Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The RSCI Sophomores

Sunday I presented the stats for the RSCI Top 20 Freshmen. Today I want to look at the RSCI Top 20 Sophomores who stayed in school. Among the RSCI Top 20 from last year, 8 have already left for the NBA:

1 Derrick Favors
2 John Wall
3 DeMarcus Cousins
4 Avery Bradley
6 Xavier Henry
8 Lance Stephenson
10 Tiny Gallon
20 Daniel Orton

Here are the numbers for the returning players: (Use the scroll bar at the bottom of the table and scroll right to see all the stat categories.)

Last years 5th ranked recruit John Henson has seen his playing time and per-game totals increase from last year. But his overall efficiency is still not great, and that free throw percentage is still hideous. The key for the Tar Heels is that he has become a dominant rebounder on both ends of the court.

Last year’s 7th ranked recruit Renardo Sidney has finally debuted.

I had high expectations for last year’s 9th ranked recruit Kenny Boynton to take a big leap forward this year. But his shooting has not improved from last year, his assists are down slightly, and that’s a bad thing because Florida has not reached the hard part of their schedule yet. Unless Boynton improves in SEC play, he is on pace to have a slightly worse year as a sophomore than as a freshman.

11th ranked Washington Husky Abdul Gaddy has become a star this season. Despite taking shots at the same rate as last year, he is now making a ton of them and his assist rate has jumped significantly as well. In fact his assist-to-turnover ratio is one of the highest in a BCS conference.

With JayVaughn Pinkston suspended for the year, Mouphtaou Yarou has become a much more important post player for the Wildcats this season. Yarou was considered a long-term project when he went to Villanova, and while he still has moments where he looks confused, he has improved his aggressiveness, and his defensive rebounding fills a critical need for the team.

Dante Taylor continues to get a puzzlingly low amount of playing time for Pittsburgh, but his numbers have been getting better. Everyone talked about how he was going to be the next Pittsburgh monster on the offensive boards, and we’ve seen flashes of that this season. But he is playing too much against the other team's backups for me to trust that that efficiency rating is for real.

Last year’s 14th ranked recruit Ryan Kelly still is not playing much for Duke, but he’s shown a much better shooting touch so far.

With too many turnovers and horrific free throw shooting, last year’s 15th ranked player, Wally Judge, is struggling.

Lost in Kemba Walker’s magical season is the improvement Alex Oriakhi has shown this season. The reason UConn was picked so low in the pre-season was because neither Walker nor Oriakhi were dominant last year, but that has obviously changed.

While Florida St.’s Michael Snaer has found a little bit of a shooting touch early this year, he still turns it over way too much to be an effective offensive player.

It feels to me like Mason Plumlee is playing a lot better than last year, but maybe he has just had a few more highlight reel plays. In reality, his biggest improvement has been on the boards.

Villanova’s Dominic Cheek was actually ranked higher than Maalik Wayns in the RSCI rankings last year, and so far he’s having a better sophomore year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tristan Thompson and Josh Smith’s Biggest Weakness, (Not Free Throw Percentage)

We are getting far enough in the season that I thought it was worth reviewing the stats for the RSCI top 20 freshmen.

Despite Harrison Barnes dramatic game-tying three, North Carolina still lost on Saturday. And despite a 16 point performance from the super-hyped freshman, we know that Barnes full-season numbers are still disappointing. (That’s right folks, we are a month and a half into the season and Harrison Barnes still has the worst eFG% among the top 20 recruits. Yikes.)

But what else have we learned about the marquee freshman class this year? See the next table. You will have to scroll to the right to see all the categories.

Josh Selby just came back so it is too early to say anything about him. And Enes Kanter is still ineligible. But everyone in the RSCI top 10 is getting playing time. The same cannot be said for players ranked 11-20. Fab Melo, Reggie Bullock, DeShaun Thomas, and Patric Young are barely breaking the lineup for their teams.

Terrence Jones is scoring at an incredible rate thanks to his very high usage rate, and he is still posting a respectable 108.5 ORtg. But Kyrie Irving and Jared Sullinger have been simply unbelievable. Not only have both players been scoring machines -- they have been ridiculously efficient. Too bad Irving is injured, because I would love to see what kind of numbers he could have put up over the full season.

Also, Irving was clearly posting amazing numbers, but very few freshman guards can put up great assist to turnover ratios. Brandon Knight and Joe Jackson have had decent starts, but neither has a winning assist to turnover ratio at this point.

Also, no one has noticed Joe Jackson’s poor shooting this season because Memphis has played pretty well, but like many freshman point guards he needs a lot of possessions to get his points. Jackson’s free throw touch suggests his shot might come around, but right now only Harrison Barnes has a worse eFG%.

You might assume because Texas point guard Cory Joseph has been so quiet offensively that he is doing a great job feeding his teammates. But Joseph’s assist numbers are not that great, and his turnover rate is still too high for him to be considered an elite point guard at this stage. Still, you cannot question his heart, hitting that huge game-winning jumper against North Carolina. In fact, Joseph’s rare three point shots have been his biggest asset so far.

You’ll notice in the table that I post the raw Block and Steal numbers instead of Block or Steal rates. I just don’t know what to make of a block rate for a player who barely plays, so I prefer to see the total numbers on the season. Not only has Terrence Jones been fabulous at swatting the ball, he has been great at grabbing steals too.

OK, but now what did I mean by the title of this post? What is that big weakness for Texas’ Tristan Thompson and UCLA’s Josh Smith. You might have thought it was Thompson’s free throw percentage, and that is abysmal. But I think Thompson's 93 free throw rate and his ability to foul out the interior players for the other team is still pretty valuable even if he is not making his free throws. (Texas might want to take him out when they get to the one-and-one though.)

No, the thing that jumps out to me on this page is how Tristan Thompson and Josh Smith have been horrible defensive rebounders. Despite both players crashing the offensive boards, both players have been ridiculously passive on the defensive end. Thompson has been one of my favorite players because of his offensive tenacity, and his basket in the final minute of the North Carolina game was huge. But those are the kind of numbers you put up when auditioning for the NBA, not when you are trying to win a Big 12 championship. Thompson’s defensive rebounding rate has to improve or Texas is going to get crushed in Big 12 play.

There is a reason Jared Sullinger and Terrance Jones will be contenders for national freshman-of-the-year. They work hard on both ends of the court. Thad Matta and John Calipari would not accept anything less. I wish I could say the same thing for Rick Barnes, but recent Texas' collapses suggest otherwise.


I think it is a cliché when the game announcers say, “These guys are playing like this is an NCAA tournament game.” I would say that 85% of college basketball games between high major teams are played at an NCAA tournament level. That is why I love college basketball. But finals week brings out the worst in a lot of teams. This is one of the few weeks in the season when seemingly only a handful of teams are playing at their peak performance.

The other cliche I love is when the game announcers decry the death of the mid-range jumper. There are two goals in basketball, to get lay-ups and to get wide open three pointers. The mid-range jumper is dead because it is a terrible shot. And yet so many announcers seem to miss this obvious fact.

Georgetown coach JT III is the master at getting his team to get lay-ups. And while I did not think Georgetown looked sharp when returning from finals, their offensive philosphy was the difference in Saturday's game. Anytime an opponent lacks a little bit of focus, a little bit of attentiveness, Georgetown's offense becomes a lay-up line. On Saturday, Georgetown overcame their “finals hangover” by simply taking the ball to the basket.

Illinois on the other hand did not. Illinois has been a great offensive team this year. They have so many offensive options, I wondered how Demetri McCamey would keep them all happy. But not one player looked confident on Saturday. How could every single rotation player look passive at the same time?

But even Illinois seemed to recognize this, and instead of settling for the normal slew of jump shots, Illinois did try to get the ball inside. But Illinois-Chicago did a fabulous job denying the paint. Even on live-ball turnovers, Illinois-Chicago always seemed to have two guys back defensively. Dare I say it? UIC looked quite similar to Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin team (and their head coach is a former Bo Ryan assistant.) Forget the jump shots, it was these lack of transition baskets, on a day when Illinois forced 19 turnovers, that was the difference in the game. The net result was Illinois putting up an 83.4 ORtg against a bad defensive team. Illinois had yet to post an ORtg under 100 over the whole season, but despite numerous steals, they could not put the ball in the basket. There are few words to describe the feeling of losing when your team is favored to win 98% of the time. You can blame the “finals hangover” all you want, but this is an extremely difficult loss to get over.

And it also proves the old axiom. My blog posts are proportional to how my team’s fare. If Illinois wins, I probably provide 50 words on Alabama’s continued struggles, Gonzaga finally winning a big game, and LSU’s solid performance (in a home loss.) Instead, I commiserate with my wife, the Washington Capital’s fan. The Capitals once had the best record in the NHL, but they have lost eight in a row. Bah humbug.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fatal Flaws?

With the caveat that the numbers are still early, and not all schedules are equal, let’s see what fatal flaws we can uncover for various teams while playing around on

Lack of Height

You cannot teach height. But teams cannot play an immobile 7 foot center and expect good things either. Teams have to play their best players. So now that we have a little better idea who is receiving playing time, which teams are lacking size inside? Keep in mind that even though height is not everything, as Ken Pomeroy established long ago, height is a key predictor of a team’s long term defensive performance.

Lack of a single quality big man

No BCS team is shorter in the middle then Oregon, for whom the tallest player on the court if often 6’6” tall. (See EJ Singler and Joevan Catron).

Among BCS contenders, Virginia Tech might be the shortest team in the middle, deploying 6’8” Victor Davilla and a bunch of 6’7” players when he goes to the bench.

Lack of depth in the middle

In terms of BCS depth, Providence probably has the least with only 6’8” Bilal Dixon playing major minutes inside. Based on their strength at guard, Providence's best strategy may be to play a 4-guard lineup.

Among contenders, Purdue has the biggest issues in the middle with only JaJuan Johnson providing reliable minutes inside.

Honorable Mention

Michigan, St. John's, Seton Hall

Also, when Donte Smith and Maurice Jones are on the floor, USC has one of the shortest backcourts in the country. (At least USC has a couple quality big guys.)

