Thursday, November 25, 2010

Get to Know: Missouri

This is the first of a series of posts looking at teams just outside the main contenders. A few of these teams will certainly be national title threats by seasons end. The early struggles of Michigan State and Kansas State even further shows the importance of the second tier in college basketball this season.

So far this season, Missouri is 4-0 with a weak early schedule. Three out of the four wins have been less than 12 points, with the one exception being a 96-58 victory over North Florida. Statistically, the Tigers have continued the play they are well known for. They are currently 20th in the nation in pace (adj tempo of 71.9 possessions) and 9th in the nation at forcing turnovers. Mike Anderson's press has done its job against inferior teams, holding all four opponents under the national average of 1.01 points per possession.

The press makes Mizzou a very interesting team to watch. Coach Anderson keeps his players fresh and stick to his system. Against North Florida, the Tigers showed why the press works so effectively. Three keys really stood out from watching that game:

1) Trap the corners and use the sideline to create bad decisions leading to turnovers.
2) Make the opposition use up time and prevent them from getting into their offense.
3) Rotate to the open man out of the double team to avoid easy shots.

The first key is what most associate with fullcourt pressure defense. Turnovers not only prevent the other team from getting shots, but also lead to transition baskets. In the clip below, Missouri was able to trap right at the sideline immediately after North Florida crossed half court. The Tigers forced a bad pass out that went out of bounds.

The second key is equally as important for Missouri. Teams have to use a fair amount of time and energy to get by the initial pressure. Once the press is broken, the Tigers don't back off and let North Florida relax. Instead, they keep ball pressure and make it hard for UNF to get anything started. UNF is forced to frantically drive to the hoop with 5 seconds left in the shot clock, resulting in a strip and transition basket.

The final key is crucial for Mizzou when the press doesn't create the initial turnover. Everyone knows the old cliche that there has to be someone open when you double team. This is true, but Missouri does a great job of rotating and switching on defense to prevent the opposition from capitalizing. Without proper rotation on the play below, UNF would easily have gotten an open three or a drive. By rotating to the open man in the left corner, Missouri not only stops an easy bucket but then creates a turnover.

Missouri will be a tough out in the Big 12 again this season. The defense has been solid, but they have gotten off to a slow start shooting the ball. Rebounding has been greatly improved from last year, but we will have to see if they can continue to have success on the boards against the bigger and more physical Big 12 teams. November 30th is a date to mark on the calendar. The Tigers get their first big test from Georgetown in Kansas City.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Impossible is Nothing

The Siena Saints have been one of the more successful mid major teams in the last three years. What might have been the best recruiting class in school history (Ronald Moore, Edwin Ubiles, and Alex Franklin) led Siena to two NCAA Tournament victories in the last three years.

This season, much has changed for the Saints. Fran McCaffery has been replaced by Mitch Buonaguro and the three stars have graduated. Clarence Jackson and Ryan Rossiter are the go-to guys and team leaders. The point guard position is the one with the biggest question mark. Kyle Griffin started the first two games, but gave way to freshman Rakeem Brookins in game three.

So the Saints went into their second game of the season (@ Minnesota) with question marks at the point and searching for a new identity. They got off to a hot shooting start early (and by they I mean Clarence Jackson), but cooled off by the middle of the first half. Ultimately, the Saints lost 76-69. The problem for the Saints? Lots and lots of turnovers.

After the game, Coach Buonaguro said:

“It really came down to us turning the ball over,” Buonaguro continued. “I thought we outplayed Minnesota in a lot of areas, but the turnover battle was 24-15 (for Minnesota). You can’t win on 24 turnovers on the road. It’s impossible.”

Impossible is a strong word. I decided to further investigate Buonaguro's claim. Of course, winning with 24 turnovers on the road is not common by any stretch, but not impossible either. In fact, Coach Buonaguro should be very familiar with one game from last year when his claim was proven false. The 2009-2010 Siena Saints defeated Tennessee State on the road despite a ridiculous 29 turnovers. Buonaguro was an assistant coach last season.

The four factors tell the whole story. Despite 29 turnovers, this game wasn't even close. The final score was 85-69. Turnovers are certainly important (and most of the time underrated), but in this case Siena had enough talent to overcome them. Buonaguro's quote is not valid. An added stipulation might have made more sense: "You can’t win on 24 turnovers on the road against a Big Ten team." That could be something to look further into in the future.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Calm Before the Storm

College basketball is back. The beginning of the season provides interesting matchups and early adjustments. Today there are no D1 games on the schedule, but tomorrow the games start rolling in. Teams will be finding out what they have and how they can improve. Here are the games we are looking forward to.

