Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Prince

The Milwaukee Bucks are currently the number 8 seeded team in the Eastern Conference. This assures them a playoff spot and the chance to sacrifice themselves in front of the mighty Miami Heat as LeBron and company coast towards their shot at the second title. Inevitable futility awaits the Bucks.

It's hard to argue that Milwaukee has much of a shot, but they do possess one thing that no other team does that could at least make things interesting. This is the 6-foot-8, Cameroonian force of defensive nature that is Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Luc flies under the radar mainly due to the fact that his offensive game is limited, but he's one of the better overall defenders the league has.

We'll start with the negatives. Mbah a Moute averages about 12.2 points per 40 minutes and shoots a 41/35.7/58.5 line while doing so. He's been a so-so rebounder this year and is a little turnover prone for a guy who isn't setting up much offense. These struggles on the offensive end keep him off the floor as Luc is only averaging 24.4 minutes per game. With a Milwaukee team that is 22nd in offensive efficiency, its hard to rail against the decision to try to garner a few more points while Luc sits.

Now to the good news. Mbah a Moute is an absolute terror on defense. From a subjective standpoint, he has an excellent ability to stay in front of the ball on the perimeter while not giving up too much strength if taken to the block. His awareness is also very good and is often in the right position to help on defense if a teammate needs it (and Jennings and Ellis usually do).

The numbers back him up as well. According to Synergy, Luc gives up 0.76 points per possession when he is defending. This ranks 36th overall among all players. He's also the 13th best when guarding the pick-and-roll ball handler, 22nd when defending post-ups, and the very best at eliminating shots off screens, only giving up 0.39 points per possession in these cases while opponents shoot just 16 percent. The 82games numbers like him, too, as he limits opposing 3s to an 8.6 PER. Of the three best defensive line-ups that the Bucks have played significant minutes this year, Mbah a Moute is a prominent member of two.

Nobody can truly be expected to stop LeBron James. He just doesn't have bad games anymore. However, if there's anyone who may be able to get in James' way long enough for the rest of his team to pick up the slack, it's Mbah a Moute. In Milwaukee's only win over the Heat, James still played impeccably, dropping 26 points on 11-20 shooting with 6 boards and 7 assists. However, he did cough the ball up 6 times and Mbah a Moute was able to pour in 19 points of his own while logging a plus-19 for the game.

Does any of this mean much? No, probably not. But in an Eastern Conference playoffs that seems ceremonial at this point, it would be nice to see the game's most elite player go against one of its elite defenders.

Monday, March 18, 2013

More on College

I know, I know. I did it again. But this time of year it's hard to not think a little bit about amateur basketball.

Anyway, do you remember that time in "Moneyball" when guys figured out that the Pythagorean theorem can be applied to baseball and the quality of teams? Or as Joe Morgan and Lionel Hollins remember it, nerds doing nerd stuff.

Well, that was pretty cool and it outlined the fact that run/point differential is actually a really awesome way to tell how good a team is because wins and losses are binary and clunky as far as analytics goes. With basketball, it's better to take this even one step further and apply it to your differential in efficiency (Net Rating). This basically lets you know per 100 possessions how good a team is at scoring and preventing points. Pretty simple, but damn it when did the A's win any World Series, am I right?!

Now, obviously this isn't a perfect system anyway and there's tons of noise in the college basketball realm. Teams don't play remotely the same schedules across the NCAA and there's only 30 games so the samples might be a little on the small side. Still, when tasked with trying to determine who's good or not, I'll take my only slightly informed method over "well, I just don't think this team is that good" or "I hate Duke."

So I ran the numbers with a weighting for strength of schedule in a very crude facsimile of an NBA playoff system I use (the one that had the 2010 Finals as Suns/Magic, oh what could have been!) and here's what I got.

Over Rated Teams

Saint Louis (4-seed)
I feel like they'll be one of these darling picks to make some noise. However, they had a pretty average offense and a bad strength of schedule. Look for Oklahoma State to bounce them in round 2.