No Bench

You can win in the NCAA tournament without depth thanks to the frequent TV timeouts. But over the course of the season, a lack of depth will usually come back to haunt a team. Either foul trouble or injuries can lead to a string of losses.

No BCS team has a shorter bench then Virginia Tech. While starters have played 69% of the minutes for most teams this year, Virginia Tech’s top 5 players have played 84% of the minutes.

Among elite team’s, Kentucky is the team with the least depth. Kentucky’s top 5 play 78% of the team’s minutes.

Honorable Mention

USC’s top 5 play 81% of the minutes. Iowa St.’s top 5 play 79% of the minutes. And Notre Dame’s top 5 play 78% of the minutes, which is nothing new for Mike Brey.


BCS leagues are actually notoriously younger than non-BCS leagues because they get the kind of high school talent that can play right away. But it helps to have some seniors to lean on when the going gets tough.

No BCS team plays a rotation with less experience than Michigan. With no seniors, and a pair of freshman playing key roles, Michigan is as young as it gets.

Among contenders, UConn is the youngest with Kemba Walker leading a cavalcade of underclassman.

Honorable Mention

You might choose the Kentucky Wildcats here. After all, they do play a lineup with three freshman. But Kentucky is not really one of the youngest teams in a BCS league. The other four rotation players, DeAndre Liggins, Darius Miller, Josh Harrelson, and Eloy Vargas are all upperclassman. Memphis, NC State, LSU, Providence, Wake Forest, Auburn, South Carolina, UCLA, and Georgia Tech are all playing younger rotations than the Kentucky Wildcats.

Too Much One-on-One Play

You might not think it matters to share the ball. A team like Kentucky can run the dribble-drive and score one-on-one, right? Well, last year's elite Kentucky team shared the ball quite a bit. Team's that don't share the ball eventually tend to fall apart like last year's South Carolina squad.

No BCS team shares the ball less than Oklahoma St. Keiton Page and Ray Penn get some assists, but neither is a true BCS point guard, and no one else on the team seems to pass the ball at all. Obi Muonelo and James Anderson are sorely missed.

Among national contenders, no one shares the ball less than Kentucky. Brandon Knight is not nearly as talented a passer as John Wall was last year. But there is still a lot of season left for him to develop into more of a distributor.

Honorable Mention

You would think with two very short guards, USC would pass the ball well, but they do not have many assists. This is a combination of the team’s still shaky shooting touch, and the fact that Donte Smith is a scorer, not a distributor at 5’11”.

Too Many Live Ball Give-Aways

Nothing is more crushing than giving up steals, and this flaw becomes even more fatal in conference play.

Three BCS teams are tied with the most steals given up. Baylor, Florida St., and LSU’s opponents each steal the ball 12.0% of the time. To put this in perspective, BYU only turns it over 13.7% of the time in total (including charges and balls lost out of bounds). So Baylor’s live ball turnovers almost exceed all of BYU’s turnovers.

Also keep in mind that Florida St. has the best defensive efficiency rating in the nation. Now imagine how good Florida St.’s defense would be if they were not giving up that many transition opportunities every game.

Poor Free Throw Shooting

How many teams have blown leads and lost games because they could not hit their free throws?

No BCS team has a worse free throw percentage than Kansas St. at 55%. Thank goodness Jacob Pullen is shooting 71% and has taken almost half the team’s free throws or Kansas St. would be even worse.

Honorable Mention

Arizona St. (59%), South Carolina (61%), Georgia (62%), Washington St. (62%), and Minnesota (63%) have all had their problems at the charity stripe.

Inability to Draw Fouls

This is old news for jump-shooting Illinois and Michigan. You can debate whether it is a good long-run strategy or not, but that is what Bruce Weber and John Beilein’s teams seem designed to do.

But no BCS team draws fouls at a lower rate than Alabama. And unlike Michigan and Illinois, Alabama has very little outside shooting. For a team with no shooting touch, Alabama absolutely has to start getting to the line.

The same can be said for offensively challenged Temple where Lavoy Allen and Michael Eric tend to shy away from contact in the post.

Poor Defensive Rebounding

A few years ago John Gasaway wrote about Georgetown's hideous defensive rebounding, and the Hoyas fell apart finishing 7-11 in Big East play.

This year no BCS team has a worse defensive rebounding rate than NC State. Giving up a 47% offensive rebounding rate to Georgetown was bad, but giving up a 44% offensive rebounding rate to Farleigh Dickinson was simply unacceptable, even if forward Tracy Smith is injured.

No contender has had a worse defensive rebounding rate than West Virginia. Giving up a 50% offensive rebound rate to Minnesota was bad, but giving up a 43% offensive rebounding rate to teams like American is simply unacceptable.

Honorable Mention

Texas Tech, DePaul, Oregon St., Memphis,

Bottom Line

There are a lot more flaws I could point out, none more important than a teams shooting ability. Perhaps that is a post for another day.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Close Games, ACC Plus / Minus

Why when I have to travel for work in December is it always somewhere like Portland, Maine and not Raleigh, North Carolina? Answer: Because covering basketball is not my full-time job. I also have to complain for a moment about how when I stay in nice hotels I miss the free internet access that cheap hotels provide. But if I am going to be disconnected from, this is the time of the season to miss games. “Mid-December = Finals” and that means the calendar is a little less sparsely populated.

Yet even with less quality games right now, there were still plenty of incredible endings this week, most of them on Saturday:

Ending of the Week 1

Dayton trailed Old Dominion by four with 9 seconds left when Chris Johnson hit a three pointer to cut the lead to one. Dayton then went for the steal but ODU hit a home run pass over the top. ODU’s Frank Hassell put in the wide-open lay-up to extend the lead back to three with 7 seconds left. Now, trailing by three, Dayton advanced the ball and Josh Parker took a three point shot as time expired.

There are a lot of things that can happen here. The ball can go in the net. The ball can bounce of the rim. Either one of these usually results in an ecstatic reaction by one of the teams. But in this case, we saw an ending I have never seen before. The ball wedged between the basket and the backboard. I’ve certainly seen balls get stuck there before, but never on the final play of the game.

After a few seconds of puzzled expressions, ODU realized that this was as good as a normal miss. But as the ball hung snuggled against the backboard, it had a certain metaphysical absurdity to it. Dayton could take 100 shots in a row and not get the ball wedged that perfectly. But as rare as that shot was, it was not a game-tying three.

Ending of the Week 2

Washington has been hovering near the top of the Pomeroy Rankings. I find this a little odd, but it has something to do with some of their blowout wins. For example, they crushed Virginia by 40 and Virginia went on to beat Minnesota and Virginia Tech. So by any adjusted margin-of-victory calculation, Washington is going to look pretty good right now.

But for whatever reason Washington has not looked as good in big games this year. They fell to 6-3 on Sunday, and 0-3 against teams ranked in the top 50 of the Pomeroy rankings. And this ending was more puzzling than any of the others. Texas A&M led by 7 in the final 3 minutes, but the Aggies had a huge drought. And after a late steal by the Huskies, Washington had the ball trailing by one. Isaah Thomas, the quick and feisty 5’8” point guard had the ball in his hands. He seemed like the perfect player to make a play in this situation. Would he take it into the paint? Would he dish to a taller shooter for a three point shot? Would he pass to one of his bigs, cutting for a lay-up? No. Thomas randomly drove to the top of the key, and attempted an odd pull-up jumper with two Texas A&M defenders in his face. The ball was blocked back into his chest.

I know that it is often hard to get a good look at the end of the game, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what Thomas was trying to do here. But it was not the only questionable decision of the week:

Ending of the Week 3

Trailing by 3 with a chance to tie Wisconsin, two of Marquette’s players failed to exchange the ball, and un-pressured by Wisconsin, Marquette let the ball roll out of bounds.

Ending of the Week 4

Georgetown held the ball against Temple trailing by one with a chance to win at the end of the game. But instead of any of Georgetown’s three premier guards taking the shot, Hollis Thompson drove the lane and came up short. Don’t you think with the game on the line, you would like Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, or Jason Clark taking the shot?

Bonus Georgetown thoughts:

Julian Vaughn kept getting his shots blocked by Temple's interior players. That was scary because I can see that happening against certain Big East teams. On the other hand, Vaughn, normally a horrible free throw shooter, was perfect from the line.

I seem to be noticing a trend where many of Georgetown's losses involve one player having a career day. See Ohio in the NCAA tournament, Davidson in the NCAA tournament, and South Florida at the Verizon center a couple of years ago. Thursday Temple’s Ramon Moore scored 30 in the win over the Hoyas. I was very high on Ramon Moore in the preseason and I do not think his 30 point game was a fluke. But Georgetown needs someone to become a lock-down defender who can shut down a hot shooter for the other team.

Ending of the Week 5

Last week I went through the plus / minus data and saw that Brad Tinsley was the leader for Vanderbilt. I saw he had a nice assist rate, but I could count at least two or three other Vanderbilt players who I thought were more important than Tinsley. Jeffrey Taylor may be off to a slow start, but he is very mobile, and a polished scorer in the paint. John Jenkins is the oft-mentioned three-point gunner. And Festus Ezeli is emerging as a consistent post threat, which is sensational given that he has only played about four years of organized basketball. So I eagerly watched the Missouri game to see what I was missing about the Vanderbilt point guard.

And of course with my eyes trained on Tinsley, he put up his worst performance of the year, being rattled by Missouri’s pressure defense on numerous occasions. And with Vanderbilt holding the ball in a tie game, with a chance to win or go to a second overtime, Tinsley committed the only unthinkable mistake in that instance. He threw the ball away leading to a live ball steal and lay-up for Missouri’s Marcus Denmon.

The only good to come from my discussion of Tinsley’s early plus / minus numbers was that I learned Anchor of Gold, the SN Vanderbilt blog regularly publishes plus / minus data. (This filled in the North Carolina game that Stat Sheet was missing.) The blog is also definitely worth a read if you care about Vanderbilt basketball. And no one is giving them enough credit in the SEC East this year, so we probably should be reading more about the Commodores.

