Saturday, November 29, 2008

Around the NCAA on a Saturday

First off, a couple items from Big Televen country, in advance of the challenge this week. Ohio State may not have figured out its offense yet, but the defense - wow. The Buckeyes held Samford to 22 points, including just 6! (yes 6!) in the first half. Samford shot 9 of 48 from the field, including 2 of 18 from three, plus coughed it up 18 times in just 61 possessions. The Buckeyes were sloppy (17 turnovers) and shot poorly (22-52 overall, 4-17 from three) themselves, putting together a sub-100 offensive rating, and still won by 37. This is likely on track for the best defensive/worst offensive game of the season.

Michigan - the same Wolverines that beat UCLA a couple weeks ago - trailed by 20 at the half at home against Savannah State. Yes, you read that correctly. Savannah took a 39-19 lead into the break at Crisler Arena. Michigan then put up an almost-mirror-image 37-17 second half performance to force OT (although they missed a breakaway dunk to win at the end of regulation). Overtime was not a cakewalk either, with the Wolverines eeeeking out a two-point victory on a Courtney Sims corner jumper as time expired.

It may just be me, but it seems like fewer teams made it to December undefeated than usual. The number will shrink by (at least) two tomorrow, as one team in each of the Tennessee-Gonzaga and Wake Forest-Baylor matchups will be handed its first blemish. Here's the list of the 30 teams that had loss-less Novembers (for the record, that makes 311 teams that lost at least once in the season's first three weeks):

Dayton, Xavier, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, UNC, NC State, Wake Forest/Baylor, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Depaul, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Villanova, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio State, Butler, Illinois State, BYU, Wyoming, Stanford, LSU, Tennessee/Gonzaga, Lamar, Arkansas-Little Rock, Utah State

If Wake can win today (and UNC and NCSU), the ACC will have more undefeated teams remaining than any other conference, including the JumboEast. I know this isn't really much of a measure of relative conference success; nonetheless, any metric (however flawed) by which I can say that the ACC is the best, I will use.

Very impressed with Florida State picking up two neutral court wins this weekend over Cal and Cincinnati. They have one of the easier challenge matchups this week (@ Northwestern) and have two remaining chances for marquee non-conference wins against Florida and Pittsburgh, especially since both games are in Tallahassee.

Finally, because I have no other place to put this, here's the HD Box from the Michigan game in the finals of the CvC. Not too much to say about this game (which I didn't see) - Duke was simply the better team, and played better pretty much all night. One thing of note - the difference between Smith's numbers (+22) and Paulus' (+1); obviously Nolan has been getting much more time with better teammates, but there's no question that the offense has been more efficient with him on the court.

Duke 95, Duquesne 72

It took 7 games, but we finally saw this team play to its potential for a "full" game. The 23-point final margin makes this game look deceptively close, and the 3-point second half margin suggests we turned it off in the final period. We didn't. Duke was up 39 twice, and led by at least 30 for about 11 minutes in the second half. Only when the bench guys came in at the end of a game did Duquesne go on a little bit of a ridiculous run, ending on a 19-6 push that made it look moderately respectable. It wasn't - this was a good, old-fashioned beat-down administered at both ends of the court.

First, the offensive end. Duke's offense was clicking on all cylinders. Guys played the drive, draw, and dish extremely well - Duke got into the middle of the lane against Duquesne with ease, drew seemingly the entire team of Dukes to them, and then continually found open men on the wings and in the corners for three, or on rotation down low for easy looks inside. The other thing the Devils did was get out and run. Missed shots, made shots, turnovers - really any excuse to get back up the court in a hurry, the Devils took. Duke had 31 points off of turnovers and 17 points in transition, and everyone got in on the act. Thomas ran the court extremely well - he's learned that if he sprints down court toward the rim, guys are going to make things happen for him. He had several great catches (off of several great passes) that propelled him to an 8-8 day and a career high 21 points.

Jimmy Dykes made a comment during the broadcast that I've heard several fans echo, in some way, that I think shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Duke's offense. He pointed out that Smith's A/TO ratio is less than one, and said that Duke needs more from a point guard than that. I beg to differ (at least in part - cutting down turnovers is always a goal, and Smith does still need to improve in that regard). Duke's offense is simply not dependent on a point guard to create. Rather, we effectively have 4 "point guards" on the court most of the time. Everyone on the wing plus Singler can create off the dribble and off the pass. Yesterday, when Duke assisted on 71.4% of its first half field goals, the assists came from all over - 4 for Singler, 2 for Henderson, 3 for Scheyer and Smith, etc. Simply put, no one is going to put the onus on Smith to do anything more than bring the ball over half court - once we get into the offense, everyone on the wing is equally responsible for creating opportunities for their teammates and themselves.

