This week’s Power Rankings post is my 9th edition of the season. Each Big 12 team has played four conference games, and it looks like we’re headed for a very tight and very competitive four team race for the regular season title. The word count in this week’s post comes in at over 7,800, so there’s no need for me to waste any more of them here. Let’s get to it — the usual mission statement and key statistics breakdown is up next. Keep scrolling for the rankings and analysis.
All of my previous Power Rankings posts, as well as the season previews I wrote, can be found at this link. For any newcomers, below is a blurb I wrote in my first Power Rankings post this season. (If you’ve been here before, go ahead and skip ahead to the good stuff.) The below inset is what I’ve decided is essentially my mission statement for this weekly article. Give it a read if you’re new.
“Two of my favorite basketball writers on the Internet are Zach Lowe and Luke Winn. I guess I should say “were” for one of those guys as Luke Winn was hired by the Toronto Raptors (!) in the summer of 2017 as Director of Prospect Strategy. Lowe covers the NBA and Winn did cover college basketball for Sports Illustrated. The best part about reading these guys is that you learn something new about basketball, whether it’s a team or a player, every time that you read their stuff. They inform you in intelligent ways without relying on the standard hot take-isms or journalistic tropes. They notice things about teams or players while watching games and then show it to their readers, whether through game clips or data-based analysis, and they do it in a way that is digestible and thought-provoking.
I do not have the talent that these two guys have, but my goal is to provide you with a similar look at the Big 12 every week with my weekly Big 12 Power Rankings post. I will rank the teams 1 through 10, but that’s not really what matters here (but feel free to let me know if your team should obviously be ranked 5th instead of 6th). What I want to provide are statistics, analysis, game clips, or just random observations that I’ve made that help you to learn more about a team or a player on that team. And sometimes, I just might include a funny anecdote or item about a team if there’s a slow week. Some weeks, I’ll write more about some teams than other teams. The bigger the game or a week a school has, the more likely I am to go a little deeper on them. Everyone will get their fair share in the end. Just like Lowe and Winn, I want to inform you and give you thought-provoking and compelling analysis on the Big 12 that you’re not getting anywhere else on the Internet. Alright, let’s jump in.”
Alright, let’s dive in. As per usual, here’s a breakdown on the key Kenpom statistics and metrics that will be shown for each team every week. These will always be shown right below the header for each team. Ken Pomeroy’s blog post explaining these metrics can be read here.
• Ranking and AdjEM: The ranking signifies where a team ranks nationally in Kenpom’s AdjEM. AdjEM is Adjusted Efficiency Margin; it is the difference between a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency. The margin is “adjusted” to account for strength of competition, expected outcome, and recency. The idea of “adjusted” is explained in much clearer detail by Pomeroy here.
• Adj. Offense: Also known as Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. Adj. Offense is shown on a per 100 possessions basis, so a rating of 112.3 would represent 112.3 points scored per 100 possessions. This will include the team’s adjusted efficiency number, their rank nationally, and their rank in the Big 12.
• Adj. Defense: Also known as Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. This works the same as Adj. Offense, but is for a team’s defensive efficiency. Adj. Defense is shown on a per 100 possessions basis, so a rating of 98.7 would represent 98.7 points allowed per 100 possessions. This will include the team’s adjusted efficiency number, their rank nationally, and their rank in the Big 12.
• Adj. Tempo: This shows the number of possessions per 40 minutes. A data point of 71.8 would mean this team plays 71.8 possessions per 40 minutes. This will always include the team’s adjusted tempo, their rank nationally, and their rank in the Big 12.
1. West Virginia Mountaineers (Last Week: 1st)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 15-1, 4-0
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 12th, +22.67
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 113.5, 33rd, 5th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 90.8, 9th, 3rd
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 73.6, 28th, 2nd
One of my favorite stats to monitor with West Virginia is Shot Margin. I haven’t written about it since the December 7th Power Rankings post, so let’s give an update this week. For those who are unfamiliar with this stat, here’s a quick explanation I’ve posted at the site before:
Shot Margin means exactly what you think it would mean. Do you take more shots than your opponent? How do you do this? You grab offensive rebounds and you force turnovers. If you do those two things well enough, you’ll end up taking enough shots to beat your opponent. For this statistic, remember that each free throw attempt counts as half a shot. That way, your standard two free throw attempts trip to the line represents one opportunity at getting two points.
Since the last time I’ve written about this metric, I have updated the formula I use to calculate free throw “shots”. Previously, I used the formula of FTA*0.5 to calculate “shots” from the FT line. I since realized that was a mistake. I need to account for the occasional and-1 trip to the foul line or a missed front end of a 1-and-1. Therefore, the formula is now FTA*0.475. This aligns with how Kenpom and other basketball analytics sites calculate possessions.
Okay, enough exposition. Here’s where West Virginia currently stands with this metric.
