Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year End Look at the RSCI Top 10

As discussed previously by Luke Winn, while top 100 players don't always contribute right away, the top 10 are rarely busts. Here's a list of Top 10 recruits that are still in college:

While I agree this is more fair than tracking McDonald's All-Americans, there are fewer busts to joke about. You'll note I presented the standard numbers and not the tempo-free numbers. If you just looked at the tempo free numbers (and didn't properly account for the percentage of minutes and shots), you might think John Henson was having a solid year. But the old-fashioned statistics paint the story here. Henson has had a very quiet debut. Similarly, Delvon Roe has been efficient, but not prolific. Everyone else on this list would have to be deemed a major contributor. And indeed, every one of these top 10 recruits who is playing in college has an invididual offensive efficiency rating over 100.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lance Stephenson NBA Superstar

You know how at the end of the game the officials swallow the whistle? Well Lance Stephenson just got a relatively phantom call in the lane in a tie game in the final seconds. Moreover, the call looked like it happened after time expired. But somehow Stephenson, like an NBA star player with a "wouldn't miss the shot" reputation, earned the call. (He also laid on the floor for 80 seconds, in what seemed like an unsportsmanlike celebration to me.) And after an official review, Lance was determined to have been fouled with 0.7 seconds left in the tie game. Stephenson then knocked down two free throws as Cincinnati beat Connecticut.

It wasn't the only timing question in the game. 55 seconds earlier, UConn tipped the ball away with the shot clock running down, but Cincinnati dived on the loose ball and called time out. Problem was, the shot clock should have expired. Instead Cincinnati was awared a generous 1 second. Let's just say fate was on Cincinnati's side tonight.

But more importantly, the Bearcats survived a game when its best two players, Yancy Gates and Deonta Vaughn had foul trouble. This will be a really nice win to have on Selection Sunday.


-Northwestern may fall out of the AP poll for the first time in 40 years this week, but after they lost in OT at Illinois, they didn't lose my respect. Northwestern is always reliant on threes and backdoor cuts, but the thing that has hurt them in recent years is the lack of true athletes. Look, I love the Princeton offense, but sometimes threes and backdoor cuts don't work and you just need someone to make a play. Northwestern now has two of those players. Michael "Juice" Thompson is the terrific point guard with a ridiculously low 10.9% TO rate for a player that drives as often as he does. But the key addition this year is freshman Drew Crawford. He's a slasher and athletic rebounder that provides some incredible balance to what Northwestern does. And with a 125.9 ORtg, Crawford is the kind of freshman that can keep Northwestern in the hunt.

-William & Mary is an upper division ACC school this year. They won at Wake Forest and now Maryland. Hmm, it's looking like Colonial Williamsburg will be more than just a fun vacation spot this year, it might be the home of the CAA favorites.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What College Basketball does better than the NFL

Does anyone really watch college basketball between the ACC Challenge and the start of conference play? OK, sure I remember a few things from this month. I remember John Wall’s slashing dunk against Indiana. I remember Stanford’s ferocious comeback against Oklahoma St. in the Pac-10 / Big 12 shootout that came up just short.* And I remember Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell hitting a pair of three pointers to tie the game against West Virginia and send the game to OT before Seton Hall ultimately lost. But I, like most college basketball fans consider this to be the “ticket exchange” season. This is the time of the year when you end up spending more time trying to give your tickets away then actually enjoying the games.

*In case you didn’t notice, Stanford is the unluckiest BCS program as of today. Sometimes Pomeroy’s “luck” is a statistical fabrication where teams win big and lose by five or six, but Stanford has several legitimate heartbreaking losses. The Cardinal lost to Kentucky in OT, Oklahoma St. by 1, and Oral Roberts by 2.

And although I’ve paged through the numbers and amused myself with a few facts, there hasn’t been enough to hold my attention. Here’s one topic: Louisville, Syracuse, and West Virginia all entered the season with serious ball distribution questions and the fate of each team has been linked to the addition/return of a turnover plagued point guard.

For Syracuse, it was Scoop Jardine. He missed 2009 due to injury and had huge shoes to fill in the place of Johnny Flynn. For West Virginia, it was Darryl “Truck” Bryant who was suspended this summer after a hit-and-run and was questionable to play and start early this season. And for Louisville, it was McDonald’s All-American freshman Peyton Siva whose ball handling was needed with point forward Terrence Williams graduating in the off-season.

So far, the results have matched the team standings.
-Syracuse’s Scoop Jardine sports an assist rate of 38.2% which is good for 15th in the nation. His ability to set up his teammates has Syracuse in Pomeroy’s Top 5.
-West Virginia’s Darry “Truck” Bryant sports a 26.5% assist rate which given the Mountaineer’s depth has been good enough for a Top 5 Pomeroy Rank.
-But Louisville’s Peyton Siva has turned the ball over 34.3% of the time which has been good enough for a spot on the bench. This has meant no real challenge for playing time for the inconsistent Edgar Sosa, and an inconsistent start for Louisville.

By the way, I’ve always been puzzled by Pomeroy’s characterization of Major Contributors and Nearly Invisible based on possessions used. But what does it mean for a player like Siva? Siva only takes 17.4% of the team’s shots but is classified as a major contributor because he turns it over so much he takes 25.4% of the team’s possessions. Amusing.

But none of that was the point of this post. The point of this post was that watching other sports reminds me why college basketball has a near perfect system for selecting the post-season.

The Play to Win Principle

This week, the Colts rested their starters because the games were meaningless. This robbed the season ticket holders of an entertaining game. And it provided an unfair advantage in playoff positioning. Whereas Houston had to play Indianapolis twice when Indy was at full strength, the Jets got to play Indy for 2.5 quarters, and a JV squad for 1.5 quarters.

But one beautiful feature of college basketball is that this rarely happens. Because a committee evaluates and seeds teams, teams need to keep playing hard at the end of the year. No one can wrap up a 1 seed on Feb. 15th, and play the bench the rest of the year. The finishing stretch is a vital component of seeding, and the good teams try to play their best at the end of the year.

Imagine if the NFL was like college basketball this year. Would a 13-2 Saints team really be a “lock” for a 1 seed after a bad loss to Tampa Bay? Or would streaking San Diego be moved out of their “region” and given a 1 seed in the NFC? And what about a team like Carolina which sits at 7-8 after crushing wins over Minnesota and the New York Giants. How big would their game against New Orleans be this weekend if New Orleans was fighting to hold a 1 seed and if Carolina was a hot bubble team? The property that team’s have to play hard at the end of the regular season is something most sports leagues should want, but is sadly missing in most pro leagues in the US.

I note that the “play-to-win late in the year” principle isn’t unique to college basketball. The World Cup implicitly includes it. That’s because soccer teams are seeded in the draw for World Cup slots. Thus even if England clinches a World Cup Berth in their Euro Qualifying Pod, they still have to try to win the remaining games to maintain their FIFA ranking and earn a protected seed in future tournaments.

Keeping this in mind, there are several solutions the NFL could implement to get more incentive compatibility. First, like the FIFA rankings, the Colts wins this year could have some minimal impact on future seeding. I.e., this year’s record could be a tie-breaker for next year’s playoff spot.

Or for something wacky, the NFL could do the reverse of the NBA draft lottery. What if playoff seeding was determined through a draw where the more wins a team had, the better odds they have of getting a favorable slot? Nothing is set until the final draw, so every game counts. Maybe this wouldn’t be ideal, but it would be incentive compatible. And it is an issue the NFL should think about, particularly if the NFL goes to 18 games in the future.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why the Pomeroy and Sagarin Ratings are more stable than the RPI

Last year, I set about at the start of January to document how the Pomeroy ranking are pretty useless this early in the season. But I noticed a funny thing. The early January numbers were shockingly similar in February and March. So what's going on here?

Well, last time I checked the RPI, Pomeroy, and Sagarin Predictor ratings weight the entire season equally. There are other nice ratings systems that put additional weight on the last 5 or last 10. But the RPI, Pomeroy, and Sagarin ratings do not. Thus in principle, as the sample size grows, each game provides less and less information, so that the rankings should become more stable over time.

The key difference however, is the model underlying the systems. Both the Pomeroy and Sagarin ratings can be thought of like this: Each game is a performance draw from some distribution, weighted relative to the strength of the opponent. And while some draws will be outliers, the distribution should be approximately normal and thus as the sample size gets bigger, both rating systems should converge on the truth.

But that won't necessarily happen with the RPI ratings. It doesn't matter how well a team plays in a game. Future games can have an inherently positive or negative effect. I.e., playing a great team can increase a team's RPI, even if they lose. And playing a bad team can decrease a team's RPI, even if they win. This isn't some draw from a distribution, but instead something determined ahead of time by the strength of schedule. The draws of schedule and not performance make the RPI much less stable. And we see that every year when late season wins over great teams can lead to substantial swings (30 spots) even in the final week of the regular season.

This is a long way for me to say that the Pomeroy and Sagarin ratings mean something at this point in the season. Texas and Kansas are not only preseason national favorites, they've played like it. The same can be said for Big East favorite West Virginia, annual ACC favorite Duke, and Big Ten favorite Purdue.

So what do we make of the other puzzling teams at the top of the ratings. See Minnesota, Missouri, Cal, and Arizona St. already with three losses. I think there are a couple of things to keep in mind here. Simply having good predictive numbers doesn't always mean you've had a successful year. Georgetown proved last year that they could maintain a high Pomeroy rating all year, but by the end of the year it was clear they were not a good team in tight games.

