Friday, January 02, 2009

8th Aint Enough

Merry New Year Cougar Nation and Brinkhater Army.

Hope you all have recovered from your merriment and are ready for the primary slate of Cougar Hoops 2009.



As I noted here on this blog a couple of weeks back, I thought that the twin bill of purple and gold (LSU and the Defeateds) represented our first set of "must win" games of this season.

While I could have been wrong about the former, there is little doubt in me brain



that IF WE HARBOR ANY SERIOUS NCAA TOURNEY AMBITIONS we must win Saturday's game.

With that in mind, here are my thoughts on what I think MUST happen for us to make the dance, what I think will happpen, and a quick prediction on the conference.



WHAT MUST HAPPEN

Folks, in my view the way that the conference schedule shapes up does NOT favor this team and its development. Simply put, I think that if this team had a favorable second half schedule, I would be MUCH more optimistic about this team's prospects for the upcoming season.

On the bright side, we are now entering conference play at 8-4 having played about as bad as we can play. Think about it: only Baynes and Thompson should receive high marks for their pre-season play, while the others (with maybe Forrest as an exception) all should get C's or below. So, in my book, if you take where we are as "as bad as it gets" then you get the 8th place Pac-10 team that I think we are right now.



So, back to the schedule.

In my book, the next five games are key. If we want to be on that bubble, we need to be 4-1 in the first five if not 5-0. So, we need to beat UW, sweep the Bay Area and split the Oregons, or split the Bay Area and sweep the Oregons.

Then, you have the LA schools at home followed by the roady to the Arizona schools. Split those puppies and you have a 6-3 first half which is a MUST for us. Why?

Check out the second half schedule: @Defeateds, @The Bay Area, @LA-LA land. That means that only the Oregon schools and the two AZ schools are at home in the second half. So, if you sweep Oregon at home, split at the Bay, split the AZs at home, you get a 4-5 split that puts us at 10-8. Then you're a conference tourney game from the Dance.

From my perspective, that is the ONLY chance that we have.
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There have been several articles written in the papers and on other blogs citing differences between this year's team and last year's. In my book, the differences are plain and simple:

1) This year's team does not CREATE turnovers at the defensive end. As a result, this team has no current ability to score points in transition which makes us extremely vulnerable if we're not right in the half-court.

2) This year's team is a better half-court offensive team than last year's. However, that potential is obscured because of the lack of points generated in transition and our puzzling unwillingness to establish Baynes and his 63% field goal percentage early, mid, late, and often in games.



This team will meet last year's conference record IF it can better establish Baynes in the left block early, IF Taylor can look to distribute first and take care of the damn ball, and if Klay Thompson and Baynes both put it up 15 times a game. The more those two shoot, the better. Taylor, meanwhile, needs to get his 10 or 11 a game from making 6 free throws in the final minutes. He MUST focus on distributing first. And, Nick MUST find his role as a spot energy guy. IF T-Bone makes him something else, then its a long, long year for us.
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Right now, this team is a 6-12 group which is 8th in the conference. If things go right in the next three weeks, this team could also be a 12-6 group which would be 3rd. That makes me think that 9-9 is probably squarely in the cards. That spells NIT and 8th place in what will be a VERY middle heavy conference.

Arizona is the only team that I think we CAN NOT and WILL NOT beat in the conference. While I don't think we'll beat UCLA, I think that we could as they have not beaten ANYONE of consequence so far and lack a low-post threat that can stop Baynes if he's used and on his "A" game.

The fate of the Bay Area schools will be known in the next two weeks as they open with the Arizonas and then have to travel North to play us and the Defeateds. I think both of those schools are also mid-tier teams which makes the first two weeks for both them and the Washingtons all the more crucial.

While I like UCLA as a top-two team, I'm not ready to crown them outright like everyone else. I also HATE USC right now. While they have the athleticism for their customary upsets of USC and Arizona, they still lack too much D to command a top 3 finish. And I don't think they make the Dance.

Meanwhile, ASU still plays down to their competition and are EXTREMELY vulnerable to problems if Harden gets hurt or is in foul trouble, and AZ still shows much inconsistency for a group that is so darn talented. Neither Oregon school can contend.

Predicted Order of Finish:

1. Arizona Call me cwazy, but in an open year, this is my pick to win the conference at 13-5. A lot of balance, a lot of athleticism, and a nice edge.