But for me, the Tinsley experience was a nice reminder that all these stats are still early. I started to type up the stats for the ACC and I quickly saw more Brad Tinsleys than Demetri McCameys. Since I typed up the ACC leaders, I might as well post them, but I think I am going to move on to some other statistical reviews rather than continue this plus / minus project in the future.

ACC Most Indispensible Players
Best plus / minus (Through Sunday’s games)

Duke – Kyle Singler

Singler has always excelled because opposing big men cannot close out on his outside jump shot or match his quickness. A 6’8” lethal sharpshooter is pretty indispensable.

Georgia Tech – Iman Shumpert

No one doubts the former McDonald’s All-American, now a junior, is not vital to Georgia Tech’s chances. But he still does not look like a star to me. In the big rivalry game against Georgia, I felt like the only time I heard his name down the stretch was when he was chasing down a Georgia player from behind on a fast-break. He is good, but Georgia Tech needs him to be great.

Miami – Durand Scott

Malcolm Grant is probably the better known player, but Scott has the same PPG and APG averages this season. Grant is the better three point shooter, but Scott is much better inside the arc meaning the players are almost equally efficient.

Wake Forest – Travis McKie

I suspected one of the highly ranked Wake Forest freshmen would make a name for himself, and so far McKie is the best of the bunch. He has been rebounding, scoring, and most importantly, not missing many shots. The same cannot be said of fellow RSCI top 100 freshman JT Terrell whose horrific shooting on two point jumpers relegated him to a bench role in a recent game. Sadly few people have noticed McKie because Terrell was the Wake Forest player with the game winner against Iowa.

Everyone listed above makes a lot of sense to me as the plus / minus leader, but then things start to get a little more questionable.

Indispensible? Really?

Maryland – Cliff Tucker (Jordan Williams)

Cliff Tucker narrowly edges Jordan Williams, but I will be stunned if Williams is not the team leader in plus/minus in a few weeks. Williams is the heart of the team this year. But let’s talk about Tucker. A secondary scorer is obviously important. But I think the best thing Tucker has going for him at this point is that he does not make nearly as many bad decisions as Sean Mosley. Maryland’s guards need to stop acting like Greivis Vasquez (and trying to take the impossible shot), and just start running the offense.

Virginia Tech – Jeff Allen (Malcolm Delaney)

Shouldn’t Virginia Tech think about sitting Malcolm Delaney for a few minutes a game? Last year he played 36 minutes per game, this year he is averaging 39 minutes per game. Wouldn’t just an extra couple minutes on the bench in the second half give him a little more energy? So far he has the lowest ORtg of his career thanks to a career high in turnovers per game.

Clemson – Devin Booker

He is clearly not as good as his brother Trevor was, but on a team without a lot of depth in the paint, Booker has been important. But I don’t even think he is the Tiger’s best post player. Jerai Grant has more blocks and makes a greater percentage of his shots.

Boston College – Danny Rubin

The plus / minus team leaders reveal different players to be indispensible. For some teams, they show the star scorers. For other teams, they reveal that the backup center is a defensive liability. Sometimes they show the backup point guard does not run the show with the same smooth crispness. In BC’s case, it turns out that a non-scoring freshman wing has been the most vital player so far. How can this be? How can Danny Rubin be so important to BC’s cause? As it turns out, Rubins’ backup Danny Elmore has been a complete liability on the court this year. Rubin may not be a star, but at least he is executing the offense and defense. Danny Elmore is not.

NC State – DeShawn Painter

With Painter on bench, NC State was -15 against Georgetown. I understand that his limited experience is critical with so many freshmen. But CJ Leslie has a higher block rate and a higher defensive rebounding rate, and other player’s are more vital to the offense.

North Carolina – NA
Virginia – NA
Florida St. – NA

Five of North Carolina’s games are missing substitution data, meaning the plus / minus splits are basically useless. I’ve seen some clear errors in the Florida St. plus / minus data that I have not taken the time to fix. And Virginia’s numbers are even more screwed up thanks to that 40 point loss where all the good players played.

Presumably, there is a North Carolina blog somewhere with all the plus / minus data codified (just like that wonderful Vanderbilt blog). But given the caveats with this data, I think I am ready to move on from the plus / minus data for now.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Terrence Jones, Demetri McCamey, and Cameron Tatum?

Most Important Players?
SEC and Big Ten edition

I have been thinking so far in this young season that certain players seem indispensable to their teams. When Terrence Jones got in foul trouble in Maui, Kentucky looked like a completely different team. And when Terrence Jones fouled out against North Carolina, I was almost certain the Wildcats would lose. Similarly, when Demetri McCamey goes out for Illinois, the Illinois offense just does not move with the same crispness and continuity.

I was very curious if the numbers backed up these observed phenomenon, and luckily last spring Stat-Sheet finally made readily available the plus / minus statistics. It is probably still a little too early to draw many conclusions from these data, but that is not going to stop me from perusing what the data say so far.

There are a few caveats with the plus / minus numbers. First, play-by-play substitution data is still not available for every Division 1 NCAA game played. If you are talking about a top 25 team, the data is great, but as you go down to smaller schools, you tend to be out of luck. Second, you should adjust for the quality of competition. But today I am only going to compare players within a team, so that is less of an issue. Third, some people also argue for adjusting the plus / minus stats for who is on the floor. I.e., the backup center may look better than the starting center, because he plays against weaker competition. I will try to point out examples where that may matter in what follows.

SEC Most Important Player
Best Plus / Minus By Team (Through Saturday’s games)

Alabama – JaMychal Green
Arkansas – Rotnei Clarke

Fans of the SEC know how important JaMychal Green and Rotnei Clarke are to their respective teams. These are not surprises.

Auburn – Kenny Gabriel

Poor Auburn. If you only count games against D1 competition, no one on Auburn has a positive plus / minus rating. (By the way, the worst offender is Allen Payne, a 6’6” freshman forward. Payne just tends to get abused in the second half of games. Auburn’s lack of depth is forcing him to play before he is ready.)

Florida – Patric Young (Chandler Parsons)

McDonald’s All-American freshman Patric Young has been dominating as a backup forward for Florida. And that matters, because even in the SEC, very few teams have a lot of depth in the paint. But Young has not been starting, and it probably is not fair to label him Florida’s most indispensable player. Chandler Parsons has the best plus / minus among starters.

Georgia – Gerald Robinson

Everyone knows how important Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins are to the Bulldogs, but when Robinson went out in the first half of the Colorado game, Georgia fell apart. Point guard play is critical for a Georgia team that has talent, but needs to make efficient decisions with the basketball.

Kentucky – Terrence Jones

When Jones goes out, the other team almost always makes a run. The good news for Kentucky is that he has been able to stay on the court for major minutes in most games.

LSU – Andre Stringer

LSU is trying to break in a number of unknown players this year, and they may have found a point guard in freshman Andre Stringer.

Mississippi – Reginald Buckner

I would have guessed Chris Warren was the most important player for Ole Miss, but when Buckner went out of the Dayton game at the start of the second half, Dayton had a huge comeback. Maybe that was just a coincidence, but Buckner’s shot-blocking ability and defensive presence in the paint are very important for Ole Miss.

Mississippi St. – Bryan Bryant (Ravern Johnson)

First off, until Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney join the team, there is no point discussing anything. But let’s discuss why Bryan Bryant is leading Mississippi St. in plus / minus. Mississippi St. has been playing a host of ultra-cupcakes, the kind that can compete for part of a half, but eventually get worn down. And Bryant has the perfect splits. He has not been starting (when the opposition has the most energy), but he comes in and helps Mississippi St. slowly put away the little guy. Ravern Johnson is the true most important player right now.

South Carolina – Brian Richardson (Bruce Ellington)

You would have a hard time arguing that Bruce Ellington is not the most important South Carolina guard right now. He played the entire game against Michigan St. and played every regulation minute in the overtime win against Western Kentucky. But that is sort of the problem for Ellington. He has been around for all the good and all the bad in an inconsistent start for the Gamecocks. The reality is that no one is indispensable for South Carolina yet.

Tennessee - Cameron Tatum

I think plus / minus is a very important statistic for teams that use full-court pressure. The Tennessee player who gets the steal is not always the only important player on the play. And when you look Cameron Tatum’s splits this year, they have been unbelievable:

With Tatum, Without Tatum, Opponent
20, 0, Chattanooga
18, -9, Belmont
13, -9, Missouri St.
19, -14, VCU
9, 1, Villanova
24, 6, Middle Tennessee St.

When Tatum is on the floor, Tennessee looks like a different team this year. Just look at those splits against VCU! Tennessee has a lot of intriguing players from Tobias Harris to Scotty Hopson, but these stats make me want to watch Cameron Tatum a little more closely.

Vanderbilt – Brad Tinsley (All Five Starters)

Remember when I said the substitution data was poor. We do not even have player substitution data for Vanderbilt’s win over North Carolina. (Someday.) Brad Tinsley has the best numbers, but if you look at Vanderbilt, all five starters have nearly equivalent plus / minus stats.

Big Ten Most Important Player
Best Plus / Minus By Team (Through Saturday’s games)

Illinois – Demetri McCamey

As noted in the introduction, if you want to beat Illinois, you either have to force McCamey to the bench, or deny him the ball (as Dogus Balbay did at the end of the loss to Texas.)

Indiana – Christian Watford

Watford has replaced Verdell Jones as the team’s leading scorer, and that’s a good thing. Jones continues to shoot a very poor percentage from three point range and turn the ball over a ton, meaning Watford is a much better primary offensive option.

Iowa – Zach McCabe

Why not leading scorer Eric May? He started the first and second half of the Alabama game and the Hawkeyes had a margin of –5. But with May out, Iowa outscored Alabama by 13. McCabe was mostly in for that turnaround, so he gets the nod as the plus minus leader. But no one on Iowa has proven to be indispensable yet.

