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.