For the first time this season, West Virginia had a game with a negative shot margin! Applause to Kansas State! Despite that, West Virginia was still able to win by eight points in Manhattan. How? They shot tremendously well on 2-pointers in that game, going 26-40 on 2-pointers, a 65% mark. Teddy Allen went 8-12 by himself. Allen, and the rest of the team generating and making great shots, is the reason West Virginia was able to overcome having less shots for the first time all season.
The Mountaineers are now averaging an extra 13 shots per game than their opponents. They are forcing turnovers on 28% of possessions on defense, good for 2nd in the nation. If they can maintain that pace, it would be their 4th straight season of finishing 1st or 2nd in defensive TO Rate. On offense, they are rebounding 37% of their own misses, good for 11th in the nation. In the previous three seasons of the Press Virginia era, they’ve finished 4th, 1st, and 6th in this statistic.
Even when opponents do attempt shots, they aren’t going in very often. This West Virginia team is on pace to have the best 2-point defense of the Huggins era in Morgantown. Opponents are only making 43% of 2-pointers, good for 11th in the nation. The previous low under Huggins was 45%, way back in 2008. The previous low in this Press Virginia 4-year run was 47% last season. Why can’t they make 2-pointers? Look at their Block Rate on defense. They are currently 7th in the nation, blocking 17% of their opponents’ 2-point attempts. Sophomore Sagaba Konate is the man to thank, as he is 3rd in the nation in Block Rate, blocking 17% of 2-pointers when he is on the court. In the last week, he blocked five shots vs. Oklahoma and seven vs. Baylor.
The formula continues to work. Grab your own misses. Force turnovers. Take more shots than your opponents. When your opponents do shoot it, make sure they’re challenged looks. The formula has led to a 4-0 start in Big 12 play for Bob Huggins’ team.
Coming Up: 1/13 at Texas Tech, 1/15 vs. Kansas
2. Texas Tech Red Raiders (Last Week: 2nd)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 14-2, 3-1
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 6th, +26.59
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 113.3, 38th, 6th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 86.7, 3rd, 1st
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 69.1, 193rd, 7th
I’ve used this space to talk about the play of the Texas Tech freshmen a few times this season (11/16 post, 11/30 post, 12/29 post). This week, I want to focus in on the play of one freshman in particular — Zhaire Smith.
Smith was ranked 195th in 247Sports final composite rankings for the 2017 recruiting class. He ended up picking Chris Beard and Texas Tech over Texas and Arkansas. Before the season, I didn’t expect Smith to have a major impact. Guys are who ranked 195th typically are not a major factor during their freshman seasons. I was wrong. Let’s run through some numbers.
Smith is currently averaging 10.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game while shooting 60% from the field and 36% from 3-point range. His Offensive Rating is currently 135.1, which ranks 11th in the nation and 1st among all Big 12 players. His Block Rate is currently 6.1% (ranks 136th nationally), and his Steal Rate is currently 2.4% (ranks 463rd nationally). Being top-500 nationally in both of those categories typically speaks well of your court awareness, athleticism, and explosiveness. (More on those three things in a bit.) Before Tuesday’s loss to Oklahoma, Smith had scored in double figures in ten straight games.
To fully understand how good Smith’s statistical profile is, let’s examine his “Similar Players” per Kenpom. Pomeroy’s site assigns the top-5 most similar player seasons to each player in his database. (You can read about the methodology here.) Take a look at Smith’s current comps.
If you can read them, look at those first three comps. That would be Jae’Sean Tate’s freshman season, Josh Hart’s freshman season, and Otto Porter’s freshman season. That’s impressive company! Now I’m not saying he will be as good as those three players automatically. Smith will have to continue to work and develop, but it’s certainly not a bad starting point.
Let’s talk about his court awareness, athleticism, and explosiveness now. Smith seems to constantly find himself in the middle of the action — he’s got a great feel for the game and he’s always just around. When you combine that awareness with his outrageous athleticism and explosiveness, you get a player who is always making an impact. If you watch a Texas Tech game, he’s seemingly always hovering around the paint on offense, ready to cut to the basket for an easy dunk or pounce on an offensive putback. Check out these plays from the Oklahoma game.
In this first clip, Smith uses his awareness and quickness to make a sharp cut to the rim. He does not meander or simply move in another direction when he cuts. Smith darts. Every movement is sudden. On his dunks, a quick, easy chin-up on the rim is required. I’m fairly certain Smith thinks his team will not be granted the two points if he doesn’t do it.
Here, Smith finds himself in the right place at the right time yet again. This is not accidental. Look how easy he gets up on the putback dunk.
Once again, here he is just being around yet again. His awareness is superb. He consistently finds easy baskets for Texas Tech by hanging around the action in the paint.