Michigan – NA
Penn St. – NA

The lack of good substitution data is mind-boggling. Penn St. only has three games with substitution data. And Michigan’s biggest games Syracuse and Clemson do not have substitution data either.

Michigan St. – Kalin Lucas

I personally am a bigger fan of Draymond Green, and I was disappointed with Lucas in Maui, but there is a reason he was voted the Big Ten preseason player of the year.

Minnesota – Trevor Mbakwe

None of us really knew how well Mbakwe could play which is why we did not have Minnesota higher in the preseason. But Al Nolen deserves an honorable mention as the team’s second place plus / minus leader. Without Nolen’s defense and ball-handling, Minnesota lost to Virginia and barely defeated a Cornell team that lost a ton of players this off-season.

Northwestern – Drew Crawford

John Shurna and Michael Thompson have almost identical splits and deserve equal billing.

Ohio St. – David Lighty

Jon Diebler, Jared Sullinger, and Aaron Craft have almost identical plus / minus stats, but until Aaron Craft gains some more experience, Lighty’s ball handling is vital to Ohio St.’s success.

Purdue – JaJuan Johnson

E’Twaun Moore is second. (No surprise) The key question is who comes in third for the Boilermakers. So far Lewis Jackson has the third best plus / minus.

Wisconsin – Jordan Taylor

I am not sure Taylor is Wisconsin’s most important player, but the point guard has rarely left the floor this year, and he has been around to enjoy all of the Badger’s success.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Quick Bullets

-Richmond and Virginia Tech are quality defensive teams, so I’m sure Purdue’s offense will look better later. But Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson looks frustrated to me. At times I see a look in his eyes that says, “Can I get a little help?”

-Why does Bob Knight explain the game as if the viewers are 4th graders? “OK, so now if Purdue just holds the ball, the game clock will expire. So Virginia Tech has to foul.” Really? Really?

I wish I had more observations like these, but after I wore a tire tread across my living room floor pacing back and forth Tuesday night, I do not have anything left in the tank. North Carolina vs Illinois was very important to me, and Georgetown vs Missouri might have been the game of the year so far. And all I have are these painfully inadequate thoughts:

-During the Georgetown s Missouri game, they put up a stat that said “Missouri is on a 60-43 run” Um, how is that a run?

-I thought Doug Gottlieb explained Georgetown’s offense better than anyone I have seen in a long time. Drive, cut, and replace (meaning someone slides in where the cutter just came from.) It helps when you score 111 points. You really get to see all the ways the offense works.

-I’ve always wondered what would happen if Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, and Jason Clark all had a huge game at the same time.

-What a crazy schedule for Georgetown this year. The physical ODU half-court defense. The swarming Missouri full court defense. And now on Saturday the brilliant Utah St. offense.

-As for Illinois beating North Carolina, I feel like the Tar Heel problems are already a broken record (turnovers, lack of depth). I’d be shocked if they win many games where Tyler Zeller has foul trouble this year.

-But I also think the formula for beating Illinois is pretty clear. Force the ball out of Demetri McCamey’s hands. Dogus Balbay of Texas was able to do it, and Texas won. And for a brief while UNC was able to do it. But if Illinois is just allowed to run their stuff, with McCamey handling the ball, they can be lethal.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Emotional Investment is a Good Thing (as long as you win)

Despite Minnesota’s football triumph over Iowa for the Floyd or Rosedale trophy (a statue of a pig for those of you living outside the Midwest), I had long abandoned my emotional investment in the 2-9 Gopher football team. Don’t get me wrong -- I was happy to see Minnesota win. I might even look for the pig in the team trophy case when I visit my home state. But because of the football team's struggles this season, I could not put my full emotional energy into the rivalry game. The win was not deeply satisfying, more like mildly amusing.

On the flip side, I have readily embraced a streaking Gopher basketball team and its Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament title. And with the Gophers leading a terrible Virginia basketball team by 13 at home, my rooting energies were firmly behind the Gophers on Monday. This made the 26 point collapse (from a 13 point lead to a 13 point deficit) all the more painful. I was emotionally invested in a punch to the gut.

In the process, Minnesota became our first "double surprise" team of the season. They surprised us by being better than we thought, and now surprised us by reminding us that maybe they are not so great. Many teams have not even given us one surprise yet; Minnesota has already provided two. But the heartbreak is still tolerable. It is early in the season, and it is hard to be crushed by any loss.

But I cannot say I feel the same way about Tuesday's Illinois vs North Carolina basketball matchup. It has nothing to do with the ACC - Big Ten challenge. I could care less about the challenge title. The ACC has unquestionably been the deeper league for most of the last decade. The ACC has produced more recent NCAA titles, more NBA players, and had more high profile recruits. Probably the only area where the Big Ten has had more success is in hiring high profile coaches. Those coaches have helped the Big Ten win a decent number of NCAA tournament games and make the Final Four on numerous occassions. But by almost every metric, including challenge wins, the ACC has been the better basketball league. So my desire to see Illinois beat North Carolina has nothing to do with the challenge. The equation is much simpler:

1) Illinois fans do not like North Carolina. It is no longer about North Carolina stealing Roy Williams from Kansas which led to Kansas stealing Bill Self from Illinois. Bruce Weber is the coach for better or worse. The formula is simpler than that. North Carolina beat Illinois in the national championship game in 2005 and until Illinois gets back to the Final Four, that game is always going to resonate.

2) This is supposed to be the Illini’s year. Since 2005, Bruce Weber’s teams have been hard-working squads that have performed admirably, but lacked the talent to win consistently against good teams. But this year is supposed to be different. Illinois has high profile recruits and talented veterans. The time is now.

3) This does not look like North Carolina’s year. While the national writers mostly put the Tar Heels in the top 10, my statistical model said they were not a top 25 team. And while it is still early, my statistical model looks right. The Tar Heels have suffered from the same problems as last year (lack of guard play, lack of depth), and North Carolina has looked extremely vulnerable. Not only have the Tar Heels lost twice, home wins against NC-Asheville and College of Charleston have not inspired confidence.

4) This is a very experienced Illinois team. If they are going to be better than North Carolina, they should be better in November, not March.

All together this is a horrible recipe. Nothing more than a resounding blowout victory will really satiate Illinois fans. And if Bruce Weber’s squad does not play well from the opening tip, the normally supportive home crowd will not hesitate to boo vociferously.

In many ways, the pent-up emotional energy is a recipe for disaster. That is because Illinois is a jump shooting team and an inconsistent one at that. True, Illinois has perhaps the greatest collection of jump shooters in team history. As Tim McCormick said during Saturday’s win over Western Michigan, if you had to pick a team to play HORSE you would pick Illinois every day of the week. They have 7 or 8 guys who can consistently knock down shots from 17 feet or further and that can be a nightmare for opposing defenses. But basketball is not a game of HORSE. And despite sophomore Brandon Paul’s improved hustle stats, despite freshman Jereme Richmond’s ability to score in traffic, and despite freshman Meyer’s Leonard additional size inside, Illinois still has the same starting rotation as last year. This is still the same team that was inconsistent enough to miss the NCAA tournament last year. In other words, even if Ken Pomeroy labels Illinois a 72% favorite, that 28% possibility is far from impossible.

Given the high expectations and high emotion, the game is almost a no win situation for Illinois fans. A win will only satisfy, it will not be worthy of a full celebration. And given this no win situation, it is tempting to employ the "DVR strategy". The "DVR strategy" is an evil idea, but one that works wonders when you have limited time and do not want to miss the good stuff. You record all your teams games, and watch them the next day, but only if they win. On the surface this sounds great. Lots of fun wins, no punches to the gut.

But that is not what sports are about. If all we cared about were monster dunks and three point shots, all we would need is SportsCenter. The joy of the game is the uncertainty. That unscripted, punch-to-the-gut, tears of joy, emotional investment you make in your team for two hours.

And so again, I will try to minimize my expectations for tommorrow. I will sugar-coat things and say Big Ten titles and NCAA tournament runs are more important than any November game. And I am sure Bruce Weber will tell his players to treat this like just any other game.

But it is not just any other game. This is North Carolina. When Deron Williams went to shake Marvin Williams hand after the championship game in 2005, Marvin Williams ran away from him to peel off his shirt and scream in victory. I remember the confetti falling from the rafters, and the Illini coming up one game short of winning it all. It might seem like November, but this is not just another game.

Friday, November 26, 2010

We Need More Friday Night Games

I have been watching Feast Week, but up until tonight, I have had pretty much the same thoughts as everyone else:

-Kemba Walker is good.
-Kyrie Irving better than I expected.

OK, maybe I had some different thoughts. My dominant thought during the Maui invitational was how important Terrance Jones is going to be to Kentucky this year. When Jones was in foul trouble, Kentucky looked lost. When Jones was on the floor, he looked like a freshman-of-the-year candidate. But I hate to make redundant observations, so my keyboard stayed quiet. Thankfully Friday’s South Florida vs BYU game knocked me out of my Thanksgiving stupor.

South Florida vs BYU, South Padre Island Semifinal

A ball rolled under the bleachers (in the South Padre Island gym) which delayed play for 90 seconds at the end of regulation. Someone in a shirt and tie climbed underneath the bleachers to pull it out. I love these random neutral site tournaments. You just cannot make this stuff up.

Hello to South Florida’s Ron Anderson Jr. You transferred from Kansas St. but I guess you learned a thing or two about rebounding from Frank Martin before you left.

Welcome back BYU’s Jackson Emery. You tend to get over-shadowed by Jimmer Fredette, but you are a fine three-point shooter, and your shot at the end of regulation tied the game at 58.

And say hello to South Florida’s Jawanza Poland. His three pointer gave USF a 61-58 lead seconds later. (Poland was only 4-10 shooting the ball, but he had a key steal and dunk minutes earlier and made all his buckets in crunch time.)

And who is this? Why it’s BYU’s Charles Abouo hitting a three to tie the game and send it into overtime. Dueling threes at the end of regulation is always amazing, but we are not done. No, that would be too easy.

