Saturday, May 31, 2014

Transfer Tape: Desmond Simmons, 6-7, 225 pounds, St. Mary's (via Washington)

As with most teams in the college basketball universe, many teams in the WCC will be experiencing a plethora of incoming transfers this upcoming year. Thanks to the "senior rule" (where transfers do not have to sit out a year if they already have their degree), it is becoming more enticing for squads to get that "free agent" for a year to help boost their team's chances for a NCAA Tournament berth for the upcoming season. The big squads that will be reliant on some big-time transfers are the usual suspects like Gonzaga (who will be depending on Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer and USC transfer Byron Wesley) and San Francisco (who will be relying on a plethora of transfers that are too many to count), but St. Mary's is a surprising squad that will be more transfer-heavy than usual. One of the more interesting players they bring to campus this fall is Desmond Simmons, a local Bay Area kid from Vallejo, California (a city that produced talent like DeMarcus Nelson and MLB great CC Sabathia) who went to Salesian High School, but ended up playing for a talent-stacked Washington Husky squad for three seasons. Now a senior, Simmons has returned to the Bay Area to play for Randy Bennett, hoping to not only help the Gaels return to the NCAA Tournament after missing out last season, but also to experience his first NCAA Tournament game as well (the Huskies never went to the Tournament in his time there despite playing with such highly-touted players like CJ Wilcox, Terrence Ross, Tony Wroten, and Abdul Gaddy).

If you watched the video above from Simmons' time with Drew Gooden's Soliders AAU team based out of the Bay Area, its obvious that Simmons brings athleticism to this Gaels squad. While the Gaels have had their fair share of athletic forwards in Bennett's time there (Diamon Simpson being the most prime example), Simmons may be one of the most athletic players to make his way to Moraga. At 6-7, 225 pounds, Simmons has the potential to play in both the post and the wing, and his combo ability should help out post centerpiece Brad Waldow, who while a talented offensive player, has struggled on the defensive end against more athletic and talented post players. While Beau Levesque, the player Simmons most likely will be replacing in the rotation, was extremely talented as a shooter and defensive rebounder, Levesque also struggled physically against bigger power forwards, as his offensive rebounding rate was meager at 7.7 percent. Look at the three year numbers for Simmons in his time at Washington, playing in a more talent-heavy roster, and in a more competitive conference (Pac-12).


Though his offensive rebounding rates went down in his last year there, his offensive rebounding rate average is 11.1 percent, which is a significant upgrade over Levesque. Add that with already good offensive rebounders on the squad like Garrett Jackson (16.7 in 21 percent minutes played), Matt Hodgson (13.1 in 25 percent minutes played) and Waldow (13.7 percent last year) and Simmons should make stronger an already good offensive rebounding Gael squad from a year ago (35.8 percent offensive rebounding rate, 54th in the nation).

Another area which could be key to Simmons' contributing to the Gaels squad will be his effectiveness on defense, which has not been a strength of the Gaels in Bennett's time there. While Bennett has succeeded with strong-shooting, very good offensive-oriented squads, defensively, they have left a little to be desired. After ranking 46th in the nation in eFG percentage allowed in the 2009-2010 season, the Gaels have only cracked the Top-150 in eFG percentage allowed once since (2012-2013). Their main struggles as a team centers around giving up high 3-point percentages (165th, 296th, 274th and 300th in opposing 3P % the past four season), which is alarming considering they usually rank low when it comes to opposing 3-point shots allowed (they've been in the top-10 in fewest 3-pointers allowed 5 out of the past 6 years). One of the main issues is that they haven't had the kind of athleticism in the perimeter or post to defend against that shot. Teams can hurt the Gaels with both on-ball and off-ball screens to free shooters on the perimeter, because the Gaels defenders aren't strong or quick enough to go through or play around the screens quick enough to properly defend the shot. Add that with Bennett's penchant for playing a shallow rotation, and the fatigue that sets in also has had an effect in terms of perimeter players losing their man (they are mostly a man-to-man based squad under Bennett) and giving up easy three point shots.

Simmons however could buck that trend. He's long enough to contest three-point shots, and he has the speed to play adequate defense on the perimeter and the strength to go through screens and not allow space for the three pointer. Furthermore, Simmons comes from a defensive system where they excelled in defending against the the three point shot. Last season, the Huskies ranked 52nd in the nation in 3 point percentage allowed and two years ago when they won the Pac-12 regular season title, they ranked 94th in the nation. While Simmons wasn't the sole culprit (Lorenzo Romar is known for recruiting athletic wings), the fact that he is been in that kind of defensive system and had the ability to play in it should be a huge boost to a Gaels program that has traditionally struggled in such an area.

The biggest question though is how Simmons' offensive game will transition to minutes in Bennett's rotation. As written in a post earlier in January, Bennett is not known for utilizing his bench much, and though this Gaels team will be deeper athletically in years past thanks to the slew of transfers, it is obvious that Bennett prefers a shallow rotation in comparison to most coaches in the WCC. It is also seen that Bennett prefers to have at least one post player who is able to step back and shoot the 3 pointer, and it is yet to be seen that Simmons has the shooting ability to fit into what the Gaels want to do offensively. Waldow is primarily a post player (only 1 3-point shot last season), and Simmons resembles the same kind of profile, as he only took 9 three point shots a year ago, a career low (he took 27 his freshman year). To make matters worse, Simmons overall shooting is pretty mediocre as well, as he sported an eFG percentage of 44.7, which was a career high. Considering Levesque had an eFG percentage of 49.2 percent last year, it doesn't bode well that Simmons is exactly the type of 4 player that Bennett has typically played or wanted for his offensive system (which is primarily a 4-out style of offense).

But, even though he is not strong as a shooter, Simmons has gone a long way to develop his offensive game. His offensive rating of 104.4 was better than Hodgson (93.4) or Jackson (98.2) a year ago and against better competition (4th best conference in comparison to 9th best conference according to KenPom). And, Simmons is not a player who needs the ball in his hands to succeed offensively either, as his usage rate of 15.1 percent last year makes him more a complimentary piece on the offensive end, which is what the Gaels really need considering their main scoring option will again be Waldow next season. So, even though Simmons may not fit the mold characteristic of 4-position players that have come through Bennett's system in years past, he is not a ball-killer kind of player (i.e. he doesn't hog it and need a lot of possessions to be effectively offensively), and if he can put up similar offensive efficiency to what he did in Washington, that might be good enough for Bennett to keep Simmons in the rotation, especially considering the upside he can bring to St. Mary's defensively.

It will be interesting to see how Simmons fits in the Gaels rotation, a team that initially looked to be in rebuilding mode until they landed high profile transfers such as Simmons and Stanford guard Aaron Bright. While Simmons may not be as high profile as some incoming WCC transfers (such as Wiltjer or Wesley for Gonzaga), he could be a complimentary piece that could help the Gaels bounce back after such a disappointing finish last season. Furthermore, it will be interesting to see how Simmons affects Bennett's recruiting in the future, as Simmons is very atypical of what Bennett has traditionally brought to Moraga in terms of profile and athleticism. If Simmons succeeds with the Gaels, and helps St. Mary's to another tournament berth, it could result in the addition of more higher-profile and athletic wing players to the Gaels program, not only as transfers, but perhaps as incoming freshmen as well.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Recruit Report: Domantas Sabonis, PF, 6-11, 200 pounds, Gonzaga Commit

Though it's been almost a couple of months since he has signed, no player has been more fascinating this recruiting class than Domantas Sabonis, a power forward prospect from Lithuania. Sabonis comes with all kinds of fanfare already, as he is long, lanky athletic power forward who arrives to Gonzaga with an impressive basketball pedigree. Let's take a look at why Sabonis should be highly anticipated by Zag and WCC fans this upcoming season.

