Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Brazil Beats Puerto Rico 57-56

Brazil won 57-56 in what ended up being an ironic ending to Puerto Rico's chance to medial at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship. Puerto Rico struggled on the defensive end all night. Simply put their defense on the perimeter was horrific. Brazil was able to get wherever it wanted all night long. The last two plays plays of the game summed up the tournament for Puerto Rico. With less then 30 seconds to go Brazil was able get into the paint and both Puerto Rico big men, Chris Negron and Nicholas Washington were there to help and force a pass but nobody was there to help the helpers. This has been the the storyline for Puerto Rico all tournament. Puerto Rico was unable to execute defensive rotations and it cost them in the end.

Even after their failure to defend on the last defensive possession of the game for Puerto Rico, Jhivvan Jackson caught the ball with less then 4 seconds to go and had an open look for three to win. Many questioned why Jackson didn't penetrate try to get a closer look but big time players like Jackson take big time shots. He had been one of Puerto Rico best players all tournament.
Had he made it he would have been a hero. He missed it and that's simply part of the game.

While Puerto Rico didn't medal, they did qualify for the U19 World Championship next summer. This is probably the end of an era for this group of kids. With new leadership in the Federacion and mumblings of a new coaching staff for next summer there are no guarantees that anyone's spot is guaranteed for next years' team.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Canada Shows Puerto Rico What The Next Level Looks Like

Canada once again showed why they are one of the best teams in this tournament with a 83-66 win over Puerto Rico in the FIBA Americas U18 Semifinal.  Canada dominated the game from the outset and never allowed Puerto Rico to come within 10 points since going up 15-3 in the first quarter.

Puerto Rico looked tired and the entire team seemed to be satisfied with qualifying for the World Championship the day before against the USVI. Coach Ortiz looked to their bench to try and create some energy early in the game but to no avail. You could see the lack of emotional interest by almost everyone on the team and it showed in their style of play.

What has hurt Puerto Rico throughout the tournament and continued to plague them yesterday was their inability to protect the ball.  The team had a total of 23 turnovers and only 9 assists. That speaks to what we saw yesterday with almost everyone on the team playing one on one basketball.  Puerto Rico shot a total of 22 three point shots making only 5.  Those 17 misses turned into easy transition buckets for Canada. 

A bigger problem moving forward for Puerto Rico may be the teams refusal to stay committed to playing team defense. The refusal to help the helper was evident throughout the game with the team struggling all night to make second and third rotations. It's a problem that has plagued Puerto Rico throughout this tournament.  

An Atlantic-10 Assistant Coach who watched yesterday's game said this about Puerto Rico's play yesterday, " What I saw yesterday was really really bad. They have a lot of players who have no idea how to play selfless basketball. And some of their players just refused to play defense. It's almost like they didn't care about the game but instead focused on padding their individual statistics."

This mindset has become the norm with many young players and it can destroy the fabric of a team. You could see this happening yesterday with players bickering and fighting with each other over the failure of some guys to commit to playing defense on every possession.  It became a pattern time after time with players from Puerto Rico not being able to stay in front of their man.  If you cannot defend, you cannot compete with elite teams. 

Lets see if the players from Puerto Rico will commit to playing for each other or we will see another ugly performance of Me vs. We.  We have watched four games thus far and have yet to see the players call one huddle during the game. Teams that play for each other and are connected typically call anywhere from 5-10 huddles a game. A team that never huddles is a team that is selfish by definition. 

We play Brazil for third place and a bronze medal later today, lets see if Puerto Rico can do three very simple things. If they do they have a chance at beating a very talented Brazilian Team. 

1. 12 Turnovers or less
2. 45 Rebounds In Total
3. 20 Assists

Friday, July 22, 2016

Puerto Rico Qualifies For World Championship With Win Against The USVI

Puerto Rico started off slow and then got things going in the second half for a 85-61 win versus the USVI. Ethan Thompson led all scorers with 24 points.  Christian Negron led the team with 11 rebounds and PG Jhivvan Jackson had 15 points and 4 assists.

The team from the VI which has yet to win a game in the tournament started off strong. They took an early lead playing a 2-3 zone on defense and attacking the rim off the dribble offensively. Puerto Rico's Head Coach Danny Ortiz made the necessary adjustment bringing in Jorge Pacheco who went 6/12 from inside the arc and finished with 15 points in what was the best game of the tournament for Pacheco. Puerto Rico struggled early in the game against the zone.

With the win Puerto Rico, quailed for the 2017 FIBA Americas U19 World Championship. Brazil, Canada and Team USA also qualified from the Americas. Those 4 teams which play todayn the semifinals of FIBA Americas all received an automatic bid to the World Championship. Puerto Rico plays Canada this afternoon at 4:45p.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Puerto Rico Beats Chile 70-60

Puerto Rico finally played up to it's potential last night beating Chile 70-60. In what was a critically important game for both teams Puerto Rico played fantastic team basketball.  With a sold out arena and thousands of Chilean fans in attendance this was a huge night for Chilean basketball and their U18 team in particular. This team has been nurtured and developed for the last 5 years.  Next years' U19 World Championship was the ultimate goal. All Chile had to do was beat Puerto Rico at home to qualify. Puerto Rico played the role of dream killers last night.

