Monday Rewind: Arizona marching toward titles, setting USC's win total, and more
Welcome back to the Monday Rewind. Let’s dive in.
Arizona is rolling
Since 2002, only two teams have won a national championship without both a top-20 offense and a top-20 defense. Using KenPom’s adjusted efficiency numbers, 14 of 19 national title winners have had both a top-15 offense and defense. The teams to win without both: 2003 Syracuse (17th, 14th), 2009 North Carolina (1st, 18th), 2011 UConn (19th, 15th), 2014 UConn (39th, 10th), and 2021 Baylor (2nd, 22nd).
There are eight teams right now who boast both a top-20 offense and defense, per KenPom: Gonzaga, Kentucky, Baylor, Arizona, Duke, Houston, Auburn, and UCLA.
If we drop the threshold to top-15, Auburn and UCLA get lopped off.
Arizona, up to the No. 2 in both the NET and KenPom rankings, sits at No. 9 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 5 in adjusted defensive efficiency.
The Pac-12 might not be sending seven or eight teams to the Tournament in March, but it’ll absolutely be sending a legitimate title contender in Arizona. The Wildcats look legit, and in recent weeks they’ve grown even more terrifying.
Head coach Tommy Lloyd has a mind-melding amount of versatility at his fingertips with this Wildcat team: they can play small-ball with Dalen Terry at the 4 and Pelle Larsson and Benn Mathurin on the wing. The twin tower lineup with Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo in the frontcourt together proved effective when Azuolas Tubelis missed time earlier in the season. Their starting five, with Tubelis and Koloko in the frontcourt, is killing teams.
They can play slow and in the halfcourt. They can play fast, turning defensive rebounds and turnovers into quick-strike points.
Two weeks ago, they used the former to beat up on the top of the league (UCLA and USC) at home. This past week, they used the latter to boat-race teams in the middle of the league table.
Arizona opened on a 19-4 run in the second half against Arizona State to turn a close game into a rout, racing up and down the floor for dunks and layups and pulling ahead by as many as 20 points.
Over a five-minute stretch against Washington State a few days later, Arizona used a similar blueprint to break off a 21-5 run.
After getting outscored 25-11 in the first 10 minutes of Saturday’s game against Washington, Arizona outscored the Huskies 81-43 over the final 30 minutes.
They play hard on both ends. They have the athletes to kill smaller or less-disciplined teams. They have the talent and coaching to win tight. There’s just simply no margin for error against the Cats right now, and they’re getting better each time out. Switching off for a few possessions is fatal.
Setting an o/u for USC in 2022
ESPN hasn’t yet updated its FPI projections for the 2022 season, but Bill Connelly has given us his early projections for SP+. The Trojans opened ranked No. 7 in the Pac-12. They were notably behind Washington.
Because of the way both ESPN models present their rankings, you can use them to set early point-spreads for each team’s upcoming schedule and then come up with implied win totals. Doing so for USC would set the early (emphasis on early, the team is likely to change a bit more after the spring) win total at 5.5.
The “way-too-early” rankings from national talking heads are at serious odds with SP+ when it comes to the Trojans; I suspect FPI and other models like it will fall more in line with Connelly’s rankings than with the human pollsters.
Give USC an extra game to 1.5 games for the coaching change element, and I bet we see Vegas start to come out with win totals for USC around 6.5 or seven.
Here’s a question: would you take the over at 5.5 but hesitate a bit at seven?
Surely the Trojans won’t be under five wins again. Something disastrous would have to happen, as this is a rebuild but not that deep a rebuild. The transfer talent added to the portion of the roster that remained in town seems like a good enough mix to get a competently-coached USC squad to six wins minimum.
I talked more about this here.
Cautionary tales from the Super Bowl
The Los Angeles Rams won Super Bowl LVI Sunday. In the process, they sacked Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow seven times. In the postseason, Burrow was sacked a total of 19 times, the most for one quarterback in a postseason in over two decades.
On the de-facto final play of the game, Rams’ defensive lineman Aaron Donald pressured Burrow just 2.2 seconds after the snap of the football, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats on Twitter, twirling him around and forcing an incompletion on fourth-and-1.
Burrow had a slant-flat combination to his left on the play with the Rams playing man. Cincy’s CJ Uzomah had Rams corner David Long Jr. covering him in the slot. But as the slant pattern comes across, Long peels off to take it, leaving Uzomah open in the flat.
Any time at all for Burrow to make that read and throw to Uzomah and the Bengals convert. Donald destroyed everything.
In the biggest moments on the brightest stages, these games are still decided at the line of scrimmage. This is now two Super Bowls in a row where arguably the better offense and better quarterback came up short because the offensive line couldn’t protect. The Kansas City Chiefs drastically overhauled their offensive line last offseason after watching their star quarterback running for his life against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV, and the Bengals seem likely to try and do the same this offseason.
The Rams posted a pressure rate of 41.5% Sunday, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats on Twitter. Insane. It’s true at every level of ball: the line of scrimmage decides games.
Oregon’s tourney hopes
I don’t believe Oregon is dead, with regards to the NCAA Tournament.
It’s true the Ducks now have a trio of unsightly Quad 3 losses, the latest coming in a 78-64 embarrassment of a home loss to Cal on Saturday. It’s also true the Ducks had a shaky start to the season, possess only two Q1 wins, and sit awfully low in the NET rankings (62nd as of publication.)
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had the Ducks on the 10-line before Saturday’s loss to Cal, and in his most recent bracket update he has them as the first team out of the field.
It was a specifically atrocious loss to take, to be clear, but several were ready to completely nail the coffin closed on the Ducks afterward and that seems a little knee-jerky. Oregon has a game at Arizona and at Washington State still to play. It has home games against UCLA and USC still to play.
The Trojans beating the Bruins on Saturday helped the Ducks in that it kept USC inside the NET top-30 (28th as of publication). Assuming they stay and the Cougars don’t bottom out, Oregon could get to four, five, or even six Q1 wins before the conference tournament begins.
This is a Ducks team that had won 10 of its previous 11 before the Cal game, and still boasts a 5-1 record on the road. There’s a lot of time left.
Shoutouts of the week
- Drew Peterson, USC: The Trojans guard called out a lack of urgency in a closer-than-expected win over Pacific last week. USC had to rally from as many as 13 points down to beat one of the worst teams in the West Coast Conference at home. Against UCLA the next time out, Peterson took it upon himself to be the energizer. He did everything in the Trojans’ 67-64 win, turning in a remarkable two-way performance with 27 points (4-5 3P), 12 rebounds, five blocks, and four assists.
- Jordan Shepherd, Cal: The Golden Bears’ guard had a career-high 33 points in Cal’s stunning win over Oregon. After losing forward Andre Kelly for the season a little over a week ago, Cal was looking at the prospects of a grim season getting worse. Shepherd picked up the slack in a major way.