Wait? There are 3 Good Teams?: American Athletic Power Rankings

The American Conference to me has always been a “Conference USA-Plus” of sorts. It’s not a power conference, but there are some teams who are power conference worthy. UConn won a national title as a member of the American. Cincinnati probably should be in the Big East. Houston was a member of the SWC back in the day and had Phi Slamma Jamma, so they have tradition, but they have never seemed to get over hiring Clyde Drexler as head coach. To make matters worse, they don’t have the “factors” that make mid-majors special. They aren’t all Catholic schools like the Big East, WCC or MAAC. They aren’t really united by geographic proximity or natural rivalries (ask Bob Diaco about trying to manufacture rivalries). So the conference has really gone under-the-radar, especially since Louisville left for the ACC.

But, surprisingly, the American has been one of the best (if not arguably the best) non-power conferences this season (they are ranked the 7th strongest conference in the nation by Ken Pom). That is mostly due to three teams: Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston, who all have 20-plus wins, and are ranked in KenPom’s top 20 (5, 14, 19, respectively).

So let’s take a look at the American Athletic Power Rankings, this time starting from the bottom and finishing at the top, since it’s more interesting at the top and we like to save the best for last.

10. Tulane, 11. East Carolina, 12. South Florida

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All three programs have had recent coaching changes in the past couple of years. Tulane is in year 2 of the Mike Dunleavy era, which has been low on “Jail Blazer” antics and Clipper clubhouse chaos, but still high on big, 90’s esque suits. Surprisingly, they have taken a big step up from year 1, as the Green Wave has won 13 games this year after winning only 6 in Dunleavy’s college debut. Tulane was considered as a borderline NIT team earlier in the year, as they were 9-3 in non-conference play and were 13-8 at one point before losing 5 straight games. Tulane’s probably a .500 or slightly below team, but they play an up-tempo brand of basketball (highest tempo team in the AAC), and could get be more competitive in 2018-2019 if Dunleavy continues this trend and stays put (which is likely as I don’t think any NBA team will be calling for his mid-range, 90’s style of ball).

East Carolina and South Florida are going through typical first-year blues with new coaches Michael Perry, and Brian Gregory, respectively. Perry last coached at Georgia State and has done what is expected at ECU in basketball: play mediocre ball and get double digit wins (they are 10-15 so far). But, considering that’s the tradition for the Pirates, nobody can blame him. As for USF, it is weird that Gregory is still coaching a “somewhat” high level team. And much like his previous stop (Georgia Tech), he hasn’t found much success initially (they are 8-20 and 1-14 in conference). Did you know that in his 13 years as a head coach he has only made the Tournament twice? (Both with Dayton; no appearances with Georgia Tech). Not sure if Gregory is going to be the right guy in Tampa, but when you look at who’s been there (Seth Greenberg, Orlando Antigua, Ray McCallum, Steve Masiello for like a day), it looks likely that it’s more of a “program” rather than a “coach” thing.

7. Temple, 8. SMU, 9. UConn

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If I could categorize these three, I would label them as the “disappointment trio”. These are teams who should be better than what they have been in 2017-2018.

Temple has bee typical “Temple” this year. They have those “good wins” that make you think “Hey! They’re a good team! I can’t wait to see them in March!” In non-conference, they have beaten Auburn, Clemson, South Carolina (woo! They own South Carolina!), Wisconsin, Old Dominion and St. Joseph’s. In conference, they have beaten Wichita State at home. If you look at those wins, you would be tempted to think that Temple is in the top 4 of the conference and competing for an at-large spot.

But the losses? Oh boy they are bad. Losses to La Salle and George Washington, both mediocre teams in a mediocre Atlantic 10 this season. They also lost by 10 at home to Tulane, 21 on the road to UCF (where they scored 39 points), and in OT at home to Memphis, who may be the worst Memphis team since John Calipari’s first year. The lack of consistency has just haunted Fran Murphy in his tenure at Temple, and this year has been no different.

SMU has also been wildly inconsistent under Tim Jankovic, who is starting to see some of the luster wear off since Larry Brown bolted/got pushed out of Dallas. Much like Tulane, SMU had an impressive 10-3 mark in non-conference play, and were 15-7 going at the end of January. However, 5 straight losses in February has sunk SMU from possible bubble tournament team to possible bubble NIT team. Injuries have hurt this squad for sure, but it’s sad to see that SMU, which a couple of years ago looked like they were rising as a program, stagnate so sharply over the second half of the season.

As for UConn, it’s only  a matter of time before the Huskies let Kevin Ollie go. This team has just played uninspired ball all season, and that’s evident in their 13-14 record with its best win over a down Oregon team. Yes, he has a national title, which at UConn is no easy matter (it took Jim Calhoun a while to get his first one). But look at the whole profile: Ollie has only made the tournament twice in his tenure in Storrs, and his team has steadily declined since winning the title (they ranked 96th according to KP last year and are an abysmal 169th this year). I like Ollie, and think he probably will be in the NBA coaching sometime next year, but I think he’s a dead man walking, and it will only be a matter of time before we see someone else in the UConn driver’s seat. Tom Crean, perhaps? Maybe Rick Pitino?

4. Tulsa, 5. UCF, 6. Memphis

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We’re now in the “NIT-bubble” zone. These teams have been competitive and have showed glances of promise throughout the year. But let’s face it: nobody is considering these squads for Tournament berths.

Frank Haith has basically been the Bruce Weber of the AAC. His Golden Hurricane has performed better than the numbers say they should. They are fourth in the AAC, even though they rank below three teams according to Ken Pom (they are 119th). They aren’t a great offensive team, not a great defensive team. There best win is over K-State (Irony!!) and they don’t really have a star player. But damn, the Golden Hurricane and Haith just win baby. They’re 16-10 now, and should be favored in 3 out of 4 games down the stretch (the lone one is Cincy), so it’s not out of the question that Tulsa can win 20 games this year (including AAC Tourney play) even though they won’t get any serious consideration for an at-large Tournament berth.

Johnny Dawkins has taken over UCF and given them an identity: which is boring, defensive-oriented basketball which he was known for at Stanford. (It’s so weird that he’s like this considering he’s a Dukie…oh wait!) According to KP, UCF is the fourth best defensive team in the nation according to defensive rating. Yes, you read that right. Dawkins has turned UCF into Charlottesville-South, but replacing the protesting White Supremacists on their campus with gorgeous co-eds. So there’s a lot to like from Dawkins’ first year. A good record (17-9), an identity as a team (though on the flip side, their offense is ranked 279th in the nation…yikes), and co-eds! Way to bounce back after the Stanford fiasco Johnny!

As for Memphis, I can understand why the Tigers would settled on Tubby Smith, who’s in his second year as the Tigers’ head coach. Smith is a “grandpa” sorts of coach. He does things the right way. He gets good, not great talent, though sometimes he’ll luck out with a recruit here and there. (Rajon Rondo, Keith Bogans, Tayshaun Prince, Saul Smith…wait Saul Smith wasn’t highly recruited?) After living through the ups and downs of two hucksters (Calipari and Josh Pastner) I can imagine why the athletic department would go this route. Tubby is safe and after recruiting violations and vacated Final Fours, safe is what they maybe needed for the time being. But damn…Memphis is boring…and mediocre. 16-11, 7-7 in conference, 159th in Ken Pom, and their best win is over 76th ranked SMU. Remember Derrick Rose? Remember Tyreke Evans? Remember Joey Dorsey? Hell…remember Dajuan Wagner? We haven’t see any of those flashes this year Tiger fans, and it’s not going to be like that either for a while as long as Tubby is the coach.

3. Houston

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Let’s just say we shouldn’t be surprised. Yes, their loss to a 263rd rated Drexel team wasn’t good, and may have gotten college basketball fans off the scent of this Cougars team early. And yes, all the basketball noise in Houston centers on James Harden and Mike D’Antoni and “seven seconds or less Morey-ball”. But this is Kelvin Sampson, who is arguably one of the most successful coaches in Oklahoma history. This is Kelvin Sampson, who knows how to get talent, and turn around programs. This is Kelvin Sampson, who won 20 plus games the last two years with the Cougars leading up to this season.

Maybe we should have seen this coming.

At 21-5, Houston has the profile of a dark horse Sweet 16 contender. They have the 14th best defense according to Ken Pom, and a good overall rating (they are rated 19th). They have a senior point guard in Rob Gray who is a dark horse for AAC player of the year. They have quality wins over Arkansas, Wichita State, Providence, and Cincy.

Don’t fall asleep on them any further. Good Kelvin is back (just waiting for the shoe to drop on Bad “recruiting violation maestro” Kelvin). And Houston is dangerous, not just for the rest of the year in the AAC, but in the Tournament as well.

2. Wichita State

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Gregg Marshall continues to be atop the coaching game in college basketball, and the Koch brothers continue to shell out big bucks to keep him there, winning games in Wichita, where Shocker basketball is the biggest, baddest (and only) thing to do in Southeast Kansas. Marshall continues to attribute his team’s success to his “Shaka Smart” style: a gritty underdog team who will play hard for 40 minutes on the court, especially against bigger team with bigger name recruits. That was especially clear on Saturday, as the Shockers went on the road, and beat a much more heralded Bearcat team (though the game wasn’t played at their usual home court, so I’m sure Cincy fans will complain about that).

