Archives For College hoops

NCAA Finals thread

Kurt —  April 2, 2007

If the Lakers had their choice of any players in tonight’s game to join the team next year, my two top choices would go to Ohio State players — Greg Oden (sorry Drew) and Mike Conley.

But basketball remains a team game, and Florida not only has four starters with NBA talent but they play well as a team. The whole is better than the sum of their parts. They pass well, find the open man and rotate well on defense. They can beat you any number of ways, but it starts with the fact they shoot well — 59.1% on two pointers over the course of the season. If Oden’s shot blocking can change that, Ohio State has a chance.

But I don’t think he can, Florida will make the extra pass and find the open man. Which is why I’ll take the Gators to pull away in the second half and win handily.

But then again, I’m coming in third in my office pool behind a guy who cares more about any Chelsea midfielder than the entire NCAA field, so take it with a grain of salt.

Why waste time — who do you have in your Final Four? I’ve got Florida, Kansas, Georgetown and Texas A&M, with Kansas beating A&M in the finals.

There is no shortage of information on college teams out on the Web, but if you want some of the stats I use here to help with your picks check out Ken Pomory’s site, which has more quality info than just about anywhere. And, if all you care about is the NBA and you’re watching the NCAA games just as draft scouting, be sure to check out the NBA Fanhouse series College Eye For The NBA Guy where they break down potential draft picks to watch.

As for a few thoughts on the local teams…

If you don’t know much about Long Beach State, check out my primer over at LAist. They bring the Phoenix Suns “small ball” — but with a more gambling defense — to the college game. They start three guards and the tallest player is 6’6”. They average 68 possessions a game, the 19th fastest pace in the nation (out of 366 teams), with an offensive rating of 109.6 (points per 100 possessions). The guy to watch is Aaron Nixon, he has just about unlimited range, well beyond the NBA three, and he is fearless about shot selection (in both the good and bad way). Plus with five seniors starting and seven in key roles, Long Beach can be dangerous.

Except that they get a bad match up (but a fun one for fans), Tennessee plays almost exactly the same style but do it better. They are 15th in the nation in pace (73 possessions a game) with an offensive rating of 115.1. For fans this will be a fun game to watch, up and down pace and a lot of scoring and steals. Bet the over and enjoy.

For USC, I want to see them match up with Texas in the second round. Nick Young and Kevin Durant could put on quite a show, and that would be a lot of quality athletes on the floor at the same time. Texas will win, but that will be fun.

As for the Bruins, I really like them — I just like Kansas better, hence I have UCLA losing in the elite eight. But they play great defense (Laker fans, that’s what a defensive rotation looks like, in case you were wondering) and any team that does that has a chance. Plus, Collison at the point is a great floor general who gets the ball to the hot hand and to guys in good positions. I’ll be pulling for them to screw up my pool.

——————————————

Just a few Laker things while we’re at it:

• Kobe’s wayward elbows have gotten him in more legal trouble. Really, we all should have seen this one coming.

• Very interesting post (aren’t they all) by Roland Lazenby wondering what Phil Jackson is up to:

Where Phil’s relationship with Michael and Shaq worked because of a strong supporting cast, Phil’s relationship with Kobe is now perhaps suffocating a superstar.

Once he forms a relationship, Phil tends to cut off communication between the rest of the coaching staff and the superstar. It’s Phil and the star, with little outside interference tolerated.

This season for the Lakers is mostly kaput. IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

So Phil needs to lighten up a bit with Kobe. Let him loose to enjoy whatever they can find in this year’s circumstances.

But Laker fans also have to lighten up. Phil’s basic premise, his MO of forming a strong bond with his superstar, is a proven thing.

The Lakers must start again next season, once again bringing along the supporting cast as Kobe matures into the star and leader he can be. When they were healthy and growing dynamically as a team, they earned the fans’ patience and forbearance.

In this case, “wait until next season” is not a platitude. It’s a legitimate strategy.

Remembering Lucious Harris

Kurt —  February 2, 2007

I was a little bit lucky. The year I moved to Long Beach was the year that Long Beach State may have had its best basketball team ever. And, since I didn’t know many people and I had plenty of free nights, I went to a lot of basketball games that year. And that 92-93 team grew on me like few others have.

