Sunday, March 28, 2010

NCAA Tournament Splits

The Final Four is now set. Here is how each participant has performed in the NCAA tournament:

Adj Off - Adj Def - Team
127.7 - 83.0 - Duke
116.1 - 77.5 - West Virginia
114.5 - 80.6 - Butler
121.8 - 96.4 - Michigan St.

Virtually every stat is better than in the regular season. Again, this isn’t a surprise because these teams have been playing good teams and winning. (When Duke puts up those kind of points against a stout Baylor defense, or when Butler holds an impressive Kansas St. offense to that few points, the adjusted stats are going to look great.)

The one notable exception is Michigan St.’s defense which is much worse than in the regular season. Perhaps this is explained by the loss of Kalin Lucas or the injuries to Chris Allen and Delvon Roe. Regardless, if you believe in picking the hot team, don’t be afraid to choose West Virginia and Butler next weekend.

Here are the log5 numbers once again:

Duke and Michigan St. improved their odds by winning, but since the favored teams won both games, the results of “other” games were negative for everyone.

Like many things I do on this blog, the log5 odds tracker has been a bit of an experiment this year. My goal was to separate out each team’s own wins (Self) and how the results of other games impacted the odds (Other). But the problem is that there is a 3rd update to the odds each night. Each night, because of the margin-of-victory and because of results in other games (like the NIT and CBI) each team’s evaluation changes slightly. Thus, as I was flipping over to Ken Pomeroy’s twitter feed, I again noticed that my numbers were out of date. Perhaps I’ll add the 3rd column to the chart next year to reflect changes to the Pythagorean Winning Percentage. This chart used Friday’s Pythagorean Winning Percentage.

Regardless, the whole point is that not only do the pure wins and losses change a team’s odds, the outcomes of games also changed our impressions of various teams. Prior to the tournament, if you had given me a Final Four of Michigan St., Butler, West Virginia, and Duke, I would have said Butler had the least chance of winning:

Duke 58.8%
West Virginia 18.1%
Michigan St. 11.7%
Butler 11.4%
(Odds using pre-tournament Pythagorean Winning Percentage.)

But we did learn something from the outcomes in this tournament. While Butler beat Syracuse and Kansas St. and significantly improved their overall profile, Michigan St. was squeaking by Tennessee and Maryland, and avoided Kansas. Today, the odds say Butler has a better chance of winning it all.

Duke 56.3%
West Virginia 19.4%
Butler 15.3%
Michigan St. 9.0%
(Odds using current Pythagorean Winning Percentage.)

And yes, this can still change between now and Saturday. North Carolina plays in the NIT among other inter-connected results.

Monday Night Viewing

-The wonders of cable channels will never cease. The best of three CBI final will not (as I expected) be played in an empty arena in Wichita, Kansas. Instead it will be televised on HDnet starting Monday night.

-You can also watch Baylor’s Brittney Griner try to earn a Final Four bid in the Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. In case you’ve missed it, Griner is the rare player who could fill a whole PTI show. At 6’8”, she was a youtube phenom in high school with a parade of crazy dunks. Then she punched a player in a game and was suspended. Now, as a college freshman, she has been carrying her team in the NCAA tournament with her incredible defensive presence in the paint. She has 24 blocks in the last two games including 10 in the upset of 1 seed Tennessee on Saturday. Really, if you are going to watch one Elite Eight game in the Women’s tournament, Baylor vs Duke is the game to watch.

-On the other hand, now would be a good time to stop obsessing about college basketball. My staircase is now partially painted.

And now those of us who picked Kentucky look silly too

Under-rated: Home Depot gift cards. I had no idea how cool these things were until I owned a townhouse. There’s nothing fun about spending $30 on a garden hose or a can of paint, but these things help. Also amusing: the apron-shaped gift card holder.

Over-rated: U-shaped staircases. I like the flow of the staircase, but these things are impossible to paint. What is the wall? What is the ceiling? Why are there 37 separate sections? I spend most of Sunday night taping one, and I haven’t even started painting yet.

Under-rated: Butler’s defense. You mean all you had to do to shut down Jacob Pullen was trap him coming off a screen until the initial defender could catch back up? Crazy.

Over-rated: Matt Howard picking up his 2nd foul. You knew it was inevitable. Kansas St. draws fouls and Matt Howard loves to pick them up. Early in the season, it spelled disaster as Howard spent every big game on the bench. But somewhere along the way, the rest of his teammates learned to play without him.

Under-rated: A curl screen at the top of the free throw line. It seemed like West Virginia ran this play over and over in the second half. Kentucky had no answer for the barrage of late game lay-ups.

Over-rated: First half two pointers. West Virginia led without making a single interior bucket in the first half.

Updated log5 odds

Initial = Odds of winning a national title after Friday
Self = Change in odds based on own game Saturday
Other = Change in odds based on other results Saturday
New = New odds of winning the national title after Saturday

(You’ll notice a slight change in the initial probability from what I had last night because I’m now using Friday’s Pythagorean Winning Percentage and Baylor crushed Saint Mary’s to improve their overall profile.)

Kentucky and Kansas St. were two of the most likely teams to win it all, so everyone who didn’t play today saw their odds improve.

Is it now finally plausible that Duke is the favorite to win it all?
Well, let’s wait to make that statement until after Sunday.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Four Years

Not every journey has a happy ending.

But some of them do. Four years ago Wayne Chism was a charismatic freshman, making the most of every moment on the floor with hard work and tenacity. Then he was a brilliant sophomore, slashing and dashing and achieving the most wins in Tennessee single season history. As a junior, he was a leader, finding a way to score, often with no true point guard on the floor. And as a senior, he is in the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.

Did Chism really get better over four years? The numbers seem the same. What I love is that when you look at his four year tempo free statistics, they are so consistent in almost every category. Take something totally random such as three point shooting:

Wayne Chism
2007: 32.9% of threes, 26 made
2008: 32.2% of threes, 29 made
2009: 32.0% of threes, 40 made
2010: 30.7% of threes, 31 made

But of course three point shooting isn’t his game.
-Chism has always been a fantastic defender, and great shot-blocker.
-Chism has always been a premier defensive rebounder.
-And Chism has always been a good, but not great scorer. His lifetime Offensive Rating hovers right around 105 or 106. That’s good enough to be a four-year hero, but not good enough to be a first round draft pick.

But what Wayne Chism has always been is a player who gets lay-ups at key times. For years, he’s been a player that when the game is chaotic, when everything is out of control, he somehow keeps his cool. He somehow has a nose for the ball. He’s the one who comes out of the scrum and finishes the play.

But the Ohio St. game was different. This season has been different. Since Tyler Smith was suspended, (and maybe before that), his team has used a slower, more organized attack. There hasn’t been the chaos. And it hasn’t always worked. This is the worst adjusted offense in the last four years. Without all the easy lay-ups, Tennessee has struggled to score at times this season.

But not tonight. As the clock ran down in St. Louis, Tennessee wasn’t hurrying to get the shot up. Wayne Chism wasn’t thriving in chaos, he was thriving in cool, calculated, cerebral execution. Two beautiful Chism lay-ups in the final four minutes put Tennessee ahead. And some heart-stopping defensive execution sealed the win.

Tennessee got revenge for an earlier loss to Ohio St. in the Sweet Sixteen in 2007. But this game wasn’t about revenge - this game was about breaking through. Sometimes, breakthrough wins don’t happen when you expect them. In 2005, the St. Louis Cardinals won 100 games, but fell in the playoffs. In 2006, they won 83 games, and won the World Series.

