he might have been at a disadvantage, but he is very quick with the dribble and he has good vision with the ball, as he was able to find the cutting open man with ease if defenders collapsed on him. His jump shot is consistent-looking and smooth, and he is able to shoot well off the dribble from what I've seen on tape, and his release is quick enough to where he only needs a little bit of space to get a successful shot off.

His size is a bit of an issue since he is thin at 170 pounds, and many scouts have noted that he needs to add strength. I don't think this is too pressing a negative since college programs are usually good at strengthening players once they get to campus. Overall, Haws looks to be an entertaining player worthy of his Top-100 status as a recruit, and he certainly will make the Cougars a competitive and dangerous team in 2014-2015.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Ranking the Saturday WCC Opening Slate

Two years ago, the Lions beat BYU 82-68 in Provo; can the Lions Do It Again in LA Saturday?

WCC conference play officially begins Saturday with four games. With a slew of others college games worth watching tomorrow (Syracuse-Nova and Louisville-Kentucky, especially), I wanted to rate the WCC games in order of "watch-ability" (I know it's not a word, but let's just go for it; and if you want some music while reading this, check this out here...you're welcome).

1. BYU Cougars (8-5, 46th in KPR) versus LMU (8-4, 142nd in KPR), at Gersten Pavilion, Los Angeles, Calif., 1 PM PCT.

I can't stress enough how awesome this game is going to be. I know it's on at the same time as Kentucky-Louisville, but if you really do care about WCC Hoops, you're going to TIVO that Blue-Blood classic and watch this game instead. Here's why:

1.) There's going to be lots of points

BYU plays the fastest tempo in the nation at 78.6. LMU is currently 19th in the nation in adjusted tempo at 73.1 Ken Pom projects the score to be 93-88 in favor of BYU. I mean seriously, for WCC fans yearning for the days of Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble and "The System" this is about as good as its going to get. Neither team is very defensively inclined, and both teams will get theirs on the offensive end. At the very least, this game is going to be in the low 140's in combined points and could get up to the 180's, maybe more. BYU's Matt Carlino and LMU's Anthony Ireland both like to chuck it up (Carlino has a 31.1 shot percentage and Ireland has a 27.7 shot percentage), so whoever has the better night from the field (and both players have had their history of inconsistency despite being centerpieces of their respective tams) could put their squad over the top. If you like offense (as I do), then watch this game, even if it requires you to go on the W.TV site. (And hey, you can have this on your computer playing if you must insist on watching Calipari-Pitino).

2.) Could set the tone for one of the teams as a conference dark horse

Statistically speaking, BYU has been very good, but pretty unlucky (-.071 in luck factor according to Ken Pom, 298th in the nation). They like to play fast, and they have been relatively efficient on the offensive and defensive end (hence their 46 ranking despite being 8-5). LMU on the other hand has benefited from a relatively soft schedule, and their best win was a 20-point runaway at home against Cal Poly. Good is in a crucial year from a contract standpoint, and he can make his case for an extension if he can have LMU be competitive and finish in the Top 3 in the WCC (he certainly has the tools due it with Ireland a senior and leading the charge). As for BYU, a big win, and they may separate themselves from the pack as legitimate contenders to dethrone St. Mary's and Gonzaga for the WCC Regular Season crown.

2.) San Diego Toreros (9-4, 139th in KPR) versus Pepperdine Waves (7-5, 204th in KPR), at Firestone Fieldhouse, Malibu, Calif., 5 PM PCT

It'll be a battle of styles in this one as San Diego's defensive, grind-it-out game will go against Pepperdine's more offensive-oriented squad. Pepperdine is ranked in the top-100 in many offensive categories, including 2 point percentage, 3 point percentage and effective field goal percentage, while San Diego is ranked defensively in 2 point percentage against and 3 point percentage against. Both play relatively slow tempos (San Diego's tempo is 66.4 and Pepperdine's is 67.6), so it will be interesting to see if Pepperdine will be able to be successful on the offensive end against a Bill Grier squad that puts such a strong emphasis in preventing points to earn victories. Ken Pom projects this to be close, as he predicts a 69-68 slugfest in favor of the Waves.

A key match up will be in the post as San Diego's Dennis Kramer will match up against Pepperdine's Brendan Lane. Both have been extremely efficient on the offensive end this year (Kramer has a offensive rating of 122.8 and an eFG% of 63.3 and Lane has a rating of 121.0 with an eFG% of 63.5), so it'll be interesting to see who'll take advantage and have an upper hand in the post. Kramer's size could be an issue for Lane, as he has two inches on the Waves senior, but Lane has been the more physical player over the course of the year as Lane posts a better offensive rebounding percentage (11.4 to 9.6) and block percentage (8.3 to 2.9) than Kramer. Whoever wins this match up will be key in helping their team to victory, and it'll be interesting to see if Lane can continue his effectiveness down low against the much bigger Kramer.