Solid International Experience

Sabonis has been a long-time product of the Lithuanian national basketball program, a major power in the FIBA universe. Remember, this is a country that has recently produced NBA players like Linas Kleiza, Donatas Montiejunas and Jonas Valanciunas. Additionally, as a national program, the Lithuanian team earned the silver medal in the 2013 FIBA EuroBasket tournament, and the bronze medal in the 2010 FIBA World Cup in Turkey. The fact that Sabonis is involved in such a international powerhouse program means that he has had the proper development in his younger years, especially in comparison to other national basketball programs, where coaching and development is a little more uneven.

As for his actual playing experience at the international level, Sabonis has excelled representing Lithuania on the court. He averaged 14.1 points per game 14.4 rebounds per game and 2.6 assists per game for Lithuania in the 2012 U-16 FIBA World Championship (the team finished 11th), and 14 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for Lithuania in the 2013 U-18 FIBA World Championship (his rebounding mark was a high for any player in the tournament). In terms of international competition, not only has Sabonis faced some of the world's best young talent, he has displayed he can excel against the top international talent at his age level as well.

But, the international experience doesn't stop there, as like many international talent who end up playing in college in the United States, Sabonis played with a competitive international club last season (you can play for a club as long as you do not sign a professional contract; this is touchy since some try to test how much compensation they can receive, as was the case with Kentucky recruit Enes Kanter, who didn't sign a professional contract, but earned more money playing than allowable by the NCAA and lost his amateur status and didn't play a minute for the Wildcats). Last year, Sabonis played for Unicaja Malaga, one of the top Spanish teams in the ACB league (a league Ricky Rubio also played for before coming to the NBA) that also qualified for the Euroleague (basketball's answer to the Champions League in Soccer). While Sabonis did not play much (he played 10.5 minutes per game in ACB league action and 9.3 minutes in Euroleague play), he was one of the youngest players in the league in general (playing mostly as a 17-year-old) and earned rave reviews from coaches and players for his work ethic and development in his time with Unicaja Malaga. Watch the video below to see some interesting interviews with coaches and players about Sabonis (many interviews are in Spanish, but there are some English ones too).

Furthermore, one of the more endearing traits of international coaching and play is their willingness to "experiment" with young players in terms of positions. Unlike in the United States, where players are primarily placed at a position early on depending on their size and athleticism, Europe is known for having players play at multiple positions regardless of height or size. This has led to taller players displaying skills that is more expected of perimeter players (such as Dirk Nowitzki for example). It sounds like the coaching staff for Unicaja Malaga was willing to try Sabonis out in different positions to improve his development as an overall player, according to this report by Eurohopes, a Euroleague scouting site. Here is a quote from the writer of the report:
"After dominating European Championship U16 as a clear-cut up-front player, Unicaja’s coaching staff has decided to transfer him into tweener, so not surprisingly that in Rome Sabonis is seeing his playing time mostly at SF spot in Unicaja’s packed with sized lineup."

For Gonzaga, this bodes well considering that small forward may be a position of need for the Zags, and they should be in good shape in the post with center Przemek Karnowski returning, and Kentucky transfer power forward Kyle Wiltjer being eligible right away. It is certainly in the realm of possibility that Few could throw out a huge front line with Sabonis at the 3, Wiltjer at 4 and Karnowski at 5. Now, whether or not Few would employ such a lineup on a regular basis is to be determined, but from the report listed above, it seems like Sabonis has worked on playing at the small forward position in his time in Europe, and this should give him a chance to earn minutes and be an impact player immediately for the Zags.

Impressive Basketball Lineage and Skills

Another aspect that should entice Northwest WCC basketball fans is the fact that Sabonis is the son of Arvydas, the legendary Lithuanian player who dominated in his time with the Soviet Union basketball squad and carved out an impressive career with the Portland Trailblazers. While his son Domantas doesn't have the size of Arvydas (Sabonis was a bear literally speaking at 7-3 and 279 pounds) and it is to be determined if he has the overall skill prowess of his father (Arvydas would constantly dazzle fans with his soft shooting touch and excellent passing skills), he does come to the United States at a much younger age (Arvydas was 31 when he came to the NBA).

While some may not agree, basketball pedigree is an important trait that bodes well for player success. Having a father who played at a high level usually results in some of those skills and "instincts" being passed down to the younger generation. The Zags saw this with David Stockton, who while not physically gifted, inherited the excellent passing skills from his father and hall of famer John. Furthermore, the WCC has seen many talented players who came from NBA families carve out good careers at the college level including Luke Sikma of Portland (son of Jack who played for the Sonics), Austin Daye of Gonzaga (son of Darren who played for the Celtics) and Mychel Thompson of Pepperdine (son of Mychal Thompson who played for the Blazers and Lakers). While Sabonis will obviously have the help of the coaching staff to aid his development at Gonzaga in preparation for the next level, having his father's input most likely will also be key in terms of adjusting to life and basketball play in the United States.

But, while having a NBA father has some intrinsic value, it also is a good sign physically as well, as players usually inherit many of the physical gifts of their fathers. That seems to be the case with Sabonis, as he is a tall athletic player and has the same excellent footwork, rebounding skills and tenacity that was characteristic of his father. If you watch the video below, Sabonis finishes especially well at the rim, and is able to display a flurry of post moves and drives that constantly results in easy points. Furthermore, he is able to get rebounds at a good rate, and isn't pushed out easily by opposing players. If there was one quality that was endearing about Arvydas, it was his toughness, strength and tenacity in the paint that complemented his dazzling passing and ballhandling skills. While the strength isn't totally there yet, it seems like Domantas has the motor and the toughness to handle himself at the college level. As he continues to develop muscle strength and fill into his body, it is possible that he could garner the strength down the road as a player that could resemble similarly to his father. Check out the video below and see how Domantas as a 16-year-old held his own and then some in International competition for Lithuania.

What CCH Overall Thinks of Sabonis

There have been a lot of ballyhooed recruits that I have gotten excited about at Gonzaga. Daye came in with an impressive high school pedigree and lofty recruiting rankings. Karnowski was known for his international experience as well as his participation in the Nike Hoop Summit, which in my opinion, is the best high school showcase currently (I think its more competitive than the McDonald's All American Classic or Jordan Brand Classic). Kevin Pangos got on the map for holding his own against future Top-3 pick Andrew Wiggins in Canada. But Sabonis could possibly top all of them in my anticipation of him simply based on his physical skills, international experience and basketball pedigree. I can't remember a player from Gonzaga who had this much development at such a young age, and faced so much elite competition as well before they even set foot in Spokane. Yes, he hasn't gotten the hype that Daye or even current Top-50 recruit Josh Perkins received in the Recruiting media, but Sabonis probably went under the radar because I'm sure many didn't think he was going to college initially. I'm sure many felt that Sabonis would play for Unicaja Malaga for a couple of more years and then make the jump to the NBA like most international players. Instead, Gonzaga gets an interesting player who could potentially have an impact on an even more loaded squad next season.

And I'm not alone in this feeling. Here is what Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports said in a piece that mentioned that Domantas Sabonis will have an impact for the Zags next season:
"One person that watched Sabonis in the past said he would have been a McDonald's All-American had he played in the United States. Sabonis is only 17, but will be relied upon right off the bat for Mark Few and the Bulldogs."

As stated before, it will be interesting to see how Mark Few will utilize Sabonis considering that Karnowski and Wiltjer are more experienced at the college level and will be more established with Few's philosophy in comparison (Karnowski will be in his third year at Gonzaga and Wiltjer had a year in the program after sitting out due to transfer rules). But that being said, Sabonis has tremendous upside and potential, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him making a strong impact and making a name for himself in the college game in his first season with the Zags despite how loaded this Gonzaga team already is.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mike Dunlap, the 1-1-3 Zone, and a Different Approach to LMU Basketball

Mike Dunlap and his 1-1-3 matchup zone will bring a new brand of basketball to the Lions

If there was one coaching hire that probably didn't get as much praise as it should, it had to be LMU's decision to hire Mike Dunlap. While the early nature of the hire (they literally hired Dunlap a day after they decided not to renew Max Good's contract; though to be truthful, Good was dead-man walking from the middle of the WCC season on) probably hurt publicity (didn't stick out among all the other "bigger hires"), Dunlap's hire could be an under-the-radar move that could provide a spark for a program that has failed to get much going since their Paul Westhead "Run and Gun" days.