What about BYU’s Jimmer Fredette hitting a three at the end of overtime to give his team a three-point lead. It was also one of the only leads BYU had in this game.

But then there is South Florida’s Jawanza Poland again, making another three to send the game to double overtime.

And now in double overtime, with 90 seconds left, there is Fredette hitting a three again. How do they make these shots? In particular, how does Fredette looks so strong after 38 minutes of gametime? If you watch enough of these neutral site early season tournaments, you never want to take a three in these situations. Players are always too tired; the arena is always too unfamiliar. The smart play is to take the ball to the basket. But Jimmer Fredette is not your average player.

I sense that South Florida does not have another three in them. So of course they make the smart play and take it inside. Augustus Gilchrist makes a beautiful post move to cut the lead to one. Gilchrist was seriously in my doghouse two years ago. He was doing what Indiana’s Verdell Jones is doing this year. (Taking a ton of shots and missing a ton of shots.) But in fairness, Gilchrist was coming back from an injury. Seeing that Gilchrist has reemerged as a confident post player, I feel I owe him some sort of apology. Uh, sorry. I guess you don’t suck.

Then there is USF’s Mike Burwell with an incredible block from behind to preserve the one point deficit. Hmm, I’m noticing a lot more of these South Florida players now that my eyes are not glued to former South Florida Bull Dominque Jones. Maybe this was not a one-man team. And Tony Fitzpatrick makes one of two free throws to tie the game. Do I hear overtime number three?

Jimmer Fredette says no. He drives the lane, draws the double team, and passes underhand to Noah Hartsock who knocks down a wide-open jumper as time expires. BYU wins. Awesome.

South Florida is really going to kick themselves about this one. They blew a lead at the end of regulation. And the Bulls had the ball and a four point lead in overtime. But USF missed too many free throws and committed a pair of costly offensive fouls with the lead in OT. You just cannot give Jimmer Fredette that many chances to win the game.

I am going to be honest. I hate west coast and mountain time zone teams. I like sleep. But after the Utah St. – BYU game last week, the double overtime BYU – Florida NCAA tournament game last year, and basically a ton of fun Fredette games over the years, I need to carve out room on my calendar to watch this team more. Scary.

Other Friday Thoughts

-I cannot believe Steven Pearl is playing so much for Tennessee. He is such an offensive liability, I just assumed that with a new recruiting class he would not get any playing time anymore. But every time I flipped to the Tennessee game he seemed to be getting a steal or deflection. I think people forget how much match-ups matter. Tennessee is a terrible match-up for Villanova because they have long and mobile perimeter defenders. Very few teams will be able to slow down Corey Fisher as much as Tennessee did tonight.

-Speaking of match-ups, the Michigan offense is a terrible match-up for the Syracuse zone defense. All Michigan wants to do is shoot threes and get an occasional pass to someone for a lay-up near the baseline. And Syracuse’s zone is extremely vulnerable in these areas. I think Jim Boeheim is happy that John Beilein does not coach in the Big East anymore.

-Horrific blown dunk by Syracuse’s Rick Jackson at the end of regulation by the way, but Syracuse still hung on for the win.

-It was kind of fun to hear Seth Davis do color commentary on a game. (He was announcing the Legend’s classic on HDNet.)

-Teams that go to double overtime almost always lose the next day. (Emotional letdown / exhaustion.) And I think Georgia just ran out of gas against Temple. This also makes Notre Dame’s win earlier today against California all the more impressive.

-Looking at the ticker, Kansas is winning by 40. Explain to me again why they had to pre-schedule an Arizona-Kansas final in their Las Vegas event instead of making a real four-team bracket?

-UAB just won in OT at Arkansas. I would say congratulations to Mike Davis, but with the way things are going for the SEC West, that win might not be worth much at the end of the year.

-Texas Tech is down by 24 to St. Mary’s at halftime. There are so many seniors on Texas Tech, this qualifies as a huge embarrassment. I think Texas Tech might be our first job opening this year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Charleston Classic Recap

A lot has been going on the last few days. I should discuss the fact that no freshman has impressed me more than Texas forward Tristan Thompson. I should ask whether Auburn will ever win a game. But since I have spent the last four days in Charleston, I am going to stick with a recap of the Charleston Classic.

Henry! Henry! Henry!

College basketball fans care about wins, stats, and amazing plays. But if that is all you get out of it, you are missing a lot. College basketball is about watching players develop into men. To a national audience the story is probably minor, but to the Georgetown fans in attendance, the Charleston Classic was Henry Sims breaking out party.

On Thursday I was still complaining about forward Henry Sims tentative play when on the court. After three years, Sims was playing like a player afraid of making a mistake. But something sparked the junior on Friday. Perhaps he was excited to be playing a shorter Wofford team. Or perhaps the coaching staff lit a fire under him. But on Friday, Sims started playing aggressive basketball. He went 3-3 from the floor, but more importantly, he forced the action. He wanted the ball in his hands and he was visibly upset to have his minutes limited by foul trouble.

Then on Sunday, Sims responded with his best game of the season. He scored only four points, but he had 5 assists, and was the heart of the offense for a long stretch early in the second half. In fact, Sims, the scoring-challenged Jerrelle Benimon, and freshman Markel Starks were all on the floor for much of the Hoyas 15-0 run that broke open the championship game. When the lineup first went out on the floor, I was asking myself how they were going to score. But when they left, they left to a standing ovation.

Whether Sims can turn into a consistent inside presence for the Hoyas remains to be seen. No one expects him to replace Greg Monroe. But for the Hoya offense to work, everyone needs to make the right reads, passes, and cuts. And that requires confidence. And while it was a minor improvement, for the die-hard boosters and family members in attendance, they knew what a breakthrough Henry Sims experienced this weekend. And they were more than happy to cheer his name. "Henry! Henry! Henry!"

Chris Wright was the tournament MVP. And this is Chris Wright’s team. But if he turns into a legitimate Big East player, this weekend meant a lot more to Henry Sims.

Eight More Thoughts

1) NC State is one of the fastest teams in the country, and freshman CJ Leslie and Ryan Harrow are wicked quick. I think with the right coaching, NC State could become a top 25 team by the end of the year. But they made a lot of questionable decisions in the championship game. There were too many bad jump shots by a frustrated Leslie. And the Wolfpack fell asleep on a number of back door plays in the second half. And as quick as NC State was in this tournament, Georgetown was equally quick. Once the margin got to 10 points in the second half, Chris Wright was relentless in forcing the fast-break.

2) As someone who has watched a lot of Minnesota’s Blake Hoffarber, I think NC State’s Scott Wood could easily be one of the best three point shooters in the country this year. His stroke is as smooth and as pure as it gets. But the problem with some of these pure shooters is that they need their teammates to set them up. With Georgetown keying on Wood at the three-point line, he was really neutralized in Sunday’s final, shooting just 2-7 with most of his misses coming on plays where he really did not have enough space to get an open shot. I think Georgetown keyed on Wood for two reasons. First, Georgetown played some of its only zone defense when Wood was out of the game. Georgetown seems to play about 50-50 zone these days, and they were far below that on Sunday. Second, I remember a 5-on-2 NC State break where Chris Wright abandoned the middle in order to jump out at a streaking Wood. Wright guessed correctly that Wood would try to take a jumper on the break, and Wood missed a contested three instead of getting an easier basket on the break.

3) Despite NC State’s questionable shot selection at times, I thought the players had a really solid understanding of good spacing. Over the course of the tournament, forwards DeShawn Painter, CJ Leslie, and Richard Howell constantly snuck in position for wide-open lay-ups. It is hard to feed to post in college basketball against well-coached teams, and NC State’s forwards seemed to have an incredible IQ for where to be on the floor to catch the pass, grab rebounds, and finish.

4) Wofford’s Noah Dahlman has a bizarre free-throw shot. He gets down to about his knees before standing up and releasing the ball. It looks like way too much motion to me, but he seems to hit nothing but net most of the time. But Dahlman’s free throw stroke looks normal compared to George Mason’s Mike Morrison. Morrison leans as far forward as possible and seems to release the ball about a foot in front of the free throw line. Hey, whatever works.

5) I am always going to have some major conference bias. But it really is fun to see dominant small conference players in person, like Wofford’s Noah Dahlman. Dahlman was incredibly smart about getting himself in position to score over the whole weekend. And despite often being triple teamed by George Mason, he still managed to find open shooters on his team on Sunday. Kudos to Wofford for winning in overtime after Dahlman fouled out, and particularly Jamar Diggs for hitting a huge three pointer to ice the game in overtime. Diggs really seemed to want the ball in his hand in crunch time.

6) I was also really impressed with George Mason senior Cam Long. He is one of those quiet scorers that every good team needs. He does not get the flashy dunks or make the off-balanced shots. But he is just one of those guys who knows what he is supposed to do in the offense, and where to get the easy baskets.

7) Unfortunately, George Mason does not have a go-to playmaker. In a lot of ways, forward Luke Hancock is that player. He has incredible assist numbers for his size over the course of his career. And in this tournament, he had great scoring totals in the second half of games. I tried to figure out why he was waiting until the second half of games to score, and I think he is simply trying to play smart basketball. He knows he does not have the quickness to blow by people early in the game, but often late in the game, when legs are a little more tired, he has the tenacity to put himself in position to finish. (And I should mention that his late dunk against Charlotte practically blew the roof of the building. I had no idea he could jump that high.) But the reality is that Hancock does not have elite quickness or a great shooting stroke. And against an equally well-coached Wofford team, he could not make quite enough plays to win the game. But Hancock, Long, and the whole George Mason team, play smart basketball. And that will win a lot of CAA games again this year.

