Keawe Enos

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Veteran Utah Valley squad grabs early control of WAC race

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Before the season began many, yours truly included, made the assumption that WAC holdover New Mexico State would be the class of the conference. With preseason player of the year in Daniel Mullings and reigning WAC tournament MVP Sim Bhullar leading the way, Marvin Menzies’ team was expected to take full advantage of the hand conference realignment had dealt them and make another NCAA tournament appearance.

However things haven’t worked out as anticipated for the Aggies, who are one of three teams tied for second place in the WAC standings. So who’s leading the way? That would be Dick Hunsaker’s Utah Valley Wolverines, who have an unblemished 6-0 WAC record in spite of the fact that they haven’t performed as well as they would like on the offensive end of the floor.

“We’d love to make more shots and have higher scoring, but it’s also good to have balance,” Hunsaker told NBC Sports last week. “We try to work together as a team and take what the game gives us.”

The Wolverines, who held off Chicago State on Saturday, have five players scoring in double figures but in conference games they’re tied for seventh in the WAC in scoring offense (66.3 ppg) and sixth in field goal percentage (42.1%). Utah Valley, with guards Keawe Enos (47.2%) and Hayes Garrity (38.8%) leading the way, is ranked second in the WAC in three-point percentage as they’ve made 37% of their attempts in conference play.

But the scoring and field goal percentage numbers lead to the question of how this team has a two-game lead in the standings in spite of those issues. The answer: they’ve defended, and they do the “little things” well.

In conference play Utah Valley has been the best defensive team in the WAC, leading the way in scoring defense (58.7 ppg), field goal percentage defense (37.2%) and three-point percentage defense (24.6%), and they’re also tops in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5). Hunsaker’s Wolverines control tempo, as they average the fewest possessions of any team in the WAC, and that along with their work on the defensive end has allowed them to properly navigate those shooting issues to a 6-0 start to conference play.

Another key has been continuity, with the Wolverines using the same starting lineup for each of their 19 games this season. Of those five starters four are upperclassmen with forward Zach Nelson (freshman) being the lone underclassman. He’s been an effective addition to the lineup for Utah Valley, averaging 10.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, and Nelson grabbed 12 rebounds in each of the Wolverines last two wins.

He’s half of a solid interior combination, with steady senior center Ben Aird playing well after earning first team All-Great West honors a season ago. On the season Aird’s averaging 11.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, but in conference play the 6-foot-9 pivot has averaged 15.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per contest. And that increase in production has factored into the Wolverines’ hot start.

“Ben has great basketball savvy,” Hunsaker said of his senior big man. “For a big man he has a good feel and multiple skills, and he’s a big-bodied, long-armed guy.”

With players such as Aird, Nelson, leading scorer Holton Hunsaker (12.1 ppg, 4.2 apg) and Mitch Bruneel (10.2, 5.7 rpg), Utah Valley has the production needed to remain one of the pacesetters in the WAC race. And while the overwhelming focus of the WAC in regards to conference realignment has been on the negative, for a team like Utah Valley the move presents them with the opportunity to earn a ticket to the NCAA tournament. But even with that “carrot” available for the taking, the program hasn’t changed its approach.

“We’ve always played the next game and had a lot of success as a team and had some wonderful individual achievements through a period when we were playing without [the possibility of] an automatic bid,” said Hunsaker. “This team committed here without that wonderful goal and opportunity ahead of them. We simply just try to get prepared for the next game.”

That approach has been a successful one for Utah Valley thus far, and with their next three contests being on the road (including games against New Mexico State and Grand Canyon, which are both 4-2 in WAC play) maintaining that mindset will be critical for the Wolverines. And given their maturity, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Utah Valley did just that.

The Chase for 180: Tale of two games for Stanford’s Anthony Brown

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Who is the best shooter in the country?

It’s a tough question to answer, isn’t it? Does being a “shooter” simply mean merely being a high-level marksman from beyond the arc? Can a player who thrives in the mid-range but rarely ventures out into three-point land be eligible? How heavily should we be valuing stats like efficiency and effective field goal percentage when taking all of this into account?

One number that we like to use is “180″. How do you become a 180 shooter? By shooting 50% or better from the field overall, 40% or better from three and at least 90% from the charity stripe. From this point forward we’ll track this until the end of the regular season, providing weekly updates as well as a look into how some of the nation’s best find (and connect on) their quality looks.