The ironic thing about the Shockers this season though is statistically, this is one of the weaker defensive teams in Marshall’s tenure. Their 75th ranked adjusted defensive rating is the lowest for Marshall since 2009 when Wichita State’s defense was ranked in the 100’s and went 17-17. That’s not a ding on this team. They’re good, have a legitimate player of the year candidate in Shaq Morris, and still follow for the most part the mold of what a successful Shocker team looks like (their defense is not mediocre, but more just inconsistent). But it does make you wonder about this team, and if they are as ready for March as some of the Ron Baker, Cleanthony Early-led teams of the past. Teams with huge differences in offensive-defensive ratings tend to be vulnerable in the Tournament (either offense goes south or defense gets exposed), and unfortunately the Shockers fit that type this season.

It may be easy to jump on the Shockers to the Final Four bandwagon after their win over the Bearcats. But I would cool the jets just a bit. They have a serious shot to win the American regular and/or Tournament title. But serious NCAA run? That’s a little harder to predict with this atypical Marshall squad.

1. Cincinnati

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It’s Cronin-ball per usual, and unlike Marshall (where what we see on the court doesn’t necessarily match up with the numbers) the stats ring true with Cronin. Cronin’s teams are known to be physical and defensive-oriented with just enough offense to win. Cronin’s team once again is one of the top defensive squads in the nation (no. 2), and actually is better than usual on offense (51). Thus, it makes sense that Cincy is a borderline Top-10 team to most experts.

Cincy probably has the most star power in the conference, with three great players in Gary Clark, Jacob Evans and Kyle Washington carrying this Bearcats squad. Cincy also has good wins, as they obliterated UCLA on the road, and beat a “better than you think” Mississippi State team (coached by Ben Howland who has rebounded since he fizzled out at UCLA). So, Cronin has the production. He has the star power. He has the big game experience. Will this be the year he gets Cincy over the hump and into the Final Four?

It’s still a question mark with Cronin at the helm. Cronin’s a solid coach and has emerged from Bob Huggins’ shadow. However, he is a fiery dude, and isn’t surprising that his fieriness gets in the way of Cincy’s success at times. It feels like Cronin loses his composure in big moments, and his team feeds off that and loses theirs as well. You could argue that was the case against Xavier, as JP Macura seemed to get under the skin of Cronin (though many would argue that wasn’t until the end of the game, I guarantee you Macura was goading Cronin and the Bearcats frequently during the game). It took a while for Huggins to manage his composure and not let it get the best of him, both at Cincy and at WVU. Cronin will need to do the same, especially important considering Cincy is coming off two straight losses to Houston and Wichita State, with aspirations still to compete for a 2 seed in the Tourney or higher. They need to finish strong both in the regular season and AAC Tournament to make that happen, and a composed Cronin is a step in the right direction to making that happen.

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It’s the Jayhawks’ to Lose (as usual) : Big 12 Power Rankings

I know it’s contrite and generic, but I think the best way to get going again on this blog will be through conference power rankings. This works a few ways in mine and potential readers’ favor:

  1. I don’t have to go into crazy detail into posts, which is fair because I don’t have a whole lot of time to commit on these posts.
  2. I can still satiate my own opinions about college basketball while still opening it up to debate from other college basketball fans.
  3. I can discuss many different aspects of college basketball, from the “power” conferences to the “mid-majors” without pretending to be an expert in a “specific” field (which will not be possible due to my limited time…as after-mentioned in point 1).

So, for my first power rankings, I’m going to stay local (as I live in Kansas City) and will go with the conference I have the most direct knowledge of: the Big 12. Again, I am not a college basketball expert or John Feinstein or Andy Katz (is he employed by the way? It’s been nice to not see his articles on ESPN anymore), but just an opinionated college basketball fan with his own passionate and strong takes.

All right, here we go.

Big 12 Power Rankings (as of 2/20)

1. Kansas, 2. Texas Tech

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I know some people will argue that Tech should be no. 1 and Kansas should be No. 2. And to be frank, I understand their argument. This Texas Tech team is a legitimate team, as head coach Chris Beard has done more in two years than the tenures of Tubby Smith, Pat Knight, and the last three years of Bob Knight combined. Tech is in the Big 12 driver’s seat, as they host Kansas in Lubbock down the stretch, and have a bonafide Big 12 player of the year candidate in Keenan Evans, who should probably get the award, but won’t because the writer’s blew their collective wad on Trae Young being the next Stephen Curry too early. Tech also has not lost at home, which bodes well for them in their upcoming matchup this weekend with the Jayhawks.

But…let’s face it. This is KU. They know how to win the regular season, and they know how to bully Big 12 players, coaches, officials and opposing fans when it counts. Udoka Azubike is starting to give Kansas the semblance of a post game as of late, as he has put up big numbers in the last three games after the Baylor loss in Waco. And Tech feels like the kind of game where Devonte’ Graham  and Svi will go nuts and silence a rabid, and maybe closet racist, Lubbock crowd. Beard has been in some big games, but Bill Self has been in more , and Tech seems due for a let down this weekend, especially after they blew one on the road at Baylor as well (making the KU loss not so bad…hey maybe Scott Drew can coach after all).

And because of all those factors, I give KU the edge…barely. But if Tech knocks off the Jayhawks this weekend…well…

Let’s just wait and see.

3. West Virginia, 4. Baylor, 5. Kansas State

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West Virginia and K-State are tied at 8-6 in conference and Baylor is creeping behind barely at 7-7. Baylor is probably the hottest team of the trio, which is why I gave them the fourth spot over K-State even though technically they are behind the Wildcats in the standings. They have big wins over KU and Texas Tech on consecutive Saturdays, and are suddenly in the tournament “should be in” mix after hovering on the “probably out” bubble for weeks. Just think: on January 30th, Baylor was 12-10 and 2-7 in conference after a 2-point loss to Oklahoma. Since then, Baylor has won five straight (including another notable win over Texas), while Oklahoma has dug themselves a deeper and deeper hole in the Big 12. Baylor’s always been a good defensive team, as Drew recruits tall, long guys who can clog up the paint, and force teams to shoot from the outside. Now, they’re getting some semblance of offense, mostly thanks to senior forward Terry Maston, who has scored 20-plus in three out of five games this February. I don’t know if Baylor will do much in March (I don’t think Maston is the kind of scorer who can carry them in big games in the Tournament), but they look primed for a strong finish leading up to the Big 12 Championship.

West Virginia is the typical Huggy Bear team. They’re tough defensively, they have some athleticism, they’re physical, but they really don’t have the kind of standout player that really scares you in the games waning moments. In fact, it’s kind of been like that the past few years for West Virginia: be above average all year, showcase good depth without star talent, put up a good record, probably get a 3-6 seed in the tournament, but really finish the year without a standout victory. If you look at the profile, the Mountaineers just don’t stand out as a real serious Final Four contender compared to KU or Tech: two losses to KU, a loss to Tech, and a loss to a Kentucky team that’s not as powerful as past UK squads. Yes, they have a sweep over Oklahoma, but this is an Oklahoma team that could be a Session 1 Big 12 Championship team, not the Final Four dark horse experts touted a few weeks ago. Don’t get me wrong: I love Huggins and “Press Virginia”. I love that they provide entertaining games, and really put teams on the edge each and every game. But are they going to rise above third in the Big 12 at this point in the year? Most likely not. Get ready for that 5-12 matchup Morgantown (against Marshall perhaps?)

At five, I have K-State listed, and I was tempted to put them down lower. If West Virginia’s resume is unimpressive, K-State’s is downright laughable. Their best win is a road win over Baylor, which was during a run where Baylor was looking at a bubble NIT berth rather than a NCAA one. They also have no good non-conference wins (sorry Vandy), and their KenPom rating (47) would be third-worst in the Big 12 (above only Oklahoma State and Iowa State). I still give the Wildcats the nod at fifth though because they have taken care of business in the Big 12: they beat everyone they’re supposed to, even if they don’t pull off the upsets. Bruce Weber is the Al Davis of the Big 12. For all his faults, he just wins, baby.

However, K-State will have a tough stretch to finish Big 12 play, as they play on the road against desperate Oklahoma and TCU teams, and at home against Texas and Baylor, two teams who are trending upward. Logic tells us that this Bruce Weber-coached team will probably split by some miracle of God (or Weber-esque magic), but it’s not out of the question that they finish 0-4 either, and are playing on Day 1 of the Big 12 Championship, not necessarily a badge of honor.

6. Texas, 7. TCU, 8. Oklahoma

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This is such a weird Shaka Smart team: they play one of the slowest paces in the nation (296th to specific), they have some really good wins (Tech at home, Butler in the PK80), and a lot of not-bad losses (Gonzaga, Duke, Michigan in non-conference). This team doesn’t press much (if at all…what happened to “Havoc“?) and depends on their height, especially freshman center Mohamed Bamba, something Smart teams weren’t really known for at VCU. However, this Texas team does share something in common with Smart’s past teams: defense (though more of a half court, non-pressure type). Texas is ranked 3rd in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is a big reason why they are still in the Tournament talk even though they don’t have much consistent offensive firepower. I don’t know if Texas will get out of the middle-of-the pack range in the Big 12, but they have some weapons, they are playing harder than they did a year ago (I saw them at the Big 12 Tournament and was thoroughly unimpressedI saw them at the Big 12 Tournament and was thoroughly unimpressed), and they are trending in a better direction than some other squads in the Big 12 (cough…Oklahoma…cough), which is a good sign for Shaka after such a disappointing campaign last year.

TCU has been an interesting team to watch, and it’s sad that Jaylen Fisher went down, which I think hurt their chances from being a NCAA Tournament lock or higher up in the Big 12 standings. The Slovakian center Vladimir Brodziansky has been a beast this year as his 128.0 offensive rating is 26th best in the nation (plus I’m privy to European players, especially European big men). And let’s face it…Jamie Dixon is a hell of a coach. Just look at TCU now compared to the Trent Johnson days, and look how far Pitt has fallen under Kevin Stallings. And lastly, don’t forget that TCU made a run to the Big 12 Championship last year, nearly getting the auto bid into the Tournament. If they can make a similar run, they’ll lock up their first tournament berth in quite some time. They have some problems defensively, but TCU has the coaching chops and offensive firepower to finish the season strong.