First off, Dunlap's pedigree is impressive, though I think his recent NBA stint with Charlotte unfortunately is what lingers on the minds of the most common basketball fan. Yes, the Bobcats were not good in 2012-2013 as they finished 21-61 and last in SRS and defensive rating (-9.29 and 111.5, respectively) and second-to-last in offensive rating (101.5). Yes, he was fired after only one season, and the Bobcats significantly improved this year in his absence (they went 43-39 and made the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history). But coaching in the NBA is a difficult tight-rope to walk. We have seen all the time coaches find success in the NBA only to fail in college and vice versa. Sure, there are success stories of coaches who managed to do both (Larry Brown for example), but evidence shows that some coaches are meant for the college or the professional game and not necessarily both.

Dunlap falls into the latter category because he is at the heart a "program builder". While critics of the hire point to Dunlap's failings in the NBA, they fail to recognize his immense success with Metro State, a commuter school in Denver that has no football team in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. At Metro State, Dunlap tallied a 248-50 record with two Division II national championships, and four DII Final Four appearances. Those kinds of numbers at any level are incredible, and to do it with challenging circumstances (less recruiting budget, less tradition and fan fare in a primarily pro sport metro area) only makes it more impressive. As evidenced by Mark Few at Gonzaga and Randy Bennett at St. Mary's (and to some extent Rex Walters at USF), in order to be a successful program in the WCC, a coach needs to be in it for the long haul and really build things from the ground up. Dunlap has done that before with Metro State and with even lesser resources than what Few and Bennett had when they came into their positions.

In addition to being a "program builder", Dunlap brings in an identity as a defensive-oriented coach, something that is quite antagonistic with the history of LMU basketball. Since the days of Westhead, the Lions have been known for offense and points, and that is something LMU fans have come to expect to varying levels of success. If there was a positive of the Good-era at LMU, it was that he brought in talented players who could light it up on the offensive end. Anthony Ireland and Drew Viney were Good recruits who excelled as offensive-oriented players who could entertain fans and put points on the board. Good's teams ranked in the top-200 in adjusted offensive efficiency according to 4 out of his 6 years, and ranked in the top-120 in tempo in 4 out of 6 years as well (including Top-50 in 2010 and last season). Good wanted his Lions to play fast, play loose and focus on putting the ball in the basket. In an offensive-oriented conference, his philosophy seemed pretty in-line with many other programs in the WCC (the conference ranked 6th in offensive efficiency last season).

But being similar doesn't always bode well for success. Good only produced two winning seasons (2010 and 2012) in his time at LMU and while injuries did ravage his Lions throughout his career, his teams' struggles on defense always compounded things as well. Good's teams ranked in the Top-150 in defensive efficiency only twice in his career (2012 and 2013), and last year, despite a promising start which included an upset of BYU at home, the Lions struggled on the defensive end, finishing with an adjusted defensive rating of 112.4 in conference (9th) and 106.3 for the overall year (202nd in the nation). Good's teams may have been entertaining at times and showed flashes of brilliance (their win against BYU last season in Los Angeles was a thing of beauty), but it was obvious that the team needed a new philosophy and fresh face to help turn things around for a once proud program. (Seriously, how many WCC schools have 30 for 30's that feature them?)

Dunlap at the very least brings something different. His most recent college experience was at St. John's where he served as an assistant for the Red Storm under Steve Lavin. Dunlap found success as somewhat of a defensive coordinator for Lavin, much in the vein of Tom Thibodeau for Doc Rivers during the Boston Celtics' 2008 title campaign. With Dunlap's expertise, the Red Storm primarily applied a 1-1-3 matchup zone, a defense that he developed from his days as an assistant at Arizona (Dunlap was an assistant in 2008-2009), where Lute Olson regularly employed the defense with his athletic guards. The 1-1-3 matchup zone basically is a combo defense that takes the 2-3 zone and meshes it with some man-to-man principles. The result is a defense that allows teams to keep the "zone defense" identity that they wish, while at the same time allowing them to apply more pressure on defense without switching completely (most zone defenses struggle to create turnovers). The defense also has to potential to create a "junk defense" effect, as it confuses defenses and contains teams that heavily rely on one perimeter player that creates most of the offense.

At St. John's, the Red Storm found success on the defensive end employing Dunlap's 1-1-3 approach, especially in the 2010-2011 season. That year, the Red Storm ranked 45th in the nation in adjusted defensive rating at 95.2, and had a steal percentage of 12.3, 26th best in the nation. The result was a 21-12 record and their first NCAA Tournament since the Mike Jarvis days (shout out to Ron Artest and Erick Barkley!) despite playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation (10th hardest according to Ken Pom).

So how does the 1-1-3 matchup zone work? Here is basic look at how the defense initially sets:

As you can see, the defense looks like a 2-3 zone below the free throw line, but things get different once the ball swings to the perimeter to one of the wings. Let's say the point guard passes it to the right wing to the 2 man. Here's is how the defense rotates:

This isn't a "Box and 1" where the 1 stays on the opposing 1. Instead, the 1 sags to the free throw line on the left elbow on the pass to the wing (to take away skip pass opportunities), and the two and three swarm to pressure the opposing two. In many ways, that is one of the benefits of the 1-1-3: it causes a lot of pressure on the offense with double-teams and traps (characteristic of pressure man-to-man defenses), while preventing penetration and easy passes in the post (characteristic of traditional zone defenses).

In 2011 early in the season with Dunlap still on staff, the Red Storm played Arizona in the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden (pretty much a home game for the Red Storm). Let's see how the first possession played out as they employed their 1-1-3 zone defense

As you can see, the Red Storm are in their 1-1-3 set while Arizona is in a 4-out set themselves. The guard on the opposite end is on the wing, while two guys are taking away the post. Let's see how the defense reacts when the ball is swung over to the other side.

As the ball is swung to the post player, the zone forces him into the corner, which for him is not a high-percentage shot and out of his comfort zone. The defense is looking to trap, and they are taking away the pass into the middle at the free throw line as well. Because of the angle, the skip pass would be difficult as well, and thus, the only option for the Wildcat post player is to shoot the jump shot or pass it back out to the wing (which he does).

After a couple of passes, the ball comes back to the same player, who pretty much receives the ball in the same position. This time he has a 1-on-1 matchup, and feels comfortable with the shot. That being said, the athleticism of the defender (the 1-1-3 succeeds with athletic players, not necessarily size) catches no. 14 for Arizona by surprise.

The Red Storm get him to shoot this time, and not only is he forced to take a difficult shot, but it is blocked as well. Furthermore, there is nobody in the post when he takes the shot. Arizona is backed out to the perimeter, and though they crash and get the rebound, it does set the Red Storm up well for the rebounding position (lack of size hurt the Red Storm in rebounding, as they finished 342nd in the nation in offensive rebounds allowed percentage that year). On the same position after getting the rebound, the Wildcats try to set it up on the other side and look to get a better shot to their player in the block.

If you're an Arizona fan, this looks like a better scenario. The post player is in the block and looks open as well. The wing player shot fakes and looks to pass it down to that seemingly open player. But the benefit of the 1-1-3 is that it is established on pressure and producing turnovers, and to do that, the players need to be ready to swarm and entice passes to which they can get the steal or force the turnover. That is the case here: no. 4 (player in the middle of the key for St. John's) is giving the look that he is fronting 44 for Arizona in the post. But, by feigning this coverage, he is setting up to pounce on the Arizona post player who thinks he is going to have a high percentage shot when in reality, he is going to be jumped on by the Red Storm defense. Which results in...

no. 4 for St. John's pouncing on the player, denying and batting the ball off the Arizona player and out of bounds for the turnover. And just on that first possession, the Red Storm, through their 1-1-3 matchup zone are proving to the Wildcats that shots aren't going to come easy, and that the Red Storm not only have speed on the perimeter on defense, but in the post as well (to make up for their lack of size).

