Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wacky Punch Day

From Forde Minutes:

"Spies tell The Minutes that a Big East coach who shall remain nameless (38) recently got into a halftime argument with one of his assistants in a hallway outside the locker room. According to a source, it escalated to the point where punches were thrown."

Hmm, who could this be?

No Chance
John Thompson III - Never gets emotional on the sideline.
Jim Boeheim - Have you seen pictures of him when he was younger? He's a pencil-necked geek.
Jay Wright - Would have messed up his hair.
Jamie Dixon - He's a pencil necked-geek and it would have messed up his hair.
Stan Heath - Would have messed up his hair, and he doesn't even have any.
Rick Pitino - Long win streak, nothing to get upset about.
Tom Crean - Unable to make sarcastic comment since G-town plays Marquette on Saturday.
Mick Cronin - Too small to start a fight.

Possible
Fred Hill - Too small to start a fight, but I still see him hooking the legs and taking someone out. Maybe its a New Jersey thing.
Jim Calhoun - I always feel like you could see him ordering a hit, maybe it was during the USF game.
Jerry Wainwright - He always seems calm when I've seen him, but he's had moments, and check out this photo.
Mike Brey - May have heard the rumor that he is going to Indiana.
Norm Roberts - May have heard the rumor that he is not staying at St. John's.
Tim Welsh - The Rhode Island media is too intense.

The likely suspect
Bob Huggins - You know you thought of him first.

The actual suspect - (See speculative article)
Bobby Gonzalez - Maybe that's why they never offered him the St. John's job.


That boring ACC
Back in January, I pointed out how the ACC was on pace for a record number of close games The season started with 22 close games in the first 43. I haven't checked the numbers again lately, but assuming the Wake Forest - Maryland announcers were correct, there have now only been 28 ACC games decided by 3 points or less or overtime. Seems like February was a pretty boring month. (Incidentally, Maryland held on to beat Wake Forest by 4.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Final Twelve

Most websites will list the "last 12", but I prefer to tally the "final 12". I.e., teams have only played about 8 of these.

Who’s Hot
Undefeated in Final 12: Tennessee, Texas, Xavier

Only One Loss in Final 12: North Carolina, UCLA, Stanford, Notre Dame, Louisville, Connecticut, Indiana, Purdue, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, Memphis, Butler, BYU, Kent St.

Who’s Not
Already Four Losses in Final 12: Washington St., Kansas St., Pittsburgh, Oklahoma, Arizona St., Arizona, Ohio St., Florida, Syracuse

Already Five Losses in Final 12: Oregon, Baylor, Rhode Island, Dayton

Note: I assume everyone plays at least one conference tournament game, so I started counting with the 11th to last game of the regular season. Wow, no wonder it seems like Georgetown (6-2 in the final 12) is cold, the other three Big East leaders are on fire.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Hug, The Drought, Three Dog Night, and other anecdotes

Game of the Night that Everyone Watched

Huh, both teams shot under 40%, the score was in the 60’s – sounds like a boring Big Ten game to me. Oh how the box score lies. If you didn’t enjoy Memphis vs Tennessee, you just aren’t a college basketball fan.

-Can you believe Tennessee (with a 3 point lead) gave the foul and sent Memphis to the line rather than risk a tying three pointer?

-Can you believe Dick Vitale accurately predicted that Memphis’ amazing three point shooting could not be sustained through the whole game?

-What about Joey Dorsey getting in J.P. Prince’s face and talking trash when Prince tried to go to the free throw line in the final minute? (This happened not once, but twice mind you.) And what about the cruel fate of the 47% free throw shooter make both shots to spite Dorsey? Memphis has come a long way in terms of earning national respect, but Dorsey threw a lot of it away in that final sequence.

-So where was the DDM offense? OK, I actually thought Memphis did some unique stuff, including a great sequence of passes near the end of the game that didn’t result in a basket, but as I expected, a team with quick guards was able to slow down the Memphis penetration. Memphis essentially became a jump shooting team and when they weren’t taking 3 pointers, they were taking 8-foot jumpers instead. Those aren’t horrible shots, but they do give ammunition to those who think that Memphis is really missing an offensive post-player.

Calipari may be able to sell high school guards on his new offense, but I’m still not a big believer that he has re-invented the wheel. As I said a few days ago, the numbers say that Memphis wins on defense. The Tigers ability to force turnovers while holding Tennessee to a low shooting percentage kept them in the game more than the DDM.

But while the Tigers did get 10 steals and 9 blocks, Tennessee’s guards consistently fell back and limited the transition game for the Tigers. I remember one sequence where Tennessee took a three pointer and three(!) Volunteer players had already sagged back defensively and were nowhere to be seen for a rebound. Now that’s a commitment to transition defense.

Game of the Night that No One Watched

Trailing by three points with less than 10 seconds left, Utah’s Tyler Kepkay tried to catch New Mexico off guard. Kepkay went for a two pointer instead of a three. He promptly missed before putting in his own rebound as time expired. Look, I’m all for extending the game, but if you take a two with that little time left, you better make sure you make it.

New Mexico broke an 18 game losing streak at Utah and with first place BYU visiting New Mexico soon, Steve Alford’s club has a legitimate chance of climbing into the at-large discussion.

Game of the Night that wasn’t available in most homes

Most of the time this season, the bonus games available on the Big Ten Network have been painful to watch. And on paper, Indiana vs Northwestern was no exception. Yes, Northwestern had been competitive in Bloomington, and yes you wondered how the players would respond without Sampson. But who knew the game would be this good? Some quick thoughts:

- Dan Dakich is really heading towards Gene Keady territory with the hair. I hate to rub it in, but when you become the head coach and they show your face on TV every five seconds, it needs to be said.

-Umm, random Northwestern fans. You know you are winless in the Big Ten right? So when they pan the camera by you, please don’t say, “We’re number one.” Say “Go Team”. Say “Let’s go.” But please don’t say “We’re number one.” Actually, that goes for all non-Tennessee fans. This is quite possibly the only crowd behavior more idiotic than yelling “overrated” which implicitly implies that your team’s dominance is not that impressive. Or, to put it another way - wow, you must really suck to lose to us. On a related note, I have no problem with chants of “airball”, “fouls on you”, or “NIT”.

-Welcome to Indiana North. When Indiana went on a big run to take the lead, I momentarily thought there were more Indiana fans than Northwestern fans at the game. (Hey, it happens. See Georgetown note below.)

-How did Kevin Coble score 37 points? I mean really. Doesn’t Indiana have any shut down defenders? I’m looking forward to someone scoring 32 in the NCAA tournament against Indiana and me leaning over and saying, “That’s almost as many as Kevin Coble got against them.”

-An Indiana fan I know pointed out that he usually adds 6 points to any Indiana lead because Gordon is so terrific at drawing fouls and making free throws at the end of the game. And for a moment, the game appeared headed that way. Gordon drew contact and made two free throws with 30 seconds left to give his team a 3 point lead. But then the fun began.

-So let’s start with the premise that the announcers mention the same factoids about player’s every game. For example, they always mention that Gopher’s freshman Blake Horfarber made a shot from his back to win the state title. (Trust me, if the Gophers get good at some point in the next 3 years, you too can get very sick of this piece of video footage.) Similarly, they always have to say how Tennessee’s Tyler Smith transferred because his dad died, how Kevin Coble’s mom had cancer, and in this instance, how Northwestern freshman Michael Thompson was the first Chicago City League player to attend Northwestern since the beginning of time.

So with Indiana leading by 3 and keying on Coble, it was up to Michael Thompson to try to win the game. Thompson drove the left side of the lane and made a lay-up to cut the lead to one. Then Indiana in-bounded it to Gordon on the premise that the lead would once again be 3 points. Then something occurred, that Indiana fans might affectionately call “the Hug”. A Northwestern player appeared to wrap his arms around Gordon causing him to lose balance and travel. Upon further review the contact was actually pretty limited, but it still gave the ball back to Northwestern down 1 with a chance to win a Big Ten game.

So of course Thompson, the man who had just hit the lay-up, the man who could end a winless streak in conference, the only Chicago City League player at Northwestern since the beginning of time, the savior, drove the lane and missed the lay-up. (Kudos to DJ White for terrific position defense on the play.) And Northwestern remains winless in Big Ten play.

But hey, Northwestern and Oregon St. may be winless in conference play, but NJIT just ended their second season in Division 1 at 0-29, the most every losses for a team to go winless. Ouch.

What about Kansas vs Oklahoma St.?!!! Wasn’t that a great game!?!