Second, having a limited number of freshman has made some of these teams appear better than they really are. I.e., these teams know how to crush the smaller schools at home, but it doesn't say that much about how they'll do on the road and against real BCS competition. I think that in particular with Minnesota. The Gophers expected to be mixing in top 100 freshman Royce White and getting him experience against some early season opponents. But with White not playing, and now "leaving college basketball" today, the Gophers have just had a bunch of veteran players playing meaningless games bashing cupcakes.

Along this line, the biggest reason the Pomeroy ratings should not be stable at this point of the year is that some teams will get better. Every year Michigan St. and Louisville seem to be substantially better in March than November. And in the case of Kentucky and North Carolina, very young teams, I don't think close early wins over Miami (OH) or Valparaiso are a good reason to be down on the season. Those teams will figure out how to dominate by March.

But there is information out there. Looking at the Big East, the current rankings are very similar to what I had in my pre-season preview. Marquette has played surprisingly well with a number of freshman. Villanova and Cincinnati are still adapting some key newplayers into the rotation. Louisville seems to be in the midst of its annual early season toe-stubbing. But little else is that surprising.

DePaul has a few quality wins, but is still clearly a bad team. Notre Dame still doesn't play any defense. My prediction that Providence could have a decent offense but no defense, holds true. And a number of the traditional names are at the top.

For all that we don't know about this season, we already know a lot. And along those lines, Ken Pomeroy has finally made the individual player stats available. The time to start commenting on who is good, and who is bad is here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Six to Five

For a Big Ten fan, it is hard to put the Big Ten’s victory in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in perspective. It isn’t about bragging rights. No one can brag after their conference lost 10 years in a row. It isn’t about determining the best conference.* By any reasonable margin-of-victory statistic, the ACC has been the best conference in college basketball for the last decade. It isn’t even about this season. The ACC still has a better Pomeroy and Sagarin rating this year.

So what was the victory about last night? It was about finally winning one. I’d compare it to Minnesota winning the Little Brown Jug from Michigan in football. When Minnesota wins, it doesn’t mean Minnesota has the better program. It doesn’t even mean Minnesota will have a good season. But every so often, its nice to look in your trophy case and see the trophy sitting there.

And in a one-sided trophy game, it doesn’t matter what the final score is. (6-5 Big Ten.) It doesn’t matter if it takes a lot of luck. (Illinois and Penn St. comebacks, Duke failing to complete its comeback.) You just have to smile at the thought that the commissioner’s cup is finally in the Big Ten’s hands.

*Call this a Joe Posnanski star point. Even though the challenge wasn’t about determining the best conference, at least one Clemson Blog still saw it that way, writing after the game: “How the Big Ten is the best conference in America is still beyond me.”

But ACC fans shouldn’t be too sad either. To some extent, the Big Ten finally winning this thing brings some value to the cup in the future. Next year, when some ACC team wins to take a 6-3 lead with 2 games left in the challenge, they can show some ACC fans taking the trophy out of a Big Ten box and holding it up in glory. Winning a trophy back is fun too.

But there’s one big problem with this analogy. As Bob Knight pointed out, this isn’t really a team exercise. All fans really care about at the end of the day is that their team wins.* Did Bo Ryan care that the Big Ten won the challenge? Yes, he was happy. But he was really happy his team beat Duke.

And it isn’t like the Big Ten got together on Monday and had a big team huddle. “OK, all 11 teams. Let’s work together. It’s going to take a collective effort to win this thing. It isn’t about one team padding its stats. It will take all 11 of you out on the court to win.”

So it is hard to celebrate collectively. The Big Ten narrowly pulled out a close win. But it wasn’t close for Ohio St so there was no storming the court in Columbus. There was no elated interview from Thad Matta at the Big Ten’s victory. The trophy came home at the end of the night, but there was little fanfare.

*On Sundays if my NFL team loses, but my fantasy team wins, I'm unhappy, but I'll take it as a consolation prize. But I'm not sure the Big Ten losers appreciated the conference win as a true consolation prize. Certainly this Michigan Blog isn’t jubilant about the Big Ten’s win right now.

Final Thoughts:
-This might have been the biggest Illinois comeback ever, but it pales in comparison to the elite eight comeback against Arizona because of the importance of that game. And as numerous people have pointed out, these things seem to happen to Clemson. But I’m glad to have hope for this Illini squad because they are way more fun to watch then recent squads.

-Nice plus / minus for Demetri McCamey last night.

-Did Bob Knight really call John Leuer’s decision to “stand in place and wait to get fouled” the play-of-the-game?

Top 10 Freshman

There’s a reason why Luke Winn is a blogger’s favorite. He really knows how to use his tempo free stats. And Winn hit the nail on the head in a recent column. Top 10 recruits are almost always contributors right off the bat, but the rest of the Top 100 is much less consistent.

I’ve occasionally posted the numbers for McDonald’s All-American’s on this site, and I consistently got criticism that the McDonald’s All-American team is not a reliable indicator of a recruit’s ability. Every year there are several players around 50 in the rankings who sneak onto the McDonald’s team for one reason or another. And I was perhaps unfairly calling those players “busts”. But as I said in the Basketball Prospectus Big East preview, the Top 10 is a different story, and that’s why I’m excited to see Lance Stephenson and others this season. Winn’s column shows the numbers pretty clearly, but in case you wanted to check individual players, here are Top 10 debuts from 2006-2009:

(Wondering why some years I don’t list a freshman recruit at a certain slot? 2008-09’s #1 recruit Brandon Jennings went to Europe. 2005-06’s #2 recruit Monta Ellis went to the NBA, ect. And in some case’s RSCI lists a tie for a slot.)

There are almost no busts on the list. Sure Brook Lopez and Gerald Henderson had ORtg’s under 100, but they were pretty good defensive players and they developed into fantastic players. Probably the most recent true bust was Villanova’s Jason Fraser. (See the low number of minutes as a senior.) But injuries contributed to him fading out of the spotlight. The same hopefully will not be said for Michigan St.’s Delvin Roe. Not that Roe hasn’t been efficient, but he hasn’t been the high volume, explosive scorer as some of the others on this list. (Ed Davis had similar numbers to Roe last year, but is off to a more prolific start this year.)

The Giant Foul Study

Hidden in the week before Thanksgiving was this nice story about college officiating. The punchline:
-Refs are more likely to call a foul on the road team
-Refs try to keep foul calls even
-Refs are more likely to call a foul on the team in the lead

I haven’t been able to find the study online, so these criticism’s may not be fair, but unless they actually graded every call and every non-call, I can’t figure out how they know it is referee decision making and not a change in behavior?

-Do players play better at home, (because of emotion, familiarity with the backdrop, or confidence), and therefore earn more calls?
-Do players retaliate when fouled? Or does a team that commits a lot of fouls suddenly become more careful?
-Do teams in the lead become complacent and more careless?
Any of these changes of behavior could account for the numeric differences you see in the study.

Now some of these hypotheses may have been accounted for in the study. For example, to see if teams become more careful, you can control for how many steals they get after they commit a bunch of fouls, ect. But at the end of the day, I don’t think you can completely rule out the possibility that player behavior is different in different situations.

But let’s assume for the moment that the study is correct, since referee bias isn’t as controversial as I’m making it out to be. The next question is whether home team bias is harmful to the game. It might not be. With road TV games, I can pay bills or check my email while half-watching the game if my team falls behind. But if my team loses at home, I get all the misery. I’m stuck in my seat, I have road fans taunting me, and I have a grumpy commute home after the game. For this reason, home team bias probably makes me better off overall.

The problem is that this bias is not consistent from crew-to-crew. Some officials are more biased then others and thus your referee assignments can have an impact on the season. For this reason, home team call bias is probably a bad thing, but it isn’t universally horrible.

Similarly, if refs try to give fouls to even out the game, that’s probably good for neutral fans. People stop watching blowouts, so if a few foul calls turn a 12 point game into a 6 point game, it gets people watching.

But the real problem here is when this happens in the NCAA tournament, which is one game and done. When I heard of this study I immediately thought of Georgetown vs Davidson game from a few years ago. Georgetown built a big early lead, but kept picking up foul-after-foul. The refs wouldn’t let the game get over 10 points without calling Georgetown for something. Then, late in the game, Stephen Curry got extremely hot, wiped the 10 point lead out in a handful of possessions, and the game was over.

As a Georgetown fan, this “seemed” miserably unfair. Especially when Hibbert barely played due to some highly questionable calls. But in the grand scheme of things, this was probably good for college basketball. It made Curry a hero in a tournament devoid of Cinderella teams, and made for an exciting ending.

Cancun Challenge Redux


-DeMarcus Cousins may look like the most dominant athlete on the floor, but he’s only a freshman. And Calipari certainly let him know he made two critical mistakes at the end of the Stanford-Kentucky game. First Cousins faced a wide-open three with no defenders around him late in the close game. Cousins paused, thought about passing, and then took and missed the three pointer. Calipari immediately subbed him out of the game. 7 foot centers can’t afford to waste possessions in a close game.

A few minutes later, Cousins was back on the court, bricked the front end of a foul with Kentucky trailing, and proceeded to miss the second free throw on purpose, in hopes that he would get his own rebound. There was still plenty of time left and Calipari went nuts that Cousins would miss a free throw on purpose. It is fun to see these early struggles, because when Cousins puts it together, he’s going to be an outstanding player.