On the other side of the court, Smith does not let his smarts and athleticism go to waste. He knows how to be in the right spot to let his athleticism disrupt the game on that end. The first block in the clip below is ridiculous. When the ball is skipped to the other side of the court, Smith is on the opposite block of Kam McGusty in the left corner. Smith flies across the court and doesn’t just settle for a good closeout — he blocks the shot and keeps it in play. On the third block, I am surprised each time I watch it that Smith blocks this shot rather than the shot being blocked by one of the two Texas Tech defenders closest to the hoop. No, Smith comes out of nowhere, apparently teleporting from the perimeter to swat the layup attempt. His explosiveness is absurd.
Smith is a serious talent. Fellow freshmen Jarrett Culver and Davide Moretti are also making an impact. Watch these three. They’re a great foundation for Chris Beard and Texas Tech to build around moving forward.
Coming Up: 1/13 vs. West Virginia, 1/17 at Texas
3. Oklahoma Sooners (Last Week: 3rd)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 13-2, 3-1
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 13th, +22.08
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 117.6, 13th, 3rd
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 95.5, 37th, 6th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 78.0, 3rd, 1st
One talking point that is becoming all the more common when you watch Oklahoma games is Trae Young’s defense. I’ve now heard multiple color commentators mention Young’s weaknesses on defense and how opposing coaches should target him. As I hear this, the clear follow-up question I have is, “is this backed up at all by the numbers or is this just a talking point?” Let’s explore.
Individual defensive statistics in college basketball are currently not as available and reliable as the NBA, but there are still some sites that have advanced statistics for the defensive end of the court. First, let’s start with something simple. Per Kenpom, Young’s Steal Rate is currently 3%, which ranks 179th in the nation and 12th in the Big 12. That’s a positive.
Second, let’s look at Synergy Sports. Synergy’s defensive numbers have to be taken with a grain of a salt. Some people in the online basketball community say they shouldn’t be taken seriously at all, as they rely on the person charting the game to grade defensive performance for an individual player when the charter might not know what the player is supposed to do. Second, a strong defender can be tasked with guarding the best player which can hurt his defensive numbers at Synergy. Conversely, a weaker defender could guard a weak offensive player, which could help his numbers. Nonetheless, there is value in understanding how a player does in a specific situation. Here is how Trae Young performs against various play types.
Young is currently performing well in guarding spot-ups, above average in guarding the pick and roll and isolation situations, and struggles on dribble handoffs. Now, once again, there’s uncertainties in these numbers. Conference play has only just begun and a few games against lesser opponents could have increased Young’s performance in some of these play types.
Next, let’s look at some advanced statistics from College Basketball Reference. There are three stats here that try to summarize a player’s individual defense performance: Defensive Rating, Defensive Win Shares (or DWS), and Defensive Box Plus/Minus (or DBPM). (A quick Google search on any of the three will explain the methodology behind each statistic. Here is Oklahoma’s College Basketball Reference page where you can explore these stats further.) Here is Young’s performance in these three stats.
Once again, none of these numbers suggest he’s a liability on defense. In fact, these numbers would suggest he is one of the stronger defenders on a team that has the 37th ranked defense out of 351 teams per Kenpom. So at this point, there are no statistics that clearly spotlight Young’s defensive deficiencies that I’ve heard so much about. Let’s explore the tape.
In Tuesday’s game against Texas Tech, I made it a point to really observe Young on defense. If someone who thinks Young is a bad defender didn’t watch this game, they might look at the box score, see that fellow PG Keenan Evans scored 19 points and think, “Evans really took it to Young, huh?” That’s such a misinformed take. Oklahoma plays a defense that switches frequently, especially among the perimeter players. There were multiple possessions throughout this game where Young would get switched onto and off of Evans in the same possession. So don’t listen to that type of shit.
On this first possession of the game, you can see an example where an opposing perimeter player takes it to Young. Niem Stevenson has Young on him at the top of the key, squares him up, and takes him off the dribble for a lay-in. Is this a situation where the opposition is specifically targeting Young? Maybe, I guess. It could also just be a situation where the shot clock is getting low so Stevenson makes a play. There doesn’t always have to be a NARRATIVE. Also, I don’t think Young’s defense is that terrible here. He gives way a bit too easily, but it’s not awful.
On this possession later in the game, you see the best part of Young’s defense. He’s obviously a very heady basketball player, and when he’s off-the-ball on defense, he sneaks and lurks around the court, ready to swipe a pass. Once his man goes to the right corner on this possession, I’m not sure Young even acknowledges his existence once. He is in lurk mode at this point. When a pass is attempted to his man, who is now on the block, Young uses his speed and quick hands to intercept the pass. Young’s slender stature helps him here, too. He’s able to sneak through screens and passing lanes at times just by being small.
Remember that “Excellent” rating in the Synergy table above for Young in spot-up situations. You can see why on this possession. Young has a terrific closeout on Justin Gray’s 3-point attempt. It might not be your traditional closeout, but it’s distracting. Sometimes foregoing the standard choppy closeout can be off-putting to your opponent. It works here.
