Pac-10 Tournament: Preview & Odds

    
March 10th, 2009

 

This is one in a series of conference tournament previews, in which I run down all the teams involved, give a brief statistical review and present the log5 projections, using in-conference offensive and defensive efficiency. The basic log5 methodology comes from Bill James, and this is an area Ken Pomeroy has looked at in the past as well. I claim nothing new in the application, but obviously with slightly different methodologies, these numbers may differ from others you find.  I don’t claim to be an expert on any particular conference, and I’m sure there are some mis-characterizations on some players I’ve seen sparingly at best, so please add your thoughts in the comments. Anyway, with no further ado, the preview follows below:

 

 

Pac-10

The Pac-10 tournament is in Los Angeles, giving both USC and UCLA a semi-home advantage, though it is not played on either team’s home court. The bottom four teams play an opening round, with the winners joining the top six in the quarterfinals.

 

#

Team

QF

SF

F

W

1

Washington

100.00%

88.17%

50.76%

20.05%

2

UCLA

100.00%

90.65%

74.92%

54.37%

3

California

100.00%

47.56%

10.00%

3.55%

4

Arizona St.

100.00%

72.72%

38.62%

14.79%

5

Arizona

100.00%

27.28%

8.61%

1.79%

6

USC

100.00%

52.44%

11.80%

4.45%

7

Washington St.

88.41%

9.18%

3.26%

0.80%

8

Oregon St.

39.47%

3.65%

0.48%

0.04%

9

Stanford

60.53%

8.18%

1.53%

0.17%

10

Oregon

11.59%

0.17%

0.01%

0.00%

 

UCLA’s combination of strong play and the semi-home advantage gives them a great shot at the title, while the two top seeds on the side of the bracket that doesn’t have the LA teams, Washington and Arizona St., are next in line. Cal faces a difficult draw, likely needing to get through both local teams to make the final. An interesting Washington St. team is the best bet for a long run out of the first round teams.

 

 

#1 – Washington Huskies  (24-7, 14-4) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.096

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2006 (2nd Round)

 

Washington had an inauspicious start to the season, opening 2-3 with a couple of disappointing losses, but has been very good in Pac-10 play, and lost just once on its home floor all year. The Huskies present one of the most fascinating examples of the lies that differences in average tempo can introduce: Washington’s defense has allowed more points than any other conference team but Oregon, but it actually has been the Pac-10’s best in defensive efficiency. The reason is the Huskies’ quick pace, which gets it more possessions in an average game than any other Pac-10 team. They force a lot of turnovers, and get opponents to take most of their shots inside, where they defend well. Washington’s offense has also been among the league’s best, despite only average shooting percentages, as it is one of the country’s strongest teams on the offensive glass and in getting to the stripe.

 

Players to watch:

6-7 SR Jon Brockman, 14.8 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 52.1 eFG% - Brockman is an elite rebounder, one of the best in the country, and is an excellent inside player who averages a double-double. His offensive numbers have come down from last season, but he’s still a good scorer who can occasionally explode for a big total.

 

5-11 SR Justin Dentmon, 15.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 56.7 eFG% - Dentmon sits second on the team in scoring, but is easily the team’s most efficient player, hitting 43% of shots from behind the arc, and 84% of his free throws. While he’s not the primary offensive option, he’s an excellent complimentary player who can put in 20 on any given night.

 

 

#2 – UCLA Bruins (24-7, 13-5) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.152

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (Final Four)

 

It seems a very long time ago, but the Bruins started the season ranked in the top 5, and seemed to be a serious threat for the national title. Their season hasn’t been bad, but some untimely losses down the stretch cost them the regular season crown. It’s worth noting that in terms of efficiency margin, they have a significant advantage on Washington, easily the conference’s #1. This has not been your typical UCLA team of recent years, as Ben Howland has put together an average defense, but an elite national offense. It has been one of the country’s best shooting teams, hitting nearly 54% of twos and 44% of threes, and rarely turning it over. The Bruins have forced a lot of turnovers, but have also struggled to hold opponents’ shooting down, especially from behind the arc.

 

Players to watch:

6-0 SR Darren Collison, 14.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, 59.5 eFG% - Collison has had a bit of a strange year, as his role in the Bruins’ offense has changed, and his level of play has changed with it. He’s taken a larger role, but this is mostly due to his improved assist rate, rather than taking more shots. His three-point percentage, which was over 50% last season, has dropped significantly, but he’s more than made up with it by shooting nearly 60% inside,  well above last year’s numbers. Overall, he’s still one of the nation’s best shooters, proved by his 92% at the free throw line.

 

6-5 SR Josh Shipp, 14.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 59.6 eFG% - Perhaps a chunk of Collison’s good three-point shots have gone to Shipp, who has substantially increased his long-distance shooting, reaching nearly 45%. He’s also an excellent inside scorer, and when combined with Collison may make up the nation’s best shooting combo.