3.) Santa Clara Broncos (7-6, 175th in KPR) versus Gonzaga Bulldogs (10-2, 27th in KPR), McCarthey Athletic Center, Spokane, Wash., 6 PM PCT

Ken Pom actually rates this as the least interesting WCC game of the day, as he projects an 83-67 beatdown in favor of the Bulldogs. While statistically I don't question the reasons for the projection, I am going to call the under on that projected point spread. The Broncos have traditionally played okay in the Kennel over the past decade, and though Santa Clara has had their fair share of issues this year, they still have some talent on the board. Furthermore, the seriousness of Sam Dower's injury and the lack of frontcourt depth for the Zags makes this a very vulnerable team. Add in the factor that they are coming off an emotional loss to Kansas State in Wichita as well as the unpredictability of Christmas Breaks that puts a lot of teams in funks (see St. Mary's at Diamond Head) and I just don't really see the Zags beating the Broncos by 16 or more points.

Another reason to watch is a match up that features arguably two of the best guards in the WCC. Kevin Pangos has established himself as a go-to guy for the Zags, as he is posting a 138.1 offensive rating, tops for the team and WCC for players who are used on 20 percent or more possessions. Brandon Clark has been more effective as a playmaker this year (almost a 10 point decrease in turnover percentage from a year ago), which has resulted in him improving his offensive rating to 119.5. Now, Clark hasn't faced a guard like Pangos this year, but it'll be interesting to see if the junior guard from East Chicago will be able to hold his own against the WCC Player of the Favorite in front of a raucous Kennel Crowd (though to be honest it'll be a down crowd due to the Christmas break and most students being home; another boost in the Broncos' favor).

4.) San Francisco Dons (7-5, 179th in KPR) versus Portland Pilots (8-4, 101st in KPR), Chiles Center, Portland, Ore, 7 PM PCT

Portland is coming off a pretty good win over Princeton (65th in KPR at time) on a neutral court, so the Pilots are looking to transition that momentum into their first WCC game of the year against the Dons. As for USF, they are looking for a decent win, as they have no wins over teams who are in rated in the top 120 according to Ken Pom (their best win is over Cleveland State at home; CSU was rated 121st).

A lot is at stake here this conference season for both coaches (USF's Rex Walters and Portland's Eric Reveno), as it could be their final WCC campaigns if they have lackluster finishes. Both have had seasons of success and 20-plus wins, but both are coming off years where their teams under-performed badly. While both have had decent starts record-wise to start the year, a winning record in conference play this year would do wonders in helping them keep their current positions. A key area to victory will be the offensive glass, as USF has been great in terms of getting second chance opportunities (35.4 offensive rebounding percentage, 80th best in the nation), while Portland has been good at preventing them (27.7 percent allowed, 43rd in the nation). Kruize Pinkins has been a beast on the offensive glass this year, as his 16.7 offensive rebounding rate is 26th best in the nation. The Pilots will need to neutralize the athletic forward down low and match his energy to boot. Luckily for the Pilots, they have a guy who may be able to match Pinkins in senior Ryan Nicholas, who is not only sporting a 27.5 defensive rebounding rate, but an 11.3 percent offensive rebounding rate as well. It's going to be a slugfest down low on the glass between Pinkins and Nicholas, and if Pinkins can overcome and outplay the senior forward, it could lead to a big upset for the Dons (Ken Pom projects this game to go 86-77 in favor of the Pilots).

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Three Under-the-Radar Players WCC Fans Should Know About

As teams finish up their Non-Conference slate and get ready for WCC conference play, there have been many players that have jumped out on the national and even local radar to begin the year. Brad Waldow has been having a tremendous impact on the offensive end of the court for St. Mary's (though defensively he still raises a few questions), and Kevin Pangos has emerged as the Zags' "Go-to-guy" following the departure of Kelly Olynyk.

However, who are some players that may have gone under the radar this year in the WCC? Who are some playmakers that could have an impact on the wide-open WCC? (And yes, it's more wide open than in years past, but remember...the WCC has been traditionally a top-heavy league since the emergence of Gonzaga). Let's take a look at three guys WCC Fans Should Know About as conference play begins this Saturday.

Kruize Pinkins, junior, USF, six-feet, seven inches, 230 pounds

Pinkins, a JuCo transfer from Chipola College in Florida, has immediately made an impact in his first year on the "Hilltop". An athletic power forward, Pinkins has made his name as a bit of a highlight show, known for some sensational dunks that made appearances on some national hoops Mix Tapes. But, Pinkins is more than just an Ira Brown-esque player (guy who is known for sensational dunks and little else), as he has made a tremendous impact on the offensive end for the Dons off the bench.

According to KenPom.com, Pinkins is tops in efficiency for players who have at least 28 percent of possessions used at 110.3. Though he has primarily served as a role player, Pinkins has seen an uptick in minutes over the course of the year, as he has only had one game where he played under 20 minutes since the Idaho State game (the fourth game of the year). The increase in minutes has served the Dons well, as they have gone 5-3 over that stretch.

