To be upset in March, you have to be really good.

Image result for virginia umbc

Congrats to the UMBC Retrievers for their amazing victory over #1 overall seed Virginia last night. It was a tremendous victory made all the more enjoyable by the UMBC Athletics Twitter feed that followed the game and routinely kept the Twitter-sphere entertained with gems like this one:

And this one:

If you didn’t get a chance to watch it, they were fantastic. They played great defense, played up tempo, and moved the ball around very quickly. The vaunted Virginia defense was unable to keep up with the Retrievers’ brilliant ball movement. Ultimately, though, as in the OU game against Rhode Island, it came down to making shots. UMBC made theirs and Virginia missed theirs.  They’re a great story. Here’s hoping that they keep playing well as they go up against Kansas St. on Sunday.

As for Virginia, the webs will be filled with recriminations for Tony Bennett, the Cavs’ style of offense, their tempo, how their season was a failure, and how they aren’t equipped to win in March. To all of that, I call B.S. This was a great season for Virginia; it’s just that it ended horribly. They won the ACC regular season and postseason tournament — the 2nd toughest conference in the country and 1 that is certainly better at the top than the Big 12. They were a #1 seed and, in fact, the overall #1 seed. They’ll be remembered for a very long time for how this ended and they’re obviously not going to make it to Tony Bennett’s first Final 4 or win a National Championship, but the season was an undeniable success. The Cavs just have to be wishing that last night’s game happened in November rather than March.

Virginia’s loss last night reminds me of some of the Sooners March disappointments and 1 very narrow escape. In 2005, the team was a #3 seed when the team lost in the 2nd round to #6 seeded Utah. That’s not the worst thing in the world but when you’re a #3 seed you sort of anticipate making it to the Sweet Sixteen. In 2001, the Sooners were a #4 seed and were upset in the first round by #13 Indiana St. in overtime. Even Kelley Newton’s 26 points weren’t enough to overcome the team shooting 40% for the game.

The year before that 1st round upset, the Sooners again lost as a #3 seed, this time to #6 seeded Purdue. Purdue scored an additional 10 points at the free throw line and the Sooners lost by 4. In 1995, Kelvin Sampson’s first season, the Sooners were a #4 seed facing #13 Manhattan. Despite Ryan Minor’s 24 points and a 5 point halftime lead, the Jaspers outscored OU by 15 points in the 2nd half and pulled away to a 77-67 victory.

When the Sooners lost that 1st round matchup to Manhattan, it had been 3 years since the Sooners had been in the tournament. In 1992, OU was again a #4 seed playing #13 Louisiana-Lafayette. Jeff Webster’s 23 points weren’t enough to prevent the 87-83 upset by the Ragin’ Cajuns. In 1990, the Sooners were a 1-seed facing North Carolina when Rick Fox made 5 3-pointers en route to 23 total points and the upset by the 8-seeded Tar Heels.

The Sooners again were upset as a 4-seed in 1996 when they lost in the 2nd round to #12 seeded DePaul and against 10th seeded Dayton in 1994 when they were a #2 seed but the one that compares most similarly to Virginia’s loss last night is the one that almost happened. In 1999, the Sooners entered the tournament 28-5 as the Big 8 champs and averaging nearly 102 points per game. They were a #1 seed facing #16 East Tennessee State. ETSU had finished 7-7 in their conference before winning the Southern Conference tournament. They averaged 83.0 points per game but averaged giving up 83.1 points per game. There’s no reason for them to have been in the game against the Sooners but OU was able to squeak out a 72-71 victory, narrowly avoiding the ignominy that Virginia is experiencing today.

So what’s the point? Why take this trip down memories of NCAA tournament failures lane? The bottom line is that teams only end up the victims of big March upsets when they’ve had fantastic seasons in the first place. Virginia is a tremendous program and OU has been a tremendous program for most of the last 30 years. Just in that period of time I went through in this post, the Sooners also made it to 3 Final 4’s and several other Sweet Sixteens and Elite Eights. If you play enough big games in March, eventually you’ll fall on the wrong end of one.

I’d love for the Sooners to be a #1 seed, Big 12 conference champions, the #1 overall seed, and a 98% favorite to win their first tournament game next season. That, obviously, means a 2% of doing the unthinkable — what UMBC did last night.

