San Diego State + A Loaded Slate (HV Weekly: 2/21/2020)

Analysis of the Aztecs' undefeated run, breaking down CBB talking points, and conference titles in the crosshairs.

Welcome back to the Hoop Vision Weekly.

We are now 17 weeks deep into the ever-compelling 2019-20 college basketball season, and we are 23 days away from Selection Sunday.

In this edition, we play all the hits you have come to know and love from the Weekly, but add a few bonus tracks, with Jordan adding some context to an emergent talking point in college hoops; we also turn quite a bit of our focus onto San Diego State, the lone undefeated team left in the nation.

Solely by the numbers, this weekend’s slate is as good as one we’ve seen all season; 68 of the Top 100 teams (per kenpom) are facing off against each other, including a #1 vs. #2 matchup. Outside of the predictive rankings, nearly every league in the country has at least one game on the slate this weekend which could lead to a tie or change atop their respective conference standings.

A big shout to those who are new to the HV Weekly and opening this newsletter for the first time in your inbox right now — and an even bigger shout to those who have been with us for the past 17 weeks and beyond. Your support is endlessly appreciated.

Let’s go!

Want to unlock more Hoop Vision analysis and insight?

If you enjoy this free weekly newsletter, you’ll enjoy Hoop Vision Plus (HV+) even more. HV+ subscribers get access to in-depth features on the teams, trends and curiosities shaping the college basketball world.

Bonus: Annual subscribers get STEEP discounts for digital products on our online store.


(*Reminder: Team rankings and score projections via
  • 34 games between teams ranked in the kenpom Top 100

  • 15 games between teams in Top 68

  • 11 games between Top 48 teams

  • games between Top 32

  • 1 game between Top 2(!)

…and some of the fun ones:

Highest-ranked matchups…

High-Major: Kansas (#1) at Baylor (#2)
Mid-Major Special: 
Louisiana Tech (#78) at North Texas (#70)

Biggest Projected Blowout…

Colgate 85, Holy Cross 65

Projected Highest-Scoring Game(s)…

Sam Houston State 97, Houston Baptist 79

Projected Lowest-Scoring Game…

Pittsburgh 55, Virginia 54


By Jordan Sperber

1) San Diego State Week at Hoop Vision

Throughout the season, we have dedicated a bit of extra focus to certain teams outpacing the pack or those with a compelling schematic approach. This week, San Diego State checks both of those boxes.

The Aztecs’ defense — even without a true rim protector after Nathan Mensah’s health issues — keeps the ball away from the rim with an emphasis on gap help. As a result, they are just 298th in the country at taking away opponent three-point attempts.

On Wednesday, we published a 14-minute voiceover video on San Diego State’s offense and defense. The video walks through the specifics behind Brian Dutcher’s scheme and coaching philosophy:

Video topics include:
  • SDSU’s wheel action — similar to the Blocker-Mover offense

  • Malachi Flynn’s spread ball screen passing

  • New Mexico and Utah State’s defensive gameplans against SDSU

  • SDSU’s pack line defensive positioning

  • The effects of stunting one-pass-away

  • Offensive concepts to take advantage of the pack line

In the video, Malachi Flynn’s ball screen ability is discussed using efficiency statistics. For those following along at home, here’s the full breakdown of those splits:

Flynn is one of the nation’s best players at using ball screens — he’s well above the NCAA efficiency average in every category. Clearly some of that is thanks to San Diego State’s ability to space the floor with shooters, but it should be noted that SDSU’s other main ball screen users — KJ Feagin and Trey Pulliam — are not nearly as efficient.

One thing cut from the video for the sake of time was San Diego State’s use of “empty” — meaning no one in the strong side corner — ball screens. They will put their three shooters — Feagin, Schakel, and Mitchell — on one side of the court and set a ball screen for Flynn on the other side.

Bonus Film: “SDSU Floppy Empty”

Brian Dutcher likes to run this set to start a game. Against Wyoming, Flynn was able to hit Yanni Wetzell for a dunk on the very first play of the game with it. They also ran the set on the first play against Utah State and a version against New Mexico where they were looking for a slip to the basket.


2) Boeheim and Defensive Accounting

In a post-game presser following the loss at Louisville, Jim Boeheim delivered a somewhat confusing monologue (some others might call it a “rant”) — and used Ken Pomeroy’s name in vain in the process.