In the Dons' offense, the ball stays in Pinkins' hands when he is in, as evidenced by his 28.7 possession percentage and 26.1 shot percentage, both nationally ranked numbers according to Ken Pom. That being said with an effective Field Goal Percentage of 54.2 and true shooting of 56.1, Pinkins is not a black hole of shooting by any means, and really scoring is not the sole reason he makes this list. With his athleticism and size, Pinkins brings a lot of energy and productive play off the bench beyond points, and that shows in his rebounding numbers, blocks and ability to draw fouls. The area where Pinkins' is most successful is on the offensive glass, as his 16.7 offensive rebounding percentage is 26th best in the nation. His ability to crash the boards, and create extra opportunities for the Dons not only has helped the team's offensive effectiveness, but has gotten him to the line as well, as Pinkins is drawing 8.5 fouls per 40 minutes, seventh highest in the nation. Pinkins still has some work to do at the line (58.2 FT precentage), but his aggressiveness will serve him and the Dons well against many WCC teams who have rebounding and size issues.

Yes, Pinkins came to USF known as a "MixTape Player" (i.e. one who showcases highlight dunks or plays but no consistency), but he has developed into the kind of all-around player that could contend for WCC Newcomer of the Year honors by year's end.

Brandon Clark, junior, Santa Clara, six-feet, 170 pounds

If the Broncos want to make any kind of run to earn a postseason berth of any kind this year, they are going to have to rely on junior guard Clark to do so. However, Clark has been one of the most efficient players int he WCC this season, as the East Chicago, Indiana product has made tremendous progress as a players since arriving to Santa Clara a few seasons ago.

While senior guard Evan Roquemore has gotten more of the hype, Clark has been the one that has taken over as the "Go-to" guy for the Broncos. For the season, Clark has an adjusted offensive rating of 119.5, with an effective field goal percentage of 50.3 and a true shooting of 56.8. What has made Clark so effective, even with the high number of possessions used through him (25.9 percent), is his ability to not only create for others, but limit mistakes as well. This season, Clark has an assist percentage of 26.6 percent, 181st in the nation. Even more impressive though is his 11.9 percent turnover rate, which is not only 281st best in the nation, but almost a 10 percent improvement from his sophomore season. The fact that Santa Clara not only has their point guard creating plays at an incredible rate but keeping care of the ball as well should bode for some surprising success in WCC play, even if SCU is down from a year ago.

Clark also remains a decent 3-point shooter (38 percent), good considering he has a shot percentage of 27.2 percent. Though another strong aspect of his game that stands out even more is his ability to be aggressive and get to the hoop and draw fouls. Clark average 5.1 fouls per 40 minutes, and unlike Pinkins, he is able to make teams pay for it, as he is shooting 84.4 percent from the charity stripe this season. With his strong ability to hurt teams from beyond the arc or at the line, and his ability to be efficient in playmaking, Clark could be a dark horse for WCC Player of the Year Honors, and at the very least should be in the mix for All-WCC 1st team honors.

Stacy Davis, sophomore, Pepperdine, six-feet, six-inches, 245 pounds

Davis was almost not included because he did earn Newcomer of the Year Honors last season, and was expected to compete for All-WCC first team honors after a successful freshman campaign. But, Davis has made such a leap in his sophomore season, that I do not think some WCC fans know how good Davis is. Considering this program has produced a lot of players who were big on name (Keion Bell and Mychel Thompson), but hollow on effectiveness, Davis bucks the trend for the Waves as somebody whose accolades and reputation match his efficiency on the court.

This year, Davis has improved all over the board as a player. His effective field goal percentage (58.5) is almost 14 points better than from a year ago, and his true shooting percentage (62.3) is almost thirteen points better as well. Furthermore, he has cut down on his turnovers (15.9 percent turnover rate, 5.1 percent less than a year ago), and he has gotten to the free throw line more as well, as he is drawing 6.4 fouls per game, a free throw rate of 68.6 (which is 121st best in the nation). And, with the more chances at the line, Davis has also been relatively effective, as his 70.4 free throw percentage, while not great for a guard, is serviceable for a bigger forward. With all these factors in the play, Davis sports a 114.2 adjusted offensive rating for the year, which would be a 20.3 point improvement from his Newcomer-of-the year campaign.

Of course, I don't know if Davis will have a major impact on this team, since the Waves have so many issues  (mostly defense) that I think will get exposed when WCC play begins. Furthermore, Davis' rebounding numbers have gone down (his offensive rebounding dropped 1.5 percent and his defensive rebounding dropped to 19.4 percent this year from 19.9 a year ago), so I wonder if Davis is focusing a bit more on his scoring than his overall game this season. Nonetheless, those are ticky-tack issues, and only a sophomore, Davis has sparked a lot of hope for long-suffering Waves fans. Additionally, he went from a dark horse All-WCC candidate to a strong contender as long as he continues this new Wave of efficiency on the offensive end in conference play.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Coaching Barometer Check: USF's Walters Tops Initial Hot Seat List

A lackluster record and the situation with Cody Doolin is keeping the seat pretty hot for USF coach Rex Walters

It's been a while since there was a coaching change in the WCC (the last being at Pepperdine when Marty Wilson replaced Tom Asbury, who retired mid-season). This a far cry from the days 5-6 years ago, when coaches like Brad Holland, Jessie Evans and Rodney Tention were being thrown through the WCC coaches meat grinder. In some ways, it's been nice to see some coaching consistency in the WCC. That being said, it's getting to that point when you feel as if some coaches are on the way out, as not a lot of teams other than St. Mary's have taken a step up as a consistent threat to Gonzaga's hold on the WCC.