For Tennessee, this was not supposed to be the best team in school history. That was the team from two years ago that lost to Louisville. But something funny happened along the way. Tyler Smith was kicked off the team. Three other players were suspended. A walk-on player hit a miraculous shot to beat Kansas. And Tennessee plodded its way to a 6 seed in the NCAA tournament. They were the 6th best team in a deep Midwest region. They were the afterthought. But when the season was on the line, Wayne Chism and company came through. The winningest player in Tennessee history has finally brought Tennessee to the Elite Eight. Now what about the Final Four?

Friday’s log 5 Update

Once again, here are the numbers. (Pythagorean Winning Percentage through Wednesday’s games.)

Initial = Odds of winning national title after Thursday
Self = Change in odds due to own game Friday
Others = Change in odds due to other games Friday
New = New odds of winning national title after Friday

Even without playing, Kansas St. and Butler saw their national title odds increase with Ohio St. exiting.

On the flip side, Duke and Baylor advanced. That was expected, so it doesn’t do much to hurt Kentucky or West Virginia’s national title odds, but it does hurt. The right-hand side of my printable bracket is looking very top-heavy.

This is Awesome

-It has taken over a week, but I think I'm over Georgetown losing to Ohio now. Thank you Xavier-Kansas St.

-When we think of classic games, we always think of big comebacks and buzzer beaters. But what about ties and lead changes? When a game goes back and forth in the last 5 minutes, when a team won’t go away in overtime, now that’s a great game.

What more can you say about Xavier? They never gave up in regulation when it seemed like they should. After Denis Clemente hit the three pointer (and one), after Jacob Pullen made that three to take a 3 point lead in the final minute of regulation, after free throws put Kansas St. up by 4 in OT, Xavier never gave up. Terrell Holloway was ridiculous. Jordan Crawford was taking shots that would normally qualify as bad shots. But they kept going in.

But in the end, Jacob Pullen was just too good. No one can match these stats. Jacob Pullen maintains one of the top Offensive Ratings in the country (119.2) while playing in a major conference, using over 25% of his team’s possessions, taking and making a lot of threes (over 100 makes on the season), and posting an assist rate over 20%. For a college guard, he is the total package. If you watched the Big 12 this year, you knew it. Three losses to Kansas soured many of us on Kansas St.’s tournament chances, but we knew how good Pullen and Clemente could be. And now, so does the rest of the world.

-On Monday I looked at how teams had played in their last 7 games. I didn’t read much into it, but the recent numbers suggested Syracuse vs Butler was a toss-up. And John Gasaway has written at length earlier this year about Syracuse’s turnover problems. Still, Butler’s ability to keep Syracuse at arms length was a bit of a surprise.

So who were Thursday’s winners and losers?
(Note: I’m using’s Pythagorean Winning Percentage through Wednesday’s games without any of my amusing adjustments.)

Initial = Odds of winning national title heading into Thursday
Self = How outcome of own game impacted national title odds
Others = How outcome of other results impacted national title odds
New = New odds of winning national title after Thursday

-Among winners, Kentucky's title odds increased the least because they were "supposed" to beat Cornell.

-The biggest winner on Thursday was obviously Kansas St., which not only won one of the most exciting games in this year’s tournament, they saw Syracuse go down.

-Syracuse losing had only a minimal effect outside the West, but it did minimally increase Ohio St. and other Midwest bracket team's chances of winning it all.

-On the flip side, Duke was not happy to see Kentucky and West Virginia advance, ensuring a tougher Final Four opponent if Duke gets there.

-Xavier’s odds had actually been ticking up during the week thanks to the success of the A-10 in the NIT. And while Syracuse may have lost an even better chance at the national title, Xavier’s loss hurt a lot.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Updated Hummel Odds, Who’s Hot?

Quick Point: I had not found the time to calculate the Performance Against Seed Expectations (PASE) numbers this year. But Mike Miller has already crunched the numbers for our immediate enjoyment. Don't be fooled by the Big East having two teams in the Sweet Sixteen. This tournament has been a disaster.

OK, now back to the main point. Now that Purdue beat Siena and Texas A&M, are they ready to beat Duke? The short answer is no. The long answer is no. Based on the 5 game sample without Robbie Hummel, last week I would have said Purdue had a 5.4% chance of beating Duke. Now that we have a sample of 7 games without Hummel, the numbers say Purdue has an 8.2% chance of winning.

While Purdue was able to bump their offensive numbers up slightly, they still didn’t have a great offensive weekend. The reason Purdue advanced is because their adjusted defense was even better than the season long average.

The next table shows the season splits for adjusted offense and adjusted defense with and without Hummel. I’m also including a comparison to the adjusted offense and adjusted defense of all the other Sweet Sixteen teams in their last 7 games.

Not surprisingly, everyone who advanced in the NCAA tournament has been playing well lately, and since it has come against good competition, the adjusted numbers look fantastic for most teams. Kansas St. is only 4-3 in their last 7, but with games against Kansas twice, Baylor, and BYU, 4-3 is still pretty darn good.

Adjusting for opponent, Kentucky and Syracuse’s offense has been off the charts. But it hasn’t nearly been as dominating as Cornell’s offense. On the flip side, Purdue and Duke have had sensational defensive performances lately. (Duke’s ability to shut down California’s potent offense was truly remarkable.) But after adjusting for quality of opponent, Butler’s defense has been the best. What will win out this week, the Syracuse offense or the Butler defense?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Quick Recap

There are at least 4 ways to enjoy the NCAA tournament.

1) In-person.

I have heard a lot of people say they prefer to watch on TV because it is easier to see all the action. I find this a bit absurd. When you watch in person you get the total picture. You get to see the player size differences, visualize the difficulty in penetrating the zone, and feel when the roar of the crowd swings the momentum. You also get to hear the college bands during timeouts instead of seeing that Buffalo Wild Wings commercial for the 10,000 time. (Seriously, they have been running that “Send it into Overtime” ad forever.) But most importantly, only when you attend in person do you feel the excitement of 20,000 people holding their breath on one shot. In my opinion, there are two valid excuses to watch at home: Limited time and limited money.

When attending in person, I’ve only had one bad experience, one location with no close games. Obviously that’s always a risk, but with 6 games at any first round site, you are almost guaranteed at least a few good games.

2) At home, using DirectTV.

After my DirectTV signal went out at the start of March last year and they claimed they couldn’t come out and fix it until April, I’m done with DirectTV. Flipping channels is nice, but you always have:

3) March Madness on Demand on the computer.

This has improved substantially over the last few years. You can now access any game immediately, and you can flip between games with no delay. Plus the end of games are not as choppy as they used to be. This technology keeps getting better and better. But the best place to watch March Madness is clearly:

4) At the Sports Bar

Everyone is watching every game, and if something dramatic happens, you are guaranteed to get half the people cheering and groaning. This is as close to the in-stadium feeling as you can get without physically being in the stadium.

The most under-rated part of March Madness is Sunday afternoon on the first weekend. We get the last window of 4 games at once. Today I flipped my attention between Cornell beating Wisconsin, an 11-0 comeback by Georgia Tech against Ohio St, and a close game between West Virginia and Missouri. But the best part of today was listening to the Maryland fans. They cheered dramatically at the big comeback and two late leads, only to curse when Michigan St. hit the buzzer beater. This is what March is all about.

Sadly, not all of these options are conducive to immediate feedback. So here are my thoughts on the weekend.

