John's guest-hosting this week while Kyle's in Vancouver.
On Tuesday I offered one free Gasaway
to the first-mid-major that contacted me. I will now be providing free opponent scouting for the NCAA tournament in a robust and tempo-free way to a nameless program, or perhaps even programs if they all make the Dance. The response to my offer was impressive and indeed spoke volumes on the following that Kyle's built at this site over the course of six seasons.
And while my offer on Tuesday was meant to provide the winner with some cool high-level super-secret stuff, I think I can offer the following more general musings on how to do well in March to the mid-major world at large without upsetting my grand-prize winners too much. None of this is earth-shattering or particularly revelatory, although come to think of it next month you'll hear a lot of crusty and unexamined hoops folk wisdom that runs counter to some of this. So maybe it is earth-shattering after all. You be the judge.
To advance in the NCAA tournament, mid-majors must:Ignore the rote and indeed inevitable blather about "slowing the game down."
Unless, of course, you've found that your offense excels at a slow pace. It's easy enough to check and you have a season's worth of possessions to look at, so put those assistants to work and find out.
Now, to be sure, minimizing the number of possessions in a game should, in theory, aid the underdog in a game, for the same intuitive reason that an underdog will have a better chance of winning one game than they'll have in a best-of-seven series. The more chances the better team has to demonstrate their superiority, the more likely it is that the odds-on favorite will prevail.
But I think somewhere along the line this common-sense observation calcified into a classic piece of "slice your nose to spite your face" dogma. Simply put, the number of possessions in an NCAA tournament game is going to be confined to a relatively small window of possibilities, whereas your team's level of per-possession performance is going to vary much more dramatically. Whether your underdog plays a brilliant or horrible NCAA first-round game, said game is extremely likely to have between 61 and 73 trips per 40 minutes. (Games between 1- and 16-seeds are notably faster and their outcomes are more preordained for reasons not having a lot to do with pace.) So, in addition to fretting about whether your game has 12 possessions more or less, you'd also do well to fret about scoring and playing D in the style that works best for your team.
In short, there's more than one way
to skin a cat here. One way is, of course, to shorten the game. But at the risk of stating the obvious, the object of the game is to score more points than the other team. If that more-talented opponent is giving you better opportunities to score in transition or on the secondary break than they are in the half-court (hardly a remote possibility), you of course have to carpe that particular diem, probability theory be damned.
To take one example, I've been fairly mystified all season as to why opponents would choose
to walk the ball up and face the Syracuse 2-3 in all its prepared and entrenched glory rather than face just Brandon Triche and, say, Andy Rautins on the secondary break. If you find you have to face the 2-3 after your early effort was turned away, fine. But explore what's available. Every possession's different, and the best scoring opportunity will present itself at different moments in the shot clock.
(Not to mention the oh-so-scary favorite you're playing might actually score more efficiently in the half-court
than they do in transition.) Take care of the ball
Talk about not revelatory. "Minimize turnovers" is the standard trope for analysts everywhere, whether they're pontificating on basketball or even football. It's just an easy thing to say that simultaneously makes you sound smart and also happens to be true: "Take care of the ball."
Well, I can't help that everyone says it. It's true anyway. More true, in fact, than everyone realizes.
I have long yearned to see an ugly Prospectus-style table in the more visually arresting surroundings of TMM, so here you go. Turnovers are going the way of VCRs and the network news.The Incredible Vanishing Turnover
"Power"-conference turnover percentage, 2006-10
Conference games only: ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC
2010 figure through games of February 17
Note the pause in the downward trend last year. For reasons too boring to detail here, moving the three-point line out a foot would be expected to impact the number of turnovers, and it did. But now the decline has resumed.
I like to think this is attributable to me screaming for a couple years now about how turnovers are one of the most underrated factors in this here sport. A much more likely possibility, however, is that coaches have looked at stylistic essentialists (on offense) like Bo Ryan, Mike Brey, and John Beilein and decided those guys might be onto something with their incredible low-TO ways.
Not to pick on Syracuse again, but this year's Orangemen are a great example of what I'm talking about. People are mystified when I say Jim Boeheim's offense is only slightly better than the Big East average
this season. How can that be? They have Wes Johnson! They "lead the nation in FG percentage
!" Something here doesn't compute.
That something is turnovers. The Syracuse offense is indeed excellent when they don't give the ball away. On each "effective" (TO-less) possession in Big East play they score 1.39 points, a level of efficiency second in the league only to Villanova (1.44). But the fact is Syracuse does
give the ball away. A lot. As a result the 'Cuse functions in the real world
as a middle-of-the-pack offense.
Taking care of the ball increases your point total and denies easy points in transition (speaking of live-ball TOs here, obviously) to your opponent. A relative lack of turnovers is invisible in real time as the game is played, but it is huge. Tell your on-ball defenders to never ever leave their feet
I may be in favor of a faster pace when it makes good situational sense, but I can agree wholeheartedly with Norman Dale
on this one. When I'm a coach, the first thing I'll do is set a run-the-stairs penalty for each instance where my on-ball defender leaves his feet without coming up with a blocked shot. Hey, if you get the block, fine. But for those nine times out of every ten where you don't, meet the stairs. Have fun.
Leaving your feet simply gives the opposing offense what they otherwise have to work very hard for, a five-on-four advantage. Sure, shot-blocking's valuable and if I'm fortunate enough to have a player who can do it, I'll tell him to have at it--off the ball as the help defender. But leaving your feet as the on-ball defender results in fouls and defensive breakdowns far more often than it yields blocks. Just ask Sherron Collins (hardly a feared shot-blocker) about Kalin Lucas in the final minute of the Sweet 16 game between Kansas and Michigan State last year.
Three (very) general suggestions for mid-majors everywhere. Sorry if they're blinding flashes of the obvious. I save the more specific stuff for contest winners.