As I'm sure you all could tell, I've had to shut down TH for the foreseeable future. In fairness to our readers, the deal is that I have had to deal with a family issue that requires my regular attention. That, plus the rest of real life, leaves very little time for blogging. And, frankly, my heart's not in it - or, more precisely, it needs to be somewhere else.
My apologies to all of you who have come to depend on TH for Cal news and opinion. My hope and expectation is to have something back up by the summer (July-ish), but right now it's a bit out of my hands and hard to forecast. From now until then, or whenever - good luck to all TH readers, and GO BEARS!!!
Apologies for the lack of posts this week - real life occasionally gets in the way of obsessive sports blogging. I'll have something up on the Final Four before the weekend, as well as a look at Cal's defensive line in '07. Take care and Go Bears!!!
THIRD DOWN (PART TWO)
Among many interesting things about Brian's 3rd down charts at MGoBlog is the following: teams employing the zone read option do pretty well in 3rd and short situations. Well, that's not quite precise. Teams with mobile quarterbacks
that run the zone read option clean up in 3rd and short. Take a look at Florida, a team that lacked a really solid running back:
Lots of Tim Tebow in that graph. Note that Florida became a very average team in 3rd and more than 7 situations.
Another spread team is West Virginia, who had the marquee back but, just as important, employed an athletic run/pass threat behind center:
Don't know what happened on 3rd and 1 - maybe the Mountaineers shift into a more conventional formation there. The rest of the graph is eye candy.
Even Oregon, a pretty mediocre team in '06, looked all right on the penultimate down:
Interestingly, Oregon's defense was pretty good on 3rd down as well - it was the other two downs they struggled with, apparently.
Speaking of defense, let's have a look at a very interesting graph: Cal in 2006.
As loyal reader Pete Morris points out, there's a lot of Brandon Mebane in that green area on the far left. Cal's opponents were successful only about 40% of the time on 3rd and three or fewer yards to go. It's not just
Mebane, though. 3rd and 3 is a passing down in the Pac 10, and Cal was about 15% better than the national average in stopping opponents' attempts. That reflects good pass drops and cover skills by linebackers, and excellent tackling on quick outs.
Third and long (more than ten to go) is another story. There's two things at play here, I think. First, no pass rush - these patterns call for five and seven step drops and Cal rarely brought consistent heat on opposing QBs. The second factor is less troubling - Cal often surrendered third and longs when holding a big lead and sitting in a soft zone. This was even true in games like UCLA that were tight in the first half. Gregory's philosophy post-Tennessee was quite clear - the Bears would give up completions as long as no one got behind the secondary.
So what should we expect in 2007? It's impossible to say, but I think there are three people who will determine whether Cal can produce green graphs next season:Kevin Bemoll
. We need a guard who will be a road-grader in the short yardage game. Bemoll could be that guy. Zach Follett
. As much as I love Desmond Bishop, Follett will be a north-south Mike who stuffs fullbacks and creates chaos at the point of attack. Cal will need even more consistent Mike play to compensate for the loss of Mebane up front. Jeff Tedford
. Longshore was 19-33 in 3rd and 5 or less to go in 2006. The Bears converted each of those 19 completions for first downs (plus one PI call), so their success by air was much greater than their success on the ground. When you shorten the distance to 3rd and 3 or less, Longshore went 10-16 with two touchdowns and no picks. While everyone loves the power run game, JT may be tempted to put the ball in Longshore's hands more often on third down next season.
A couple of months ago we took a look at Cal's play-calling in 2nd down and short situations
. As expected, the data supported the notion that the Bears were pretty conservative and not very successful in these situations, leading to a fair number of 3rd and shorts over the course of the season. So, how did the Bears perform in those all-important third down situations?
As mentioned earlier, Brian from MGoBlog has a nifty chart
that captures Cal's third down performance (and charts for every other D-1A program). Here's Cal's 3rd down efficiency in 2006:
The Y axis measures the completion %; the X axis measures the # of yards to go. The descending heavy black line is the average completion % for D-1A teams - if your team is above average at a given distance, you'll see green; below average and you'll appropriately see red.
As you can see, Cal was slightly below average in 3rd and less than five yards to go. Conversely, the Bears were far above average in 3rd and more than 7 yards to go (and slightly above average in 3rd and 5 and 3rd and 6 situations).
How often did Cal face such situations?
The most frequent down and distance was 3rd and ten (14% of all third downs). As the above graph indicates, Cal did pretty well in these situations, but their completion percentage was still below 40%. Also a fair number of 3rd and threes, and we know that Cal was relatively inefficient in such situations.