This was my favorite Young defensive possession of the game. Young is guarding Evans at the start of this possession. He gets switched off of Evans in one of Oklahoma’s routine perimeter switches. He then gets switched back onto Evans, as Evans is making a curl cut off a screen. Not only does Young smoothly switch back onto Evans, he does a terrific job of fighting over the screen, using his smaller frame to sneak in between the screener and Evans. He’s in perfect position when Evans catches the ball on the move and moves his feet laterally perfectly to stay with Evans. Young’s positioning forces an Evans turnover, and the possession is a complete win for OU’s defense.
After looking at the statistics and watching Young’s performance vs. Texas Tech, I’m not sure where this “Trae Young is poor at defense” narrative is coming from. He might get lackadaisical on defense at times, as most college players do. But the statistics tell a story of a strong defender, and the game film only backs up that observation. Should opponents target Young on that end of the court? I guess if they want to target Young to tire him out, then sure, go for it. But if it’s to improve your offensive output, maybe try something else.
Coming Up: 1/13 vs. TCU, 1/16 at Kansas State
4. Kansas Jayhawks (Last Week: 4th)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 13-3, 3-1
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 9th, +23.60
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 118.4, 10th, 2nd
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 94.8, 31st, 5th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 71.7, 75th, 4th
Kansas’ first-half performance against Iowa State on Tuesday night was absurd. It wasn’t necessarily good or bad; it was just literally absurd. The Jayhawks shot 24 3-pointers in the first half. They shot more 3’s in the first half of that game than they have in five total games this season. Last season, they had ten games for the entire season where they shot more than 24 3-pointers. In 2016, there were only four games where they shot more than 24. In 2015, there wasn’t a single one. That was only three years ago!
Let’s put this 3-point shooting into perspective for a Bill Self team. Their 3PA% (3-pointers attempted of total field goals attempted) is now 41.7%, by far the highest of the Bill Self era. This is a man who once said the following (in February 2015) about 3-point shooting:
“[Making 3s is] fool’s gold … You want to [make 50 percent of threes], but if that’s what you play to, then you’re not going to be able to hang your hat on that if you play a team that takes away the threes and forces you to score inside and things like that, and you can’t do it. You’ll end up going home sad … That’s the name of the game, in my opinion, is getting easy baskets and eliminating easy baskets. And we’re not doing near a good enough job of doing that inside.”
He said the following that same month:
“Based on our history and the success that we’ve had with our shot selection over the years, I think 30 percent is a pretty good number for us.”
What’s changed in the last three years to make this man completely abandon his previous principles? Look at Bill Self coached teams’ 3-point rates from 2002 to 2017 (the first two seasons on this chart are Self’s final two seasons at Illinois).
When Self became the head coach at Kansas, there was a pretty clear philosophy to shoot 3-pointers around 30% of the time. Hell, read the quote above — the man said exactly that. But then, after hovering around a 30% rate from 2004 to 2015, there’s been a steep increase in 3-point shooting in the last three seasons. It’s about as steep of an increase as you can reasonably expect — it won’t get much more drastic.
This isn’t going away. Bill Self has had a complete and total philosophy change. I’ve heard Kansas fans and media members say that it’s important for Kansas to get Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa so they don’t have to rely on 3-pointers so heavily. Keep thinking that, I guess? I think that train left the station a long time ago. Launching 3’s with zero hesitation is this team’s identity. Sit back and enjoy it. There are worse things to watch.
Coming Up: 1/13 vs. Kansas State, 1/15 at West Virginia
5. TCU Horned Frogs (Last Week: 5th)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 13-3, 1-3
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 24th, +18.98
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 119.6, 5th, 1st
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 100.6, 108th, 9th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 70.5, 121st, 6th
TCU has started conference play 1-3 and are staring at a 1-4 start with a trip to Oklahoma on Saturday. I’m not concerned. They’ve had three as-close-as-it-gets losses, and their starting schedule has been brutal. They’ll be fine, especially because of their offense.
TCU’s offense is currently ranked 5th in the nation and 1st in the Big 12. They are 12th in the nation in Effective FG% (57.5%) and are 11th in 3-point FG% (41.4%). There aren’t many problems here, but I’ll still use this space to talk about one. There are times and certain lineup combinations where this team and their terrific spread pick and roll offense have shooting limitations due to JD Miller and Alex Robinson.
JD Miller is currently 9-33 (27%) on 3-pointers this season, and Alex Robinson is 7-29 (24%). This isn’t a disaster; these guys are constantly surrounded by 45%-50% 3-point shooters. But these two are struggling this season after shooting 32% (Miller) and 33% (Robinson) from 3-point range last season.
Miller’s issues are largely due to his form. On his jumper, he starts his shooting motion from way too low — the ball is often below his knees as his motion begins. See his shot in action in this clip.
I mean, look at where the ball is here, which then causes his entire body to contract. It looks like he’s about to engage in a childhood game of leap frog. It’s not great.