Oklahoma has been the biggest head scratcher this year. Accomplished coach? Lon Kruger, so check. Star, Naismith-candidate player? Trae Young, so check. Big wins? Oregon, USC, Wichita State, sweep over TCU, and over Tech. Oklahoma should not be this far down on the power rankings, but February has not been kind to the Sooners. Kruger’s team is 0-6 in games in February so far, and Big 12 defenses have adjusted to Young, and the rest of OU’s team hasn’t done diddly. If there’s one major difference from college and pro ball, it’s that complementary players struggle stepping up when opposing teams shut their star player down. That has been the case for OU, as they have been reliant on Young for so long that they have no idea what to do when he’s not clicking on all cylinders. That was incredibly evident as KU thumped OU 104-74 and held Young to 3 of 13 shooting on Monday night. Will OU miss the tournament? I don’t think so. They have too many good wins, and the media have been on him for so long this season that the tournament committee would be amiss to leave him and the Sooners out. However, they have fallen from grace quickly and they look like a one and done team, not just in the Tournament, but in the Big 12 Championship perhaps as well.

9. Oklahoma State, 10. Iowa State

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It’s been a rebuilding season for both squads, and it’s tough to say much about either. Oklahoma State has surged a bit as of late, with a big upset on the road over KU, but it’s obvious that they’re still in the 8-10 range in conference (a Session 1 Big 12 Tournament team) and smarting from Brad Underwood bailing for Illinois after one year. After two good initial years, Steve Prohm from Iowa State is trying to prove his chops as a coach, and that he’s not just living in Fred Hoiberg’s shadow, and that’s hard to prove in year 3 and you have no shot of making the big dance. That being said, if you look at the whole picture, the Cyclones beat in-state rivals Iowa and Northern Iowa, so they at least have something to hang their hat on this year, even though this Big 12 campaign for them has been a disappointing slog.

There is nothing for fans of both teams to be worried about really when you think about both squads in the long run: nobody really had them as real contenders in the Big 12 in the preseason anyways. Furthermore, while they’re records aren’t great, they aren’t “Pitt-Level” bad by any means. However, it’ll be interesting to see if a good Big 12 Championship run from either squad in a couple of weeks can parlay into some success in 2018-2019 much like TCU a season ago.

Is the Gonzaga Hype For Real This Time?

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I am not going to lie, I don’t follow college basketball as much as I used to. Probably the peak of my college basketball/Gonzaga fandom was my second year out of college, when I lived in San Jose, not far from Santa Clara university. (I probably went to about 4-5 Bronco games that year, including their contest against the Zags which resulted in an upset loss for Gonzaga and my first experience of a court storming; I hated it). After I moved from San Jose, to South Dakota, a college basketball wastelands of sorts, I grew to have more of an affinity for the NBA with each and every year of age.

At nearly 30 years old, coming back to write on college basketball on this blog feels weird. It was something I sort of disavowed to do a couple of years ago, opting to concentrate more on NBA and Euroleague analysis which has become more of my niche the past couple of years.

So why am I coming back to follow college basketball again? Coming back like a couple who split apart years ago, but somehow managed to find their way back to one another’s arms stronger than ever, bent to see if it will work out the second time around?

Mostly due to Gonzaga and their 14-0 start.

In all honesty, I know with the advent of ESPN and online streaming, following Gonzaga basketball isn’t all that difficult. Hell, I can follow games going in Belgrade, Serbia. Following the Zags shouldn’t be a problem. But, it’s tough being a Zag in the Midwest simply because there aren’t a lot of us here. Most Zag fans either live in the Pacific Northwest or West Coast. There is a contingent of Zags fans who are from Denver and Colorado, but that’s about eight hours driving distance away from my current home in Kansas City. Yes, in Big 12 country (i.e. Kansas Jayhawks country with K-State, Iowa State and Mizzou fans sprinkled in), people know about the Zags. They know about their general legacy (“they always choke in the tournament” they tell me) and know about players like Adam Morrison (“I don’t know why he wasn’t good,” they’d say).

But it’s not enough really. Talks are superficial and shallow at best. They don’t know about the extensive history of Zags basketball, including the empowering joys, and crushing disappointments. Maybe they know about the UCLA collapse in 2006, but thanks to NCAA On Demand, that is easy conversation fodder with anyone who likes or follows college basketball on a moderate basis. But to talk about the St. Mary’s rivalry? The WCC Tourney in Vegas? The 28-year-olds on BYU’s roster? Well…that goes unnoticed or uncared for here in the Conservative Red States in contrast with the Liberal West Coast.

So, I have distanced myself from Gonzaga, mainly because it’s just not productive nor worthwhile to majorly invest in it considering my current circumstances. And Gonzaga has had good teams worth paying attention to on occasion. I have enjoyed sporadically keeping tabs on Zags teams over the past few years in Kansas City, watching them from afar, being elated and equally crushed by them in that time span. Of course, all this usually experienced in private, with the exception of text/Facebook/now Snapchat conversations from time to time with some friends from college who are in closer proximity to live Zags basketball action (i.e. in Washington, Oregon, Idaho or California). Usually, the fandom doesn’t hit until late February/Early March, when it’s closer to WCC and consequently NCAA Tourney time.

Yet this year, it’s the first of January, and I’m trying to catch up on as much Zags basketball as I can. I watched the Pacific game in its entirety on ESPN 3. I re-watched the Arizona game via CBB Reddit Uploads on YouTube. I’m back analyzing Ken Pomeroy.com, studying up on other teams sure, but mostly breaking down the Zags.

I’m practically two months ahead of schedule from my serious Zags “fandom” over the past three years. And I’m doing this because this really may be the best Zags team I have ever seen, followed, or studied up on in my years of Zags fandom (since my Dad is an alum, that includes my early years during the Dan Fitzgerald era).

I’m wanting to see if this Zags team actually will live up to the hype.


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Zags basketball fandom is like most irrational college basketball or even sports followings. Like Duke’s Cameron Crazies in the East Coast and Jayhawks fans here in the Midwest, they are passionate, loyal, and usually unconditionally biased toward Gonzaga teams each and every year. Zags fans swoon like the Pacific tide, changing moods and expectations quickly and often. A big win over a non-conference opponent like SMU or UCLA, and all of a sudden, Gonzaga is a Final Four shoe in. An unexpected loss to BYU or USF, or a season sweep to the rival Gaels, and all of a sudden Mark Few is a shitty coach who is going to be responsible for the Zags missing the tournament for the first time since the Nixon administration (okay, not that long; Clinton administration). I have seen fans overly rate former Zags, with Zags fans clamouring that Morrison was a shoe-in NBA All Star to Sam Dower being a second-round pick talent (neither was true). Zags fans are passionate, but in the grand scheme of things, they prefer to live in their bubble when it comes to the basketball world, not allowing practicality or reality to enter their “overly fond” feelings when it comes to GU hoops.

And that’s fine, as that’s what being a fan is about. I have grown out of that over the years the more I have branched out with basketball (i.e. following more NBA and Euroleague), but I still have friends or know former classmates who still live in that bubble with basketball and it’s cool. If I still lived in the West Coast or Northwest, maybe I would follow that lead as well. Be irrational with Few. Think Pangos should be a NBA sixth-man. Always have the Zags winning the national title in my NCAA Tournament work pool.

Maybe not though. I have become a more inquisitive type since I graduated Gonzaga with my bachelor’s degree. I used to believe in things like “heart” and “smarts” and “grit” as the key to a Zags victory. Now, I believe in skill sets, athleticism, matchups and data when it comes to evaluating how strong Gonzaga basketball teams and players are on annual basis. Maybe it’s a sign of the maturation process of basketball fanhood. Maybe I’m just becoming a fucking adult. But I have left the bubble of typical “Zags” fanhood long ago, and this is one bubble I can’t push myself back into, much like the bubble of Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy myths.

During times when I make it back to the West Coast for the Holidays or special circumstances, I do get the chance to meet up with old college friends and discuss the state of the Zags and WCC basketball. This past Christmas season was no exception. I met with a couple of friends in Midtown Sacramento and we discussed the Zags. They told me how loaded this team was. They told me how big a difference Nigel Williams-Goss made on this team. They talked about Zach Collins looking like a diaper dandy. They sung the merits of transfers such as Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Williams, guys I had my reservations about considering Gonzaga’s shaky history with transfers recently who never lived up to the hype in Spokane. (Yes, there was Kyle Wiltjer, but there were also examples like Gerard Coleman, Bol Kong, and Angel Nunez too.) They talked about USF being a plucky dark horse, that St. Mary’s continued to play no one in non-conference, and how Terry Porter, the former Blazer, was doing a decent job in his first year as head coach of the Pilots.

It made me realize something. I missed the Zags a lot. I had missed the conversations. I had missed analyzing the WCC and the Zags. Yes, we probably had a beer too many at Bar West, and probably should have been focusing more on getting the attentions of single women than talking about Kyle Smith’s 3-point heavy approach with the Dons. But I loved it nonetheless. In a sea of endless Bill Self and “When is Fred Hoiberg returning to college basketball?” talk, immersing myself in the “Zag bubble” for a temporary period brought not only fond nostalgia, but comfort in the sense that no matter how far apart I became from Spokane or the West Coast in terms of years or distance, I could still come back, without warning or preparation, and still ignite that flame for mid-major West Coast basketball. A beer here. A Diamond Head Classic game there. Snapchat sharing of the Gonzaga-Arizona game in Los Angeles. A memory or two of the Kennel. It all brings one back, even for someone who has become a “grounded” basketball fan in general (i.e. less irrational or passionate about their team).