They were led by Lucious Harris, who not-so-coincidentally gets his number retired by Long Beach State Saturday night.

Most of you probably remember Harris from his recent NBA play, where he was a key guy off the bench for the Nets when they went to the NBA Finals a few years back. I remember Harris as the skinny and lightning quick kid who seemed unstoppable his senior season — he averaged 23.1 points per game shooting 60.2% (eFG%) and 41% from beyond the arc.

I talked with his old Long Beach coach this week, Seth Greenberg (now at #16 Virginia Tech) and he said they tried to use Harris’ quickness off the dribble by setting up a lot of isolation plays for him. But they also ran him off a lot of picks and down screens, trying to get him room for that quick jump-shot release (much like UCLA this year runs screens for Aaron Afflalo). It worked because Harris was such a smart player, even at that young age he seemed able to find the seams and holes in a defense that gave him room to get off shots (a knack he brought to the NBA).

What I remember is you could count on Harris, but it worked because that team had some balance, with Bryon Russell playing the role of the strong guard who got posted up more and used his strength to get off his shots.

What I didn’t know then was how much easier the work ethic of those two, trying to out do one another in practice, made Greenberg’s job easier.

“When you’re two best players are your best practice players, you can do a lot,” Greenberg said,

Lucious Harris saved his best play for the Big West Tournament that season, where he was named the MVP and led the 49ers to the title. It was all good enough to get the 49ers and 11 seed in the NCAA tournament that year, but they faced a strong Illinois team and lost in the first round 75-72.

Harris was the first pick of the second round of the NBA draft that year, taken by the Dallas Mavericks. He played a dozen years in the NBA.

I learned a lot — and had a lot of fun — watching Lucious Harris and those Seth Greenberg-coached teams. When I saw he was getting his number retired, well, it just reminded my how much fun basketball can be.

It doesn’t get much better for a sports day in Los Angeles — Dodger opening day in the afternoon and UCLA in the NCAA title game at night. Great day to for me to be stuck in the office, swamped with work.

No deep thoughts here on the Dodgers ’I’ll leave that to those who know the team better, but I’ll talk a little about the NCAA title game (we’ll get back to the Lakers tomorrow).

Actually, I’ll crib from and point you to kenpom.com, where Ken Pomory (he sometimes of ESPN insider) uses all my favorite stats to track the NCAA. And what does his methodology predict for tonight? UCLA 63, Florida 63. Actually, it was 62.9 to 62.9, if you want to be picky. Which means after the blowouts Saturday this one should be close.

About UCLA:

UCLA has balance, with every player except the point guards sporting offensive ratings better than 100 (points per 100 possessions). Jordan Farmar’s shot selection has been maligned in this space before, and a prime example was given against LSU. He took a couple of ill-advised 3s, but they went in. When that’s happening and the Bruins manage to get over 40% of possible offensive rebounds (they got 44.1% against LSU), the opposing defense is in trouble.

About Florida:

Florida’s offense is very effective as well. I’d like to focus on Corey Brewer, who started the season 16 of 67 (23.9%) on 3s and has gone 24 of 50 (48.0%) since. Along with Lee Humphrey (45.8%) and Taurean Green (39.6%), Florida has three solid, nearly spectacular, long-ball threats to go with the two future-NBA big men. So double-team at your own peril, Ben Howland. We know Howland isn’t going to double with a guard, and he may still double Joakim Noah at selective times in the low post, leaving the somewhat more offensively challenged Al Horford.

Pace could be key in this one, a few easy baskets in transition (or, conversely, sloppy transition defense) could swing this game. The way LSU was overwhelmed with UCLA’s defensive intensity and speed, I think Florida will have a challenge adjusting as well. The Bruins will need some big nights defensively from their big men — Hollins and Mata in particular — but I say they get it and win by 5.

My Bracket Is A Disaster

Kurt —  March 16, 2006

I’m posting this before the first game of the NCAA tournament, but that headline should be accurate within 24-48 hours.

Just for the record, I have a Final Four of Texas, Kansas, UConn and Villanova. (Yes, I have Texas beating Duke. Yes, I know Duke beat them by 31 this year.) I have Texas taking it all, becoming the first school to win the NCAA football and basketball title in the same year.

As for first round upsets, I’ve got San Diego State over Indiana and Winthrop knocking off Tennessee.

Who have you got?