8) Charlotte’s Shamari Spears made the all-tournament team and deservingly so. He has a similar body-style to Michigan St.’s Draymond Green, but both players are out to prove that skill sets do not always match body types. While Spears is not nearly the passer as Green, he seemed to have a very nice outside shot in this tournament. But for everything nice I want to say about Spears, emerging point guard Jamar Briscoe, or even An’Juan Wilderness who rebounded from a horrible game against George Mason to have a good tournament, I would be really nervous if I was a Charlotte fan. This team just does not look well-coached right now. I saw a bunch of players playing one-on-one basketball, not putting themselves in position for rebounds, and generally playing well below their ability. Sometimes when a disciplined coach leaves town and the players are given more freedom, good things happen. Mike Davis took Indiana to the Final Four right after Bob Knight left. But, I do not see a similar spark following the departure of Bobby Lutz. I think Coastal Carolina and George Mason beat Charlotte because they played smarter basketball, not because Charlotte lacks talent.

A Few Thoughts as a Fan

The George Mason band completely made the four-day weekend special.
Let me count the ways:
-The crazy yellow and green suits on the band leader
-The awesome saxophone solos
-The fun woman in a wheelchair and her drum
-The cowbell
-The way everyone in the band would dance when they were not performing
-The amusing guitar riffs
-The green and gold headbands
-The nicknames on the back of their jerseys (like Big Kahuna)
-The way the band would continue to sing after the action re-started. (They are not allowed to play instruments while play is going on, but that doesn’t mean they could not continue singing the melody.)
-The three-part George Mason rouser

The Dayton Flyers are always going to be my favorite NCAA tournament band, but if you get a chance to see George Mason somewhere, please make the effort.

-In some minor ways, these early season tournaments are better than those held in March. Win or lose, you are guaranteed to see your team play three times.

-There is no reason to stress about games this early in the season, but I cannot help it. That is why there is no better feeling then having your team win early in the day. You have the euphoria of the victory and you realize you can just relax and watch some great basketball.

-I thought when Georgetown went on a 9-0 run to take a 7 point lead and the band started playing that I could not be happier. But to keep pouring it on and coast to victory after trailing much of the first half, this was a very satisfying win. I have never seen my team win a tournament in person, and I really tried to soak in the moment, even if this was "just" the Charleston Classic. From the MVP presentation to Chris Wright, to the team photo, to the in-house DJ playing “Celebration”, the moment could not last long enough.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Charleston Classic

The Charleston Classic is underway.

Random Thoughts:
-There was almost no one here for the afternoon session. The small section of Georgetown fans you see on the right of the picture were about it. In the evening session, the arena was practially full with NC State, George Mason, and Charlotte fans. NC State clearly has the largest contingent in town.

-I love watching the body language at court level. Georgetown freshman Markel Starks is making the right plays. He dribbles around, guards the ball handler, and makes the right fake-passes before passing against the zone. But when you look in his eyes you see a player who is still awestuck by the college game.

It is amazing what body language can say for a player. Georgetown junior Henry Sims still looks like a player who lacks confidence when on the floor, while Georgetown freshman Nate Lubick looks completely confident. Of course Lubick was making the wrong cuts on a number of plays and practically driving Chris Wright insane, but he looks like a player who believes he can contribute this year.

Seeing how quickly freshman can step in is always fascinating to me. I wish the recruiting rankings had some sort of a confidence meter, but sometimes you really do not know. Players that dominate in high school can look so tentative when playing against 20 and 21 year old defenders.

-Most amusing sequence: Austin Freeman was called for an elbow to the back. He complained rather innapropriately to Ted Valentine. Valentine then explained what Freeman did wrong. And when Freeman kept pouting, Valentine rather loudly mocked Freeman's expression. "Oh, what did I do? Oh, what did I do?" It was amusing to see an official call out a player. But then Chris Wright's contact fell out and had to be replaced. And for some reason it took about 10 minutes for him to get it back in. During this whole time, Valentine and Freeman kept discussing the call.

-Eventually Georgetown just blitzed Coastal Carolina in the second half. They had a gear, particularly from three point range, that Coastal Carolina could not match. The same could be said of Wofford in the following game against SC Upstate, and NC State against East Carolina.

The George Mason vs Charlotte game was also a blowout but it had a little different feel. Charlotte point guard Jamar Briscoe, a transfer who became eligible this year, practically carried the 49ers on his back in this game. His ability to get to the free throw line was the one factor that kept Charlotte competitive. But I was shocked at Charlotte's hideous defensive rebounding in this game. I have not checked the final box score, but I thought Charlotte did one of the worst jobs boxing out that I have seen in awhile.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Early Season Printable Brackets

Note: I am off to the Charleston Classic later this week. I highly recommend you attend one of these early season tournaments if you get a chance. They are easily some of the most under-rated basketball of the year.

While I am gone, allow me to repost the printable brackets for the major early season tournaments. I posted this a month ago, but since the tournaments are about to start, it seemed like a good time to bump it up to the front page.

A few updates since last month
-The Charleston Classic now has a printable bracket.
-And it turns out the Great Alaska Shootout has one too. It has been up since August, but it was hidden in the depths of the Seawolves website.

You can find these types of brackets everywhere these days, but posting printable brackets is a YABB tradition. And, because I can never find it anywhere, I've created my own South Padre Island Invitational Tournament Bracket. So take that. Other websites may have this same information, but this is your ONLY source of an SPI bracket. (Of course google docs has interpreted my PDF as a document making it virtually impossible to print. Grr. But now is not the time to be annoyed at minor grievances.) Having printable brackets in my hand always brings a smile to my face. Print them out and fill them out. Life is good.

Old Faithful
Preseason NIT – Nov 15, 16, 17, 24, 26

8 Team
Puerto Rico Tip-Off – Nov 18, 19, 21
Charleston Classic – Nov 18, 19, 21
Paradise Jam – Nov 19, 20, 21, 22
Maui Invitational – Nov 22, 23, 24
Great Alaska Shootout Nov 24, 25, 26, 27
76 Classic – Nov 25, 26, 28
Old Spice Classic – Nov 25, 26, 28
Cancun Governor’s Cup – Dec 22, 23, 24
Diamond Head Classic – Dec 22, 23, 25

4 Team Predetermined Semis
Coaches vs Cancer – Nov 18, 19
CBE Classic – Nov 22, 23
Cancun Challenge – Nov 23, 24
Legend’s Classic – Nov 26, 27
Chicago Invitational Challenge – Nov 26, 27
South Padre Island Invitational - Nov 26, 27
Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival - Dec 20, 21
Las Vegas Classic - Dec 22, 23

ESPN has a few more listed, but even ESPN cannot bring itself to list everything. (That Dr. Pepper Classic does not hold much appeal nationally.)

The next table shows where each conference is sending its teams this year. I list the Top 13 RPI conferences from last year. (Scroll to the right to see additional conferences.)

A few notes on the table:
I list the Cable Car Classic in the table because it includes three mid-major schools, but I could not bring myself to make a printable bracket for it.

*The LV Classic should not be confused with LV Invitational, or LV Holiday Hoops/Tarkanian Classic which are pre-scheduled non-tournaments this year.

**St. John's and Davidson both play in the MSG Holiday Festival Tournament and another exempt tournament.

***San Diego St., Rhode Island, Louisiana Tech, James Madison, and William & Mary are not in the pre-determined Final Four, but they will participate in these exempt events.

****UCF hosts a holiday tournament with a real bracket and the field includes Northeastern from the CAA, but it is nothing to get excited about.

*****Georgia St. also plays in tournament with a real bracket, the Dr. Pepper Classic in Chattanooga, but it is nothing to get excited about.

In addition to these tournaments there are a number of other exempt events that should produce good games. For example, one exempt event will pit Florida against Ohio St. And other event will have Kansas facing Arizona in Las Vegas. But organizers have removed all the fun by removing the bracket from these events. All games are simply prescheduled.

In particular, I laugh at the Las Vegas Invitational. The under-card (Valparaiso vs Northern Colorado and Bethune Cookman vs Texas A&M CC) gets a real bracket, but not the main event. Were the organizers really that concerned that Arizona and Kansas would fall to Santa Clara or Ohio in the semifinals?

Besides the Las Vegas Invitational under-card, there are a few other mini-tournaments I am not listing here. In particular, VCU hosts an event that will include Cornell. But I had to draw the line somewhere. Print these off and fill them out and you will have a very happy holiday season.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Old Dominion vs Georgetown

I realize that elite defense often results in ugly games, but Old Dominion’s defense is a thing of beauty. A year after posting a top 10 defense nationally (according to the Pomeroy ratings), Old Dominion played lock down defense on the Hoyas for 33 minutes. ODU played some man-to-man but when they realized the Hoyas were not hitting their shots, they ended the first half on a zone blitz. And then, perhaps wisely fearing a Hoya adjustment at halftime, ODU went back to man-to-man to start the second half.

I normally hate zone defense this time of year. When a team like Florida Gulf Coast busts it out against Indiana, you just know you are in for some ugly basketball. But with ODU switching from man to zone and back to man, the defensive strategy was in mid-season form. Count 10 blocks for ODU, 11 first half turnovers forced, and a 77% defensive rebounding rate, and the Monarchs dominated this game defensively. When it came to physicality, ODU was a taller, stronger, deeper team. And for most of this game they looked like the better team.

But this has been a backwards series. The road team has won every game in the four game home-and-away, and even the rules of basketball seemed reversed in this one. They say in college basketball, the great equalizer is the three point shot. It is the thing that allows the mid-majors to stick with the BCS boys, and occasionally spring an upset. But this time around the three point shot swung the other way. It was the factor that allowed the smaller Hoya team to upend the Monarchs at ODU.

And the play-of-the-game clearly belonged to Chris Wright. Sure he was 4 of 6 from deep and had a couple of key threes as the Hoyas came from behind with a late three-point barrage. But it was the timing of one of his threes that was so critical.

With 3 seconds left on the shot clock, Hollis Thompson was seemingly unaware of the timing as he held the ball in the corner. Then Thompson skipped a cross-court pass from one offensive corner to the other. It was a foolish play, destined to end in a shot-clock violation. But then Wright pulled off what the announcers called the Larry Bird shot. Wright caught the ball and in one motion released a three as the shot clock hit zero. It was a miracle to get the shot off, and even more amazing when it went it. The Hoyas took the lead, the momentum, and soon after the game.