So, a regular feature I'd like to have on here is a coaching barometer. While this is a regular rating on which coaches are on the hot seat, and which ones aren't, it also serves as a bit of a review for each WCC team as of late. The barometer will be separated into 4 sections or "temperatures":

1.) Piping Hot
2.) Pretty Hot
3.) Warm to Lukewarm
4.) Cool

Okay, so let's take a look at the first round of the "Coaching Barometer Check".

Piping Hot

Rex Walters, USF, 7-5 record this year, 83-85 career at USF

On paper, Walters should be safe. After all, this is USF, and after the Quintin Dailey incident that effectively gutted the program (it brought on school-imposed sanctions that the Dons haven't been able to recover from), the fact that they are competitive somewhat in the WCC should be enough for Walters to keep his job. But after the Mike Rice incident at Rutgers last year, coaching behavior is under the radar more than ever and Walters has stirred some controversy as of late with the sudden "retirement" of senior guard Cody Doolin.

The reasons for Doolin leaving was that he had a physical altercation with a teammate at practice. However, in a December article on College Insider.com by Greg Newell, this is what "contributed" to Doolin leaving the USF squad early in the season:

"The Doolin case is interesting and probably by the time this story gets published, facts will come out and it will NOT bode well for Rex Walters. Essentially, Cody was encouraged to fight one of his teammate's at practice, after the two players got into an altercation and coaches told the players to form a circle, as a boxing ring so that the two players could or would come to blows... with their blessing."

Now, Newell doesn't refer to where he got this information, as he mentions no source (not even an anonymous one) for this information. Nonetheless, whether this is true or not (until I see video ala "Mike Rice"-style, I'll call BS on Newell), issues with personnel have plagued Walters during his campaign at USF. According to the article, 22 scholarship players and seven assistant coaches have left the program in Walters' six seasons on "the Hill". One glaring transfer was center Perris Blackwell, who is earning starting minutes for the University of Washington. Cases like Doolin and Blackwell make fans wonder what is Walters doing to not only push out an egregious amount of players, but also quality talent that could be helping this USF program.

Remember, there was a lot of hoopla surrounding Walters' hire. He was chosen over candidates like alum Bill Cartwright, and many felt that his young demeanor and Big 12 and NBA ties would bode well for recruiting and increasing the visibility of a USF program that started to sink under Jessie Evans. But that hasn't happened, and while Walters has produced some offensively efficient teams (they have been in the top 100 in adjusted offensive efficiency the past three years), defensively they have been a train wreck (best adjusted defensive rating was in 2011 when they were 114th best in the nation. And, after achieving a 20-win season and second straight postseason berth in 2012, the Dons fell back to earth going 15-16 in 2013 and are projected to be under .500 again for the year by Ken Pomeroy (13-17 officially).

Walters may have been a splash hire initially, but Walters hasn't inspired the hope or promise that many USF fans expected when he was initially hired. Add that with all the personnel issues, and the possibility of a "player controversy" looming on the horizon, and it's safe to say Walters needs a big season to probably save his position. Anything less than .500 would probably earn his departure, and even if he is over .500, the Doolin situation may be enough for the USF Athletic Department to let him go.

Pretty Hot

Eric Reveno, Portland, 8-4 this year, 94-129 career at Portland

Depending on how you look at it, you can either say this may be a vast overreaction or a long time coming. When Reveno replaced Michael Holton in 2007, the Pilots had been a doormat in the WCC. After a couple of rough seasons, Reveno had back-to-back-to-back 19-plus win campaigns, including back to back 20-win seasons in 2010 and 2011. He has produced some good players in Luke Sikma and Nik Raivio, and in an extremely-pro NBA (Trailblazers) and College Football (Oregon) city, he has made the Pilots relevant for a period of time, which is a lot more than what some other Pilots coaches accomplished in their time.

And yet, the Pilots have been on the downturn as of late. The Pilots have only won 18 games the past two seasons, and Reveno enters the last year of his contract without an extension being hinted at any time soon. The Pilots have struggled the past two seasons offensively, as they have adjusted offensive ratings under 100 the past couple of years. Furthermore, the Pilots have traditionally played a more half-court, grind it out kind of ball, not surprising since Reveno cut his teeth under former Stanford and current Cal coach Mike Montgomery. With the excitement of Damion Lillard and the Blazers, the Pilots don't play the kind of ball that will attract the average basketball fan in Portland (though to be fair, Reveno has opened it up this year, as their tempo has increased to 71.0, which is a high for tempo in Reveno's career as coach).