Oh, that was good too. I just don’t have much to add. Arthur fouled out. Also, Byron Eaton is playing much better. In his last 5 games, he’s shot 60% from the floor while still making it to the line at an unbelievable rate. He made 14 of 16 free throws against Baylor and 16 of 18 against Kansas. Look, I was down on him early in the year when his numbers were down across the board relative to his career averages, but now that he’s finally playing well, his team is finally clicking. Too bad they had that 6 game losing streak at the start of Big 12 play.

Butler-Drake

What was more irritating?

-The end of the game involving a painful sequence of fouls.

-Some Butler fans throwing things on the court when it was apparent their team was going to lose. (Every school has some idiot fans who try to make everyone else look bad. See Illinois - beeds)

-ESPN cutting away while action was going on and showing video of Bruce Pearl with the weak tagline that Pearl once was an assistant under Keno’s father. Look, I already hate the in-game promotion, but do you have to run a video during the final two minutes of a close game?

Games that may only interest me

-Is Illinois trying to lose these games? With just under 13 minutes left in the game, Illinois went on an 11 minute FG drought. This is just embarrassing. How can you not score at all at the end of the game? The poor offense allowed Michigan to take the lead and hold on to win. McCormick said it well, “Michigan now leads by 4. And in this game, that’s huge!”

-Because DC is a city full of people from other parts of the country, there are always a lot of road fans at the Georgetown games. It pisses me off, but I accept it. What surprised me is while Syracuse clearly had the most road fans this year, Cincinnati's small group of fans were quite possibly the loudest road fans of the season. I think the student section from Cincinnati must have made the commute. Hats off to them for their enthusiasm.

-What has happened to Marcus Sikes this year? His minutes and production are down across the board. Last year Sikes scored 19 against Georgetown and he didn’t even check into this game until late in the first half. I really respect Mick Cronin, but I believe players can reach a comfort zone in some road arenas. And to not involve a player in the game plan who burned the Hoyas last year, seemed like a mistake.

-Chris Berman nickname alert: For the first time in awhile I got to bust out my moniker for Doc River’s son Jeremiah when he stole the ball and took it in for a hang-on-the-rim dunk. “Jeremiah was a Bulldog. Was a good friend of mine. And the Hoyas hand Cincinnati their worst loss of the season, 73-53.”

Friday, February 22, 2008

MAA Watch February Update

28 of the last 29 national champions have had at least one McDonald’s All-American, so I thought I’d post the MAA numbers one more time. That said, I find it a little amusing that the big game between #1 Memphis and #2 Tennessee involves only one MAA, Derrick Rose.


Player, Team                   PPG  RPG  APG ORtng eFG%
Kevin Durant, Texas 2007-08    25.8 11.1 1.3 116.5 53.6

Prolific and Efficient         PPG  RPG  APG ORtng eFG%
FR Michael Beasley, Kansas St. 25.4 12.5 1.3 120.1 58.0
JR Tyler Hansbrough, UNC       23.1 10.7 0.8 127.5 55.2
FR Eric Gordon, Indiana        21.7  3.2 2.5 116.2 57.0
FR Jerryd Bayless, Arizona     21.2  2.9 4.4 117.9 58.1
FR Kevin Love, UCLA            17.1 11.0 1.8 129.2 62.4
JR Richard Hendrix, Alabama    18.6 10.2 1.6 118.5 62.5
SR DJ White, Indiana           17.2 10.4 0.8 120.5 62.3
FR James Harden, Arizona St.   17.7  5.0 2.8 116.6 58.7
SR Malik Hairston, Oregon      16.4  4.9 2.2 121.4 59.8
FR Patrick Patterson, Kentucky 16.6  7.7 1.8 116.2 58.7

The Sweet Spot                 PPG  RPG  APG ORtng eFG%
SO Brook Lopez, Stanford       19.1  7.9 1.0 109.9 48.6
JR Jon Brockman, Washington    17.7 11.6 1.1 108.4 53.8
FR Donte Greene, Syracuse      17.6  7.4 1.9 107.7 50.7
FR Nick Calathes, Florida      15.3  5.1 6.1 110.5 48.5
FR Blake Griffin, Oklahoma     15.2  9.1 1.9 111.0 56.7
FR J.J. Hickson, NC State      15.2  8.7 1.0 109.9 60.3
RS JR Giddens, New Mexico      15.0  8.5 3.0 109.3 56.0
SR Demarcus Nelson, Duke       15.6  6.1 3.1 112.1 55.5
FR James Anderson, Okl. St.    14.5  3.4 1.1 107.9 54.8
SO Scottie Reynolds, Villanova 16.3  3.0 3.2 107.5 50.3

Surprisingly Efficient          PPG  RPG APG ORtng eFG%
SO D.J. Augustin, Texas        19.2 2.9 6.1 115.9 48.4
SO Wayne Ellington, UNC        16.7 4.1 2.1 120.3 53.8
FR Jonny Flynn, Syracuse       15.2 2.6 5.1 112.6 52.0
FR Kyle Singler, Duke          14.3 6.0 1.4 112.8 58.0
JR Mario Chalmers, Kansas      12.2 2.9 5.0 128.1 63.0
JR Danny Green, UNC            11.4 5.0 2.1 115.5 54.3
RS Drew Lavendar, Xavier       11.3 2.8 4.5 121.6 55.4
SO Jon Scheyer, Duke           11.1 4.2 2.3 124.2 53.2
JR Greg Paulus, Duke           10.8 2.0 3.6 122.2 59.7
RS David Padgett, Louisville   10.6 4.6 1.6 127.5 68.3

Surprisingly Inefficient       PPG  RPG APG ORtng eFG%
FR O.J. Mayo, USC              20.0 4.5 2.9  98.2 51.3
SO Chase Budinger, Arizona     17.2 5.3 2.7 102.8 51.3
SR Joe Crawford, Kentucky      16.8 3.7 2.3 106.8 54.2
SO Darrell Arthur, Kansas      13.8 6.0 0.7 107.5 53.8
FR Kosta Koufos, Ohio St.      13.8 7.0 0.5 107.3 51.0
FR Derrick Rose, Memphis       13.7 4.3 4.3 104.0 48.5
RS Brian Butch, Wisconsin      12.4 6.9 0.9 107.0 47.6
SO Gerald Henderson, Duke      12.2 4.8 1.7 101.3 49.4
SO Earl Clark, Louisville      10.6 8.2 1.6  99.0 45.6
JR Byron Eaton, Okl. St.       10.6 3.2 3.2 108.2 45.0
      
Contributors                    PPG RPG APG ORtng eFG%
SO Robin Lopez, Stanford        9.4 5.9 0.6 104.6 52.1
FR Jai Lucas, Florida           9.2 1.7 2.3 107.4 55.6
SO Sherron Collins, Kansas      9.2 2.1 2.8 103.6 53.9
FR Austin Freeman, Georgetown   9.0 3.3 1.5 113.6 57.1
SO Tweety Carter, Baylor        9.0 1.7 2.8 109.3 52.1
JR Micah Downs, Gonzaga         8.2 3.9 1.5 106.4 55.0
FR Taylor King, Duke            6.8 2.2 0.5 114.8 58.5
FR Nolan Smith, Duke            6.6 1.7 1.6 104.6 55.4
JR Luke Zeller, NotreDame       4.8 2.4 0.4 120.6 56.0
FR Cole Aldrich, Kansas         3.0 3.3 0.1 109.1 50.9

Disappointing                   PPG RPG APG ORtng eFG%
SR Jawann McClellan, Arizona    9.2 3.9 3.0 104.4 50.3
JR Brandon Costner, NC State    9.2 4.8 2.2  92.4 44.9
FR Gani Lawal, Georgia Tech     7.2 3.8 0.3  97.3 58.5
SO Lance Thomas, Duke           4.7 3.2 0.3  99.1 51.4
FR Corey Stokes, Villanova      4.4 2.4 0.6  90.3 39.7
SO Vernon Macklin, Georgetown   3.8 2.1 0.7  94.9 61.4
JR Eric Boateng, Arizona St.    3.7 2.5 0.2  84.0 61.2
SO James Keefe, UCLA            2.2 2.5 0.1  93.9 45.7

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What is so special about the Memphis offense?

-After spending President’s day weekend out of town, I’m back with several notes:

1) Grant Wahl’s article on the Memphis Dribble-Drive-Motion offense has easily been my favorite college basketball article this year, but not for the reasons you might think. What I love is John Calipari’s description of his change in defensive philosophy. In the article he points out that he used to want his defense to rank last in turnovers forced. The idea was that he didn’t want his defenders getting out of position and allowing easy baskets. But, after talking to Walberg, his position has flipped. Calipari now believes that if his team doesn’t force turnovers, his team will spend 70% of the game on the defensive end. Calipari now wants his defense to lead the league in turnovers.

