Last Week: 1
| Things that may have been overlooked while we were celebrating Tyler Ennis' buzzer-beating three-pointer at Pittsburgh, which is the shot of the year: |
1. The Orange were out of timeouts, but Panthers coach Jamie Dixon gave them time to set up a two-option play by burning his final 30-second TO. Pitt opted not to guard the inbounder, initially using freshman Michael Young (circled in yellow) as a floating defender. Syracuse's No. 1 option was a baseball pass to C.J. Fair, who had cut hard toward the ball, then reversed course, hoping (but failing) to shake his man.
2. Pitt prevented the bomb to Fair ... but everything else it did was questionable. Ennis was allowed to catch the ball with forward momentum and a decent cushion between him and defender Josh Newkirk, also a freshman. The Panthers gave Trevor Cooney, the Orange's best shooter, a similar cushion; Ennis could have advanced the ball to him easily. The "extra defender," Young, just sagged back past halfcourt, while the double-team on Ennis came from the other side of the court.
3. That double-team on Ennis by Cameron Wright was too late: By the time Ennis hit halfcourt, he already had both shoulders past Wright. And the initial "extra" defender, Young, is sagging back to, I guess, prevent the minuscule chance of Rakeem Christmas taking the final shot.
4. By the time Ennis rises to shoot, Wright isn't even in his field of vision, and Newkirk's forward momentum keeps him from contesting the shot:
5. The Oakland Zoo was posing for pictures with Jim Boeheim before the game, but in the immediate aftermath of Ennions, having been denied a court-storming, they were flipping double birds.
(Screengrabs source: ESPN.)
Next three: 2/15 vs. N.C. State, 2/19 vs. Boston College, 2/22 at Duke
Last Week: 2
| One notable difference between the Wildcats' starting backcourt and the rest of the top five: They struggle mightily to make jump shots off the dribble. T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson combine to score 0.674 points per possession on off-the-dribble Js, according to Synergy Sports Technology, while Wichita State's Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker combine for 1.124 PPP -- a 0.450 PPP difference. There are plenty of other ways to score, but this weak spot limits Arizona's offense in late shot-clock isolations. |
(Chart data is through Tuesday's games.)
Next three: 2/14 at Arizona State, 2/19 at Utah, 2/22 at Colorado
Last Week: 3
| Now that you've seen the numbers (above) on VanVleet's and Baker's prowess at jump-shooting off the bounce, here's an edit of them in action, using staggered ballscreens, single ballscreens, step-back moves and midrange pull-ups: |
Next three: 2/16 at Evansville, 2/19 at Loyola (Chicago), 2/22 vs. Drake
Last Week: 4
| Hugely underrated point guard Scottie Wilbekin has stepped up his offense in February by getting to the foul line at an increased rate. Against Missouri on Feb. 4, he was 13-of-16 from the stripe (while somehow not attempting a single two-pointer); and against Tennessee on Tuesday, he was 10-of-12 from the line. The chart below tracks Wilbekin's five-game running free throw rate (FTA/FGA) for his junior and senior seasons, and shows him at a much different whistle-drawing level in SEC play than he was in '12-13: |
Next three: 2/15 at Kentucky, 2/19 vs. Auburn, 2/22 at Ole Miss
Last Week: 11
| For one game, at least, 6-foot-11 sophomore Daniel Ochefu warranted positional reclassification to "point center." In the Wildcats' Feb. 7 win over Seton Hall, Ochefu equalled the assist total (six) of point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, dropping perfect bounce passes and showing patience passing out of double-teams in the post. Ochefu reverted to normal center mode against DePaul this week, with just one assist, but you can re-experience his passing exhibition against the Pirates with this edit: |
Next three: 2/16 at Creighton, 2/18 at Providence, 2/22 vs. St. John's
Last Week: 5
| The Aztecs' defense has been a pain to score against this season, ranking 13th in adjusted efficiency at 0.931 PPP. How did Wyoming manage to score 1.15 PPP -- the second-highest efficiency of any SDSU opponent this season, after Creighton -- in Tuesday's upset in Laramie? The Cowboys did next-to-no offensive rebounding, getting just four in 21 chances, but they created great looks around the rim with their sharp ball movement and cutting. David Harten (@David_Harten) alerted me to this possession, in which Wyoming used a seven-pass, three-reversal combination -- with just two dribbles! -- to lift the Aztecs' rim-protectors to the elbows and get a layup: |