The Potential Red Line Upset

Georgetown @ Old Dominion

KenPom Prediction: 64-63 Georgetown
2010 Interesting Fact: Old Dominion won more NCAA Tournament games (1) than Georgetown (0)

Georgetown kicks off the season with a tough one. Last year, ODU played at a slow pace and grinded out games on defense. The mentality paid off as they defeated Notre Dame 51-50 in the first round of the NCAA Tourney. This is a rematch of the game last year at the Verizon Center. ODU won that one 61-57. Georgetown will not be looking past the Monarchs this season.

The Team with Upside

Seton Hall @ Temple

Kenpom Prediction: 71-65 Temple
2010 Interesting Fact: Seton Hall (32nd in the nation) averaged nearly 10 more possession per game than Temple (336th in the nation).

Seton Hall is a big unknown coming into the season. They have the players to be competitive in the Big East, but don't have program stability just yet. This game is another rematch from last season. In that game, Seton Hall blew an early second half lead as Temple won 71-65. Seton Hall does not have a very challenging non-conference schedule, so this will be one of the best times to get a look at them. However, Lavoy Allen and company are certainly favored at home.

The Player Worth the Price of Admission

Wofford @ Minnesota

KenPom Prediction: 70-61 Minnesota
2010 Interesting Fact: Noah Dahlman was in the top 300 in shooting (eFG), offensive rebounding (OR%), taking care of the ball (TO%), and getting to the line (FTRate). Basically, he's really good.

Wofford will have a chance to start their season with an upset at Williams Arena. Last year Wofford ended the season in the Tourney with a close loss to Wisconsin prior to winning 13 straight SoCon games in a row. Dahlman is excellent and Minnesota is an interesting team themselves. Give the SoCon some love and tune in to watch one of the best players most have never heard of.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Defending a Title

This just in: Duke is good this year. The Blue Devils managed to fly under the radar (well, for Duke) for some of last season. Duke won't be tricking anyone this season. With about 59% of minutes return, Coach K's squad is rightfully the preseason favorite. Let's take a look at the past five championship teams and how many minutes they returned the following year:

This table really highlights the crazy season that was UNC 2010. Anyways, this is reason 3849 that Duke will be good. For the Duke haters, look on the bright side... At least they don't have the number one point guard recruit coming in. That wouldn't be good...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Team to Watch

College basketball offers a diverse range of teams throughout the country. The gap between the rich and the poor is wide. Because of this, team's produce intrigue for different reasons. Duke is trying to repeat, Purdue is a contender already without their best player, Mississippi Valley State's schedule is crazy.

The team of interest in this post is Missouri State. The Bears started and ended the season last year. They started 10-0 with decent wins against Auburn, Tulsa, and St. Louis. They ended by plowing through the CIT field for a postseason championship.

Tempo Free Look

Last year, Missouri State finished a nice 45th in adjusted offensive efficiency and an average 127th in adjusted defensive efficiency. The offense was surprisingly the best in the Missouri Valley, while the defense came in at number four. Yet the Bears finished just 8-10 in the MVC. Seven of the 10 losses were by 6 points or less. Losing close games are somewhat of a debated topic. On one hand, a team who loses in the clutch might not have the "grit" or "determination" to pull out the win. On the other hand, it's certainly takes something to keep the game close. The Bears are almost certain to improve in clutch situations this season and the conference record should improve drastically as a result.

Four Factors Time

The Bears could certainly shoot the ball last year. Kyle Weems, Adam Leonard, and Jermaine Mallet were solid options from downtown. The best aspect of the offense was taking care of the ball. Missouri State turned the ball over on just 17.4% of possessions. Offensive rebounding and getting to the line were not nearly as strong, but not weak enough to bring down the overall efficiency of the offense.

Defensively, the Bears were very average at everything but rebounding. They were the 16th best team in the nation at rebounding on the defensive end. Missouri State would certainly benefit from forcing more missed shots this season. Opposing teams shot 38% from three against the Bears.

What Now?

Nearly everyone is back for Missouri State, including all five starters. The floor for this team is relatively high. The Bears have several known quanitities sure to produce again this season. Kyle Weems is the go-to guy and led the team with an ORtg of 120. He can fill up all categories on the stat sheet. Adam Leonard and Jermaine Mallet fill a dependable backcourt. The frontcourt is nearly as predictable. 6'9" Senior Will Creekmore proved himself last season. 6'11" Caleb Patterson was solid in rather limited minutes last year. His improvement will certainly be helpful up front. Nafis Ricks may be the one unknown for the Bears. Last season, Ricks was high usage and decent efficiency in limited minutes. Ricks has the potential to breakout and could decide the fate of Missouri State in the MVC.

Games to Watch
  1. (Potential Tournament Game) @ Tennessee - NIT Season Tip-Off

  2. Sat, Dec 11 @ Oklahoma State

  3. Sat, Feb 26 (Regular Season Finale) vs. Wichita State