Jesus Cruz led Puerto Rico scoring with 15 points. Ethan Thompson had 12 points and 7 rebounds. Cruz, Thompson and Jhivvan Jackson pushed the tempo and attacked holes in the defense. Leandro Allende who sat out of the USA game due to injury made a couple of big three point shots which helped keep Puerto Rico in the game. Jorge Pacheco gave PR some solid play at PG as well.

One the things we saw last night which we didn't see against Team USA was the overall competitive spirit. Puerto Rico is loaded with talent and when they play together and and are locked in defensively, they can compete with anybody in this tournament. The 4th quarter of last night's game was a great example of this.  When Chile needed PG Nicolas Aquirre and Center Filipe
Haase to impose their will on the game, Puerto Rico did all the things winning teams do defensively. They communicated at a high level, their defensive rotations were pretty much flawless and they consistently helped the helper. PF Nick Washington, who really gave Puerto Rico nothing against Team USA showed up on the defensive end in a major way.  He fought Haase Chile's 6'10 250 pound Center all night for position and took Haase completely out of the game in the 4th quarter. PF Adrian Ocasio also gave Puerto Rico some really productive minutes.

Overall Puerto Rico took a big step in the right direction last night.  A win against the USVI this afternoon guarantees them a spot in the U19 World Championship.  The US Virgin Islands is not a team to be underestimated. They have not gotten a win yet in the tournament but are talented and could pose some matchup problems for Puerto Rico.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

5 Things Puerto Rico Must Do To Beat Chile

Puerto Rico U18 plays Chile's U18  team tonight at 8:45pm in what could be the game that determines who qualifies for the U19 World Championship from their bracket next summer in Egypt. Team USA looks like a lock so there is only one spat left. The two teams know each other fairly well given Chile spent 4 days in Puerto Rico earlier this month and the two scrimmaged against each other several times.

Chile is led by PG Nicolas Aguirre and C Filipe Haase. Aguirre is widely considered to be the best amateur PG in South America and Haase who verbally committed to Colorado State is a 6'10 workhorse who can score from the block and knock down jumpers from behind the arc. The team does a great job of feeding the ball into the post and their guards understand the value of cutting hard to the basket and creating space to Haase to wheel and deal. Haase is an above average passer and finds open shooters when double teamed. PG/SG Ignacio Arroyo is often the recipient of those passes and knocks down open looks consistently. He led the team in scoring last night vs. ISV 16 points. 

Chile is an incredibly disciplined team with players who know and accept their roles. They rarely take bad shots and always look to make the extra pass. The arena is sold out for tonight's game and like almost all home game that matter when you are playing away Puerto Rico must accept that they are starting the game down 10 points. They must accept that over the course of the game the referees may make up to five calls that are in favor of the home team and will cost Puerto Rico up to 10 points. Tonight is a huge night for Chilean Basketball. This team, the home team has been nurtured and developed for years to get to this point. One game at home to qualify for the 19U World Championship. 

Puerto Rico is also in an unique position. They get to play the role of spoiler. Typically Puerto Rico has been the favorite in most of the games they play in FIBA. Yesterday was an exception and USA proved why they are on a completely different level then PR. But tonight the U18 Team from Puerto Rico can prove itself to be a team or what some are suggesting is a group of all stars uncommitted to playing and sacrificing for each other. Only time will tell which one the players decide they want to be. 

We have put together a list of 5 things Puerto Rico must do to beat Chile at home. 

1. Accept Roles and Responsibilities/Energy Generating Behavior"EGB"-Thus far we have seen players do all sorts of things that are not consistent with the roles they need to play to help the team win. Tonight must be about WE not ME.  Each player needs to focus on finding a way to help the team win other than scoring. At the next level they call it getting "EGBs". Energy Generating Behavior is infectious and when players accept their roles and focus on how to get EGBs it changes the way the team plays.  

2. Play Team Defense and Help The Helper-Chile is the most disciplined and selfless team in the tournament. They often make five passes in a possession before taking a shot. For a poor defensive team this could be a nightmare. Puerto Rico will need to stay focused on their collective rotations and limit open looks for Aguirre and Arroyo. Defense is the calling card for any team trying to steal a game away from home. Thus far, Puerto Rico's team defense has been average. They can't allow Aguirre to get hot early and they must defend Haase intelligently sending different players from different places to double team him. Both guards and bigs must aggressively close out on scorers and not become spectators on the defensive end. 

3. Act Like A Championship Team/Leadership- The entire team from Puerto Rico are really good kids. But, we have seen no leadership from anyone on the team. Players like Cruz, Washington, Allende and Pacheco need to provide leadership and pull guys into huddles and be more vocal during timeouts.  They were part of a team that finished 5th in the world in 2014. There was an energy and vibe with that team. You could see everyone was all in and playing for each other all the time.  Who will emerge as a leader tonight vs Chile?