-Perhaps I’m just a Bill Self / Bruce Webber parrot, but I truly believe that when your season is on the line, you want to be playing man-to-man defense. With the exception of Syracuse and a few other teams, zone defense is usually passive, and it is highly dependent on how good the other team is playing. And in March in the NCAA tournament, the other team is usually playing too well for a zone defense to stop it.

But early in the year is a different story. Often the biggest coaching lessons from an early cupcake squash is whether your team can get easy baskets against the zone. It is sort of like a preliminary test you have to pass before you can move on and become a quality team.

For Memphis, this has often been a problem early in the year, as some of Calipari’s best athletes weren’t necessarily great shooters. But as Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose eventually learned, there are other ways to score against the zone than just taking three after three.

And that was my big takeaway from Kentucky’s narrow overtime win over Stanford, where Stanford’s zone defense was highly effective. Like everyone else, I look at Kentucky and see some of the most intimidating athletes on any team in college basketball. But until they learn to move the basketball and get good match-ups against the zone, they’ll be susceptible to lose to anyone. Where I differ with some other people is in thinking this is a permanent problem. I think Calipari will get it sorted out.


Senior Landry Fields was often the best player on the floor, as no one on Kentucky seemed to be able to guard him in regulation. But in overtime, Patterson and Wall shut him down.


I was amazed how often Sylven Landesberg played off the ball. But in crunch time, he was the one directing the offense.

Cleveland St.

Former Rutgers coach Gary Waters still knows what he’s doing. Despite losing 4 senior starters, he had his team schemed well enough to hang with Kentucky and Virginia in this tournament. And PG Jeremy Montgomery probably isn’t that dominant a player, but he made some amazingly athletic moves to score inside against Kentucky in the opener.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Feast Week Redux

A few observations on spending Thanksgiving in rural USA:

-There are places in this country where people tip 2-3% for dinner. True quote. “See, that couple left 35 cents. We’ve been tipping too much.”

-There is such a thing as a fireman’s dance. This consists of the whole town getting together on Saturday night to raise money for the volunteer fire department. It also consists of a band performing country and western songs. All this is fine, but I think this quote sums it up best. Why isn’t anyone dancing? “The old people have too many problems to move around. The young people just come here to drink.”

-The place I stayed at had no ability to connect to cable. That meant dial-up internet and Dish Network TV. And amazingly Dish Network TV has a base package with no ESPN. But this “base” package does include CBS College Sports, the NFL Network, and Versus. Go figure.

CBS College Sports replayed the Ole Miss vs LSU football game. At the end Verne Lundquist says, “My gosh”, not “Oh my goodness.” My bad.

With no ESPN channels I also got to see most of the Cancun Challenge which was replayed over-and-over. Meditation on the Cancun Challenge and poor shooters in a future column.

Feast Week By the Numbers

In the meantime, allow me to summarize the feast week tournaments. Note: I only count real tournaments where some opponents are unknown, not pre-scheduled tournaments. And I only count the tournament portion of the hybrid tournaments, not the 2 home teams each team gets.

But how to handle the NIT? There were 3 mini-tournaments held in addition to the big event at Madison Square Garden. In theory, this sounds awesome. Take the three quarterfinal losers (Charlotte, TCU, Western Kentucky, and Hofstra), pair them up and you have a nice little additional event. But that’s not quite what happened. The quarterfinal losers were sent to different sites.

Rush-the-court noted that the NIT was seeded, but the seeds didn’t match the opponents. I.e. the 4 seed played the 7 seed, not the 5 seed. Well the seeding had to do with the scheduling format. And seeds 5-7 each got to host a mini-tournament.

Worse yet, these weren’t even real mini-tournaments. The day 1 winners didn’t necessarily play each other on day 2. Thus, part of the NIT looks like a pre-scheduled event. As a result, I’m throwing the NIT out as a normal tournament, calling it a hybrid, and only counting the final two rounds. I’m sure you don’t care.

So how did the BCS conferences fair in these tournaments over the last week and a half?
20-8 Big East
16-8 ACC
15-8 SEC
14-9 Big 12
12-16 Big 10
6-9 Pac10

Outside the BCS, the WCC and A10 were the big winners.
7-2 WCC
7-11 A10
16-42 Other

Here’s a full breakdown:

Boston College – Paradise Jam, 6th, 1-2
Clemson – 76 Classic, 5th, 2-1
Duke – Preseason NIT, 1st, 2-0
Florida State – Old Spice Classic, 1st, 3-0
Georgia Tech – Puerto Rico Tip-Off, 5th, 2-1
Maryland – Maui Invitational, 4th, 1-2
Miami (Fla.) – Charleston Classic, 1st, 3-0
North Carolina – Coaches vs Cancer Classic, 2nd, 1-1
Virginia – Cancun Challenge, 3rd, 1-1

Boston College’s loss to Northern Iowa in the Paradise Jam 5th place game hurt, as did Maryland’s consecutive losses to likely NCAA bubble teams Cincinnati and Wisconsin. But the ACC did quite well once again this year with Florida St. and Miami picking up surprise tournament titles.

By the way, I’m nick-naming tonight’s made-for-tv event the ACC Invitational until some other conference decides to win some games. Let’s face it, the ACC is always deep and no one is surprised to see Duke off to a nice start.

Big East
Cincinnati – Maui Invitational, 2nd, 2-1
Connecticut – Preseason NIT, 2nd, 1-1
DePaul – Paradise Jam, 3rd, 2-1
Marquette – Old Spice Classic. 2nd, 2-1
Notre Dame – Chicago Invitational Challenge, 3rd, 1-1
Pittsburgh – CBE Classic, 2nd, 1-1
Rutgers – Legends Classic, 2nd,1-1
South Florida – Charleston Classic, 3rd, 2-1
Syracuse – Coaches vs Cancer Classic, 1st, 2-0
Villanova – Puerto Rico Tip-Off, 1st, 3-0
West Virginia – 76 Classic, 1st, 3-0

West Virginia and Villanova were expected to be good this year, and they didn’t disappoint. But who saw Syracuse winning by such an impressive margin over North Carolina?

But the good showing wasn’t just the top teams. After last year’s winless Big East campaign, DePaul beat Northern Iowa and St. Joe’s in the Virgin Islands, and those wins will help the league’s overall strength. Meanwhile, Marquette is playing well right out of the gate, beating Xavier and Michigan, and losing a heart-breaker to Florida St.

Alabama – Old Spice Classic, 3rd, 2-1
Florida – Legends Classic, 1st, 2-0
Kentucky – Cancun Challenge, 1st, 2-0
LSU – Preseason NIT, 4th, 0-2
Mississippi State – South Padre Invitational, 3rd, 1-1
Mississippi – Puerto Rico Tip-Off, 2nd, 1-1
South Carolina – Charleston Classic, 2nd, 2-1
Tennessee – Paradise Jam, 2nd, 2-1
Vanderbilt – Maui Invitational, 5th 2-1

Florida’s win over Michigan St. is going to look really good on Selection Sunday as Tom Izzo’s teams tend to get better as the season moves along. And Alabama bounced back nicely after losing the season opener to Cornell. Wins over Baylor and Michigan will be nice on selection Sunday.

Big Twelve
Baylor – Old Spice Classic, 5th 2-1
Colorado – Maui Invitational, 7th, 1-2
Iowa State – Chicago Invitational Challenge, 2nd, 1-1
Kansas State – Puerto Rico Tip-Off, 3rd, 2-1
Missouri – South Padre Invitational, 2nd, 1-1
Oklahoma – Great Alaska Shootout, 5th, 1-2
Oklahoma State – Las Vegas Invitational, 1st, 2-0
Texas A&M – 76 Classic, 3rd, 2-1
Texas – CBE Classic, 1st, 2-0

Oklahoma went to Alaska and lost to both San Diego and Houston. That’s going to sting for awhile. Meanwhile, Colorado could only salvage a win against Chaminade out in Hawaii. But Texas A&M knocked off two ranked teams in Clemson and Minnesota, giving the conference a solid start to the season.

Big Ten
Illinois – Las Vegas Invitational, 4th, 0-2
Indiana – Puerto Rico Tip-Off. 8th, 0-3
Iowa – CBE Classic, 4th, 0-2
Michigan State – Legends Classic, 3rd, 1-1
Michigan – Old Spice Classic, 4th, 1-2
Minnesota – 76 Classic, 4th, 1-2
Northwestern – Chicago Invitational Challenge, 1st, 2-0
Ohio State – Coaches vs Cancer Classic, 3rd, 1-1
Penn State – Charleston Classic, 7th, 1-2
Purdue – Paradise Jam, 1st, 3-0
Wisconsin – Maui Invitational, 3rd, 2-1

The Big Ten was in eleven tournaments, but the performance was nothing short of disastrous. Not only did young teams struggle, see Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa’s winless performance. But the team’s with lots of veteran players couldn’t get it done against quality competition. See losses by Michigan, Minnesota, and Michigan St.

Purdue was solid as expected, but the one pleasant surprise was probably Northwestern. The Wildcats were left for dead after Kevin Coble’s injury but responded by beating Notre Dame and Iowa St. I think that might have more to do with Notre Dame and Iowa St’s weakness then Northwestern’s dominance, but we’ll have to monitor this one.

