Friday, March 13, 2009

basketball season autopsy, part 2

First up, apologies: I always try to post at least once each weekday and let you know when I won't be. Yesterday I spent some time going over the sabermetric stats I talked about earlier. Apologies again to those who were hoping to see it added, but it's not a worthwhile endeavour. Two reasons for that. One, sample size: this stuff is designed for a 162-game MLB season, and the typical college ballplayer won't rack up that many til his junior year. Maybe. Two, the weirdness of nonconference schedules throws this stuff out of whack. The teams in the majors aren't that different from each other in terms of talent, but when we play Coppin State and beat them 27-1 (a real actual score from last year), the statistics go bonkers. It might be worth revisiting after the season is over and using only stats from ACC games, but that's a lot of extra work, and again: sample size.

Anyway, the basketball season. It's over, thank heavens for that. The other day I rambled about things that went right and things that didn't go wrong, which was a thinly-veiled way of saying it's not Dave Leitao's fault entirely. Actually, I don't think it was veiled at all. But on with the show. Today, I tell you what I think the problems were this year and then, what we're looking at for next year. What went wrong?

1. Three freshmen in the starting lineup. Look, I don't care if one of them turns out to be ACC Rookie of the Year (oh wait he did), the ACC is not, has never been, and hopefully never will be a league where you can have the majority of your lineup be freshmen and that is a recipe for success. It just ain't happening. Sammy Zeglinski will be a fine point guard in time, but he could have had a big scarlet F for Freshman on his back and it wouldn't have been any more obvious. He'd play well in some games - in fact, quality play from Z was a common thread in our wins - and others he'd shoot 1-for-5 and dish out no assists to go along with his three turnovers.

Not only the freshmen, but I've touched on this before: guys might have a certain class listed on the roster, but they carried so much extra responsibility as compared to years past that they really are more like a year behind what it says. Calvin Baker, case in point. He's officially a junior but he spent a year sitting out as per transfer regulations and before that was at William & Mary, a far cry from the ACC. He's a sophomore, basically, but with only one more year of eligibility. Mustapha Farrakhan is technically a sophomore, but figure this: the Ken Pom player ratings call him a "significant contributor" to the team based on how much he was involved in the offense; last year he had such a non-role he wasn't even listed - not even enough to qualify as "nearly invisible". A sophomore playing a freshman's role.

2. Mamadi Diane and Tunji Soroye's injuries. This is two problems in one. Before the season I figured we could at least make a return trip to the CBI, because we'd have some senior leadership in key roles. Mo on offense, Tunji on defense. Not having them made the above problem that much worse. Diane ought to have been a starter - in place of Baker, if I'd had my say. Without him, Baker (effectively a sophomore) and Mike Scott (actually a sophomore) were the graybeards in the "typical" starting lineup - who were they turning to for leadership in the huddle?

Plus, for three years Diane was a rock-solid dependable player and it was the threat of his outside shooting that opened up more than a couple driving lanes for Sean Singletary. That disappeared completely this year and had a direct effect on the offense in particular. Teams respected the jump-shooting abilities of absolutely nobody on the roster. Nobody. And with good reason. Give us Diane's jump shot back and at the very, very least the Liberty debacle never happens - Diane played 27 minutes and shot 0-for-6. And who knows what the offense might have produced if anybody at all could have hit a shot from outside the paint somewhere? That was Diane's role, but his foot took away his shot.

3. So yeah....the shooting. It....was....awful. Coaches, especially ours, like to preach that defense begets offense. Play solid defense and the offense will come. That goes in reverse too, as we learned. Not only is missing shots counterproductive to the scoring effort, it leads to no respect for your shooters on that end and transition buckets on the other end. We were, FYI, the 278th best 3-point shooting team in the country, tied with the following States: Central Connecticut, South Carolina-Up-, and Kennesaw. Somewhere, in some gym or court, somebody is informing some no-game-havin' playground hack that he shoots like Kennesaw State. This is the #1 problem that has to be fixed for next year.

4. Extreme strength of schedule. No matter whose ranking system you use, ours was one of the nastiest schedules in the country. The RPI says the nastiest. That's right - according to the official rack-and-stack fancy number tool that the selection committee uses, of 343 teams in Division I basketball we had the hardest schedule in the land. A small part of that comes with the territory of being one of the worst teams in the ACC, since everyone gets to play you and you do not. Then again, of the other bottom five teams in the conference, we got only one crack at three of them, and as a bonus we got to be UNC's chew toy twice.

And then there's the schedule we gave ourselves. Games against Xavier and Syracuse and halfway decent mid-majors like Radford and VMI are great if you think you need a little extra oomph in the selection committee room. They are also great for racking up losses if you play a ton of freshmen, effectively lost your seniors to injury, and can't shoot.

So......ja. These are the four things, more or less in order, that I think doomed the season. Not that you can't put your finger on a myriad of other silly little problems, but I think most of those stemmed from these.

Ah, but next year, I truly and honestly see things getting better. Much better. The only question mark is the shooting, since most of the same people who couldn't shoot this year will return next year to also not shoot. But the ACC is poised to take a huge hit next year in the talent department. Check out who's all leaving:

Tyrese Rice (BC)
K.C. Rivers (Clemson)
Greg Paulus (Duke)
Toney Douglas (FSU)
Alade Aminu (GT)
Lewis Clinch (GT)
Jack McClinton (Miami)
Tyler Hansbrough (UNC)
Danny Green (UNC)
Courtney Fells (NCSt)
A.D. Vassallo (VT)

And you figure there will be early entries of course....Wake's Jeff Teague is almost certainly thinking about it, and perhaps his teammate Al-Farouq Aminu. Ty Lawson and Gerald Henderson project to the first round too, if they go. That's a lot of leading scorers. The Dukes and UNCs of the world will always know they can replace these guys, but what about Miami? FSU? VT? The difference is that they think they can replace them.

Meanwhile we won't have to. Landesberg appears likely to stay at least another year, though I think we'll be in for some heartburn every year around this time waiting for his decision. And I thin Tristan Spurlock will bring in a little bit of that shooting we need. While most of the rest of the ACC is going to worry about filling in the holes, we'll be adding on, and we've started the maturing process for next year early. You could see the growth and improvement the team showed as they got rid of some bad habits while the season progressed. This team was too young and inexperienced for the ACC and it was ugly to watch them get schooled night in and night out by much older players who've seen this movie before. Next year that excuse goes away, but hopefully so does the crazy decision-making and the intimidation.

Just, you know, spend some time in the gym with your jump shot, fellas?

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