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Just The Sports: 2011-01-23

Just The Sports

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Is St. John's Basketball Really Better Off With Steve Lavin?

Nineteen games into the 2010-11 season and into basketball head coach Steve Lavin's tenure, it certainly does not seem like St. John's is really any better off with Lavin manning the helm, which is surprising given the advantages Lavin has and the history of his current group of seniors.

In his first season as head coach, Lavin has inherited a team with a roster stability of 91.5 percent, meaning that 91.5 percent of the minutes St. John's has played this season have been played by players who were on the team last year. That level of continuity is extremely rare in college basketball and should afford an edge against the majority of the Red Storm's opponents as the longer a group of players play together, the better the team performs.

Lavin is also benefiting from being able to coach a group of seniors who improved over their first three seasons of college basketball and comprise eight of the ten players who have used at least 16 percent of the team's possessions according to

As freshmen in the 2007-08 season, the current seniors were on a St. John's team that was outscored by 6.6 points per 100 possessions; the offensive and defensive efficiencies I used are unadjusted, which is why they will differ from the ones on As sophomores, they were on a team that was outscored by 2.5 points per 100 possessions. Last season, as juniors, for the first time in their college basketball careers, the current group of seniors outscored their opponents, something they did to the tune of 2.4 points per 100 possessions.

Between their freshman and sophomore seasons, the current seniors were on teams that improved by 4.1 points per 100 possessions, and between their sophomore and junior seasons, they improved by 4.9 points per 100 possessions.

That level of consistent improvement from season to season calls into question why St. John's felt the need to fire Lavin's predecessor, Norm Roberts, at all. At the very least, he had earned the chance to coach out the seniors' college eligibility since they had continued to get better under his watch.

This season, in 19 games, the Red Storm have outscored their opponents by 3.2 points per 100 possessions, which seems like an improvement over how the seniors performed last year. However, it is not.

Last season, through 19 games, St. John's had outscored opponents by 5.5 points per 100 possessions. The problem St. John's has had over the past three seasons has always been how the team performs once it enters conference play. It is then that the Red Storm usually have a drop-off in their efficiency.

That is a trend that is continuing this season, even though Lavin is supposed to be an upgrade over Roberts. In the first eight Big East games St. John's has played, they have been outscored by 8.7 points per 100 possessions. Contrast that to last season, when in their first eight Big East games, the Red Storm were outscored by 8.3 points per 100 possessions, and one cannot help but assume Roberts could have done just as good a coaching job as Lavin has done this season.

Even if St. John's was having a better season, the team's success would have to be attributed first and foremost to roster stability and the fact the seniors were simply continuing their natural progression. Since the Red Storm have not really improved at all, though, it does call into question Lavin's coaching acumen. He certainly does not seem to be such a great coach based on the fact his senior-laden team is no better than they were last season when they were juniors.

Maybe going forward, Lavin will be able to bring to St. John's a higher quality of player than Roberts ever could have, which his 2011 recruiting class that is ranked second in the nation by does seem to indicate, and St. John's will become a nationally prominent college basketball program under his tutelage, but based on the first 19 games of his tenure, St. John's has yet to receive any advantage from having him as their head coach in a season where the team's composition suggests it should be playing better.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

UCLA Football Needs to Put Rick Neuheisel On Notice

The usual instances that lead to a college football program hiring a new coach are if the former coach retires voluntarily, if the former coach leaves and takes a coaching job somewhere else, if the former coach is fired, or if the former coach is forced to resign.

In the first two instances, provided the former coach was a successful one, the university should expect his successor to field teams that at least match his predecessor's squads. If the former coach can accomplish this task, then his tenure is considered a success. It is under these conditions that explain why Les Miles' reign as LSU's football coach should garner more praise.

In the other two instances, the university should expect the new head coach to surpass all of his predecessor's achievements. Otherwise, there would have been no point in replacing the former coach. This is the expectation UCLA no doubt had when they fired Karl Dorrell and hired Rick Neuheisel to take over his place.

In his three years as UCLA's football head coach, Neuheisel has failed to live up to expectations. Instead, Neuheisel's UCLA teams have performed worse than Dorrell's UCLA teams.

It is on offense where Neuheisel's teams have failed the most to even reach the level of Dorell's UCLA offensive units, let alone surpass them. Of the eight statistical categories at which I looked, Neuheisel's offenses were statistically significantly worse in four of them, in three of them his offense was just worse, and in only one category has Neuheisel's teams performed better than Dorrell's teams did.

Compared to Dorrell's offenses, Neuheisel's offenses have been statistically significantly worse in yards per completion (10.9 to 12.5), yards per pass attempt (5.9 to 6.9), touchdown percentage (2.4 percent to 5.0 percent), and points per game (20.0 to 26.6).