Pac 10
Arizona State – Preseason NIT, 3rd, 1-1
Arizona – Maui Invitational, 6th, 1-2
California – Coaches vs Cancer Classic, 4th, 0-2
Stanford – Cancun Challenge, 2nd, 1-1
UCLA – 76 Classic, 8th, 0-3
Washington State – Great Alaska Shootout, 1st, 3-0

Most of the Pac-10 took this year off, choosing scheduled home tournaments or other events. And the rest probably wish they stayed home too. UCLA finished a miserable dead last after a loss to Long Beach St. in the 76 Classic 7th place game. And even Washington St.’s Great Alaska Victory comes with a grain of salt. They beat the non-D1 Alaska SeaWolves and Nichols St. en route to the tournament victory.

Gonzaga – Maui Invitational, 1st, 3-0
Portland – 76 Classic, 2nd, 2-1
San Diego – Great Alaska Shootout, 2nd, 2-1

The big winner among non-BCS conferences was the WCC. First, Gonzaga took the Maui title and beat 3 BCS teams in the process. But the big shocker was Portland making it to the 76 Classic title game. Portland’s wins against UCLA and Minnesota mean a lot in the credibility department when the WCC argues for multiple bids. Plus San Diego beat Houston and Oklahoma in Alaska. Just a great week for the WCC.

Dayton – Puerto Rico Tip-Off. 4th, 1-2
La Salle – Charleston Classic, 5th, 2-1
Richmond – South Padre Invitational, 1st, 2-0
St. Joseph’s – Paradise Jam, 4th, 1-2
St. Louis – Chicago Invitational Challenge, 4th, 0-2
UMass – Legends Classic, 4th, 0-2
Xavier – Old Spice Classic, 6th, 1-2

I’m sure A10 fans wanted to see more, but Richmond’s South Padre Island title included a pair of wins against Mississippi St. and Missouri, two potential NCAA tournament teams. And LaSalle’s wins over Davidson and Tulane to capture 5th place in the Charleston Classic might not seem that important, but they’ll help the conference’s overall profile. Still, I’m disappointed that Dayton didn’t follow up on the nice win against Georgia Tech.

East Carolina – Paradise Jam, 7th, 1-2
Houston – Great Alaska Shootout, 3rd, 2-1
Tulane – Charleston Classic, 6th, 1-2

Bradley – Las Vegas Invitational, 3rd, 1-1
Creighton – Old Spice Classic, 8th, 0-3
Northern Iowa – Paradise Jam, 5th, 2-1
Wichita State – CBE Classic, 3rd, 1-1

George Mason – Puerto Rico Tip-Off, 7th, 1-2
Old Dominion – South Padre Invitational, 4th, 0-2
UNC Wilmington – Charleston Classic, 4th, 1-2

Butler – 76 Classic, 6th, 1-2
Cleveland State – Cancun Challenge, 4th, 0-2

Lots of teams, not a lot of wins for the other high major conferences. But the most disappointing performance clearly belonged to Butler. The Bulldogs lost to Minnesota and Clemson in LA. This tournament was supposed to be Butler’s big chance to pick up quality non-conference wins, and they simply weren’t there. A close win against UCLA is nice, but may not be worth as much this season.

Other Notable:
Utah – Las Vegas Invitational, 2nd, 1-1
Long Beach St. – 76 Classic, 7th, 1-2
Davidson – Charleston Classic, 8th, 0-3
Boston University – Puerto Rico Tip-Off, 6th, 1-2
Iona – Old Spice Classic, 7th, 1-2

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Warming up for feast week

I hate to write about the obvious nationally televised stuff, but that’s all I’ve got this week. First, Arizona football fans jinxed their own team on Saturday night. ABC cameras caught them flooding onto the sideline with Arizona leading by 7 and 31 seconds left, preparing to storm the field. But Oregon had the ball and was in position to score! Logically Oregon completed the drive and got a TD with 6 seconds left to tie the game. A fan on the field was caught shouting, “You have got to be kidding me.” And the premature celebration was a full jinx as Oregon prevailed in overtime.

Second, I hope you didn’t miss Verne Lundquist’s signature call of the end of the LSU vs Ole Miss football game which Ole Miss led by two.

“The LSU Hail Mary is complete. Wow. One second left on the clock. They’ve got to get the field goal unit on the field. LSU has to get the field goal unit on the field. They are lined up with their offense. What are they doing? They have to go for it. They spiked the ball. The game is over. What were they thinking?

[Dramatic Pause]

Oh my goodness.”

OK, I didn’t have a DVR on the small TV near our washer/dryer. So this isn’t the exact quote, but it’s pretty close. Regardless, Lundquist’s shock at LSU’s bad strategy made the ending three times as good.

Feast Week Tournaments

I’m ecstatic about these early college basketball tournaments, but disappointed to see so few on TV. Why wasn’t the Georgia Tech vs Dayton game on ESPNU? People have DVRs. Is ESPN afraid it wouldn’t draw ratings on a Thursday at noon? ESPN wanted people to take Tuesday off to watch 24 hours of basketball, so shouldn’t some of those same people want to tune in to see Derrick Favors against legitimate competition? Dayton’s victory over Georgia Tech is going to be mentioned a thousand times in March as people talk about Dayton as an NCAA tournament team. And almost no one saw it.

Part of the fun is taking pity on the early tournament losers. Heading into Sunday, Penn St. and Indiana are playing in the last place games of the Charleston Classic and Puerto Rico Tip-off. Indiana’s fall-from-ahead loss to Boston U. had to be particularly disheartening to Hoosiers fans who expected the still young team to be an immediate NCAA tournament contender. On the plus side, I’ll enjoy the chance to see a Big Ten team in action at 10:30am ET on a Sunday. Indiana plays George Mason at that pre-NFL hour on ESPNU.

Already Completed:
2K Sports Coaches vs Cancer: Syracuse is the champ. In my Big East preview I wasn’t willing to anoint Wesley Johnson as the best player on Syracuse. But when he’s shooting 57% on twos, 47% on threes, and scoring 17 points per game against legitimate competition, I may soon change my mind.

Charleston Classic Title Game, Miami vs South Carolina, 6pm ESPN2. South Carolina won a pair of closer than expected games against La Salle and South Florida to reach the title game. Will the high octane Gamecocks have something left in the tank against Miami?

Puerto Rico Tip-Off Title Game, Villanova vs Ole Miss, 8pm ESPN2. Yeah, you’ve already heard it, but I’ll say it again. How would you like the first shot of your career to be a three pointer to win the game? That’s what Villanova’s Isaiah Armwood did in the first round against George Mason.

Also, the 5:30 ESPNU game between Dayton and Kansas St. is worth watching. I said most transfers don’t have a huge impact, but already Kansas St’s Curtis Kelly is proving me wrong.

Paradise Jam Title Game, CBE Semis, Maui Quarters

CBE Title Game, Maui Semis, Cancun Challenge Semis

Maui Title Game, Cancun Challenge Title Game, NIT Semis

Old Spice Quarters, 76 Classic Quarters

NIT Final, Old Spice Semis, 76 Semis, Legends Semis, Chicago Invitational Semis, Las Vegas Invitational Semis, South Padre Island Semis

Legends Title Game, Chicago Invitational Title Game, Las Vegas Invitational Title Game, South Padre Island Title Game

Old Spice Title Game, 76 Title Game

I’ve already posted the links to the printable brackets for each of these tournaments. I’ll be spending most of the week with family and not basketball, so consider the blog on hiatus.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Oddest Rival

Sports Illustrated currently has a survey which lists the top football rivalry for each school as voted on by the fans. Some basketball bleeds over. Why is Duke getting any votes as a Maryland football rival? But most results seem pretty football specific. See North Carolina choosing NC State as the top rival.

For the 65 BCS teams, there are 34 teams in 17 mutual rivalries. These are rivalries where the fans of both teams say the other team is their primary rival. These are Cal – Stanford, UCLA – USC, Oregon – Oregon St., Arizona – Arizona St., OU – Texas, Missouri – Kansas, Auburn – Alabama, Georgia – Florida, Michigan – Ohio St., Indiana – Purdue, Minnesota – Wisconsin, Pitt – W. Virginia, UConn – Rutgers, UNC – NC State, Miami – FSU, Clemson – Georgia Tech, and Virginia – Virginia Tech

That leaves 31 teams where the rivalry is unrequited. Why do teams not have an obvious rival? For recently modified conferences, sometimes the conference rival is still a new concept. Lousville, South Florida, and Syracuse all consider West Virginia the top rival. But that probably has to do with West Virginia’s dominance since the forming of the new Big East, not a permanent rivalry. Other surprising one-sided rivalries require a lot more history to understand. See Tennessee fans listing Alabama.

There are examples where the hate shows a hierarchy. Texas Tech and Baylor consider Texas A&M the rival. A&M considers Texas the rival. And for Texas, it has to be Oklahoma. But sometimes there is no hierarchy. What about the lesser schools with multiple teams claiming them as rivals? Both Iowa and Wisconsin choose Minnesota. Both Virginia Tech and Maryland choose Virginia. Clearly geography is the most important factor. But why is Washington shunning Washington St. for Oregon. And why is Ole Miss choosing LSU over Mississippi St? Maybe recent poor performance can eliminate an in-state rival.

