Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Return of the Team

It's pretty clear that everyone needed that.  Without a doubt, Sean Miller needed an easy win, and so did the fans.  Most of all, the players needed that game.  They played well, and importantly they played as a team.  

A couple of days ago, I noted some trends for this team that have been moving uncomfortably in the wrong direction.  I  pointed out that for eight consecutive games, more shots had been created than assisted.  Also, defense has been slipping.  Finally, I surmised that scoring was becoming more and more concentrated among a few players.

I am happy to report that in our defeat of the USC Trojans, we reversed all of these trends, at least for a night.  As for assists, of the 25 shots that were made, only nine or 36% were unassisted.  When was the last time that the Cats had 36% or fewer of their shots unassisted?  It was way back on December 4th against Southern Miss. 

While the offense was decent, our defense was truly exceptional.   Holding the Trojans to only 28.1% shooting was a stark contrast to the UCLA game when the Bruins shot nearly 48%.  This was our best shooting defense of the season.  The Cats held USC to a paltry 0.68 points per possession, which equaled our best defensive effort of the year against NAU. 

As for balance in scoring, it was my impression that this team, which is full of talent, was increasingly turning to a few players for points, moving away from the balance with which they started the season.  In fact, that was the case.  For each game, I calculated the percentage of points scored by the top three scorers and summed it for the season through the UCLA game. Here is what I found:

Notice that the team began the season with unbalanced scoring.  Against Charleston Southern, more than half of the points scored were put in by three guys (Hill, Lyons, and Johnson), even though ten players saw action in that game.   The scoring, however, quickly became much more even.   Our most balanced scoring effort was against East Tennessee State when the top three scored only 33% of the point total.  Since late November and especially in the conference season scoring has become increasingly dominated by a few players.

Against the Trojans, the top three scored only 36.5% of the team total, our second most balanced effort.  Notably, among the starting five, the leading scorer (Nick Johnson) had only five points more than the lowest scorer (Mark Lyons).  Also shot attempts were remarkably well distributed among the starters.  Brandon Ashley had the fewest attempts with six, and Solomon Hill had the most with nine.   These guys looked and played like a team.  They looked like that team that was blowing out opponents back in November.

Next up is a road trip to Washington.  I hope we see more of the same.

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