1) Your best bet when making predictions is to make them on all sides so you can’t be wrong. While I posted the Hummel Odds last week, I also emphasized that Siena had struggled mightily against NCAA tournament teams this year. We now have two more games without Hummel. I’ll try to update the new Hummel odds on Monday night unless I see them somewhere else first.

2) Retroactively, we’ll look back and never remember that Pomeroy’s numbers favored Wisconsin over Kentucky in the East. Kentucky’s 30 point win over Wake Forest and Wisconsin’s loss to Cornell will have completely flipped the pre-tournament Pythagorean Winning Percentage and odds. I kept doubting my Kentucky as national champion pick and looking for a statistical excuse to rationalize my choice, but I feel better after this weekend.

3) I’m sure there’s nothing to it, but whenever I watch these games, the biggest predictor of success seems to be the teams that take the ball to the basket instead of settling for jumpers. The biggest example of this was Xavier which won in the first round against a taller Minnesota team. Despite 10 blocks by the Gophers at halftime, Xavier kept taking the ball inside and trying to score in the paint and they ultimately wore the Gophers down. The 10 blocks may have seemed like a bad sign for Xavier, but in fact, it wouldn’t have been possible to get that many blocks if the Musketeers hadn’t been so persistent in their inside attack.

4) My biggest question heading into this weekend was whether Notre Dame’s defense would stand up. It did, but Old Dominion’s defense was even better. But I wasn’t surprised that Baylor was able to beat ODU. You have to beat the Old Dominion defense before it gets set, and Baylor has been aggressive in full court all year.

5) The game I most wanted to watch in the first round was full-court pressure vs full-court pressure, Missouri vs Clemson with Gus Johnson calling the game. The first half was fantastic with Clemson hitting a ton of threes early, but Missouri’s full-court pressure ultimately forced too many turnovers and the Tigers were back in the game at halftime. But Clemson struggled to score in the second half, and the game wasn’t as fun as I hoped.

6) Remember when the ACC used to get 2 teams in the Sweet Sixteen every year? (This used to be Dick Vitale’s favorite fact.) Well, that streak was broken a few years ago, and it isn’t starting again yet.

The Raw Numbers

Teams in Sweet Sixteen
3 Big Ten
2 Big 12, Big East, SEC
1 ACC, A10, Pac10, WCC, MVC, Horizon, Ivy

Win-Loss Record
7-2 Big10
3-1 Pac10
3-1 WCC
4-2 SEC
7-5 Big 12
6-6 Big East
5-5 ACC
2-2 A10
2-4 MWC
0-2 WAC
0-2 CUSA
9-16 Other

Sunday’s log 5 Winners and Losers

Here are the big changes in Final Four odds today for various teams and the sum total of the odds for each conference.

Once again, the point of this is to show that some teams win even without playing. Today the biggest winner was Kentucky which won’t have to play Wisconsin in the Sweet Sixteen. You can argue pretty convincingly that Cornell is playing better than Wisconsin right now, but over the full season Wisconsin’s overall profile (including wins against Duke and all the Big Ten’s best teams) suggested the Badgers would give Kentucky a much tougher game.

Duke is the only ACC team left, but Duke is such a prohibitive favorite in the South, Duke’s odds are almost as high as the odds of Tennessee plus Kentucky.

Now over the last few days, I’ve been tracking how the odds have changed using pre-tournament Pythagorean Winning Percentage. But this weekend’s outcomes have also changed our evaluation of individual teams. I.e., Kentucky winning by 30 over Wake Forest said something about how good Kentucky really is. To see the full odds, incorporating the margin-of-victory this weekend, check out Basketball Prospectus later this week.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturday’s log5 Winners and Losers

As described on Thursday and Friday, I am going to track the cumulative (sum total) Final Four odds for each conference.

Initial = Probability of reaching Final Four after Friday
Self = Self-inflicted change on Saturday
Other = Change in odds based on other results Saturday
New = Probability of reaching Final Four after Saturday

It was obviously a horrible day for the Big 12 with Kansas going down. The only saving grace was that Kansas St. got past a very tough BYU squad and that Baylor won against a solid opponent as well. Still, the Big 12’s sum total odds are now 3rd overall.

Northern Iowa obviously pulled the day’s biggest upset, and while they now have a legitimate chance at making the Final Four, they still won’t be favored from here on out. Instead, the game was almost as important for every other team in the region. Even without playing, Maryland saw their Final Four odds increase by 11.4%. Even without playing, Ohio St.’s odds went up 9.5%, and so on. Overall, these gains moved the ACC and Big 10 to the front of the pack.

On the flip side, Wisconsin lost even without playing today. That’s because Kentucky advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. West Virginia was also unhappy to see that outcome.

And even Duke’s odds fell slightly on a day where the Blue Devils did not play. Since Baylor had slightly better numbers than Villanova, it now looks likely that the Blue Devils will face a tougher opponent if they make the Regional Final.

Quick stats point: I realize that these “sum total” percentages for conferences have no statistical meaning. If you want to calculate true Final Four odds, you need to multiply individual teams. For example, the odds that neither Duke or Maryland make the Final Four is now .516*.768=.396. The odds that one or both make the Final Four is .604. But running every possible combination gets a bit burdensome. In this case, I show the sum total as a simple illustration of what conferences had good days and what conferences had bad days.

Friday’s log5 Winners and Losers

After Round 1, here are the conference win-loss records:

2-0 Pac10
2-0 WCC
4-1 Big10
5-2 Big 12
4-2 ACC
4-4 Big East
2-2 SEC
2-2 MWC
1-2 A10
0-2 WAC
0-2 CUSA
6-13 Other

The big winner is the Big 12 with 5 teams advancing to the second round. But how did each conference’s total Final Four odds change on Friday?

Initial = Probability of reaching Final Four after Thursday
Self = Self-inflicted change on Friday
Other = Change in odds based on other results Friday
New = Probability of reaching Final Four after Friday

These odds use’s pre-tournament Pythagorean Winning Percentage. It does not include an adjustment for the Hummel injury or any other factor.

On the surface, the 3-2 day for the ACC wasn’t too bad. But Duke and Maryland were prohibitive favorites, and their wins did little to change the conference’s expectations of a Final Four bid. Instead, Clemson and Florida St., two teams with the power numbers to be real “sleepers” went down. The ACC also fell because Duke’s draw suddenly got worse. We can argue whether Louisville, Siena, and Utah St. are really better teams, but the season-long numbers say the advancement of California, Purdue, and Texas A&M means a harder draw for the Blue Devils. The ACC’s cumulative odds fell to 4th overall.

The Big East went 3-1 on Friday, but the main gains came because Syracuse won’t have to face the sensational defense of Florida St. on Sunday. Maybe Gonzaga is under-rated in Ken Pomeroy’s current formula, but the stats believe Gonzaga is a much better matchup for Syracuse.

The Big Ten also continues to make up ground. Not only did the four top teams advance, but with Cornell upsetting Temple, Wisconsin gets a much easier opponent in round 2.

Kentucky is also among the days biggest losers for the same reason. It is now much more likely the Wildcats will face Wisconsin in the Sweet Sixteen.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sometimes your Final Four odds get better, even if you don’t play

I used to track conference performance by listing wins and losses. Then I tracked Conference PASE which was Performance Against Seed Expectations. But this year I’m going to try something new. Today I want to track conference winners and losers in terms of the changes in Final Four probabilities.

I start by adding up the Final Four probabilities for the multi-bid conferences heading into the tournament.