Miller’s issues make sense — they’re structural in nature. I’m not sure why Robinson struggles so much from the perimeter. He shot 36% from 3-point range as a freshman at Texas A&M. There aren’t any alarm bells when you watch him shoot. But in the Kansas game last weekend, the Jayhawks continually rotated off of him to focus their attention on other actions. Check it out.
On all three of those plays, Kansas defenders look like they’ve been specifically coached to ignore Robinson. On the first play, Mykhailiuk noticeably helps off of Robinson to help defend the action on the other wing. On the second play, Graham doubles Brodziansky hard in the post, and when the ball is kicked back out to Robinson, Graham’s closeout is half-hearted. He’s not really THAT interested in preventing Robinson from shooting a 3-pointer. On the last play, Kansas is in a zone, and the ball is rotated to Robinson at the top of the key — Mykhailiuk willingly backs away from Robinson to focus on Bane on the left wing. This was clearly the scout on Robinson. Let him shoot.
Now, perhaps things will improve for Robinson. He’s shot 36% from 3 before, and he went 3-3 from long distance against Texas on Wednesday. It would mean another shooter on the court for TCU, which would only help their already great offense. Robinson and Miller are both at their best on a play like this, where Robinson is getting into the lane and creating for others while Miller is sneaking along the baseline making smart cuts to the hoop. That’s where each of these guys should be, rather than shooting up 3-pointers three or four times per game.
Speaking of that already great offense, I had to show these two plays of TCU’s offense in overtime vs. Texas on back-to-back possessions. You cannot play offense better. Their spread pick and roll offense is just a treat to watch. The spacing is perfect, the passing is sublime, and the shot-making is terrific.
I just had to show those plays. Enjoy watching TCU’s offense this season. Even though I wrote about the shooting struggles of Miller and Robinson, those are minor, minor issues in the grand scheme of things. Jamie Dixon has this offense cooking.
Coming Up: 1/13 at Oklahoma, 1/17 vs. Iowa State
6. Baylor Bears (Last Week: 6th)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 11-5, 1-3
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 34th, +17.05
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 110.9, 51st, 7th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 93.9, 18th, 4th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 65.5, 334th, 10th
In the November 30th Power Rankings post, I talked about the issues for Baylor with offensive rebounding and their 3-point shooting distribution. Let’s give an update on those issues this week.
Back on November 30th, I wrote the following about Baylor’s offensive rebounding.
Let’s talk about offensive rebounding first. Currently, Baylor is rebounding 35.5% of their own misses, which is 40th in the nation. That’s good, right? A lot of teams would dream of having that number. But it is much lower than in years past.
In the last four years, their OffReb% has been 40.1%, 42.1%, 40.1%, and 39.8% (from 2014 to 2017). So while their offensive rebounding still looks very good when you compare it to other teams, they are not rebounding at the same level as this program has in recent years. If they don’t start rebounding better on the offensive end, they might need to start playing with more pace to generate more possessions or find ways to get to the FT line more often.
At this point in the season, Baylor’s offensive rebounding has actually gotten even worse from where they were in November.
They are now just rebounding 34% of their own misses. When you compare that to other teams, it’s still perfectly respectable — they are 50th in the nation in this statistic. But when you compare it to previous Baylor teams, this team is not stacking up to past teams. This team is not rebounding their own misses like Baylor has in previous years, and they haven’t changed their playing style to make up for it. They still play at an outrageously slow tempo, averaging 65.4 possessions per game, which ranks 334th in the nation.
Their Adj. Offense of 110.9 in Kenpom is by far their lowest efficiency in the last six seasons. They’re currently ranked 52nd in the nation in Adj. Offense. In the previous six seasons, their final AdjO rankings were: 23rd, 14th, 13th, 10th, 19th, and 13th. You have to go back to 2011 to find an AdjO of 107.1 to find a Baylor offense struggling like this. Why can’t they score? One issue is what I mentioned above — their 3-point shooting distribution.
Back on November 30, I wrote this about their 3-point shooting:
The second troubling thing currently is Baylor’s perimeter shooting. Outside of Manu Lecomte, not enough guys are taking and making threes. Last season, Baylor made 6.5 3-pointers/game per 18.3 3-pointers attempted. This season, that number has barely changed. They are making 6.5 3-pointers/game per 17.5 3-pointers attempted. So what’s the issue? Last season, Manu Lecomte only attempted 5.3 threes per game. This season, he’s attempting 7.5 threes per game. That’s putting too much of your perimeter eggs into one basket. See the below chart for visual proof.
Guess what? This problem also still exists! Here’s more visual proof.
Lecomte is still on an island, as he’s the only guy who is really taking 3-pointers (and the only guy who can really make them). These perimeter issues aren’t going away, which means their offensive issues aren’t going away. I’ll continue to update these charts throughout the conference season, but if they don’t start to look a little bit better, this team is going to have to improve in some other way if they want to make their 5th straight NCAA Tournament.