Dunlap is an interesting character for sure. In the year off of coaching, he maintained a blog and is well known for his appearances in coaching videos promoting his 1-1-3 matchup zone as well as writing articles on general coaching philosophy (in his 10 keys to practice, he advocates the use of clear water bottles so he knows how much water his players are drinking in practice). But, he has found success with the 1-1-3, especially at St. John's, as it caused turnovers and made up for teams that traditionally lacked size and depth (both problems the staff dealt with in his two seasons with the Red Storm). The same problems are most likely going to be true at LMU: he is going to have a tough time recruiting elite size to a WCC school (most WCC teams do), and it is going to take him a while to develop any depth with his roster (Good was around average as a coach when it came to bench minutes percentage, hovering around 30-32 percent in terms of bench minutes). His 1-1-3 philosophy on the defensive end will take advantage of the players that have traditionally come through the Lions program (usually smaller, but athletic players), while also conserving their energy and getting maximum efficiency from them, especially on the defensive end.

It is going to be interesting to see the progression of the Lions under Dunlap. Traditionally, coaches have been more offensive-oriented in their time at LMU and focused on pushing the pace, not surprising considering that was the most exciting and successful basketball played at LMU. But, a more-defensive approach could be the shot in the arm this Lions program needs. It never really seemed to be a strength of Good's, and this kind of style would be a change of pace that could be a competitive advantage in a conference where most teams were average or below when it came to defensive efficiency (only Gonzaga and San Diego bucked this trend last season, and Gonzaga was flat out dominant thanks to Przemek Karnowski in the paint). While Westhead was available and would have been the most glamorous hire, Dunlap and his pedigree will help provide a distinct identity to this Lions program and could get them on their way to becoming a more legitimate squad in a WCC that is rising in terms of popularity as well as competitiveness.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Slower, Defensive-Approach Separates San Diego from the WCC Pack

A defensive, slower approach by Bill Grier (arms apart above) has been a key reason why San Diego is a dangerous opponent for WCC teams

No team generates more interest with me than the San Diego Toreros. They are 12-10 and 3-6 in conference, and according to Ken Pomeroy, they are most likely to finish the year hovering at .500 at 16-15 (with a projected 7-11 conference record). So, at the surface, there is nothing really to like about San Diego or really glean from them in a major fashion. Most fans think, "Oh, hey San Diego, they can surprise you, but when push comes to shove, they're just another WCC team that is fighting to avoid the cellar with Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara and Pacific." But, I think the Toreros are a team that WCC fans should take notice of for the remainder of the year

I am not here to say that San Diego is going to jettison to the top of the WCC standings. That being said, what I like about San Diego and coach Bill Grier is that he has the Toreros playing a style of ball that is remarkably different from most other teams in the conference. As typical of years past, most schools in the WCC prefer a more "offensive-oriented approach" and for good reason: they are pretty good at it. When it comes to Adjusted Offensive Efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy, four schools rank in the Top-50 (Gonzaga, St. Mary's, San Francisco and BYU), two more rank in the Top-100 (Pacific at 89 and Pepperdine at 100) and two MORE rank within the Top-150 (Portland at 111 and Loyola Marymount at 123). As a conference, Ken Pomeroy rates the WCC as the fourth best conference in the nation when it comes to offensive efficiency at 108.1 (which is helped by a conference-wide 3 point percentage of 38.1 percent, best of any conference in the nation). This isn't 80's Big East basketball. The WCC is known for scoring, lots of it and in an efficient way, and that has been a primary reason why the WCC has achieved its highest conference ranking ever on at No. 9 (though I believe the Mountain West and Missouri Valley getting gutted due to conference re-alignment severely weakened those conferences, which were typically ahead of the WCC but now fell this season; but that's being nitpicky, as the WCC is the strongest its ever been top-to-bottom).

But, San Diego is a team that does not fit that "offensive-emphasis" mold. The Toreros rank last overall in Adjusted Offense in the conference ranking 183rd in the nation. In conference play, while they have played better, they still linger near the basement with a rating of 102.8, ninth-best in the conference play (ahead of only Loyola Marymount, who has struggled efficiency-wise after a strong start). While they do excel in the three-ball (they have the best three-point percentage in WCC play at 43.5 percent), they struggle inside the arc (9th best two-point percentage at 45.4 percent) and turn the ball over way too much (WCC high 20.2 percent turnover rate).

And yet, even though they rate as a pretty sub-par offensive team by WCC standards, the Toreros have been the most competitive team as of late, nearly knocking off Gonzaga on Thursday in Spokane, and upsetting Portland in the Rose City after the Pilots made national headlines with a 3 OT victory over a scorching BYU squad. They are nine points away from being 6-3 (with close single-digit losses to Pepperdine, USF and Gonzaga) rather than 3-6, and they suddenly look to be the kind of team that could ruin many WCC teams' postseason hopes. How are they doing it?

While you could credit it to a variety of factors, I think two major playing trends emerge: their slow tempo and defensive approach.

First off, San Diego is not the only squad in the WCC that plays at a slow tempo. St. Mary's has done this for quite some time under Bennett, and they also run a slow tempo to maximum offensive effectiveness (they rank second in offensive efficiency in conference despite playing the fourth-slowest tempo in conference play). Gonzaga, which originally started the year playing at a faster tempo, has slowed down considerably in conference play (third-slowest in conference), which has worked to their advantage in some games (BYU) and not so in others (San Diego). So, slowing it down and playing a more half-court approach isn't exactly ingenious or ground breaking on Grier's end, since many teams do it when they feel they lack depth or the faster perimeter players to do so. Furthermore, Grier's teams have typically played a slower tempo in his career at USD, as he has had only one team average over the 65 possession mark in his tenure at USD (the 2012 squad which averaged 66.1 possessions per game).

But San Diego has slowed it down considerably so, and that has worked to their advantage in many games. In two out of their last three games, the Toreros have played two sub-60 possession games (USF and Gonzaga). Both those games went down to the buzzer, as the Toreros lost by a buzzer beater to USF and they had a chance to tie at Gonzaga. For a team that lacks offensive consistency like the Toreros, shortening the game has proven to be a strong competitive equalizer for them, especially against better offensive teams (as was the case with USF). While they do have some talent in guard Johnny Dee and center Dennis Kramer, they do have some efficiency killers (Jito Kok may be the worst offensive player in the conference by far as evidenced by his 72.8 offensive rating) that'll keep them from being better than average overall. So, by limiting possessions and relying on the three point shot, the Toreros give themselves a fighting chance against the better teams in conference play. And it has worked, as the Toreros seem to be trending upward as a team, and still have valuable opportunities for possible upsets on the horizons with seven of their next nine games being at home (only St. Mary's looks to be the daunting one, and that could be tougher because the Gaels are in their element in slower-tempo games).

Contrast San Diego's approach with LMU, who has taken a higher-tempo approach to offense (second highest tempo at 69.2 in conference play). While the Toreros are 3-6 against primarily road-game loaded first half of the schedule, the Lions are 3-7 and have lost to conference leaders USF, St. Mary's and Gonzaga by double digits. While they did pull off the upset against BYU in their first conference game of the year, the higher tempo has exposed the Lions' poor offensive efficiency as a team, while the slower tempo has hid or at the very least minimized the Toreros' woes on the offensive end (remember, both teams rank 9th and 10th in conference play offensive efficiency). And how has this strategy of play affected to coaches' futures? Well, it looks like Grier may be on the way to finishing the season strong enough to merit another season, while Lions coach Max Good will have to do a lot to earn an extension at the end of the year.

So, tempo has been a key factor to the Toreros surprising success, though not the only key. The improved defense has also been a reason why the Toreros have also remained competitive, and since those two approaches complement each other nicely (defense and slow tempo) it's no surprise that they have transitioned to success on the court for San Diego. In terms of defense, numerically it's not all that impressive, as the Toreros' 110.7 defensive efficiency rating ranks seventh in conference play. That being said, their overall rating sits at 100.9, which is 108th best in the nation and the Toreros have had some really bad performances that have hurt their conference rating thus far (they gave up 1.31 points per possession in a 23 point loss at BYU). Going back to that rating though, the 100.9 mark, if the season ended today, would be the best mark for Grier since the 2009 season, when the Toreros finished with a defensive rating of 97.6, 77th best in the nation.