Neuheisel's teams have just been worse than Dorrell's teams in completion percentage (54.2 percent to 55.5 percent), yards per rush (3.6 to 3.9), and interception percentage (4.0 percent to 3.6 percent).

Only in avoiding sacks (7.0 sack percentage to 7.4 sack percentage) can Neuheisel's quarterbacks say they are better than Dorrell's quarterbacks, a meaningless advantage since it has not translated to greater proficiency in any other areas.

The decline in offensive production from Dorrell's teams to Neuheisel's teams should not be looked at in the same way as going from Mount Everest with an elevation of 29,029 feet to K2 with an elevation of 28,251 where at the end of the day, you are still incredibly high up. It is more like stepping from the bottom rung of a ladder with 100 rungs to the ground.

Dorrell's teams sported some pretty anemic offenses, with the exception of the 2005 squad. The fact Neuheisel's offenses have been even worse is a pretty big indictment against him.

Defensively, the difference between the two coaches' tenures is not as dramatic as it is on offense, but the edge still goes to Dorrell's teams. Dorrell's teams hold the advantage in completion percentage allowed (56.7 percent to 58.3 percent), yards per pass attempt allowed (6.4 to 6.7), yards per completion allowed (11.3 to 11.5), yards per rush allowed (4.0 to 4.5), touchdown percentage allowed (4.3 percent to 5.1 percent), sack percentage (6.6 percent to 6.3 percent), and points per game allowed (25.1 to 26.7).

Neuheisel's defenses have been better at intercepting passes than Dorrell's defenses were (3.6 interception percentage to 3.1 interception percentage), but the increase in interception percentage (16.1 percent increase) is less than the increase in their higher touchdown percentage allowed (18.6 percent increase), which means that Dorrell's defenses had a better ratio in touchdown passes allowed to passes intercepted.

Overall, Neuheisel's teams have been outscored by 6.7 points per game; Dorrell's teams outscored their opponents by 1.5 points per game.

Neuheisel has not only failed to live up to the expectations UCLA should have for him, but he has also failed to live up to the expectations he created for himself. After accepting the UCLA football head coach position, Neuheisel foolishly appeared in an ad created by the UCLA athletics marketing department proclaiming that "The Football Monopoly In L.A. Is Officially Over," which is another way of saying that under Neuheisel, UCLA was going to field teams that would equal rival USC's teams.

Since making that ad and taking over at UCLA, Neuheisel's teams are 0-3 against USC and have been outscored by 56 points. UCLA has also failed to match USC when the two universities are not facing off against each other.

As bad as Neuheisel's offenses look against Dorrell's, they look even more incompetent when compared to the offenses USC has fielded over the last three seasons. Of the eight statistical categories at which I looked, USC offenses hold a statistically significant advantage in seven of them and they are better than Neuheisel's teams in the other category.

USC's offenses have been statistically significantly better in completion percentage (62.4 percent to 54.2 percent), yards per pass attempt (7.8 to 5.9), yards per completion (12.5 to 10.9), yards per rush (5.1 to 3.6), touchdown percentage (6.6 percent to 2.4 percent), sack percentage (4.2 percent to 7.0 percent), and points per game (31.7 to 20.0).

The one category where USC's offenses have not been statistically significantly better is in interception percentage (3.3 percent to 4.0 percent), but combined with their domination in the touchdown percentage department, they are still showing themselves to be much better passing teams.

In comparing the Neuheisel's defenses to USC's defenses, USC holds a statistically significant advantage in yards per rush allowed (3.6 to 4.5) and points per game allowed (18.5 to 26.7). USC's defenses are simply stingier than Neuheisel's defenses in completion percentage allowed (54.9 percent to 58.3 percent), yards per pass attempt allowed (6.1 to 6.7), yards per completion allowed (11.1 to 11.5), touchdown percentage allowed (3.7 percent to 5.1 percent), and sack percentage (6.5 percent to 6.3 percent).

Neuheisel's defenses hold a slight advantage in interception percentage (3.6 percent to 3.4 percent), but that slight advantage is rendered moot by the huge disadvantage they have in touchdown percentage allowed.

Unless the definition of monopoly has changed over the past three years, the football monopoly in L.A. is very much alive and thriving. USC certainly has no reason to feel threatened by Neuheisel and UCLA.

Since Neuheisel's teams have performed so poorly, he has resorted to playing the blame game by getting rid of his assistant coaches. First, he fired defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough and wide receiver coach Reggie Moore in December, and more recently on January 23rd, he fired offensive coordinator Norm Chow.

Firing coordinators and assistant coaches are the last-ditch efforts of any coach seeking to deflect blame for a program's failure to succeed from landing at his feet.

However, if things continue to go as they have gone over the past three seasons, UCLA will have no choice but to fire Neuheisel or risk being called hypocrites for allowing Neuheisel to field worse teams than his predecessor who was fired.

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