Second, on defense Duke was disruptive. They forced turnovers (19) and missed shots (41), especially from three, where Duquesne was just 3 of 21. They took the highest scoring team in the A-10 last season and held them under 60 until the final four minutes of the game. Duquesne got very few easy opportunities, and looked constantly out of sync. The only downside was rebounding - Duke got out-positioned by the Dukes on the offensive glass for most of the game, and only barely out-rebounded Duquesne on that end of the court. This is actually an aberrant performance this year - in 5 out of 7 games, Duke's defensive rebounding has been excellent.

Finally, the play of the bench unit at the end of games continues to disappoint. Most notably, they turn the ball over with alarming regularity. Our end-game group (which, in various combinations, has primarily included Paulus, Pocius, Williams, Czyz, and Plumlee) has committed 18 turnovers in fewer than 40 possessions. Essentially every other trip down the court they give the ball away. They're responsible for 17% of the team's turnovers in just 8% of the possessions. It's a group that looks disjointed and plays like it's garbage time (which, admittedly, it is, but I don't recall a bench unit that treated it like garbage time quite the way these guys do). This isn't necessarily something concerning, since if we see Pocius, Williams, Czyz, and Plumlee on the court together, it usually means the lead is big and the time on the clock is small. These lineups are not likely to be playing crunch time minutes (or key minutes of any shape/size). Nonetheless, there's a lot of room for improvement, and I hope as the season goes along we see that unit get tighter with the ball.

Here's the HD Box from the game. As you can see, there's a dramatic +/- difference between starters + Thomas and the other 6 guys.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I left a discussion of the game without registering concern for Nolan's back. He came out of the game after his plus-one with about 17:30 left to play, and received treatment on the bench. Hopefully it's nothing serious and nothing that will keep him from the game against Purdue this week.

Around the ACC

A busy Friday for the conference, and (on balance) a successful one. Florida State picked up a nice win over Cincinnati - despite all their struggles, they're still undefeated, and can stay that way with another solid win over Cal tonight. Wake survived a game UTEP team in a game where the Deacs got absolutely abused on the glass (surprising, with all of Wake's size) and can win the 76 Classic by beating Baylor on Sunday. Virginia fought the good fight at the Carrier Dome, and though they left with a loss, they played a very good Syracuse team very close. And BC looked good in beating UAB to take third place in the PNIT - props to Ty Rice, who had 24 points (all in the second half) and didn't miss a single one of his 5 3-point shots. Clemson and Georgia Tech got wins against lesser competition (although the Jackets again struggled). Only Maryland had a really rough day, as Gonzaga just out-classed them all over the court. Maryland will struggle against teams with size this year, and the Zags have a lot of good size.

Quiet weekend for the conference - today just has the aforementioned FSU game and Miami hosting Stetson, and Sunday finished with UNC and NC St hosting in-state schools and Wake taking on Baylor. November has been a very good month for the conference, and they'll have every opportunity to start December off well during the ACC/Big Televen challenge. After Sunday's games, I'll put up the ACC team and player stats to this point, including the new offensive stats I've been discussing, and we'll look at a couple case studies from the various teams to show whose performance thus far may be deceptively good, and whose may be deceptively less impressive.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Duke 78, Montana 58

Duke wrapped up a busy stretch of 4 games in 8 days (including a trip to NYC) with a Sunday afternoon tilt against the Montana Grizzlies. The game started tight for the first 8 minutes or so, and then the Devils hit the gas for the end of the first half and effectively put the game out of reach by halftime. Duke outscored Montana 38-15 in the last 24 possessions of the half, and dominated every aspect of the game. In that stretch, there were 8 forced turnovers (7 via the steal), the Devils shot 14-22 from the field (and 2-4 from 3) while holding Montana to 6-17, Duke got 6 of the 10 available offensive rebounds and 10 of the 12 defensive rebounds, etc.

Of course, outside of that 24 possession blitz, the performance was thoroughly meh. Montana won the other ~45 possessions of the game 43-40, and Duke's shooting on the whole was bad - only 29-66 overall, and 11-27 from 2 and 2-11 from 3 outside of the last 24 possessions of the first half.

