Saturday, February 16, 2013

UCLA Outruns Stanford

From the opening tip, both Stanford and UCLA were looking to push the tempo and get out on the break. The fast and loose style of play cut both ways for UCLA. It forced them into sloppy mistakes early, but enabled them to hit 53% of their shots.

In contrast, Stanford shot just 40% in the first half which led to fastbreaks for UCLA. As a result, the Bruins were able to find quality looks.

SnapCall Question
While UCLA used the tempo to their advantage, they only managed a 5 point lead at the half. So the interesting SnapCall seemed to be, would head coach Ben Howland slow his team down in the second half in order to nurse their slim lead, or would he continue to let his boys run and gun? 

As the SnapCall answer indicates, the Bruins stayed the course and continued to get the ball up the court quickly, which allowed their dominant one-on-one players, namely Shabazz Muhammed and Jordan Adams, to get mismatches and open shots.

In this particular five play stretch, the Bruins tallied 15 total passes and on two of the possessions they passed the ball only twice.

Of course, it's not all about pace. It's about finishing plays and making shots, and that is exactly what UCLA did. After hitting 53% in the first half, UCLA finished the game shooting a highly respectable 54.4% from the floor.

Stanford kept things close, but that was largely due to the volume of shots they were able to get off due to their 15 offensive rebounds. Still, when it was all said and done, UCLA's frenetic pace and dead-eye shooting proved too much for Stanford to handle.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Georgetown Escapes with Win Thanks to Tough Defense and Opportune Rebounding

It was going to be nearly impossible for Georgetown to win the battle of the boards against Cincinnati, the best rebounding team in the Big East.

However, Hoyas' head coach John Thompson III knew that his team did not necessarily need to out-rebound the Bearcats to win. Rather, the Hoyas just needed to limit Cincinnati's offensive boards and second chance points early on to help establish a tempo. 

SnapCall Question
That was not going to be an easy task though, as the Bearcats entered the game with the second most offensive rebounds in the conference. They also had one of the best rebound differentials at plus 7.5.

Despite Cincinnati's talent for crashing the offensive glass, as the answer to this SnapCall indicates, Georgetown was able to box out the Bearcats. Over this specific five possession stretch, they kept Cincinnati to zero offensive rebounds. In the entire first half, the Bearcats only managed to grab four offensive boards.

While Georgetown didn't dominate the glass by any means -- they finished with one more rebound than UC in the first half -- they did just enough in the early going to establish a tone and maintain a lead.

When the lead crumbled in the second half, it was because Cincinnati shifted into gear on the boards. In fact, during a six-minute stretch they grabbed seven rebounds to the Hoyas' three, and in the process, Cincinnati cut Georgetown's lead to just two.

So how were the Hoyas able to escape with a win?

They played their typical shut down defense, but they also cleaned their act up on the boards and matched Cincinnati rebound for rebound.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Oklahoma City Can't Stop LeBron James

During last season's NBA Finals, LeBron James torched the Oklahoma City Thunder for 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game. In the process, he captured his first ring and the MVP trophy.

While there are still four months before a potential Finals rematch, OKC would be well served if they could devise a way to slow down James.

SnapCall Question
As this real-time SnapCall indicates, the Thunder have multiple options to cover LeBron. Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks' top choice is arguably Kevin Durant. KD has the ideal size and athleticism to cover LeBron, but his energy is better spent matching James on the offensive end. After all, Durant isn't the three-time defending scoring champ because of his defensive play.

Guarding LeBron also exposes Durant to foul trouble. So while the answer to this SnapCall indicates that KD did in fact begin the game covering James, he assignment was quickly changed after picking up an early foul.

How do the Thunder's other options stack up against LeBron?

Serge Ibaka is one of the league's best defenders, but he isn't quick enough to cover James' perimeter game.  Also, Ibaka's absence in the paint stretches the Thunder's defense, allowing for dribble-penetration and easy buckets.

That leaves Thabo Sefolosha. The 6-foot-7 forward has the length, but not the strength to defend James. However, he is the Thunder's best option, if only because he is the most expendable player of the three.

When it's all said and done though, like any great scorer, LeBron is capable of filling his stat line regardless of whether it's Ibaka, Durant or Sefolosha guarding him.

Need proof? He dropped 39 points, pulled in 12 rebounds and dished out 7 assists in the Heat's 110-100 win.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

North Carolina Fades in Second Half Against Duke

Roy Williams said that his team can't handle adversity. Well, the North Carolina players proved their head coach right with their 73-68 loss to Duke on Wednesday night. Down four points at the half, Duke outscored UNC 44-35 in the second half to pull off the comeback win.