0.931 Big 12
0.831 Big East
0.771 ACC
0.584 Big Ten
0.271 SEC
0.204 MWC
0.125 A10
0.082 Pac10
0.035 WAC
0.031 CUSA
0.026 WCC
0.109 Other

These are cumulative, so the best-case scenario for a conference would be for the total to reach 4.000. This would mean the conference has all four teams headed to the Final Four.

Not surprisingly conferences with many teams and good seeds such as the Big East and Big 12 have the best chance of putting teams in the Final Four.

Next I see how these probabilities changed on Thursday based on two things.
1) The wins or losses by the teams
2) Results in other games

As an example, Washington was a slight underdog against Marquette, but the game was nearly a 50/50 toss-up. So when Washington won, their Final Four odds increased from 0.042 to 0.086. This increase is "Self". But Washington’s Final Four odds also changed based on other games in the region. Because New Mexico advanced, Washington’s odds actually fell back to .078. This drop is "Other".

Initial = Initial probability
Self = Self-inflicted change
Other = Change in odds based on other results
New = New odds

At first glance, the Big 12 had a great day. Their teams went 3-1. But Kansas, Kansas St. and Baylor were heavily favored, so those wins didn't mean much. Instead, Texas losing meant the conference's Final Four odds went down.

The Big East had the worst day with Notre Dame, Marquette, and Georgetown losing. This allowed the ACC to move ahead of the Big East in terms of total Final Four probabilities. The losses by the Big East also improved the odds that the Big Ten and SEC teams would reach the Final Four.

-The big winners today included Butler and Tennessee who have the potential to be sleepers, but had to get through tough games today.

-Kentucky also won big today. The opening round win was part of it, but the key factor was Texas losing to Wake Forest. Texas had much better efficiency numbers on the season, so this really helps Kentucky’s odds of advancing.

-The other big winner today was Ohio St. Even though the Buckeyes didn’t play, Georgetown’s departure from the field was a big help. Ohio St.’s Final Four odds are now 22.7% instead of 19.0%

-The big losers today are the good teams that lost. These include Georgetown, Texas, Marquette, and Vanderbilt.

But Kansas St. was also among the day’s losers, despite beating North Texas. That’s because BYU advanced against Florida. BYU is a much stiffer test for K-State in round two.

Final notes: These probabilities use the Ken Pomeroy’s pre-tournament Pythagorean Winning Percentages and log5 odds, not my adjustments from earlier this week.

Quick Thoughts

Thursday was the most dramatic NCAA tournament day in several years. But since there’s a ton of coverage of these games, I’m going to limit myself to two quick comments:

-In the second half of the Georgetown game, while dribbling the ball against some limited full-court pressure, Ohio’s DJ Cooper picked his teammate’s mouthpiece off the floor and handed it to him. You just can’t make this stuff up.

-With the UNLV – UNI game tied, UNI had the ball with a chance for the last shot. It was the classic, win or go-to-overtime scenario. But rather than just sit back and let UNI run the clock down, UNLV pressure the ball and tried to force a turnover. It ultimately didn’t work because UNI held onto the ball and hit an amazing deep three to win, but I still thought it was a great strategy. Fear of fouling keeps most coaches from using pressure defense in a tie game, but why sit back? Teams practice getting a shot off in the final seconds all the time. And since that is such a practiced play, why not try to disrupt the timing? I also wonder what would have happened to UNI if the refs had started counting for a “closely-guarded” 5-second violation.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I’m not going to comment on every game in the tournament, but the first three games were too good to be true. In the first session, two games went to overtime and another was decided by 1 point.

Notre Dame vs Old Dominion

Old Dominion lead scorer Gerald Lee was held in check in this one, but I learned today why he’s one of the most mobile big-men in the country. Like Evan Turner, he had a late growth spurt. Lee was only 6’2” in high school and played guard, but when he suddenly grew to 6’10” he became a star. I continue to believe that late growth spurts are a great predictor of surprise college stars.

Carleton Scott’s crazy offensive put-back dunk in the first half was incredible. His ability to start from the three point line and sky for the ball is just amazing.

But this game to me was all about the efficiency trends. It really seemed like if Notre Dame could maintain its late-season defense, Notre Dame would be a national title contender. And Notre Dame did maintain its defensive intensity in this one. Looking at the early box score, I’ve got 55 possessions and 51 points for a 0.93 raw defense for Notre Dame and an adjusted defensive rating of 0.87. That’s right on line with the late season trend. But it was Old Dominion’s suffocating defense that was the difference in this game, holding Notre dame to a raw 0.91 rating and adjusted defensive rating of 1.02 which is well below their season long average. Old Dominion has had one of the top defenses in the country all year, and the offensive genius Mike Brey just did not have an answer today.

Nova vs Robert Morris

His turnovers are too high, and he is wasted on the bench behind all the starting guards for Villanova, but I’m still convinced Villanova freshman Maalik Wayns is going to be one of the top players in the Big East next year.

With less than a second in regulation, Villanova in-bounded the ball to a seemingly wide-open Antonio Pena under the basket. That’s when Dallas Green made one of the best game-saving blocks I can remember.

Scottie Reynolds was 1 of 14 in the game, but his second three pointer came with 1 second on the shot clock with just over a minute left in overtime. It was the deciding margin.

Reggie Redding on the other hand had a truly head-scratching moment when he passed on a wide-open lay-up to run 2 more seconds off the clock. Villanova was leading by 3 so there was some argument for using clock, but when Redding made only 1 of 2 free throws, it left the door open for the Robert Morris comeback.

“They only lost on the scoreboard Verne.” - Bill Raftery. Exactly.

BYU vs Florida

Chandler Parson’s had no magic at the end of regulation, and Florida barely got a shot off at the end of the first overtime. As Illinois pointed out last week against Ohio St., if you miss multiple chances to win the game on a buzzer beater, it can come back to haunt you.

Despite Parson’s inability to play the hero one more time, his hustle and grit was still evident. The play where he dove for the ball and was called for traveling in overtime was exactly the kind of hustle-play that makes college basketball special.

But the visual image of Day 1 probably belongs to Jimmer Fredette whose BYU Cougars pulled out the win in overtime number two. In that second overtime, Fredette drove to the basket and was fouled and was knocked on his back under the basket. He paused for a second to catch his breath when the camera panned over him. Fredette saw the camera, smiled, and waved.

“Pressure, what pressure?”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Beating up on the little guys

A few weeks ago John Gasaway looked at whether Wisconsin was over-rated for beating up on Indiana. He concluded that they were pretty efficient even without the Indiana games. Then the Michigan St blog "The Only Colors" looked at whether Wisconsin was over-rated for beating up on ALL the Big Ten’s weaker teams. And indeed, no one beat the Big Ten's lower half quite like the Badgers. But from a predictive perspective, are games against the weaker teams really that informative?

Let’s look at which teams have done the best and worst against NCAA tournament level competition. But since the goal is to focus on elite competition, I’m only going to look at teams seeded 1-13 in the NCAA tournament. Here are the records of the top seeds and the Adj Off Eff and Adj Def Eff against NCAA teams seeded 1-13. These splits recreate what is shown on

Northern Iowa looks great, but that’s a sample size issue. They only played two games against NCAA tournament teams and they played their best two games of the year against Siena and Old Dominion. Northern Iowa was one of only two teams to break 105 points per 100 possessions against Siena, and they posted a 122.1 rating. Northern Iowa's big offensive day against a better Old Dominion defense was equally impressive.

Siena on the other hand struggled mightily against NCAA tournament competition, failing to win or even post decent numbers in their losses. Perhaps there is hope for Purdue after all.