With Paulus sitting on the bench for this one, there was plenty of lineup experimentation to go around. Today, it worked well - the team was +12 when someone other than Smith was running the point. Coach K also went both super-big (Henderson played the "2" for a 7-possession stretch) and super-small (McClure played the "5" for a couple possessions). On the whole, big was the way to go today - all our margin came with Zoubek or Plumlee at center. We were +20 when one of them was in the game at the "5" (53 possessions) and even when both were sitting (15 offensive and 17 defensive possessions).

Here's the HD Box for the game. I have one for the Michigan game as well, but am holding off because of an apparent discrepancy between the lineup info on the box score and the results of someone's game chart.

Around the ACC

Virginia Tech and Miami both dropped games today - Tech getting nipped by Seton Hall because they couldn't knock down free throws (Jeff Allen, primary culprit, went 5-15 from the line), and Miami simply got outclassed by the Huskies, particularly Hasheem Thabeet, who had something like 19, 12, and 7. The ACC now has three blemished squads - the two above and BC, which lost on the road to St. Louis. Lessons learned from the BC and VT losses - these are not deep teams in terms of actual contributors. Tech is about three deep - there's just a huge talent fall-off after Vassallo, Delaney (who's having a bit of a breakout year so far), and Allen. BC is slightly deeper, but lower ceiling - they can generally count on Rice getting help from Raji, Trapani, and Sanders, but none of those three are really that good (although I have a soft spot for Corey Raji's remarkable offensive efficiency).

Four games coming Monday, starting with Miami hopping back on the horse against San Diego. FSU and Wake have what should be extremely easy wins against Western Illinois and Winston-Salem, respectively. The biggest drama in those two may be whether the Deacs hit 120 again. Finally, UNC begins its time in Maui by taking on the host school, Chaminade. This site, for one, hopes they'll be less than gracious hosts, and give this generation a Ralph Sampson game, only starring Tyler Hansbrough this time.

Friday, November 21, 2008

SIU Post Game Thoughts

Yet again, a tale of two halves. The first was marred by sloppy execution and turnovers. On many of the errant passes I got the sense they were trying to rely on feeling where people should be. That will come eventually. Zoubek gave his best performance to date with a solid first half (one of the few bright spots of the first twenty minutes). The second half (except for the first few possessions) was an entirely different ball game. Henderson's involvement from behind the arc spread out the defense enough to allow a few more open driving lanes. Not to mention some serious dunks from Henderson and Smith (wow is just not enough). I was seriously impressed with SIU's defense. If they can manage to keep that intensity and aggressiveness and limit the fouling, they will be a serious force in the MVC this year.

General Notes
  • Point Guard Play -- Greg & Nolan getting 5-8 minute stints. I didn't realize Greg was recovering from injuries. Aside from Nolan's spectacular dunk and free throws, he had a non-existant offensive night with his two assists offset by five turnovers. However, I thought they both ran the offense rather well and I know either can go off offensively on any given night. I'm currious how the minutes will play out with tonights trapping zone.
  • Defensive Intensity -- Aside from missing a few help side assignments (thank you Bob Knight, I think you hammered that home enough), I was very happy with Duke's defensive presence, especially in the low post.
  • Low Post Play -- Zo stepped up tonight! Didn't get to see enough of LT to get a good sense of where he is. The entire team knocked it down from the line tonight -- I really hope that trends.
With Michigan trumping UCLA in the night cap, I wonder how much 1-3-1 zone we'll actually see tonight. Traditionally, if Duke starts making teams pay for zone with a few open threes, opponents usually are quick to abandon the tactic. However, I have to imagine that Beilein won't come out of the zone unless he really has no other choice. Look for Duke to seriously contest the three point line and I fully expect a handful of very frustrating back door cuts.

Duke 83, SIU 58

I got to see my first half of Duke basketball this season, and luckily it was the second one. In the first half, Duke simply played ugly. 6-19 from the field. 15 turnovers in roughly 38 possessions. I'm going to write that last one again - 15 turnovers in 38 possessions. Yikes. Fortunately for the Blue Devils, they did two things very well in the first half - defend and rebound. SIU shot just 8-32 from the field, and could only come up with 4 of the 27 available offensive rebounds. Duke held the Salukis to 23 points on 39 possessions - an excellent 58.97 D Rating for the half.

In the second half, the defense stayed sharp, and the offense finally clicked. After two early turnovers, Duke committed just two more in the last 16 minutes of the game. The Devils converted well from the field and exceptionally well from the line, getting 54 points in roughly 33 possessions - an excellent O Rating of 163.64. Included in that was the first seven-point possession I've ever seen, as a result of a Singler steal, a dunk+one, an intentional foul free throw (giving the ball back to Duke), and a Henderson made three. That sequence functionally ended the game - it pushed the lead either from 8 to 15 or 10 to 17 without the Salukis once touching the ball, and really broke the other side's spirit.

