Monday, March 25, 2013

Coaching Carousal Part 2013-01: A Record Job Market?

A Big Turnover This Off Season...Probably
When the talking heads turn their attention to the Division I head coaching job market, most will declare that this off season will see the highest level of coaching turnover since the 60 created in the 2007 off season. And they will be right, but for the wrong reasons. Most will focus on a few of highly visible "tall trees" (UCLA & USC) but will miss the forest of vacancies created all around those two. Through the end of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament Division I coaching vacancies totaled 29. Between regular season vacancies and those created during Championship Week(s) -- 24 total before Selection Sunday -- hint that the total number of vacancies this cycle will range from 57 to 75, certainly above the average (50) for the last five seasons, with the potential to eclipse the total created in 2007. The sheer number of early vacancies, and not a much anticipated musical chairs effect generated by the UCLA and USC (and...Minnesota & Northwestern!?) job searches, will drive the numbers.

The West Coast Housing Market is About to Get a Shot in the Arm...
In addition to UCLA and USC, three other California colleges, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge (two UCLA assistants, Scott Garson and Phil Matthews, among five others, rumored to be in the mix) and San Jose are also looking for new coaches. The turnover will not be limited to the five fired head coaches, 23 staff members, ranging from assistant/associate coaches to operations directors are also updating their resumes. How many will be retained will be decided by the incoming head coach...but expect the attrition to be very high, probably four or fewer will be retained.

The View Atop the Food Chain...
National media attention has focused on the four power conference jobs, Minnesota, Northwestern, Southern California and UCLA. Looking closely, when the higher profile and salary scale are balanced against the challenges, the Athletic Directors at each school have a selling job ahead. After promoting from within for much of it's 108 years, Northwestern has looked to outside and floated from "brand names" like Kevin O'Neil (yes, that Kevin O'Neil), Harold Olsen, Tex Winters and Bill Foster to eccentrics like Ricky Byrdsong to "system guys" like Bill Carmody. Carmody brought the Princeton Offense and a 92-25 career record with him, and the administration stayed with him through 13 seasons. But Carmody's experiment yielded only five winning seasons and a 192-210 record. 192 wins might be second to Dutch Lonborg's 236 (1927-1950) wins, and his 0.478 winning percentage was better than his seven immediate predecessors (dating to 1963). The candidate pool appears surprisingly wide. Athletic Director Jim Phillips has assembled a to-do list, according to various sources, that includes longtime Duke assistant Chris Collins along with head coaches Dr. John Giannini (La Salle), Bryce Drew (Valparaiso), Dave Paulsen (Bucknell), Ben Jacobson (Northern Iowa), Bob McKillop (Davidson) and Brett Reed (Lehigh) to interview. I suspect that beyond Giannini and Paulsen, who have professional connections to Phillips, the real field consists of Collins and (maybe) Drew. The Chicago Tribunes' Teddy Greenstein thinks Collins and Drew, despite drawbacks, would generate the most buzz. Collins has a pocket full of recommendations from media types, most of whom draw paychecks from ESPN and have openly lobbied for their guy on air and via twitter. If their voices prevail, Phillips will revert to "buzz" and pick Collins. Caveat Emptor -- of the 10 head coaches (all fired) to prowl the Welsh Arena sidelines between the legendary Lonberg and Bill Carmody, only two, Kevin O'Neil and Tex Winters, went on to head another Division I program.