Next three: 2/15 vs. Air Force, 2/18 vs. Utah State, 2/22 at New Mexico
Last Week: 10
| Duke is third in kenpom.com's rankings almost entirely on the power of its offense, which has a chance to rank as not just the No. 1 scoring attack of this season, but also the No. 1 offense of the whole efficiency era (2003-present). I went through kenpom's archives to try to identify similarly structured teams, and found eight that ranked in the top two in adjusted offensive efficiency while sitting outside the top 75 in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Blue Devils' closest comps are Chris Paul-led, 2003-04 Wake Forest, and T.J. Ford-led 2002-03 Texas: |
Next three: 2/15 vs. Maryland, 2/18 at Georgia Tech, 2/20 at North Carolina
Last Week: 7
| The Wolverines are a slightly worse version of Duke, in the same great-offense/mediocre-defense pool of Final Four contenders. If I expand the criteria of the Duke chart to include teams ranked in the top four in offensive efficiency while sitting in the top four in offensive efficiency while sitting at 75 or worse in defense, Michigan and five others make the cut: |
The closest comparison to '13-14 Michigan is '04-05 Oklahoma State, which was Eddie Sutton's last great team, featuring John Lucas III and the Graham brothers. Those Cowboys went to the Final Four the previous season but were bounced from the '05 tourney in the Sweet 16.
Next three: 2/16 vs. Wisconsin, 2/23 vs. Michigan State, 2/26 at Purdue
Last Week: 6
| The GroupStats crew sent over another batch of Kansas lineup efficiencies that shed light on how the Jayhawks might be affected while/if freshman center Joel Embiid sits out with knee and back injuries. (They've played 915 offensive possessions with him and 753 without him, so there's a decent amount of data.) |
• On offense, the biggest change is on the glass: With Embiid on the floor, KU's offensive rebounding percentage is an elite 40.6; without him, it drops to a pedestrian 31.7.
• On defense, KU's free-throw rate changes dramatically. With Embiid, they send opponents to the line infrequently, allowing 35.4 free-throw attempts per 100 field-goal attempts. Without him, they allow 59.9 FTA/100FGA. Their backup big men are more foul-prone, and their guards don't have shot-blocking protection on the back line, so are more likely to foul drivers.
Next three: 2/15 vs. TCU, 2/18 at Texas Tech, 2/22 vs. Texas
Last Week: 8
| I'm struggling to learn much about the Spartans during this 60-percent-of-full-strength stretch. As long as they're expected to have a full team for the NCAA tournament, I'm still on the bandwagon that considers them as much of a title contender as Syracuse. The idea that State is gaining "quality depth" during this stretch is somewhat of a fallacy, though. In close NCAA tournament games, non-pressing coaches -- including Tom Izzo -- historically stick to 7/8-man rotations. It's best to evaluate your potential Final Four/title picks on the basis of their top seven guys, not their best 9-10. At full health, in a tight game, it's difficult to see them going deeper than a rotation of Appling/Harris/Valentine/Dawson/Payne/Trice/Costello-or-Kaminski. |
Next three: 2/13 vs. Northwestern, 2/16 vs. Nebraska, 2/20 at Purdue
Last Week: 15
| With Undefeated Watch in high gear, it should be noted that Duke isn't the only team favored to beat Syracuse before the ACC tournament: Kenpom's projections also have the Cavaliers as one-point faves over the Orange on March 1 in Charlottesville. If the conference plays out as kenpom projects, Virginia will actually tie Syracuse for first place at 16-2. Which seems wild ... unless you read SI's preseason Crystal Ball, in which my "bold prediction" was that the Cavs "will be a surprise contender (and top-three finisher) in Year 1 of the expanded ACC." |
In that same piece, I also chose Florida as a flop team and Boise State as the best mid-major. Those picks were ... unfortunate. I prefer that you focus on the visionary stuff about Virginia.