Thanks for reading.

Sooners season ends in 1st round

The Sooners played hard and played pretty well overall but lost 83-78 in overtime to Rhode Island in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This isn’t going to be a season-in-review post but I do just want to look back on yesterday’s loss and see to what degree the Sooners were able to do the things they needed to do in order to win.

The first thing we said here that the Sooners needed to do to win was to push the tempo. They were more successful all season long when they played more possessions, averaging 78 possessions in their victories and 74 in their losses. Against the Rams yesterday, they played 77 possessions but that was in a 45-minute, overtime game. The Sooners had success when pushing the tempo, getting several baskets in transition by beating the Rams down the court, but they weren’t able to do that for extended lengths. The 77-possession pace for 45 minutes equates to about 68 in a 40 minute game, which is considerably slower than the Sooners needed. As an example, the Sooners played 84 possession in their OT win against TCU earlier in the season. Grade: C+

The Rams are very good at turning teams over and we said it was important that OU take care of the ball as the Sooners tend to be turnover-prone. The Sooners only had 14 turnovers for the game — pretty good considering we played the extra 5 minutes.  Grade: B.

We said the Sooners needed to get to the free throw line more often and the Sooners were able to shoot 24 free throws. Young did this especially well which is important since he was the team’s best free throw shooter but the Sooners were also hurt a little by the fact that the team’s 2 worst free throw shooting regulars (Odomes and McNeace) shot nearly half of the team’s 24 free throws (making just 4).  In wins, the team had averaged 27 free throws and, for a 45 minute game, 24 isn’t quite enough but it’s better than the 17 the team averaged in losses. Grade: C+.

We needed to shoot the ball well and we just didn’t, shooting 42% overall and 20% from three. The fact that the team made just 4 of 20 3 point attempts is really the biggest reason the team lost. James, McGusty, Manek, and Odomes combined to shoot 1 for 11 from behind the arc and that’s just not going to get it done. Based on how they’d performed throughout the season, they should have made about 4 of those attempts. Trae Young shot it best but even he just made 3 of his 9 attempts. If the team makes 6 or 7 of those 20 3-pointers, the team probably wins in regulation. Grade: D.

Finally, the team needed to defend well enough to prevent the Rams from shooting well. In that regard, the team did ok. The Sooners defended better than they did for much of the season, holding the Rams to 39% shooting overall and 39% from behind the arc. The fact that the Rams knocked down nearly 40% of their 3’s isn’t great but it’s better than the Sooners did in many of their games. Grade: B-.

The Sooners did a lot of the things they needed to do in order to win the game but, ultimately, the game is about putting the ball in the basket and the Sooners just didn’t do it often enough. The game boiled down to the fact that the Rams shot 11-28 (39%) from 3 point land and the Sooners just shot 4-20 (20%). Those 7 additional 3’s made a huge difference since, if the Sooners had just knocked down a couple more, they probably wouldn’t have had to play overtime at all.

Just put the ball in the basket. It’s simple, but not easy.

Thanks for reading.

Anatomy of a W

Image result for trae young

This bunch of Sooners has been impossible to figure out during the season. One minute they’re on top of the world — running up and down the court like gazelles, raining 3’s on everyone — and the next minute they’re banging more iron than a steel mill. Two months ago they’re #4 in the country and being pegged as a #1 or #2 seed and here we sit with the tournament about to really begin and they’re the most controversial selection to the field. What the hell happened?

I wanted to compare the numbers from the victories to the losses to see just what the differences are. What do the Sooners do when they win and what don’t they do when they lose (or vice-versa)? I think we all know they’re not shooting the ball as well now as they did early in the season and their defense, not very good to begin with, has gotten progressively worse. Is that what the numbers tell us?

To make this comparison, I wanted to use only the numbers against top-100 teams and Big 12 opponents. How the team played against Omaha and North Texas isn’t very useful. So below there’s a table of lots of (hopefully) relevant data from the wins and from the losses with the hope that it can shine some light on what the hell’s gone wrong this season.