So when I touched down back in Kansas City on the 27th, I got out my laptop. I searched games on Watch ESPN. And I became determined to see if this Zags team is for real, much like my more “in-tuned” friends had preached back in California’s capital.


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Gonzaga is currently ranked 10th in Ken Pomeroy and is currently ranked 7th in the polls entering this week. They are 14-0 and have four “A” quality wins according to Ken Pom: neutral floor wins over Florida (14th), Iowa State (28th), and Arizona (18th), and a win over Tennessee (65th) in Nashville. The schedule hasn’t been extremely challenging (138th strongest non-conference schedule according to Ken Pom), though their win over San Diego State (currently 64th) could get better if SDSU picks it up in MWC play.

The best and most recent comparison of this team should be the 2015 Zags, who went 29-2 in the regular season, and 35-3 overall, making it to the Elite 8, where they lost to eventual national champion Duke. Heading into conference play, the Zags that year had three “A” quality wins: UCLA (40th) at Pauley Pavilion; Georgia (35th) at MSG; and St. John’s (50th) also at MSG (a home game for them).  They also had a narrow “A” quality loss to Arizona, whom they lost to in OT in Tucson. Finish that with a “B” quality win over SMU (26th) at home in Spokane, and you could argue that the non-conference performance in 2015 was every bit as impressive as the current Zags’ one.

The one thing that the 2015 Zags may have over the 2017 Zags in terms of legacy and outlook is the fact that the WCC was much stronger in 2015 than today. In 2015, the WCC was the 8th best conference according to Ken Pom, which was better than even the American Athletic Conference (which includes programs like Cincy, SMU and Temple). Today, the WCC is rated as the 11th best conference, behind other Mid-Major conferences such as the Missouri Valley and Mountain West. The dramatic difference mostly is due to BYU being much weaker than in years past, as they are going through a bit of a rebuilding year after losing six years of key players like Kyle Collinsworth and Tyler Haws (the Cougars are currently 11-4 and ranked 56th in Ken Pom’s rankings; which is where they were last year roughly). Yes, St. Mary’s is still strong (ranked 16th according to Ken Pom), but the WCC needs a good BYU team to be a serious conference, and with BYU not what they were two years ago, this not only hurts the WCC in the current, but also the Zags’ legacy and postseason outlook (i.e. mostly seeding).

But let’s get away from those kinds of numbers and just look at the talent itself. Can this Zags team compare? Could the 2017 team match up with the core of Pangos, Bell, Wiltjer, and Sabonis?

I would say yes, as of now.

First off, Przemek Karnowski’s injury last year may have hurt the Zags’ frontcourt depth a season ago, but it has been a blessing in disguise for this year’s campaign. I cannot really recall a player in college basketball recently who has the pure size of Karnowski and is able to utilize it so well. Sabonis comes to mind from last season, but even though he had Karnowski “post presence” and skills, he doesn’t have Karnowski’s 7’2, nearly 3 bills frame. Watching Karnowski in the block is a godsend for fans of old-school, play-in-the paint basketball, akin to the older John Thompson Georgetown teams, which had Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning in the post (not to be confused with John Thompson the Third Georgetown teams which are boring and underwhelming). It’s amazing how much he has developed from his rawer freshman days, when he still had a lot to learn when it came to moves and position around the blocks. Considering his 118.4 offensive rating though, it is obvious that not only how much he has progressed, but also how he will stand out as one of the most accomplished and talented post players in Zag history.

But while Karnowski is the link from that 2015 team, everything else tends to weigh in favor of this year’s team in comparison to that Elite Eight squad. Wiltjer was a better shooter, but Collins may be a better overall post talent to complement Karnowski, especially on the defensive end. Pangos could be deadly from beyond the arc, but he could not handle defensive pressure like Williams-Goss, whose 6’3 athletic frame and ability to beat players off the dribble as well as from beyond the arc (he’s shooting around 39 percent from three) make him the point guard Zags fans have been dreaming about (and that is saying something considering the Zags’ history at the position). Furthermore, the quartet of Perkins (who was the Zags’ point last year and has been able to play more off-guard, which is more his strength)-Melson-Matthews-Williams definitely is a more efficient and well-rounded group in comparison to the Bell-Dranginis-Wesley-Nunez one of 2015. And lastly, even though the foreign wild card of this year, Killian Tillie, pales in comparison to the one of 2015 (Sabonis), he could become a special player as well in a year or two, albeit in a different way from Sabonis. Tillie is the younger brother of Kim, who is playing well with Baskonia, one of the top teams in the Euroleague currently. And Killian flashes the same kind of inside-outside skill set that makes his older brother a key cog for the Basque club. While I don’t see Tillie with Sabonis’ upside, he could be a more athletic version of his older brother, which would be a huge boost in the future for a Gonzaga team that already has depth in the frontcourt with Rui Hachimura (who will play more when Karnowski leaves) and Jakob Larsen (who suffered an injury in the pre-season).

It’s amazing how far the Zags have come from their early 2000’s days. My friends and I talked about it a lot in Sacramento during my recent trip: premiere talent comes to Spokane now. The Zags used rely on under-recruited northwest guys like Morrison, Sean Mallon and Josh Heytvelt or under-the-radar foreign players like Kevin Pangos and JP Batista. Now, they are getting premiere transfers, foreign talent and Top-100 high schools players. Furthermore, not only is Few’s staff acquiring them, but seamlessly transitioning them into the system and culture of the Zags program without hitch. I thought there would be some growing pains for this Gonzaga team considering how much they relied on Wiltjer and Sabonis a year ago. Now, I’m just wondering if anybody in the WCC will be able to give the Zags a true test until the NCAA Tournament. Yes, St. Mary’s is good and an offensive machine. But on individual matchups alone? There isn’t a single Gael who may be better than what the Zags will put on the floor.

I have seen the Zag hype train before. I grew up and was educated in it. The Dan Dickau era. The Blake Stepp era. The Adam Morrison era. The Jeremy Pargo-Matt Bouldin-Austin Daye era (i.e. they all were good, but no one established himself as the star, which is why they were disappointing). The Kelly Olynyk era. The Pangos-era. The Wiltjer-Sabonis era. All those eras had hype. Final Four hype. National Championship hype.

And they all fell short. They all in varying ways disappointed the irrational, bubble-encapsulated Zags fans, including myself.

The cautious or irrational Zags fan in me would say to “take time” with this year’s Zags team and wait until the first St. Mary’s game. He would tell me to know history. Remember the scars. Remember BYU and the hockey goon Kafusi. Remember the NCAA Tourney is about matchups and luck.

The inner Zags fan in me tells me not to believe the hype…not just yet. Give it a little bit more time, perhaps halfway through the WCC slate.

But I have grown more seasoned and level-headed over the years with basketball in general. All basketball at all levels. Not just Gonzaga basketball. I’ll be 30 in six months. I’m not the same Zags fan I was when I was 21-22 years old and drinking pitchers of Kokanee at the Bulldog when it actually was still a bar and not whatever the hell it is now.

That inner, irrational Zags fan doesn’t carry as much weight as it used to. Superstition and “fandom” don’t run my life or how I feel about Gonzaga basketball or the sport as a whole. Data. Matchups. Talent. The system. The process. The growing evolution of college basketball toward the professional game.

That’s what matters more to me now. Not collapses in Oakland or buzzer beaters over Western Kentucky or “they always choke” mantras from college basketball fans or analysts who still believe the 3-point shot is overrated.

The inner Zag fan in me is not dead. But it just doesn’t have the voice it used to. And I’m glad it doesn’t. He was a bitch to put up with anyways during those years.

So fuck it. I’ll say it without holding back:

This team is for real. This team should be a Final Four and National Championship contender.

Don’t overthink it…

Just believe the Gonzaga hype.

A Look at What Broncos Fans Can Expect from Herb Sendek

Santa Clara hired Herb Sendek (above) to a six year deal on March 28th. Sendek formerly coached at North Carolina State and most recently at Arizona State until 2015.

So it seems official, Herb Sendek is going to be the new head coach for the Santa Clara Broncos. Shortly after the Pacific Tigers made a splash by hiring former NBA star and Arizona Wildcat Damon Stoudamire, the Broncos replaced the outgoing Keating, who had only two winning campaigns in his nine-year tenure at Santa Clara, with a proven head coach who has won in the MAC, ACC and Pac-12. In an earlier post, I felt Sendek was a good fit because of his proven resume not just as a head coach, but as a recruiter in the West Coast, and it looks like the Santa Clara administration ponied up the money and got the best guy for the job.

Let’s take a look at some of the positive and negatives of Sendek coming to not just Santa Clara, but the WCC in general.

Positives of Sendek at Santa Clara

Sendek coming to the Broncos is a big boost for the coaching community in the WCC. Sendek has bountiful head coaching experience at the Division 1 level, as he has led three schools (Miami of Ohio, NC State and Arizona State) to the NCAA Tournament under his watch. He has a career record of 413-295, and he has only had a losing season three times in his 22-year coaching career. That is pretty damn impressive no matter how you cut it. When it comes to success on the court, Sendek has the kind of resume that can compete with the big coaching names in conference such as Mark Few of Gonzaga, Randy Bennett at St. Mary’s and Dave Rose at BYU. That profile alone will make Santa Clara a bigger name not just in conference circles, but in national media circles as well. Do not be surprised to see the Broncos’ name thrown out a lot in preseason magazines simply due to Sendek’s name alone.

