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.

The Glorious All-Offense, Little-Defense Approach of Marquette

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At 19-11 and 10-8 in the Big East, there is no guarantee Marquette will be dancing come Selection Sunday. While they do carry big wins over Villanova, season sweeps of Big East foes Xavier and Creighton, and “better-than-you-think” non-conference wins over Vanderbilt and Georgia early in the season, there are some blemishes on their resume. Losses to Georgetown and St. John’s would have been okay maybe a decade ago, but considering how far those programs have fallen, they have become more of a liability to their tournament chances than a liability. Add that with shaky RPI (59) and SOS (68) numbers, and it makes sense why many Marquette fans and alums may be sweating a bit next Sunday, unless they make a deep run in the Big East tournament this upcoming week (an appearance in the championship game “should” seal it; a win would definitely do so).

However, the Golden Eagles, whether or not they make tourney (they should; Joe Lunardi has them as a last four-in and a 10 seed in his current bracket prediction), have experienced a bit of a renaissance under third year head coach and former “Dookie” Steve Wojciechowski (who will be referred to as “Wojo” from here on out). The Jesuit, Milwaukee-based school has not made the tournament since 2013, Buzz Williams’ second-to-last season before he bolted to Virginia Tech. While Marquette has still been able to stay in the realm of respectability in the Big East (unlike Georgetown or St. John’s, who have fallen off cliffs in that time span), the lack of tournament appearances, and the resurgence of in-state rival Wisconsin, who nearly won a national title in 2015, has not helped the profile of the storied basketball program. Remember, this is a program that not only has won a national title and been to the Final Four, but also has produced bon-a-fide NBA stars currently such as Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, and Jae Crowder, just to name a few. Marquette, without a football program and located in the heart of the city in Milwaukee, should have the kind of imprint in the Midwest that Gonzaga has in the West Coast.

And thus, it is understandable that the administration not only tabbed Wojo as Buzz’s replacement, but also why Wojo left his seat as the right-hand man to Coach K at Duke. Unlike colleagues who left for major rebuilding jobs (like Chris Collins to Northwestern) or semi-rebuilding jobs (like Johnny Dawkins to Stanford, where he flamed out), Marquette is a powder keg of potential, and one can see how the move would benefit Wojo in the future. A Final Four and perhaps national title would seal the deal for him as Coach K’s successor (he has always been seen as thus, and many felt he left the bench simply to get head coaching experience). On the flip side though, the program is big enough and prestige enough that if he were to achieve consistent success, he could stay long-term and enter the pantheon of Big East coaching legends such as John Thompson, Jr., Jim Boeheim, and Lou Carnesecca, just to name a few.

Of course, being a “Big East coaching legend” wasn’t enough for Williams, who left for the ACC after five 20-plus win seasons, not to mention tournament berths (also add an elite eight and two sweet 16 appearances to that resume). So, considering Wojo’s Duke ties and his considerable time as an assistant on Tobacco Road, it may be foolheartedly to believe that Wojo will fill in McGuire’s shoes in Milwaukee.

Despite the murky long-term future, that doesn’t mean Wojo and the Golden Eagles haven’t been a remarkable and worthy team to pay attention to heading into the Big East tournament (and hopefully the NCAA one as well).


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Williams certainly achieved his fair share of success at Marquette. One doesn’t lead his team to at least the Sweet 16 three years in a row without being a good coach, if not one of the nation’s 25 best, perhaps. However, if there was one knock on Williams’ teams, it was that they typically played the kind of basketball that college basketball haters tend to point to: grind-it-out, physical, messy affairs that produced wins and success, but didn’t necessarily win style points or affinity from the general basketball fan, especially those who tend to favor the NBA’s more wide-open game (much like myself). His team only ranked within the Top-100 in fastest pace twice (2012, and 2009, his first season), and in his last three years, ranked 126th, 112th, and 210th in effective field goal rate. Add that with a lack of usage of the three point shot (in his last four years, they only ranked under the 300 mark once in 3-point field goal attempts, and that mark was 257th), and while Marquette fans miss Buzz’s energy and postseason success, the same can’t be said of his archaic on-court approach, especially on the offensive end.

Flash forward three seasons later, and Wojo has Marquette playing a different kind of ball. According to Ken Pomeroy, the Golden Eagles (who rank 28th overall in his rankings) rank 8th in adjusted offensive efficiency, 5th in effective field goal rate, 1st in three-point percentage, 19th in points coming from three-pointers, 57th in assists to field goals made, 72nd in 3-pointers to field goal attempts, 75th in average possession rate, and 78th in adjusted tempo. In other words, Wojo has transformed the Eagles into a run-and-gun, three-point bombing squad, the antithesis of the “Royal Rumble” affairs commonly seen in the Buzz-era.