A couple of random thoughts (slightly inhibited by the fact that the MSG box scores don't include a play by play for some reason). First, the foul disparity was nothing unusual. SIU has made fouling part of its defensive philosophy (which is not to say they try to foul; rather, they accept the high foul count that naturally comes along with very aggressive and physical defense). In the past three seasons, they've finished 300th, 325th, and 331st in terms of opponent free throw rate; that is, their opponents' ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts is higher than almost any team in the country. Second, the Devils did great work exploiting this, both by pounding the ball inside to be in a position to get fouled, and by making free throws. Special credit to the bigs - Singler, Thomas, and Zoubek combined to shoot 18-20 from the line. Third, the ball movement was exceptional in the second half - 9 assists on 12 made field goals, and constant unselfish play across the board. One thing I may try to track tonight is Duke's FG% off the pass (plays where an assist would be credited) compared to off the dribble - last night I think there was a big disparity. Finally, this is a very, very versatile team. It has shooters. It has athletes (the Smith and Henderson dunks were great - the SIU point guard never suspected that Smith would just go up over him on the break). It has size (yes, it's true). And so it can both play and adapt to a variety of styles and game situations. This is critically important, because no defense can take away everything - there will always be a weakness somewhere. I think these Devils have the potential to adjust to any style of defense and exploit the weaknesses well.

No HD Box today (as mentioned, the box from MSG didn't have a play-by-play, let alone sub data). I'll try to figure out a way to put one together, but this may just be a missing game.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Coaches vs. Cancer MSG Preview

For may of us, Thursday represents the first time we'll be able to watch Duke play this season (outside of the students and Iron Dukes lucky enough to get into Cameron or those with Comcast and no access to ESPNU. I actually don't think ESPNU exists... it's just a tease. Damn you Comcast with your "no ESPNU or ESPN360!"). However, most years the early games that weren't nationally televised were blow outs. Not so this year, with what must have been a superb game to watch against URI. I think that will lead to a closer analysis of Thursday's performance against Southern Illinois.

Since I wasn't able to watch the URI game, here are a few things I'm going to be looking for --

  • Defensive Intensity -- From all accounts it sounds like URI had simply an incredible offensive night. I saw the highlight bombs Jimmy Baron dropped (Did I mention I miss JJ?). The kicker Thursday will be can Duke lock down Southern Illinois for a full two halfs, especially since it looks like they have as efficient an offense as URI does. How is the communication and rotation this early in the season given new roles in the low post and at point guard.
  • Point Guard Play -- I'm probably not the only one who was slightly suprised at the swap between Greg and Nolan. I'm curious how Coach K is planing to manage that rotation. Can Nolan step up offensively, and what role does Greg now play?
  • Post Play -- I'm excited to see LT's improvement. Based on the handful of writers that have seen him, it sounds like it should be significant. My concern is LT's free throw shooting, which at least at the outset doesn't seem to have improved as much. Free throws from the 4 and 5 I think are one of the most undervalued traits in the game. I think it completely reshapes the game when the ball doesn't have to stay outside in close game situations because that's where your free throw strength is.
Thanks to Paul for the chance to post a few thoughts here and there. I'm going to try out a few things to see what best complements Paul's fantastic analysis. I'm giddy for the season to start already (at least for those of us stuck with Comcast).

Duke 82, Rhode Island 79

The Devils got all they could handle from a game Rhode Island team (and especially Jimmy Baron, who Bootsied Duke) put prevailed because Kyle Singler and John Scheyer took control and wouldn't let the team lose. The two each had high usage, high efficiency games - Singler put up an offensive rating of 132.11 while using 28.65% of the team's possessions, and Scheyer went even higher - 144.68 - with slightly less usage - 25.44%.

For Duke, it was a tale of two halves on offense. The Devils started extremely slowly - just 12 points in their first 20 possessions, and no made field goals between a Nolan Smith layup at the 17:24 mark and a Greg Paulus layup almost 9 1/2 minutes later. At the point when Rhode Island took its largest lead of 12, Duke was shooting just 4-20 from the field. And then all of a sudden someone flipped a switch, and the offense was exceptional. Duke scored 60 points over 37 possessions in the game's final 22:57 - an offensive rating of 162.16. Duke scored on an astounding 28 of those final 37 possessions - a floor rating of 75.68%.

