Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Morning Point Guard

The game of the week was easily Creighton at Dayton which the Flyers came back to win. I’ve been raving about junior Chris Wright on this blog since his freshman year when the Flyers were a NCAA team with Wright in the lineup, and an also-ran without him. But some Flyers fans recently reminded me not to get too high on Wright. Because he often plays out of control (19.7% turnover rate), and because of his 68% free throw shooting, Wright’s personal efficiency (ORtg) was only 100.7 last year.

Well how is this for a debut? The ESPN box score lists 0 turnovers for Wright and only 9 for the Flyers as a whole. That led to more possessions and a shockingly high scoring 90-80 win over Creighton. And when Wright isn’t turning the ball over, he’s almost unstoppable. He posted 8 rebounds and 25 points on 9 of 12 shooting. I stand by my statement that he is the difference maker for the Flyers.

Elsewhere this week, it has pretty much been cupcake land. As of Saturday, only BCS teams in the SEC and Pac-10 had sustained losses. The most disheartening loss had to be Oregon St. losing to Texas A&M CC. Oregon St. turned the ball over 25 times and shot just 32% in the loss. Craig Robinson’s team may have been better last year, but they still have a long way to go. Other BCS losers include Alabama who lost to defending Ivy league champion Cornell, and Stanford which lost to a solid WCC team in San Diego.

19th ranked Mississippi St. lost to Rider in the major upset of the week. But I’m not calling anything other than LeMoyne winning an upset at this time of the year. Consider that Missisiipi St. was playing sans Renardo Sidney. And Rider’s conference, the MAAC, has been beating BCS teams for some time. Last year Siena knocked off Ohio St. and almost upset Louisville in the NCAA tournament.

The MAAC hasn’t quite been able to put together enough quality wins to be a multi-bid, MVC type league. But Rider’s win will help that cause this season. I didn’t see any of the game so I’ll leave it to other people to recap. The Rush-the-Court: After the Buzzer column is my usual recommendation.

Stuff I Missed this Summer

My favorite column from this summer was probably this one summarizing the arguments against fouling when up three in the final seconds. My favorite two quotes:

“Kevin Klocke looked at all NBA games from 2005 through 2008 in which a team had the ball with 1-10 seconds left and trailed by three points. The leading team did not foul 260 times and won 91.9% of the games. The leading team did foul 27 times and won 88.9% of the games. This seems to indicate that fouling does not significantly increase a team's chances of winning when they are three points ahead.”


“Mike Moreau adds: ‘This has to be practiced well before you try to execute it in a game. You have to foul a guy on the dribble, before he can gather. That takes practice. And even then, the execution can get screwed up in the heat of the moment.’"

I like this column a lot. And it isn’t because I think fouling in the last minute is a bad strategy. I just think it is not clear cut. And I find it particularly irritating when an announcer will go off on a rant about how you have to foul. To say there are no negatives is just not fair.

Plus as a fan, three pointers to tie are fun. Fouls are not as much fun. So I don’t want the fouling strategy to be a dominant strategy here.

More on Usage and Efficiency

I posted last week about the trade-off between usage and efficiency. I compared college players across seasons. I found the average decrease in efficiency was about 0.25 for a 1% increase in possessions used. I controlled for a player’s class which should control for average player development, but the results weren’t robust and I decided that this methodology wasn’t ideal. The problem is that the players that improve the most between seasons are the exact players who are allowed to shoot more. This leads to a positive correlation for the players with the biggest usage changes. And this biases my result. Thus I conclude that -0.25 probably underestimates the true effect of additional shot volume. An alternative would be to use game-by-game data. But game-by-game data can be misleading, because when a player has a favorable matchup, they will choose to shoot more and will make more of those shots. And I linked to Kevin Pelton and Eli Witus on a proposed solution. Compare high shot volume lineups to low shot volume lineups against the same opponent. That study found an effect closer to -1.25 using NBA data. The reason I bring all this up again is because Hoya Prospectus covered this in depth two weeks ago and I completely missed it. And if any of this interests you, you should definitely read the Hoya Prospectus post on Austin Freeman. Among the highlights:

-A game-by-game usage analysis for several Hoyas.

-A more articulate discussion on skill curves. I tried to say this in my last post, but the marginal shot need not be a uniform decrease. There can be plateaus and sharp drop-offs. And a coach’s job may be to make sure the player shoots up to the drop-off and no further. (I.e, takes the shots he can make regularly.)

-Finally, Hoya Prospectus uses Ken Pomeroy’s analysis to say that Austin Freeman is unlikely to become an aggressive shooter, since role players rarely become high volume shooters. On this last point, in the Basketball Prospectus Big East Preview I said that Austin Freeman may have to be more aggressive for Georgetown to succeed this year. So if the numbers suggest Freeman is unlikely to shoot more, why do I think he might be more aggressive? The answer is that everyone, including John Thompson, knows that Austin Freeman is a key player this season. I think there will be a concerted effort to put the ball in Austin Freeman’s hands in more situations now that DaJuan Summers is gone. But can he really break the historic trend? We’ll see.

The Week in Obscurity

There are always obscure things that happen that you don’t see unless you watch the games. I have nothing from college basketball, because there weren’t enough big games on TV. But here are some observations from other sports.

