"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Double Switchables

We're pleased to welcome another guest post from Dr. Blackheart. You may recall that Dr. Blackheart contributed two guest posts in September. His first post looked at offensive efficiency and turnovers. The second one predicted low three percent percentages and guessed at the starting lineup. Today's post looks more at the early season trends and gazes into the crystal ball for the rest of the season.

The 2009-10 season saw a short (depth and height) but experienced MU team focus on offensive efficiency, achieved by not turning the ball over while slowing the tempo to work the offense for the best available three ball. The team was coached magnificently to do what it could do well—and was successful at it like no other team in MU’s history.

Turning the page over to the 2010-11 season, the roster is now comprised of three new starters and seven non-battle hardened neophytes to Buzz Ball. MU is still a relatively efficient team (31st offensively and 40th defensively in Pomeroy), as is the Buzz trademark. However, with all the new faces and the rotating line-ups, fans are left to wonder what this team does well—what is its identity—as it doesn’t appear MU is exceptional at anything at first blush?

Distribution Center(s)
With a point guard by committee, MU is a surprising 10th nationally in assists per game with 18.1 helping hands. Dwight Buycks (4.2/game) and Junior Cadougan (3.6/game) lead the way in government assistance. Who is on the receiving end? Well, surprise, surprise…The Buzz Brand of Aircraft Carriers.

MU’s points in the paint are up a whopping 32% year to year after the first eight games. Combined, the Double O’s (Otule and Ox) are shooting 70% from the field, with all the frontline players averaging 61% from inside the arc. In fact, MU is 13th nationally in Two Point FG Shooting Percentage (56.4%). Not since the Kevin O’Neill or Al McGuire years has a MU team made such a concerted effort to feed the low post like this year’s—albeit it an abbreviated effort as Otule and Gardner have averaged just 24 minutes per game combined. More so, their presence has opened up near-in space for the other position players to attack the rim. But, what a 180 from last season’s low turnover, high trey shooting percent team, though.

This Big Man focus also manifests itself on defense. While MU led the Big East in protecting the perimeter last season, MU’s has chosen to protect the paint this season as we were last in the BE in rebounding in 2009-10. As a result, opponents are hitting treys at a much higher clip, but our two point defense (43.3%) has improved to 68th in the nation from 263rd, while our offensive rebounding rate (36.4%) has improved to 74th in the nation from 238th. And, MU is fouling at a much lower rate. In fact, MU is 3rd in the nation in opponents’ free throw rate.

Is Last Season Just Distant a Memory?

Are low turnover rates with high three point shooting percents not possible with this crew? No, not necessarily. Coming into this season, of the top offensive efficiency games in the past 15 years, 72% of them came after first semester final exams. Last night against Corpus Christi, we saw the 18th most offensive efficient game in 15 years. Up till this point in the season, the guards have been focused on attacking the rim and not really on spacing and flow. Similarly, finding rebounding lanes had not been a particular strength of this team—one Buzz took the pre-Longwood week to concentrate practice on. Now, will MU settle into a regular rotation? Will the incredibly efficient Joe Fulce return healthy? Will flow improvements lead to lower turnovers and better spacing for spot up threes on a consistent basis? Will MU slowly extend its perimeter defense once the interior fortification gets settled? These will be the questions that will start to be answered against the tougher Badgers as MU’s “identity is revealed”.

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