 

 

#3 – California Golden Bears (22-9,11-7) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.029

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2006 (1st Round)

 

Cal has amassed a good record, with half of its losses coming in a tough two-week stretch during late January, but its statistical profile has not been as impressive, as it is well back from the top three teams by efficiency margin standards. The Bears have been the country’s best three-point shooters; while they’ve cooled off a little in conference play, at one point they were on course for one of the best shooting seasons in NCAA history. However, most of their shots come from inside, where they haven’t been particularly good. They’ve also been fairly poor at stopping opponents from scoring, and have forced few turnovers.

 

Players to watch:

5-10 JR Jerome Randle, 18.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 5.0 APG, 61.1 eFG% - Randle has taken a big step forward this season, doing one of those rare things in college basketball, seeing an increase in the size of his role and also a substantial increase in his percentages. His 47% from behind the arc and 87% at the free throw line are both marks that are among the Pac-10’s best, and he’s the 3rd ranked scorer in the conference. He’s also distributed the ball well, leading the conference in assists.

 

6-5 JR Patrick Christopher, 8.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 57.2 eFG% -  The team’s second best scorer, Christopher is a solid shooter from two and from three, and holds onto the ball well, but doesn’t contribute much beyond making shots.  

 

 

#4 – Arizona St. Sun Devils (22-8, 11-7) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.091

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2003 (2nd Round)

 

The Sun Devils haven’t been great down the stretch, going 1-3in their final four games, and will need to turn it around for an opening round game against an Arizona team that they narrowly beat twice in the regular season. Arizona St. plays one of the slowest styles in the country, though its actually quicker than two others in the horrifically slow Pac-10. It does a very good job with it, making a very high percentage of shots, especially from two, where they hit 56%. The Devils take a lot of threes, and have been pretty poor at them, but the spectacular inside scoring makes up for it. Defensively, they have locked down opponents on the perimeter, but forced few turnovers. Still, this is a team that has some of the Pac-10’s best play on both ends of the floor, and definitely can walk away with the title.

 

Players to watch:

6-9 SR Jeff Pendergraph, 14.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 66.5 eFG% - James Harden gets the most plaudits, and deservedly so, but Pendergraph is a guy who has powered the Sun Devils to where they are, one of the most efficient players in the entire country. He’s an excellent rebounder, but his real strength is his shooting percentage, as he leads the conference in hitting field goals, at 66.5%. 

 

6-5 SO James Harden, 20.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.7 SPG, 56.7 eFG% - Harden is as good a pure scorer as there is in college basketball, and his scoring average is truly frightening when you think about how slow Arizona St. plays. His percentages from the floor are very good, but not spectacular; the real key is his huge role in the offense, as most players who shoot as often as he does end up with fairly average percentages. His play at the free throw line is also a major strength, both in getting to the stripe and making shots once there.

 

 

#5 – Arizona Wildcats (19-12, 9-9) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.003

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (1st Round)

 

Arizona has had a season of runs, starting 2-5 in conference before a six-game winning streak brought them back to the upper half of the standings, only to close with a 1-4 record. It may play at a slower pace than it did in the Lute Olsen years, but it’s still a strong offensive team that struggles at the other end of the floor, as it has been for the last several years. The Wildcats are only average shooters, but have done very well on the offensive glass and gotten to the free throw line often. Defensively, they’ve been vulnerable to the three-pointer, where opponents take a lot of shots against them.

 

Players to watch:

6-10 JR Jordan Hill, 18.5 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 55.4 eFG% - Hill has really picked up his play this season, becoming an elite forward in the conference, second in the league in scoring, rebounds and blocks, and one of only two players to average a double-double. He’s a spectacular offensive rebounder, and turns that into a lot of high-percentage chances inside.

 

6-7 JR Chase Budinger, 18.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 56.1 eFG% - Budinger plays more minutes than any player in the Pac-10, and while his scoring average hasn’t changed much, his percentages are up across the board, especially from three, where he’s at nearly 43%. He’s coming in on some great form, having averaged 28 in his last two games.

 

 

#6 – Southern California Trojans (18-12, 9-9) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.008

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008  (1st Round)

 

Another Pac-10 team that started out ranked, but fell short of expectations, USC had a solid conference start, but went 1-6 in the month of February to fall to .500. Tim Floyd’s teams have always been strong defensively, and this one is no different, as the Trojans have been stalwarts on the interior, doing well on the glass and holding opponents to just 46%. Their offense has been nothing  special, a well below average group that has been solid inside, but turned it over a lot and shot threes quite badly.

 

Players to watch:

6-9 JR Taj Gibson, 14.4 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.9 BPG, 58.8 eFG% - Gibson is one in an elite group of Pac-10 forwards, and is easily the most important player on the Trojans. He’s 3rd in the conference in rebounding, and is among the best shot-blockers in the country, while managing to shoot nearly 60% from the field and leading the team in scoring.

 

6-5 JR Daniel Hackett, 12.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.4 SPG, 53.4 eFG% - A very good three point shooter who leads the team in assists, Hackett is a reasonably effective player,  but struggles too much with turnovers.