Wracked by an academic scandal whose punishment included vacating the school's only Final Four appearance, Minnesota gave Don Monson of Gonzaga seven-plus seasons to rebuild the program. The rebuilding project stalled, but the Golden Gophers caught lightening in a bottle when Orlando (Tubby) Smith, head coach of Division I's premier program, the Kentucky Wildcats, decided he was tired of stoking the outsized egos of an out of control fan-base and the unrealistic expectations of it's Athletic Director, and took his approach to basketball to the Twin Cities. Smith compiled a 124-81 record (a 0.617 winning percentage) and earned three NCAA bids, while running a squeaky clean program. Tubby, despite an 85 year old (renovated twice) arena and seriously out-of-date practice facilities, was building something in the Twin Cities...just not fast enough. Athletic Director Norwood Teague, Virginia Commonwealth's former AD, thanked Smith for his contribution as he showed him the door early Monday. Teague, most likely rattled by media reports that Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart would be courted hard by UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero (and most likely USC's AD Pat Haden), decided to eat Smith's 2.5 million dollar buyout and rely on his prior relationship with Smart to make up for lost time. Smart has to feel a bit lonely because he is the only candidate in Minnesota's pool right now. That could spell bad news for Teague, because someone, Shaka Smart or not, will have to blow the whistle next October 15 to start the fall practice in that old basketball practice facility and get whoever is on the roster ready to play basketball in Williams Arena.

Faced with mounting evidence of a massive payoff scandal in their football program that could result in death penalty-level sanctions, Southern California's then AD, in a gesture meant to show the NCAA that the USC Athletics Department would re-establish control over that outlaw program, threw then basketball coach Tim Floyd out the window. Floyd landed at Texas El Paso. USC's AD of the past two years, Pat Haden, is still trying to decide where to take the Trojans next. Haden dismissed the program's cleanup crew, Kevin O'Neil, in January, and turned to Tom Cantu to finish out the 2013 season. Haden's list -- after Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon signed his annual extension (that takes his tenure at Pitt through the 2023 season) -- includes a collection of young head coaches (Shaka Smart, Josh Pastner of Memphis and Buzz Williams of Marquette) and Mark Hopkins, longtime assistant coach to Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, who has ties to the Southern California area. The problem? USC's "One Shining Moment" was Henry Bibby's tenure (specifically the 2000-01 season) and since the John Wooden Era in Westwood, the Trojans are perennially the second (or third) best ticket in Los Angeles in the months between the Rose Bowl and Spring Practice. Whoever takes the job will have to compete with Sean Miller (Arizona) and UCLA for the area's best recruits. Interviews I would have loved to be a "Fly on the Wall" for in this cycle has to be Haden's interview with Texas El Paso's Tim Floyd (yes, that) Tim Floyd).

The object of a prolonged media feeding frenzy for the past two years, Ben Howland's time in Westwood was over even before the season began. Despite taking the UCLA program to three consecutive Final Fours -- a feat unmatched since John Wooden -- Howland and the Bruin fan-base were headed to a divorce on grounds of (mutual) alienation of affection, with a 3.5 million dollar buyout to Howland. The candidate pool -- high profile youngish coaches for the most part -- includes Smart, Butler's Brad Stevens, Florida's Billy Donovan, Villanova's Jay Wright, pro coach Mike Brown, Washington's Lorenzo Romer and Marquette's Buzz Williams. While each offers a quality resume, a few (Williams, Stevens and Wright) are puzzling. The others might want to consider that Howland and Steve Lavin, the last two to pace the Pauley Pavilion sidelines (both fired) combined to win 378 games over their collective 17 years in Westwood. Lavin earned six NCAA bids, advanced to four Sweet Sixteens and a Regional Final in his seven year tenure and failed to win at least 20 games only once. But he was fired in favor of Ben Howland, who earned seven NCAA bids, advanced to three Final Fours, won 30 or more games three times and turned in two losing seasons (not this season) before being fired at the end of his tenth year. In the thirteen seasons before he took UCLA to it's first Final Four, coaching legend John Wooden won 247 games, earned three NCAA bids and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen (but no farther) each time. Given the total circumstances, Smart or Brown (or Romer) make the most sense for the Bruins.