For those of us who watched Cal's 2006 season, these graphs are not very surprising. The Golden Bears were an efficient offense who occasionally struggled in short-yardage situations. While many fans justifiably blame Ted/Bar for unimaginative play calling on second and short, the third and short frustrations are due to inconsistent OL play. Just for fun I went back and looked at some TIVO of the '06 season, and what I saw confirmed my view. While Marshawn occasionally danced when he should have darted, the vast majority of unsuccessful third and shorts were due to our OL's inability to generate a push up front. I won't name names, but there are certain returners on the OL who simply struggled when they were forced to go mano a mano
with down linemen without any help from linemates. Failing improvement in this area, the Bears may ask Nate to throw slants and tight end pops to convert on third down in 2007.
Now let's look at a graph of a team that gets it done in short yardage:
That's USC's graph for 2006, and that's a big reason they won the Pac-10 despite an offense that lacked the big-play firepower of years past. More on this later in the week.
CLEANING OUT THE DESK
The Pac-10 has three teams in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002. Good for the conference, and good for Cal. Conference success = more pressure on Sandy to take this program to the next level. On a related note, I want to hire Tim Floyd.
Of the three conference rivals, UCLA's got the clearest path to the Final Four. They looked like hell on offense against Indiana, but Pitt doesn't have the back court to compete with Collison and Afflalo. When Afflalo attacks the basket, UCLA is the best team in the country. When he's passive or not in rhythm, they can lose to Cal. I'm guessing that Howland reminds him of this fact between now and Thursday.
Oregon's interesting - UNLV is a fine team who plays good defense, but I think Oregon plays at a different athletic level than the Rebs. Florida looms in the Elite 8. If you believe Ernie Kent (which is a hard thing to do) the Ducks have used five different base defenses in the last seven games. Against the Gators they would need to revisit the one they used against Arizona in the Pac-10 tournament. In that 69-50 win, the Ducks collapsed on Radenovic and Hill and denied the easy entry pass. Noah and Horford would be a tougher match up, but the same principle applies - if Florida's bigs get the ball deep in the paint, game over.
USC has the toughest road to hoe, but then no one looked better than the Trojans in the second round. Would love to see them knock off Taylor Hansborough and Carolina, but something tells me UNC is going to get out on SC's shooters a little bit better than Texas did. One question - where was that
Daniel Hackett all year? Bruins Nation isn't in their corner
, and we won't be either after the next round. SC in the Final Four would be a bit too much to bear.Michigan canned Tommy Amaker
, so the Duke Assistant Coaching curse continues. Ben Braun was named in one story as a potential replacement - kudos to Ben's agent. He's got a slightly better chance of landing that job than I do.
Tony Bennett is a candidate for every coaching vacancy in America. I don't think writers even fact-check it - they just assume that any right-thinking individual would want to leave Pullman at the first opportunity. I suspect he'll stay.
Reason #156 that MGoBlog is the best team blog in the land: this wicked cool 3rd down efficiency chart
. We'll have more on Cal's #s later this week.
The naked protest at the Oaks got national publicity, and the good folks at EDSBS found an unlikely political appointee
among the rabble. San Diego newsreaders balefully shook their heads when reading the item as Tightwad hurled everything within reach at the TV. Oh, if only Berkeley were not a hermetically-sealed bubble of liberal anachronism. We might actually get something done once in a while.
THE NAKED TRUTH
What better way to start off your St. Patrick's Day revelry than by joining a bunch of naked protesters at the Oaks. From 10 to noon tomorrow
, you too can join the rogues gallery of anti-University agitators in ditching your clothes and lying awkwardly on tree branches for "noted photographer" Jack Gescheidt. It may be a bit cold, but Mr. Gescheidt presumably will show his models the same respect afforded those in the above picture - so no shrinkage issues to deal with. According to the release, the protesters will create a "Tree Spirit photograph, depicting our interdependence with trees in general, and with this specific grove of native oak trees threatened by state plans to uproot them."
The photographs will be memorialized in the Tree Spirit Project
website, as well as a pair of subscription websites: Hippies Gone Wild and Filthy Arborist Whores ($4.99/month and I don't recommend either). Hope you can make it - if you're on the fence, just imagine what you'll be missing:
DAY ONE THOUGHTS
Only got to viddy parts of a couple of contests due to work. I did see what I needed to see from Washington State, and I am chagrined by my lack of faith in The Hated One and his charges. Bennett showed today why he's going to be a better coach than his old man, turning the Cougs loose after Oral Roberts had shown they could trade punches with WSU in the half court. WSU is now a pretty intriguing team, and I think they should match up really well with Vandy's three point shooters in Round 2.
The second game was Indiana/Gonzaga, which was interesting if a little bit ragged. Gonzaga doesn't have the athletes this year. Indiana settles for too many threes (which they hit tonight); they'll have to find some way to get it inside to avoid a blowout loss to UCLA on Saturday.