Of course, this transition didn’t necessarily come immediately. In years 1 and 2, Wojo seemed similar to his predecessor. Last season, though they played an up-tempo style, he leaned on his post players, especially Henry Ellenson, who averaged 17.8 ppg and 9.7 rpg and was selected in the NBA Draft after one season. They ranked 286th in 3-pt attempt percentage and compounded that with a 33.9 3-pt percentage, 210th in the nation. Though the record was respectable (20-13 and 8-10 in the Big East), the Golden Eagles’ lack of a threat from the perimeter proved to be a major problem in achieving consistent success, especially considering their 106.9 points per 100 possessions rating, which was 116th best in the nation last year.

What is amazing about this Golden Eagles team this year though is they haven’t done much else different. Last year, they played up-tempo, got off quick shots, and passed around the ball well on the offensive end. That still is proving to be true in 2017. The main difference though? The Golden Eagles are shooting way more fucking three pointers, and not only are they shooting more, but they are shooting straight up fire as well.

Freshman Markus Howard is shooting an insane 55.1 percent from beyond the arc on 138 three-point attempts. Junior point guard Andrew Rowsey is shooting 45.5 percent on a 143 attempts from beyond the arc. Small ball four Sam Hauser is shooting 44.7 percent on 132 attempts. And senior Katin Reinhardt is shooting 38.3 percent on a 141 attempts. Average those together, and those four combined shooting percentage is 45.9 percent on an average of 138.5 3-pt attempts. Last season, only two players shot more than 100 three pointers: Ellenson, who shot 104 and shot a paltry 28.8 percent and then-sophomore Duane Wilson, who shot 156 3-pt attempts at a 34.6 percent clip (Wilson has seen his role diminished this season, as he has only attempted 46 3-pointers this year).

The emphasis on shots beyond the arc has helped, especially as of late, as the Golden Eagles closed out their Big East campaign with two big wins over Xavier on the road and Creighton at home. They scored 95 and 91 points, respectively, and the three-point shot was a big reason why. As you can see in the video below, their ability to move the ball and create open 3-point looks has been a crucial element to Marquette’s improved success on the overall offensive end. Big man Luke Fischer, while not the NBA prospect that Ellenson was, has been a key cog in opening up shots beyond the arc, as his ability to finish around the rim at a high rate (65.3 effective field goal rate) puts defenses in dilemmas. Focus on him, and you give up open looks. Let him go one on one in the block, and Fischer is going to get his. For most teams, how to game plan Fischer and the Marquette offense can be a lose-lose situation, and Xavier and Creighton were two victims of that this past week.


If there is one major achilles heel for this Marquette squad, it focuses squarely on the defensive end. Unlike his predecessor or in his first couple of years, the defensive rating of this year’s Marquette squad (102.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) is severely behind the offensive end in terms of ranking. The Golden Eagles ranked 132nd in defensive efficiency, much worse than the 88th ranking and 69th rankings in Wojo’s first two years in Milwaukee. The numbers appear a lot worse when one compares the defensive rating of this year’s squad to any in Buzz’s tenure, as the worst year he had with a team was in 2011, when they ranked 66th in defensive rating.

The massive difference between offensive and defensive ranking (in this case, a difference of 124 spots), has been an indicator of teams who get upset in the tournament. In 2014, Duke lost in the NCAA Tournament first round to Mercer, despite having the top offense in the nation according to adjusted offensive rating. Defense? They ranked 87th. In 2012, Missouri was 30-4 and fresh off a Big 12 Tournament championship. They had the top adjusted offensive rating in the country at 122.4 points per 100 possessions. However, they lost in the first round in a historic 2-15 upset to Norfolk State. Missouri’s defensive rating? Ranked 112th in the nation.

So, is Marquette a Final Four dark horse? Well, according to the numbers, it is unlikely. But should they be considered team that can do damage in the Tournament despite their defensive issues? Absolutely.

Marquette’s defensive issues and difference from the Buzz era in my mind stem from two issues: 1.) they don’t have the defensive talent as in years past and 2.) they switch up defenses a lot, putting more emphasis on taking risks to generate turnovers rather than get traditional stops.