This is critical because not only has this aggressive half-court man-to-man defense led Memphis to the number one defensive rank in the country (according to Pomeroy), it has also made the offense better by giving his guards transition lay-ups. In fact, if you take away all of Memphis’ points off turnovers, their half-court offense has been remarkably pedestrian.

Calipari certainly knows how to sell his offense. If a player dreams of going to the NBA, why not practice beating your man one-on-one, all the time. But besides the recruiting edge, and Walberg’s drills, I’m not sure that the DDM is actually an un-guardable offensive innovation. I have to believe that a team like Kansas or UCLA with multiple quick perimeter defenders can contain the penetration and slow Memphis down in the half-court. (And I don’t think they’ll need to bust out the triangle-and-two to do it.) But, if the Memphis defense keeps forcing steals and shutting down the opposition, that isn’t going to matter.

2) Calipari’s old style of defense hasn’t gone away. In fact, Georgetown appears to subscribe to Calipari’s old philosophy. The Hoyas have the top eFG% defense, but force almost no turnovers. This was perfect last year when Georgetown had the top precision offense in college basketball. After all, if you can score efficiently in the half-court, why take any risks. But, now that Georgetown’s offense is weaker, the lack of a transition game doesn’t give the team another option when the shots are not falling. Couple this with an offense that doesn’t force contact and draw fouls and Georgetown essentially has no safety valve against a top defensive team.

Jeff Green used to be that safety valve. I thought earlier in the season that MAA freshman guards Chris Wright and Austin Freeman could cause enough problems with their quickness to replace Green’s scoring. But with Wright out for the year and Freeman hitting a freshman wall, the team really looks like last year’s team, minus a star player.

3) It will be a huge shame if we don’t get to see UAB’s Robert Vaden in the NCAA tournament this year. In his two most high profile games of the season, Kentucky (33 points, 7 three pointers) and Memphis (27 points), Vaden has been nothing short of sensational.

4) It will be a huge shame if we don’t get to see Baylor’s Curtis Jerrells in the NCAA tournament this year. Jerrells was actually the third highest rated high school player among Scott Drew’s talented group of juniors, but a point guard is often the difference maker, and few have performed better in crunch time than Jerrells. Unfortunately for Baylor, the last four games have been their four worst defensive performances of the year, and now Baylor is in serious danger of missing the tournament. (Ah poor defense, how I like to watch you, and yet you never make it deep into the tournament.) The fact is whether you want to count using the last 10 (0-4 start) or the new last 12 metric (1-5 start), Baylor is almost guaranteed to be discussed as a team collapsing at the end of the year.

5) Year’s Stupidest Technical #2. Trailing by one in the final minute against Texas on Saturday, Baylor “pulled a Webber”. They called a timeout they didn’t have. Year’s Stupidest Technical #3. The interim Oregon St. coach apparently forgot to get the lineup card in for Saturday’s game. This earned a pre-game technical. (The Year’s Stupidest Technical #1 was also a pregame technical. At the start of the Big East schedule, a player was penalized for hanging on the rim during the South Florida / Rutgers warm-ups.) I never knew technical fouls could be assessed before the start of the game and this year I’ve seen two.

6) Is ESPN’s Gameday secretly shot in front of a blue screen with various crowds super-imposed behind them? Because it sure seems like I’m watching tape of the same show every week. Let’s see if these topics sound familiar: Would Memphis be better off with a loss? Which team is the REAL best team in the Big East? Can Kentucky climb onto the bubble? Oh wait, Digger’s highlighter and tie changed color. I guess it must have been a new show after all.

7) The consensus seems to be that Kentucky is playing much better than earlier in the year. But not-so-fast my friend. Is Kentucky really a better team? John Gasaway’s latest rankings show that despite an 8-3 conference record, Kentucky actually has a negative point-per-possession differential in SEC play. (That’s pretty hard to do.) I’m sure the numbers look better if you throw out the game where they scored 11 points in the first half, but I’m still not convinced that this team is playing dramatically better than in the non-conference schedule. They just seem to be performing better in close games.

8) Has there ever been a year where point differential was so closely scrutinized? I’m used to seeing this in football, but not in basketball. Random ESPN News announcer, “UConn has won 10 in a row, but six of those were close wins. It isn’t clear whether UConn is playing that well.” Really, they’ve won 10 in a row! As much as I appreciate tempo free stats, whatever happened to celebrating teams for winning? Are you honestly going to sit back and tell me you like West Virginia more than UConn right now because West Virginia’s wins are always by double digits?

9) Given UConn’s favorable finishing schedule, Craig Austrie may have won the Big East title with his dramatic overtime basket on Saturday. I still can’t believe that shot went in. He looked significantly off balance when he went airborne, although replays do show he was square at the top of his delivery when he took the shot. Seriously, if Austrie loses playing time to Dyson when Dyson comes back, Calhoun should have to give back a Final Four ring. I said from the beginning of the suspension that UConn could be better off without Dyson and nothing about the recent 10 game winning streak has changed my opinion.

10) The most important game of the weekend may have been UNLV at BYU with first place on the line in the MWC. In the earlier meeting at UNLV, BYU turned the ball over 28.8% of the time and had an eFG% of 36.7% leading to a blowout win for UNLV. But roles were reversed on Saturday when UNLV turned the ball over 21.1% of the time and had an eFG% of 31.4% leading to a blowout win for BYU. The good news for BYU is that with just 3 weeks left in the regular season, BYU now has a two game lead in the loss column and BYU is the clear favorite for the regular season title. The bad news for BYU is that the MWC tournament is in Las Vegas and the way these two teams have played on their opponent’s floors, that could be huge. Regardless, both teams remain in the discussion for an at-large bid and the MWC might even get 3 teams this year if things break right.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Mocking the Media

I’ve read a lot of the articles on the NCAA mock bracketing exercise from last week. Generally, I was surprised at how little new information came out. The best recap is probably from the NCAA’s own blog. (Here is a live blog of Day One. Here is a live blog of Day Two.) And as expected, many of the media members that attended wrote columns as well. Here are some of the “free” ones. Here is Clark Kellogg. Here is Andy Katz. Here is Steve Wieberg of USA Today. Here is Marlen Garcia of USA Today. Here is Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News. Here is Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. Here is Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic. Here is Dick Jerardi of the Philadelphia Daily News. Here is Steve Carp of the Las-Vegas Review-Journal. Here is Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard.

A few things stood out to me:

1) The committee mentioned the “last 12 games” in its discussions instead of the “last 10 games”. The AP also had a story suggesting that the NCAA has adopted “last 12” as its new standard since exempt tournaments have expanded the length of the season.

Washington St. cannot be pleased. Washington St. had lost 5 games all year, and the recent 3 game losing streak appeared to be mostly outside the last 10, but now it is smack dab at the start of the last 12. On the flip side, there are plenty of other teams that won games and are happy to start counting early.

I keep track of teams records starting with the 11th to last regular season game (since teams will play at least one conference tournament game). Looking at the at large candidates from the BCS leagues and high majors, here are the teams with good and bad starts to the final stretch:

Undefeated in the final 12 (so far)
Duke
Tennessee
Texas
Texas A&M
UConn
Purdue
Memphis
Xavier
Butler
BYU
Wright St.
All of these teams are 4-0 or better.

4 losses in the final 12
Boston College

3 losses in the final 12
Washington St.
Ole Miss
UMass
Dayton
Oklahoma
Miami(FL)
NC State
Charlotte
Florida
Baylor

It is always important to win at the end of the year, but it is critical for these teams that have started the home stretch on a bad note.

2) Don’t obsess too much about seeding. Michigan St. was seeded as a 2 in one mock bracket, and using essentially the same data, they were seeded as a 4 in another mock bracket. Pitt was a 3 in one bracket, and a 7 in the other bracket. These are huge differences. The average 2 seed wins one more game than the average 4 seed. The average 3 seed wins one more game than the average 7 seed. Differences like this can also mean the difference between earning a near-home game or playing half-way across the continent, so fans have a reason to obsess. But why fill a message board attacking Seth Davis or Joe Lunardi or any other seed predictor when it is obvious that different groups of people putting a different weight on the same numbers can come to starkly different conclusions.

3) The committee specifically said that they do not take margin of victory into consideration. (And neither does the BCS officially.) But one astute comment at the end of the NCAA’s live blog stated it well:

“Because the BCS uses human polls in its ranking, margin of victory is a factor - although not a direct factor. For the same reason, the basketball committee likely uses margin of victory indirectly. When you boil it all down, it's simply the opinion of people, which has to be influenced by margin of victory.”