Coming Up: 1/13 at Iowa State, 1/15 vs. Oklahoma State
7. Texas Longhorns (Last Week: 7th)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 11-5, 2-2
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 35th, +16.55
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 106.0. 128th, 10th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 89.5, 6th, 2nd
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 67.6, 263rd, 8th
On Wednesday, the awful news of Andrew Jones being diagnosed with leukemia was truly disheartening and depressing. Forget basketball for a second — you never want to see any young person face something like that so early in life. I sincerely hope Jones recovers and gets healthy as soon as possible. It was also announced that Kerwin Roach had a fractured left hand and would miss some time. It was a rough day for the Texas basketball program. Let’s talk about the impact of this news on Texas from a basketball perspective.
First, losing Jones and Roach means Texas will need Mo Bamba and Dylan Osetkowski to bring it every night on offense. Those two have to score, as Jones and Roach were Texas’ 2nd and 4th leading scorers. Osetkowski and Bamba, who are 1st and 3rd in scoring, can’t have many off nights. Otherwise, the Texas offense which already struggles to score — they’re currently 128th in offense in Kenpom — will struggle to an even greater extent.
Second, Texas needs the remaining guards on the roster to start playing better quickly. That group consists of Matt Coleman, Eric Davis, Jase Febres, and Jacob Young. In Wednesday’s thrilling double-OT victory over TCU, you saw what Shaka Smart had planned for this group over this upcoming stretch. Coleman played 49 minutes, Davis played 41, Febres played 30, and Young played just 9 minutes for the Longhorns. He’s going to lean on those first three guys with Young getting spot duty. In overtime, Smart got really creative and turned to a lineup with Dylan Osetkowski playing the 3 as Coleman and Davis manned the backcourt. He’s going to have to get creative during these upcoming games.
The good thing for Smart is that Eric Davis looks to be playing his best basketball in quite some time. In four Big 12 games, Davis has scored 12, 15, 7, and 22 points to average 14 PPG. In non-conference play, he averaged just 5.8 PPG. I’m not sure if an 8-point increase is sustainable, but it’s certainly encouraging.
It looks like Davis might have turned a corner with his perimeter shooting. As a freshman, Davis shot 38% from 3 in a promising campaign. As a sophomore, it all went downhill. He shot just 26% on 3-pointers and couldn’t get on the court by the end of the season. A turnaround back to his freshman form did not look like it was in the cards earlier this season. In his first nine games, he shot 5-22 from 3-point range (23%). His fortunes have changed since the Alabama game — Texas’ final non-conference tilt before Big 12 play. He’s gone 12-32 from 3-point range in those five games — a 38% clip. You can tell he’s playing with confidence right now. Check out these clips from Wednesday’s win over TCU.
In this possession, look at Davis when he gives the ball up to Matt Coleman. Right away, he gets in a position where he’s reading to fire up a 3, and he’s calling for the ball. The Eric Davis of last season would not have demanded the ball like this. After the catch, his gather, rise, and release are all fluid — he looks like a knockdown shooter.
On this key possession in overtime, Texas’ offensive set breaks down. Davis is confident here. He attacks Jaylen Fisher hard off the dribble to get to his spot and rises for a tough jumper. Once again, you’re not seeing this out of Davis last season.
In this final clip, you see something from Davis that I’m not sure we’ve seen from him at all in his time in Austin. On a possession where Texas has to score, Smart runs the offense through him, calling a set for him to create off of a ballscreen from Osetkowski. Davis gets into the paint and then makes the smart play, kicking it out to Osetkowski for the go-ahead 3. His Assist Rate on the season is only 3.7%; he hasn’t been making plays like this. He had a real flair and swagger to his game on Wednesday. It was refreshing to see.
That’s what Texas will need as they head into this period of uncertainty. Someone in the backcourt will have to step up. At this point in time, it looks like Davis may be the guy.
Coming Up: 1/13 at Oklahoma State, 1/17 vs. Texas Tech
8. Kansas State Wildcats (Last Week: 8th)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 12-4, 2-2
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 46th, +14.34
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 114.5, 26th, 4th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 100.2, 103rd, 8th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 66.2, 316th, 9th
First things first this week. Did other people know Dean Wade had this in him? Because I certainly didn’t.
Look at you Dean! Wow. Where has that been hiding for the last three seasons? Wade is one of my favorite offensive players to watch in the league. He’s always so calm and composed with the ball in his hands. This is not the Dean Wade I’m used to seeing, but I certainly don’t hate it.
But let’s now move on to the main focus this week for K-State — Carter Diarra.
Since last week, it was announced that starting PG Kamau Stokes was out indefinitely with a foot injury. It’s a brutal injury for Kansas State to have to deal with. Their big 4 of Stokes, Wade, Barry Brown, and Xavier Sneed are so important to their offensive output, and those four are the major reason K-State has their best offense ever under Bruce Weber — their AdjO is 114.6 and 26th in the nation per Kenpom. In Stokes’ absence, those other three will have to play great, and Diarra will have to step forward in the backcourt.