But what is the most unexplainable rivalry? To me, it has to be Illinois. Do Illinois fans pick Northwestern, their opponent in an annual rivalry game? Do they pick Iowa, Purdue, or Indiana, all within a bus ride? Do they pick Wisconsin, Michigan St., or Ohio St. based on some perceived basketball rivalry? No, Illinois fans top football rivalry pick is Michigan. Hey, I’ve lived in Champaign, and I still don’t get it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Six Thoughts on ESPN’s 24 Hour Hoopfest

1) On what date did you learn how to properly pronounce Xavier Henry’s name?
a. Still don’t know - Normal
b. During last nights game – Obsessed fan
c. Two years ago – Recruiting junky
d. Last week watching SportsCenter highlights of a Kansas exhibition game – Lucky fan
e. Next March at a sports bar with 5 of your buddies – Unlucky fan
f. In June at the draft – NBA fan
g. Possibly never – Digger Phelps

2) Derrick Nix is my new favorite Spartan. Yes, he probably isn’t that important to the team. But when someone with that much mass can get up for 3 blocks, wow. Also, I thought for awhile Draymond Green switched jerseys. How does Tom Izzo keep finding these bulky (and yet strangely athletic) big men?

3) The highlight quote from Rush-The-Court’s 24 hour coverage: “Aw, man. We’ve been duped. ESPN is replaying the studio portions of their halftime show from game-to-game during the overnight games, assuming we’re not going to catch onto that since, well, only an idiot (*ahem*) would watch all of these games.”

4) Look, I could watch Michigan St. vs Gonzaga on infinite loop forever. This is basketball the way it is meant to be played, and not over-hyped. But unlike Championship week, I can’t advocate taking off work for the 24 hour marathon. I need to be able to flip between good games in order to claim basketball nirvana, and prior to the evening session, we mostly had a bunch of Kyle Whellistion style games. Some of them were good with significant tournament implications (see Drexel – Niagara), but it is hard to care at this point in the year.

I think someone recently described this phenomenon. When you turn on a game, you naturally start cheering for one of the teams, even though you may have no attachment to either team. I have a basic hierarchy for this:

a. Does either team play my team at some point in the season? Hmm, I guess I’m rooting for Louisville against Arkansas since Louisville plays in the same conference as Georgetown.

b. Does either team have a coach or player who is a natural villain? See Isaah Thomas who has so far i) complained about having to face North Carolina, ii) whined that Tulsa ran up the score on his team, iii) and spoke about how it was about time his team won a game. The only caveat for Isaah Thomas is that I wish his team was better so that watching them lose would mean something.

c. Does either team have fans that seem like jerks? I’ve grown to appreciate Coach K. And I do appreciate the passion of Duke fans. But Duke fans have a trademarked image as preppy and insufferable, and almost everyone roots against Duke.

d. Does either coach clearly need to be fired? Look, I think Todd Lickliter is a great guy who fell into the wrong situation. But at this point, I’m not going to cheer for Iowa to beat anyone else in the Big Ten unless that team has an insufferable coach or fans.

e. Is either team ranked 3-5 spots ahead of my team in either the polls or the bracket projections? Fake example: You mean Joe Lunardi has Minnesota as a 9 seed and Alabama as a 7 seed? Alabama is not that good. Usually you root against the ranked team, but this is one example where that might not happen. If highly ranked Kentucky plays Alabama, I may still root for Kentucky because, as I’ve said, Alabama is criminally over-rated.

f. Root against the ranked team.

g. Root for the mid-major against the BCS team. Note that this is way down on the list. The BCS team can’t be in the same conference as your team and the mid-major can’t be taking an NCAA bid from your team.

h. Root for the team with a fun player. Hey, that Edwin Ubiles of Siena was really good when I saw him last year. It might be fun to see him play well.

And that leaves games like St. Peter’s vs Monmouth where I can’t form an opinion. And I’m not going to take off work to watch a game when I can’t form an opinion.

5) The other key component, as mentioned above, is being able to flip games. At 5:30pm, there were at least two games to flip between. In the Rush-the-Court recap, John Stevens mentioned flipping over to SportsNation at 4 in the morning. Incidentally, I like Calvin Cowherd a little better on SportsNation than I do on his radio show, but his negativity on the radio is a bit much for me. This would be Cowherd’s standard analysis of UCSF knocking off UCLA for the first time in school history.

“Congratulations to UCSF for knocking of UCLA, but let’s face it, if UCSF was a good team, they wouldn’t have needed two overtimes to beat this young UCLA squad. Furthermore, this upset basically happened in the first game of the season. That means at the end of the year it isn’t going to mean anything to the selection committee. The last 10 games count a lot. Of course UCSF is not the kind of school you would find on the bubble anyhow. That basically means this game is irrelevant. And the UCLA fans clearly showed it by not showing up to this one. The stadium was practically empty. So congratulations to UCSF for the biggest upset in school history or whatever you want to call it. But it happened at 2:30am ET and no one is going to remember this game tomorrow.”

6) It is really too early to judge much of anything. But for those of us who wrote previews this year, (now available on Amazon), each early season game is a painful evaluation of our work.

-I had Louisville alone in second in my Big East preseason ranking, but after every other publication I read buried them, I gave them one more loss in my projections. On Tuesday I was regretting that move. Louisville lost a lot of returning minutes, but the Louisville bench and role players could have started for a lot of Big East team’s last year. And I would take a recruit like Peyton Siva any day of the week. Plus, no matter what he did off the court, Rick Pitino can still coach.

-Meanwhile, I had Georgetown as a borderline NCAA tournament team, lower than many other prognosticators, due to the team’s lack of depth. And they looked pretty similar to last year in a 1 point win over Temple. OK, yeah there are some key differences that followers of the team can catch. Julian Vaughn was virtually never on the court at the same time as Greg Monroe last year, but JT3 had them both starting and playing together for most of the game. But does anyone outside the Georgetown community care about this? What most people care about is that the team still has virtually zero scoring outside of the big three of Wright, Freeman, and Monroe.

But before I pat myself on the back for having Louisville higher than other ratings and Georgetown lower than other ratings, you need to recognize that this is a long season. And most of the ratings are based on the whole season, when the young players get a chance to develop. I think Kansas is a national title contender, as I wrote in the Jay-hawk tip-off. But they need to find the right combination of role players, and that is going to take some time.

So for now, let the season develop, and enjoy the games for what they are: good games. How often will you see a big man like Greg Monroe drive from the top of the key for the game winning basket as Georgetown beats Temple? How often will you see UCLA fall at home in a non-conference game? How often will you see Memphis fight its heart-out to hang with Kansas? And how often will you see Gonzaga-Michigan St. play down to the wire. This is college basketball.

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.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The end of my ESPNU and DirectTV nightmares

With all apologies to LeMoyne, the college basketball season tips off Monday with games that count. But if it weren’t for Isaah Thomas, who wanted his Florida International team to be blown out by Ohio St. instead of North Carolina, there wouldn’t be much intrigue. These games are officially part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs Cancer Classic, but have no bearing on the tournament bracket.

(It makes you wonder why they even play these games this early if the semifinalists are already set? Kansas plays in a tournament where it hosts three cupcakes and plays Memphis, but it actually chooses to play the cupcakes AFTER the Memphis game.)

Anyhow, to make matters worse, Monday’s games are carried on ESPNU and the Big Ten Network, which have traditionally been the most frustrating networks for national college basketball fans. ESPNU always seems to be on some tiered service where you pay $10 to see your team play twice, and Big Ten Network is great if you live somewhere between Minneapolis and Pittsburgh, but not so great otherwise.

But a funny thing has been changing over the past year. According to the Washington Times, both networks are achieving more household penetration. In the past year,
-The Big Ten Network has added 40 million homes
-ESPNU added 46 million homes
-and even CBS College Sports has added 30 million homes
(Now if only there was a game I wanted to see on CBS College Sports.) So perhaps the days of complaining about the ESPNU games are over. Well, at least for the time being.

DirectTV, RCN, Cox, Verizon FIOS

My cable provider has changed dramatically this summer. Longtime readers of the blog know some details of my saga. When I moved to DC, my apartment had RCN as its cable provider. And at that time RCN was in bankruptcy court and was not allowed to sell any of the sports packages. That meant I literally could not get the ESPN Full Court package with cable.

At that time, I decided to sign up with DirectTV. The “free installation” took 6 tries and $500. It was best summed up on the first attempt at installation where the guy showed up, told us he didn’t feel like working that day, and left.

Despite yearly service interruptions due to the weather or some sort of government program to knock out satellite dishes in DC, I endured with DirectTV for the NFL package. That changed in March. On the eve of Championship Week, our dish went out again. DirectTV told me they couldn’t get someone out until April, and I said goodbye.

I was back to RCN. In an odd twist, RCN now carried ESPNU on its primary tier. But I didn’t get the Big Ten Network, so I was stuck watching the Big Ten tournament games at a sports bar on a tiny TV. Sigh.

Meanwhile, the exercise room in my apartment also began to irritate me. They took out their standard definition TVs that were nicely spaced throughout the treadmills and replaced them with two giant flat screen TVs on the other end of the room. That would have been fine, except every time I went down to the exercise room people were emphatic that the TVs had to be on Fox News or MSNBC or something similar. Arggh. Suffice to say, I exercise better with sports than politics.

This summer we decided to move, and last month we did. This explains why I posted approximately three times this summer. Sadly, I did not choose my new location based on cable providers. (Where are my priorities?) And unlike the frequently available Comcast, my new cable provider Cox, did not offer the Big Ten Network.