Note that there’s no reason to expect the adjusted offensive efficiency or adjusted defensive efficiency to go down based on playing NCAA tournament teams. That’s the whole point of the adjustment. In fact Cornell went 0-2 against NCAA competition, but simply by playing Kansas tough, they actually posted some of their best adjusted ratings on the year.

The next table compares the current numbers on to the “vs NCAA tournament team” splits. The teams at the top of this list have fared better against NCAA competition. The teams at the bottom of the list have feasted on weaker opponents.

-First, I want to apologize to Wisconsin. Even though Wisconsin has fared worse against NCAA tournament competition, they are far from the worst offender.

-Teams like Tennessee and Missouri were able to use depth and full-court pressure to punish weaker teams, but saw these tactics were less effective against NCAA tournament teams. (The same would be true for Minnesota if it weren’t for two horrible performances against Michigan.)

-California was without Theo Robertson when they faced their biggest non-conference games which likely explains why they were better against weak teams.

-While Richmond had its best games against good teams, Xavier and Temple were much more likely to feast on the incredibly weak bottom-feeders of the A10.

-And like Wisconsin, Pittsburgh strikes me as a team whose discipline is simply over-whelming to the bad Big East teams. But Pittsburgh did not look nearly as sharp against the Big East elite.

-On the flip side, if the numbers were making you doubt Vanderbilt, maybe you should reconsider. Vanderbilt may not have beaten Kentucky, but they played them tough, and Vandy did quite well against Tennessee and Florida.

-Notre Dame’s late season dominance also corresponded with a lot of games against NCAA teams.

- Clearly Wofford couldn’t beat Southern Conference teams by enough to stand out, but they did better against NCAA competition. Wofford only has two games against tournament teams here, but they also beat Georgia and South Carolina. I don’t think Wofford is quite the prohibitive underdog some people think.

-I expected Georgetown’s numbers to be better against NCAA teams based on the big margins in wins against Duke and Villanova. But they also had some big margins in losses to Syracuse and Notre Dame. The Hoyas turned out to be equally good against NCAA competition and non-NCAA competition. Georgetown has also played the most games against NCAA teams with 17.

And for those of you who want to throw out margin-of-victory and strength-of-schedule and focus only on wins, here are the best and worst winning percentages against NCAA teams seeded 1-13 (minimum 8 games):

87.5% 7-1 Kentucky
85.7% 12-2 Kansas
75.0% 6-2 Vanderbilt
72.7% 8-3 New Mexico
69.2% 9-4 Syracuse

30.8% 4-9 Marquette
30.0% 3-7 Louisville
27.3% 3-8 Florida
25.0% 2-6 California
22.2% 2-7 Xavier

Some Stats Links

Final Four Odds

Even More Final Four Odds

I’m always amazed at the duplicity of good ideas. Crashing the Dance (CtD) posted road/home splits for Duke and Wisconsin. And then John Gasaway posted the road/home splits for all teams. I posted the Hummel odds on Sunday and CtD posted them in that same column on Tuesday . To whatever extent I “scooped” CtD by getting the Purdue numbers out on Sunday, that’s clearly not true. CtD developed net efficiency margin (NEM) and has used it account for injuries in the past.

But today I want to emphasize the value of both forms of analysis. First, I created the new adjusted offense, adjusted defense, and Pythagorean winning percentages so I could literally see how this would change the log5 odds. But the Crashing the Dance NEM methodology allows him to graph the “opponent and venue adjusted” trend which really allows us to see which teams are getting better and worse over time.

Second, there’s a minor technical difference in the approaches that I noticed when I was trying to match the CtD numbers. The difference is that Ken Pomeroy isn’t actually doing a linear comparison. His method divides by opponent's rating. So if in a year where the average team posts a 100 rating, his method would say that a 95 performance against a 90 defense is actually more important than a 110 performance against a 105 defense. 95*100/90>110*100/105. The linear approach is incredibly close in the range of data we are using, but this explains one reason my splits might look slightly different from the splits you see on the CtD website.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Beyond Hummel - Other Critical Bracket Adjustments

Robbie Hummel’s injury wasn’t the only injury to consider this year.
What about the mid-season injury to Evan Turner at Ohio St?

Ohio St. with Evan Turner (28 games)
Adj Off Eff 121.0
Adj Def Eff 88.4
Pythag Win Perc = 0.9738

Ohio St. without Evan Turner (6 games)
Adj Off Eff 107.7
Adj Def Eff 96.3
Pythag Win Perc = 0.7841

So obviously we should use the “with Evan Turner” numbers.
But is this really necessary?

Ohio St.’s current numbers on
Adj Off Eff 119.0
Adj Def Eff 89.8
Pythag Win Perc = .9620

Not only did Evan play the majority of the season, but Ken also weights recent games more heavily. So there really is not much of a gain from accounting for this injury on a game-by-game basis.

Odds of beating UC Santa Barbara
With Evan Turner 96.8%
Without Evan Turner 74.7%
Current odds 95.4%

But there is some gain. Consider possible opponents in the later rounds

Odds of beating Georgetown
With Evan Turner 65.8%
Without Evan Turner 15.8%
Current odds 56.7%

Odds of beating Kansas
With Evan Turner 41.5%
Without Evan Turner 6.5%
Current odds 32.5%

And when you multiply this round-by-round, it starts to make a big difference to Ohio St.’s Final Four odds.

(By the way, special thanks to Brian Lerner at Hoya Prospectus. He emailed me injury adjustments, but then I was so exhausted on Saturday that I failed to use them. Then I decided to re-calculate them myself using the final regular season numbers which is why there was an even greater delay in this post.)

What about Notre Dame?
Let’s split them into three parts?

Notre Dame before Luke Harangody injury (25 games)
Adj Off Eff 119.6
Adj Def Eff 104.3
Pythag Win Perc = .8281

Notre Dame without Luke Harangody (5 games)
Adj Off Eff 129.6
Adj Def Eff 96.0
Pythag Win Perc = .9691

Notre Dame after Luke Harangody returns (4 games)
Adj Off Eff 114.1
Adj Def Eff 85.3
Pythag Win Perc = .9660

Notre Dame’s current numbers on
Adj Off Eff 119.8
Adj Def Eff 99.3
Pythag Win Perc = .8967

Now I think sample size is an issue here. There’s no way Notre Dame could maintain that offensive efficiency without Luke Harangody. That would be the greatest offense ever recorded. But the games did happen. They did put up back-to-back offensive ratings over 130 against Pittsburgh and Georgetown without Harangody on the floor.

And the trend on defense is becoming more than just a fluke. Notre Dame’s hasn’t had one of those 120 or 130 defensive rating days since before the Harangody injury.

I’m going to skip the other major injury to Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer because believe it or not, Wisconsin’s Pythag Winning percentage barely changed with him out. What is it about Wisconsin playing equivalently well with anybody in the lineup? I mean it is crazy enough they can lose star players every off-season and not miss a beat, but wouldn’t you think an in-season injury would be costly to them? Instead I want to consider another argument I’ve been making on this blog.

The Stats Don’t Hate Kentucky

I’ve said for a long time that Kentucky would be a national contender by March, but it would take awhile for their defense to come around.