First, for the numbers in Sooner wins:

Opp Poss FG% 3 pt % FT’s OR DR Asts Blks TO’s Opp FG% Opp 3 pt % OR TO’s
Oregon 81 43 26 44 11 24 13 5 16 42 31 12 17
USC 74 45 48 16 11 20 15 8 10 45 37 11 17
Wich St 81 40 33 26 8 30 15 8 10 43 25 8 10
NW’ern 74 61 61 27 6 24 22 2 13 45 29 12 13
TCU 77 47 48 31 11 28 19 10 12 41 42 16 8
Ok St 86 55 56 34 4 34 24 2 12 44 32 13 11
Tech 77 41 32 21 4 30 13 10 10 37 24 10 13
TCU 84 49 58 22 12 25 14 7 16 49 36 11 13
Kansas 74 49 39 25 8 28 14 1 16 45 31 14 11
Baylor 79 54 55 32 5 27 11 7 13 47 52 8 6
KS St 73 53 50 25 6 26 13 4 13 45 19 10 9
Iowa St 78 40 24 20 10 32 11 4 5 32 13 13 14
mean 78 48 44 27 8 27 15 6 12 43 31 12 12

And now for the Sooner losses:

Opp Poss FG% 3 pt % FT’s OR DR Asts Blks TO’s Opp FG% Opp 3 pt % OR TO’s
Ark 87 46 28 20 5 26 15 4 19 43 50 9 16
WVU 78 43 35 28 9 25 9 1 17 46 27 10 11
KSU 72 42 28 13 16 20 13 3 20 57 53 6 10
Ok St 80 34 29 17 22 30 11 8 14 40 30 17 11
Bama 73 41 30 9 13 23 12 3 12 56 42 7 17
Texas 76 52 14 11 8 27 16 1 17 46 36 5 13
WVU 71 45 38 19 7 24 8 7 15 42 36 14 9
Iowa St 76 43 22 22 9 27 15 4 16 46 41 13 10
Tech 74 46 32 25 7 23 9 4 14 48 52 9 9
Texas 74 31 27 22 8 23 10 1 7 55 38 4 14
Kansas 71 46 26 13 8 14 12 2 11 61 55 10 10
Baylor 78 37 23 21 10 16 13 2 17 51 28 11 15
Ok St 69 38 33 12 5 21 10 4 12 39 42 14 16
mean 74 42 28 18 10 23 12 3 14 49 40 10 12

Ok, now, some takeaways…

  1. The Sooners play better when they play faster. Notice that they have 4 more possessions per game in their wins than in their losses.
  2. The Sooners do better when they get to the free throw line more often. Ok, this is probably true for nearly every team but the Sooners averaged about 4.5 more free throws taken in their wins than in their losses. They can’t just stand at the 3 point line and jack 3’s. They must get the ball to the rim.
  3. The Sooners must take care of the ball. Again, it’s not a surprise that their offense works more efficiently and they’re more likely to win when they have fewer turnovers. Remember, though, that they averaged 2 fewer turnovers in 4 MORE possessions per game in their wins than their losses. That means an additional 6 opportunities to score per game.
  4. The Sooners are more likely to win when they shoot better. Duh!
  5. The Sooners are more likely to lose when their opponent shoots better. Again, duh! They need to make shots and do what they can to prevent their opponent from making shots. Some of this is about luck, of course. They can play good defense but sometimes the other teams’ shots are just going to fall and sometimes players’ shots won’t fall even if they’re wide open.

I’m not sure there’s a lot that can be gained from the data on rebounds and assists. We’re going to have more assists when our shots are falling, obviously, and fewer offensive boards when they’re going in. It’s clear though that OU — in order to win some games in the tournament and finish out their schedule successfully — needs to push the tempo, get to the free throw line, take care of the ball, defend as well as possible and make shots. Some of that is about tactics and some is just luck. Hopefully both will be on OUr side tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

Playing to OUr strengths

I’ve been thinking for a while that the Sooners’ tempo on offense has really slowed down as the season has gone along. I didn’t have really any evidence to support it — if you check out their number of possessions per game on KenPom, it’s down a little from the non-conference schedule, but not a lot — but it just seems like the offense really moves more slowly than when the team is winning. Maybe the tempo numbers are a little skewed by the fact that Trae Young takes 4-5 really quick 3’s. I just don’t know.

The defense against Young has been different, to be sure. Teams are picking him quickly as he crosses halfcourt and slowing the team down but it still seems like Young is walking the ball up the court much more often than he was early in the season. That doesn’t seem like who the team was at the beginning of the season when, coincidentally or not, the team was really rolling and made it up to #4 in the country.