The total vacancies from the 2011-12 season was 50, with UMBC head coach Randy Monroe's surprise resignation three days before the start of fall practice, the "official" last vacancy created. Commentators last March/April projected a "down year" for the coaching job market, but 50 is average for the period 2007-2012. I include Saint Louis in the vacancies for this season. Although Coach Rick Majerus took a medical leave last August, the stated intent (though few who saw the coaching legend in 2011-12 believed it would happen) was to return to the bench for the 2013-14 season. His resignation in November of 2012 was the confirmation that his career was indeed over. For the nose counters, the period between the end of the NCAA Tournament and the Spring Signing Period will provide important clues for the final count. Vacancies created during the NCAA Tournament (already at five) should be the single largest number created for the cycle; combined with the Spring Signing Period total, the number should be about 1.5 to 2 times the number created during the season and immediate post season (the conference tournament, but before Selection Sunday) period. Should it come to pass, the number by the third week in May would be between 50 and 62.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani: Talking Stats with Brad Stevens

by Ray Floriani

Brooklyn, NY Following the former presser it was a chance for a one on one interview. The interviewer nervously introduced himself, fumbling on words. Such was the excitement of meeting one of the best young coaches in the nation. With two NCAA finals on the resume and, of paramount importance, a tempo free advocate. Brad Stevens' Butler Bulldogs had just defeated Dayton in the opening round of the Atlantic Ten Tournament.

Following the somewhat awkward self-introduction, came a calm as the topic turned to advanced statistics. A facet of the game where interviewer and subject both share a passion.

"One of the major aspects of studying tempo free statistics is trends," Stevens said. The next opponent would be LaSalle in the quarterfinals. Stevens would crunch the numbers since the last time the teams played (a 54-53 LaSalle victory on January 23). The idea, to see if there was a marked change in a certain area regarding LaSalle since that meeting. "The numbers give you trends and a good read on styles," Stevens noted.

The numbers would be used to produce and emphasize key points in the scouting report. They serve a purpose of not only evaluating your opposition but your own team as well. "We would look at what we do well and what they (LaSalle) do well," Stevens said. For instance, Stevens pointed out a concern would be LaSalle's guard play. "It is an important part of their attack," he said. "But looking at it closely we are making a decision. We probably will feel it is not as good to pick up their guards 40 feet from the basket. Twenty one feet away is probably better."

During the tournaments you have live scouting. During the regular season, the reliance is on tape. Stevens will integrate tape breakdowns with the numbers he crunches.

The Butler mentor was asked which of the Four Factors in his view is most important. Stevens took the neutral road saying all four (effective field goal percentage, free throw rate, offensive rebounding percentage and turnover rate) are equally important. He did concede, with his present team, "Rebounding is something we look at very closely." In Atlantic Ten play the Bulldogs enjoyed a 35.5% offensive rebounding percentage while allowing opponents A 27% mark. That is a plus 8.5% advantage.

Finally, Stevens was asked how and why he poured himself into the stat analysis. "Just another way, a different way to look at the game," he said. "From the beginning of my coaching I found statistics and numbers very useful. I have been doing (tempo free) stat breakdowns well before there were web sites."

Brad Stevens (Right) with Amdrew Smith (Center) and Rotnei Clarke (Left)
discuss Dayton game

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Atlantic 10 Tournament Efficiencies

A Tournament Grows in Brooklyn
The first tournament championship at the Barclay's Center concluded on Sunday as Saint Louis beat Virginia Commonwealth 62-57 and led five A-10 teams (Butler, La Salle, Saint Louis, Temple and VCU) into the NCAA tournament. Five bids (more than the ACC, SEC or ?) matches the conference's all-time high from the 1997 and 1998 tournaments -- the hey days of John Calipari and John Chaney. The format used this season brought the top 12 conference teams to a neutral site (the Barclay's Center) for four days of basketball. Seeds #5 through #12 paired off Thursday, with winners facing seeds #1 through #4 in Friday's quarter-finals. The four survivors (Butler vs. Saint Louis and Massachusetts vs. Virginia Commonwealth) played Saturday with the winners playing the Finals on Sunday.

