College Basketball Nation: Pac-10 Summer Buzz

Summer Buzz: Washington Huskies

August, 10, 2010
For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun. Today's subject? Washington Insider. Up next? Gonzaga.

The 2009-10 Washington Huskies were always there. We just didn't quite notice them.

It was easy to write off a team that, at times throughout the Pac-10 season, seemed no better than much of its mediocre conference competition. After early-season losses to Texas Tech and Georgetown, the Huskies lost five of their first eight Pac-10 matchups, including losses to Oregon, Arizona, UCLA and USC, all teams in the midst of rebuilding (or, in Oregon's case, deconstructing).

But the Huskies weren't bad. They were just inconsistent. A look down their tempo-free game stats throughout the season proves as much: When they were on, the Huskies showed flashes of the consistent, high-octane offensive play that got them to a somewhat unexpected Sweet 16 berth. When they weren't, they lost. It was pretty much that simple.

That offensive inconsistency came down to one key stat: shooting. As a talented, veteran UW team looks to take the next step in 2010-11, it'll have the same challenge to overcome. Can Washington shoot well enough to win?

That will require some new contributions. In 2009-10, the Huskies posted a 49.7 effective field goal percentage, ranking them No. 128 in the country. It was their one sub-standard offensive stat. Washington rebounded well (36.6 offensive rebounding percentage), prevented turnovers (17.5 turnover percentage, good for a No. 34 overall rank) and got to the free throw line (40.9 percent free throw rate) at a reasonable clip. But they didn't always shoot well, and that could be troublesome given the personnel losses the Huskies will have to deal with. Cue Quincy Pondexter.

Pondexter, like the Huskies, flew under the radar for much of the season, but he was a ruthlessly effective offensive player. He posted an offensive rating of 122.2; that was the 44th-best mark in the country and the No. 3 ranking among all players who used at least 24 percent of their team's possessions. Pondexter shot well (54.7 percent eFG), didn't turn the ball over (12.7 percent turnover rate), cleared the offensive glass (10.2 percent offensive rebounding percentage) and drew plenty of fouls (5.9 per 40 minutes, to be exact) from opposing teams. He registered national KenPom rankings in all of those statistics. Frankly, he did it all, and he did it all well.

Pondexter is gone, of course, which begs the question of just who can replace his offensive efficiency. The answer is discouragingly unclear.

The obvious if somewhat questionable solution is the backcourt. Guards Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton had the second- and third-most Huskies possessions in 2009-10, respectively, and while their offensive ratings weren't nearly as high as Pondexter's, both players have scoring ability. Washington fans will also expect more from sophomore Abdul Gaddy, who showed occasional flashes of brilliance as a freshman but finished with pedestrian per-possession numbers (84.1 offensive rating, 42.8 eFG, and a much-too-high 30.8 percent turnover rate). Gaddy will have to improve his consistency in 2010-11 if he wants to assert himself on a veteran team. He certainly has the talent.

Meanwhile, senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning -- whose nickname is MBA, which I learned today, and which is totally awesome -- will have to recreate some of Pondexter's low-post proficiency. He might not be the scorer Pondexter was, but MBA has already proven himself as an offensive rebounder. A bigger role could mean bigger contributions.

And, of course, there are the recruits, too: 6-foot-6 small forward Terrence Ross is an athletic wing Insider with a proficient jump shot. There's also 7-foot junior college transfer Aziz N'Diaye that will give the Huskies their first legitimate size in years. Pondexter, after all, was the team's best rebounder at 6-foot-6, and Bryan-Amaning is a mere 6-foot-9. (Which is still very tall, but you get the point.) Adding a 7-foot center to the mix, even if his main contribution comes on the glass, will surely help the Huskies match up against taller, more physical teams.

In the end, though, the 2010-11 hopes for Washington hoops come down to a simple equation: Who will replace Pondexter's offense? If the Huskies can get better, more efficient guard play, and young talent like Gaddy and Ross can score consistently at the collegiate level, U-Dub could be just as good as 2009-10. If not, expect more inconsistency and a less effective team.

Last season, Northwestern basketball had a funny little team motto, one that eschewed the typically dramatic coach-speak fluff you find on college fan T-shirts. Those shirts merely read: make shots. The 2010-11 Huskies would be wise to take Bill Carmody's advice. Above all, Washington needs to make shots. Whether they can do so without Pondexter will be the great challenge of their season.