I was watching one of those NCAA tournament preview shows and 1-by-1 many of those talking heads were ranting about the Sooners making it into the tournament and Tom Crean chimed in to defend the Sooners. He said that he’s called 3 OU games during the year, including the win at Wichita St. and he was going on and on about how tremendous they looked against the Shockers. He was talking about how quickly the Sooners were getting the ball down the court and scoring and he said of the Shockers, “10 minutes into the game, they were gassed.”

I went to ESPN.com to look up the play-by-play info for that game — possibly the Sooners most impressive win this season. The table below shows what I found (“WSU’s possession indicates how Wichita St.’s preceding possession ended):

Possession # Time of Poss (seconds) Result WSU’s possession
1 13 Young missed 3 make
2 16 Lattin turnover make
3 7 Manek missed 3 miss
4 9 Young 2 turnover
5 12 Manek 2 miss
6 18 Manek 3 make
7 8 Young 3 miss
8 15 Manek missed 3 make
9 5 Young missed 3 timeout
10 14 Young missed 2 make
11 13 McNeace made 2 turnover
12 5 Young layup & FT steal
13 15 McNeace FT’s turnover
14 10 Young 3 make
15 12 Freeman missed 3 make
16 15 Young 3 make
17 22 McGusty 3 miss
18 22 Young 2 make
19 8 Young missed 2 make
20 11 Lazenby TO make
21 6 McGusty 2 make
22 13 McGusty missed 3 make
23 7 Manek 2 block
24 17 Manek 3 turnover
25 13 McNeace missed 2 miss
26 13 McNeace missed 2 miss
27 15 Manek 3 make
28 11 Manek miss make
29 6 James missed 3 block
30 18 Manek 3 make
31 18 Shepherd missed 3 miss
32 7 Young miss block/td>
33 16 Young 3 foul
34 18 McNeace miss miss
35 5 James missed 2 make
36 8 Young FT’s miss
37 8 James missed 2 miss
38 6 James 2 miss
39 25 McGusty 3 miss
40 9 McGusty 2 make
41 19 Manek missed 3 miss
42 0 James 2 off. reb.
43 21 James missed 3 make

So, here are the relevant numbers. The Sooners had 43 offensive possessions in the 1st half alone and averaged 12.6 seconds per possession. The Sooners scored 54 points in the first half and had a 54-39 lead over the Shockers IN Wichita. OU had only 4 possessions where they took more than 20 seconds to get off a shot and one of those was their last possession of the half where they were aiming to take the last shot.

Notice that the Sooners were getting the ball down the court quickly off of Shocker misses and makes. Even when the Shockers made buckets, the Sooners got the ball out of the basket, pushed it up the court, and got quick buckets before the Shockers could set up their defense. Three times the Sooners were able to score within 10 seconds of a Wichita St. MADE basket.

It shouldn’t go unnoticed either that there are a number of Wichita St. turnovers and OU blocks that led to Sooner possessions. Clearly the team played very good defense in the 1st half. If OU had 43 possessions, so did Wichita St and they only had 39 points in the half so a team that averaged 1.22 points per possession during the season (5th in the nation) averaged less than 1 PPP in the 1st half against OU.

Clearly a lot went right during that first half against the Shockers. The Sooners were able to block a few shots that helped them get the ball down the court and they were also able to turn the Shockers over several times so they clearly played good defense. More importantly, the Sooners shot the ball well in that 1st half (57% overall and 10-23 from 3) but not out-of-this-world. The team scored 54 points and had a 15 point lead because they were efficient (only 2 turnovers) and got the ball down the court quickly. It’s probably also fair to say that one of the reasons the team did shoot the ball pretty well is because they were able to take a number of shots before the Shockers’ defense could set up. I think we can all agree that the Sooners just didn’t move the ball down the court this quickly very often during Big 12 conference play.

Maybe this is the key to the Sooners’ success in the tournament. They need to get back to doing what it is that they do best.

Thanks for reading.