By the Numbers
I decided to plot the possessions and offensive/defensive efficiencies (points per possession) for the 12 teams:

Saint Louis3201168690.9710.8120.159
Saint Joseph's2137139621.1141.130-0.016
George Washington17277740.9731.041-0.068
La Salle15869640.9061.078-0.172

The sample is far too small for conclusions, but there are a few things that jumped out:

  1. Defense Prevailed -- the Billikens' offense was uneven and not partcularly efficient as they generated 1.04 points per possession versus Charlotte Friday and a low of 0.939 versus VCU on Sunday, but their defense was solid throughout the three game stretch. The same could be noted for VCU, Butler and Massachusetts, the four teams to advance to the semi-finals.
  2. Butler showed some offense -- The Bulldogs had a shootout with Dayton on Thursday as both teams posted offensive efficiencies of 1.14 and 1.05 respectively (Dayton's offensive efficiency is Butler's defensive efficiency). Brad Stevens' squad lowered their defensive efficiency below the 1.00 mark in their next two games, though their offense declined slightly versus La Salle as well. Fatigue played a role perhaps, as their outing versus eventual winner Saint Louis saw the Bulldogs' productively crater at 0.800 points per possession, well below their two +1.0 outings. If Rotnei Clarke can get some rest between games and freshman Kellen Dunham has any gas left in the tank (and Andrew Smith can stay out of foul trouble and...) the Bulldogs are poised for a run to the second weekend (at least).
  3. One game samples can't tell us much -- but La Salle's showing gives me pause. Temple, (NCAA) bid in hand ran into a very motivated Chaz Williams-led Massachusetts squad, but the Explorers served up a very uncompetitive offering versus a Butler squad that featured an overworked Rotnei Clarke. Dr. John Giannini's game plan may have been to run Clarke all over the arena, but after competing for the first half, La Salle seemed content to hang on the perimeter and chuck threes. The Explorers are, at best mediocre two point defenders, which may work to their advantage versus their first NCAA opponent, Boise State. Or it may not.
  4. UMass' showing was strong if unsuccessful -- the Minutemen, especially senior guard Chaz Williams, were motivated to run the table and grab the A-10's automatic bid, but they clearly ran out of gas in their third game (in three days) versus VCU. Notable that they held the Rams to miserly 0.947 points per possession in a losing effort Saturday afternoon. After posting >1.0 points per possession against George Washington and Temple, coach Derek Kellogg's squad collapsed under VCU's pressure. If they can avoid a first round letdown in the NIT, UMass should be strong and experienced enough to duplicate their 2012 NIT run, get back to Madison Square Garden and allow Williams to close out his career on a winning note.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Atlantic 10 Tournament: Six Takeaways

Eleven Games, Four Days, One Winner...
...16 winners actually. The entire Atlantic 10 Conference won as Commissioner Bernadette McGlade made the decision to switch the conference tournament site from Atlantic City (every inch the gracious host for the last six years) to the brand new Barclay's Center just across the Brooklyn Bridge from Madison Square Garden. The Big East have their Garden Party, but the A-10, five of whose members garnered NCAA bids on Sunday evening offered a host of interesting matchups for their four day Coming Out Party last weekend. Covering the tournament for another publication, I was able to enjoy four terrific days of basketball as the Barclay's Center debuted as a conference tournament venue.

1. "Our whole style of play is to get the other team rattled" -- Shaka Smart after his team lost to Saint Louis in the A-10 Tournament Final. On the strength of their HAVOC defense the Rams were able to climb out of a 45-32 hole and close to 46-45. VCU used a combination of a full court press and half court traps to force the normally unflappable Billikens to turnover the ball without a shot, and quickly convert those turnovers into points at the other end. The Bills, like Temple the weekend before, exhaled, posted a big (usually Loe or Dwayne Evans) along the middle of the back court and swung the ball inbound to the opposite side from the inbounder. Once in, the ball handler (usually Jett or Mitchell) would draw the second defender and then to the big posted in that middle zone. Press broken, Saint Louis had to insure not to pass to a forward posted too close to the sideline or midcourt line, which would inevitably draw the second VCU defender for a trap. How many tournament teams have the experience and ball handling skill to counter the Rams' press? Akron for example (VCU's next opponent) has a freshman and sophomore oriented squad that turns over 20% of their possessions without a field goal attempt. The Zips will be in for a long night Thursday...