Of course, every bit of that offensive performance was necessary to combat an excellent offensive showing from Rhode Island, led by Baron and Delroy James. James did the heavy lifting in the first half, leading the team with 11 at the break. The second half was simply the Jimmy Baron show - 7-8 from 3 (and the 8th was a desparation heave), often with hands in his face. His lights out shooting helped propel URI to an astounding 71.4% from 3 for the game.

For Duke, there has to be at least some concern about the defense (although sometimes, the other team just makes its shots). Rhode Island scored 79 in just 67 possessions, and almost kept pace with Duke in the second half (45 in 31, as opposed to 49 in 31 for Duke). Duke allowed a few too many offensive rebounds, and couldn't do quite enough to take Rhode Island out of their offensive rhythm. Still, the team racked up 7 steals and forced URI to turn it over nearly 27% of the time (of course, that means Rhode Island scored 79 points in just 49 non-turnover possessions - wow).

All in all, it was a good win for Duke. They caught an opponent at the top of its game, and didn't cave. Down the stretch, Duke simply finished, scoring on its final 8 possessions. Contributions came in from Thomas (layup and key steal), Smith (couple nice assists) and, of course, Scheyer and Singler. From all accounts, it was a tremendous game to watch (lousy Comcast v. ESPNU tussle). Next up, Southern Illinois.

Around the ACC

Four games in conference play tonight, with the "marquee" matchup being UNC and Kentucky. Kentucky will hope to bounce back from a home loss to the VMI Keydets, and UNC will look to continue its success with Hansbrough on the bench.

Boston College takes on St. John's for a trip to NYC (well, St. John's will be going to NYC regardless, but you get my drift) and the PNIT final four. BC has played a little above where a lot of people expected thus far - Corey Raji has taken on a larger role and continued his high offensive efficiency, and Joe Trapani is making quite a mark in the early going. Ty Rice may actually have help this season.

FSU travels to La Salle. After a decidedly lackluster performance against Jacksonville, the team could use an impressive showing. Given the talent level on the roster, though, impressive showings may be few and far between this year for the Noles.

Finally, Maryland hosts Youngstown St.

16 for 16

The ACC kicked off the 2008-2009 season in full force this past weekend, playing (and winning) a total of 16 games over 4 days. What was most striking was a series of impressive performances by newcomers to the conference. With that in mind, let's take a quick trip around the other 11 schools in the conference and extend some warm welcomes.

Boston College - a warm welcome to Vermont transfer Joe Trapani. In two games, the sophomore forward has gone for totals of 33 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 assists, resulting in a 145.89 offensive rating while using almost 26% of BC's possessions.

Clemson - a warm welcome to Andre Young. The diminutive freshman guard has shown that he can take the reins from Demontez Stitt when necessary (and maybe even when not). While Clemson was winning the Charleston Classic, Young helped with a solid 5 pts and 2 assists per game in the 15 minutes he averaged. Non-newcomers Terrence Oglesby and David Potter helped too, hitting a combined 13 of 24 threes.

Florida State - a warm welcome to Chris Singleton. The 6'9" freshman got the starting nod and posted a 12 point, 17 rebound double-double (and every bit of it was necessary for the 'Noles to eke by Jacksonville).

Georgia Tech - a warm welcome to Iman Shumpert. The Jackets didn't ask the rookie point to do too much in his first game, but he helped out with 7 and 6 boards in just 18 minutes of action.

Maryland - a warm welcome to, well, Jin Soo Kim. Not a lot from the Terp newbies, but Kim did help with 5 in limited minutes. And a warm welcome back to Greivis Vazquez - 16 shots and 6 assists in just 29 minutes helped him use 27.5% of Maryland's possessions.

Miami - a warm welcome to Cyrus McGowan, who picked up a rebound every 90 seconds he was on the court, with 10 in just 15 minutes. Also, welcome back to Eddie Rios - his 17 with 4 assists and no misses from downtown may be the best stat line of his career.

NC State - a warm welcome to the 2006-2007 versions of Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner, who were MIA for much of last year. The duo combined for 36 and 11, and used 25 of State's 58 possessions.

North Carolina - a warm welcome to Edler Zelvis, the freshmen post duo with the unenviable task of filling in for an injured Hansbrough. Ed Davis had an even more prolific boards day than McGowan, gathering 14 in just 22 minutes. Tyler Zeller focused more on the offense, putting up 18 and getting to the line 10 times.

Virginia - a warm welcome to Sylvan Landesberg, who helped UVA stave off those Kentucky Wildcat upsetters from VMI. He took over for some guy named Singletary who's now on the Suns (and who was a wee bit popular with Cavs fans) and all he did was go for 28, 8, and 8 in 36 minutes in his first start.