In terms of the first issue, the reality of recruiting in college basketball is this: you always are going to have to give something up unless you’re a Duke, Kansas or UNC. Under Buzz, he went after athletes and defensive stoppers to fit into his system. Unfortunately, while they had defensive skills and elite athleticism, they were often unpolished on the offensive end when they arrived, and it was a growing process to get them to be at least average by the end of their college tenures. Even Butler and Crowder took a couple of years in the NBA before they became good offensive players.

Wojo on the other end has gone the opposite route. Instead of recruiting defensive-minded athletes, he has gone with more polished players, especially on the shooting end. The plus? The offensive efficiency and shooting has improved dramatically. The negative? They don’t have the kind of athleticism or size to matchup defensively like Marquette squads during the Buzz era.

Which leads to the second point: in order to mask these defensive issues, Wojo mixes it up a lot on the defensive end. It is quite common to see Marquette switch between different zone looks as well as man-to-man to make up for their lack of overall size (they rank 192nd in the nation in overall height) and athleticism. The reliance of different looks (the strategy of “quantity” perhaps rather than “quality” when it comes to defensive strategy) has led to defensive breakdowns easy buckets at times, which you will see in the highlights below from their game against Villanova, where Marquette got burned on occasion by a crisp passing, quick Villanova team. The numbers highlight the Golden Eagles’ lapses on defense: they rank 237 in effective field goal percentage allowed, 272nd in 3 point percentage allowed, and 220th in 2-pt percentage allowed.

But, as mediocre as the defensive numbers look, the strategy pays off in one way: steals. The Golden Eagles’ steal rate ranks 43rd in the nation, and is a big reason why their defense stays average instead of horrible, like all their other metrics suggest. Marquette likes to get live ball turnovers, push things in the full court, and get quick shots off these changes in possession, which are often 3-pointers. It’s an interesting strategy, because when the emphasis on stealing the ball pays off (like it did against Creighton when they got 10 steals in their regular season finale), it can lead to big scores and wins, because it makes up for the mismatches Marquette often gives up against bigger or more athletic teams. When it doesn’t, it can lead to some of the let down losses they have had this year such as being swept by Providence and losing to St. John’s at MSG.

Year three under Wojo could be seen as a satisfying season for Marquette fans, alums and admin alike. Barring a first round upset in the Big East tourney, and some other weird things going on in other conference tourney, Marquette should at least make the tournament as a first four. Irregardless of the tournament appearance though, the turnaround in playing style has been something to behold in Milwaukee. Wojo has brought a fast, exciting brand of basketball, and considering the stiff competition from the Badgers in Madison and the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, the kind of interest Marquette is generating is nothing to shrug at. Add that with the fact that this team is young (193rd in the nation in experience), and it further shows the progress that Wojo had made with a Golden Eagles program that went through a bit of a lull for a couple of years after Buzz left Milwaukee for Blacksburg.

Now, how long Wojo will stay at Marquette? Who knows. I guess that depends on Coach K. But let’s enjoy this three-point heavy, fast-paced, high-risk defensive style of play in upper Midwest for as long as we can.

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.

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.

Pepperdine Experiencing Sudden Wave of Success

It has been a while since the Pepperdine Waves have achieved success in basketball, as the program has had quite a history in terms of producing some successful coaches who earned their stripes in Malibu. Jim Harrick led his team to multiple NCAA Tournament berths before he took over at UCLA and won a national title (and committed multiple violations there as well as other stops at Rhode Island and Georgia). Lorenzo Romar built a key foundation for the Waves before he took the St. Louis position (and then eventually Washington’s, his current spot). Jan Van Breda Kolff led the Waves to a surprise Sweet 16 appearance before leaving for St. Bonaventure in 2001, and Paul Westphal led his team to a 21-win season and NCAA Tournament berth in his first year. The bottom line? The Waves have had talent and success in the past with their teams.

Recently though, time have been pretty rough for the Waves. After a successful first season with Van Breda Kolff’s players (including Brandon Armstrong), Westphal failed to reach success, as he hovered at or around .500 for three seasons before going 7-20 in his last year. Dribble-Drive Motion Offense guru Vance Walberg took over for Westphal in 2006, promising that his high octane offense (which John Calipari adopted at Memphis and was successful for Walberg at Fresno City College) would help the Waves make an impact in the WCC. Defensively though, the Waves struggled in his first year (they rated 308th in the nation in defensive efficiency in 2007-2008) and after a 6-12 start in his second year, Walberg stepped down. Former Waves coach Tom Asbury stepped up to take over the program that season and stayed on as head coach for three more seasons, but Asbury was unable to rekindle the success of his first tenure (1988-1994), and he too stepped down early on in the 2011 season.