While the committee may not put Sagarin predictor, or Pomeroy’s Ratings, or Gasaway’s PPP up on the screen in the selection room, to say the committee is unaware of team performance is unrealistic. That’s one the great things about having a committee of people instead of a formula.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Coach Ratings

Which long tenured coaches have not performed?
Which coaches should fill coaching vacancies?
What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of Jim Boeheim and Jamie Dixon?
How many wins does each coach add through recruiting?
How many wins are earned through player development and by earning a better seed in the regular season?
How many wins are earned by exceeding (or not living up to) that seed in the NCAA tournament?
The answers can all be found in my coach ratings!

Click Here for the Numbers
Click Here for the Concept

Yes folks, I finally got around to the update I promised in October.

Changes since last time:
-I incorporate all the recent coaching changes.
-I incorporated the 2007-08 recruiting class data in my rankings.
-I also now use the 1999-2001 recruiting classes for long-tenured coaches.
-I no longer reward coaches for keeping players around for four years / penalize coaches for early entry. I.e., when determining a recruit ranking, I value a recruit based on his expected value only.
-I fixed some of the problems in the database caused by recruits transferring.
-I now use 10 years of NCAA tournament data instead of 5.
-I changed the model for evaluating the importance of talent. This is discussed in the concept link.
-I changed the numbers to represent an annual value instead of a five-year summation.

The Numbers

Time Frame:
I do not list a ranking if there are less than 3 data points.
RECR = 1999-2007, current school only, excludes 1st year at school, up to 9 years
RS = 2002/3-2006/7, last 5 years any school
TOUR = 1998-2007, last 10 years any school (average over tournament appearances)

Key:
WPA = Wins plus appearances
RECR = WPA earned in recruiting
RS = WPA earned in regular season through better seed
TOUR = WPA earned by exceeding (or not living up to) seed in the tournament

How many wins are expected for each seed? I calculate an expected value using data from past NCAA tournaments.

EW Seed
3.36 - 1
2.43 - 2
1.79 - 3
1.52 - 4
1.17 - 5
1.26 - 6
0.87 - 7
0.67 - 8
0.59 - 9
0.63 - 10
0.50 - 11
0.48 - 12
0.24 - 13
0.18 - 14
0.04 - 15
0.00 - 16

TOUR takes actual wins and subtracts off expected wins given seed. I average this for all years that the coach makes the NCAA tournament. If this number is positive, the coach has exceeded seed on average. If this number is negative, the coach has not lived up to seed on average.

The separation of wins earned in recruiting (RECR) and wins earned in the regular season (RS) is more complicated and is explained in the concept section.


Big East      Coach             Recr  RS   Tour  Rating
Connecticut   Jim Calhoun       0.76  2.15  0.78  3.69
Syracuse      Jim Boeheim       0.78  1.41  0.35  2.53
Pittsburgh    Jamie Dixon       0.42  2.13 -0.09  2.47
Georgetown    John Thompson III 0.84  1.01  0.62  2.47
Louisville    Rick Pitino       0.80  1.16  0.27  2.23
Villanova     Jay Wright        0.81  1.12 -0.11  1.82
Marquette     Tom Crean         0.34  1.00 -0.13  1.22
Notre Dame    Mike Brey         0.58  0.33 -0.11  0.80
Providence    Tim Welsh         0.14  0.32 -0.76 -0.29
St. John's    Norm Roberts      0.26 -0.21  
West Virginia Bob Huggins             1.28 -0.78 
South Florida Stan Heath              0.48  0.41 
DePaul        Jerry Wainwright       -0.07  0.07 
Cincinnati    Mick Cronin             0.26  
Seton Hall    Bobby Gonzalez          0.05  
Rutgers       Fred Hill    


FYI: Jim Boeheim gets better recruits than Jamie Dixon. Lately, Dixon has done a better job at winning regular season games and earning a high seed. But Boeheim has had more tournament success. Rick Pitino's rank may seem a little low, but remember this doesn't go back to his days at Kentucky. Pitino has had only one deep tournament run since taking over at Louisville. A few years ago, John Thompson's profile would have looked like Mick Cronin's, but a Big East title and Final Four run can do a lot for you. Notice that Norm Robert's regular season ranking is negative. He's had some talent, albeit a small amount, but hasn't turned that talent into an NCAA bid yet.

Recent Hires: Bob Huggins is a proven winner, at least in the regular season.

Hot Seat: Tim Welsh takes his team to the tournament every few years but hasn't won a tournament game. Could a 4th straight year without an NCAA tournament appearance do him in?


Big 12         Coach          Recr  RS   Tour  Rating
Kansas         Bill Self      1.38  2.20 -0.01  3.57
Texas          Rick Barnes    0.85  2.19 -0.26  2.79
Baylor         Scott Drew     0.47 -0.18  
Missouri       Mike Anderson        0.58  0.44 
Iowa State     Greg McDermott       0.59 -0.44 
Nebraska       Doc Sadler           0.25  
Texas A&M      Mark Turgeon         0.10  
Oklahoma       Jeff Capel III      -0.06  
Colorado       Jeff Bzdelik    
Oklahoma State Sean Sutton    
Kansas State   Frank Martin    
Texas Tech     Pat Knight    


FYI: Scott Drew has a real shot to make the tournament and turn his regular season rating positive this year. His recruiting is nothing short of phenomenal given the situation he inherited at Baylor.

Recent Hires: Of the new coaches, some have proven themselves and won in the tournament before, like Mike Anderson, but many others have inherited their first major coaching job. Jeff Bzdelik has more experience, but he has only recently left the NBA and turned to college coaching.

Hot Seat: Bill Self’s tournament performance looks a little better when you go back 10 years, but he has yet to have a Final Four run at Kansas, and that’s the expectation.


ACC            Coach            Recr  RS   Tour  Rating
North Carolina Roy Williams     1.31  2.61  0.26  4.18
Duke           Mike Krzyzewski  1.42  2.66 -0.19  3.89
Georgia Tech   Paul Hewitt      0.87  0.86  0.30  2.03
Maryland       Gary Williams    0.58  0.87  0.48  1.93
Boston College Al Skinner       0.13  1.76 -0.24  1.64
Florida State  Leonard Hamilton 0.75 -0.49 -0.40 -0.13
Virginia Tech  Seth Greenberg   0.32  0.36  
Clemson        Oliver Purnell   0.22  0.28  
Miami          Frank Haith      0.35 -0.17  
Virginia       Dave Leitao            0.46  
NC State       Sidney Lowe    
Wake Forest    Dino Gaudio    


FYI: Were it not for some recent tournament failures, Coach K would be the top rated coach. Leonard Hamilton has struggled to turn top recruits into victories (as discussed extensively in the spring.) On the other hand, Al Skinner doesn't get the top recruits but he still competes at the highest level in the ACC. Oliver Purnell is still living off the reputation of earning a #4 seed with Dayton, but if he doesn't make the tournament with Clemson this year, he could be in serious trouble.

Recent Hires: Compared to the Big 12, the ACC has very few new coaches. Dino Gaudio has some very talented young players and a great chance to prove himself in the coming years.

Hot Seat: This is a key year for Purnell, Haith, and Hamilton.


Big 10         Coach          Recr  RS   Tour  Rating
Ohio State     Thad Matta     1.13  1.94  0.34  3.42
Michigan State Tom Izzo       0.86  1.22  0.70  2.78
Wisconsin      Bo Ryan        0.49  2.09  0.10  2.68
Illinois       Bruce Webber   0.34  1.89  0.41  2.64
Penn State     Ed DeChellis   0.04  0.04  
Northwestern   Bill Carmody   0.00 -0.02  
Minnesota      Tubby Smith          2.38  0.32 
Indiana        Kelvin Sampson       1.86 -0.21 
Michigan       John Beilein         0.73  1.23 
Purdue         Matt Painter         0.90  
Iowa           Todd Lickliter       0.45  


FYI: Tom Izzo has struggled a bit in the regular season in recent years with some very talented teams. This year he has a chance to move his regular season ranking back up.

Recent Hires: Five terrific hires have been made in the last few years. Tubby Smith was a huge upgrade for Minnesota. Kelvin Sampson's recruiting at Indiana has been outstanding so far. No recent coach has been better at exceeding seed in the NCAA tournament than John Beilein. Todd Lickliter has also been good in the tournament, but he has only made two appearances. And if this season is any indication, Matt Painter might be the best coach of the bunch.

Hot Seat: What exactly has Bill Carmody added to Northwestern? The team had more talent when he started.