Virginia Tech - a warm welcome to Victor Davila, who had 8 and 6 in just 18 minutes in VT's second game against Mt. St. Mary's. Yes, it's early, but it looks like he'll be the only freshman getting real playing time.

Wake Forest - a warm welcome to Al-Farouq Aminu. The much ballyhooed recruit showed there was plenty of bally to be hooed. He hit 9 of 10 from 2, and tossed in 10 boards and three blocks for good measure. Hat tip to Tony Woods as well, with 12 points in 22 minutes on 6 of 7 from the floor.

As for the Devils, a warm welcome to all three frosh, and a write-up on URI tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Duke 97, Georgia Southern 54

The Devils did a nice job yesterday illustrating that offense is about more than just making shots. Duke did not make shots exceptionally well against Georgia Southern - not from the field, and especially not from the line. Certainly it wasn't the kind of shooting performance one normally associates with a 97 point outburst in 77 possessions. The reason the offense was so efficient is because Duke completely controlled the offensive glass - 23 of the 43 available rebounds (that is, Duke had more offensive rebounds than the Eagles had defensive rebounds), including several boards off of missed free throws - and because, until the last 5-10 minutes of the game, Duke simply didn't turn the ball over - only 11 on the game as a whole, and I think with 10 to play in the game that number was 6. This gave the Devils many more opportunities than their opponents (only 2 more FGAs, plus a huge edge in FTAs), and allowed Duke to turn a pedestrian shooting night into an excellent offensive showing.

On the individual level, Singler once again had a fantastic game. He led the team in scoring, added in 8 boards, a couple of assists, etc. He looks ready to carry a healthy share of the offensive responsibility for the team this season. From the look of the box score, pretty much everyone played well. Williams turned the ball over a lot, but also managed to grab 11 boards in about 13 minutes. Scheyer's shot wasn't falling, but he dished out 7 assists against just 1 turnover. McClure, Plumlee, Zoubek, and Thomas were all very active on the offensive glass. All in all, it was a good night for Duke. At the very least, it calmed down the people who are inclined to start wringing their hands after beating Presbyterian by "only" 31.

Below are the two HD boxes from the 2ksports pod games. I just noticed that I didn't sort the GS one by +/- before uploading it, so it's slightly disorganized. My apologies. I'm also going to create a post to collect all of these boxes and sticky it over to the links on the right side of the page. As for the other stats, I'm in the process of updating my sheets to get everything ready for the season, and will hopefully update those by early next week. They're likely to be posted via embedded spreadsheets as well.


Georgia Southern:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Duke 80, Presbyterian 49

The Blue Devils and the Blue Hose played the second official game of the 2008-2009 season, and while neither team played particularly sharp, Duke came away with a comfortable 31-point win keyed mostly by their defense. Duke forced 28 turnovers (17 of which came via the steal), controlled the defensive glass, and harassed Presbyterian into a very poor shooting night. A few general comments from reviewing the box score and following the game cast (I'll have HD boxes for this game and the Georgia Southern game up tonight or tomorrow).

First, Duke started exceptionally slowly in each half, although each slow start was simply a result of shots not falling, rather than turnovers. Having not seen the game, I can't tell whether it was good shots not falling, poor shots, or a little of both. Second, despite the fact that the poor starts were not influenced by turnovers, Duke turned the ball over too much. Of particular note was the lineup that finished the game - Paulus, Williams, Pocius, Czyz, and Plumlee - which committed 6 turnovers in just 11 possessions for a sloppy, sloppy finish. Even without their help, though, the Devils were too generous - 15 turnovers in the first 68 possessions. Third, the defense was excellent. Better than one of every three Blue Hose possessions turned into a coughup, and Duke got several points in transition as a result. Fourth, Duke focused heavily on scoring from 2. The Devils took only 11 threes, which (without looking) strikes me as fewer attempts than in any game last season. My gut tells me this was just a product of a) lots of fast breaks and b) a very small opponent, but it's nice to see the team focusing inside-out, rather than the other way around.

Tonight, the Devils hop right back on the horse to take on Georgia Southern, which upset Houston yesterday in a very tight affair. The Eagles were led by senior Trumaine Pearson's double-double - a great start to a senior year for a guy who played less than 10 minutes a game last season. Lead guard Willie Powers also chipped in with 14. Georgia Southern won the game down low - Houston was held to 13 for 37 from 2 and got controlled on the glass, allowing the Eagles to rebound almost 50% of their misses. Of course, the Cougars didn't help themselves by shooting just 59.3% from the line, either.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Monday 11/10 - Season Tip-Off

The 2008-2009 college basketball season starts on Monday, and both opening games are played in Cameron Indoor. The season officially begins with a game between Georgia Southern and Houston, but that's merely a preview to the main event (well, to the extent a game between one of the top-10 teams in the country and one of the (likely) bottom-10 teams in the country can be called a main event).