A Closer Look at the Rhode Island Rams

Feb 18, 2015; Kingston, RI, USA; Rhode Island Rams guard Jared Terrell (32) drives to the basket for a dunk against the UMass Minutemen at the Thomas M. Ryan Center. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Friday (photobyfriday.com)

By now everyone’s aware that the Sooners made it in the tournament. The Sooners will be the number 10 seed in the Midwest bracket, facing Rhode Island in the first round on Thursday. It’s somewhat surprising that the Sooners managed to avoid a First 4 matchup in Dayton. Based on that fact, it’s clear that the Sooners weren’t even one of the last 4 at-large teams in the tournament. Needless to say, the team was excited to see their name pop up on TBS’s board at shortly after 5 p.m. Norman time.

The question now becomes “can the team do anything with their second life?” This is a team that so many have panned for the last several weeks and, leading up to the selection and after the selection was announced, many have been critical of the Sooners’ inclusion in the tournament.

In some ways, the selection committee may have given the Sooners a little bit of a break with their bracket. For one, they’re not playing Tuesday in one of the First 4 games. For another, the Rams seem to be limping a little coming in to the tournament as well, having lost 4 of their last 8 games. Of course, maybe only Arizona St. is limping into the tournament the way the Sooners are but it’s not like OU is catching the Rams on a hot streak. For another, instead of drawing Texas A&M (ranked #30 by KenPom) the Rams are #49 in the KenPom rankings — 2 rankings below the Sooners. So while the Sooners should be playing a (theoretically) better team in the first round by virtue of being a lower seed, they’re playing a team that’s essentially equal to the Sooners. The matchup definitely could’ve been worse.

The Rams are an interesting team. Their offense is ranked #66 in the country by KenPom and their defense is ranked #38. So they’re clearly a very good defensive team — but not an elite defensive team — and an average (for a tournament team) offensive team. In a lot of ways, their offensive and defensive ability makes them look like Kansas State (#60 on offense; #41 on defense). They play faster than KSU, however, who is one of the slowest teams in the country. The Rams’ tempo is pretty close to TCU’s.

When you sort through the Rams’ characteristics, it’s clear that one of their strengths is turning over the other team on defense and avoiding turnovers on offense. Obviously, this should be a concern for the OU coaching staff in preparing for the Rams because the Sooners have a tendency to be turnover prone. The Rams are very good at defending the 3, which could again be a problem for the Sooners, but very bad at keeping opposing teams from getting to the free throw line. Many of the Sooners are good at penetrating and getting into the lane and drawing fouls so this could be an area the team can take advantage of.

The Rams start 4 guards and don’t have a real rim protector inside along the lines of a lot of the guys the Sooners have had to face in conference. The Rams will clearly get in the faces of OU’s perimeter shooters. The Sooners then have to put the ball on the court and get into the lane and score or get fouled inside.

On offense, the Rams don’t do anything especially well or especially badly. They shoot it OK from 3, shoot it OK from 2, but aren’t very good at getting to the line and making free throws. Six foot, 3 inch guard Jared Terrell is the Rams’ leading scorer — averaging about 17.5 points per game — and shoots more than 41% from 3. Two other guards, Jeff Dowtin and Jarvis Garrett, also shoot about 40% from 3 point land but they also average less than 1 made 3 per game so that’s not a major part of the team’s arsenal.

The Rams start 4 guards but Terrell is the one the Sooners are really going to have to lock down. If they can force him to at least be inefficient then it’s going to put pressure on their other guys who aren’t really designed to get buckets at crunch time. Their big inside guy, Andre Berry, is just that…big. He’s just 6’8″ but he’s a load at 275 pounds. He’s also a fantastic rebounder (as you can probably imagine) on both ends of the floor. McNeace and Lattin  will have their hands full keeping him off the boards — it’s possible there could even be a Hannes Polla sighting — but he’s not really a focal point of the offense. Defensively, OU’s not going to have to worry about Lattin or McNeace getting caught in switches on one of their guards because they should not be switching off of Berry because he’s not really a threat on the perimeter.

After Terrell, EC Matthews averages 12.8 PPG and then 3 guys, including Berry, average between 9 and 10 PPG. It’s a pretty balanced team but clearly Terrell is their offensive leader. It’s critical that the Sooners force other guys to score.

The Rams have lost 7 times this season, all but one to NCAA tournament teams (though if they had beaten Davidson today, Davidson wouldn’t have made the tournament so their other loss to Davidson would make a 2nd loss to a non-tournament team). Their non-tournament loss was a 30 point shellacking to St. Joseph’s at home. That’s probably an aberration. Like Oklahoma, Rhode Island lost to Alabama on the road.