Pac10            Coach         Recr  RS  Tour  Rating
UCLA             Ben Howland   1.03 1.81  0.56  3.40
Washington       Lorenzo Romar 0.61 1.31 -0.45  1.47
Stanford         Trent Johnson 0.56 0.57  0.07  1.20
Oregon           Ernie Kent    0.37 0.45  0.06  0.89
California       Ben Braun     0.43 0.36 -0.37  0.42
Arizona State    Herb Sendek        1.02  0.10
USC              Tim Floyd
Washington State Tony Bennett    
Arizona          Kevin O'Neill    
Oregon State     Kevin Mouton    


FYI: Ernie Kent saved his job with a great tournament run last season.

Recent Hires: Herb Sendek is a proven winner, but Tony Bennett proves that sometimes it is worth taking a chance on someone new. Tim Floyd is only in his 3rd year at USC after returning from the NBA, but the early returns have been terrific.

Hot Seat: Jay John is already gone as I predicted in last spring's column.


SEC               Coach           Recr  RS   Tour  Rating
Florida           Billy Donovan   1.09  2.27  0.70  4.07
Vanderbilt        Kevin Stallings 0.33  0.59  0.63  1.56
Alabama           Mark Gottfried  0.68  0.94 -0.19  1.43
Mississippi State Rick Stansbury  0.47  1.14 -0.75  0.86
Georgia           Dennis Felton   0.34 -0.03 -0.34 -0.03
South Carolina    Dave Odom       0.23  0.08  
Auburn            Jeff Lebo       0.32 -0.39  
Tennessee         Bruce Pearl           1.42  0.11 
Kentucky          Billy Gillispie       0.85  0.16 
Arkansas          John Pelphrey        -0.25  
Mississippi       Andy Kennedy    
Louisiana State   Butch Pierre    


FYI: If you want to argue that Donovan is the best coach in the country right now, I wouldn't disagree. Consider that in the last 9 years, Donovan has never earned worse than a 6 seed in the NCAA tournament. Much of the rest of the SEC remains unsettled however. Stansbury has been inconsistent at Mississippi St. Dennis Felton was great at Western Kentucky but hasn't been able to make anything of the disaster Jim Harrick left behind. Jeff Lebo isn't making any progress. And Odom is retiring after failing to revive South Carolina.

Recent Hires: Bruce Pearl has lived up to his reputation. Billy Gillispie looked good on paper, but has struggled early at Kentucky.

Hot Seat: John Brady was just let go. There have been a shocking number of mid-season coaching changes this year.


Notable  Non-BCS Coach          Recr  RS   Tour  Rating
Memphis     CUSA John Calipari  0.74  1.69 -0.13  2.29
Gonzaga      WCC Mark Few       0.24  2.04 -0.08  2.20
S. Illinois  MVC Chris Lowery   0.03  1.67  0.04  1.73
Nevada       WAC Mark Fox       0.00  1.55 -0.21  1.34
George Mason CAA Jim Larranaga  0.00  0.02  1.05  1.07
Saint Joe’s  A10 Phil Martelli  0.05  0.94 -0.27  0.72
UNLV         MWC Lon Kruger     0.25  0.27  0.15  0.66
Pacific       BW Bob Thomason   0.00  0.41  0.20  0.62
George Wash. A10 Karl Hobbs     0.09  0.60 -0.22  0.47
Creighton    MVC Dana Altman    0.06  0.81 -0.41  0.45
Utah State   WAC Stew Morrill   0.00  0.46 -0.13  0.33
Valparaiso   Hor Homer Drew     0.07 -0.05  0.29  0.30
Charlotte    A10 Bobby Lutz     0.21  0.11 -0.36 -0.04
Xavier       A10 Sean Miller    0.30  0.35  
UAB         CUSA Mike Davis           0.38  0.55 
New Mexico   MWC Steve Alford         0.53 -0.19 
Wright State Hor Brad Brownell        0.52 -0.42 
Wichita St.  MVC Gregg Marshall       0.27  0.01 
Temple       A10 Fran Dunphy          0.30 -0.34 
BowlingGreen MAC Louis Orr            0.51
Saint Louis  A10 Rick Majerus               0.26


Many of these schools have better reputations than the lower tier BCS schools. For example, it is probably easier to recruit at UNLV than it is to recruit to Northwestern. Some of these coaches may move to a BCS gig eventually, but others like Dana Altman, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. At the end of the year, I'll discuss some of the coaching vacancy candidates with less experience (such as Keno Davis.)

The Concept

Who are the best coaches?
Ken Pomeroy examined a metric earlier in the year for evaluating coaches. His metric will tend to find the coaches who caused the biggest turnarounds at their programs. This is ideal for predicting the “coach of the year” winner. Or, since the “coach of the year” winner also tends to come from the higher profile conferences, Ken’s metric helps remind us of coaches from the smaller schools who also deserve the “coach of the year” award. Coaches that maintain success at the highest level (such as Coach K at Duke) would receive high rankings in Ken’s system, but never the highest ranking.

In contrast, I develop a metric that rewards sustained success. In my opinion, NCAA tournament wins and appearances are the standard by which coaches are judged. Certainly conference titles, wins against rivals, and other factors matter, but I believe tournament success is the standard. My best example of this is Bo Ryan of Wisconsin. In his 6 years as the Wisconsin head coach, Bo Ryan has finished 1st in the Big Ten twice, 2nd twice, 3rd, and 4th in the Big Ten standings. Those regular season numbers are more consistent than those of Tom Izzo, but Bo Ryan isn’t considered at the same level as Tom Izzo because Ryan has not progressed as deep into the NCAA tournament. NCAA tournament wins plus appearances form the basis for my rankings and I try to determine whether those tournament wins are earned in recruiting, in the regular season, or in the postseason.

Recruiting vs the Regular Season vs the Tournament
In my model I first estimate how well high school talent predicts NCAA tournament wins and appearances. With a value for each type of player, I place a value on each recruiting class and determine the average recruiting class value for each coach at his current school. (This is RECR.) I associate all wins beyond those predicted by talent with coaching ability. (Coaching ability is RS + TOUR) I then separate whether coaches earn the additional tournament wins in the regular season, by earning a high seed (RS), or in the tournament, by winning more than was expected by seed (TOUR). The exact details are a little more complicated and these can be found in the section entitled “Fine Print” below.

What recruiting measures is pretty self explanatory, but it is less clear what RS and TOUR are measuring. I think there are several things you can think about when comparing regular and post-season performance. Does the regular season more accurately describe which coaches are good at player development? Does the post-season more accurately describe which coaches are good game managers, good X’s and O’s coaches? Does this measure the impact of system? For example, do certain systems win more tournament games than regular season games? Or is tournament success more a measure of luck? While regular season success is based on 30+ games, the post-season requires only one bad performance to be over.

How do these measures transfer between schools?
Ideally I’d like to separate whether wins are due to the coach or due to the prestige of the school. One can separate the impact by looking at coaching changes, but there are not enough coaching changes to separately identify all schools. For example, you can’t separately identify the importance of Coach K from the prestige of Duke at this point.

The key is that school prestige should really only impact recruiting. Coaching ability (game management/player development) should be fairly transferable between jobs. This is why the tables list RECR at the current school only, and RS and TOUR at all schools.

Even though I can’t separately identify the prestige of each school, in most cases we can still make an educated guess about how recruiting ability will transfer. For example, when a coach moves from Texas A&M to Kentucky, he should increase his recruiting success. When a coach moves from Kentucky to Minnesota, he should decrease his recruiting success. And in the case of someone like Rick Pitino, whose success is iconic, his recruiting ability would probably translate to just about any school.

Of course if we were just going to make an educated guess, we didn’t need my model. Most people saw Billy Gillispie win at Texas A&M and assumed that at a school as prestigious as Kentucky that Gillispie should win even more. But a key improvement of my model is to control for the talent on hand when a coach takes a new job. Bruce Webber doesn’t get quite as much credit for his Final Four run, because Bill Self left him a team stacked with great players. Meanwhile, Todd Lickliter’s coaching ranking won’t take much of a hit this year because the Iowa team he inherited is not nearly as talented.

Which coach should fill a vacancy?
For most jobs, particularly prestigious institutions, the ability to develop and manage talent is critical. (Teams should choose coaches with high RS and TOUR ratings.) With some adjustments for quality of opposition, if you can teach effective full court pressure at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, you can teach effective full court pressure at Tennessee. And since few mid-majors can recruit BCS level talent every year, the ability to develop players and teach the game is probably all that is measurable for mid-major coaches. By picking mid-major coaches that win in the tournament, athletic directors are essentially picking the mid-major coaches that have high ratings for RS and TOUR.

But for schools where school prestige is a struggle, I would highly recommend spending the money to get a proven winner (ala Minnesota hiring Tubby Smith). If you can’t find a proven winner, I would consider hiring an assistant at a major program with stellar recruiting qualifications over a fundamentally sound mid-major coach because you have to have BCS level talent to have a chance to win in a BCS league.