 

 

#7 – Washington St. Cougars (16-14, 8-10) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.020

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (Sweet Sixteen)

 

Washington St. is the best of the teams playing on the first day, and have come into the tournament on some great form, having beaten UCLA and Arizona St. in the last two weeks. I haven’t had the chance to see the team play this year, but I can imagine they aren’t exactly fun to watch, very good defenders who play at one of the country’s slowest paces. The slow pace works because the Cougars dominate the inside, allowing opponents just 44% on inside shots and putting up one of the best defensive rebounding records in the country. Of course, they don’t force a lot of turnovers with their style. Washington St.’s offense has some strong shooters, good from three and at the stripe, but don’t compete on the offensive glass, and rarely get to the free throw line.

 

Players to watch:

6-1 SR Taylor Rochestie, 13.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.7 APG, 49.7 eFG% - Rochestie is a good guard who is a pure perimeter player, putting up a great assist rate, and shooting over 40% from both two and three. He’s been pretty up and down with scoring of late, but when he’s up, as he was with 33 against UCLA, he’s a very serious threat to the opposition.

 

6-10 SR Aron Baynes, 12.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 57.4 eFG% - The team’s leading rebounder, Baynes is a real force inside, shooting more than 56%, and gets to the line a lot, where he’s an efficient shooter.

 

 

#8 – Oregon St. Beavers (16-14, 8-10) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.107

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1990 (1st Round)

 

I’ll resist the gold mine of allusions to the coach’s family, and just mention that Craig Robinson has done a spectacular job of bringing Oregon St. up to conference respectability after a disastrous 0-18 Pac-10 season in 2008. A frightening start that included losses to Yale and Howard gave way to a number of solid conference victories, including a sweep of Cal, and a 5-3 record against teams from the state of California. The Beavers are the third of the trifecta of absurdly slow Pac-10 teams, and while they are towards the bottom of the conference in offense and defense, the slow pace has been able to keep them hanging around in close, low-scoring games. They defend shots poorly, but rarely foul and are good at forcing turnovers. Offensively, they take a lot of threes, but are better shooters from two, and their struggles at the foul line and with turnovers have set them back.

 

Players to watch:

6-5 JR Seth Tarver, 8.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 58.4 eFG% - Tarver is an excellent shooter, over 58% from the floor, and leads the team in rebounding. He doesn’t play a huge role, but takes advantage of the chances he does get. He also leads the Pac-10 in steals, no small accomplishment at the Beavers’ pace.

 

6-11 JR Roeland Schaftenaar, 9.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 3.1 APG, 51.3 eFG% - Just about all you need to know about how the Princeton offense differs from other styles is that the 6-11 Dutchman leads the team in assists, well ahead of his closest team-mate. His shooting percentage is also solid, and he is a pretty good shooter from three.

 

 

#9 – Stanford Cardinal (17-12, 6-12) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.073

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (Sweet Sixteen)

 

Stanford may come into the tournament ranked 9th, but should be favored over Oregon St. in the first round game between the two. It has been average offensively, very good with the three-point shot, but fairly weak in other areas. The Cardinal have been poor defending shots, but their defense is most notable because it has faced a higher percentage of two-pointers than almost any team in the country: 75% of opponents attempts come from inside the arc, making  their poor interior defense a fatal flaw.

 

Players to watch:

6-7 JR Landry Fields, 12.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 55.9 eFG% - Fields has been a strong inside player for the Cardinal, leading the team in rebounding and putting up a very good percentage inside.

 

6-8 SR Lawrence Hill, 13.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 53.5 eFG% - Coming in off one of his strongest games of the year against Arizona, Hill is a tough inside player who shoots well and holds onto the ball pretty well.

 

 

#10 – Oregon Ducks (8-22, 2-16) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.204

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (1st Round)

 

Oregon was on the verge of a winless season, until Stanford and Oregon St. came to Eugene late in the season and provided it with a couple of wins. Despite those victories, the Ducks are clearly the worst team in the conference, playing worse than the rest of the conference teams on both ends of the floor. They are good three-point shooters, and force a lot of turnovers, but that’s essentially the limit of their positive statistical traits.

 

Players to watch:

5-6 JR Tajuan Porter, 15.2 PPG, 2.5 RPG,  50.6 eFG% - Porter is the kind of guard who gets all his value from long-distance shooting, and when he hits 38% of those attempts, as he has this season, he’s a pretty effective scorer. He hasn’t returned the level from his spectacular freshman year, but remains a dangerous weapon who can put up a lot of points when hot.

 

6-5 SO LeKendric Longmire, 10.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 49.8 eFG% - Longmire is a reasonably effective player, but has had trouble consistently putting up solid numbers. He’s not a spectacular shooter, but is decent, and doesn’t turn it over much.

 

My statistical all-Pac-10 team:

UCLA SR G Darren Collison, 14.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, 59.5 eFG%

California JR G Jerome Randle, 18.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 5.0 APG, 61.1 eFG%

Arizona St. SO G James Harden, 20.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.7 SPG, 56.7 eFG%

Arizona St. SR F Jeff Pendergraph, 14.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 66.5 eFG%

Arizona JR F Jordan Hill, 18.5 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 55.4 eFG%

 

 

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