Another strong aspect of Sendek’s profile is his ability to recruit, as he has been able to get sneaky good polished talent to lead his teams, both at NC State and Arizona State. With the Wolfpack, he was able to land Julius Hodge, who led them to a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2005 and an 11-win ACC campaign and NCAA Tournament second-round appearance in 2004. At Arizona State, he most famously landed James Harden and had him stay for two seasons. Harden had a solid college career with the Sun Devils, leading the to the NCAA Tournament second round his second year. Furthermore, Sendek also brought in top talent like Jahii Carson (who led them to a tournament berth in 2014) and Jamelle McMillan (the son of former NBA player and coach Nate), so recruiting in the West Coast is something that Sendek is not only familiar with, but has a history of succeeding at considering the circumstances (Arizona State tends to lean more toward football and even baseball in terms of fan attention).

And lastly, the style of play typically seen from Sendek’s teams plays well into the WCC’s “wide-open” reputation. Though Sendek teams play typically a slow pace (only in his last two years did they have a tempo that ranked in the Top-150 when it came to speed), they are extremely perimeter-oriented and rely heavily on the 3-point shot. In terms of 3-point attempt percentage, his ASU teams ranked in the top-100 seven out of his nine years as a head coach (the lone exceptions being 2012 and 2015, his last year), and ranked in the top-15 in that category in 2009 (11th) and 2010 (9th). The fact that Sendek embraces the 3-point shot is a good sign for this Santa Clara team going into next year, as his philosophy plays well into what the Broncos have done offensively as of late under Keating. Since 2011, the Broncos ranked in the top-100 in 3-point attempt percentage every season. Considering Sendek is an accomplished coach whose teams’ offensive efficiency, according to Ken Pom, have always ranked in the top-100 (with the exception of 2012, 2011 and 2007, his first season at ASU), the fact that he will be taking over a program that has played his style of basketball (being perimeter-oriented and relying on the 3-point shot) in the past half-decade or so is a good sign that the coaching veteran can pull a quick turnaround of sorts in his first season with the Broncos.

Negatives of Sendek’s hire at Santa Clara

As with any coaching veteran who comes from a big school to a small school, the question for Sendek perhaps is not “if” he will pull a coaching turnaround but how long will he stick around when he achieves the first successful season in a while at Santa Clara (and by successful I mean NCAA Tournament berth). Though Sendek spent a lot of time in the West Coast at Arizona State, he is not a West Coast guy. He was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and he went to college in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon. His jobs at Miami of Ohio and even NC State played more into his background than the Arizona State job, and many critics of his felt Sendek wasn’t successful at ASU because he didn’t fit into the mold of what is expected from a “West Coast” coach (i.e. he didn’t make the necessary connections to have lasting recruiting impact there).

So with this being known, what if Penn State comes calling if Sendek succeeds early at Santa Clara? What about Pitt or another school in that rust belt area? Will Santa Clara’s “fun and sun” of the South Bay be enough? Or will Sendek itch to be in a bigger conference at a bigger school should they come calling? That will be a major questions with Sendek going forward, simply because he doesn’t have the kind of ties that could keep him long-term at Santa Clara unlike Gonzaga’s Few (Oregon) and St. Mary’s Bennett (Arizona) who grew up geographically close to their jobs, and Rose, whose personal background (being Mormon) is a major tie to him staying at BYU.

Another issue with Sendek is that his teams have had a history of not necessarily living up to expectations. Despite being a constant NCAA Tournament participant, his NC State team never made it past the Sweet 16, and that happened in his second to last year there, and they were sub-.500 in ACC play that season as well. At Arizona State, too many bad losses marred years where they could have been potential at-large participants, and as a result, his Sun Devils teams only made the NCAA Tournament twice in his 9 years there. And lastly, Sendek was mostly known for his 8-38 record at NC State against conference rivals Duke and North Carolina. While beating Duke and UNC is no easy task it makes you wonder how Sendek could do against Gonzaga and St. Mary’s who own the WCC in a similar way to Duke and UNC in the ACC. Was Sendek’s lackluster record a matter of luck, or is Sendek simply the kind of coach who can only maintain a mid-tier or slightly above program no matter the conference (his Arizona State teams never won a Pac-12 title under his watch) he is coaching in? If Sendek wants to make a splash and get Santa Clara to where it hasn’t been since 1995 (the Big Dance), then he is going to need to go through the conference favorites to do so, and Sendek doesn’t necessarily have the history to show that he can topple the best in conference over the whole course of a season.

What to expect from Herb?

Yes, Sendek did not have much success against Duke and North Carolina. Yes, he only made the NCAA Tournament twice at Arizona State. Yes, he is more of an Yinzer than a Beach Bum and that doesn’t bode well for him “finishing” his career as a Bronco. But Santa Clara made a great hire nonetheless and one that I think will make them competitive immediately or at the least within the next three years. Sendek’s a proven offensive coach whose style will mesh with the program currently, but the conference as a whole, which favors the outside-oriented game. It’ll be interesting to see if Jared Brownridge, the Broncos’ best offensive player the past couple of seasons, will stay in Santa Clara his senior season, as well as other major contributors, including guards such as to-be-sophomore KJ Feagin and to-be-junior Kai Healy and to-be-senior post Nate Kratch. If Sendek returns those players, it is entirely possible to see the Broncos as a bit of a dark horse, as Sendek’s system and philosophy as a coach most likely will fit into the talent he will have next season.

But the big question though is if those guys will stay. In this day and age, it is a lot easier for a kid to go to another program after a coaching change than stick it out, especially in the Broncos’ star player’s case. After all, Brownridge may not be willing to go through the growing pains in what could be his last year as a collegiate player. It may be too big of a risk, and Sendek has had times before where he didn’t mesh with star players (he kicked his top returning scorer at Arizona State in 2012 for “unacceptable content“).

That being said, if Brownridge does stay, along with everyone else? Don’t be surprised to see Santa Clara make some kind of run in the WCC in 2017. Sendek is that polished a coach and the situation and talent fit is that good for him next year.

NBA Bound? Why Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis Should Declare for the Draft

Domantas Sabonis was key to the Zags’ success in March and should be a NBA first round pick this upcoming draft.

If you want to understand how the Zags were a minute away from going to the Elite Eight, look no further than the triumvirate of guard Eric McCllelan, forward Kyle Wiltjer and center Domantas Sabonis. In the six games the Zags played in March (in which they went 5-1), the three players all took Ken Pom MVP awards in the games they played, with McCllelan earning three (Utah, St. Mary’s and Portland), Sabonis earning two (Seton Hall and Syracuse) and Wiltjer one (BYU). The combination of McCllelan’s streaky scoring and tough defense, Wiltjer’s offensive versatility and Sabonis’ post scoring and rebounding presence made these Zags tough to beat in March, and after Syracuse’s upset win over Virginia to earn a spot in the Final Four, it definitely makes you wonder what could have been possible had the Zags took better care of the ball in the closing minutes in Chicago.

While there is no questioning the three’s impact in the past month, one of these players will be the sole focus of Gonzaga fans’ attention and that is Sabonis. McCllelan and Wiltjer have exhausted their eligibility and will now be transitioning to professional careers in some kind of capacity this summer (Wiltjer could be a second round pick; McCllelan most likely will be looking D-League or overseas). Sabonis on the other hand has just completed his sophomore year, and still has two years left to wear a Gonzaga uniform.

That is if he wants it. Because to be perfectly frank, not only is he a much more sought after NBA prospect than either of the graduating seniors, he also is one of the Zags’ best pro prospects in a long time, and has a chance to be the Zags’ first First Round pick since Kelly Olynyk in 2013.

Now, make no mistake, Sabonis is not really a bonafide lottery pick by any means and this is a pretty loaded draft (unlike Olynyk’s where there wasn’t really a consensus no. 1). There is top “one and done talent” in Ben Simmons from LSU (the consensus No. 1), Brandon Ingram from Duke, and Jalen Brown and Ivan Rabb from California. Polished college scorers like Buddy Hield from Oklahoma and Kris Dunn from Providence. And high-upside European prospects like Dragan Bender from Maccabi Tel Aviv and Timothe Luwawu from Mega Leks of the Adriatic League. Without elite height or wingspan, and average to slightly below athleticism, there is no question that Sabonis’ pales at first glance in comparison to many of the eligible prospects who are expected to enter this summer’s NBA Draft.

Many college coaches would not encourage Sabonis to declare considering his circumstances. To most college coaches, if you’re not a lottery pick, the risk is too high and the reward is too great. Famously, Tyler Ennis declared for the NBA Draft though he was guaranteed to be a first round pick, but not a lottery one, much to the chagrin of his head coach Jim Boeheim. Boeheim argued that Ennis would go into a tough situation without much financial security if he was drafted outside the lottery. And, as much as I dislike the whiny Boehiem, he has proven to be right. Ennis has been flip flopped around the league and has probably spent as much time on a D-League floor than a NBA one.

But, Sabonis is a special player, and while his natural gifts and athleticism may not be “first round” worthy, other aspects of his game make him a great value that will not only be seen and recognize by a NBA team, but perhaps even utilized in some kind of playing role as early as next year. Sabonis is not a project by any means, and that alone will give him a lot of value to teams that are looking to build immediately competitive teams through the draft.

So, why should Sabonis leave and not stay for perhaps another “March Run”? Here are two reasons why Sabonis should stay not just for the benefit of himself but to the benefit of the Gonzaga basketball program as well.