Harder to Win in BCS Leagues
There exists a market for coaching talent and most BCS schools have more resources. The result is that the top coaches generally end up at BCS schools. And I felt the rankings needed to reflect this. To put it simply, if you put Coach K or Ben Howland at a mid-major, the odds of those coaches succeeding would be very high. On the other hand, if you take Bill Carmody and John Thompson the 3rd from the Ivy league and put them in a BCS conference, the probability of success is uncertain. Therefore I give a slightly lower weight to wins at non-BCS schools. (If I didn’t Thad Matta and John Thompson the 3rd would be rated implausibly high in my opinion.) I determine the weight by looking at non-BCS coaches who move to BCS schools and the success rate. Unfortunately, this also makes coaches like Phil Martelli look a little worse than is probably fair.

Fine Print
Here are some details that are probably not of interest to everyone.

Talent vs Coaching Ability
Identifying the impact of talent is not simple. The coaches that have the most coaching ability end up at the best schools and eventually attract the best recruits. A simple comparison across schools will show that talent has a huge impact on NCAA success, but this may be a proxy for the unobserved ability of the coach. In simple terms, is Duke better than Florida St. this year because Duke has 8 McDonald’s All-Americans or because Coach K develops players better than Leonard Hamilton? Instead of looking across coaches, we can try to solve this problem by looking within coaches over time. For example, we can examine whether Thad Matta won more games when he had three McDonald’s All-Americans than when he had one. I focus on the within coach variation in the current version of the tables.

Because talent no longer includes spurious coach ability, the estimated effects of talent are smaller, the value added through recruiting is smaller, and the value added in the course of the regular season (through player development and game management) is higher.


Model            Current    Previous
Coach            Recr  RS   Recr  RS  
Roy Williams     1.31  2.61 3.37  0.66
Mike Krzyzewski  1.42  2.66 3.69  0.21
Paul Hewitt      0.87  0.86 2.19 -0.01
Gary Williams    0.58  0.87 1.46 -0.21
Al Skinner       0.13  1.76 0.34  1.41
Leonard Hamilton 0.75 -0.49 1.86 -1.37
Seth Greenberg   0.32  0.36 0.80  0.06  
Oliver Purnell   0.22  0.28 0.58 -0.19  
Frank Haith      0.35 -0.17 0.90 -0.79  


I feel like the current model is more appropriate, but the within model still has several potential problems. For example, in some within specifications that I did not use, holding the amount of older talent constant, having more young talent actually predicts less NCAA success. This certainly doesn’t make intuitive sense. If you have the same number of talented older players and add one talented young player, you shouldn’t be worse off. (You could always leave that player on the bench.) The problem is that coaches tend to obtain the largest volume of young talent when 1) the upperclassmen have underperformed, and 2) after mass exoduses to the NBA. Here the young talent proxies for years when the team is expected to win less. More generally, the talent level will depend on the expectation about the team, and the variation over time may not be random. In the future I might try a propensity score model or find some sort of creative IV to improve my estimates of the impact of talent.

Note on Time Periods
My recruiting data lasts from 1999-2007, but I can only evaluate the regular season performance after 2002 because I want to control for the talent level in each year. The players in the 1999 data are seniors in 2002. I believe that 5 years is enough to get a good sense of regular season performance, but given the small sample of tournament games, and the fact that one bad outcome can end a season, I expanded the tournament metric to include the last 10 years worth of tournament performances.

The combined rating measures the annual expectation of wins plus appearances, but since each component is measured using a different time period, it shouldn’t necessarily add up to actual wins plus appearances over any particular time period. For a coach like Coach K, who was at a school for 10 years, and was in the tournament every year, the numbers should be close. Coach K had 10 appearances and 28 wins over the decade or 3.8 wins plus appearances per year and his rating is 3.89.

The rating of 3.89 may also be high because Duke has been hurt by unexpected early entry. For coaches that change jobs, the rating will also vary because it will depend on inherited talent. Finally, since tournament performance is averaged over actual appearances, if a coach misses the tournament frequently, this number should not be considered relevant in every year. Nonetheless, the rating can be considered a long-term expectation of wins plus appearances for coaches that make the tournament just about every year. If this all sounds too convoluted, you can always defer to actual tournament wins in the last 10 years.

What an ending!

With Wisconsin up by 1 point the following sequence unfurled:

-Armon Bassett penetrated into the lane and hit a short jumper. Indiana leads.

-Brian Butch slid past DJ White and made a short lay-up. Wisconsin leads.

-DJ White caught the ball at the top of the free throw lane and calmly knocked down a jump shot. Indiana leads.

-Marcus Landry missed a jumper but had perfect timing on the rebound and tipped in his miss. Wisconsin leads.

-Eric Gordon drew contact earning a one-and-one. He calmly made both shots. Indiana leads.

-Brian Butch took a screen at the top of the circle and from the 45 degree angle banked in a ridiculous three pointer. Wisconsin leads.

-Jamarcus Ellis missed a three pointer. Wisconsin won.

In a conference known for fabulous defense, these two teams fighting for a Big Ten title exchanged one of the best offensive endings in recent memory. Six lead changes in the final two minutes, and one 7 foot senior center doing the unthinkable.

Butch started the year 3 of 32 from three point range. I openly questioned his shot selection, and so did the Wisconsin media. But after a recent 7 of 11 stretch from downtown, Butch had confidence, and the 5th year senior made the three pointer to keep his team in the hunt for a Big Ten championship.

Illinois fans will enjoy the karma after seeing Gordon bank in a three to tie the Illini a week earliar. Indiana fans disgusted by the reclassification of Sampson’s violations as major and not secondary will grumble under their breath. But I just enjoyed a fantastic ending to a basketball game.

Random Thoughts

-Did Mississippi schedule Presbyterian on Monday to make their last 10 rating look good?

-Texas Tech is 10-0 at home and 2-10 in Road/Neutral games. Perhaps Bob Knight retired because he knew the team was about to go on another road trip. They are back home tonight so will Pat Knight finally get on track by beating Kansas St.?

-What is with Steve Lavin's obscure animal metaphors? First Brian Butch is a polar bear, then on Tuesday Night he described the post players as giant water buffaloes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Are the Cardiac Hoyas the New Evil Empire?

What a year to be a season ticket holder!

You know the video - the one where they montage Hoosiers and Rudy and all these other dramatic movies together to pump up the crowd. Twice the Hoyas have played this video this year and both times the Hoyas have come out of the timeout with Austin Freeman taking a three pointer and missing that three pointer. As far as I’m concerned, the video has to go.

But what a difference it makes being in the arena vs watching the game on TV. In the arena, I thought my team, which had lost 6 straight home games to Villanova, had finally achieved redemption. I thought my team had played fabulous defense, that Corey Stokes had committed a stupid foul, and that my team had won in dramatic fashion. But then I went home to watch the highlights on ESPN and I learned how my team stole a victory for the second time this year. (See Georgetown-West Virginia).

Look, officiating is a forbidden topic for blogging. John Gasaway made that rule and it’s a good rule. But I think it is worth noting that officials were crazy whistle happy in this game. The players were called for 48 total fouls, 4 players fouled out, and 7 others had foul trouble. For whatever reason the officials seemed to think that any contact in the game was unacceptable and the final whistle was perfectly consistent with how the rest of the game was called. The 51 combined fouls shots also helped Villanova stay in the game because Villanova is a much better free throw shooting team than Georgetown.

That said, I agree that the final call was unfortunate. And this certainly adds fuel to the fire of those who want to say the Hoyas are overrated. I think the interesting question is how the committee interprets close wins. For example, if Gasaway’s rankings say that Louisville is better than Georgetown, and if Louisville is now playing at full strength after being devastated by injuries early, should Louisville be seeded higher than Georgetown?

I think the answer is two sided. First, teams don’t generally get punished for winning close. (Does anyone in the committee room say ‘Maryland won at North Carolina, but they didn’t blow them out.’) But the committee does try to prevent teams that are playing exceptionally well from being seeded too low since this punishes other teams. So my guess is that Georgetown won’t take too much of a hit for its close wins, but Louisville will get quite a bit of credit for playing dominating basketball lately.

Numbers matter a lot, but public perception matters a lot at the top lines of the bracket, and that’s why I’m so bummed to see so many people dumping on Georgetown after a fun win. Perhaps I should just take the advice of John Thompson Jr who once said, “I’d rather win ugly than lose and play well.”