Presbyterian, if it's anything like last year's team, is perimeter-oriented to the extreme. The team is super small - second-shortest in the country last season by Pomeroy's effective height measure, averaging just 6'2.8" across all five positions. As is expected with such a small team, they struggled in every area where height is helpful - no offensive rebounding, terrible both at blocking shots and getting shots blocked, woefully bad field goal defense, etc. To compensate for their lack of height, the players just bomb away from the outside - 7 different players last season took at least 2 3-point attempts per game, and the team on the whole took more than half its shots from beyond the arc.

Despite all their issues, last year's squad often hung tough in games. They played Clemson, Wake, NCSU, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Auburn, and Mississippi, and only lost those games by an average of 12 points per game, so they rarely got resoundingly whipped by much better teams. Still, it's a squad that went 2-25 against D-I opponents, so this should not be a heavy test for Duke.

Actually, no one should be surprised if this looks a lot like the Lenoir-Rhyne game. Duke will likely have a lot of success on layups, dunks, and points in the paint, as the Devils' size at all positions will exceed Presbyterian's by several inches. Zoubek especially is likely to have 5-6 inches on the guy guarding him. The team ought to dominate the glass on both ends, and should win comfortably even if the three point shot isn't falling. Presbyterian also had a bad propensity to turn the ball over last season, which ought to feed into Duke's pressure defense and great easy scores for the Devils in transition.

Because it's the first game of the season, people will naturally look to tomorrow as a measuring stick for Duke in some way. If it's a tight game at halftime, or a final margin of victory under 20, people may wonder if this team may be over-hyped. If we win by 50, people may start thinking about tickets to, um, wherever the Final Four is this year (why do I not know this off the top of my head?). It's important to remember that this is just one game. For those lucky enough to watch it (my Comcast does not carry ESPNU, and surprisingly enough, berating the nice phone representatives is not the best way to get them to add it on short notice), pay more attention to how Duke plays rather than the final score. Is the defensive intensity there? Is the offensive movement active? Are passes crisp? Are guys communicating with each other on and off the ball? Are people getting good looks at the hoop, regardless of whether the shot ultimately goes in?

Tomorrow is simply the beginning of another season with the Devils. It's a chance for us as fans to get to know new players, get to see growth in the ones we have become familiar with, get to be frustrated by some bone-headed plays, get to be wowed by some jaw-dropping ones, etc. We've got 5 (hopefully 6) months ahead with this squad, and we're lucky enough to have this team around from as early in the season as possible.

ACC Team Stats

ACC Player Stats

Duke Shot Selection

Duke Team Stats By Player

Duke Lineup Stats

Duke Player Stats

Duke Team Stats

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Duke 95, Lenoir-Rhyne 42

Duke battled Lenoir-Rhyne in the wake of Election Day, and the team (and the fans) showed some of the effects of possibly staying up late to track whether NC would turn Duke blue (it did!). For the players, it manifested itself most in a few too many turnovers and poor jump shooting - only 4-17 from 3, and not any better on two-point jumpers. However, the team dominated the inside game, and hit enough layups and dunks to more than overcome the poor outside shooting. Duke ended up hitting almost 75% from 2, helped themselves on the offensive glass, forced several turnovers and got several points in transition, and completely shut down the opponent's offense. Lenoir-Rhyne shot just 27.9% for the game and missed all but 6 of their 34 second half attempts.

Singler, Smith, and Zoubek all had very nice games. Brian apparently looked very confident against the Bears and moved ably in the post, and Singler simply played a better game than anyone else. As shown in the HD Box (below), he combined an extremely high offensive rating with pretty high usage, which is superb. One comment on the box this week - the box score was a little wonky in how it set out the substitutions, so I'm pretty sure the possessions played are wrong for several people - most notably Paulus and Smith. So essentially, what's below is not accurate in all respects, but is still a fair estimation of each player's performance and contribution.