Reason No.1: Sabonis’ stock is probably as high as it ever will be and there really isn’t anything he can truly work on in 2017 to make him a better prospect

I’m not going to pretend to be a “draft” expert by any means. I watch a lot of basketball, college and NBA included (I subscribe to NBA League pass). I will let other, more qualified writers (like here and here) determine Sabonis’ exact stock in comparison to other eligible prospects for this draft. But the fact of the matter is this: nobody in college basketball has raised their stock more in the past month than Sabonis.

First off, look at the numbers: Sabonis averaged 17.3 ppg and 11.5 rpg on 61.3 percent shooting from the floor and posted a 76.9 percent free throw percentage in 33 games this year. If you go into the advanced numbers, the Lithuanian looks even better: he posted a 120.0 adjusted offensive rating according to Ken Pom, with a 115.0 adjusted offensive rating against Tier A competition, much better marks than McCllelan (110) and Wiltjer (105). His 28.2 defensive rebounding rate was 14th best in the nation, and his 65.1 true shooting percentage ranked him 21st in the nation. And to wrap it all up, according to Ken Pom’s national player of the year ranking, Sabonis ranks eighth, putting him in the same class with other more heralded players such as Perry Ellis (who ranks 5th), Georges Niang (who ranks 6th) and Virginia’s Anthony Gill (who actually is behind him at 10th). In a game and professional league that is becoming more and more reliant on analytics and advanced numbers, Sabonis satisfies the requirements as a legitimate first round pick and possible sleeper lottery pick.

But if you’re one of those guys who doesn’t buy into all the stats (i.e. Seth Davis), then look at what Sabonis has done on the floor. His footwork is impeccable for a post player, and his bevy of fakes and pivot moves makes up for his lack of length and athleticism. Furthermore, his motor is non-stop and without a doubt, Sabonis carried the Zags numerous times this year emotionally, especially in big games such as the WCC Championship and in the NCAA Tournament. But the biggest crowning achievement? His defensive shutdown of lottery pick Jakob Poeltel of Utah in the second round. Poeltel came into the game as one of the best offensive post players in the country, as evidenced by his 17.3 ppg and 8.9 rpg in 34 games and 124.1
adjusted offensive rating for the year. But against Sabonis? The Austrian center was limited to 5 points on 2 of 5 shooting and only nabbed 4 rebounds, good for an offensive rating of 77, his second lowest rating of the year (his lowest was 66 in a contest against Colorado on January 8th). Despite giving up a couple of inches and some considerable weight to Sabonis, the Lithuanian pushed Poeltel off the block on constant occasion and made him a non-factor whenever he was on the floor. If critics needed confirmation that Sabonis could handle himself against NBA bigs, then they were given a rude awakening after his sterling performance against Utah (he also scored 19 points, nabbed 10 rebounds and sported an offensive rating of 134).

And that’s the issue with Sabonis coming back. Unless he leads Gonzaga to the Final Four next year, I can’t imagine his stock getting any higher. He really has done all he could do to prove that he can play at the NBA level. Furthermore, there is nothing major that he needs to work on that another year of college would help him with. He has played well against good competition in high-pressure moments (the WCC and NCAA Tournament). He has put up good numbers. He has diversified his game, adding a sneaky good mid-range shot. Yes, Sabonis is left-hand dominant, and the athleticism isn’t there, but I can’t imagine Sabonis really getting considerably better in those categories with another year of college. For some players, coming back made sense. Olynyk needed to get stronger and he could put time in the weight room to do so. Sabonis is already pretty strong and has a NBA frame, and that will get more refined with more round-the-clock training at the professional level. Team-wise, yes, the Zags would be a heck of a lot better with Sabonis. But individually? There really is no incentive for Sabonis to come back, and I think he will realize that and enter the draft with his stock so high already (and could even go up more due to his father being Arvydas Sabonis).

Reason #2: The Zags will be garnering a lot of talent next year, and Sabonis returning could clog things up and result in potential transfers.

While we still do not know Przemek Karnowski’s off-season intentions (he probably has more to gain by staying after missing the year due to back injury but you never know), there will be an influx of talent this off-season that will lessen the loss of Sabonis. Center Ryan Edwards, though limited offensively, is a big body that will thrive with more minutes. And furthermore, the Zags will also add Missouri transfer Johnathan Williams, a stretch 4 type who could play small or power forward who has already been practicing with the team (along with Washington transfer Nigel Williams-Goss who could compete with Josh Perkins for the starting point guard spot). But the incoming freshman class will include McDonald’s All-American Zach Collins, a 6-11 center from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas that is the 37th ranked player according to ESPN, and European prospects Killian Tillie, a 6-8 forward from France and Jacob Larsen, a 6-10 F/C from Denmark. Considering the Zags’ success with European prospects, it would not be surprising if Tillie and/or Larsen are better than their initial recruiting rankings.

Add all that with Karnowski probably back and somebody’s feelings will get hurt on the bench and that could mean a potential transfer at the end of next season. As solid as Mark Few is, he definitely has his issues spreading minutes out, and that has definitely had an impact when it comes to players leaving the program (though for the most part, this hasn’t hurt the Zags with the exception of Ryan Spangler, who to be fair transferred more to be closer to home than any beef he had with Gonzaga). Yes, there is considerable risk going with more unproven commodities to fill in Sabonis’ spot, but if Karnowski is back it should soften the blow and allow the young guys to grow. Even if Karnwoski is back, the experience returning at guard in Perkins and Melson will also help the post players as they grow accustomed to the college game (though if Karnowski is not back, expect some early losses in the non-conference slate).

Yes, Sabonis would make the Zags a potential Final Four candidate and he would be a Naismith-watch player at the start of the season. But, in this day and age of constant transfers, the Zags would probably be best served if Sabonis declared, and that way, they could determine roles in the post positions this off-season during workouts.

Final thoughts on Sabonis

As a Gonzaga fan, I have to think that Sabonis probably was one of the best frontcourt players in Gonzaga history, up there with Olynyk, Robert Sacre and JP Batista. In fact, I would go out on a limb and say he may be the best post player in Gonzaga history as no other player flashed his combo of efficiency and intensity on a night in and night out basis. Sabonis was fun to watch, especially as he yelled after And 1’s and got after refs when he felt he was called. He was a guilty pleasure to watch as a Gonzaga fan, and it is a shame I wasn’t able to watch Gonzaga as much as I wanted to this year. If I had followed Gonzaga as closely as I did in years past, I probably would have a poster of Sabonis in my classroom.

But, I love and know the NBA game, and Sabonis is ready and would be a fool to stay. And to be honest, that’s okay not just for him, but for the Zags. Sometimes you need to move on, and by moving on, Gonzaga can go into this off-season forming their identity without him with the collection of young, though unproven, talent on the horizon.

As a Gonzaga fan, I know that is scary. After all, this year the Zags were so close to snapping their long-time NCAA Tournament streak, and without Sabonis’ the Zags might have been in the NIT losing to Valpo rather than Syracuse. But all good things come to an end, and even though Sabonis leaving would be bittersweet, it is best for both parties involved not just for next year, but the next few as well.

Good luck Domas. I know I’ll be enjoying seeing you get after NBA refs on League Pass next year.

Jayhawk Jump? Can Kelly Oubre Follow Andrew Wiggins’ Lead in the NBA?

Kelly Oubre (left) maybe didn’t capture Jayhawk fans in 2014-2015 like expected, but it was the right decision for him to leave after 1 year.

Being in Kansas City, Kansas Jayhawk basketball dominates college (and just general) basketball talk. People either love or loathe KU hoops, and their opinions of certain players can be quite intense. No two players have been as polarizing the last couple of years than Andrew Wiggins, the former No. 1 recruit out of high school, No. 1 draft pick and reigning NBA Rookie of the Year, and Kelly Oubre, a top-10 prospect out of high school who followed Wiggins’ lead and declared for the draft out of high school.

For starters, if you understand the KU landscape, the easiest explanation of why these two players generate so much discussion is they have been the antithesis of what KU fans “expect” from their players. Jayhawk players stay for multiple years. Jayhawk player develop in Bill Self’s system and get better by year 2 or 3. Jayhawk players win Big 12 titles and go to Final Fours. Jayhawk players represent the name on the front and not on the back.

I know…it’s hard not to laugh at this crap, especially considering all the issues going on with the NCAA and College Basketball in general. But in all reality, this is how 90 percent of KU fans view their players and teams on a year-to-year basis. They really believe all those characteristics are associated with the Jayhawks like “The Cardinal Way” is with St. Louis Cardinals fans. And in the minds of Jayhawk fans, Wiggins and Oubre represented the opposite of that. They didn’t stay for more than 1 year. They didn’t “fit” in Self’s system offensively. They both exited in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. And they were “perceived” as players who cared more about their individual goals rather than team goals (i.e. they declared for the draft even though they didn’t achieve much success in the postseason).

First off, Wiggins was a projected No. 1 pick and Oubre was expected to go in the top-20. It’s hard to say “no” when those are your circumstances, especially as draft classes and stocks change quickly on an annual basis. Before he played a college game, Cliff Alexander, another fellow KU recruit who was actually rated higher than Oubre coming out of high school, was perceived as a Top-5 to Top-10 pick. Less than a year later? He’s undrafted and fighting for a roster spot, his future most likely destined for a D-League or International team next year. You can’t blame Wiggins, Oubre or any other NBA player for going while their stock is high (though Wiggins of course had the much higher stock).