Late in the second half, the Tar Heels missed 6 straight free throws to finish the game a miserable 13-of-23 from the charity stripe. Conversely, Duke drained 17 of their 20 free throws.

UNC has proved throughout this season that they have a habit of coming up small in big moments. Roy Williams' squad has beaten just one ranked opponent this year, #20 UNLV, and lost to four others. In two of those losses -- blowouts against Miami and Indiana -- the Tar Heels shot under 40%.

SnapCall Question
While Duke has had its share of troubles this year, it wouldn't have surprised any analyst if the Blue Devils blew North Carolina out, particularly since the game took place in the hostile confines of Cameron Indoor. That's why we presented our audience with this SnapCall asking what Duke's biggest lead of the night would be.

When you consider that UNC wound up shooting just 37.9% from the field, it's surprising they actually held a lead at any point. Then again, the team does have a talented core of players. James Michael McAdoo is one of the toughest low-post players in the country and Reggie Bullock is an efficient scorer.

Ultimately, the problem is that Roy Williams can't seem to get the most out of his players in crunch time. The Tar Heels held a lead for the first 26 minutes of the game, but then things went downhill. Duke grabbed its first lead with 14:10 to play and by the 13:28 mark they put their foot on the gas and never relinquished control.

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UConn Gets Hot from Downtown, Beats Syracuse's Signature Zone

Syracuse has long given opponents fits with head coach Jim Boeheim's signature 2-3 zone defense. The basic idea behind the Orange's defensive strategy is to force opponents into contested outside shots. There are normally multiple defenders inside the paint within the zone, making driving to the rim very difficult.

The easiest way to beat the zone is to send the ball into the high post on a consistent basis. This will usually cause multiple defenders to collapse toward the middle of the floor to prevent easy scores from inside the paint. Once the zone collapses around the high post, there will be open shooters on the outside, or easy cuts to be made along the baseline, behind the defenders.

SnapCall Question
This SnapCall asked whether Connecticut would send the ball into the high-post throughout a 3-possession stretch. One would assume that the Huskies would attempt to set the tone early by breaking the rhythm of Syracuse's zone, but as the results demonstrated, this was not the case.

UConn failed to get the ball into the middle of the zone at all. In fact, over the 3-possession stretch, the Huskies settled for two long-range misses and committed a turnover.

However, it turned out that the Huskies didn't need to perfectly implement a specific strategy, because they had a little bit of luck on their side. Despite shooting only 33.6% from 3-point range as a team, UConn finished the night 8-for-15 from downtown. Ultimately, and unexpectedly, that was what gave them the edge they needed in their 66-58 victory over the Orange.

Without a doubt, the Huskies' shooting performance was an outlier, but that's what makes college basketball and SnapCall Sports so much fun. Check out our continuing coverage of NCAA basketball -- particularly once tournament time rolls around -- to see if you can predict the unexpected.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Michigan State Owns the Paint

Situational SnapCall
Before the "Battle for Michigan" began, ESPN color commentator Dan Dakich pointed out that the University of Michigan was leading the Big 10 in points in the paint, with 36.4 per game.

Although the Wolverines don't possess prolific low post scorers, they are proficient at getting into the lane thanks to Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke. In fact, Burke is especially adept at drawing defenders in and dishing the ball out to his teammates for easy shots.

However, what Dakich didn't mention was that Michigan State entered tonight's contest averaging only 0.2 fewer points in the paint than the Wolverines. Additionally, the Spartans have Derrick Nix, a 6-foot-9, 270 pound low post presence who was bound to cause Michigan problems in the paint.

With Nix and Branden Dawson on the block, the Spartans made 12 first half field goals from inside the key. Meanwhile, Burke and Hardaway had difficulty penetrating the perimeter defense established by Michigan State's aggressive guards, particularly Keith Appling.

The result? Michigan recorded just four points in the paint in the first half.

We posed a situational SnapCall question in the early in the game to test just how well you could predict the outcome of the match-up down low. If you answered correctly, well done. Both you and Tom Izzo clearly identified Michigan's glaring weakness.

To join the predictive fun on your iPhone,  download SnapCall Sports (free app) from the App Store and tune your TV to the games we're covering! It's that easy.

The Downside of Kentucky Standout Nerlens Noel

University of Kentucky freshman forward Nerlens Noel might just be the first overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. The problem is, unlike last year's top selection Anthony Davis, there are some glaring downsides to Noel's game.

He picked up his second foul with more than six minutes remaining in the first half of Kentucky's 69-52 loss to Florida. This SnapCall asked whether UK head coach John Calipari would sit his freshman star for the remainder of the half.

