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Three Games Do Not a Season Make, But Improvements Must Be Made

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Each sport has inherent degrees of transparency. Truly individual sports, like golf, deal simply with the player’s skills and the elements; the fewest variables possible. Tennis is similar, but now you’re dealing with another player and his specific skill set. Rafael Nadal playing Roger Federer is a bit different than Rafael Nadal racking up an hyperbolic stat line against, say, me.

Taking it even further, you look at the traditional American sports. Analysis centers on truth and with each added degree of dynamism that truth becomes a little bit cloudier, a little harder to reach. Baseball is nearly individual; statisticians have learned how to quantify so much of what actually happens, isolating every variable they can in the quest to answer every question there is to be asked about a team, a player, a ballpark, a season. On the other end of the spectrum is football. Each player on the field—regardless of how often they touch the ball—is a cog in a machine, and a backside block that goes completely unnoticed by the scorekeeper can be the difference between a stuff in the backfield and Marshawn Lynch registering on the Richter scale.

In between lays basketball. Yes, we have plenty of discrete stats which can give you a reasonable picture of what a player actually did on the court, but what led to those stats? Who made the entry pass that allowed Aziz N’Diaye to drop the ball off to an open Matthew Bryan-Amaning underneath? I have no earthly idea, and even watching games over and over (which I’ve had the almost opioid-like pleasure of doing with this losing streak) sometimes leaves you wondering. What follows is an attempt at explaining this losing streak and to submit some potential remedies. Make no mistake; every team has bad stretches, and we’re definitely still an NCAA Tournament team. That could change very quickly. Now, make like Mario and JUMP!

 

 

Throughout this string of losses, 80-87 @WSU, 68-56 @OSU and 81-76 @OU (and their nifty new court) a few things have been true. We have shot like, well, what alliteratively sounds like "shot" and describes something awful? That’s what we’ve shot like.

After quite a bit of number crunching—my calculator and I have become very friendly—I’ve found that, prior to this skid, we were shooting a collective 63.8% eFG, while during this skid we’re posting an eFG of 48.1%. Three games out of 22 dropped us to a season total of 54.8% from that 63.8%. Recall that eFG is very similar to simple FG%, but it accounts for the extra 50% of value a made three-ball provides. Anyways: Holy. God. That is some awful shooting over a three game stretch.

This wasn’t actually the case against Oregon, however, as we outshot them based on eFG, ending our much-ballyhooed (by FSN, so, take it for what you will), streak of winning when we outshoot the opposing team (again, assuming FSN knows how to spell eFG). We also gift wrapped the basketball (and dude, gift wrapping a sphere is difficult) and gave it to them in TO%, which measures turnovers as a percentage of possessions, 21.1% to 11.3%. We continued our generous ways as we scored 14 fewer from the line than the Ducks, shooting 45.5% to their 82.6%. They attempted 23 to our 11, and I initially thought that had something to do with our styles of play, but it turns out we only attempted one more jump shot than OU, and each team scored 26 points in the paint. Seeing as we only lost by five, shooting even a few percentage points better from the line or shaving just a third off our turnovers was the difference between a win and a loss. It wasn’t the refs either; the 31 game fouls called is actually quite a bit lower than their collective average of 37.2

I tried to find some commonalities between the games, but as we can see above, the loss to Oregon wasn’t anything like the losses to WSU or OSU. The first two we were a mess in all phases. We were throwing balls away, we couldn’t get either of our primary offensive options working, and at no point were we able to string together enough quality plays to turn the momentum in our favor. The Ducks game was different in that we were able to keep it together until the very end, with only a couple of clutch E.J. Singler free throws icing it. We also had no answer for Joevan Catron, who went off with 20 and nine.

Also, while we didn’t necessarily witness the second coming of the UW offense, Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday both played well, although I would’ve liked to have seen MBA attempt a few more FTs. I say the same for Isaiah Thomas. He was effective, but shooting just one for five from beyond marred what was otherwise a solid, if not typically flashy outing. Venoy Overton continues to be a problem, posting a +/- of -13 and turning the ball over four times in just 14 minutes of play. Anecdotally, both CODawg and I noticed him penetrating the zone, which is a good thing, but ultimately he failed to capitalize on it, either making an errant pass or missing the layup.

We miss Abdul Gaddy. Losing him to the ACL injury has taken us from a potential Elite Eight squad to a seventh or eighth seed, unless we somehow win out or figure out the ball distribution situation. Isaiah is the only guy who can reliably create off the dribble, so we need Scott Suggs or Overton to step it up. The game at Arizona is looking real scary right now, but it is an opportunity to show the selection committee that we warrant at least a five seed in the west.

Going into the California game at home, which is key to stopping this skid, we do see some positive trends. MBA’s shot percentage has increased with each game, meaning we’re making more of an effort to get it into the paint, where MBA can take high percentage shots and draw fouls. CODawg noticed during the Oregon game better interior passing, which is an important component in collapsing the zone to either draw fouls, or let one of our shooter take an open three. Let’s see some more of that.

Also, I like the increase in minutes Terrence Ross got during the Oregon game. He is the future of Husky basketball, and now is as good a time as any to see his stuff, even if he has struggled a bit during this stretch. Someone (sorry, they didn’t include their handle in the e-mail, and I’d prefer not to use someone’s real name without explicit permission) mentioned to me that while Lorenzo Romar is an excellent recruiter and motivator, he struggles with in-game adjustments. Given my limited exposure to in-depth analysis, I’d have to agree. We just haven’t made the appropriate moves at half-time lately to come out and get some runs going.

Now it’s onto the California Bears. I’ll be watching tape of their recent (and very close) loss to Arizona, and give my humble thoughts on what we need to see out of our team to walk away with the win. 

Real time update (Monday evening): I’ve just learned that John Morgan has stepped down from his administrative and writing duties at Field Gulls. He, along with John Berkowitz, Jeff Sullivan and Matthew at Lookout Landing have with Bill Simmons (save the vitriol, please) been my prime inspirations in pursuing a gig in sports writing, not to mention the tremendous impact they’ve all had on the methods to my madness. Thanks to all the above, and Mr. Morgan, I wish you the best. I only hope I can live up to each of these huge contributors within our tight knit community. ESPN doesn’t have s*** on us.