2. UCLA. This is a co-championship because I also think that UCLA goes 13-5. There's a lot of strengths here to be sure, but there's also enough weakness coupled with a lot of teams in the Pac (USC, both AZs, both Washington Schools, and both Bay Area schools) that could conceivably split with them.

3. Arizona State. This team COULD be a dangerous tournament match-up but they remind me a lot of a counterpoint to last year's SC team: One great player. That means a few W's that coulda been L's as well as a few headscrather L's (see ASU's one point win against Indiana University-Purdue-Indianapolis an example)

4. Washington. They fall to 8th in my book depending on what happens in THEIR first three games. But, a win against us sets them up for two HUGE home games. They too are shooting for a 4-1 start. My sense is that they get it, while we don't.

5. CAL. I'll eat my hat if they don't get fifth. CAL is a 10-8 team if I've ever seen one.

6. USC. I'll eat my hat if they finish above fifth. This is a 10-8 team if I've ever seen one.

7. Stanford. See-saw, see-saw. Can they make the tourney going 9-9 after an undefeated start? They'll have to win a couple in the Pac-10 tournament. Goods and Hill are great, but they aren't that much better than other wings to make up for spotty PG play and no post presence.

8. WSU. Like I said, 9-9. But, with a lot of potential to switch with the Puppies. That's how important tomorrow's game is.

9. Oregon. Very long year for Kent's crew.

10. OSU. Mr. Robinson will build this program over the coming years. But if you think our offense looks bad at times, check out what they've got.

The proverbial "we" will be back tomorrow with a quick prediction and another irrelevant game thread.

11 comments:

tru dat said...

Good call on the crap 10. I put us 8th as well. We are the "sitcoms". Entertaining for 30 minutes then go take a wizz. watching the bayou bengals take the thing from us in the end was painful and a bad sign of what is to come. Gonzaga loss looks worse by the week as they are exposed.

But we Might be better on offense but no clue what to do in crunch time. Tay-Tay tries too hard to not be selfish and get the youth involved, instead he should say get the f out of the way I will drive and get fouled or pull up and hit the Jay. I want Baynes touching the ball every possession. start it all with his mitts on the ball and if he does not have a good look then swing it around and hope Tay-Tay can create and dish to the wings for standing 3's by Harmeling or Thompson.

Speaking of Harmeling what a fraud. zero shot attempts by a guy who was supposed to be a big part of the team is sad. where is the cocky gunslinger who lit up arizona and gonzaga and waving his arms to get the crowd going? He has it stuck in neutral(reverse?) ever since. He doesnt get a C he gets a FAT F for being a fpussy!

Michelle said...

God I hope you don't call yourself a cougfan calling players names like that. Yikes.

Big Wood said...

Hope you have a tasty hat. I think USC wins the Pac this year.

Sedihawk said...

Let me second Michelle on "tru dat".

Tru dat....really?? Weird. Not really funny either. I wonder about Harmeling myself but wow, that's pretty harsh.

Michelle, welcome back. It's been a while. My Mom told me she is a fan of yours (yes, my Mom actually reads this stuff). Don't be a stranger.

BH, good work. Weird to see Oregon at 9th though. I think Stanford will be better than 7th myself. I could see them at least 4th. They can light it up with anyone. They had what, 111 vs. Texas Tech? We are lucky to get that in a weekend. While the wonder twins have left the farm, they still can fill it up. I think they are better than Cal and USC, but, we'll see!

Michelle said...

I think with Harmeling, it's always been about confidence. He hits a three right off the bat, he's likely to keep making them. He misses, then he's off and then he's on the bench. It's exactly opposite of D-Low, who would miss...and miss again...but keep shooting until he would found his shot. But I guess that's hard to argue when he didn't even take a shot in 23 minutes versus LSU...Mentally though, I think he just isn't able to get his missed shots out of his head.

And, since I didn't have any finals I have been working full time since the beginning of December, not leaving much time for my internet blogging. Tell your mom hello and I'm glad I can drop by and make sure everyone is minding their manners :)

Go Cougs, here's to 8 straight!

Brinkhater said...

AZ goes down on night one...and how about CAL?

Maybe there is such thing as the Brinkhater-Madden curse..

Hope so, I can't stand the Mildcats..

Better start salting those hats..

Anonymous said...

Has anyone noticed Stanford's defensive statistics? No WAY will that be 4th IMO... I'm thinking they'll be with the Oregon schools. Anyone with players that can shoot a two is going to light them up--they allow an average of 52.5% 2pt shooting without playing any great teams. ASU took advantage of that, winning by 30 with Pendergraph scoring 30+pts.