Two final notes - Lenoir-Rhyne featured an ACC alum (of sorts) on its roster, former Clemson G/F Julius Powell. He played 11 minutes, took 10 shots, scored 5 points, and turned it over twice. Clemson will not miss him, but we here wish him well in all his future endeavors. Second, there are going to be a few empty posts that come through in the next couple of days as I set up some permanent sidebar links. I think, for the most part, you can pay them no attention.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

New Offensive Numbers

As I mentioned before, there are some new offensive stats in the HD Box Score – Individual Offensive Rating, Floor Percentage, and Usage. These three stats come from three additional statistical measures – Total Individual Possessions, Individual Scoring Possessions, and Individual Points Produced. The focus of these is to try to figure out just how to break down individual value in what is truly a team game. Take the following common scenarios – a player gets a layup off of an assist; a player gets an offensive rebound, and later in the possession the team scores. In the traditional box score, the points go exclusively to the player who ultimately scores the basket. But he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to score without the assist or the offensive rebound. Those plays are, in a very real way, responsible for the points scored; that is, they help produce the points. The question is how much weight to give the assist, offensive rebound, etc., and how much to penalize the missed shot, turnover, etc. Thankfully, Dean Oliver is a statistical genius, and has come up with a series of equations that factor all aspects of offensive performance (at least those that can be recorded in a box score – so the non-assist, non-turnover pre-shot ball movement is, for lack of a better term, ignored) to produce the 6 stats mentioned above. I won’t reprint the formulas here, but if you’re interested, I will again plug Basketball on Paper – it’s really a remarkable book.

I will, however, discuss the formulas broadly. The starting point is individual possessions, which is a measure of how many possessions and individual is responsible for using over the course of a game. Scoring a basket alone, or missing a shot, does not make an individual wholly responsible for that possession – the made hoop may come off of an assist or offensive rebound, and the missed shot may be the second shot in a possession or may result in an offensive rebound. Only turnovers are fully weighted against a player (on the theory that nothing in a box score can cause a turnover except one player turning the ball over – obviously in practice, two players can contribute to a turnover, but the scorekeeper only records it against one person, so there’s no way to capture the contribution of the unrecorded action. This is one of those things that almost certainly evens itself out over the course of a season, and even if it doesn’t, there’s not a whole lot that can be done about it). As for all other outcomes, there are “parts” – on the good side of the ledger, there is a made field goal part, an assist part, a made free throw part, and an offensive rebound part; on the bad side, a missed field goal part, a missed free throw part, and a turnover part (which, as noted above, is simply the number of turnovers committed by the player). The sum total of these parts is the number of possessions an individual uses. The sum total of the parts on the good side of the ledger represents the Scoring Possessions – the number of possessions used by the individual that resulted in points for the team. Floor Percentage is based squarely on these two numbers, and measures how frequently an individual’s possessions used result in points (so scoring possessions divided by possessions used).

Offensive rating uses Points Produced, rather than Scoring Possessions, to determine a player’s offensive contribution to the team (the number for Offensive Rating is derived by dividing Points Produced by Possessions, and multiplying by 100). Points Produced is computed similarly to Scoring Possessions, in that it’s made up of four “parts” – the made field goal part, assist part, made free throw part, and offensive rebound part. The parts are computed slightly differently for Points Produced to try to capture the point value, rather than just the number of scores, regardless of the points. As a very simple example, if Scheyer and Thomas are both 1-1 from the field (with equal playing time and no other appearance in the box score) but Scheyer’s make was a 3 and Thomas’ a 2, their scoring possessions and floor percentage will be identical, but Scheyer’s points produced and offensive rating will be higher.

The floor percentage and offensive rating numbers tell us a lot about a player’s contribution to the offense, but are still incomplete. That’s because they don’t tell us how much or how little the player was involved in the game. For example, the player with the best Offensive Rating and Floor Percentage from the VUU exhibition was Steve Johnson. He got those numbers by hitting his only 2 shots, getting an offensive rebound, and not committing a turnover. But relying solely on those numbers to tell us his value to the game overstates his contribution. That’s because he not only played limited minutes, but was lightly used during those minutes. This is where Usage rate figures in. It’s derived by dividing individual possessions used by the total team possessions while that player was on the floor. In Johnson’s case, he used only about 1.4 possessions (I realize he made 2 shots, but again, because of assists, offensive rebounds, etc., a made shot is not worth a full possession) of the 11 offensive possessions he played, for a usage rate of 12.74 percent. Even distribution of possessions would put every player at 20% (100% - the team total – divided by 5 – the number of players on the court at all times). The general band is between about 18.5 and 21.5. Anything lower is a more lightly used player, with anything under 15 being very lightly used (think David McClure). Anything higher is a heavily relied upon player, with anything over 25 being the centerpiece of a team’s offense (think Redick).

These numbers will appear in the HD box this year (which will now be embedded via excel), and I’ll track them over the course of the season as well.