4.   Turnover/Assist Ratio, 3 Pt FG% and Rebounds-There are three statistics we at IPRB believe are the baseline for winning games. First, as a team we need to be at a three to one (3 to 1) assist to turnover ratio. We would like to see 20 assists and less then 7 turnovers as a team.  Second, every open look from three is not necessarily a good look. We went four for twenty four (4-24) from behind the arc yesterday. Most of those looks were rushed and not in the flow of the offense. There is almost always a better shot available then a long range 3. Puerto Rico must shoot over 30% from behind the arc and shoot no more 16 3-point shots in total.  Lastly, we must rebound the ball as a team and limit Chile to one shot per possession and grab over 40 rebounds as a team. 

5.  Aguirre, Haase and Arroyo Cannot Be Allowed To Beat Puerto Rico/Apply Pressure-Aguirre is streaky and can become deadly if you let him play his game. He has not proven he can make contested shots consistently.  Haase is an emotional player who plays harder when he is successful early. And Arroyo gives the entire team confidence when he knocks down open threes. Puerto Rico must prevent the big three for Chile from getting off early.  There must be a high level communication on where the three of them are on the court and every shot must be contested. There is a lot of pressure on Chile to win tonight and someone other then Aguirre, Haase and Arroyo must be the guy to do that. If Puerto Rico is going to win this game tonight, it's going to be because they contained Chile's big 3. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

USA Beats Puerto Rico 103-70 In Opening Game of 2016 U18 FIBA Americas Championship

Valdivia, Chile

Team USA dominates Puerto Rico winning 103-70 in the first game at The FIBA Americas 18U Championship in Valdivia, Chile. Puerto Rico played the first 5 minutes of the game neck and neck with Team USA. But  Team USA's Head Coach Shaka Smart's full court press  "Havoc"  forced Puerto Rico to play much faster then it's accustomed to. The full court press forced Puerto Rico to turn the ball over 26 times. Those turnovers led to multiple dunks in transition.

 In contrast, Puerto Rico went 4-24 from behind the 3-point line and struggled to get anything going in the half court. You could really see how the pressure by Team USA forced Puerto Rico to make really bad decisions with the ball and rush shots. Everybody for Puerto Rico had a single digit efficiency rating with the exception of one player, Christian Negron. Negron was fantastic today.  He may have been the best player on the floor.  Negron played above the rim, showed his array of offensive moves and led Puerto Rico with 23 points, 13 rebounds and 3 assists.

A Big East Assistant Coach said about Negron, "He was by far the most active player for Puerto Rico and without question he can play in the Big East. He is big time player who is probably not under the radar anymore after today's game. He is explosive off the floor, plays with an edge and really showed me something tonight. I'm incredibly impressed because he played his best game of the summer against Team USA. That's saying something."

There has been much speculation regarding how much Puerto Rico would put into this game today given that in order for them to qualify for the World Championship next summer, all they need to do is win two of the three games in their pool. The other two teams in the pool are Chile and US Virgin Islands. Clearly Coach Ortiz was open to seeing if the team was up for the challenge of beating Team USA but his smartest move may have been to rest SG Leandro Allende who did not dress today due to an unspecified injury. Ortiz opted to change the starting line up and rotation today against USA which given his experience as a seasoned coach with tons of FIBA experience may end up making a lot of sense. Several key players including Washington, Pacheco, Cruz, Thompson and Jackson will need to show up tomorrow and play much better then they did today. Collectively those 5 went 15/44 from the field and had 17 turnovers. That's simply not good enough for Puerto Rico to advance in this tournament.

Puerto Rico was unable to do any of the 5 things we suggested they needed to do to beat Team USA. Chile is no cake walk so Puerto Rico will need to put this loss behind them and go from there. To be sure Puerto Rico must get better play from their starters and a more consistent approach to running Coach Ortiz's offense.

Monday, July 18, 2016

All You Need To Know About "Havoc"

For those of us who have studied Shaka Smart's rise in the coaching ranks the word "havoc" always seems to be prevalent when speaking about Coach Smart.  He is a guy who values the importance of branding. Take the use of havoc. It typically is not associated with anything positive yet everything about Coach Smart's style of plays seem to have be incredibly positive. He went from an assistant at University of Akron to the Head Coach at The University of Texas. Quite a run in a short period of time. And at the front of that run is his track record are the letter h-a-v-o-c.

Suffocating full court presses with aggressive defenders flying all over the place is nothing new.  Big John Thompson and his Hoyas ran this system in the early 80s, Rick Pitino and the Wildcats did the same during their run to a National Championship and now Coach Smart has taken the system and branded it as "Havoc". It's organized chaos on the court but don't be fooled. This defensive scheme requires players who have both incredible mental conditioning and mental discipline. If you don't have the right personnel there are more holes in this defense then a slice of cheese.

It will be interesting to see if his team of all stars, the U18 Team USA is capable of running havoc during the FIBA Americas U18 Championship which starts tomorrow in  Valdivia, Chile. It will also be interesting to see if any of Team USA's opponents are able to withstand 4 quarters of havoc Team USA style.

The guys over at SB Nation published a revealing piece that helps breakdown Coach Smart's various defenses. It is truly a tutorial that all coaches should take the time to study.