Kentucky early in the year (22 games)
Adj Off Eff 116.5
Adj Def Eff 89.8
Pythag Win Perc = .9521

Kentucky late in the year (last 12 games)
Adj Off Eff 115.4
Adj Def Eff 85.1
Pythag Win Perc = .9707

Kentucky’s current numbers on
Adj Off Eff 115.5
Adj Def Eff 87.7
Pythag Win Perc = .9597

And in fact, Kentucky’s defense has recently reached a level where I can officially call them a national title contender. The .9707 Pythagorean winning percentage trails only Duke and Kansas nationally. (And Ohio St. with Evan Turner.)

One final trend that may be of interest: Everyone always talks about Duke swooning, but it obviously hasn’t happened this year. Duke’s Pythagorean winning percentage was only 0.0014 lower in the final 12 games of the season relative to the first 22 games.

But What About the Second Order Effects?

I enjoy these injury splits, but I’ve always hoped Ken Pomeroy would do this for us. And the reason is simple. When Purdue played poorly without Hummel on Saturday, it not only impacted Purdue’s offensive rating, it impacted Minnesota’s defensive rating. Kevin Pelton emphasized the exact same point in today’s tournament preview.

Ken’s argument against doing this has been a simple one. It is difficult to reasonably account for all the injuries and suspensions we see over the season. And of course Ken is right. Here’s a partial list of events that caused players to miss several games this year

Oklahoma - W. Warren – multiple causes
Arkansas - C. Fortson – suspended
Texas A&M - D. Roland - injured
Minnesota - A. Nolen – academically ineligible
Indiana - M. Creek - injured
Iowa St. - L. Staiger – left for Europe
Oklahoma St. - R. Penn - injured
Rutgers – G. Echenique - transferred
St. John’s – A. Mason Jr – injured
Kentucky – D. Liggins – academic eligibility question
Marquette – J. Maymon - transferred
Georgia Tech – I. Shumpert - injured
West Virginia – Ds Kilicli – eligible at mid-season
Cincinnati – I. Thomas – eligible at mid-season
UConn – A. Majok – eligible at mid-season
Iowa – A. Tucker – suspended and replaced by coach’s son
Kansas – B. Morningstar – suspended

There are many more, but I have to cut it off somewhere. And while you and I can point to many of these and say these aren’t critical, if you watch a team, you know all of these matter to some degree. I can’t tell you how many words Georgetown fans wrote about Nikita Mescheriakov replacing Omar Wattad in the Georgetown rotation last year.

Moreover, this is only a subset of the long-term injuries. What about the short-term events such as Kalin Lucas missing Michigan St.’s loss to Illinois or Chris Allen missing Michigan St.’s loss to Minnesota?

Or the complex situations such as California losing both Theo Robertson and Jorge Gutierrez? What about Villanova missing Reggie Redding and Mouphtaou Yarou? What about North Carolina missing Tyler Zeller, Ed Davis, Travis Wear, and Marcus Ginyard all at different points in the season. Suffice to say, if you start throwing out games based on every little thing that happens, you end up with a piecemeal set with which to rank teams.

And so Ken’s answer to my complaint is that he weights recent games more heavily to account for teams that are changing over time. And when I look at all these injuries, I can’t disagree. Unless a player isn’t coming back, like Robbie Hummel, the season long stats do a pretty good job. Ohio St. with Evan Turner looks pretty similar to what Ken has calculated. But I also think when you think about a deep tournament run for the elite teams, you have to factor these injuries in.

But is Duke Overrated?

Ken Pomeroy is humble. He readily admits that his rankings are not the only piece of information you should consider. I happen to think it is the best piece of information out there, but I’ll agree with him that some of the Basketball Prospectus log5 tournament odds make me scratch my head.

At the top of the list is Wisconsin being favored against Kentucky. I argued above why Kentucky is under-rated. And The Only Colors has recently argued why Wisconsin might be over-rated. The Badgers have been winning big against the weaker Big Ten teams.

And that is probably significant. Wisconsin’s disciplined system is perfect for crushing a young, turnover prone, cold-shooting Indiana team. But I’m not sure that tells us very much about how Wisconsin would fair against Kentucky.

But again, Ken Pomeroy doesn’t disagree that a few ratings seem fishy. Ken wrote today that Duke may be a little overrated in his system. And that’s my final question for today. Is Duke really overrated this year?

Ken Pomeroy’s system is not the only system that loves Duke this year. Sagarin’s Predictor has Duke as the 2nd best team in the nation behind only Kansas. The minimal difference is the control for pace. Ken’s numbers say that on a per-possession basis, Duke is a little better, but Sagarin’s numbers say that since Kansas plays at a faster pace, they get more possessions to prove they are a better team. Either way, the point is the same. Duke has fantastic margin-of-victory numbers and should be a national favorite. But if the margin-of-victory numbers are fantastic, how can we really argue that Duke is overrated?

You can argue about consistency. And there is some evidence that certain styles of play lead a team to be more inconsistent. But Mike Krzyzewski has actually worked very hard to make Duke’s games consistent by minimizing the number of three pointers his opponent’s take and make. (Only five teams allow fewer three point attempts and Duke has the third best three point percentage defense in the country.)

You can argue about players getting worn out, but Duke sure doesn’t seem worn out when they win the ACC tournament almost every year. Moreover, I haven’t seen any large scale study showing that teams with low bench minutes get worn out in the NCAA tournament. If anything, coaches use more timeouts in the NCAA tournament and players seem more well-rested.

And I’ve argued above that Duke is not swooning this year. They’ve completely maintained their early season success this year.

So what is the argument for why Duke is overrated? I don’t have one. All I can say is this. Duke is overrated because the other elite teams have upside, and Duke does not.

Think of personnel management. Earlier this year, a lot of people were complaining that Andre Dawkins wasn’t getting enough playing time to improve his skills. In a sense, they were arguing that Mike Krzyzewski was going all-out for wins today at the cost of wins in the future. But Krzyzewski’s response was pretty clear. That is what practice is for. Mike Krzyzewski’s philosophy is to play the best players on the court in every game. His goal is to maximize the chances of winning every day.

But other coaches have a different philosophy. Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino like to play a lot of players early in the year so that those players will get better. Sure Izzo and Pitino want their players to get better through practice, but they also believe there is something about game conditions that simply cannot be simulated. And so every year, you see Michigan St. and Louisville lose some games early that they should not lose because they are not afraid to let players fail.

The issue with Duke isn’t that they aren’t good. The issue is that this year, like every year, Duke is ready to play in November the way most teams are ready to play in February. Duke has achieved just about the highest Pomeroy ranking it could hope to achieve by playing its best lineup in every game.

But someone out there hasn’t peaked yet. Maybe the team with upside is Louisville. Louisville's ranking is low because of early season losses such as Western Carolina. But Louisville's two wins against Syracuse in the last month have them headed in the right direction. Or maybe the team that hasn’t peaked yet is a surprise. The time to find that surprise is almost here.

My New Log5 Odds

The initial log5 numbers didn’t pass the "eye test", but with my Kentucky adjustment and Ohio St. adjustment, here’s what I get:

I also post the South region with my adjustments, but I laugh at my own numbers here. I think the sample size is too small to really know that Purdue is this bad. And I’m particularly skeptical that slow-paced Notre Dame is really this good. Heck, if I ran a split for Minnesota for their last 5 games, it would say they were a Final Four contender too. But if you really believe Notre Dame has learned to play defense, this might not be far off.

I’ve made no changes to the West so you can still read that at BP.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Hummel Effect

I promised some comments about which region is the toughest ect, but first I have to tackle another question. What does it mean for Purdue that Robbie Hummel is out? If you watched on Saturday, it doesn't look good.