Summer Buzz: UCLA Bruins

August, 9, 2010
For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun. Today's subject? UCLA. Up next? Washington.

The good news for UCLA? There's nowhere to go but up.

It's a testament to UCLA coach Ben Howland's ability that last season's 14-18 performance was so shockingly bad. After all, every program has its occasional slides. But even last fall, as the Bruins entered the season with a young and unproven roster, most expected them to hover on the margins of the top 25 for much of the season. They wouldn't be a Final Four team -- like the three that Howland took from 2006-2008, a remarkable stretch by any measure -- but maybe they could still compete for a Pac-10 title.

Not so much. In an especially weak Pac-10, UCLA somehow managed to struggle. The Bruins finished in a tie for fifth place with an 8-10 conference record. Finishing fifth in an uncharacteristically bad season shows just how awful the 2009-10 Pac-10 truly was. UCLA's season was punctuated by early, tone-setting losses -- to Cal-State Fullerton, Portland (a 74-47 loss, by the way), and Long Beach State -- and, later, by defections and dismissals. Talented but frustrating sophomore Drew Gordon transferred to New Mexico; disappointing 6-foot-10 center J'mison Morgan was dismissed for team rules violations.

All of which adds up to a tough pill for Westwood die-hards to swallow. It leaves UCLA with that most un-UCLA goal for 2010-11: rebuilding. But rebuild the Bruins must.

There is plenty of on-court ugliness to rebuild. Let's start with, well, everything. Defensively, Howland's typically stout teams gave way to a No. 138-ranked adjusted defensive efficiency last season; the notoriously man-to-man-prone Howland actually resorted to zone for a while there. The bad news: Most of the players from last season's lackluster effort return in 2010-11. The good news? They'll be one year older and -- theoretically, anyway -- one year smarter on the defensive end.

Offensively, the Bruins weren't much better, scoring 1.058 adjusted points per possession, good for No. 108 in Division I. There was some good news here, too. The Bruins shot pretty well, posting a team effective field goal percentage of 52.6, the 39th-best mark in the country. Unfortunately, that bit of skill was drowned out by sloppy play everywhere else: UCLA was among the worst teams in the country on the offensive glass (No. 270, to be exact), rarely got to the free throw line (No. 202 in free throw rate) and turned the ball over far too much (21.6 percent of their possessions, good for No. 240 in the country). It doesn't matter how well you shoot when you're that bad at everything else.

Much of the Bruins' improvement will hinge on whether Howland's recruiting class can figure these things out quickly enough to make a positive impact. The most talented of Howland's newcomers is 6-foot-9 power forward Josh Smith, a near-300-pounder with surprisingly soft hands, quick feet, and and intuitive knack for the game. Smith, the No. 20 overall player in ESPNU's class of 2010, is currently working out three times a day with UCLA training staff in an attempt to get him in the best shape of his life. If Smith can improve the Bruins' offensive rebounding even marginally, that'll be contribution enough.

Likewise, shooting guard Tyler Lamb, the No. 28-ranked player in 2010 class, will be expected to contribute right away. At 6-foot-4, Lamb adds depth and polish to the Bruins backcourt. If Lamb can help relieve some pressure off would-be shooting guard Malcolm Lee -- forced to handle point guard responsibilities after Jrue Holiday left the program for the NBA earlier than expected -- he can send a positive ripple effect far beyond his own statistical contributions.

That said, though Howland's recruiting class is good, it's not sudden turnaround-good. The Bruins are, in all likelihood, facing another rebuilding season. In 2011, North Carolina transfers David and Travis Wear will become eligible; last year's crop of confused sophomores will be 2011's experienced seniors, and if Howland can work some 2011 recruiting mojo, he'll have another fresh batch of talent to add to a balanced, skilled team.

That's in 2011. In 2010, the Bruins need to focus on the little things: Improving man-to-man defense, attacking the offensive glass, preventing turnovers, and so on. Wins and losses will matter far less than just getting better. If Ben Howland has a whiteboard (of course he does), he should be writing that down in permanent marker. Just get better.

UCLA fans aren't accustomed, historically or under Ben Howland, to rebuilding seasons. Given last season's disaster, that's what 2010-11 is going to be. If another 2009-10 happens, this could take a while. But if the Bruins embrace it, they could be back sooner than most.