Diarra is a very different player from Stokes. Diarra is 6’4” compared to Stokes being just 6’0”. Diarra is noticeably more built — he weighs 190 while Stokes is just 170. Stokes is more of a high-volume 3-point shooter — he was 33-80 from 3 (41%) before he got hurt. Diarra is not the shooter that Stokes is, but he has shown he is plenty efficient in his limited opportunities — he’s currently 13-29 (45%) on 3-pointers this season. Inside the 3-point arc, Stokes is much more of a pull-up jumper guy while Diarra is a slasher with the size and athleticism to finish at the rim. Diarra is much more mistake-prone than the experienced Stokes; Diarra’s TO% is currently a very high 27% which is why his ORtg is just 104.3 despite encouraging shooting numbers.
In their win against Oklahoma State on Wednesday, Diarra showed signs that he will be up to the task moving forward. He finished with 17 points on 6-12 shooting and 2-3 shooting from behind the 3-point line. He also had 4 rebounds and 4 assists, but did record 3 turnovers. Let’s look at some film.
In this first clip, you see Diarra’s slashing ability and his ability to regularly take the ball a little closer to the basket than Stokes. If Stokes was in his place on this play, he might just take a stepback jumper over Solomon right after the catch on the backdoor pass from Wade. Diarra isn’t as comfortable of a shooter, and he trusts his ability to finish near the restricted area. He takes a dribble, gets into Solomon’s body, and finishes over him. That’s where that extra 20 pounds and being four inches taller than Stokes comes in handy.
Here’s a look at his athleticism. I would not be surprised if Weber tries to get 2-3 of these per game to Diarra on backscreens. It’s a nice, simple set, and Diarra has the size and athleticism to finish at the rim with ease.
This is one of his two made 3’s from the game on Wednesday. He’s got a slow release and basically no lift at all on his jumper. He comes from the Georges Niang school of set-shot 3-pointers. But if he has plenty of time and space, he’s shown the ability to convert these opportunities.
Here’s the type of action that I think we’ll see most out of Diarra the rest of the season. His best skill is getting into the paint and finishing at the rim. He’s both athletic and fast enough to get by guys, and he has a craftiness to maneuver around traffic surrounding the basket. Being a lefty always helps; guys always struggle to adjust to the way a lefty finishes compared to a righty, despite it seeming like such a simple adjustment.
Now, is Diarra going to score 17 per night as Stokes’ replacement? No. Is he going to play the 2nd worst team in the Big 12 at home every game? No. Is his backcourt counterpart Barry Brown going to post one of the best lines of the season — 38 points on 12-17 shooting and 11-16 from the line — every night? No. But Diarra obviously has some potential. I think there are going to be struggles, and I think tomorrow at Kansas will be one of those days. Kansas State’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament have clearly decreased after this news, but watching Diarra develop in this time period will be enjoyable. Kansas State basically plays zero seniors at this point in the season, so they will have everyone back next season. Having this time for Diarra to develop and gain experience could prove to be a great benefit for Kansas State next season, when they should be a top half of the Big 12 sort of team.
Coming Up: 1/13 at Kansas, 1/16 vs. Oklahoma
9. Oklahoma State Cowboys (Last Week: 9th)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 11-5, 1-3
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 54th, +12.52
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 110.6, 58th, 8th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 98.0, 67th, 7th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 72.1, 64th, 3rd
In the December 21st Power Rankings post, I used the Oklahoma State section to breakdown what I’ve seen from Oklahoma State’s offense to that point in the season, with some focus on their pinwheel offense. Here’s what I wrote then:
This is the pinwheel offense, which Oklahoma State ran often under Brad Underwood last season and has ran at times this season under Boynton. In this particular possession, it puts Mitchell Solomon in the middle of the pinwheel, with four perimeter players spaced and moving around him. It’s a simple offense, and it creates easy opportunities to enter into ball screen actions and dribble handoffs.
All of that is still true. It’s a continuous offense that flows smoothly into ballscreens and dribble handoffs using Solomon (or another big man) at the elbow. The problem? It also creates easy opportunities to take bad midrange jumpers on the right or left wing off of those ballscreens and handoffs. Look at these two possessions from the game at Kansas State on Wednesday.
Those are really awful shots by Lindy Waters and Jeffrey Carroll with enough time remaining on the shot clock to explore other options. They are challenged, rushed, and from one of the most inefficient spots on the court. The handoff/ballscreen led directly into them, but I’m not entirely sure that is Mike Boynton’s intention when he goes to this pinwheel offense.