When looking at the improvements made by Stanford redshirt junior guard Anthony Brown, it’s best to compare this season’s numbers to the ones he produced as a sophomore in 2011-12. Brown played just five games last season due to a hip injury, leaving the Cardinal without a key option in their attack. As a sophomore Brown, who was a Pac-10 All-Freshman Team selection in 2011, averaged 8.7 points per game while shooting 39.6% from the field and 35.0% from beyond the arc.

According to hoop-math.com Brown attempted just 17.2% of his shots at the rim, making 56.5% of those attempts. And one of the big reasons why his overall field goal percentage (51.9%) has improved are the increased number of opportunities he’s found in that area of the floor. Through 15 games nearly 35% of Brown’s field goal attempts have come at the rim, and he’s converted 61.7% of those shots. Brown’s percentage at the rim may also provide a clue as to why his two performances in Oregon last week were so drastically different.

Against then-No. 17 Oregon on Sunday afternoon Brown was outstanding, shooting 10-for-12 from the field and scoring a game-high 24 points to go along with six rebounds. Four of Brown’s 12 field goal attempts could be classified as layups and he made all four to go along with hitting six of his eight jumpers (1-for-2 3PT). That wasn’t the case in Stanford’s 81-72 loss at Oregon State on Thursday night, as Brown shot 1-for-10 from the field and scored just seven points.

Brown shot 0-for-7 from two, with three of the misses being layups. On some nights things just don’t click, and missed opportunities at the rim can certainly add up when that’s the case. Was that game an anomaly for Brown? It likely was, because the junior’s shot lower than 40% from the field in just five of Stanford’s 15 games to date. If Brown can continue to get to the basket and, just as importantly, continue to convert those opportunities other parts of the floor should open up for him.

While scoring options such as Chasson Randle and Dwight Powell receive the majority of the attention and rightfully so, Brown’s return (especially with the loss of Andy Brown to another knee injury) was an important development for a Stanford program looking to break through and reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.

THE TOP TEN (Note: Players much be eligible to be ranked in FG%, 3PT% and FT%. And here’s a glossary that includes the stats you’ll see used in these posts. Tempo neutral numbers per kenpom.com.)

1) Austin Tillotson (Colgate)
63.5% FG, 60.0% 3PT, 71.2% FT = 194.7
Shot %: 18.4
eFG %: 71.8
True shooting %: 72.4

2) Jason Calliste (Oregon) 
48.8, 56.1, 88.8 = 193.7
Shot %: 13.9
eFG %: 61.4
True shooting %: 71.5

3) Riley Grabau (Wyoming)
48.1, 51.9, 89.8 = 189.8
Shot %: 16.5
eFG %: 67.0
True shooting %: 71.9

4) Matt Kennedy (Charleston Southern) 
48.6, 52.3, 86.8 = 187.7
Shot %: 18.2
eFG %: 59.7
True shooting %: 64.5

5) Anthony Brown (Stanford) 
51.9, 52.9, 81.3 = 186.1
Shot %: 18.9
eFG %: 61.9
True shooting %: 65.3

6) Keawe Enos (Utah Valley) 
48.8, 50.0, 85.0 = 183.8
Shot %: 15.0
eFG %: 65.5
True shooting %: 67.9

7) Michael Frazier II (Florida)
49.2, 47.3, 86.2 = 182.7
Shot %: 21.5
eFG %: 65.4
True shooting %: 67.8

8) Doug McDermott (Creighton) 
49.5, 43.4, 89.6 = 182.5
Shot %: 37.3
eFG %: 56.8
True shooting %: 62.3

9) Nic Moore (SMU)
50.4, 51.5, 80.0 = 181.9
Shot %: 20.1
eFG %: 63.7
True shooting %: 66.3

10) Jarvis Summers (Ole Miss)
52.4, 51.8, 77.4 = 181.6
Shot %: 26.0
eFG %: 61.1
True shooting %: 65.1

Five Perimeter Marksmen (20 or fewer two-point attempts) 

1) Ethan Wragge (Creighton)
50.0% 3 PT (2-for-6 2PT)

2) Jeff Elorriaga (Boise State) 
50.0% 3PT (5-for-9 2PT)

3) Ben Cherry (Charlotte)
50.0% 3PT (5-for-15 2PT)

4) Brady Heslip (Baylor) 
49.4% 3PT (7-for-20 2PT)

5) Jordan Potts (UNCG) 
47.9% 3PT (9-for-15 2PT)

Previous Installments
November 11
December 4
December 11
December 18
January 8

The Chase for 180: Jarvis Summers making big strides at Ole Miss

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Who is the best shooter in the country?

It’s a tough question to answer, isn’t it? Does being a “shooter” simply mean merely being a high-level marksman from beyond the arc? Can a player who thrives in the mid-range but rarely ventures out into three-point land be eligible? How heavily should we be valuing stats like efficiency and effective field goal percentage when taking all of this into account?

