Defense and Leadership

Bumped. GO BRUINS. - N

I have been waking up in a cold sweat every night at the horror that is my memory of the Washington State game. We picked a grand time to puke out a loss against a mediocre team in a trap game. No sooner could we say "We have the most favorable schedule of the 4 teams in a virtual tie for 1st" (a mouthful no doubt) that we dropped into 3rd, tail between our legs.

The image I can't escape is just how easy it was for Washington State to shoot so well. Rarely with a hand in their face, rarely did I think "That's a bad shot." No, it seemed almost like shooting practice. It was so odd that I kept expecting to see CHP on the sideline in a sopping wet dress shirt and $25 tie. It was under his less than watchful eye that we got used to things like this happening:

WASHINGTON STATE senior F Caleb Forrest scored 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the win at UCLA. In two games vs. the Bruins this season, Forrest is shooting 14-of-17 (.824) from the field and averaging 15.5 points. For the year, he's averaging 6.4 points per game and shooting 50.4 percent.

I know that two games is a small sample size, but the difference is so striking, so staggering, it's frightening. Caleb Forrest? Are you kidding me? Forrest hit 2 of his 3 career 3-pointers and scored his career high--19--against us in Pullman earlier this season. Otherwise, he's never scored more than 13 in any game. He's only exceeded 11 points 6 times in his 4-year career (twice against us). He's shooting better than 50% against only 2 other Pac-10 teams this year, but just by one made shot (8-15 vs Cal and 4-7 vs Oregon).

So Caleb Forrest owns us. We saw that with our eyes. (In fairness to the 2009 Bruins, Caleb also shot 4-5 against us in Pullman last year.) But he's just one player. Which leads me to Taylor Rochestie, who last week became the 2nd consecutive point guard to win Pac-10 Player of the Week honors in large part by going off against the Bruins and, in particular, Darren Collison (emphasis mine):

Rochestie had a career-day as he led Washington State to an 82-81 upset of No. 20 UCLA on Feb. 21. The Santa Barbara, Calif., native finished with a career-high 33 points, while totaling five rebounds, four assists and two steals in 40 minutes of action. He shot 71.4 percent (5-7) from beyond the arc and was a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line. This marked the second 30-plus scoring game of the season for Rochestie, as he became the first Cougar to score 30 or more points in multiple games since Marcus Moore had three 30-plus games in the 2002-03 season. The win Saturday was just second in school history for Washington State at UCLA.

Then I read this (emphasis mine):

With the 82-81 win at UCLA, it was just the fourth time in 181 games over the last six seasons that WSU allowed more than 80 points in regulation, but this marks the first time the Cougars were on the winning end. In the 2002-03 season, the year before the arrival of the Bennetts, the Cougars were 0-12 in games in which their opponent scored 80 or more points in regulation.

So, Washington State beat UCLA in a shootout, Rochestie had a career day, and Forrest owns us. Strange world. When those things come together, it's no wonder that WSU had the highest Offensive Efficiency Rating against us all season (127.1). Not only that, WSU's offensive efficiency was the highest UCLA has suffered since 2004, when Arizona exceeded it twice in CBH's first season.

It got me to thinking, just how porous has our defense been this year? So I looked back at the game-by-game point-per-100 possessions (Defensive Efficiency Rating) data at from the past several years. Eyeballing the data, it appeared to me that an average defense would hold an opponent to about 1 point per possession, which would equal a rating of 100.0. A rating of less than 90 is very good. A rating of more than 100 is below average, beyond 110 is mediocre, in excess of 120 is extremely poor. I removed Howland's first season from the data I reviewed because that team was, well, not really a Howland team. [On further reflection after finishing the rest of the post, I now think that average is probably slightly higher than 100, perhaps 102 or 103, so adjust accordingly.]

The game against Washington State was indeed the worst defensive performance we've had in the 4 2/3 seasons I reviewed. Moreover, 5 of the Bruins' 10 worst defensive performances in these past 5 seasons have come during the month from Jan. 22-Feb. 21, which spans our last 10 games. Put another way, in 160 games from Arron Afflalo's first game in Nolv. 2004 through the Jan. 17 loss to Arizona State, we had 5 games in which our Defensive Efficiency Rating (points per 100 possessions) was in excess of 117.0, an occurrence rate of 3.1%. It took only the next 10 games for us to have 5 more Defensive Efficiency Ratings that exceeded the 117.0 threshold, an occurrence rate of 50%, an increase in occurrence rate of approximately 1600%!.