Even if it’s not his intention, it continues to happen. Let’s look at some data. There are two tables here. The first table is from Synergy Sports and shows possessions that end in “Medium” range jumpers (17 feet out to the 3-point line) among Big 12 teams. The table is sorted by the number of possessions per game that end with a Medium range jumper. Oklahoma State is 2nd on the list, averaging 4.2 possessions per game that end in these jumpers. The second table shows the same data, only it’s sorted by PPP (points per possession). Despite having the 2nd most Medium range jumpers on the season, OSU is only 6th in the Big 12 in PPP on those jumpers, scoring just 0.79 PPP. They’re taking a lot of the mid-range jumpers — some of them off of the pinwheel offense — to not much success.
There’s one more way we can see the impact of the pinwheel offense, which is by examining Oklahoma State’s efficiency in hand-off situations. The pinwheel features hand-offs quite frequently, as we saw in the Lindy Waters jumper above. Here are two more tables. The first is sorted by the number of possessions per game that end with a hand-off. Once again, Oklahoma State is 2nd on the list at 3 poss/game. In the second table, the data is sorted by PPP. Oklahoma State is 2nd-to-last in PPP, averaging just 0.79 PPP (exact same as the Medium range jumpers PPP) in these hand-off situations. (TCU is not shown because the table was created by setting a 10 possession minimum on the season; they have not reached that number.)
What does all of this mean? If you read my December 21st blurb on Oklahoma State, you might be confused right now. Didn’t I say then that the pinwheel offense is an effective offense? My response — that is still true, as long as you’re running it effectively. Right now, Oklahoma State seems to be settling for the worst outcome of the pinwheel far too often — a mid-range jumper. They are taking the easiest available option rather than continuing to probe or go through the offense’s motion one more time. Go back and watch the clips I pulled in that December 21st post; the pinwheel can be a great, simple offense. Oklahoma State’s players just need to make the right decisions when running it.
Coming Up: 1/13 vs. Texas, 1/15 at Baylor
10. Iowa State Cyclones (Last Week: 10th)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 9-6, 0-4
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 101st, +6.46
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 108.4, 86th, 9th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 102.0, 133rd, 10th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 70.7, 113th, 5th
I’m about to use yet another team’s section to talk about 3-point shooting. I would apologize, but that’s the way the game is evolving. If you can’t shoot and make perimeter shots, you’re going to have difficulty winning games. That is currently an issue for Iowa State.
As a team, Iowa State is shooting 35% from 3-point range. Not awful right? That is 148th in the nation — slightly ahead of the middle of the pack. In the Big 12, they are 7th. Once again, it could be worse. The problem for Iowa State is that their shooting has worsened over the last few weeks. Before Tuesday night’s 11-27 (41%) performance at Kansas, they went four straight games shooting 33% or worse from 3-point range. Here are the final numbers in those four games:
• 4-17 (24%) vs. Maryland Eastern Shore
• 4-15 (27%) vs. Kansas State
• 7-27 (26%) vs. Texas
• 6-18 (33%) at Oklahoma State
Their record over those four games was 1-3 with the one win being a closer-than-expected 6-point victory over porous Maryland Eastern Shore.
Right now, Iowa State really only has three guys who have shown to be reliable from the 3-point line: Donovan Jackson, Lindell Wigginton, and Nick Weiler-Babb. No one else on the team has made more than 6 3-pointers on the season.
Wigginton and Weiler-Babb have struggled from 3-point range in conference play. In non-conference play, Wigginton went 23-51 on 3’s (45%). In conference play through four gams, he’s currently just 6-19 (32%). Now he did go 4-8 on 3-pointers at Kansas on Tuesday, so it could have just been a slump in the prior games. You know that is the hope of both Steve Prohm and Iowa State fans. Weiler-Babb’s struggles seem more legitimate. In non-conference play, he went 14-36 from 3 (39%), but in conference games, he’s currently just 2-13 (15%). Weiler-Babb only shot 31% on 3-pointers last season, going 8-26 for the season. It’s quite possible he was shooting above his normal success rate in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
Iowa State doesn’t have to worry about Donovan Jackson. He’s shooting 43% on the season on 53-122 shooting, and he’s started conference play at 49%. The kid can flat-out shoot. The concern for Iowa State is how many guys are making 3’s each game. They can’t have only one guy be “on” on a given night.
Against Kansas State, Wigginton made two 3’s while Jackson and Weiler-Babb each made zero. Against Texas, Jackson went 6-12 while Wigginton and Weiler-Babb went a combined 1-9. At Oklahoma State, Jackson was “on” again, going 6-8, but Wigginton and Weiler-Babb were a combined 0-2. Finally, against Kansas, two guys were both “on” during the same game. Wigginton went 4-8, and Jackson was 6-14, which covered up for Weiler-Babb going 1-5. Having two of the three be “on” resulted in Iowa State playing their best conference game yet.
This is something to monitor moving forward. If you look at the box score halfway through the 2nd half and only one of those three is making shots, Iowa State will probably be in trouble. If two or all three are feeling it at the same time, it increases Iowa State’s win likelihood that much more. They need those three guards to show up every night.
Coming Up: 1/13 vs. Baylor, 1/17 at TCU