But I lucked into another option. My new location offered Verizon Fios and I signed up. And Verizon Fios seems to have even more sports than DirectTV. They have ESPNU, Big Ten Network, CBS College Sports, and Versus on the main tier. They have all four of the major sports network stations for free (NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL). Heck, they even have the Yankees’ YES network on the primary tier despite the fact that this is the DC area and not the New York area. I’m still presuming something is going to go wrong, but at least for the moment, my nightmare of trying to see 50 Gopher and Illini games at the sports bar is averted.


Are you kidding me? Tonight I put it on CBS College Sports to see if 1-loss Houston could remain in the hunt to be annoyed at undefeated TCU and Boise St. Houston trailed Tulsa 45-37 late in the 4th quarter. Houston drove the length of the field and scored a TD to make it 45-43. But on the 2 point conversion, the QB was sacked and it looked like Tulsa would hold on.

But not so fast. With 21 seconds left Houston recovered the onside kick. Then Houston proceeded to complete a couple of passes and send on a freshman kicker for a 51 yard field goal try with 3 seconds left. The kick was so high I almost thought it was blocked. But it was long enough, it was straight enough, and it was good. Houston wins 46-45. Awesome. And I will no longer dismiss the CBS College Sports Network. At least for a month.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Impact Transfers?

John Gasaway was recently asking about the biggest impact transfers. I’m not going to answer his question, but I will agree that most transfers do not have a huge impact. Here is a list of former RSCI top 100 recruits who debuted with a new team last year. I limit this list to players who played at least 10% of the minutes for their new and old team. The old team is listed first and the new team just below that.

There are a few players that improved and took on a larger role in the new environment, notably Magnum Rolle and Vernon Goodridge. Most took on more playing time but were not substantially better. For example, Anthony Gurley of UMass doubled his minutes, but not his efficiency. And then there are players like Reginald Delk at Louisville who saw his minutes fall off a cliff, but at least he got to play for the Big East champions.

Still, I'm surprised by the large number of players whose efficiency gets worse in the new environment. Maybe Mike Mercer had limited time with South Florida, but he was not effective last year. And Marcus Johnson found USC was even less forgiving than UConn.

Will Top 100 recruit Curtis Kelly, another UConn transfer, really fare better at Kansas St.? And what about Wesley Johnson at Syracuse? Johnson wasn't a top 100 recruit, but he certainly took a lot of shots at Iowa St. Time to find out. The season is almost here.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Printable Brackets (Fall Edition)

My favorite week of the season is the first week of the NCAA tournament. My second favorite week is Championship Week. And my third favorite week would be Feast Week, with all the holiday tournaments, except that this year I’ll be spending most of Thanksgiving week with family and no internet or cable access. (Hey, family is important too.)

All the major websites have already previewed the Thanksgiving tournaments months ago, and most major websites even have a complete directory of these types of events. And Chris Dobbertean already did a fantastic job breaking the tournaments down by conference. But that won’t stop me from breaking down the brackets on my own.

There are 73 teams in the six BCS conferences. 34 BCS teams participate in eight real tournaments with real printable tournament brackets.
Charleston Classic – November 19, 20, 22
Puerto Rico Tip-Off – November 19, 20, 22
Paradise Jam – November 20, 21, 22, 23
Maui Invitational – November 23, 24, 25
Preseason NIT – November 16, 17, 25, 27
Old Spice Classic – November 26, 27, 29
76 Classic – November 26, 27, 29
Diamond Head Classic – December 22, 23, 25
I’ve said it a million times, but I’ll say it again. Printable brackets are fun. Why do you just print out the NCAA tournament bracket? Print these out too.

21 BCS teams participate in eight hybrid tournaments. These are four team tournaments where the four teams also get two free home games out of the tournament. These are an abuse of the “exempt tournament” rule to some degree, but at least there’s a real tournament at the end. The Gazelle Group events (* below) have a printable tournament bracket. Sadly the rest of the tournaments do not. I recommend you make your own mini-brackets and fill in the match-ups manually. The date listed is for the four team tournament and ignores the preliminary rounds since those do not count anyhow.
2K Sports Coaches vs Cancer Classic* – November 19, 20
CBE Classic* – November 23, 24
Cancun Challenge – November 24, 25
Legends Classic* – November 27, 28
Chicago Invitational Challenge – November 27, 28
Las Vegas Invitational – November 27, 28
South Padre Invitational – November 27, 28
Las Vegas Classic – December 25, 26

2 BCS teams, Oklahoma and Washington St., participate in the Great Alaska Shootout. The tournament which has been struggling for over a year (bottom story in Andy Katz archive) looks like it is on its last legs now that it is no longer televised by ESPN. For those of us who have been following these holiday tournaments for years, it is sad to see such a historic tournament struggle. Consider the late 1990’s when teams like Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky were making the trip to Alaska and winning the tournament on a regular basis. Now the field consists of six teams in two round robin pods, where the winners will meet in the title game.

12 BCS teams participate in creative tournaments. To me these tournaments just look like a way to abuse the “exempt tournament” rule. Find yourself limited to 29 games by the NCAA? Add a creative tournament and you get more games! The worst offenders are Providence, Washington, and Oregon who “host” round robin events. But really these are just events where the schools get 3 home games in 3 days between November 13th and 15th. Texas Tech also participates in one of these tournaments from November 13th to 15th, but at least Texas Tech had the dignity to invite another BCS team in Oregon St. Kansas, Memphis, Arkansas, and Louisville also participate in one of these sham tournaments with three home games against small schools. The only difference is that in their “tournament”, there will be a pair of neutral site games, Kansas vs Memphis, and Arkansas vs Louisville. Finally, the Glenn Wilkes Classic and Philly Classic are a bunch of home games and neutral site games all bunched together in a format that makes sense financially, but really is not a tournament. NC State and Auburn take advantage in the Glenn Wilkes Classic, and St. John’s and Virginia Tech take advantage in the Philly Classic. That’s not to say that some of these events won’t produce good games. But when every game is scheduled ahead of time, this seems like an abuse of the “exempt tournament” rule to me.

Only 4 teams do not participate in an exempt tournament this year: Wake Forest, Georgia, Georgetown, and Seton Hall.

Of course the real winners from these tournaments can be the mid-majors who get to play a BCS team on a neutral floor. Here are some of the non-BCS teams that play in one of the eight legitimate tournaments listed above, one of the eight hybrid tournaments listed above, or the Great Alaska Shootout. I ignore the creative pre-scheduled tournaments and tournaments that do not involve a BCS school.

BYU – Las Vegas Classic
TCU – Preseason NIT
Utah – Las Vegas Invitational
UNLV – Diamond Head Classic

Charlotte – Preseason NIT
Dayton – Puerto Rico Tip-Off
La Salle – Charleston Classic
Richmond – South Padre Invitational
St. Joseph’s – Paradise Jam
St. Louis – Chicago Invitational Challenge
UMass – Legends Classic
Xavier – Old Spice Classic

Bradley – Las Vegas Invitational
Creighton – Old Spice Classic
Indiana St. – Preseason NIT
Northern Iowa – Paradise Jam
Wichita State – CBE Classic

East Carolina – Paradise Jam
Houston – Great Alaska Shootout
Tulane – Charleston Classic
Tulsa – Las Vegas Classic
SMU – Diamond Head Classic

George Mason – Puerto Rico Tip-Off
Hofstra – Preseason NIT
Northeastern – Diamond Head Classic
Old Dominion – South Padre Invitational
UNC Wilmington – Charleston Classic

Gonzaga – Maui Invitational
Portland – 76 Classic
St. Mary’s – Diamond Head Classic
San Diego – Great Alaska Shootout

Butler – 76 Classic
Cleveland State – Cancun Challenge
Wisconsin-Milwaukee – Preseason NIT

Nevada – Las Vegas Classic
Hawaii – Diamond Head Classic

Big West
Long Beach St. – 76 Classic
Cal State Northridge – Preseason NIT

Davidson – Charleston Classic
College of Charleston – Diamond Head Classic
Elon – Preseason NIT

Other D-1
Boston University – Puerto Rico Tip-Off
Coastal Carolina – Preseason NIT
Colgate – Preseason NIT
Iona – Old Spice Classic
Nicholls St. – Great Alaska Shootout
South Dakota St. – Paradise Jam
Texas State – Preseason NIT
Western Kentucky – Preseason NIT
Western Michigan – Diamond Head Classic
Yale – Preseason NIT

BCS Conferences:

Boston College – Paradise Jam
Clemson – 76 Classic
Duke – Preseason NIT
Florida State – Old Spice Classic
Georgia Tech – Puerto Rico Tip-Off
Maryland – Maui Invitational
Miami (Fla.) – Charleston Classic
North Carolina State – Pre-scheduled non-tournament
North Carolina – 2K Sports Coaches vs Cancer Classic
Virginia – Cancun Challenge
Virginia Tech – Pre-scheduled non-tournament
Wake Forest – None

Big East
Cincinnati – Maui Invitational
Connecticut – Preseason NIT
DePaul – Paradise Jam
Georgetown – None
Louisville – Pre-scheduled non-tournament
Marquette – Old Spice Classic
Notre Dame – Chicago Invitational Challenge
Pittsburgh – CBE Classic
Providence – Pre-scheduled non-tournament
Rutgers – Legends Classic
Seton Hall – None
South Florida – Charleston Classic
St. John's – Pre-scheduled non-tournament
Syracuse – 2K Sports Coaches vs Cancer Classic
Villanova – Puerto Rico Tip-Off
West Virginia – 76 Classic