In response to point number two, wings have always traditionally struggled in Self’s system at Kansas. Self runs primarily a 3-out, 2-in motion that looks to get touches and points in the paint through their big-men, and it’s obvious by the numbers that Self prefers scoring in the paint than beyond the arc (i.e. traditionalist basketball coach). Case in point, in the past four seasons, 58.3 percent of KU buckets have been assisted. A pretty good percentage and sign for a team, displaying there is more of an emphasis on passing and ball movement in Self’s system. However, in the past four seasons, only 28.9 percent of their field goal attempts have been from beyond the arc, and they haven’t rated higher than 247th in the nation in 3-point attempt percentage the past four seasons as well. What does that mean? It shows that all that ball movement and passing is going primarily to 2-point shots and 2-point shots typically are the forte of post players since they tend to be closer to the basket for closer 2’s (nobody game plans for mid-range jumpers, unless you’re Byron Scott). That is not necessarily something that corresponds with the trend in play going on in the NBA right now and what is wanted from wings at the college level (i.e. shooting from beyond the arc).

So what can you take away from Self’s system? It means that you have to take big-man production with a grain of salt and give a little more understanding to wing players who may struggle initially. So, the Thomas Robinson’s and Perry Ellis’ of the world are going to look good playing for Self while Wiggins and Oubre may leave some to be desired. But it’s not necessarily the latter wing players fault, as it seems to be more of a by-product of Self’s “post player preference” offense (common in 3-2 motion offenses).

Despite an offensive system that doesn’t typically play to wing players’ successes, Wiggins and Oubre still succeeded and improved over the course of their career, even if it was one season. At the end of the year, against Tier A competition (Top-50 opponents), according to Ken Pomeroy, Wiggins posted an adjusted offensive rating of 101.4, a True Shooting percentage of 53.6 percent and usage rate of 27.8 percent. Despite an offense geared toward posts, and against elite competition (in 2013-2014, KU had the toughest overall schedule in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy), Wiggins became effectively “the Man” for KU and carried the Jayhawks offensively. To compare to No. 2 pick, Jabari Parker of Duke, though Parker edged him slightly in the same category (Tier A opponents) in adjusted offensive rating (101.7), he did have a higher usage rate (31.8) but a lower true shooting percentage (51.5 percent). So Wiggins did improve in his career, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that Wiggins ended up having the Rookie of the Year season that he did. He flourished as much as he could have in Self’s system, and he got out while his stock was high.

As for Oubre, he didn’t have quite the same success that Wiggins had, but he wasn’t necessarily the same prospect either (Oubre was always a Top-10 guy, not a Top-2 player like Wiggins). His offensive rating over the year was a lot lower than Wiggins (108.7 to Wiggins’ 112.3) and he wasn’t as featured in the offense as Wiggins either (22.1 usage rate to Wiggins’ 25.5 rate). But Oubre, started the year horrifically (he only played double digit minutes in 2 of the first 7 games) and then really came into his own in Big 12 play. In conference play alone, his offensive rating stood at 110.0 with a true shooting percentage of 53.6 and a defensive rebounding rate of 19.3, which was actually the fifth best mark in that category in the Big 12. And much like Wiggins, Oubre proved to be a menace defensively, with Wiggins being better at blocking shots (3.1 to 2.5) and Oubre better at swiping the ball from opponents (3.6 to 2.3). Oubre still has to develop his outside shot, as he only shot 32.1 percent from the arc in Big 12 play and 32.7 percent against Tier A competition (compared to Wiggins, who shot 36.8 percent in Big 12 play; though he did only shoot 30 percent from beyond the arc against Tier A competition). But Oubre offers the same kind of athletic, offensive and defensive flexibility that made Wiggins such a success at Kansas and in Minnesota his first year in the League.

One of the main arguments though against Oubre by traditional Jayhawks fans though was that Oubre needed another year to develop. Unlike big men, who have gotten better with more years at Kansas (i.e. Robinson, who blossomed as junior, and Ellis), that hasn’t necessarily been the sure-fire case with perimeter players. Yes guys like Frank Mason got better last year (his offensive rating jumped from 105.8 to 111.5 his sophomore season), but Wayne Selden saw his offensive rating drop from 104.9 his freshman season to 98.0 his sophomore season, last year. Sure, Oubre could have seen an increase in efficiency and production his second season at Kansas, but it could also have gone south, like Selden, a late first-round to second round pick projection at the end of his freshman season who looks like a NBA longshot at this point. Oubre has a NBA game, and while his skills need some refinement, he still did enough his first year at Kansas to merit a NBA team using a first round pick on him.

As far as the last comment from Jayhawk fans about neither Wiggins nor Oubre winning anything as collegiate players? I think that is vastly overrated when it comes to evaluating college players and whether or not they’ll be successful at the NBA level. First off, neither Wiggins or Oubre had complete teams when they entered the Tournament. Wiggins’ squad had lost Joel Embiid, who was playing like one of the best big men in the country, while Oubre’s team struggled all year along with a go-to guy, that amplified even more when Alexander was ruled ineligible for the remainder of the season after 28 games. Furthermore, in college, it is hard for one player to transcend a team over the top, especially in the one-and-done style of the Tournament. In the NBA Playoffs, the best teams usually wins because it’s a 7-game series. In a single-elimination tournament, it’s a crap shoot that is fun to see because of the upsets, but usually results in Final Four matchups that usually underwhelm because the best teams aren’t in the championship (i.e. Butler and UConn circa 2011 and UConn-Kentucky circa 2014…yes, I do not like watching UConn).

And remember these facts: Kevin Durant lost in the 2nd round his freshman year at Texas; Parker lost in the first round with Duke; Chris Paul lost in the 2nd round of the tournament his sophomore year at Wake Forest; and Carmelo Anthony wouldn’t have won a championship if not for Gerry McNamara going insane or Hakim Warrick blocking that shot against Kansas down the stretch. Throw a packing zone defense or have one player hit an insane amount of threes for a half and even a slightly-above average or even average can knock off a college team with LeBron James. You cannot blame Wiggins and Oubre for not winning it all in the college landscape. In the NBA? You have an argument, but not college where the rules (longer shot clock, no zone defense limits) and circumstances (single-elimination postseason) make it far too difficult for one player to carry their team to a championship.

So, despite what many “Jayhawk Purists” think (i.e. fans who still hang onto players becoming the next Jacque Vaughn, Kirk Heinrichs, Nick Collison, Scott Pollard, Greg Ostertag, etc.), Wiggins had a successful year at Kansas and it transitioned to the NBA, and Oubre had a successful season at Kansas, even if many Jayhawk fans might not admit it (do not point to the 9.3 ppg…per game numbers can be deceiving due to pace and the offense a coach employs, and neither really helped Oubre all that much last year, especially with the offense lacking direction and definition immensely at times beyond Oubre’s control). Will that transition to a successful season for Oubre his rookie year though? Can Oubre prove to the KU naysayers much like Wiggins did with Minnesota?

As of two Summer League games, Oubre is trying to make his case. He leads the Wizards in minutes at 29.5 per game, he is scoring 19 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per game, and showing flashes of brilliance on the defensive end, averaging 1.5 steals per game along with some highlight reel blocks. However, Oubre is only shooting 35.1 percent from the field and a ghastly 1 of 12 from beyond the arc. His shaky 3-point shot has been a critique from scouts of Oubre as well as his shot selection and that seems to be evident in the limited 2 game sample in Summer League. That being said, Oubre is showing the strong rebounding ability and offensive and defensive versatility that made him a weapon at Kansas and persuaded the Wizards to trade for him at 15 in last year’s draft (the Hawks had the original pick).

It will be tough though for Oubre to match the heights of Wiggins’ Rookie Campaign in Washington. First off, unlike Wiggins, Oubre is coming to a playoff team with a strong (but still young) veteran presence. With John Wall and Bradley Beal leading the way, and Otto Porter coming off a strong second year, minutes will be tough to come by for Oubre in the Wizards rotation. I would not be surprised at all to see the same growing pains for Oubre that Porter had his rookie year, where he only played 37 games and struggled to find minutes. The Wizards are looking to compete for a Eastern Conference title with Cleveland, and Randy Wittman has displayed a short leash with his rookies in the past.

But, Oubre has potential, and he could be a sleeper from this 2015 draft class. Though he certainly was a polarizing figure at Kansas (like Wiggins) and while some Jayhawk fans felt he was a disappointment, Oubre was a lot better than people thought last season and he left to be a professional at a good time, considering the circumstances (offense, Self’s history with producing NBA wings) back in Lawrence. Maybe Oubre and Wiggins could have benefited from another year at KU. It certainly would have been fun to see Wiggins or Oubre as sophomores. But considering the situations they both faced, it was obvious that the benefits would have helped the Jayhawks more than them as individuals in the long-term and that is a risk that certainly wouldn’t have been worth it for either of their professional futures.

I know that’s something Kansas fans don’t want to hear (i.e. a player cares more about his individual future than the team’s). But I know most Kansas fans (and myself) and even would be thinking about their own livelihoods too if they had a chance to accumulate millions of dollars immediately too, degree acquired or not.

Mike Dunlap, the 1-1-3 Zone, and a Different Approach to LMU Basketball

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Mike Dunlap, a coaching lifer with stops in D2, D1 and the NBA, employs a unique 1-1-3 that will be interesting to follow at Loyola Marymount

If there was one coaching hire that probably didn’t get as much praise as it should, it had to be LMU’s decision to hire Mike Dunlap. While the early nature of the hire (they literally hired Dunlap a day after they decided not to renew Max Good’s contract; though to be truthful, Good was dead-man walking from the middle of the WCC season on) probably hurt publicity (didn’t stick out among all the other “bigger hires”), Dunlap’s hire could be an under-the-radar move that could provide a spark for a program that has failed to get much going since their Paul Westhead “Run and Gun” days.