Kansas State (4-seed)
Trend alert! The committee made some interesting 4-seed picks. Their non-conference strength of schedule was pretty hilarious and they're not a particularly great defensive team. Wisconsin will probably have no trouble with them.

Temple (9-seed)
Yikes on bikes! They were the 63rd best overall team by my calculations and played some atrocious defense. NC State will beat them in the first round.

Memphis (6-seed)
They were 52nd in my rankings hanging out around California and La Salle. Their record looked alright, but I think St. Mary's will upset them in the first round (though St. Mary's will be doing a lot of travel, going to Dayton and then Detroit, so it might be a wash)

Under Rated Teams

Pittsburgh (8-seed)
Pitt is number 13 overall in my ranks and should handle Wichita St. pretty easily. If I had to predict an early exit for a number 1 seed, I'd pick Pitt over Gonzaga. I don't think it will happen, but Pitt deserved a little better than this draw.

Minnesota (11-seed)
The Gophers can laugh all the way to the bank with the UCLA draw (the Bruins are overrated, but not heinously). If only Florida (3rd overall) weren't waiting in round 2.

St. Mary's (11-seed)
As discussed above with Memphis, I think St. Mary's will win their play-in game and get to The Palace to face Memphis. The only thing that will hold them back from being the second 11-seed upset will be the distance they have to travel.

Colorado St. (8-seed)
This could also be Missouri (the Rams 1st round opponent, making that game a hard call) or UNC. But I went to Duke, so deal with it Tar Heels. But yeah, CSU is probably a pretty alright team.

Preliminary Final Four Picks
Louisville (Champion)
Ohio St.
Indiana (Runner-Up)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Let's Talk About The Kids

I'm mostly a human professional basketball guy, but I did once attend college and therefore sometimes watch a little amateur hoops. Player of the Year discussions are always interesting because there are a wide range of factors affecting the consideration. Some guys have really great years, but unfortunately they play at South Dakota State and thus they level of competition isn't quite as high. Even when guys play in good conferences they often have few common opponents with another top-level player.

That being said, after looking at some numbers I decided to weigh in on how I would vote for Player of the Year. It certainly sucks for guys like Nate Wolters, but I didn't really consider guys who dominated weak competition. I know it's not necessarily their fault, but in an already watered-down level, picking on the little guys just isn't fair. I considered individual production and value added through playing time and defensive impact.

Here's my ballot:

3. Erick Green, Virginia Tech
Green was certainly a good scorer, putting up 25.1 points per 36 minutes. He got fouled a bunch (0.50 Free Throw Rate) and shot pretty damn well from the floor. Unfortunately, that's about all he did. His 3.8 assists per 36 is fine and he didn't give it away (.08 Turnover Rate), but if he got it, he was shooting it. Very good year for a guy on a bad team.

2. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
This guy was kind of a beast. He posted a 24.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per 36 minutes and true shot 71 percent! He was also able to get fouled a good deal and shot an impressive (for a 7-footer) 78.5 percent from the line. Olynyk had some turnover troubles, but also posted 1.6 blocks per 36 on the 12th most efficient defense. He would be first if only he had played more. For some reason he only played 25.7 minutes per game (fouls don't seem to have been an issue, though he fouled out against Kansas St. in 19 minutes) and missed the first 3 games of the season completely. Playing really well is awesome, but you need to have the minutes load to go with it.

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton
Dude was insane. He threw up a 26.5 points per 36 minutes on 69 percent True Shooting, while also grabbing 8.6 boards per 36. He wasn't a foul drawing machine, but he shot 49.7 percent from three on over 4 attempts per game. Basically if you give him the ball, he's going to score it. McDermott doesn't stand out defensively numbers-wise or visually (I actually did see some of Creighton this year), but the offense was so devastating in the 1067 minutes he played that he edges out a pretty good crop of college performances.

This post is in honor of Derrick Williams' Second-Team All-American finish in what was the most insanely efficient college season I have witnessed.