2. Saint Louis Will be a Tough Out -- "...they have all of the ingredients of a team that can make a run in the NCAA Tournament: They are very well coached; they have older guys that don't get rattled; they're good inside; they're good outside and they defend" -- Shaka Smart after the A-10 Tournament Final. The Billikens drew a #4 seed Sunday, giving them #12 seed New Mexico State, the 24-10 winner of the Western Athletic Conference championship in the opening round on Thursday in San Jose, California. Both Saint Louis and New Mexico State have been there before, but the Billikens having advanced to the field of 32 last time, are ready to go farther.

3. The Atlantic 10 is a Very Deep Conference -- The conference matched it's all-time high for NCAA bids with five Sunday, but also advanced three teams, Charlotte, Massachusetts and Saint Joseph's, to the NIT which kicks off Tuesday (tonight). Richmond, eliminated in a controversial opening round match with Charlotte Thursday, will try to improve it's 18-14 in the CBI Tournament. Xavier, which had it's NCAA run stopped at seven consecutive this season and was snubbed for the NIT, passed on a CBI invitation. Had the Musketeers accepted, the conference would have had 10 of 16 members playing after Brooklyn.

4. Saint Joseph's Has a Hard Time Coming Back -- Coach Phil Martelli's Hawks squad was the conference coaches' favorite going into the season. Well stocked at all five positions, the Hawks have the option to "go big" with Aiken, Kanacevic, Roberts and a backcourt of Jones and Galloway, or "go small" by starting sophomore Chris Wilson beside Galloway and Jones, and bringing Aiken (or Roberts) in off the bench. Blessed with that flexibility, the Hawks nevertheless need to take the lead and control the game flow to insure a successful outcome. Of their 13 losses this season only three were by six or fewer points (ie 1-2 possessions), leaving this observer with the impression that, given their offensive system requires multiple screens and/or picks to develop a shot opportunity, falling behind poses a larger than usual obstacle to putting points on the board quickly. Although they cut Virginia Commonwealth's 10 point half-time lead to three (and then back to four) Friday night, the Hawks were effectively out of the game when they fell behind by 13 after Halil Kanacevic picked up an offensive foul (change of possession) and a technical with 11:22 left in the second half. The Rams added two more 90 seconds later, pushing their lead out to 15. Though the Hawks finished with a 36-24 run, they were not really in it, trailing by double digits with 94 seconds left and by at least two possessions, until Langston Galloway nailed a three point attempt with 13 seconds left to cut the deficit five. The play that netted center Papa Ndao his eighth three of the season took nine seconds to develop. Facing a Saint John's team (in the Battle of the SJUs?) in the first round of the NIT, the Hawks will have to guard the shot and control the boards to insure the Johnnies don't jump ahead quickly on them.

5. The Subway and Schedule Gave the Media Choices -- The media turnout Saturday was larger than I remember in Atlantic City. By starting their first semi-final game at noon and their second second semi-final before 5:00 pm, the Atlantic 10 was able to draw the considerable New York City media (not to mention filmmaker Spike Lee) to Brooklyn (and back to Manhattan) before the Big East Championship Final tipped off at 9:00 pm. The A-10 started their Women's Championship game at 7:00 pm and drew the media and fan following typical for women's basketball -- a brilliant counter scheduling move by the A-10. Las Vegas, by hosting the Mountain West, the Western Athletic and the West Coast Conference, has established a presence in Division I basketball, but the Big Apple, by hosting both the Big East and the A-10 tournaments simultaneously, gave fans an outstanding Championship Week experience.

6. Saint Louis Won the War, but VCU Won the Battle...of the Bands -- College basketball bands tend to be miniature versions of the mammoth marching bands that serenade BCS football teams. Virginia Commonwealth is not terribly different, though the Rams, like several school bands, augment their normally brass and drum-heavy sound with a couple of electric guitars and performed several half-play half-sing/chant musical offerings. What set the Rams apart was the physicality of their performance. The tuba players danced as the rest of the rather large contingent of musicians danced, bopped and bounced as they played some of their more exuberant numbers. Well known offerings like "Thriller" were given a different, brassier, edgier treatment by the VCU band which often, by simply changing the beat or adding syncopation, lent a very different (and refreshing) musical interpretation to the number. A second place to the La Salle band, which consistently lent a bouncy, funky interpretation to their music, which seems a good deal closer to the temperament of Philadelphia than their A-10 brethren, Saint Joseph's and Temple.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

VCU to Wreak HAVOC in Philadelphia?