First off, Dunlap’s pedigree is impressive, though I think his recent NBA stint with Charlotte unfortunately is what lingers on the minds of the most common basketball fan. Yes, the Bobcats were not good in 2012-2013 as they finished 21-61 and last in SRS and defensive rating (-9.29 and 111.5, respectively) and second-to-last in offensive rating (101.5). Yes, he was fired after only one season, and the Bobcats significantly improved this year in his absence (they went 43-39 and made the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history). But coaching in the NBA is a difficult tight-rope to walk. We have seen all the time coaches find success in the NBA only to fail in college and vice versa. Sure, there are success stories of coaches who managed to do both (Larry Brown for example), but evidence shows that some coaches are meant for the college or the professional game and not necessarily both.

Dunlap falls into the latter category because he is at the heart a “program builder”. While critics of the hire point to Dunlap’s failings in the NBA, they fail to recognize his immense success with Metro State, a commuter school in Denver that has no football team in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. At Metro State, Dunlap tallied a 248-50 record with two Division II national championships, and four DII Final Four appearances. Those kinds of numbers at any level are incredible, and to do it with challenging circumstances (less recruiting budget, less tradition and fan fare in a primarily pro sport metro area) only makes it more impressive. As evidenced by Mark Few at Gonzaga and Randy Bennett at St. Mary’s (and to some extent Rex Walters at USF), in order to be a successful program in the WCC, a coach needs to be in it for the long haul and really build things from the ground up. Dunlap has done that before with Metro State and with even lesser resources than what Few and Bennett had when they came into their positions.

In addition to being a “program builder”, Dunlap brings in an identity as a defensive-oriented coach, something that is quite antagonistic with the history of LMU basketball. Since the days of Westhead, the Lions have been known for offense and points, and that is something LMU fans have come to expect to varying levels of success. If there was a positive of the Good-era at LMU, it was that he brought in talented players who could light it up on the offensive end. Anthony Ireland and Drew Viney were Good recruits who excelled as offensive-oriented players who could entertain fans and put points on the board. Good’s teams ranked in the top-200 in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom.com 4 out of his 6 years, and ranked in the top-120 in tempo in 4 out of 6 years as well (including Top-50 in 2010 and last season). Good wanted his Lions to play fast, play loose and focus on putting the ball in the basket. In an offensive-oriented conference, his philosophy seemed pretty in-line with many other programs in the WCC (the conference ranked 6th in offensive efficiency last season).

But being similar doesn’t always bode well for success. Good only produced two winning seasons (2010 and 2012) in his time at LMU and while injuries did ravage his Lions throughout his career, his teams’ struggles on defense always compounded things as well. Good’s teams ranked in the Top-150 in defensive efficiency only twice in his career (2012 and 2013), and last year, despite a promising start which included an upset of BYU at home, the Lions struggled on the defensive end, finishing with an adjusted defensive rating of 112.4 in conference (9th) and 106.3 for the overall year (202nd in the nation). Good’s teams may have been entertaining at times and showed flashes of brilliance (their win against BYU last season in Los Angeles was a thing of beauty), but it was obvious that the team needed a new philosophy and fresh face to help turn things around for a once proud program. (Seriously, how many WCC schools have 30 for 30’s that feature them?)

Dunlap at the very least brings something different. His most recent college experience was at St. John’s where he served as an assistant for the Red Storm under Steve Lavin. Dunlap found success as somewhat of a defensive coordinator for Lavin, much in the vein of Tom Thibodeau for Doc Rivers during the Boston Celtics’ 2008 title campaign. With Dunlap’s expertise, the Red Storm primarily applied a 1-1-3 matchup zone, a defense that he developed from his days as an assistant at Arizona (Dunlap was an assistant in 2008-2009), where Lute Olson regularly employed the defense with his athletic guards. The 1-1-3 matchup zone basically is a combo defense that takes the 2-3 zone and meshes it with some man-to-man principles. The result is a defense that allows teams to keep the “zone defense” identity that they wish, while at the same time allowing them to apply more pressure on defense without switching completely (most zone defenses struggle to create turnovers). The defense also has to potential to create a “junk defense” effect, as it confuses defenses and contains teams that heavily rely on one perimeter player that creates most of the offense.

At St. John’s, the Red Storm found success on the defensive end employing Dunlap’s 1-1-3 approach, especially in the 2010-2011 season. That year, the Red Storm ranked 45th in the nation in adjusted defensive rating at 95.2, and had a steal percentage of 12.3, 26th best in the nation. The result was a 21-12 record and their first NCAA Tournament since the Mike Jarvis days (shout out to Ron Artest and Erick Barkley!) despite playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation (10th hardest according to Ken Pom).

So how does the 1-1-3 matchup zone work? Here is basic look at how the defense initially sets:

As you can see, the defense looks like a 2-3 zone below the free throw line, but things get different once the ball swings to the perimeter to one of the wings. Let’s say the point guard passes it to the right wing to the 2 man. Here’s is how the defense rotates:
This isn’t a “Box and 1” where the 1 stays on the opposing 1. Instead, the 1 sags to the free throw line on the left elbow on the pass to the wing (to take away skip pass opportunities), and the two and three swarm to pressure the opposing two. In many ways, that is one of the benefits of the 1-1-3: it causes a lot of pressure on the offense with double-teams and traps (characteristic of pressure man-to-man defenses), while preventing penetration and easy passes in the post (characteristic of traditional zone defenses).
In 2011 early in the season with Dunlap still on staff, the Red Storm played Arizona in the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden (pretty much a home game for the Red Storm). Let’s see how the first possession played out as they employed their 1-1-3 zone defense
As you can see, the Red Storm are in their 1-1-3 set while Arizona is in a 4-out set themselves. The guard on the opposite end is on the wing, while two guys are taking away the post. Let’s see how the defense reacts when the ball is swung over to the other side.
As the ball is swung to the post player, the zone forces him into the corner, which for him is not a high-percentage shot and out of his comfort zone. The defense is looking to trap, and they are taking away the pass into the middle at the free throw line as well. Because of the angle, the skip pass would be difficult as well, and thus, the only option for the Wildcat post player is to shoot the jump shot or pass it back out to the wing (which he does).
After a couple of passes, the ball comes back to the same player, who pretty much receives the ball in the same position. This time he has a 1-on-1 matchup, and feels comfortable with the shot. That being said, the athleticism of the defender (the 1-1-3 succeeds with athletic players, not necessarily size) catches no. 14 for Arizona by surprise.
The Red Storm get him to shoot this time, and not only is he forced to take a difficult shot, but it is blocked as well. Furthermore, there is nobody in the post when he takes the shot. Arizona is backed out to the perimeter, and though they crash and get the rebound, it does set the Red Storm up well for the rebounding position (lack of size hurt the Red Storm in rebounding, as they finished 342nd in the nation in offensive rebounds allowed percentage that year). On the same position after getting the rebound, the Wildcats try to set it up on the other side and look to get a better shot to their player in the block.
If you’re an Arizona fan, this looks like a better scenario. The post player is in the block and looks open as well. The wing player shot fakes and looks to pass it down to that seemingly open player. But the benefit of the 1-1-3 is that it is established on pressure and producing turnovers, and to do that, the players need to be ready to swarm and entice passes to which they can get the steal or force the turnover. That is the case here: no. 4 (player in the middle of the key for St. John’s) is giving the look that he is fronting 44 for Arizona in the post. But, by feigning this coverage, he is setting up to pounce on the Arizona post player who thinks he is going to have a high percentage shot when in reality, he is going to be jumped on by the Red Storm defense. Which results in…
no. 4 for St. John’s pouncing on the player, denying and batting the ball off the Arizona player and out of bounds for the turnover. And just on that first possession, the Red Storm, through their 1-1-3 matchup zone are proving to the Wildcats that shots aren’t going to come easy, and that the Red Storm not only have speed on the perimeter on defense, but in the post as well (to make up for their lack of size).
Dunlap is an interesting character for sure. In the year off of coaching, he maintained a blog and is well known for his appearances in coaching videos promoting his 1-1-3 matchup zone as well as writing articles on general coaching philosophy (in his 10 keys to practice, he advocates the use of clear water bottles so he knows how much water his players are drinking in practice). But, he has found success with the 1-1-3, especially at St. John’s, as it caused turnovers and made up for teams that traditionally lacked size and depth (both problems the staff dealt with in his two seasons with the Red Storm). The same problems are most likely going to be true at LMU: he is going to have a tough time recruiting elite size to a WCC school (most WCC teams do), and it is going to take him a while to develop any depth with his roster (Good was around average as a coach when it came to bench minutes percentage, hovering around 30-32 percent in terms of bench minutes). His 1-1-3 philosophy on the defensive end will take advantage of the players that have traditionally come through the Lions program (usually smaller, but athletic players), while also conserving their energy and getting maximum efficiency from them, especially on the defensive end.
It is going to be interesting to see the progression of the Lions under Dunlap. Traditionally, coaches have been more offensive-oriented in their time at LMU and focused on pushing the pace, not surprising considering that was the most exciting and successful basketball played at LMU. But, a more-defensive approach could be the shot in the arm this Lions program needs. It never really seemed to be a strength of Good’s, and this kind of style would be a change of pace that could be a competitive advantage in a conference where most teams were average or below when it came to defensive efficiency (only Gonzaga and San Diego bucked this trend last season, and Gonzaga was flat out dominant thanks to Przemek Karnowski in the paint). While Westhead was available and would have been the most glamorous hire, Dunlap and his pedigree will help provide a distinct identity to this Lions program and could get them on their way to becoming a more legitimate squad in a WCC that is rising in terms of popularity as well as competitiveness.