Ken’s tweet sums up the full press conference pretty nicely; Boeheim clearly had something on his mind after the game. His intended point — which was unprovoked by the media members — was actually a pretty good one, but with inaccuracies along the way.

“I’m telling you right now nobody in this room — nobody that’s doing kenpom — knows who’s at fault when somebody scores on us.”

It appears that Boeheim’s comments were in response to an article on the Syracuse SB Nation site, (full name: Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician).

The article, among other things, references Synergy statistics to evaluate the Syracuse defense. It also references kenpom.

There is some real irony as Boeheim — who is angry that an article inaccurately allocated blame/credit to his players — is inaccurately allocating blame towards Ken Pomeroy.

Regardless, Boeheim is correct that evaluating individual defense is an extremely difficult task. The Synergy stats used in the SB Nation article should not be used (or at the very least used with extreme caution) to draw conclusions on individual defense. To be fair to Synergy, those statistics are really built for the purpose of video archiving/logging — not necessarily with the implied usage of the SB Nation author.

Defensive accounting is one of the more difficult things in the field of basketball analysis. We wrote about our thoughts on the subject — with a true coaching example used at New Mexico State — back in a July version of the newsletter.

Lessons learned (or reinforced) from the Boeheim assertion?

  1. Defensive accounting is hard

  2. Synergy stats require careful consideration for effective use

  3. Coaches read everything



A couple days before the longform video above, SDSU Week launched on Hoop Vision Plus — in alignment with our mission of going deep on the teams, tactics and trends driving the sport — Monday’s typical “Starting Five” notebook morphed into a breakdown of SDSU’s Pack Line and indifference to defending the three-point line. Here’s the intro:

From an X’s and O’s perspective, they are the latest example of a defense performing at a high level despite a relative indifference to taking away three-point attempts. Head coach Brian Dutcher’s defense isn’t quite as extreme as a Buzz Williams defense, but SDSU ranks:

  • 298th in defensive three-point rate (3PA/FGA)

  • 31st in defensive two-point percentage (2P%)

  • 151st in defensive block percentage (Blk%)

SDSU has good defenders, but it’s the scheme that stands out more than the individuals. The Aztecs overcome mediocre rim protection by deterring drives to the basket from ever happening in the first place.

In the process, SDSU does allow three-point attempts at a high rate. In this article, we will look at where and why those three-point attempts occur. The three main sources:

  1. Pack line “walls”

  2. Pack line hedges

  3. One-pass-away help


If you still haven’t gotten your fill of Aztecs analysis, have no fear. Two more tidbits for you here:

Now, we finally say goodbye to San Diego and begin to head back east, with a quick stop in Texas.

We’ve written and produced much this year about the Baylor defense, including some their emphasis of the “no-middle” philosophy and some of the comparison’s to last year’s Texas Tech squad. Here, a look at the Bears blocked shots stemming from the no-middle concept:

Moving from Texas brisket and dry rub to North Carolina pulled pork and sauce, we find ourselves in Raleigh, where N.C. State pulled off a shocking 22-point drubbing of Duke — which the Wolfpack controlled throughout — on their home court.

How did they pull it off? And will other teams be able to replicate the same type of success against the Blue Devils heading into March? Here’s a postgame scouting thread from the dominant win (click/tap through for full thread):

Finishing off the roundup this week, we leave Raleigh and start a-heading west to Johnson City, Tennessee — where East Tennessee State sits atop the Southern Conference. It’s another terrific year for the top tier of the SoCon (more on that next week) — and in a league with plenty of schematic quirks, ETSU continues to delight X’s and O’s enthusiasts — here’s some of their latest:

Got Feedback?

We love hearing from you; whether it’s suggestions, concerns or no-strings-attached compliments.

If you have anything you’d like to share, feel free to reply to this email, click/tap through to comment on the post, or reach out to us on Twitter, @hoopvision68 or @Edgar_Walker.

That’s it for this week!

Were you forwarded this email by a friend, colleague or coach? If you enjoyed it and would like to receive original research, insider access, and strategic analysis of college basketball on a regular basis, please tap/click the button below to either share this post, or the one above to subscribe to Hoop Vision Weekly and/or Hoop Vision Plus.