Reveno has the Pilots at 8-4 this year, and Ken Pom projects them to go 17-13 for the rest of the season. It's tough to say whether a 17-13 record will be enough though this year. In many ways, that stretch from 2009-2011 seemed like the peak for Reveno's Pilots, and it is possible that the Portland Athletic Department might opt for a change just to breathe some fresh life into this program. Until I see that extension though, Reveno's seat is pretty warm, even with the solid 8-4 start.

Max Good, LMU, 8-4 record this year, 70-89 career record

To be honest, I never expected Good to last this long. After Bill Bayno, their original splash hire after he coached at UNLV and had some experience at the NBA level, stepped down after three games in his first year due to illness, I figured that Good was just a placeholder for a couple of years before they found a bigger hire. However, Good overachieved in his second year, helping the Lions go from 3-28 to to 18-16 in 2010. After an 11-win season in 2011, the Lions achieved their best campaign under Good, going 21-13 with two postseason wins and an upset of UCLA in the first game of the 2012 season.

However, last year, despite some high expectations, the Lions fell back to earth going 11-23. Good has produced some good talent in Drew Viney and current guard Anthony Ireland, but as a whole, the Lions have been inconsistent under Good, as they have failed to produce back-to-back winning seasons in his tenure. Good has pushed the tempo this year (73.1 adjusted tempo, 18th fastest in the nation), and it has resulted in not only a more exciting brand of basketball, but more wins as well (8-4 record this year). But, much like Reveno, Good is in the last year of his contract and no talk of an extension has been mentioned.

Good has brought some relevance to the Lions program again, and he is certainly a colorful character on and off the court. That being said, Ken Pom projects them to go 15-15 for the year, and I do not think a .500 record or slightly above would be enough for Good to merit an extension after this year.

Bill Grier, San Diego, 9-4 record this year, 93-115 career record

Grier couldn't have started his tenure at San Diego better. He not only led the Torreros to 22 wins, but he also led them to a WCC Tourney crown and first round upset of a Hasheem Thabeet-led UConn team in the NCAA Tournament. Since then though, it's been downhill for the former Gonzaga assistant, as he has failed to post a winning record since that successful debut season.

The Torreros have favored a slow it down pace and more defensive oriented approach under Grier, and while that had its merits the first season, it hasn't produced much offensive success in his time there. Under Grier, the Torreros have only posted an adjusted offensive rating in the 100's once (101.1 last year; though at 102 this year, he could make it a second straight year with ratings over the 100's), and they have never cracked the Top-150 in terms of offensive rating either, according to Ken Pom. Defensively, Grier's teams were effective early-on, as they ranked inside the top-100 in defensive rating his first two seasons, but after his third season, the best the Torreros have ranked in Adjusted Defense was 181st, which was also last year. Add that with four straight losing seasons, and it's easy to see why the seat on Grier's chair is pretty warm.

But, the biggest black eye against Grier probably had to come from the point shaving scandal that was leaked in 2012 concerning former star player Brandon Johnson (who was key in the Torreros' upset of UConn) and a former assistant coach. While Grier survived the incident and has been absolved of any wrongdoing, the combo of that incident and a lackluster record doesn't bode well for his future chances if he isn't able to turn it around this year. I think Grier has done some good things at USD, and this Athletic Department has showed extraordinary patience before (former coach Brad Holland seemed to be there forever). But, unless the Torreros are able to make a splash similar to what they did in Grier's debut season, I think his days may be numbered.

Warm to Lukewarm

Kerry Keating, Santa Clara, 7-6 this year, 107-108 career record

Probably more lukewarm after a 26-win season and CBI title which earned him an extension early this year. But considering this program forced out Dick Davey for his lack of recent NCAA Touranment appearances, I have to put Keating in here since he has made the NCAA Tournament ZERO times in his tenure there. And, considering his heralded "UCLA" ties, he hasn't made much of a dent as evidenced by his 107-108 record (Davey went 251-190 in his tenure at SCU).

I think Keating has done some things well at Santa Clara: he has brought in some much better talent, and though his squads have struggled to find consistent success on a year-by-year basis, the Broncos have remained competitive overall in his tenure. He does have two 20-plus wins seasons under his belt, and the winning of the CBI certainly raised his profile a lot and proved to be a nice sending-out for four-year star Kevin Foster, who was coming off a miserable 2011-2012 campaign that was riddled with on and off-the-court problems. That being said, while Keating is probably safe this year regardless of what happens (Ken Pom projects a 14-17 record), it'll be interesting to see if Keating makes good on the recent extension he just signed and finally gets the Broncos a long-awaited NCAA Tournament berth.