The mark is a nice wave of progression for Grier and the Toreros over the past couple of seasons. Grier made his mark as a defensive-coach as an assistant at Gonzaga, and he carried that in his first two years at the helm in San Diego. His first team, which went to the NCAA Tourney and upset UConn as a 13 seed, was a stout defensive squad as they ranked 49th in the nation in defensive efficiency at 95.9. However, after two seasons where his teams ranked in the Top-100 in defensive rating, they took huge steps in years three through five, as they posted mediocre defensive rating rankings of 162, 224 and 230, respectively. Suddenly, the strongest aspect of Grier's ability as a coach (the defensive side) looked to be a weakness after the initial wave of success.

However, Grier made one key hire after the 2011 season that has helped the Toreros defensively: he hired former LMU coach Rodney Tention as an assistant. Now, Tention was far from "good" as a coach at LMU. His 30-61 overall record looks bad in a variety of different lenses. But, Tention was a much better coach than people gave him credit for. For starters, Tention was actually a very decent defensive coach, and if you want to know why or how the Lions, despite being a 12-win team, came within a tip-in of beating an Adam Morrison-led Gonzaga team in the WCC Championship, the Lions' defense was the answer (remember, the Lions went 9-6 in conference play that year). In 2006, the Lions posted a defensive rating of 96.2, 60th best in the country, and in his second year, the Lions, though 13-18, still remained in the Top-100 in defensive rating at 93rd in the nation with a rating of 99.1. While things fell apart for them as a whole in 2008 (only six teams were worse overall than the Lions in 2008), Tention was actually a good defensive coach. The only problem was that he struggled to find consistency with his offense, and he opted for a style that didn't necessarily play to his teams' defensive strengths either (they ranked in the top-100 in terms of fastest tempo in his three years). And so, it made sense why things never worked out for Tention as the head man at LMU. Under Grier's staff though, Tention has seemed to help the Toreros and Grier find their mojo again on the defensive end. They have steadily improved the past couple of years, and I'm sure Tention's expertise on defense has meshed well with Grier's philosophy on defense and slowing it down (rather than speeding it up, as Tention did at LMU).

This season, the Toreros have the kind of squad that fits what Grier wants to do: slow it down, grind out opponents on the defensive end, have certain player (i.e. Gee) make some key shots, and keep games tight against opponents which may be more loaded than his San Diego squads. They still aren't as elite as his first-year squad, but it is obvious that they are making progress toward reaching that point. Tention's influence, though under the radar to most people, has been felt, especially when you look at the improvements in defensive ratings over the past three years. And, with this approach complementing their slow, half-court style, the Toreros remain different, an anomaly to what is typically seen from teams in the WCC.

In college basketball, different is good. Different is what worked for Princeton under Pete Carril, LMU under Paul Westhead and Arkansas under Nolan Richardson. And for Grier and San Diego, being different could give them a chance to replicate what they did in 2008 as soon as next season (though you never know come WCC tourney time).

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Recruit Report: Evan Fitzner, 6-10, 215 pounds, St. Mary's Commit

The first post player on the recruit report belongs to Evan Fitzner, a 6-10 forward from Francis Parker High School in San Diego. Fitzner signed with Randy Bennett's Gaels on October, 8th and he should bring an interesting profile and skill set to the Gaels in 2014-2015. He is long, athletic and has very good touch from outside the arc, the perfect kind of player to fit Bennett's "shooter-heavy" system.

Fitzner was mostly looking at schools on the West Coast, as he also received offers from Arizona State, California, Hawaii, Loyola Marymount, New Mexico, Northern Arizona, Oregon State, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, USC and Washington. Just judging by the four other WCC School offers, there was a high possibility that Fitzner was going to be playing in the WCC somewhere next season. That being said, it appears that his visit and the program in general convinced Fitzner to take his talents up north from San Diego to Moraga.

Let's take a look at some things about Fitzner.

What they Are Saying About Fitzner

From (71 rating, 3 star recruit)
"Fitzner possesses a long and rangy frame with very long arms. He is a good athlete that runs well and his quickness and bounce have improved around the paint area. He has a remarkable touch that extends out to 22-feet and his ball skills are impressive."

From Full Court (45th best player in SoCal area)
"Skilled forward needs strength and bulk as well as toughness to be a factor in WCC." 

From West Coast Convo
"This is a big time commitment for the Gaels as next season they will lose 6’11 center Matt Hodgeson to graduation and had already lost power forward Chris Reyes this year who transferred out earlier this season. Fitzner is known more for his shooting ability at the stretch-4 position rather than interior play, but none-the-less should get good minutes next season in his first year as a Gael."

Catholic Coast Hoops Quick Analysis

When you watch video of Fitzner, there is a lot to like. He has a good looking shot, and his form and touch has improved greatly from his sophomore season. In fact, as an outside player, he seems very dangerous, as he can find his shot easily thanks to his ability to move around well for a big man, in addition to his height. In many ways, he seems to be a combo of former Gael Daniel Kickert (who was a big man with a strong propensity to shoot from the outside) and Gonzaga forward Austin Daye (who was a good shooter from the outside for a 6-10 player). I am not sure if he has Daye's defensive ability (Daye was a very good shot blocker at Gonzaga), but he definitely shares the former first round draft pick's combo skill set of shooting and size.

Much like Daye though, Fitzner needs to add strength, and it'll be interesting to see if he'll be able to get inside to score points or get to the line if his shot is not falling. The Gaels will return Brad Waldow next year, but Fitzner could be a player to take the ease off him in the post, which could not only benefits Fitzner's game, but Waldow's as well. That being said, there are going to be some good big men next year in the WCC in Przemek Karnowski at Gonzaga (who'll be a junior) and Thomas van der Mars from Portland (who'll be a senior), so it'll be interesting to see how Fitzner adjusts to the nightly competition after playing at a small school in San Diego (though to be fair he has played against good AAU and tournament competition).  I don't see Fitzner making an immediate splash, but I think his shooting skill set and height will make him a decent, if not solid contributor for the Gaels in his freshman season next year, which will be sorely needed as the Gaels routinely struggle with depth on their squad.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The "Woolpert Award Watch": The Top 15 Players in the WCC Thus Far

Which WCC Player Will Win CCH's First-Annual "Woolpert Award" for the Best Player in the WCC? The list has been narrowed down to 15.

In lieu of the Wooden Award announcing their annual Mid-Season Top 25 list, I wanted to name an award on this blog for the best player in the WCC. My best idea centered on former USF coach Phil Woolpert, who led the Dons to two NCAA titles in his tenure with the Dons in the 1950's. Maybe there is already an award on Woolpert, and if there is, I can change it, but for now, Woolpert it is darn it!

Anyways, here is the criteria for the Woolpert Award player:

  • Has to be at least a significant contributor on his team (Ken Pom characterizes this as at least a 20 percent usage rate). The more significant, the better their chances. I want to look at the player who is most essential to his team's success.
  • Record is not the end-all, be-all, but the better the team is, the better the chances are for that player (especially if he is more of a major contributor).
  • Advanced numbers will be what determines a player's candidacy. Traditional per game stats are thrown out the window here (I will write a post in due time why I don't rely solely on per game stats, and in fact use them as little as possible).
  • Has to play a significant amount of games. Guys who miss significant time due to injury or suspension are not considered (sorry, but you need to play to have an impact on your team; I consider significant time if you have missed about four or more games so far, i.e. Gary Bell of Gonzaga).
  • Can be a starter or bench player, but needs to have played at least 50 percent of his team's minutes (which correlates with the statement above).

Okay, here is a very early list of the Top-15 candidates who have earned their spot on the "Woolpert Watch" so far. Roughly, it comes out to 

(Note: this is not in any particular order nor a ranking. I'm just putting in guys randomly.)