In their loss to Nevada, they let the Wolfpack shoot 44 free throws. That’s clearly why they lost that one. Every team that beat the Rams except for Davidson shot more than 20 free throws and shot many more free throws than the Rams did. This has to be a big part of the Sooners’ game plan. Against St. Joseph’s, the Rams shot 3-29 from 3 point land. It would be great if that became part of the Sooners’ game plan also but certainly making the team inefficient on offense would go a long way toward getting OU a date with Duke next Saturday.

This is certainly a winnable game for the Sooners. The Rams are good, balanced, and tough defensively. They’re going to put a lot of pressure on the ball and try to force turnovers that they can turn into easy baskets. The Sooners, therefore, must:

  1. Take care of the ball. This has often been a problem for OU this season not just because it makes them inefficient offensively and ends their possessions, but those turnovers also often end up being live-ball turnovers 25 feet from the basket that end up as easy baskets or free throws on the other end of the floor. If OU takes care of the ball, they can force Rhode Island to score points in their halfcourt offense where the Sooners match up with them quite well.
  2. Rebound the basketball. The Sooners must, as a team, keep Rhode Island off the offensive glass. The last time the Sooners took the court, they were outrebounded 53-27 by Oklahoma St. They cannot allow the Rams to get easy putbacks after forcing missed shots.
  3. Use penetration to get to the rim and the foul line on offense. The Rams are going to pressure our guys on the perimeter and they probably won’t come off of OU’s outside shooters when we get inside. We must look to score once we get inside. Obviously, this means Trae Young but James, McGusty, Odomes, and Doolittle also need to look to get to the rim or the foul line when they get the ball. The 3-pointer should not be a focal point of the offense in order to beat the Rams.

It’s been a tough slog over the last 6 or 8 weeks for the Sooners but the tournament committee gave them new life. This matchup gives them a chance to take advantage of it. Hopefully, OU will get to play at least 1 more game.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

Sunday Links

The newest, and probably last, Bracket Matrix has been posted and the Sooners are still listed on 102 out of 104 brackets and project to be an 11 seed in the tournament. If the matrix is correct, the Sooners won’t be playing in Dayton in 1 of the first 4 games. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing them play in one of those games. Sure, some see it as a “play-in game” but it would enable the team to play another 11 seed instead of a 6 in their first game, with a better chance of seeing one “go through the hoop.” Maybe a victory over an 11 seed would give the team a little confidence to win 1 or 2 afterward.

Andy Katz says the tournament field is set, per the result of the Davidson-Rhode Island A-10 final today. As I noted yesterday, a Davidson win would end up stealing a bid from someone — potentially the Sooners — so we’ve got to be Rams fans today.

Berry Tramel compared OU’s and OSU’s resumes to other tournament bubble teams and the Sooners’ resume looks as good or better than the others. Only Alabama has more Quadrant 1 wins than OU (who’s tied with Texas) and the Sooners’ RPI and KenPom rating compares favorably with most of the others as well.

If the Sooners do make it, what are their chances to make some noise? Ryan Aber examined that question and discovered that teams who have as many losses as the Sooners have often win at least 1 game in the tournament. The concern is how the Sooners have played down the stretch, of course.

Cody Stavenhagen looks at the likelihood of the Sooners getting in the tourney and concludes that there’s a pretty good chance the team will make it. There seems to be near agreement by everyone reading the tea leaves that the Sooners will hear their name called late this afternoon.

Finally, Jamuni McNeace’s Allen High Eagles won the Texas 6A state championship by breaking the hearts of incoming freshman Jamal Bieniemy’s Tompkins Falcons. Bieniemy had a great game, scoring 15 points and also had 8 assists, but turned the ball over trying to force a pass into the paint with just a few seconds left in OT. Allen stole the ball and passed it out for a run-out layup with 1.1 seconds left. Bieniemy got 1 more shot to hit a game-winning 3 but his try bounced off the back rim. His play all season long, throughout the tournament, and in the championship game gave Sooner fans a lot to look forward to next year, however. He’s smooth with the ball, finishes well, and is a great passer.

Thanks for reading.