Crazy Ending of the Week

In College Football, Arizona trailed Cal 18-16 with about 2 minutes left in the game. (Think about how crazy the game has to be to have an 18-16 score.) Arizona had reached field goal range and had a 3rd and 4. If they convert a first down, they can likely run the clock down and kick the winning FG as time expires.

But disaster strikes. The Arizona QB throws a pass, the pass is deflected by a lineman, and ends up back in the QB’s hands. Now, if the Arizona QB just falls down, or tries to run for a couple yards, Arizona can still kick the long field goal and win. But the QB doesn’t fall down. He attempts another pass! And he completes it for a first down. But you can’t pass the ball twice. The illegal forward pass is a penalty of 5 yards from the spot of the foul that carries a loss of down. So his team loses 12 yards, and the down. Arizona now faces 4th and 17 and is out of FG range. They fail on 4th down, and Cal takes over.

Now Cal needs just one first down to run out the clock, leading by 2. The Cal running back takes the ball and breaks all the way down the field for a TD. If he falls down on the 5, like the wise Brian Westbrook did at some point in the past year, Cal is guaranteed to win. But who can blame him for getting a TD? And with the extra point, Cal is still up by 9. But Cal fumbles the snap on the extra point, meaning the lead is still 8 points.

Sadly, the drama ended here. Arizona, trailing by 8, couldn’t mount a drive and failed on 4th down. But that was one weird ending.


Last Sunday, the HSBC Championship in Shanghai had a big enough pool of money to attract many of the world’s top golfers. Heading into the 18th hole, Ernie Els held the lead and had a good chance to win, but he put it in the water. Back to 17, now Phil Mickelson has a good chance to win. But he puts the ball in the deep rough. And then Phil does what we’ve all done. He swings at the ball and completely misses! OK, maybe he hit it and it didn’t move at all, but it looked like a full scale miss to me. So now Tiger is several strokes back, but paired with Phil. Tiger chipping from 15 feet away from the green chips it 8 feet straight up in the air, and right in the bunker. And then on 18, Tiger hits it in the water too. Phil eventually wins. You can’t make this stuff up. The best golfers in the world looked like amateurs last Sunday.

College Hockey

My wife had the Minnesota - Bemidji St. college hockey game on TV and Minnesota managed to get 4 players in the penalty box at the same time. Have you ever seen this before? No, this doesn’t result in a 5 on 1. A team isn’t allowed to go below 3 players on the ice, so what you get is an extended 5 on 3. I actually did this once back when I had a Super Ninentdo and used to play the hockey games. But I'd never seen it in a real game. Bemidji St. didn’t score on the extended power play and eventually lost the game 4-1.

Also of note, Bemidji St., which made the Frozen Four last season, was described as an underdog the entire game. I think the reason is because most of the players would prefer to play for the larger in-state school Minnesota. And yet Bemidji St. was the last undefeated team in College Hockey this year and ranked 7th in the nation, while Minnesota was unranked.

Georgetown, Minnesota, and Illinois Filler
(The part where I talk about my teams.)

The Gopher Football team became bowl eligible when a Division 1-AA team fumbled in the final minutes, and the Gophers were able to kick a FG to win 16-13. That’s what you call backing in to a bowl game.

In fairness, the Gophers have played well at times this season. And they do not play the Big Ten’s two last place teams, Indiana and Michigan this year, so the 3-4 record is a little better than it looks. But without star WR Eric Decker who is out for the year, they do not look like a bowl team.

Euroleague update

And I end with an update of the Euroleague, aka Champions League of European Basketball. A month ago, I mentioned that the last two spots in the regular season were up for grabs. France #2 beat Italy #3 for one of the two spots. Former Xavier star Justin Doellman continue to play well, chipping in a total of 27 points in the 2 games. But the big star was former University of Chicago star Cedrick Banks who chipped in 36 points in the two games for France #2. Italy #3’s Daniel Hackett was held in check this round, scoring just 12 points in the two game loss. Elsewhere Greece #3 beat Germany #3 to grab the other spot. Once again New Mexico St. alum Billy Keys was a key force with 29 points in the two games.

But for these teams, the last qualifying spots haven’t meant much. Now that the regular season is underway, France #2 is 0-4 and Greece #3 is 1-3.

Wikipedia has the current standings, but here are a few details on the regular season. The regular season has 4 divisions of 6 teams and the top 4 teams in each division advance to the next round. Each team plays a home-and-home with every team in their division for 10 total games in this round. Every team has played 4 of the 10 games so far.

Only three teams are undefeated at this point:
-Spain’s Unicaja Malaga which features former Illinois player Robert Archibald, Louisville’s Taquan Dean, and the poster-child for failed NBA draft entry Omar Cook.

-Spain’s FC Barcelona which features “Minnesota is too cold” Ricky Rubio and former NBA player Juan Carlos Navarro,

-And Italy’s Siena team which will face FC Barcelona on November 26th.

Spanish teams have been particularly dominant so far, as the four Spanish teams are a combined 14-2.

-Dan Hanner
Sunday Morning Point Guard is an experimental column format. It may become a regular feature in January, or it might not.