  1. Brad Waldow, St. Mary's
  2. Sam Dower, Gonzaga
  3. Brandon Clark, Santa Clara
  4. Tyler Haws, BYU
  5. Anthony Ireland, LMU
  6. Brendan Lane, Pepperdine
  7. Kruize Pinkins, USF
  8. Andrew Bock, Pacific
  9. Johnny Dee, San Diego
  10. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
  11. Kevin Bailey, Portland
  12. Eric Mika, BYU
  13. Stephen Holt, St. Mary's
  14. Thomas van der Mars, Portland
  15. Stacy Davis, Pepperdine

As stated before, the list above is NOT a ranking. This is just an initial list. And, much like the Wooden Award, if a player makes significant strides in the second half of the WCC season, I can also put them on the Woolpert Watch as well. Right now, I wanted to have no more than two players from a team on this list and at least 1 representative as well from each WCC squad. So while this list is a good gauge in terms of who is the most valuable player in the WCC this season, it's not an end-all, be-all list either.

If you feel I snubbed anyone, let me know and I would definitely be open to discuss about it. (Beau Levesque was a tough snub for me, but I didn't want to have three Gaels on there, especially considering they're in 3rd place as well).

I'll have a poll on the sideboard of the blog soon to take a tally of who "fans" should think should earn the award (though to be frank, I'll be awarding the vote myself, since it is a statistical award, not a fan vote...sorry guys).

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Data Sheet Analysis: WCC Ratings Roundup, January 21st

Don't Understand This Chart? I'll Make Sense After Reading This Post...Hopefully

Though it's not even February yet, it's never a bad time to talk about postseason expectations. One thing I liked to do leading up to tournament time is looking up different ratings of basketball teams that are on "the bubble". In the WCC, it's usually only 2-3 teams, but nonetheless, I wanted to look at the conference as a whole and the ratings of each and see where there were major differences between ratings systems for certain teams. For a lot of the top teams in conference, the ratings were pretty consistent across the board (as I will show in a graph via the Data Sheet), but things got interesting as you look at the middle of the pack to the bottom of the WCC.

Before I go into the analysis of each team, I wanted to give people a brief synopsis of each ratings system I used leading up to the team analysis.

RPI (Rating Percentage Index)

  • The most common and widely known ratings system. Used in the NCAA selection process. The formula for RPI is  (WP * 0.25) + (OWP * 0.50) + (OOWP * 0.25) (where WP is Winning percentage, OWP is opponent's win percentage and OOWP is Opponents' Opponents' Winning Percentage).
  • ESPN's own ratings index similar to RPI created in 2012. BPI accounts the most factors in games in comparison to the other Major Indexes, as it includes scoring margin, diminishing returns for blowouts, pace, game location, SOS beyond Opponent W-L, Wins (not really quality losses), and Key Players missing. While the positive is that it accounts all factors, the negative with BPI is that it can be the most subjective of all the ratings indexes with all the factors it accounts. For a more detailed explanation, check out this post here.
  • More mathematical than the above, but in my opinion very informative in terms of "pure prediction" as he states on his "Ratings Explanation" page. Pomeroy seems less concerned with past results (since he knows upsets will happen and it's impossible to predict every upset or win), but in his words "to show how strong a team would be if it played tonight, independent of injuries or emotional factors. Since nobody can see every team play all (or even most) of their games, this system is designed to give you a snapshot of a team’s current level of play." The core of Pomeroy's system is based on the "pythagorean calculation for expected winning percentage", though he has incorporated some changes to his algorithms going into this year. Overall, Pomeroy's seems to be for the most mathematically or statistically inclined, but I like it the most because I find the data accurate in reflecting a team's profile.
  • Sagarin's ratings are not only used by the NCAA Tournament committee, but they have also been a staple among oddsmakers in terms of determining lines for basketball games (and football, as his football ratings have been part of the BCS system since its inception). While the exact formulas for Sagarin's ratings aren't exact, according to Wikipedia (yes, I am quoting Wikipedia, shoot me English Teacher Nazi) his system is "the difference in two teams' rating scores is meant to predict the margin of victory for the stronger team at a neutral venue...teams gain higher ratings within the Sagarin system by winning games against stronger opponents, factoring in such things as home-venue advantage." Thus, Sagarin is more aimed toward the NCAA Tournament as the idea of playing on a neutral court is something that is rarely important in the regular season and more important come Tournament time (where all the teams play on neutral courts).
  • Massey's ratings are more predicated on measuring past performance rather than predicting future results. This emphasis varies from other ratings such as Pomeroy and Sagarin (which state their goal is to predict future results, albeit in different ways). Massey states two challenges, as he looks to eliminate "noise which obscures the true strength of a team" (which includes officiating, luck, not playing to potential, etc.) and differences in schedule. Thus, strength of schedule is heavily incorporated into the ratings, though Massey only factors in score, venue and date and no other statistics or factors in the strength of schedule rating.

After looking up all those ratings on their various Web site, I composed an aggregate rating which basically was an average of all their ratings combined. That way, the aggregate rating gives a true "real" rating of each WCC team, since some fluctuate surprisingly a lot.

Okay, with that out of the way, let's analyze each team in the WCC and their ratings thus far through the season.

Gonzaga Bulldogs (16-3 overall, 6-1 in conference)
  • RPI: 25
  • BPI: 21
  • Ken Pom: 26
  • Jeff Sagarin: 21
  • Ken Massey: 29
  • Aggregate Rating: 24.4

BPI and Sagarin love the Zags, as they rate them at 21 in both ratings. BPI is not surprising considering all the subjective factors they take in. The Zags have huge margin of victories in many games (especially during their first 3 games in WCC play against St. Mary's, USF and Santa Clara), have been hit hard by injuries (Gary Bell and Sam Dower), and have played some tough neutral court games (Maui Classic and Kansas State in Wichita). Sagarin also takes in margin of victory, and that too probably also explains why that rating also correlates similarly with ESPN's BPI.

Massey and Pom seem less in love with the Zags, as they both rate them higher than their aggregate rating. The Zags rate 17th in AdjO and 71st in AdjD, so when you factor in both those factors, as well as their 67.4 pace factor, and the Zags rating at 26 seems about right (SMU, which is rated 25, is similar in their AdjO and AdjD difference, though is flipped, as their D is better than their O). As for Massey, which had the lowest rating for the Zags out of any of the ones listed, it relies so heavily the teams' records and opponents records, and the strength of many of the opponents outside of Arkansas, West Virgina (though that's questionable), Kansas State and Dayton isn't all that great (New Mexico State started well early on but have faded and that has hurt the Zags' strength of schedule, which in return has hurt the Zags).

BYU Cougars (13-7 overall, 5-2 conference)
  • RPI: 39
  • BPI: 49
  • Ken Pom: 49
  • Jeff Sagarin: 41
  • Ken Massey: 55
  • Aggregate Rating: 46.6

RPI loves BYU and it's not surprising. The Cougars played the best out of conference schedule (7th hardest in the nation) out of anyone in the WCC. Stanford, Wichita State, Utah State, Iowa State, Texas, Utah, Oregon and UMass were all on BYU's non-conference slate and all those teams are Top-100 teams in almost every rating listed above. Though the Cougars went 3-5 against them, three of those teams started out the season with double digit wins before suffering their first loss (Iowa State, Oregon and Umass) and one is still undefeated (Wichita State). Thus, it makes sense that BYU's highest rating came in the RPI.

Massey was the least loving of the Cougars (though that tended to be the trend for many WCC teams, as the conference as a whole rated low in Massey's ratings). My guess for the low ratings is the Cougars' opening conference losses to LMU and Pepperdine (who rank low in the Massey Ratings) hurt, as well as that Dec.14-Dec.30 stretch where they lost four straight. Ken Pom and BPI also rated the Cougars above their aggregate rating, which makes sense considering the Cougars' mediocre defensive rating (86th in KP) and high pace (76.0). Still, the Cougars have had a relatively easy road so far in conference play (10th rated in conference SOS on Ken Pom), so it'll be interesting to see if this improvement is legit or just the product of an easy stretch.