Now, the man in charge is Marty Wilson. Wilson has achieved mixed success so far as the Waves’ head man. Wilson went 3-10 as interim filling in for Asbury, and in his first two seasons, he went 22-31. Though he brought in some talent like Stacy Davis, who earned WCC Newcomer of the Year last season, many figured the Waves to hover near the bottom of the WCC.

So far, the Waves have been the biggest surprise in the WCC this year. They are 10-5 to start the season and 3-0 in conference play with big wins over BYU at home and Santa Clara on the road. On the offensive end, the Waves have excelled in conference play so far, as their 114.8 offensive rating and 46.6 3 point percentage are the best marks in WCC play, and their 52.9 eFG percentage is rated 2nd. For the season, Pepperdine hasn’t been a WCC fluke either, as their offensive rating for the year is 108.5, 77th best in the nation, a vast improvement on their 96.4 mark a season ago.

How has Wilson and his Waves experienced so much success? We all know about Davis, sure, but the production of center Brendan Lane and guards Jeremy Major and Malcolm Brooks has been a key reason why the Waves are sitting at the top of the WCC standings along with Gonzaga. Lane, a senior transfer who languished on the bench at UCLA, has been a revelation in the post this year, as evidenced by his numbers: 124.1 offensive rating, 63 percent effective field goal percentage, 10.4 offensive rebounding percentage, 8.2 block percentage. So far, Lane’s production has been up there with higher profile players in the conference like St. Mary’s Brad Waldow and Gonzaga’s Sam Dower. That being said, unlike Waldow or Dower, Lane hasn’t been affected by injuries or ineffective nights, which has happened to both players as of late.

Major and Brooks’ production has also been a God send for Wilson’s team. Brooks, though he is not a “primary” ball handler (16.5 usage rate), has been effective when he does have the ball in his hands, as evidenced by his 125.3 offensive rating and 58 effective field goal percentage. The best aspect of Brooks’ game though has been his ability to take care of the ball, as he only has a turnover percentage of 8.4 for the year (in comparison to an assist rate of 13.6, a +5.2 percent difference). As for Major, the Freshman guard has been an extraordinary playmaker for the Waves as he is sporting a 29.9 assist rate along with a usage rate of 22.3. Major still has the same freshman problems in terms of taking care of the ball (19.9 turnover rate), but he has showed the ability and aggressiveness to keep the Waves productive on the offensive end of things. Add these three with Davis, who is posting a better season than his lauded freshman year (which I noted in this post), and the Waves have a starting lineup that can compete with any squad in the WCC.

A lot of props though has to be given to Wilson, who has eased off the reigns a bit in his third year as head man in Malibu. He has let his newcomers play and experience the early mistakes and successes that come with being young players. Furthermore, he has let them play a more wide open game, as evidenced by their 66.7 Adjusted Tempo, which is 2.9 points higher than a year ago and 4.8 points higher than his first full year as head coach. The initial preference for a slower, more half-court oriented game is not surprising considering his tenure as an assistant under Asbury and at Utah under Ray Giacoletti and Jim Boylean (both slower-tempo coaches). However, by trusting his players more and letting them play a more full-court style, the Waves have been much better offensively, as their 108.5 offensive rating is 12.1 points higher than a year ago and 15.2 points higher than his first full year. Give Wilson credit when credit is due: he adjusted to the talent he had on his roster, and it has paid dividends in his third year.

Now, can Wilson lead the Waves to a WCC crown (either regular season or tournament)? It is tough to say after three games, but to be frank, they have as good a shot as anyone. While Gonzaga’s defense probably will carry them to another WCC championship of some sort (ether regular season, tournament or both), the Waves are not much different than other competing squads in the WCC (which at this point, looks like everyone). They are good offensively, and inconsistent defensively (they rank 241st in the nation in AdjD). That kind of profile will probably keep them in every game in the WCC this year, but it could also lead to letdowns as well (as evidenced by LMU and Santa Clara last night). I think the post presence of Lane and Davis, and the development of Brooks and Major on the perimeter will be key factors to watch this year. If Brooks and Major especially can continue the progress they have made this season, then it’s definitely in the realm of possibility to think that Pepperdine could sneakily be the second best team in the WCC. They may not be better than Gonzaga, but they certainly could give anyone else fits (not to mention a loss or two).