And finally, Stanford showed us that there are worse things than failing to get into the tournament.
Overall it was a blah Day 1, and my bracket (as predicted) took a beating, with two Sweet 16 teams eliminated (ORU and Duke). Oh well, I got the 8/9 games right, and I resisted the siren's lure of Davidson and Old Dominion (unlike many of my work colleagues). On to Day 2, as I turn to Holy Cross and Georgia Tech to get me back in business.
TIGHTWAD HILL'S BRACKET
The following is the result of a combination of statistical analysis (Pomeroy, ASM, etc) and gut instinct. It is almost certainly wrong, so please do not take it seriously or change your bracket based on what you read here. This is primarily for your amusement as my dark horses go lame in the opening round, and my Final Four teams fail to get out of the round of sixteen. This bracket is sort of old-school, in that I see three 10+ seeds making it to the Sweet 16. That result used to be the norm, but it hasn't happened since 2002 (though in every year but one since then, two 10+ teams have reached that round). Upsets are in italics:Midwest Regional - Wisconsin is dealing with an injury, and Georgia Tech has the right profile (better conference, tournament-tested coach, good ASM) for a big second round upset. Everything else goes to plan. I toyed with the idea of taking Maryland over Florida - if the Terps win, then Oregon might make it to Atlanta. Florida, on the other hand, has too many weapons for Oregon.
Florida over Jackson State; Wisconsin over TAMU-CC; Oregon over Miami OH; Maryland over Davidson; Butler over ODU; Notre Dame over Winthrop; Georgia Tech over UNLV
; Arizona over Purdue
Florida over Arizona; Georgia Tech over Wisconsin;
Oregon over Notre Dame; Maryland over Butler
Florida over Maryland; Oregon over Georgia Tech
Florida over OregonWest Regional - Hard for me to see anyone but UCLA and Kansas in the Elite 8. Duke matches up pretty well with Pitt; in fact, VCU might be a tougher nut for the Dookies in Round 1. Holy Cross is my first true long shot pick for the Sweet 16 - I think they'll get by a pair of over-rated teams in SIU and Virginia Tech. Kansas and Bill Self need to prove to me that they can make a Final Four run before I'll pick them over UCLA. Just hit your free throws, Bruins...
Kansas over Niagara; UCLA over Weber State; Pitt over Wright State; Holy Cross over Southern Illinois
; Virginia Tech over Illinois; Duke over VCU; Indiana over Gonzaga; Villanova over Kentucky
Kansas over Villanova; UCLA over Indiana; Duke over Pitt
; Holy Cross over Virginia Tech
Kansas over Holy Cross; UCLA over DukeUCLA over KansasEast Regional - The first 1 seed to depart? North Carolina, who I think will struggle with Michigan State's toughness and inside game. MSU's got great stats, if not a great record, and I trust Izzo. Mixed emotions on the Wazzu pick, but the Cougars just aren't hitting on all cylinders right now and ORU is pretty good. Two religiously-affiliated schools in the Sweet 16? God willing.
North Carolina over E Kentucky; Georgetown over Belmont; Oral Roberts over Washington State
; Texas over New Mexico State; USC over Arkansas; GWU over Vanderbilt;
Boston College over Texas Tech; Michigan State over MarquetteMichigan State over North Carolina
; Georgetown over Boston College; Oral Roberts over GWU
; Texas over USC
Texas over Michigan State; Georgetown over Oral Roberts
Georgetown over TexasSouth Regional - The only regional where I see the top 4 seeds surviving to the Sweet 16. Xavier could give Ohio State a scare in Round 2. A&M is the best and most balanced team in this bracket, and they've got enough to get past Memphis in the Sweet 16. I'm not terribly impressed with either OSU or Virginia - the gap between #3 A&M and #4 Virginia is huge, in my opinion. The Long Beach State pick is pretty uninformed, though they have a really nice back court. Some 12 seed has to win, and this one seems as likely as any.
Ohio State over C Connecticut; Memphis over North Texas; Texas A&M over Penn; Virginia over Albany; Long Beach State over Tennessee;
Louisville over Stanford;
Nevada over Creighton; Xavier over BYU
Ohio State over Xavier; Memphis over Nevada; Texas A&M over Louisville;
Virginia over Long Beach State
Ohio State over Virginia; Texas A&M over MemphisTexas A&M over Ohio StateFinal Four - I want to pick the Bruins here, but you never know when the FT shooting issue will bite them. These would be epic semis, regardless of who prevails: My best guess:
Florida over UCLA; Texas A&M over Georgetown
Texas A&M over Florida