Marty Wilson, Pepperdine, 7-5 this year, 32-52 career record

Some are more bullish on Wilson's future, citing that he was a key part of former coach Tom Asbury's staff, and that he has worn out his welcome after being around for so long with the Waves program (Newell was the main dissenter). I just don't see it though. Pepperdine has traditionally stayed with their coaches very long, and while he hasn't produced a lot of wins yet, Wilson has the charisma to earn at least a couple of more years there. Remember, this was the same team that stayed with the incompetent Paul Westphal (great as a player, incompetent as a coach) for five years, so I think Wilson will at least earn himself that long a tenure.

Right now, Wilson has the Waves playing their best basketball in his time there. They are 7-5 and have a couple of decent wins over Denver and UC Irvine. They are also shooting very well, as their 55 percent effective field goal percentage is 30th best in the country. But, there are issues defensively, as they rate 273rd in the country in Adjusted Defense, and they have rated 168th and 229th in 2013 and 2012, respectively in that category as well. Defense was always an issue under former coach Asbury and that seems to be the case again with Wilson. However, while the Waves are due for huge regression (Pomeroy rates them last in the WCC despite their plus-.500 record), I think Wilson has another year to prove himself before he is in danger of getting fired.


Ron Verlin, Pacific, 9-2 this year, 9-2 career record

First year head coach. 9-2 start. First year in the WCC. Rated 108th in Ken Pom's ratings. Wins over Nevada, Fresno State and Utah State. Yeah, Verlin's not going anywhere any time soon.

Dave Rose, BYU, 8-5 this year, 217-71 career record

The Cougars, missed the NCAA's for only the second time in Rose's tenure (the first time being his first year) last year, but are still playing an exciting brand of basketball, as they rank tops in the nation in Adjusted Tempo at 78.6 (not surprising considering Rose played at Houston during their Phi Slamma Jamma days). While the move to the WCC for the Cougars hasn't resulted in them dethroning the top-two favorites St. Mary's or Gonzaga, they have made the conference infinitely better and has made the the WCC a regular threat in being a three-bid league.

As for his job security? He has never won less than 20 games in his career, and he has a Sweet 16 appearance on his resume along with six NCAA Tournament Appearances. And he dismissed (and later re-instated though after the season) a key player (Brandon Davies) during their "Jimmer-Hysteria" season for breaking the BYU honor code (though that was met with some controversy). Short of him having a very public affair or committing a major felony, I think Rose is set at BYU for a long, long time.

Randy Bennett, St. Mary's, 9-2 this year, 272-126 career record
Mark Few, Gonzaga, 10-2 this year, 384-95 career record

As always, the question is with these two is IF they are going to leave for a bigger school or more high profile job. When that is an annual assumption, I assume you've earned the status of having "no heat" on the coaches' hot seat.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Were Gonzaga and St. Mary's Exposed After Weekend Losses?

Even with the addition of BYU and Pacific, the WCC race within the past decade has come between Gonzaga and St. Mary's. Mark Few and Randy Bennett have been the staples of coaching success in the WCC, and on a regular basis the two schools have produced their fair share of talent (Adam Morrison, Austin Daye, Kelly Olynyk, Omar Samhan, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova just to name a few) which has resulted in a slew of victories and NCAA Tournament appearances for both programs.

That being said, both teams came into this season with a lot of question marks. The Zags lost mainstay forward Elias Harris and glue guys Mike Hart and Guy Landry Edi to graduation, and saw Olynyk leave a year early (can't really blame him) to become a first round draft pick by the Boston Celtics. As for the Gaels, not only did they lose all-conference stud Dellavedova, but they also lost big man Mitchell Young to graduation. While both teams returned a lot of key pieces from their successful 2012-2013 squads, they also lost some key players whose productions would have to be replaced in order to replicate last year's successes and be competitive not just in the WCC, but at the national level again in 2013-2014.

How have the results been so far? So far good for both squads. Entering Saturday's game, the Zags came to Wichita with a 10-1 record to face a talented, but inconsistent Kansas State squad. As for the Gaels, they were away for the holidays, traveling to Hawaii to take on South Carolina, another inconsistent squad that was coming off head scratching losses to Manhattan and USC Upstate in consecutive games, in the first round of the Diamond Head Classic (another interesting subplot was if the Gaels took care of business, they could have faced Boises State, who are coached by former Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice).

Contribute it to the travel or Christmas break or whatever, but things did not go as well as planned for both squads. The Zags struggled against an athletic and scrappy Wildcats team, and without the services of big man Sam Dower, who went down in the first half with a hip injury, the Zags' lack of size was greatly exposed on both ends of the court. As for the Gaels, they were unable to stop the hot-shooting Gamecocks defensively, and they ended up getting surprised by a team that looked to be a bottom feeder for the second straight year in the SEC.