The End of a Most Irregular Season
The Media Day buzz was the unusual strength of the Atlantic 10 and the possibilities for at least five (if not more) bids to the NCAA. Charlotte and charter member Temple would take their curtain calls as Butler and Virginia Commonwealth took the measure of their new conference and their future conference mates. What a difference 10 weeks makes. Temple departs to an athletic association that only recently settled on American 12 as their new brand, a shell of the former Big East. The Catholic 7 (nee Big East), having stripped the American 12 of their last vestages of basketball legitimacy, borrow a leaf from the ACC and appear to have raided the Atlantic 10 of two of their more better basketball members...if rumors are to be believed. The conference maker was clearly thinking TV Storyline when he made the last game of the regular season and matchup between the best of the two departing and entering teams. Hosted by the departing team of course.

Does Temple Need this More Than Virginia Commonwealth?
Yes. Like their City Series Mates, the Owls are at the tailend of a roller coaster season that has three of Philadelphia's Big 5 on everyone's "Last Eight" (In or Out) List. Flattened by Duke on a neutral court, they went on to take a baffling loss to Canisius (at home no less) before they bounced back with a win over then #3 Syracuse. They opened their conference schedule with a loss to Xavier and played 0.500 ball in conference before a second baffling (and truly damaging) home loss to Duquesne seemed to get them focused. No more margin for error, the Owls have rattled off six straight to put themselves back on the NCAA bubble and in the hunt for a #3 seed to the Atlantic 10 Tournament next weekend (the scnearios are complicated, see below).

How VCU Can Lose This Game
I am heading down to Philadelphia to cover the Virginia Commonwealth - Temple game tomorrow for another publication, and those who tune in (12:00 noon CBS) might want to keep track of Temple's turnovers. I know I will. Virginia Commonwealth's HAVOC defense works to force turnovers, and the Rams tend to win when the HAVOC is effective. The Rams the best turnover rate in Division I (29.1%) and in Atlantic 10 conference games (about 25%). Following the adage "offense flows from defense", the Rams' ability to convert at the offensive end tends to follow that defensive turnover rate. When they don't force turnovers their shot conversion rate tends to suffer. VCU is 7-5 in the twelve games where their offensive eFG% is less than 50%. But more tellingly, if they cannot force turnovers they tend to lose outright. The Rams are 3-6 in games when their opponents lose less than 25% of their possessions. That includes every loss VCU has taken so far this season, with six of those games coming away from Verizon Wireless Arena (their home court). The Owls tend to value the ball/their possessions, logging the third lowest turnover rate in the conference. But the Owls also do not seem bothered when they do have a relatively sloppy game, as they are 6-0 when they lose 20% or more of their possessions on turnovers (they have never turned over 25% or more of their possessions). The Owls win when their conversion rate (eFG%) is 50.0% or better. The Rans have allowed 50% or better in 15 of their games this season, half of their outings. Stats were gathered from Ken Pomeroy's website. Pomeroy by the way, favors the Rams in this one.

Sorting Out the Seeds
Saint Louis' win over La Salle means the Billikens can do no worse than a tie (with VCU) for the regular season title and a #1 seed in Brooklyn. Virginia Commonwealth gets the #2 seed win or lose versus Temple, with La Salle's seed (#3 or #4) left to the result of the Temple/VCU game. Should Temple beat VCU, the Owls end up in a at least a two way tie with La Salle and a threeway tie should Butler beat Xavier tonight. Tie breakers -- both two with La Salle and three with La Salle and Butler -- favor Temple by virtue of their win over Saint Louis (three way). La Salle would take the #4 seed and Butler plays Thursday with the #5.