But there were plenty of other amazing stats in the Georgetown-Villanova game. I have so much respect for Jay Wright who consistently shuts down Roy Hibbert despite having not a single player who can match up with him one-on-one. The smaller Wildcats outhustled the Hoyas earning 6 more rebounds (season long theme) and forced Georgetown into 17 turnovers. But Villanova shot just 25% on the game, and players not named Scottie Reynolds, shot a combined 18% for Villanova. I’m not sure whether to praise Georgetown’s suffocating defense, or praise Villanova for playing so well in the other facets of the game to overcome that poor shooting. Villanova may not be a tournament team this year, but there’s no doubt that they are a quality win.

Well, like I said at the top, I’ve certainly gotten my money’s worth as a season ticket holder this year. I’ve seen Hibbert hit a 3 to beat UConn, Rivers defending Flynn to hold off Syracuse in overtime, Sapp’s three pointer and Ewing’s block to beat West Virginia, and Wallace calmly making two free throws to defeat Villanova. (Come on Summers and Freeman, let’s make your moment too!) And as a fan you just have to enjoy these moments, even if the rest of the Big East is starting to despise us.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Quick Quiz

Let's say you are Univesity of Washington player Tim Morris, you have no timeouts left, and you are about to get a 5 second violation for not inbounding the ball. What do you do? If you answered, throw the ball as hard as you can at Alfred Aboya's face, you would be correct. I've always wondered if this would be a foul and the answer is apparently "no". Just make sure you get out of the way when the ball ricochets back at you.

Heartbreak
Oh Clemson. You find so many ways to break your fan's hearts. The road losing streak at North Carolina is now 53 years. If Kirk Herbstreit were a basketball commentator, he'd look in the camera and say "More of the same for Clemson. This is just what they do." (Recap here.)

On a side note, I am finally willing to believe the argument that North Carolina's defense is suspect. Clemson took it relentlessly to the tin early in the second half and that is more than just a lack of Ty Lawson.

Northwestern could use an LSU coach, but which one?

-Purdue won in Madison on Saturday despite Wisconsin making 30 of 33 free throws (a plus 18 advantage in free throws made.) The thing that sticks out to me in limited viewing of the team is how many steals Purdue gets while playing solid positioning man-to-man. Most of the leaders in steals (think Minnesota and Tennessee) get those steals by using full court pressure. Purdue gets the steals in the half-court set, and I find that all the more impressive. Purdue had 8 key steals in becoming only the second Big Ten team to ever beat Bo Ryan in Madison. (Recap here.) With four freshman and two sophomores leading the team in minutes played, and with no obvious early entrants, Purdue may have multiple Big Ten titles in the future.

-Speaking of steals, Tennessee needed to rely on its best attribute on Saturday, as JaJuan Smith’s steal and bucket in the final seconds pulled off the 2 point victory over LSU. LSU’s slam dunk at the buzzer was disallowed because the ball was still in Chris Johnson’s hand when the light went on. (Recap here.)

-I still can’t believe that LSU let John Brady go in the middle of the season. Yes the team has struggled massively over the last two years, but you would think a Final Four appearance would be worth a little bit more. The vibe I’ve gotten is that people thought the Final Four run was only due to two NBA caliber players, Tyrus Thomas and Glen Davis, and not Brady’s coaching ability. Moreover, some credited top recruiter Butch Pierre with bringing those players to LSU and not Brady. If Pierre was bringing in the talent, and Brady wasn’t managing the game well, then Brady was expendable as head coach. In an intriguing twist, Pierre is now being given a chance to coach the team to close out the season. If Pierre has even a little success down the stretch, he could easily be the LSU head coach next year (or become a head coach somewhere else.) Of course the irony was heavy on Saturday when Pierre’s team kept the game close against Tennessee only to make critical game management decisions at the end.

-Elsewhere in the SEC, Vanderbilt and South Carolina exchanged dramatic baskets in the final seconds. Teams with outstanding offenses and poor defenses, like Vanderbilt, are very fun to watch. (Recap here.)

-Ironically on a day when Tennessee and Vanderbilt both won in the closing seconds, they also took over 1st in 2nd among BCS conferences in Pomeroy’s luck rating. Whether their great execution is chance or skill, remains in the eyes of the beholder.

-Prompted in part by the LSU and Texas Tech coaching changes, I’ve finally updated my coach rankings. I want to read through my write-up one more time and I’ll try to post the update in the middle of the week. One comment that comes up in my ratings is how Bill Carmody has not made any progress at Northwestern and how the team actually had more talent when he started than it does today. With the team winless in the Big Ten and showing no obvious signs of improvement, I don’t see how Carmody can survive the off-season. However, when I’ve mentioned this to people I know, I actually get a completely different response. Many people seem to feel that Northwestern can never bring in talented players, and that they are better off with Carmody’s unorthodox system keeping them competitive.

I think that this is ridiculous. Yes, Northwestern has high academic standards (but so do places like Vanderbilt), terrible facilities (though no worse than some low level Big East schools), no natural recruiting base (since Chicago kids are recruited by everyone), and Northwestern has the worst possible tradition (zero NCAA appearances). But why shouldn’t Northwestern take a chance on someone like Butch Pierre, an uber-talented recruiter with infectious energy. Just look at what Ron Zook did in bringing top recruits to a struggling Illinois football program or how Tim Brewster brought in a top 20 recruiting class this year to Minnesota, despite a 1-11 record. Players today want to be part of something exciting and I truly believe the right coach could revive even the Northwestern basketball program.

As part of the turnaround, I’d recommend Northwestern pony up the cash and start playing all its Big Ten home games at the United Center (ala Georgetown at the Verizon center, or St. John’s playing its biggest games at Madison Square Garden.) It would be costly at first, but with the right coach, the idea of changing the atmosphere could pay big dividends.

Bracketing 101

- I was somewhat amused to see Joe Lunardi as the analyst in Saturday’s game between Old Dominion and George Mason. I would describe Lunardi’s commentary as more descriptive than insightful, but Dick Vitale has made a career doing that, so I’m pleased to see him getting the opportunity. I’m generally critical of Joe because there are a ton of people who can do relatively good bracket projections, but that’s not really fair to Joe. When Lunardi first started publishing his projections on ESPN, he provided a ton of insight into the process, and I certainly learned a lot from him in those first few years. I still believe die-hard fans should look at the numbers themselves rather than depending on someone else’s evaluation, but for casual fans something like the bracket project is exceptionally useful. On that note, I’m definitely looking forward to the upcoming articles describing this year’s media mock selection process. Here is an article from the NCAA itself.

-Finally, The Bracket Board has some nice posts on the final RPI standings for the Bracket Busters, and how the announced pairings varied from what might have been expected.

See you in a few days with the updated coach rankings!

Friday, February 8, 2008

I make my own luck

I’m not sure why this wasn’t an insider column (like everything else), but Andy Glockner has a nice column that suggests that Georgetown is lucky to be 5-2 against the RPI top 50. Meanwhile, Ken Pomeroy posted a column explaining why the adjusted tempo-free stats still think Illinois is a good team and that his ratings suggest that Illinois has been the unluckiest team in the country. My question today is whether you can learn anything from teams with an extremely high or low luck rating.

For example, in baseball, when a team massively underperforms relative to the Pythagorean standings, this is usually a sign that the team has a poor bullpen. In hockey, when a team massively underperforms relative to goal scored differential, it is usually a sign of poor goaltending. If football had a similar measure, well severe underperformance would probably be a sign that you have Joey Harrington as your QB. (Joey always seems to keep you in the game and then lose at the end.) So what does it mean in basketball when you severely under-perform relative to your adjusted tempo free point per possession differential?

One answer is that it tends to emphasize teams that can’t make free throws. This was never more apparent than in Thursday’s Illinois – Indiana game where Illinois SENIOR Shaun Pruitt went to the line with a chance to win the game and missed badly. (Honestly, how many Illinois fans wished that Lance Stemler had gotten the jump ball call there – possession arrow Illinois – so that Illinois could have taken any shot other than Pruitt at the free throw line.) But extremely bad luck measures more than just poor free throw percentage. A team can have a poor free throw percentage as a whole, but as long as there are one or two players with high free throw percentages to handle the ball at the end of the game, the team can usually compensate.

To some extent, good luck may measure a team that has intangible qualities such as specialized role players to execute in specific game situations. Georgetown for example has a special defensive package at the end of the game that includes Patrick Ewing Jr. Go ask West Virginia how important it is to have a mobile big man defending you at the end of the game.

Bad luck can also indicate when a team doesn’t have a go-to scorer or a good ball handler. Both of these apply to Illinois who consistently turns the ball over at the end of close games. Good luck can also represent a team that has fundamentally good coaching. Who wouldn’t want Tom Izzo to draw up an offensive set when you need a basket? This is all my way of saying that there is more to Ken Pomeroy’s luck rating than just luck. Execution in late game situations is part luck and part skill, and like a baseball team without a closer, Illinois’ extremely poor performance in close games is more than just chance.