I attempted to recreate Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offense and defense with and without Hummel. (One minor issue that I’m going to ignore. Ken puts some additional weight on recent games and I don’t know the exact methodology.) But weighting all games equally, here is how Purdue has performed with and without Hummel:

With Hummel (27 games)
Adj Off Eff 114.3
Adj Def Eff 86.4
Pythag Winning Perc = .9615

Without Hummel (5 games)
Adj Off Eff 94.7
Adj Def Eff 85.6
Pythag Winning Perc = .7622

Odds of beating Siena with Hummel: 82%
Odds of beating Siena without Hummel: 37%
Current odds on 74%

Now, you can argue that the Minnesota game was a bit of an outlier, and that there isn't enough of a sample size to say how Purdue will truly perform in the tournament. But when I comment on the toughest regions, I will be using these numbers.

Statistically, What is the Toughest Region?

Basketball Prospectus will soon have your full log5 analysis with the Final Four odds in each region. But when you want to compare teams, sometimes it is hard to visualize how much is team quality and how much is seeding. In particular, Duke’s odds of reaching the Final Four are more than twice as high as West Virginia’s odds. But does West Virginia really have a gripe about seeding? Or do the odds simply reflect Duke’s better margin-of-victory numbers? Today I sort out the impact of seeding by taking the exact same team and putting them in multiple places in the bracket.

Consider the Final Four odds for Kansas if they had been the 1 seed in each region:

Kansas’ Odds
47.2% – #1 Midwest
44.5% – #1 East
51.0% – #1 West
52.5% – #1 South (Purdue w/out Hummel)

-The truth is that placement doesn’t make a whole lot of difference this year on the top line. No matter where Kansas had been a 1 seed, their odds would only have swung about 8%.

-Seth Davis and Greg Anthony argued that the committee didn’t do Kansas and Kentucky any favors and the numbers suggest that the Midwest and East are in fact the toughest roads for a 1 seed.

-The East is toughest because it includes two of the best per-possession margin-of-victory teams in the nation in Wisconsin and West Virginia. This is actually the worst of all worlds for Kentucky. Most of the time when a team gets two tough teams in their region, it will be in the 2/3 slot, but Kentucky might have to face both #4 Wisconsin and #2 West Virginia to get to the Final Four.

-Note that I’m counting all games as neutral site games, so I’m not counting any extra advantage for Kansas playing in the Midwest.

-For those of you who are curious, if I don't make my Hummel adjustment
#1 South – 50.3% (using current odds)

Does seed matter?

But forget Kansas. The seed doesn’t matter much for them because they are clearly one of the best teams in the country. What about a good, but not great team? In this case, I’m thinking about an imaginary team with a Pythag Winning percentage of .9550. For this type of team, what would the Final Four odds look like in each slot? (I use the without Robbie Hummel figures in all tables below.)

25.1% - 1 South - Duke
23.6% - 1 West - Syracuse
20.7% - 1 Midwest - Kansas
19.9% - 2 East - West Virginia
19.3% - 2 West - Kansas St.
18.7% - 1 East - Kentucky

-As mentioned above, Duke has the easiest path of any team in the tournament.
-On paper, West Virginia actually has an easier road than the 1 seed Kentucky because Wisconsin is on the other side of the bracket.

18.3% - 4 East - Wisconsin
17.3% - 3 West - Pittsburgh
17.0% - 2 South - Villanova
16.3% - 3 East - New Mexico
16.1% - 3 South - Baylor
15.3% - 2 Midwest - Ohio St.
15.0% - 4 West - Vanderbilt

-Avoiding Kansas and Duke is a big deal according to the numbers. That’s why Wisconsin got arguably an easier Final Four path than Ohio St despite a worse seed. Honestly, if you are the Buckeyes, how sad are you to see Kansas and Georgetown in the way of a Final Four?

14.7% - 5 West - Butler
14.6% - 7 West - Brigham Young
14.1% - 6 East - Marquette
13.1% - 6 West - Xavier
13.0% - 3 Midwest - Georgetown

-Same terrible situation for Georgetown. How sad are Hoya fans to see Ohio St. and Kansas in the way of a Final Four bid?

-BYU actually has an easier path, facing one of the weakest at-large teams in the field in Florida, and then a potential Sweet Sixteen date with a Pitt team that has not been dominant.

-It should be apparent by now that earning a better seed isn't everything in the NCAA tournament. A bigger factor is what opponent's you draw.

12.4% - 5 East - Temple
11.5% - 8 West - Gonzaga
11.4% - 8 East - Texas
11.3% - 7 East - Clemson

-Gonzaga won’t be favored in their opening round game. But this is all about the weakness of the West region as a whole. Really, there’s no question the toughest regions are the Midwest and South as we’ll continue to see:

11.2% - 4 Midwest - Maryland
10.8% - 5 South - Texas A&M
10.6% - 7 South - Richmond
10.5% - 4 South - Purdue
10.1% - 6 South - Notre Dame
9.8% - 5 Midwest - Michigan St.

-I shed a serious tear for Michigan St. They potentially have to face co-ACC champs Maryland, Big 12 champ Kansas, and co-Big 10 champ Ohio St. to get to the Final Four. If Tom Izzo wants to live up to his reputation as a tournament coach this year, he’ll have to earn it.

-You’d think Texas A&M would benefit with Purdue missing Hummel, but they actually get one of the strongest lower seeds in the field in #12 Utah St. Texas A&M won’t be favored in the opening round game, and they especially won’t be favored when you remember the game is in Spokane.

8.5% - 8 South - California
8.4% - 6 Midwest - Tennessee
7.4% - 7 Midwest - Oklahoma St.
6.3% - 8 Midwest - Nevada Las Vegas

-Yes UNLV, you won’t even be favored in your first round game. You got a terrible draw.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Saturday Lineup

We begin and end with two games that should make all bubble teams nervous, and we see plenty of bubble action in between.

11:30am – UTEP vs Houston – A Houston auto-bid would shrink bubble

1pm – Kentucky vs Tennessee – Round 3 of the rivalry
1pm – Temple vs Rhode Island – Bubble journey continues for Rhode Island
1:30pm – Duke vs Miami (FL) – On paper, Duke’s road to 1 seed looks easy
1:30pm – Ohio St. vs Illinois – Bubble journey continues for Illinois

3:30pm (approx) – Mississippi St. vs Vanderbilt – Bubble journey continues for MSU
3:30pm (approx) – Xavier vs Richmond – The A10 has some great teams this year
4:00pm (approx) – Georgia Tech vs NC State – If you are GTech, why leave questions?
4:00pm (approx) – Purdue vs Minnesota – Purdue has only lost 1 game without Hummel

6pm – Kansas vs Kansas St. – Kansas St. gets a 3rd shot at nation’s top team
6pm – California vs Washington – Huskies can end bubble questions with auto-bid
7pm – San Diego St. vs UNLV – MWC getting 4 teams this year

9pm – Georgetown vs West Virginia – Monroe vs Butler for tourney MVP
10pm – Utah St. vs New Mexico St. – A New Mexico St. auto-bid would shrink bubble

Just know, this game meant more to us than it meant to you

I’ve already penned some kind words regarding Illinois. And Greg Monroe deserves a whole essay. His drive and dunk along the baseline against Marquette was simply incredible.

But I have to end today with some thoughts on Minnesota’s victory over Michigan St. This win didn’t deliver a ring or a banner. It wasn’t big because of the NCAA tournament implications. (The Gophers still have a lot of work to do.) It wasn’t big because it gave Tubby Smith his 17th consecutive season with 20 wins.