One number that we like to use is “180″. How do you become a 180 shooter? By shooting 50% or better from the field overall, 40% or better from three and at least 90% from the charity stripe. From this point forward we’ll track this until the end of the regular season, providing weekly updates as well as a look into how some of the nation’s best find (and connect on) their quality looks.

Many of the discussions regarding Ole Miss basketball center around one player: Marshall Henderson. With his limitless range (and shot selection), and his being a polarizing figure amongst many college basketball fans, it’s understandable that the senior shooting guard would be the first player to come to mind when discussing Andy Kennedy’s team. But there’s another player we should be focused on, and that’s junior guard Jarvis Summers.

Entering the 2013-14 season Summers did enjoy some success, averaging just over ten points per game as a freshman and 9.1 points per game on a team that won the program’s first SEC tournament title since 1981. With the losses of Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner, who were second and third on the team in scoring last season, it was clear that players such as Summers and Derrick Millinghaus would have to step up if Ole Miss were to make a run at a second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.

And through 13 games Summers has done just that, and an argument can be made that he’s one of the most improved players in the country. Summers is scoring 17.8 points per game, and he’s done so in an efficient manner for Ole Miss as he currently has an offensive rating of 124.3 per kenpom.com. Summers is shooting 55.2% from the field and 54.5% from beyond the arc, with both figures representing significant improvements on his percentages from a season ago (40.4% FG, 34.0% 3PT).

The majority of Summers’ looks have come away from the basket (as expected, since he’s a 6-foot-3 guard), as according to hoop-math.com only 15.7% of his shots have been dunks/layups. Those two-point jumpers that more players seem to have issues with, leading to the many cries lamenting the “death” of the mid-range game? Summers has connected on 49.3% of those looks, which represent 51.5% of his field goal attempts to date. And if this production continues, increased attention will follow for Summers.

THE TOP TEN (Note: Players much be eligible to be ranked in FG%, 3PT% and FT%. And here’s a glossary that includes the stats you’ll see used in these posts. Tempo neutral numbers per kenpom.com.)

1) Matt Kennedy (Charleston Southern)
53.5% FG, 55.6% 3PT, 89.7% FT = 198.8
Shot %: 17.7
eFG %: 63.5
True shooting %: 67.8

2) Austin Tillotson (Colgate)
64.4, 59.4, 73.0 = 196.8
Shot %: 17.9
eFG %: 73.4
True shooting %: 73.3

3) Jason Calliste (Oregon)
49.3, 58.3, 89.0 = 196.6
Shot %: 13.6
eFG %: 62.2
True shooting %: 72.2

4) Nic Moore (SMU)
52.0, 54.7, 83.8 = 190.5
Shot %: 20.4
eFG %: 66.3
True shooting %: 69.0

5) Riley Grabau (Wyoming)
50.0, 53.7, 87.2 = 190.0
Shot %: 16.6
eFG %: 69.6
True shooting %: 73.3

6) Michael Frazier II (Florida)
50.5, 49.3, 87.0 = 186.8
Shot %: 19.7
eFG %: 6.8
True shooting %: 69.2

7) Anthony Brown (Stanford)
52.5, 54.3, 80.0 = 186.8
Shot %: 18.5
eFG %: 63.3
True shooting %: 66.3

8) Jarvis Summers (Ole Miss)
55.2, 54.5, 76.6 = 186.3
Shot %: 25.0
eFG %: 64.2
True shooting %: 67.7

9) Phil Forte III (Oklahoma State)
47.4, 48.7, 89.8 = 185.9
Shot %: 22.4
eFG %: 66.5
True shooting %: 71.9

10) Keawe Enos (Utah Valley)
50.0, 51.0, 83.3 = 184.3
Shot %: 15.1
eFG %: 66.7
True shooting %: 68.8

Inside the Arc (five or fewer three-point attempts)

1) Mamadou Ndiaye (UC Irvine)
FG%: 76.5
Three-point attempts: zero

2) Dominique McKoy (Duquesne) 
FG%: 70.1%
Three-point attempts: two (0-for-2)

3) Ladon Carter (Tennessee Tech) 
FG%: 68.4%
Three-point attempts: zero

4) Marshall Bjorklund (North Dakota State)
FG%: 68.1%
Three-point attempts: one (0-for-1)

5) Marquise Simmons (St. Bonaventure) 
FG%: 67.1
Three-point attempts: zero

Previous Installments
November 11
December 4
December 11
December 18