Fundamental Facts

You hear the same clich├ęs every year.

1) With Bo Ryan as coach, no Big Ten team (other than Illinois) has won at Wisconsin.
2) No team has ever won twice at the Peterson event center (Pittsburgh’s home arena).
And West Virginia learned a third law the hard way.
3) Never leave Ronald Ramon open with the game on the line.

With West Virginia up by two, the West Virginia defender sagged off Ramon to help stop dribble penetration in the lane. Pittsburgh kicked the ball out to Ramon who buried a three pointer for the win. The worst part of helping off of Ramon (on the ball-side of the court mind you) was that if Pittsburgh had taken a two point shot in the lane, the game would have at worst gone to overtime. Instead Ramon proved that he is still the most lethal shooter in the Big East when left wide open. (Game recap here.)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Ben McCauley – NC State icon

The NBA has tried to copyright buzzer beaters with its four quarters and time outs that allow teams to set up at mid-court. But college basketball games all count (for seeding if nothing else), and the buzzer beaters are all the more special. (Heck, one of the Illinois bookstores still replays Marcus’ Griffins two-foot jumper to beat Wisconsin in a 2001 regular season game.)

The ACC season has been chalked full of tremendous memories this year, but what ending could be more dramatic than the tip-back dunk by NC State’s Ben McCauley after Gavin Grant’s 3 pointer bounced off the cylinder in Sunday’s game against Wake Forest. McCauley has made only 41% of his shots this year, which is pretty disappointing for a 6’10” Junior Center, but on this day he made his mark with a thunderous dunk as time expired. He also upstaged an equally amazing flip shot by Wake Forest’s Ishmael Smith that had tied the game moments earlier. (Recap here.)

Meanwhile Ryan Reid hit the first 3 pointer of his career (!) to lead Florida St. to OT against a UNC team playing without an injured Ty Lawson. (Recap here.) The ACC has now had a ridiculous 22 of 43 games decided by 3 points or less or overtime. I mentioned this last week and the ACC television coverage has even started to mention this remarkable string of close games. (They posted a graphic during the Wake Forest vs NC State game.)

I know a lot of people are going to look at these indistinguishable ACC teams and say they are not that good because they are not separating from the pack. But with 9 games to go, the bubble is wide open and every one of these games counts. If any of these teams go 6-3 down the stretch, they can make a legitimate argument for an NCAA bid. Ignore conference record at this point, because the last 10 is going to be so important. Virginia Tech may be 5-3, but they absolutely have to keep winning. I mean compare Virginia Tech and Miami’s profiles:

Virginia Tech (8 losses) defeated
Maryland
Boston College
Florida St.
Virginia (Twice, but both in OT)
NC Asheville (and 7’7” Kenny George)

Miami (6 losses) defeated
Clemson
Georgia Tech
Mississippi St.
Providence
VCU (CAA leader)
Marist (currently RPI #95)

Things sure seem bad for Miami right now, but there is a slim margin between the inside and the outside and all the remaining buzzer beaters will be key.

Brook Lopez vs Robin Lopez

From the “I am a moron category”, when I was doing my McDonald’s All-American update, I only listed one of Stanford’s Lopez brothers. The problem harkens back to the preseason when, because of academic issues, Brook Lopez was suspended indefinitely. At that time, I crossed him off the MAA list. Then, when I went to update the MAA numbers, I only updated the numbers for the more prolific one.

For me to make this error is pretty egregious at this point. After all, Stanford is now second in the Pac10, and quickly making a case for a 2 seed come tournament time. (You can easily excuse the Siena loss by noting Brook’s absence.) But yet every time they show Sportscenter highlights of these guys, the announcers just butcher the game. “Uh this is the other Lopez kid.” “Yeah, this seemed like it was out of this Lopez kids range, but he made it anyway.”

Come on folks, these are star players; Brook might be a lottery pick. We should know them better than this. Keep in mind that Brook has the short hair. Is he winking in this picture? Seriously? No, he probably just got stuck in one of those situations where you have a bright light shining in your eye and you aren’t supposed to blink while the cameraman spends eight minutes adjusting the focus. Robin has the obnoxious long curly hair.

While Brook has a reputation for being a much better player, when you look at the efficiency stats (courtesy Ken Pomeroy), they really aren’t that different. They are both 7 footers who can rebound effectively and who don’t spend a lot of time on the perimeter.

Brook Lopez, 108.1 ORtng, 48.1 eFG%, 13.6 OR%, 20.8 DR%, 0-5 on 3’s
Robin Lopez, 105.6 ORtng, 52.0 eFG%, 14.7 OR%, 15.5 DR%, 1-1 on 3’s

Brook Lopez, 55.0 FTR, 14.7 TORate, 6.7% Blocks
Robin Lopez, 43.0 FTR 20.7 TORate, 9.4% Blocks

Brook has a slightly lower shooting percentage this year, but he had a higher percentage last year, and you certainly shouldn’t consider Brook to be the inferior shooter. Brook takes a much wider variety of shots while Robin primarily scores on dunks and tip-ins. Brook also has a lot better body control this year, earning more free throws and committing fewer turnovers. But since this wasn’t true last year, I wouldn’t say he is fundamentally better in those areas.

No, the key difference is that Brook takes shots at a ridiculously higher rate:

Brook Lopez 31.4% of Shots
Robin Lopez 19.6% of Shots

Brook’s shooting may also explain Robin having a consistently higher offensive rebound rate, since Robin tends to clean up the jumpers that Brook misses.

Brook Lopez 18.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG
Robin Lopez 8.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG

At 7 foot, Brook can basically get his shot off whenever he wants, and when he is feeling it, few Pac10 players can guard him. The result is the gaudy scoring numbers you see here. And to all you west-coast viewer who already knew this, I’m sorry for wasting your time.

Midnight Madness Amusement

I’m thinking of adding a feature where I focus on ESPN’s Midnight Madness show. I can’t stand Doug Gottlieb, but you really have to watch a show like this to pick up on games you don’t watch.

From Saturday:
“Arizona used more timeouts in the first half than my 3 year old grandson. And he needs to go on timeout a lot.”

“No need for a DNA test, Patrick Ewing Jr. looks exactly like his father. ” The comment was in part because Ewing Jr. scored a career high of points against Seton Hall. And the pictures being referenced were basically these two. Ignore the large photo and look at the smaller grinning photo of Ewing here and open up another browser and compare to Ewing Jr here. The cheeks and smile are remarkably similar.

Friday, February 1, 2008

We despise you, but we wish you were playing better!

I ran my tournament projections again and I’m not surprised to see that the Pac10 projects to 7 bids. But I was surprised to see that after the win at Washington St., California is currently holding one of those 7 dance tickets. (Keep in mind that I don’t factor in “last 10” at this point in the season.)

Only dreadful Oregon St., Washington 0-8 vs the RPI top 50, and Arizona St. NCSOS over 300, are out in my projections. There is reason to believe Arizona St. is a better team than Cal at this point, but when your NCSOS is that high and you are on the bubble, the committee often likes to make an example by leaving you out.

You have to love the increased fairness the round-robin schedule brings to the conference, but I wonder if the current scheduling system still might have some inequality. In particular, I wonder if the current procedure is actually hurting the Oregon Ducks (and it is all Oregon St.’s fault.)

Every week Pac10 teams have to prepare for a geographic pair of teams. For example, you might host Washington and Washington St. or play at USC and UCLA. In most cases both games appear to be tough on paper, and both games require a detailed game plan. But, in the Oregon and Oregon St. week, coaches can focus most of their attention preparing for Oregon without worrying too much about Oregon St.

With 9 of the conference teams having strong profiles this year, only Oregon really faces this predicament. Perhaps they can take it out on their cross-state rivals on Saturday.

Useless stat of the day
Last year Syracuse got dinged from the tournament and the consensus was that it was a mistake. Besides the Drexel angle, the one legit criticism may have been Syracuse’s non-conference schedule. It wasn’t that Syracuse didn’t play good teams in the non-conference schedule -- they did -- but Syracuse played exactly one non-conference road game. And that one road game was in nearby Buffalo, NY against Canisius which was ranked #247 in the RPI.

Well, Syracuse didn’t exactly turn over a new leaf, but they did schedule a game at Virginia this year. But in more amazing fashion, Syracuse lucked into a group of pay-for-play opponents who are all having good years. So far not a single one of Syracuse’s opponents ranks outside the RPI top 200. (Colgate ranks the lowest at #188.) There’s always some luck involved when something like this happens, and it isn’t as if the committee puts a lot of emphasis on wins over teams 100-200 relative to 200+, but this should keep Syracuse’s RPI a few slots higher than you might expect all season long.