Brinkhater said...

Good call on the Cards...What you're seeing there is the lack of post play. Another reason why we COULD be great, but we have to start using Baynes, otherwise this will wind up being a WASTED year.

But what I think we'll find is just a whole bunch headed toward the 8-10 to 10-8 range in the final two weeks...

I just wish we could have reversed our schedule: I think we'd be BRUTAL in a good way if we had those teams at home down the stretch...

Today's the first BIG test..

Nuss said...

Just a few thoughts ...

1. How do you figure this team is a better halfcourt team than last year's? You yourself list three reasons why the halfcourt offense is terrible -- Baynes isn't enough of a focus, Taylor shoots too much (and too early) and Thompson isn't looking for his shot enough. This is a really BAD offensive team that lacks the versatility and playmaking of last year's squad. Are you saying it has more halfcourt potential? Because I'm not even sure we can make that case.

2. It's true that we're not forcing as many turnovers on defense, but I'm not sure it has as much of an impact as you think -- our offensive efficiency only had a +.20 correlation to our offensive efficiency, as opposed to +.09 this year. That's pretty small. But you're right in that we're not even getting the handful of transition opportunities we got last year, and there's no doubt we could use a few more easy buckets this year.

3. How in the world does USC lack the defense to command a top 3 finish? They're No. 10 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, and have the best shot blocker in the conference. Their offense is the main concern, and it's getting better every game. I like USC -- a lot. Tim Floyd is about as underrated a coach as there is in the country.

4. The eighth place team finishes 9-9? I'm just an English teacher, but I'm pretty sure the math doesn't work out there. If we're truly headed for eighth, we're probably looking at 6-12. Ugh.

Brinkhater said...

Nuss:

Thanks for your comments.

In response, I think that you meant to talk about defensive efficiency correlating with offensive efficiency, right?

Either way, the correlation coefficients are quite small as you note, which is why in many cases, researchers FIRST look at the quality of the data before making robust conclusions about their fancy-dancy stats. In the case of games of flow--which includes basketball but not baseball--the data quality is much, much lower than one would like. After all, how much time do you think a scorer gets in operationalizing what is meant by "transition?" How consistent is that measure or definition across settings?

As any researcher will tell you, you can crunch numbers all you want, but if the quality of data is uneven, then your results are not as meaningful as you would like. As a result, I would much rather refer to the ole human eye trick to understand what the hell is going on with a basketball team than refer to a proportion of variance explained statistic that is below 5% regardless of its beta weight.

So, to get back to reality, I have seen SC play three games this year. And overall, I thought their team defense was poor. Now the numbers may belie that, and they may wind up being great, but against the more patient offensive teams, I think they are going to have some real problems. Could be wrong.

With regard to us, I like our offensive production RIGHT NOW better than last year's team at the 2,4, & 5. Granted, I would NEVER take Thompson right now over Low two years ago, but I would take him right now over the Low of last year. I like Baynes more than last year--by A LOT--I like Forrest over Cowgill by a lot (this is half court O mind you). We have not replaced Weaver but we should match Taylor of last year with Taylor of this year. So, maybe I am referring a bit too much to potential as you suggest, but I still like us better there at four of five positions.

What I DON'T like is the lack of transition opportunities created on defense even though some of our STATS suggest that we're pretty darn good there--at least to field goal percentage.

With regard to a 9-9 eighth, well, it is a bit hard to fathom I must admit. I am simply assuming that 1-2 will lose 5-6 games and that 9-10 will lose about 15. AND I'm assuming there's a cluster there between 4-8. Could happen, might not. In the end, will anyone really care anyway (besides me) if I'm right or wrong????

Let the games begin.

Nuss said...

Thanks for the response. Yeah, I typed that late last night -- what I meant to say was that the defensive TO% only had a +.20 correlation to offensive efficiency last year, as opposed to +.09 this year.

While certainly it's not the sample size of baseball, 35 games is about as good as you can get in this sport. It's not the end-all-be-all, it's just one piece of data that suggests perhaps our overall offensive performance wasn't as closely tied to defensive turnovers as it seemed you were suggesting. Maybe you weren't suggesting that at all. Maybe you were suggesting that we just need a few more easy buckets to come through transition, in which case I totally agree.

Either way, you're right: Let the games begin. I NEED to see some growth in this team. We just don't seem to be improving.