Big Ten
Illinois – Las Vegas Invitational
Indiana – Puerto Rico Tip-Off
Iowa – CBE Classic
Michigan State – Legends Classic
Michigan – Old Spice Classic
Minnesota – 76 Classic
Northwestern – Chicago Invitational Challenge
Ohio State – 2K Sports Coaches vs Cancer Classic
Penn State – Charleston Classic
Purdue – Paradise Jam
Wisconsin – Maui Invitational

Big Twelve
Baylor – Old Spice Classic
Colorado – Maui Invitational
Iowa State – Chicago Invitational Challenge
Kansas – Pre-scheduled non-tournament
Kansas State – Puerto Rico Tip-Off
Missouri – South Padre Invitational
Nebraska – Las Vegas Classic
Oklahoma – Great Alaska Shootout
Oklahoma State – Las Vegas Invitational
Texas A&M – 76 Classic
Texas – CBE Classic
Texas Tech – Pre-scheduled non-tournament

Pac 10
Arizona State – Preseason NIT
Arizona – Maui Invitational
California – 2K Sports Coaches vs Cancer Classic
Oregon – Pre-scheduled non-tournament
Oregon State – Pre-scheduled non-tournament
USC – Diamond Head Classic
Stanford – Cancun Challenge
UCLA – 76 Classic
Washington – Pre-scheduled non-tournament
Washington State – Great Alaska Shootout

Alabama – Old Spice Classic
Arkansas – Pre-scheduled non-tournament
Auburn – Pre-scheduled non-tournament
Florida – Legends Classic
Georgia – None
Kentucky – Cancun Challenge
LSU – Preseason NIT
Mississippi State – South Padre Invitational
Mississippi – Puerto Rico Tip-Off
South Carolina – Charleston Classic
Tennessee – Paradise Jam
Vanderbilt – Maui Invitational

A few final notes:

-Why does the Southern Conference get three games in significant tournaments? Is it the Stephen Curry effect even though he is not in college anymore?

-The Big Ten did the best at exempt tournament scheduling. Every team is in at least a hybrid four team tournament. One key here is television. Many of these smaller tournaments are struggling to get the games on TV, and the Big Ten teams come with the Big Ten Network in hand.

-Finally, I mentioned his well-written preview above, but who is Chris Dobbertean anyhow? He’s posting about holiday tournaments (like me), he lives in the DC area (like me), he was probably at the Old Spice Classic last year (like I was). He’s even planning a trip to this year’s 76 Classic where my Gophers are playing. Scary.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Usage vs Efficiency and Blatant Plug #2

Last spring, I read this post which looked at Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and Ray Allen and showed that as they took more shots, their FG% fell. We all know this phenomenon exists. At the basic level, if a player only took shots when they were wide open, they would clearly make a higher percentage. And this leads to my favorite phrase for terrible shooters. “Team X would be better off if Player X was more selective.”

But I wondered if we could quantify this impact for college basketball players. What’s the numeric impact of going from 20% of the team’s shots to 25%? Thus this summer, I spend a little bit of time looking at Ken Pomeroy’s tempo free player stats. I hoped to compare the percentage of possessions (%Poss) to the player’s individual offensive efficiency rating (ORtg) and quantify the impact. But the results were not as clear as I hoped.

Allow me to step back for a moment. If you look across all players, there is actually a positive correlation between shot volume and player efficiency. The good players get to shoot more. Thus in any study of this type, we have to look at how players change over time. And while college basketball has fewer time observations, (players have at most four years of observations), there are a lot more college basketball players to follow. So I was hopeful that there would be enough data to find some interesting results.

In general, I found for each additional 1% of possessions taken, efficiency changed by –0.25. Thus if a player used 24% of his teams possessions instead of 20%, his ORtg would be expected to fall only 1 point. Unfortunately, the results were not very robust. By varying the sample or the functional form, I could get the result to be positive or as high as about –0.80.

Here is a graph that may show the difficulty with this. This lists players who were top 100 recruits in recent years. Each player’s %Poss is listed on the x-axis, and ORtg is listed on the y-axis. The lines track the changes for individual players over time.

As you’ll note there are some lines that do slant downward. There are cases where players shoot more and end up shooting a worse percentage. But there are also many cases where players who shoot more actually make a greater percentage of their shots.

This leads me to believe I’m making a big mistake using annual college basketball data. The problem is that college basketball players are not likely to be equivalent from year-to-year. College is a key time for player development and skill improvement. I can control for the player’s year in the program (freshman, sophomore, ect.), but improvement is not uniform across players. And because improvement is not uniform, we really end up with the same problem we initially had when we compared players. The players who develop the most in the off-season (the players that show the biggest improvement in efficiency), are the exact players who are allowed to shoot more. Thus even within players, we will often find a positive correlation between usage and efficiency.

One way to get around this may be to focus on players who were regulars in all years, or who took a lot of shots in all years. And when I focus on these samples, I do get the larger negative impact discussed above.

But there are other problems to think about when using this data. Should we even expect a uniform decrease from additional shot volume? Is the marginal shot a forced three pointer or a jumper in the lane? Is the difference between 10% of a team’s possessions and 11% really the same as the difference between 29% of a team’s possessions and 30%? Players who have large changes in shot volume may be the best way to measure the overall shape of the shot distribution path. But players who show large changes in shot volume are the exact players who developed the most.

I guess this all leads me to conclude that the NBA may be a better place to study shot volume and efficiency. Certainly after the first few years, NBA players will not have the same major swings in development. Moreover, there may be some fun quasi-experiments in shot volume, as Kevin Pelton mentions here. Kevin also kindly points to this older post which summarizes the usage and efficiency discussion at length. Here is my general take on some ideas discussed in the thread. A lot of people will see a player with a high efficiency and say that player should shoot more, but that may not always work in the offense the team is running. If you have an immobile guard who is a spot up shooter, he may make a lot of wide open threes, but he might be terrible if he was asked to take an additional shot. Similarly, a player like Chase Budinger may not be the most efficient in the country, but he drew so many double teams with his shot volume that he still made his teammates better. I guess this is my way of saying that I think coaches are rarely idiots. And if a player’s efficiency seems out of line for their shot volume, there is probably a reason.

Even though my quest to quantify the impact of usage on efficiency is not definitive, because bias from player development appears to be the biggest problem, my guess is that the average effect is at least -0.25 and probably much larger.

Blatant Plug #2

While working with Ken Pomeroy’s player data, I was able to tabulate some fun descriptive statistics. For example, what’s the distribution of offensive efficiency for freshman? What’s the distribution of offensive efficiency for freshman top 100 recruits? What’s the average change from freshman to sophomore year? And so on. And if you want to read it, you can find it in the Basketball Prospectus 2010 College Basketball Preview. I was honored that John Gasaway asked me to write the Big East preview this year.

Make sure you read John’s article on experience and team performance. You may remember I had a series of posts on this last year, culminating here. I remain skeptical of the importance of experience, (because the most talented players rarely stick around), but John’s writing on the topic is starting to convince me otherwise.

Also, possibly because I am so skeptical of experience, I was perhaps the perfect person to write the Big East preview this year. That’s because almost all of the Big East teams are young this year. If you can find someone else who more enthusiastically wrote about a young Providence team, I’ll be surprised. (Believe it or not, I included a lot of stat factoids in the article on Providence, even though only three rotation players return this year.) I highly encourage you to head over to Basketball Prospectus and download yourself a copy of the whole book.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the folks over at Big Ten Geeks who are tackling some of the exact same topics. (Seriously, I did a double take when I saw they looked at the change in efficiency from freshman to sophomore year, ect.) And I want to acknowledge Villanova by the Numbers who has slowly been unveiling another Big East preview in tempo-free style. If you are interested in my Big East preview, you'll probably be interested in those as well.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Blatant Plug

By now it should be apparent that this blog is not about building an audience or making money. (Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about Euroleague basketball.) But if I waste my time on something, I like to write about it. For example, every year I want to know how many BCS football teams don’t play another BCS team in the non-conference schedule. So I calculate it and I post it. Ect.

This year I’m branching out slightly. I wrote an article for the magazine seen here. I don’t care if you buy it, but I wrote it, so huzzah. Some people with much more basketball knowledge than me also wrote articles. Someone actually dissected the inbounds plays for Kansas. Wow.

Of course, as I expected when I wrote it, everything changed before the regular season. First, Tyshawn Taylor is out four weeks after getting in a fight with the football team. And now Brady Morningstar got a DUI today. I thought Morningstar would be losing time anyway on a loaded Jayhawk team, and now he’s suspended the whole first semester. Let’s just say, when you have as much depth as Kansas is going to have, it is a lot easier to put the hammer down.

I hope to announced another blatant plug in a few weeks.

Daniel Hackett sighting!

College basketball's Midnight Madness is just two weeks away, but the preliminary round of Euroleague basketball has already started. Remember that 22 of the regular season competitors have already been determined. This preliminary round is to narrow 8 teams down and select the final 2 regular season competitors. The first games were home-and-away elimination matches where the most total points won.