Chris Wright was not perfect on this night. He had a couple of fast-break opportunities where he seemed to want to finish himself, instead of making the right pass to an open teammate. I was ready to call him selfish. But it is hard to not blame the senior for wanting to put the team on his back. This is a team that will go no further than its three sensational guards take it. While Hollis Thompson was missing a critical second half lay-up on a gorgeous pass from Julian Vaughn, and Vaughn was seeing his own shots swatted away on a regular basis, the elite backcourt led the way. Wright had 19, Jason Clark had 18, and Austin Freeman had 17, accounting for all but 8 of the Hoyas points.

Before the season is over, Georgetown will find a way to get more inside baskets. But with such a perimeter presence, this is going to be an inconsistent team. Georgetown will beat some teams when they make their shots, and lose to some teams that make you scratch your head. But what is new about that? The Hoyas beat Duke last year but were blown out by Ohio in the NCAA tournament. You never know which team will show up.

So the story of this game cannot be the Hoyas. The story of this game is Old Dominion. Come March no one will remember this game played on the first day of the season. But the selection committee will hold it against ODU. They were a mid-major with a chance to beat one of the big boys at home, a chance to prove they deserved an NCAA bid. And if you watched this game, and watched this team smother teams in the CAA last year, you know they are worthy of an NCAA spot. But mid-majors don’t get second chances. Georgetown will have plenty of chances to win and lose big games this season. For ODU, the heartbreak begins before the season even gets started.

But you know what? We need more games like this. Forget these early season tournaments with two home games and a guaranteed slot in the tournament semis. More teams need to go on the road against the mid-majors. We need more games like this.

Two Final Comments
-CSN picked up the CAA feed from Norfolk for this game, and boy were the production values low. Several times they were caught showing instant replays, missing 10 seconds of game action at a time. I think I take for granted the high production values you see on ESPN, and even in the games.

-Georgetown used full-court pressure at the end of the first half. That’s right, the short-benched, boring half-court Hoya team is looking to make this a transition game this year. This is what I love about college basketball. Every season is full of surprises.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Three Games at Once - Finally

Pittsburgh vs Rhode Island

About three minutes into the game, Rhode Island center Will Martell caught the ball wide-open under the Pittsburgh basket and looked completely lost. His shot was eventually blocked by Pittsburgh’s Talib Zanna. I immediately wondered whether he was some freshman playing in his first big game. But no, upon further review that was Will Martell, the Rhode Island senior center. Then by the end of the first half, I was wondering if Martell was Rhode Island’s best player. His two-step hook shot over Dante Taylor was a thing of beauty. Of course as soon as I jumped on the Martell bandwagon, Martell picked up his fourth foul early in the second half. At this point the Rams other interior players were either injured or a wobbly nervous freshman. And Rhode Island had already made 8 three pointers and only led by two points. Every one of my basketball instincts said Rhode Island was done at this point. How could they hang with Pittsburgh for another 15 minutes when Brad Wanamaker was penetrating the Rhode Island defense like a revolving door?

By hitting another 6 three pointers, that is how. The continued perimeter onslaught allowed the Rams to stay within two points until the final minute. Rhode Island did not win, but they gave us an incredible ride for the season-opener. But if I am a Pittsburgh fan, I am very happy. The odds of someone hitting 14 threes again are slim to none. Pittsburgh had this horrific draw, and still won. That is the mark of a good team.

But can I ask what has happened to Pittsburgh’s Dante Taylor? People talked about the former McDonald’s All-American like he was the second coming of DeJuan Blair last summer. So I assumed with Nasir Robinson injured that Taylor would at least be starting in this game. Instead he is stuck behind Talib Zanna on the depth chart, and every indication was that Jamie Dixon was making the right call.

Illinois vs UC Irvine

Illinois won by 14. An Illinois optimist would say Irvine went on an 8-0 run to end the game with the supersubs in the game, and the final margin was not reflective of how well Illinois played. An Illinois pessimist would point out that Illinois was once again dazzlingly inconsistent, following a dominant first half with a dreadful second half. The team was so mediocre in the second half that Weber did not feel comfortable pulling Demetri McCamey until the 3 minute mark at the end of the game. I fall somewhere in the middle. I think this game was more about UC Irvine’s inconsistency. Irvine could not make a shot in the first half, but quickly drew 4 fouls on Illinois in the first four minutes of the second half. After that, the complexion of the game changed. Illinois was much more tentative defensively and Irvine was able to make the final score respectable.

But there were a ton of reasons for Illinois fans to be optimistic. Brandon Paul played extremely well making five threes in the first half, but it was his effort diving on the ground for loose balls that is going to earn him playing time. And Meyers Leonard and Jereme Richmond look like a serious upgrades from Dominque Keller and Jeffrey Jordan. Leonard had a sparkling play running the floor and tipping in a McCamey miss on the fast-break. And Richmond looks like the rare Illinois player who can create his own shot. That is huge for the team since McCamey cannot be asked to carry the entire offensive load all season. Let me be blunt. If Bruce Weber does not start Jereme Richmond soon and give him more minutes, I think he is making a serious mistake.

Maryland vs Seattle

The lack of transition defense in the first half would scare me if I was a Maryland fan. Maryland was eventually able to wear down Seattle, but there are some ACC teams that will be able to run for the full 40 minutes. But a lot of young players were given a chance to shine, and from a pure entertainment perspective, this was a very entertaining track meet.

Texas vs Navy

I was pretty burnt out by the time this game came on. Let me keep it short and sweet. Texas is scary. If you want to pick North Carolina as a top 10 team based purely on talent, why not Texas? Oh, that’s right, because they squandered that talent last year. Well so did North Carolina.

Three games at once. Life is good. Thank you ESPNU, CSN, and ESPN3 on my laptop.

Three Plays to Search for on Youtube

I’m not going to mention any rim-rattling dunks, although there were plenty, particularly in the second half of the Texas – Navy game. Instead here are three more plays that made me smile:

Seattle vs Maryland – The Flip
With just under 9 minutes to play in the first half, Seattle’s Aaron Broussard stole the ball. He drove towards the basket and had his shot partially blocked, but despite some reverse-spin, the ball carefully banked in for a fast-break basket. You often see wild “continuation” baskets in the NBA where players flip it up on the rim and hope for a prayer, but there is no “continuation” in college. But this was one of those crazy buckets.

Illinois vs UC Irvine – The Tip
With four seconds left in the first half Joseph Bertrand put up a prayer three pointer. Jereme Richmond tips it in at the buzzer, but is not quite sure if he did the right thing. Was he nervous about goal-tending, taking away a three from his teammate, or was he just worried that he didn’t beat the clock? Either way the tip was good and Illinois led by 24 at the break.

Pittsburgh vs Rhode Island – Hot Potato
This is my favorite sequence of the night. Near the 13 minute mark in the first half, Pittsburgh inbounds the ball under their own basket, only to throw the ball away to Rhode Island. It is a horrible pass. It seemed like there was not a single Pittsburgh player in the area. Rhode Island then dribbled once and passed it straight back to that same Pittsburgh player. You can’t make this stuff up.

(My notes are a little sketchy on this one. I have this happening at the 12 minute mark in my notes, but it looks like it happens around the 13 minute mark in the play-by-play, with Pittsburgh’s Travon Woodall and Rhode Island’s Daniel West making the foolish passes.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Seven Minimally Bold Opening Day Predictions

1. Jamie Dixon or Bo Ryan will make the Final Four this year. These coaches have been performing at too high a level for too long not to catch a break one of these years.

2. The Big 12 will get more NCAA bids than the Big 10. The Big 10 is very good at the top, but I’m not as confident in the bottom or middle of the league.

3. The ACC will once again dominate the early season tournaments. This is not particularly controversial, but I bring it up because I think the ACC is not getting nearly enough publicity this pre-season. The middle of the league has a lot of question marks, but there is simply too much talent here not to expect another dominant non-conference performance.

4. The ACC will have the slowest pace in the last 10 years. Just look at the new coaches.

5. Out of Memphis, Kentucky, and North Carolina, one team will be great, one will be good enough, and one will be awful. I just have no idea where each team will end up.

6. Oliver Purnell will lead DePaul to 4 conference wins. (DePaul has had 0 and 1 conference wins the last two seasons.) I completely agree with people who say Purnell has inherited a disaster. And I’m more optimistic about 2012 than 2011. But Purnell has done this rebuilding thing before and there are a lot of vulnerable teams in the Big East this year.

7. Northwestern will not make the NCAA tournament.

Two Random Facts

If you are watching ESPNU tonight and your team is not playing, you may be a college basketball addict.

If you are reading this blog and not watching ESPNU tonight, you must really hate your cable operator.

The Uncertainty Principle

As much as I love all the preseason prognostication, the great thing about college basketball is that we know so little. This is not the NBA with its handful of clear favorites. Every college basketball season is filled with fresh faces. Every year is filled with uncertainty. We have no idea whether Kyrie Irving can keep Duke’s offense running at a high level. And we have no idea if Kentucky’s youngsters can compete for an SEC title. (Heck, we do not even know if Enes Kanter will play.) But that uncertainty, that fresh start, is what makes each season great. November is like spring training, a time of year when everyone can believe and anything can happen. College Basketball is back tonight!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Basketball Prospectus Book Now Available

The Basketball Prospectus Book is finally here! If you are so inclined, please check it out. For the second straight year, I contributed to the conference previews. As I've noted previously, not everything that gets written can make it into the final publication. Here is something I wrote about Mississippi head coach Andy Kennedy that did not make it into the SEC preview because of space considerations:

While Andy Kennedy was Bob Huggins choice for a successor at Cincinnati, Andy Kennedy has not been the same caliber of coach as his mentor Bob Huggins. Based on six years of tempo free data for Bob Huggins and five years of tempo free data for Andy Kennedy, the data reveal a clear pattern. Huggins teams have been much more physical. Huggins’ teams dominate the offensive boards and force teams to send them to the free throw line, while Andy Kennedy’s do not. And Huggins’ teams play a level of tenacious defensive that Kennedy’s teams have not been able to match. While Huggins’ teams allow an average effective FG percentage against of only 46.1%, Andy Kennedy’s squads are much more forgiving, averaging 48.4% against. True, Andy Kennedy’s teams have been slightly better at ball-handling and shooting. But what Ole Miss fans have discovered is that they have a coach who is not nearly as dominant as his mentor.