St. Mary's Gaels (14-5 overall, 4-2 in conference)
  • RPI: 50
  • BPI: 47
  • Ken Pom: 56
  • Jeff Sagarin: 51
  • Ken Massey: 65
  • Aggregate Rating: 53.8

If you want to make the NCAA Bubble Case for the Gaels, you certainly can. They sneak in when it comes to RPI and BPI. Their opening win over Louisiana Tech may have been their most underrated win of the season so far (though LA Tech's loss to Southern Miss dampened it a bit) and wins over Boise State and North Dakota State are solid wins over solid mid-major teams who have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament (albeit by winning their conference tournaments, but still a chance nonetheless).

But, the Gaels look bad in Ken Pom and Ken Massey's ratings. In KP's ratings, their soft non-conference schedule (only two away games and two neutral games in the non-conference) and mediocre defensive efficiency (175th in the nation) hurts their case big time. As for Massey, a home loss to Santa Clara (it takes heavily into consideration home record) and a slow start in conference (4-2, unimpressive difference in Points Score and Points Allowed in Conf Play) probably is the key reason why they are barely on the bubble in his ratings.

Pacific Tigers (10-7 overall, 1-5 conference)
  • RPI: 84
  • BPI: 115
  • Ken Pom: 121
  • Jeff Sagarin: 116
  • Ken Massey: 117
  • Aggregate Rating: 110.6

I really believe the Tigers are due for a second-half turnaround in WCC play. Though they currently rank in the basement in the WCC with a 1-5 conference record, their RPI is surprisingly high for a last-place team, and they played well in the non-conference slate as well with good wins over Utah State and UC Irvine and tough games against Oregon and Princeton (who really is a contender to Harvard, though it is Harvard's conference to lose at this point). Furthermore, they have already played some of the toughest WCC opponents thus far, as they have played St. Mary's twice and Gonzaga in Spokane (all boosts to that RPI).

Now, I don't believe the Tigers are a top-100 team. But even when you look at their other ratings, they are obviously seen as a middle of the pack WCC team, not a last place team like the one you see currently. Even Ken Pomeroy, who has the Tigers rated the lowest out of all the ratings, still has them as the fifth highest rated team in the conference, and did rate their conference schedule as the hardest thus far for any WCC team. So, don't give up on this Tigers team yet, even though they certainly didn't do themselves any favors with that 1-5 start in conference play.

San Francisco Dons (12-8 overall, 5-3 conference)
  • RPI: 102
  • BPI: 121
  • Ken Pom: 124
  • Jeff Sagarin: 126
  • Ken Massey: 114
  • Aggregate Rating: 117.4

A pretty consistently rated team overall. The RPI is solid for their record, but it's not egregiously different from the other ratings like Pacific (where they had a 37 point difference between RPI, their highest ranking and Ken Pom, their lowest rating). USF was hurt from questionable losses early on, and it shows in their out of conference RPI of 177, which is third-worst in the conference. Ken Pom also rates their defense 263rd in the nation AdjD efficiency, so that is also another reason why KP has them hovering in the 120 range, well out of NIT territory and maybe even CIT or CBI consideration as well.

That being said, USF's offense is good (40th in the nation in AdjO efficiency) and they have played much better as of late with four wins in their last six conference games, and the two losses being on the road at St. Mary's and a tough loss to BYU (who is playing the best ball in conference). Those losses won't hurt, and the Dons only other conference loss is to Gonzaga on the road (though that was a BAAD conference loss as they were killed). If the Dons can keep winning WCC games against the middle of the pack (they already got a huge boon in a road win over Portland which is looking better and better with Portland's win over Gonzaga at the Chiles Center), and maybe pull one home upset over St. Mary's or Gonzaga (Winning at BYU would be tough), then I think the Dons could get a high enough status in the ratings to earn some kind of postseason berth.

Portland Pilots (11-8 overall, 3-4 conference)
  • RPI: 152
  • BPI: 107
  • Ken Pom: 104
  • Jeff Sagarin: 109
  • Ken Massey: 126
  • Aggregate Rating: 119.6

The Pilots earn the award for the most bi-polar team in the Ratings Roundup. RPI does NOT like Portland and rightfully so. Their projected OOC RPI is 169 and projected OOC SOS is 290. They are 7-2 against teams rated 200 or higher, but 6-6 against teams in the 51-100 range. The Pilots boast a profile with good wins over Gonzaga and Princeton, tolerable losses to Oregon State and Michigan State, and downright crappy losses to North Texas and Montana State. Portland may be a good team underneath all that fluff, but RPI is going to have a hard time seeing it, especially with those strength of schedule numbers hanging out there.

But sans RPI, the Pilots still profile as a decent team and have a good shot for the fourth spot in conference if they can use the momentum from the Gonzaga win to turn it around. Much like Pacific, they suffered from some bad losses early (though the conference strength of schedule wasn't nearly as difficult as Pacific's; it is rated as the 8th toughest so far) and while they don't excel in anything, they aren't really terrible in anything either (they rank 116th in AdjO and 123rd in AdjD according to KP). So, they'll always be a competitive team, though they'll probably lose some games they probably should win (as evidenced by losing to Pepperdine on Saturday, though that was in Malibu). While I like USF more, I think Portland has a decent chance to make a postseason berth if they can get some consistency.

Pepperdine Waves (12-8 overall, 5-3 conference)
  • RPI: 118
  • BPI: 135
  • Ken Pom: 126
  • Jeff Sagarin: 121
  • Ken Massey: 113
  • Aggregate Rating: 122.6

As we get to the bottom of the WCC, we start to see some trends emerge. When it comes to the top of the conference, the RPI is consistently higher than the Massey ratings. For the lower-tier WCC teams, the Massey ratings are actually better than their RPIs. Because BPI is so subjective and incorporates so many variables, it goes a variety of ways, and Pom and Sagarin are more scientific, so they kinda fall in line with BPI as well.  Pepperdine is pretty typical of what we see from the lower tier teams, though to be honest, they may be on the cusp of being a middling to borderline upper tier team, if they could just pull some sort of consistency and give fans a real idea what team they're going to be for the rest of the season.

Pepperdine suffers from many of the same problems of the lower-end WCC teams: bad OOC RPI (202, second worst in WCC), bad OOC SOS (282, third worst in WCC) and lack of quality wins (2-8 against top-100) along with some REALLY bad losses (San Jose State and Cal State Fullerton are rated 252nd and 241st respectively in KP's ratings). What boosts Pepperdine (or why you might argue in favor of Pepperdine) over Portland though is that the Waves have actually been better against teams ranked in the 101-200 range (8-4 to Portland's 6-6 mark). Add that with the fact that the Waves actually are better than average in something (86th in Adjusted Offense), and that gives the Waves a bit of an advantage over a team like Portland who is just pretty average all across the board. Yes, the Pilots have the better ratings now, but check back in two weeks and I have a feeling Pepperdine will have leaped them.

San Diego Toreros (11-9 overall, 2-5 conference)
  • RPI: 189
  • BPI: 160
  • Ken Pom: 150
  • Jeff Sagarin: 156
  • Ken Massey: 171
  • Aggregate Rating: 165.2

Initially, the feeling is to say that the Toreros are the worst team in the WCC. While Pacific is last, there is the feeling that they have just been unlucky. The Tigers played some decent teams in the non-conference, and as stated before, played the toughest conference slate of any WCC team thus far. Add that with the adjustment that comes with playing in a new conference (especially a conference upgrade to the WCC from the Big West), and it makes sense why the Tigers have struggled this season. But as for the Toreros? They played two Non-DI teams (inexcusable in my mind any way you cut it), have a projected OOC SOS of 276, and are 1-9 against Top-100 teams this season. Their 189 RPI is second-worst in the conference, and by all means, it is easy to categorize San Diego as the bottom feeder in the WCC.

