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Heading into the Post Season

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Zip Watcher

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Apologies for the scarcity of my notes and postings. It's been a hectic season away from the JAR for Watcher & family. I was hoping to comment a few times after the non-con, after the first East swing, the West .. etc, but not all of that happened.

In August, I posted this entry where I summed up my perspective of last season's events. I believed then, as I do now, that the 2008-2009 Zips were among the best 2 D1 Zips team to date.

Now we enter the second season of 2009-2010. The regular season has ended and the Zips move directly to the MAC Quarters at Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday. I think this is as good a time as any for a step away and look a the season thus far on the whole. Where do the current Zips stack up against the recent teams?

In short, I believe there's ample achievable opportunity for this team to assume the mantle of Best D1 Zips Team Ever. It's there for the taking.

The Basics:

The Zips enter the tournament as the 3 seed. With the second best MAC record @ 12-4, they finished 1 game behind the regular season champion and a full 3 games clear of the rest of the league. This is also 2 games better than a year ago when the Zips finished the RS @ 10-6 and settled for the 5 seed, needing to play an opening round game. So in this fashion, the current Zips are improved over last season. Other recent seasons and tournament seedings / results:

2010: 22-9 OA, 12-4 MAC, #3 Seed, Finish TBD

2009: 19-12 OA, 10-6 MAC, #5 Seed, Won Tournament

2008: 21-9 OA, 11-5 MAC, #3 Seed, Lost Tourney Final

2007: 24-6 OA, 13-3 MAC, #2 Seed, Lost Tourney Final

2006: 21-8 OA, 14-4 MAC, #3 Seed, Lost Tourney Semi-final

2005: 18-9 OA, 11-7 MAC, #6 Seed, Lost Tourney Quarter-final

As for overall record, the Zips came into the MAC tourney @ 22-9. A solid, if not spectacular regular season, with few losing streaks, and several runs of multiple wins. Coming into the tournament, these Zips have won 7 of 10 and 10 of 15. Recent trends heading into the MAC tournament (Last 4, Last 10, Last 15):

2010: 2-2, 7-3, 10-5

2009: 2-2, 6-4, 10-5

2008: 2-2, 6-4, 9-6

2007: 4-0, 8-2, 13-2

2006: 2-2, 6-4, 10-5

2005: 2-2, 6-4, 11-4

So looking strictly at standings and records, it can be said that this Zips team has again the opportunity to take the mantle of "best D1 Zips team ever" away from the previous team, with a few more wins in Cleveland. They have finished as strong or stronger down the stretch compared to the title team of 2009, and boast the 3rd best MAC record in KD's tenure.

The Statistics:

How are the Zips doing by the numbers? We've found new tools to look at individual performances this season, which I like. However, it's interesting to me to look at the offensive and defensive team performances.

Defensive Stats (Allowed PPG, FG%, 3PT%, A/T):

2010: 64.2, 41.3, 30.8, 0.74

2009: 60.3, 40.3, 29.1, 0.55

2008: 63.8, 44.6, 32.6, 0.70

2007: 61.0, 40.2, 33.1, 0.70

2006: 66.1, 42.8, 34.1, 0.90

2005: 65.6, 40.4, 34.3, 0.80

Offensive Stats (PPG, FG%, 3PT%, A/T):

2010: 69.9, 43.7, 33.1, 0.99

2009: 66.8, 41.8, 33.2, 0.91

2008: 70.8, 44.1, 38.6, 1.00

2007: 75.3, 48.5, 39.3, 1.20

2006: 72.9, 45.3, 36.6, 1.30

2005: 71.8, 44.5, 37.3, 1.20

Margins (Scoring, Rebounding):

2010: +5.7 ppg, +2.6 rpg

2009: +6.5 ppg, -1.1 rpg

2008: +7.0 ppg, -1.0 rpg

2007: +12.3 ppg, +2.3 rpg

2006: +6.8 ppg, +1 rpg

2005: +6.2 ppg, -2.5 rpg

Clearly the best offensive team statistically has been the 2006-07 club, and best defensive team 2008-09. A huge margin of +12.5 ppg was powered by the best offense of KD's tenure, and the 2nd best defense by points (tops in FG% allowed). The common thread for 2009 and 2010 is improved 3PT % defense, down around 30%. The scoring margin this year is the lowest of KD's tenure, bu the defense is in the top half of the era. This has been the best KD Zips team on the glass.