We start with Greece #3 vs Greece #4. And Greece #3 wins. Remember Pittsburgh’s Levon Kendall? In the two games he scored 7 points and grabbed 5 rebounds for the winning team. Remember Billy Keys who played for New Mexico St? Of course not, but he’s one of Greece #3’s best players scoring 28 points and grabbed 9 boards. Remember Jared Homan of Iowa St? He scored 19 points and grabbed 12 boards for the victors. Hooray for Greece #3.

Elsewhere Germany #3 beat France #3. Both teams participated in the Euroleague regular season last year, so France #3 is sad. Rashad Wright of Georgia scored 14 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and dished out 5 assists for Germany #3.

Also Italy #3 beat the Champions of the Latvian League. Cartier Martin of Kansas St. scored 15 points and grabbed 6 rebounds for Italy #3. Daniel Hackett of USC scored 35 points, grabbed 5 boards, and dished out 4 assists for Italy #3. Now that’s what I’m looking for, a college basketball player I remember putting up solid numbers in the Euroleague.

Finally France #2 beat the Champions of the Belgian League. Justin Doellman formerly of Xavier scored 18 points and grabbed 5 rebounds for France #2.

Greece #3 Maroussi Athens will now face Germany #3 ALBA Berlin
Italy #3 Benetton Treviso will now face France #2 Entente Orléans Loiret

The two winners earn bids into the regular season. These will again be two-leg games and the games will take place October 6th and 9th.

To American basketball fans, combining the total points from two games doesn’t seem like a logical way to determine a champ. Where’s the best of 5 or best of 7? But it produced some interesting results. First, the home team won every leg. But the team hosting the second leg won every series. Also, the strategy was different. When total points from two games matters, there was no incentive to foul at the end of the first games and all 4 of the opening leg games were decided by less than 5 points. In the second round, teams had to foul and none of the second leg games were close.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Autumn is Here

I have some ideas planned for the college basketball season, but time constraints are limiting what I can post. For those of you looking for something to read, you’ll have to stick with the normal sources of college basketball diversion for now.

Computer Rankings like Sample Size

The college football season has yet to draw my attention this year. This week features a matchup between Texas and Texas Tech. And it is a good thing they scheduled a tough Big 12 game early, because neither team has a marquee game on the non-conference slate. Texas and Texas Tech are two of only four BCS teams that failed to schedule another BCS team in the non-conference part of the schedule. (The other two are Ole Miss and Wisconsin.)

Look, I understood when there were 11 regular season games that teams would often schedule 3 winnable games, but now that there are 4 non-conference games, it seems inexcusable not to add at least one BCS non-conference test.

Sadly, the numbers are down across the board this year. This year there are only 100 non-conference games between BCS teams, down from 106 in 2008. That's even fewer games with which to evaluate the quality of teams and compare the leagues. Here is how the conferences stack up when it comes to BCS competition. First I list average BCS games and then I break it down between conference and non-conference games. (Note: I include Notre Dame as a BCS team.)

TotalBCS = ConfBCS + AvgNC BCS, League
10.50 = 9.00 + 1.50, Pac10
10.00 = 0.00 + 10.00, Notre Dame
9.67 = 8.00 + 1.67, ACC
9.27 = 8.00 + 1.27, Big 10
9.17 = 8.00 + 1.17, SEC
9.00 = 7.00 + 2.00, Big East
8.92 = 8.00 + 0.92, Big 12

Overall, the ACC plays more non-conference games against BCS schools than any other league in the country with 20 games or 1.67 per school. The Big 12 is at the bottom with 11 non-conference games or 0.92 per school. But the Pac10 teams still face arguably the toughest schedules due to 9 conference games.

The Big 12 is playing 4 fewer non-conference games against the BCS leagues than they did last season. Now, not all non-BCS games are equivalent. Oklahoma deserves some credit for playing BYU, ect. But I’d still like to see the Big 12 teams test themselves.

2009-2010 Euroleague Basketball

Besides my normal college basketball coverage, this winter I intend to start to track the 2009-2010 Euroleague. Call it Ricky Rubio or Josh Childress fever, but I’m hoping to make sporadic posts on what is happening in professional basketball overseas.

Euroleague Basketball would like to be like Champions League Soccer with the best teams from each country earning a chance to compete in an elite basketball league. This year the field expanded from 24 to 30 teams giving the champions of more countries, such as Belgium and Latvia, an opportunity.

Here’s one way to think of ranking the top 30 teams in Europe, based on the quality of each country’s basketball league:

Champ Spain
Champ Italy
Champ Greece

Champ Russia
Champ France
Champ Turkey

Champ Lithuania
Champ Serbia
Champ Croatia

Champ Slovenia
Champ Germany
Champ Poland

2nd Spain
2nd Italy
2nd Greece

2nd Russia
2nd France
2nd Turkey

3rd Spain
3rd Italy
3rd Greece

Champ Belgium
Champ Latvia
Champ Ukraine

2nd Lithuania
2nd Serbia
2nd Croatia

Champ Israel
Champ C. Republic
Champ Netherlands

The idea was proposed that the top 22 teams would automatically qualify for the Regular Season starting in October. Prior to this, in September, the bottom 8 would compete in a mini-tournament for 2 more slots in the Regular Season.

Based on last season, you would fill in the league like this:
Champ Spain: Regal FC Barcelona***
Champ Italy: Montepaschi Siena***
Champ Greece: Panathinaikos Athens***
Champ Russia: CSKA Moscow***
Champ France: ASVEL Villeurbanne
Champ Turkey: Efes Pilsen Istanbul***
Champ Lithuania: Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius
Champ Serbia: Partizan Belgrade
Champ Croatia: Cibona Zagreb
Champ Slovenia: Union Olimpija Ljubljana
Champ Germany: EWE Baskets Oldenburg
Champ Poland: Prokom Gdańsk
2nd Spain: Caja Laboral Baskonia***
2nd Italy: Armani Jeans Milano
2nd Greece: Olympiacos Piraeus***

But basketball in Europe isn’t nearly as popular as soccer, and a strictly merit based system isn’t stable enough. In order to have a profitable league, you also need to make sure the high TV revenue, high attendance teams are included every year. Thus based on historical performance, TV revenue, and attendance, 13 teams were given three year licenses into the Regular Season. Thus whether these teams were good last year or not, they will compete in the Euroleague Regular Season. This includes seven teams with a *** above, as well as six other teams in the Regular Season based on popularity and past success:

2nd Turkey: Fenerbahçe Ülker Istanbul***
3rd Spain: Unicaja Málaga***
2nd Lithuania: Žalgiris Kaunas***
Champ Israel: Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv***
Other Spain: Real Madrid***
Other Italy: Lottomatica Roma***

The final slot in the Regular Season was awarded to last year’s winner of the Eurocup, a competition for teams that do not qualify for the Euroleague. Last year’s winner, Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius already qualified by winning the Lithuanian league, so the slot was awarded to the 2nd place EuroCup team:

2nd Russia: Khimki Moscow Region

With the field of 22 set for the Regular Season, there are still 8 slots for the qualifying tournament. Returning to the original ordered list, the next teams are:

2nd France: Entente Orléans Loiret
3rd Italy: Benetton Treviso
3rd Greece: Maroussi Athens
Champ Belgium: Spirou Charleroi
Champ Latvia: BK Ventspils

France was not happy with the new Euroleague format. They weren’t given any of the 3 year Regular Season licenses despite having arguably the 5th best league in Europe. The compromise was to award France wildcards into the qualifying tournament. ASVEL Villeurbanne, already a Regular Season participant this year, was guaranteed at least a qualifying slot every year for the next 3 years. Also, a wildcard slot was given to another French team:

3rd France: Le Mans Sarthe Basket

Also, to appease Greece, a wildcard slot was given to the 4th place Greek team.

4th Greece: Aris Salonica

The next team on the initial list was Ukraine Champ, Azovmash Mariupol. But they had some problems meeting facility requirements. Since the 2nd place Lithuanian team already had a License to the Regular Season, the next slot should have gone to the 2nd place Serbian team. Sadly for Serbia, the Euroleague council decided that Serbia does not equal ratings, and offered a wildcard slot to a quality German team coming off a down year in the German league.

3rd Germany: ALBA Berlin

And so we have the field for the Euroleague 2009-2019. The league is sort of based on merit, but the final slots are based on ratings and popularity, (kind of like the BCS.)

Upcoming Games

The qualifying tournament for the Euroleague begins on September 29th

Champ Belgium - Spirou Charleroi vs 2nd France - Entente Orléans Loiret
Champ Latvia - BK Ventspils vs 3rd Italy - Benetton Treviso
3rd Greece - Maroussi Athens vs 4th Greece - Aris Salonica
3rd France - Le Mans Sarthe Basket vs 3rd Germany - ALBA Berlin

Only Le Mans and ALBA Berlin were in the EuroLeague last year. Le Mans went 2-8 in the Euroleague first round and was eliminated. ALBA Berlin went 4-6 in the first round and then 0-6 in the second round.

Notable: According to Wikipedia, BK Ventspils roster includes former Texas A&M star Bernard King and Illinois forward Warren Carter. Benetton Treviso includes USC guard Daniel Hackett and Kansas State forward Cartier Martin. ALBA Berlin includes Georgia guard Rashad Wright and former BYU forward Lee Cummard. Aris Salonica includes Iowa State guard Curtis Stinson. Maroussi Athens includes former Virginia Tech guard Jamon Gordon.