Next three: 2/15 at Clemson, 2/18 at Virginia Tech, 2/22 vs. Notre Dame
Last Week: 16
| The Naismith Trophy released a midseason 30 list today that's far more agreeable than what the Wooden folks put out last month. I'm biased because I vote for the former and not the latter, but I think we can all agree that including scorers from no-defense NIT teams, as the Wooden did with N.C. State's T.J. Warren, Missouri's Jordan Clarkson and Oregon's Joseph Young, is pretty silly. My Naismith 30 ballot had 25 of the eventual selections, with the differences highlighted in red/blue: |
I thought it was important to include the defensive anchors for two teams that are likely to win conference titles with their defense: St. Louis' Jordair Jett and Cincinnati's Justin Jackson. They make more winning contributions than most 20-point scorers ... or at least most 20-point scorers not named Douglas McDermott. He's up next:
Next three: 2/15 vs. VCU, 2/19 at George Mason, 2/22 vs. George Washington
Last Week: 9
| Funny experience, listening to the postgame press conferences after St. John's beat Creighton on Sunday at the Garden. Many of the questions for Father & Son McDermott were about the Johnnies' defensive success against Doug, and while it was true that he didn't take a shot for the final 8:41 of the game ... he also finished with 25 points, right in line with his season average of 25.3. It's all a matter of context: When you score 39 (with a dagger!) against a team in the first meeting, 25 can be spun as a letdown. |
Before McDermott went McDormant, though, the Bluejays ran a great spread-floor, screen/fake-cut/step-back/catch-and-shoot play for him, with Austin Chatman doing a commendable job of sealing off a guy double his size:
Next three: 2/13 at Butler, 2/16 vs. Villanova, 2/19 at Marquette
Last Week: 12
| I put two Cincy players on the Naismith list (in the St. Louis blurb) because, while Sean Kilpatrick is a strong offensive leader, 6-8 center Justin Jackson, the Bearcats' defensive specialist, might be the most valuable player in the entire AAC. He's a solid rebounder, and he ranks in the top 100 in block percentage (10th) and steal percentage (53rd) on kenpom.com. Plus, according to Kelli Anderson's feature on Jackson from Jan. 31, Cincy's in-house charting had him credited for 7.3 deflections per game, which is remarkable. Now that Jackson has bulked up so he can bang with opposing big men, he's the most versatile defender in the league. "You can't exploit him on defense, and that makes us so hard to play against," coach Mick Cronin told Anderson. "Most shot blockers struggle out on the floor in pick-and-roll defense. Justin can defend big guys, he can defend guards, he can defend power, he can defend the pick and roll." |
Next three: 2/15 vs. Houston, 2/19 at UCF, 2/22 vs. Louisville
Last Week: 14
| While most of the Twitterverse was talking about Tyler Ennis' heroics in the aftermath of Syracuse-Pitt, Louisville's Russ Smith was dealing with an unexplained crisis: |
He's still being Russ, and even though he's not getting the same level of hype than Ennis is, Smith is having another excellent season. He's No. 3 in the kPOY behind McDermott and Jabari Parker, and posting career bests in three-point percentage (39.7) and two-point percentage (49.2) while taking on a large share of point-guard duties. Smith's closest statistical comparison last year, according to kenpom's formula, was 2009-10 Jimmer Fredette, but this season it's 2010-11 Nolan Smith -- another combo guard who had to play plenty of point in his final season.
Next three: 2/14 at Temple, 2/16 vs. Rutgers, 2/18 vs. South Florida
Last Week: 13
| True freshman point guard Monte Morris, who recently moved into the Cylcones' starting lineup as part of a dual-playmaker setup alongside DeAndre Kane, has been handling the ball with Jordan Taylor-level care. Examine Morris' absurd assist/turnover lines in Big 12 play: |
Morris' turnover percentage is just 10.0 on the season and 6.9 in conference games, with a 7.8-to-1 assist/TO ratio. I'm already calling dibs on him for breakout sophomore lists.
Next three: 2/15 vs. Texas Tech, 2/18 vs. Texas, 2/22 at TCU