Bumped. GO BRUINS. -N
After 2 weeks of play, all the gloom and doom talked about by the detractors around our Ben Ball Warriors has disappeared. Two weeks and four wins later, the tone of our team has changed considerably.
First, I've updated our team's statistics into a spreadsheet on Google docs. These stats run through February 8th.
You can compare these stats with my previous compilation, through January 24th.
Those stats were compiled after the loss to UW. Much has been made about what happened after the game, with the OC register writing about the meeting between the seniors and CBH. As the article wrote:
Following that Sunday meeting, which also touched on UCLA's sometimes-stagnant offense, the Bruins played their two most dominant games of the season in routs of Cal and Stanford last week.
Howland said he decided to summon Darren Collison, Alfred Aboya and Josh Shipp when he realized he had a rare opportunity. The previous year's team had just one senior and the one before that had none.
"We felt like we were at a crossroads," Howland said. "They wanted to meet with me; I wanted to meet with them."
According to Aboya, leadership wasn't the only topic. He said players suggested to Howland that a more up-tempo offense could remedy the stagnant stretches that caused the Bruins to blow leads in games against Arizona State, Washington State and Washington.
"Some of us felt like they were not involved in our offense, that we can play much better than we were playing before," Aboya said. "To free everyone and let everyone play, we figured running more motion was the most efficient way."
A lot of detractors like to say that Howland is a stubborn coach, but does any of the above sound like a stubborn coach? He met with the seniors and addressed leadership, focus, and listened to their concerns on being involved in game. Well the last 4 weeks have seen us blow out teams by an average of 22.7 points a game. This is definitely a team that has shown what it can do when it is jelling and clicking on all cylinders, as per this team report:
"It was a good statement for our team and our conference to play them like this," UCLA coach Ben Howland said after the 89-63 win. "It’s obvious we’ve been performing at a new level and just improving as a team."
Seniors Darren Collison, Alfred Aboya and Josh Shipp had a meeting with Howland after UCLA’s loss at Washington three weeks ago, and the team has responded with its best stretch of the season.
"The meeting aired out a lot of things and we were able to get on the same page and it’s showing," Shipp said. "Everybody is out there playing for each other, and it’s a team game. Before, some players were upset by a few things and it was affecting them, but now everybody is feeling good in their position, and we’re rolling right now."
The Bruins squeezed 63 turnovers out of Cal, Stanford and USC, and have won the past four games—including Notre Dame—by an average margin of 22.7 points.
"It’s our intensity," Collison said. "We raised the level a notch on the defensive end and guys started playing their role harder. When our intensity is at a high level, we’re hard to beat."
This certainly feels like what people would call a crossroads for the team. And the team has responded brilliantly, especially defensively. Please note that these stats are from only 4 games, and so they are skewed by the small sample size. However, they can certainly show a trend, especially when compared to previous trends:
- At the time I wrote my articles on team statistics, our kenpom ranks were #3 in adjusted offense, and #53 in adjusted defense. Our defense was downright atrocious. Well, if you follow that link to kenpom, you'll see that 4 games later, we are still ranked #3 on adjusted offense. Defensively, however, we've jumped from #53 to #26! That's right, over just four games, we've improved our national standing on adjusted defensive efficiency by 27 positions. If that isn't a jump in defensive intensity, I don't know what is.
- Through 1/24, we had a team total of 159 steals. Four games later, we are sitting nicely at 198 steals. In other words, 39 steals over 4 games... or 25% of our season's total in steals has come in the last 4 games. Now obviously Cal, Stanford, USC, and Notre Dame don't have the greatest ball handlers and point guards in the nation, but to account for 25% of our steals in 17% of our total games played is definitely a sign of kicking up our defense, especially team defense.
- Have we attacked the rim more? Absolutely. Our Free Throw attempts per game has increased from 17.1 to 17.7 over four games. In fact, we've gone to the line 88 times over the last 4 games, or 22 times per game, after previously going 17.1 times per game. 5 more free throw attempts is a huge difference.
- Have we really become less reliant on 3 point shooting? Well, in just 4 games, we decreased our 3-point attempts from 19.7 per game to 18.7 per game, while maintaining 55.5 field goal attempts per game. So yes, we've decreased the number of long distance shots attempted.
- Our offense in FG% and 3FG% have improved. Better shot selection, higher rate of high-percentage shots being taken are all big.
- Our team assist to turnover ratio of 1.27 is the best of any of our teams these 4 years. We're definitely much better at handling the ball and passing the ball as a team.
Final point regards our team tempo. Has our team played more up-tempo? Well, according to kenpom's UCLA stats, the answer is yes. Take a look at the calendar - the possessions are to the right of the final score.
Over the last 4 games, we have had: 67, 74, 72, and 72 possesions. At 71.3 possessions per game, that's well above the national average of 66.9. Sure, it's only over 4 games, but we've definitely played more uptempo. Compare this to our 3 previous PAC-10 games against ASU, WSU, and UW: 55, 49, 73, respectively. Huge difference in possesions. Perhaps calling it an adaptation to our team lineup is indeed true: 3 out of our 4 losses were played below to well-below average tempo (except UW, which was well above).
In fact, looking at PAC-10 play before these last 4 games, we've had just under 60 possessions per game. Contrasted to 71 possessions per game, it's been a huge shift in our gameplan.
Needless to say though, this improvement in defensive intensity has boosted our offensive game. Furthermore, our team has definitely begun to find its identity and the roles each player fills. As long as our team keeps playing intensely on defense, attacks the rim on offense, and plays as team, we will play some damn good basketball.
That's not to say we should start to expect a Final 4 or anything like that - there's tons of basketball left to be played, and we can just as easiliy blow it on our Arizona road trips this week. But this has been, without a doubt, two of the most exciting regular-season weeks for Bruin basketball as we saw a team develop and jell after adversity, right in front of our own eyes. Now let's beat up these AZ teams!