When something like this does not make the cut, I think it should be apparent that there is plenty of quality analysis to be found within the 345 pages.

Bracket Luck

While I sneakily saved my most interesting summer project for my own blog, I did contribute an essay on Bracket Luck to the beginning of BP publication. Here is the premise:

We know Duke was placed in a fortunate region last year, but has Duke faced easier than expected opponent’s historically? We know Tom Izzo has exceeded expectations in the NCAA tournament, but how much is due to the hard work of his teams and how much is due to fortunate NCAA tournament draws?

The full article is found within the publication, but today I wanted to include a few hyperlinks and give the article a mini-preview. While everyone correctly emphasizes the importance of NCAA seeding, your NCAA path does not just depend on seeding. Who you play depends on regional slotting and how the bracket breaks in front of you as the tournament progresses. This is what I refer to as bracket luck. If you are looking for something similar, Neil Paine of the Sports Reference College Basketball Blog did a similar analysis using SRS data instead of the Pomeroy data. Paine focuses on whether teams were lucky in the year they won the NCAA title. I focus on bracket luck for all teams in all seasons that we have tempo free data. I calculate and show bracket luck in two ways:

-Which teams have faced easier than expected opponents as measured by average Pythagorean Winning Percentage? (Table 1)

-Which teams have faced easier than expected opponents as measured by the probability of winning, (i.e. expected wins)? (Table 4)

-Then I look at how often teams exceed expectations in the NCAA tournament (Table 5), and make a statement about how important bracket luck is to exceeding expectations.

I also include two other tables:

-Each team’s most fortunate NCAA opponent in the last 7 years. (Table 3)

-And an analysis of Michigan St.’s entire NCAA path over the last 7 years. (Table 2)

The essay is a bit table heavy. And the middle gets a little bogged down discussing one of the tables. But if you read to the end you'll learn why Table 1 and Table 4 do not always lead to the same conclusion. And you will learn the answer to the aforementioned question about Tom Izzo, whether you want to know that answer or not.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A10 Prediction – Modeling Injuries, Transfers, Coaches

Future Tweaks to the Model

I developed my predictive model last spring and the model is still in the experimental stage. Similarly, Ken Pomeroy’s predictive model in the Basketball Prospectus book is humbly referred to as Projections, Version 1.0. There are still a lot of things we can and will improve in future years. Today I want to talk about some of the things I have in mind for the future.

Can we learn anything from this year’s rankings?

Looking back at all my conference predictions, there are a few teams that stand out as surprises. Teams like Michigan St. and Villanova are a little lower in my rankings than where most experts have them pegged. But that is largely because neither of these teams had dominating efficiency numbers last year.

But the ranking that bothers me the most is North Carolina’s low ranking. And I think Seth Davis’ recent review of North Carolina points out the current biggest problem with my model. My model does not adequately account for injuries. My model looks at Tyler Zeller and sees a player that could barely crack the rotation last year. But that is clearly wrong. Zeller was not being held out because he was not good enough. He was not playing because he was injured on multiple occasions.

Now, this is not such a simple adjustment as you might think. The model may under-rate Zeller’s return, but it is important to realize that not all players will successfully recover from injuries and return to a dominant level of play. Are players with ACL tears more likely to suffer future ACL tears? Are players with foot problems (see Zeller) more likely to continue to miss games in the future? Ideally we would have a database of injuries and project how likely players are to recover from each type of injury. But because that database does not exist, my future project will try to look at how well players recover from a “general” injury.

Second, we need to do more to account for transfers. Simply plugging in a transfer into the new lineup is probably not sufficient. And despite the occasional Wesley Johnson type player, we need to do more to understand how often players succeed in their new environments. For every Wesley Johnson, how many Alex Legion’s are there out there?

Third, there are some problems that will be solved when we have a larger sample size. Right now, I am estimating my model based on three years of returning tempo free player data. That is not a lot of data to draw conclusions about unusual situations. For a team that loses 2 starters, and 3 rotation players, the model probably does a very good job. But for a team that returns almost no players (Kentucky), there simply are not a lot of historical examples. I would like to have a statistical reason to treat Kentucky differently, but for now I am mostly making an out-of-sample projection.

Similarly, the three year data set causes problems because of some recent trends. In particular, teams without elite recruits have been having more and more success from 2007 to 2010. Let’s throw out Memphis, Gonzaga, and Xavier, because all three teams have been recruiting at a different level that most non-BCS teams. Look at the non-BCS teams in the top 35 of the Pomeroy Rankings in 2007 vs 2010:

22nd Air Force
25th Butler
28th Southern Illinois

10th BYU
12th Butler
22nd Temple
25th Utah St.
26th Dayton
29th Northern Iowa
34th Old Dominion

There are a lot more teams without elite recruits performing at a high level recently. (BYU’s Jimmer Fredette was not an elite prospect coming out of high school. Butler’s Matt Howard and Dayton’s Chris Wright were top 100 recruits, but they were the only elite recruits on these teams.) Thus the recent data tends to have more confidence in non-BCS teams than may be warranted.

But I also suspect this is somewhat cyclical. While the SEC fell off the map a couple of years ago, and the Pac-10 fell apart last year, I do not believe those leagues are permanently down-trodden. And as those leagues improve again, I think the recruiting data will start to have a little more predictive power, and I’ll start to rank a team like Wake Forest, a little higher than I do this year.

To deal with this cyclicality, I currently make an adjustment that moves non-BCS leagues downward. But I would like to have the data to determine the proper level for this adjustment. Right now, it is rather ad-hoc.

Finally, I want additional data so we can do a better job modeling how different coaches respond to different situations. We know Mike Brey has a special ability to teach offense; we know Bruce Weber has a special ability to teach defense; and we know Jamie Dixon has a special ability to bring young players along quickly. But modeling the interaction between coach and returning player effects will take more data.

A10 Prediction

Correction: If you have been following my blog closely, you may have noticed that Rhode Island showed up in the Biggest Departures Category in a recent post. That had me scratching my head. I knew Rhode Island lost Lamonte Ulmer, but the ranking seemed wrong. I recently went back and checked my code and found the problem. Even though I have the full rosters of eligible returning players, for some reason I included a line of code that classified all of last year’s “seniors” as departing players. Not only was this line of code redundant, it was also wrong. Many schools list players as seniors who are not really in their final year of eligibility. And Rhode Island had just this problem. Delroy James and Ben Eaves were both listed as seniors on last year, but both are listed on the Rhode Island’s roster again this year. I have now re-run the numbers for all conferences, and fixed the previous conference predictions. This only makes a meaningful difference for two teams whose numbers I have presented previously. First, I had mistakenly coded Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough as departing. With Hansbrough, Notre Dame is projected to be in the hunt for an NCAA bid. And given the way Notre Dame played without Luke Harangody last year, I think this is a very reasonable prediction. Second, Miami’s Adrian Thomas was also listed as a senior on last year. After fixing the code, Miami is now projected as an NCAA bubble team. I apologize for any confusion.

The first table shows the expected changes for the A10. Fordham has performed at such a hideously low level the last two years that it almost seems unsustainable for an A-10 team. Almost every player Fordham lost was among the worst in the conference, hence the positive number in the “players lost” column. Even for a team like Fordham, they should be able to replace players with efficiency ratings in the 70s with better options. Fordham will continue to be horrible this season, but with a batch of recruits that do not look like they should play in the MEAC, you have to expect at least modest improvement. Fordham will still be the worst team in the A10, but I suspect they will win more than two games this year.

Among the contenders, Temple is the most likely to improve. St. Louis was going to be the most improved team this year. They were a team that played a lot of young players last year and a team that was peaking at the end of last season. But Willie Reed and Kwamain Mitchell are not enrolled in school due to a recent legal issue. I have heard some speculation that at least one of them will return for the second semester, but for now I am assuming neither player comes back. And instead of being a 5th NCAA contender in the conference, St. Louis is another team that should slip back this year.

Thanks to the recent season-ending ACL injury to Brad Redford, Xavier is now expected to take the biggest fall in the A10.

The next table shows the expected changes in offense and defense. Xavier loses its two most prolific offensive options in Jordan Crawford and Jason Love, and both were very efficient as well. Plus they lose the great three point shooting of Brad Releford. While they return some other players who can rebound and defend, the model thinks Xavier’s offense will take a step back.

The next table shows the conference prediction. Temple is a logical favorite. They had one of the top defenses in the country last year, and while they lose a tough scorer in Ryan Brooks, the departing Luis Guzman was hardly an efficient player. But I am a little concerned that Temple may not have the depth to really get better. They gave a number of young players minutes last year, and outside the starting rotation, no one really stepped forward. In expectation, Fran Dunphy should be able to replace Brooks and Guzman’s production, but in practice I’m not sure where those replacements are going to come from. My model views a Villanova – Temple game as a toss-up, and I’m not quite as comfortable making that conclusion. But assuming Temple’s defense is better than Villanova’s defense, as it was last year, the teams should have similar efficiency margins once again.

Dayton loses a ton of players from their rotation. But their two most efficient and critical players, Chris Wright and Chris Johnson, are back. And some of the role players who are returning are also very efficient. (See Luke Fabrizius.) Dayton will depend on a solid recruiting class, led by Juwan Staten, to fill in the missing playing time. I’m a little concerned about integrating so many new faces given that Brian Gregory likes to play a deep rotation. But by leaning on the team’s two stars, Wright and Johnson, Dayton should be able to stay near the top of the A10 standings.

The A10 looks like a three-bid league, but Richmond is clearly in the hunt. At one time, St. Louis was also in the discussion for one of the top spots in the league, but the loss of two of their key players is devastating to their chances of becoming an elite team.