But surprisingly, the Toreros aren't as bad as advertised. Sans a bad loss to Illinois Chicago on a neutral court (282nd in KP's ratings), the Toreros have taken care of business against bad teams (7-1 against teams rated in the 200 plus range). Their OOC RPI isn't as bad as expected at 170 (better than both USF and Pepperdine), and the advanced guys (Pomeroy and Sagarin) like them more than most, which means statistically, they have some potential (though certainly not a lot of it). San Diego's slower pace (second-slowest in WCC) also helps them in the more variable ratings (especially BPI and KP), so I can see why they rate higher in ratings other than RPI. So, the Toreros are bad...they're just not as bad as we want to think just yet.

Loyola Marymount Lions (10-10 overall, 2-6 conference)
  • RPI: 164
  • BPI: 181
  • Ken Pom: 161
  • Jeff Sagarin: 165
  • Ken Massey: 166
  • Aggregate Rating: 167.4

Oh how they mighty have fallen. Remember how sky high people were riding on the Lions after they whooped BYU in Los Angeles? Remember how the Lions were threatening to make their case as the conference's second or third best team? Well those days are long gone. According to the aggregate ratings, the Lions rank as the second-worst team in the WCC, and with their 2-6 record in the WCC, the ratings seem pretty spot on in this case. The Lions aren't just bad in one set of ratings, but go for all-around effect in terms of their lower tier in the ratings (though BPI seems to be the most lackluster at 181), thus cementing their spot currently in the basement of the WCC.

If you want to find any silver linings for LMU, Ken Pom rates them the highest at 161st, noting that the overall AdjO rating at 106.1 is actually not bad at 134th in the nation despite them ranking last in the conference in offensive rating in WCC games alone (100.4 offensive rating in conference games only). And, the Lions' OOC SOS was actually better than most WCC teams in the lower tier (241st, which would rank as the 6th toughest OOC SOS in the WCC). Add that with an OOC RPI that was rated as 117th and the Lions probably have been a victim of bad luck rather than just mere bad play (though there has been plenty of that going on for Max Good's squad). RPI-Forecast projects the Lions to finish with a RPI of 158.5. While that is not a huge difference, I think that is a sign people should expect the Lions to trend up not down during this second-half stretch of WCC play.

Santa Clara Broncos (10-11 overall, 3-5 conference)
  • RPI: 193
  • BPI: 184
  • Ken Pom: 178
  • Jeff Sagarin: 184
  • Ken Massey: 184
  • Aggregate Rating: 184.6

Thank God Kerry Keating signed that contract extension this year or he'd be in serious trouble. I get it, he has a couple of CBI titles to his belt, but he hasn't made the NCAA tournament, kind of a big deal considering the coach the administration pushed out (Dick Davey) to make room for him had numerous on his resume. That being said, it makes sense though that the athletic department signed him to a deal so early this season: it was going to be a rebuilding year after losing Kevin Foster and a few other key players, and Even Roquemore simply isn't the player efficiency-wise to carry a team. Thus, it makes sense why the Broncos rate as the worst team ratings wise so far, even though they're holding their head above water a little bit with a 3-5 conference record.

Let's look at the good: the Broncos have played the second toughest conference schedule so far according to Ken Pom, so things are bound to get easier down the stretch (they have already played Gonzaga and St. Mary's on the road and they played BYU recently at home). Their win over St. Mary's on the road may be what plays spoiler to the Gaels' chances for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament, so at least they can torment their Bay Area brethren in that regard. Other than that though? 9-9 record against teams rated 100-plus (i.e. not good), 292nd in OOC SOS (worst in WCC) and 256th in OOC RPI (also worst in WCC). And, terrible losses to Cal State Fullerton (241) on the road and Rice (300!) at home. Yes, as bad as it is to hear Rough Riders (all 50 of you...sorry, just kidding), you are indeed probably the worst team in the WCC this year unfortunately. Just hope it's only a one year thing.

Candidates to trend UPWARD in ratings:
  • Pacific
  • Pepperdine
  • Loyola Marymount

Candidates to trend DOWNWARD in ratings:
  • Portland
  • BYU
  • Gonzaga

Monday, January 20, 2014

Recruit Report: Kyron Cartwright, 5-11, 155 pounds, LMU Commit

It's been a while, but I decided to add another Recruit Report to the list. Keeping with the guard-heavy theme as of late, I am going to profile Compton guard Kyron Cartwright, a 5-11 guard out of Compton High who played AAU ball with the prestigious Compton Magic program. Cartwright is an athletic, lefty-guard who has a strong knack to attack the hoop and score at will. Before committing to LMU in November, the senior guard also received offers from Cal State Fullerton, New Mexico and San Diego.

Cartwright is currently rated as the 18th best player in the State of California according to, and Full Court rated him as the 30th best player in the SoCal region. Along with forward commit Elijah Stewart, Cartwright should be able to have an immediate impact on Max Good's LMU squad next season (especially since long-time guard Anthony Ireland will be gone as well).

What they Are Saying About Cartwright

From (72 rating, 3-star recruit)

"Cartwright is a slick left-handed point guard who is tough to stop in transition. He has an excellent pull-up jumper and he gets tremendous lift on it. He has a high-level burst as well and can toss in the occasional runner as well."

From (2-star rating)

"Kyron Cartwright, 5-10 JR PG Compton (Calif.) High, is one of the top point guards in the west for 2014. A quick lefty with range to the stripe, excellent vision and very good ball skills overall, Cartwright is perhaps the most under-recruited prospect in the West Coast junior class." 

From (ranked 30th best player in Southern California)

"Speedy PG has no problem evading defensive pressure.  Will be a pleasant addition to Max Good’s Lions next Fall."

Catholic Coast Hoops Quick Analysis

It has been a bit of a rough conference season for head coach Max Good. After starting 2-0 with a big win over BYU to start conference play, the Lions have slumped, losing six straight WCC games. The Lions main struggles have been on the offensive end, as they rank last in offensive efficiency in the WCC, and last in categories such as free throw rate and 3-point percentage. Already, it seems like Lions fans are already looking toward next year, a shame since the WCC season started with so much promise for Good and the Lions.

That being said, next year's recruiting class has some enticing players, and Cartwright leads the pack. Check out the video above (it's a scouting video courtesy of Full Court's scouting service), and you can get more details about Cartwright's profile as a recruit. He is very quick off the dribble and he has good touch around the rim as well. His smaller frame is a bit of a concern, but his speed may already be "starter-worthy" as he regularly torched defenders from what I have seen on tape. Furthermore, he is also a left-handed player, and if Manu Ginobili has taught us anything, lefties who are quick off the dribble can be extremely dangerous and difficult players to defend. I think Cartwright has that kind of speed that will make him a tough outing for opposing WCC guards on a nightly basis.

The main issue with Cartwright is he is almost TOO left-hand dominant (as that was noted in the video), as you rarely see him drive with the right in the video above. And, while his pull up jumper looks good, you do not get a lot of looks at it, and I am curious about his range, as it did not have a lot of shots of him shooting from beyond the arc. From the reports I have seen, I don't think Cartwright is a long-range specialist by any means, but if he can have a decent shot from outside, that will only make his offensive game more dangerous since he is so strong dribbling past defenders and getting to the hoop. He doesn't need to be Kevin Pangos from beyond the arc, but if he can be simply average, it will help his ability to make an impact on this Lions squad in 2014-2015.

Overall, Cartwright looks to be a solid addition to this Lions squad, and with Ireland gone (as noted above), Cartwright will get a shot to earn major minutes in the backcourt as a freshman next year at LMU along with Evan Payne, who'll be a sophomore. I am not sure if Cartwright will be as good a shooter as Ireland, but his ability to drive and create fares pretty similarly to the four-year player, so this definitely is a nice pickup by Good. While his on-court success has been inconsistent this year and in the past few years as well, Good has made inroads in his recruiting and really hit the Los Angeles/Southern California area hard this year, as he also got a commitment from Stewart, a Westchester High School product. It'll be interesting to see if the Lions will turn things around and help Good keep his position at LMU. If he does stick and survive this season, he and the Lions could be very dangerous next year with Cartwright and a solid recruiting class coming to campus next Fall and a more experienced group returning as well (they only lose 3 seniors).