So the evidence does seem to match our eyes: Over 10 games, we've had 5 woeful defensive efforts. Five of the worst performances in the CBH era, all bundled together in a painful month. We are 1-4 in those games (the sole win was the squeaker in Pullman). In our other 5 games in that stretch, we defended exceptionally well in two of them (USC (81.2) and Stanford (87.8), fairly well in two others (Cal 92.0) and Notre Dame (93.8) and about average (99.8) in our win over Washington.

Not surprisingly, the team does not fare well when its Defensive Efficiency Rating is high. Here is the breakdown over the studied period:

Def. Eff. Rating      2005    2006    2007    2008    2009  TOTAL    PCT.
<89.9                       4-0        14-0     16-0     19-0    10-0    63-0       1.000
90.0 -99.9               9-4        11-1     6-1        9-0      6-1      41-7        .854
100.0-109.9           1-3         6-2       6-2        4-2      2-1      19-10      .655
110.0-119.9           4-4         1-4       1-3        2-2      2-3      10-16      .385
120.0+                     0-0         0-0       1-0        1-0      0-2      2-2          .500

Further detail on this shows that when we have held opponents to a Defensive Efficiency Rating of 98.0 or less, we are almost assured of victory, and if we have a higher rating, we are basically a .500 team:

Def. Eff. Rating      2005    2006    2007    2008    2009  TOTAL    PCT.
DER <98.0             12-1      24-0     22-1     25-0     15-1    98-3       .970
DER >98.0             6-10       8-7       8-5       10-4      5-6     37-32     .536

One may look at that and note that the number of games in 2009  in which our DER is greater than 98 is not out of line, as compared to the number in prior years. I think it's too early to address that data because we tend to play more good teams as the season progresses and we reach the conference tourney and NCAA tourney. As such, I'd like to reserve on analyzing that data until we complete the season.

So, we've looked at the data and learned that if we play defense at about 2% better than an average team [Note: 5% better than average if average = 103.0], we are nearly unbeatable. And that leads me to the next point. As mentioned above, in the middle of this woeful defensive stretch (stench?), this same team brought a lot of pain to our opponents when they tried to score. Cal's Coach Montgomery was completely befuddled. He gave up. Floyd had no answer. Harangody went for 5 and 1. From this excellent stretch against capable teams, we know that--despite the lack of RW, LRMAM and others--we are capable of playing well, quite well, on defense. We know that when we bring major defensive effort, we can run teams right out of the building.

So why, if we can, are we not? Coach Howland gave us some of the answers this week. It's about taking it personally when you give up a basket. It's about executing the defensive game plan with quick help and recover, strong, timely double teams, challenging shots. It's about a team comprised of players with character of champions recognizing that defense is all about honor, pride, team and effort and that defense wins (championships). Converting these simple premises into concrete results requires a leader to take the reins and not let his man beat him. It requires a team of players to follow that leader with the best effort they can give.

We saw in those 4 games who the leader of our defense is. It's the same person who was so competitive that he got in Jordan Farmar's face in one of his first practices to show that he would not back down to anybody. It's the guy who pressured Mitch Johnson so much that Mitch must have wanted to crawl back into the womb. The guy who wouldn't give Jerome Randle an open look. The guy who took enough pride in his defense to significantly slow down Isaiah Thomas last Thursday. The same guy who has now allowed two players of lesser talent win consecutive Pac-10 POTW honors by imposing their will on him, lighting him up for career days. I'm not saying it's only DC's fault that our defense has failed to defend in half of the past 10 games. It isn't. Those types of efforts take an entire team meltdown. But DC is who should be mad as hell about what Wise and Rochestie did and not want to take it anymore. DC is at the head of the defense and can make it difficult for the other team to start its offense. Our coach calls DC the leader of the team and has entrusted him with the offense. If DC wants his senior season to be successful (In Coach's meaning of the word), he needs to look in the mirror and say "Enough." He needs to tell his teammates that he's going to bring his A-game on both ends and demand that they do so as well.

Do that, and success will come. Anything less, and DC will be able to start his pre-draft workouts on March 22, if not sooner.

Go Bruins!

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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