Is this a cause for concern for Gonzaga and St. Mary's fans? Or is this another case of the "Christmas break letdown" blues? (This has been the case for Gonzaga a lot in the past decade). Let's take a deeper look into both games:

Gonzaga versus Kansas State (72-64)

For the year, Kansas State has struggled to find offensive consistency for the year. Their adjusted offensive rating according to Ken Pomeroy is 102.2 (roughly 1.02 points per possession), and their effective field goal percentage is 46 percent, 283rd best in the nation. Their inability to find consistent offense explains why they have some letdown losses to teams like Northern Colorado (at home) and Charlotte (neutral court). However, if you want to give credit to second-year coach Bruce Weber (and I don't like to give him credit for anything the way he drove that Illinois program into the ground), you have to applaud his ability to keep the Wildcats solid as a defensive squad. This year, their 94.3 adjusted defensive rating is 20th best in the nation, and they excel in terms of contesting and forcing bad shots and turnovers, as they are holding teams this year to a 45.1 effective field goal percentage (44th best in the nation) and have a turnovers forced percentage of 21.9 (27th best in the nation). The big story was this: could the sweet-shooting Zags succeed against a K State team that held teams in check on the perimeter and from beyond the arc (the Wildcats are holding teams to a 25.8 percent three point percentage for the year, 4th best in the nation)?

Well, Kansas State succeeded on the defensive end for the most part. Sans the performance of Kevin Pangos (more on him later), Drew Barnham and the limited performance of Sam Dower before he went out with injury, the Zags were immensely poor on the offensive end. While Karnowski shot well from the field (5-of-6), his 0-for-6 performance from the charity stripe hurt the Zags as he finished with an offensive rating of 92 for the game, according to Ken Pom. David Stockton and Kyle Draginis also provide mediocre performances on the offensive end, as they finished with offensive ratings of 92 and 90, respectively. But the worst offender of the game? Gary Bell, who has showed some strong consistency this year in his junior season, posted a rating of 64, as he struggled from beyond the arc, missing some key three point shots down the stretch and finishing 1-of-7 from the field with a mere 3 points. The Zags for the game finished with only 1.03 points per possession, greatly down from their 1.16 season average (which went down from that game, so it was higher but I don't have the number yet). Kansas State needed to shut down the Zags on the offensive end to have a shot in this game, and when Dower went down, the Zags's lack of size (minus-2.0 effective height for the year, 299th in the nation, and that is WITH Dower) and presence in the post was greatly exposed and the Wildcats were able to put more pressure on the perimeter with only Karnowski as the legitimate threat in the paint.

However, another story for the game was the Wildcats' offensive breakout. Kansas State averaged 1.20 points per possession in this game, helped by 52.8 percent shooting on their two point shots (though they continued to struggle from beyond the arc, as they only made 5 out of 18). Furthermore, they were able to out rebound the Zags on the offensive end (10-8 on the offensive glass), get to the free throw line more as well (25 to the Zags' 15), and they turned the ball over less than the Zags (4-to-12). Considering the Zags lost all four factors of this game, the fact that they only lost by eight is pretty remarkable. Forward Thomas Gipson proved to be the thorn for the Zags individually, as he scored 14 points on 6 of 8 shooting, good for an offensive rating of 163 in only 21 minutes.

So, should Zags fans hit the panic button yet? Well, it all depends on the health of Dower. X-Rays have come back negative on Dower's hip, but it'll be interesting to see how he recovers and how this will affect his play for the year. While the Zags have transfer forward Angel Nunez eligible, he did not play in the Wildcats game, and it'll be interesting to see if he'll get an increased role with Dower's health a question over the coming weeks. That being said, I think this was the perfect storm game for the Zags, as the loss of Dower, combined with the rare offensive outburst of the Wildcats put the chips stacked against the Zags from the beginning. As I said before, the fact that they only lost by eight, despite losing all four factors of the game is pretty remarkable. I will say this: Pangos is certainly the backbone of this team, and I think it's his "WCC Player of the Year" award to lose this year. Despite getting shut out in the first half, Pangos made the necessary adjustments in the second half and finished with 14 points, 6 assists and an offensive rating of 120. Pangos is proving he's "The Man" on this Gonzaga team, and I think the confidence he got from this game will bode well for the Zags going forward, since they aren't going to face a lot of teams that are as big a threat defensively as the Wildcats in WCC play.

St. Mary's vs. South Carolina (78-71)

The big issue with Randy Bennett's squads in the past is that they have played soft non-conference schedules. This year has been no different, as the Gaels have only played one game away from home (Boise State) and have not played anyone in the Top-50 according to Ken Pom's ratings. So, while the 9-0 record was nice, many wondered how the Gaels would stack up against the Zags in conference play, since their record was padded by such an easy early schedule.

I expected a letdown of some sort from the Gaels in this tournament, but I did not expect it to come at the hands of South Carolina, a team that was coming off brutal losses to Manhattan and USC Upstate (rated 84th and 154th, respectively by Ken Pom). However, the Gaels, while again efficient on the offensive end (12th in the nation in offensive efficiency), have displayed inconsistency this year on the defensive end, as evidenced by their 101.1 defensive rating, 128th in the nation. The Gaels don't cause a lot of turnovers (only an 18 percent turnover rate, 208th in the nation) and they don't get a lot of steals (7.9 steal rate, 252nd in the nation), so they rely on their presence and ability to force bad shots in order to be effective on the defensive side of the ball. It has worked for the most part, as teams are only shooting an effective field goal percentage of 47.1, so when the Gaels are able to settle down defensively in the half court, they do show some ability on the defensive end to prevent points on possessions.