So while the seeding and wins situation is among the strongest positions the Zips have ever had coming into the MAC Tournament, this Zips team has been winning closer games than others in the past 6 seasons. Maybe that means they're better closers .. maybe their margin of error is smaller, you can draw your own conclusions. My first take away is that this is a strong team, entering the MAC tournament in a good position, record wise and tournament draw.

Stats can't tell the entire picture, as 2007 showed us, but this team is winning many important categories and holds up well against the recent Zips teams on paper.

Strategy:

I think the Zips have been very successful when they've forced the action to their strengths. In the games when they force teams into jumpshots in the half court, especially from the outside, the defense carries the day. It is the moments in games like vs. Can't State, VCU and URI where the opponent is able to get out and run, getting easy baskets in transition, or early in the shot clock that the Zips struggle.

The offense is better than the title team from a year ago. My gut watching the games tells me this, and the numbers appear to bear it out. They're not the juggernaut of 2006-07 offensively, but they have reduced significantly the long 6+ minute scoring droughts that plagued last seasons teams. The exceptions being @ Can't State of course.

On the offensive side, things work better when the ball enters the paint. The shots don't need to come from the paint, but the ball needs to get in there. When Nik, Chris, Zeke & Jimmy get touches inside, it opens things up for the outside shooting. It's not a great outside shooting club, but in the games they get the open looks .. they can bury teams from out there. Ultimately the strength of the team lies in the front court with Nik, Jimmy .. and at times Zeke & Chris.

Matchups:

There are some matchups in the conference that really favor the Zips. Miami is one .. the Redskins just don't have the horses inside to compete for 40 minutes with the Zips. BG, even though they have Polk have also struggled against UA. Mixed results against U@B & OU (2 wins though), and success on the road vs. CMU & WMU.

The matchup that hurts the Zips the most is apparently length and quickness in the backcourt. When the Zips struggle to prevent penetration by opposing guards, it puts pressure on the defense and opens up outside shooters. The OU game @ home was a good example of this. On the other end of the court, length at the perimeter can hinder the post entry pass and by doing that alter the Zips effectiveness offensively.

I do believe the Zips have shown the ability to circumvent this at times. Going big causes problems for opponents. Fletcher is solid on D for Miami, but he's out there alone somewhat since Mavunga likes less contact. If Can't State is forced to play Parks, that's a big advantage for the Zips. OU and U@B also struggle to defend more than 1 or 2 bigs at a time.

In the Can't State title game a couple of years ago, KD got around the perimeter ball pressure by running a point forward offense w/ Linhart at the point, and the guards (Dials & Middleton) down on the corners. This allowed the Zips to initiate the offense from up top, got them good entry passes and really good looks at the rim. Now the Zips shot 6 for 80 in the first half, so the outcome wasn't what we wanted, but they got good looks .. inside 10 feet .. at will. Just didn't hit them or their foul shots that day. I'll be looking for this type of adjustment if the Zips see Can't State again on Saturday.

My Gut Predictions:

While the Zips had a bad loss at home vs. EMU earlier, I do believe that the matchups & depth favor the Zips in the quarterfinals. Hopefully, they'll shake off last week's game. Come in and execute Akron Basketball, drive the matchups that favor Akron, and I like the Zips to advance.

In the second round, the Zips beat both teams on the road, and have had good success recently. It will again be a case of coming out, rebounding well .. forcing the action and defending effectively. Kool can go for 30 and still have the Broncos lose by 20 .. it's happened I think this season.

IMHO, the success of this team @ the Q this week will hinge on the paint. If the Zips control the paint, getting the ball there on offense, and preventing post entry on defense, they'll likely be standing as the champs again come Saturday. If they allow consistent ball penetration, and can't get their inside-out post offense running well .. they may struggle to defend the title they still hold. I'm optimistic.

Ultimately, the Zips are the most experienced team in this tournament by a wide margin. The past 3 seasons, they're 8-2 at the Q. No Zips player on the roster has lost a Thursday or Friday game @ the Q. All they know is playing for the title on Saturday night. Think about that. They don't know how else to do it. Let's hope they keep that streak going.

They've had a nice regular season to put themselves in a favorable draw and position to play for an NCAA birth again. Here's hoping they execute and give themselves a chance to defend on Saturday night. I do like their chances in a third matchup vs. Can't State.

Go Zips!

B) B) B) B) B)

Unrelated: Apparently when it rains in Atlanta, planes throughout the Southeast forget how to fly. Hope I make it home in time to see the games.

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