Any top draft choice should have the wherewithal to avoid committing more fouls after picking up a couple of early whistles. However, as the SnapCall answer indicates, Calipari pulled Noel. Clearly the Kentucky coach did not have enough confidence in his freshman's ability to play under control and stay out of foul trouble.

Noel is the Wildcats' best defender and so sure enough, as soon as he was benched, Florida went on a run and finished the first half with a 13-point lead. If the Gators' run proved anything, it's that the Wildcats need their star to stay on the court, plain and simple.

Unfortunately for Kentucky, Noel injured his knee and left the game with eight minutes to play. If he remains inactive for a long time, or if he returns and cannot stop picking up early fouls, Kentucky will be playing more golf than basketball come tournament time.

Noel's Draft Stock

Majority Rules
In tonight's game, we asked where you would draft Noel if you were the GM of an NBA franchise. We used our Majority Rules question type to gauge the audience's response. With Majority Rules, the user must guess the majority opinion to get points.

While you think about where you would draft the Kentucky freshman, keep the following in mind:

Noel averages 6.6 combined blocks and steals. Even Anthony Davis only averaged a combined 6.1 last year. Noel is also shooting 59% from the field, and constantly displays his unmatched athleticism on lobs and put-back dunks.

At the end of the day, it's our opinion that Noel should stay at Kentucky for another year to work on his defensive discipline and offensive post play.

Make sure to download SnapCall Sports from the App Store (free) so you can join the nightly action.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Stout Defense Key to Georgetown's Success

Earlier this season, Georgetown shot 36.4% from the field and scored just 37 against Tennessee. That was the Hoyas' lowest point total since 1984. Fortunately for them, the Volunteers managed only 36 points. As the season progressed, that narrow victory has come to define this year's Georgetown team.

SnapCall Over/Under
They have used their elite defense, which is surpassed only by Pittsburgh in the Big East, to overcome their 274th ranked offense.

The Hoyas have limited their opponents to a meager 36.7% shooting, the second best mark in the conference.

However, coming into tonight, Marquette was averaging 70 points per game. So the stage was set for a battle of strength vs. strength -- the Hoyas' tenacious defense vs. the Golden Eagles' dynamic offense.

In the first half, Georgetown forced 12 turnovers and kept Marquette to 23 points. The Golden Eagles did shoot a respectable 50% from the field, but could only get off 18 attempts.

And while Georgetown's offense can be abysmal at times, tonight's victory proved that their defense is strong enough to keep them in any game. As the related first half SnapCall indicates, Marquette fell short on offense, and the under was the correct response.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

King James Takes it to the Rack

SnapCall Question
Never Doubt LeBron James

Carmelo Anthony is an efficient shooter from the right side of the court according to ESPN's latest analysis. While that's true, LeBron James is an efficient scorer from everywhere on the court. Inside, outside, or from behind the arc -- he does it all.

In Miami's win over Los Angeles on Sunday, James scored 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting to become just the third player in NBA history to score 30+ points and shoot over 60% in 5 straight games.

LeBron has made great strides on his jumper throughout his career, but the reason he's shooting such a high-percentage is because of his ability to get to the rim. When it was all said and done tonight, James shot 5-of-7 from inside the paint against the Lakers.

Given that King James gets to the rack at will, it's no surprise that when we asked about James' shot selection, the correct SnapCall was "inside the paint." Did you get it right? Then again, maybe that answer wasn't a sure bet since LeBron is 8-of-13 from beyond the arc in his last three games.

AT&T No Match for Verizon

SnapCall Poll
Has anyone actually made a successful call on an AT&T phone from Fenway Park? If yes, we'd like to hear from you in the comment section below this post. One of our SnapCall producers decided to test his hunch that the issues are not simply related to The Green Monster. The results seem to speak for themselves.

Carmelo Anthony Favors The Right Side

SnapCall Comprehension Question
Before the Clippers and Knicks tipped off, ESPN broke down the shooting habits of Carmelo Anthony. Typically, right-handed shooters prefer to be on the left side of the court because they can take it to the hole with their strong hand. However, as a righty, Melo shoots a far higher percentage from the right side of the court.

Don't worry though, Knicks fans, Melo clearly knows what he's doing. He's one of the league's best shooters in the NBA, ranking 10th in the league among small forwards.
Melo's Shooting HabitsAs this SnapCall demonstrates, Carmelo's shooting tendency remained consistent throughout today's game against Los Angeles.

The lesson?

Do your homework and you can shut down Carmelo Anthony AND dominate SnapCall.

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