However, for whatever reason, the Gamecocks came lighting it up in Hawaii, as they shot 58.5 percent on their two points shots, and four of seven from beyond the arc. The offensive performance was a surprise for the Gamecocks, as they were shooting a woefully bad 44.9 on their two points shots this year, and post an overall effective field goal percentage of 46.5. And yet, the Gamecocks were able to shot almost 14 percent higher than their season average on two point shots, which lead to them scoring 1.24 points per possession against the Gaels. Surprisingly, the Gaels didn't slouch on the offensive end, as they averaged 1.13 points per possession thanks to the performances of Stephen Holt, Beau Levesque and James Walker, who posted offensive ratings of 137, 124 and 142, respectively. Waldow also scored a team-high 20 points, though his 112 offensive rating and 28 percent possession percentage made his performance less impressive to the other three.

So where did the Gaels go wrong? While the Gamecocks did get to the line more, they didn't make it count, as evidenced by their 62.1 percentage from the charity stripe. One of the big factors had to be on the offensive glass, as even though the Gamecocks had less for the game, they had a higher percentage of offensive rebounds (44 percent) to the Gaels (38.2 percent). Add that with a superior shooting day for the Gamecocks, and the Gaels, despite playing effectively on the offensive end, just weren't able to pull this one off. Guards Sindarious Thornwell and Duane Notice had effective games against the Gaels' perimeter players, as they scored 13 and 11 points, respectively (good for ratings of 129 and 183). Additionally, they got excellent production off the bench from 6-11 big man Laimonas Chatkevicius (12 points 7 rebounds, 119 rating) and guard Brenton Williams, who hit two key threes in the game. This was a stark contrast to the Gaels, as they got limited production from their bench in this game, as only guard Kerry Carter had much of an impact as a reserve, and even he struggled to get going in this game (91 rating, 5 points).

Much like Kansas State against the Zags, the Gamecocks outplayed their usual output on the offensive end, and that proved to be the Gaels' undoing, especially since they are not a team that generates a lot of turnovers on the defensive end (they depend more on shutting down opponents and limiting second chance shots). The Gaels are not a very deep team, as they only got 12 minutes this game from their other bench players other than Carter (who had 36), and their bench only has accounted for 24 percent of game minutes for the year, 322nd in the nation. This will be interesting to see come WCC play, for the Gaels could be in trouble if key players get into foul trouble (which they have avoided for the most part this year). One through Five, the Gaels can play with anyone, and their ability on the offensive end is for real as well. But the perimeter depth (though certainly not front court depth) of Gonzaga could pose problems for the Gaels when they face each other in WCC play. That being said, I still believe the Gaels are legitimate contenders in the WCC, even despite the soft non-conference schedule and loss to South Carolina on Sunday.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Introduction to Catholic Coast Hoops

I have created a lot of blog projects in my lifetime. Blogs and I are like Taylor Swift and Boyfriends: we go through a lot of them, though we're totally into them for the given period of time. However, this is one I feel confident in keeping up. If not, don't say I didn't warn you. My blog projects are often short lived, much like Michael Cimino's movie ideas. However, every now and then, I am able to really get behind something (as in the case in Optioned to Fresno and Remember '51). Hopefully, Catholic Coast Hoops will be one of those "something's".

In terms of an intro to Catholic Coast Hoops, this is a blog focused on covering WCC men's basketball with a healthy dose of statistical analysis. This isn't a place for game recaps or interviews, but I want to try to write decent articles about statistical trends and reports on certain teams and players in the WCC. I really believe in advanced stats in basketball, and as evidenced by NBA Stats' new web page, the revolution I think in terms of statistical analysis in basketball, while behind baseball still, is starting to catch on. Thanks to sites like Ken Pomeroy.com and StatSheet, statistical analysis is being used more in the college game, and with the quest to make the NCAA tournament even more important than ever for schools, seeing what schools are worthy and which ones aren't through advanced analysis is more important than ever.

But why WCC Hoops? Well, I went to a WCC school and I grew up around multiple WCC schools in some way or form. WCC hoops is something familiar and beloved to me, even though I'm in the middle of the country thousands of miles away from WCC action. However, thanks to technology (i.e. cable TV and broadband internet), I am able to still follow WCC basketball in earnest, even though I am not able to attend as many live games as I used to. It's heartbreaking I know, but sometimes you got to make sacrifices in life. Call it "the curse of adulthood".

What do I hope to do with this blog? I hope to write about WCC basketball year-around because in reality, basketball is the only sport that matters in the WCC (sorry soccer and baseball, but you know it's true). And also, I love basketball at all levels, so to be able to cover recruiting in the off-season is also something I look forward to in the off-season.

I know there are a lot of great WCC sites out there, and this one is far from being in their league. But hopefully, you'll get something a little different from what else is out there. Hopefully you'll stick it out as I get settled on this blog.