This game was big because Minnesota finally beat Michigan St. The Spartans had beaten the Gophers 8 straight times. They beat the Gophers last year in the Big Ten tournament when it looked like Minnesota’s NCAA tournament life was on the line. (As it turned out, it wasn’t.) They beat the Gophers in East Lansing earlier this year extending an even longer streak of futility for the Gophers at Michigan St. And they beat Minnesota by 1 point in Minnesota in a game in which the Gophers led by 13 in the second half. The Gophers had to overcome that psychological roadblock.

So what if Michigan St. was playing without Chris Allen. Losing to Purdue when Robbie Hummel went down didn't feel any better. This was a big game for the Gophers. It was more than just another Big Ten tournament quarterfinal.

A season with so much potential turned south the moment a freshman recruit was accused of shoplifting and stealing a laptop. It turned south when a junior PG did not pass his classes. But for the players on the court, the season turned with a three game losing streak, capped by the loss to Michigan St. That game defined the season because it defined Minnesota as a team that could not make good decisions in crunch time.

If the Gophers win that game, I truly believe they have a different confidence and swagger for most of the season. Instead, they became an after-thought. And no win at Illinois, no blowout victories over Iowa or Penn St. could change that. Minnesota had to beat Michigan St. to change their mojo.

And it almost didn’t happen. Minnesota again blew a big lead at the end of regulation because Michigan St. played smart. The Spartans took the ball inside and got fouled. They defended with tenacity. The Spartans got rebounds. The Spartans forced their only steals of the game at the end of the game.

But in overtime, after Damian Johnson fouled out, after Draymond Green gave the Spartans a three point lead, the Gophers suddenly shined through. Devoe Joseph hit threes. Lawrence Westbrook drove the lane. And somehow, some way, a team that lost its defensive identity this year, finally got stops.

-“Colton Iverson is about as subtle as a two-by-four” – copyright Shon Morris. This is my new favorite expression. I’ve been down on Colton this year because of his poor efficiency rating. He turns it over too much, misses his free throws, and isn’t that good at finishing around the rim. But against Michigan St., you need toughness. And Colton Iverson delivered that.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The “Almost” Comeback

With Illinois leading by 13 against Wisconsin, the announcer said, “You just don’t get the feeling Wisconsin is going to get hot and make 6 of 7 here.” I totally disagreed. I kept thinking how there was no way Wisconsin was going to end the game shooting 20%.

So of course Trevon Hughes caught fire and begin to cut into the Illinois lead. In the Illinois game at Wisconsin, I criticized Wisconsin for not taking the ball inside and extending the game. But in this game, the all three-pointer strategy worked because Hughes got hot.

The comeback also worked because of Wisconsin’s smart defensive strategy. Instead of waiting until the final minute, Wisconsin implemented its comeback defense with about 2 minutes to go in the game. But the goal of the defense wasn’t just to foul. It was to force turnovers. Illinois kept in-bounding the ball and Wisconsin would try to trap and get a jump ball or back-court violation. (Bo Ryan’s frustration when a jump ball call was overturned showed how key the turnover was to the comeback plan.)

Only once did Illinois break the press and try to take the ball to the basket. And that two pointer (and one) was arguably the deciding margin. But it was also almost a charge call on the Illini’s Mike Davis.

Eventually Wisconsin’s three pointer barrage came to an end, but not because Illinois did anything differently. It ended because Trevon Hughes fouled out of the game.

-Are cameras too intrusive? I feel bad for all the interactions they catch on camera these days. In this game it was Senior Dominique Keller who was subbed out of a game after a poor defensive rotation. Bruce Weber sat down next to him with a clipboard to go through what went wrong and Keller refused to look at him. Keller never returned to the game. It’s tough to be the lone senior on a team looking to build for next year, but I don’t think it is fair to show that type of thing on national TV when the players aren’t getting paid.

-For the first time this year, I’ve actually started to believe Mike Tisdale could play in the NBA. He may never have the strength to defend the post, but his ability to run the pick and pop, and knock down the pop is off the charts. If all he does is weight-train for the next year, his soft touch should translate nicely.

-I think Illinois is kind of Wisconsin’s kryptonite. Wisconsin’s biggest advantage is that they don’t foul. But Illinois never draws fouls. So nothing Wisconsin does takes the Illini out of their offense.

-Can we stop showing Michael Jordan? Whatever rub his son was supposed to give the Illini program is clearly violated by the fact that he can’t stand Big Ten games. He looks at a defensive Illinois-Wisconsin battle and seems to be wishing he’s at the ACC tournament.

-As bad as Wisconsin shot in this one, and 29% is just horrible, I think this game is exactly an advertisement why the stats love Wisconsin. The offensive rebounds and lack of turnovers gave the Badgers 23 more shots than the Illini. And over the course of the season, that contributes to winning.

-But this does nothing to shake Wisconsin’s national reputation as failing the “eye” test. If all it takes is a tall team to get Wisconsin to abandon scoring in the paint, that’s bad news based on some of the tall teams they’ll face in the NCAA tournament.

-Today’s game looked like someone was playing on the Xbox and reduced the setting from All-Star to Rookie. Some of Demetri McCamey’s shots today simply should not have gone in. I’m not sure whether his spin-move in the lane or crazy three-pointer late was more unbelievable. But with his ridiculous shots and Wisconsin’s total inability to make any shot, this was clearly the Illini’s day.

Are You Kidding Me?

I've seen so many games this year where a team can't even get a good full court shot in 4 or 5 seconds. But for some reason, when leading Ohio St. by 2 points, Michigan elected not to put any pressure on the ball against Ohio St. That allowed Ohio St. to get the ball to Evan Turner. Turner caught it, dribbled twice, and hit a three pointer from just past half-court to win the game.

Da'Sean Butler, Evan Turner, who's next?

Friday Lineup

Wow, Clemson and Wake Forest are really glad the bubble is so weak this year. That’s not how you want to go out. You want to go out like Cincinnati with Lance Stephenson fighting until the end. I still can’t believe Da’Sean Butler banked in that three pointer for the West Virginia win.

What’s on tap Friday? Friday of Championship Week is like the first Saturday of the NCAA tournament. We start with a chance for the top seeds to strut their stuff, and build to an evening with too many quality games to see them all.

Noon – Duke vs Virginia – Duke seeks a 1 seed
Noon – Ohio St. vs Michigan – Ohio St. seeks that same 1 seed
Noon – Temple vs St. Bonaventure – How good a seed can Temple get?
1pm – Kentucky vs Alabama – Kentucky probably has 1 seed

2:30pm (approx) – Virginia Tech vs Miami – Can Cinderella Miami win again?
2:30pm (approx) – Wisconsin vs Illinois – Bubble journey starts for Illinois
2:30pm (approx) – St. Louis vs Rhode Island – Serious bubble implications
3:30pm (approx) – Tennessee vs Ole Miss – Bubble journey begins for Ole Miss
4pm – Tulsa vs UTEP – Bubble teams cheering for UTEP, but Tulsa is tourney host

6:30pm – Purdue vs Northwestern – Purdue still proving they can win without Hummel
6:30pm – Xavier vs Dayton – Dayton needs this win to get back on the bubble
6:30pm (approx) – Houston vs Southern Miss – Winner can steal a bid Saturday morning
7pm – Georgetown vs Marquette – Marquette beat Gtown earlier this year
7pm – Kansas vs Texas A&M – Kansas nearly lost to A&M on Feb. 15th
7pm – Maryland vs Georgia Tech – 7-9 teams can always use more wins
7:30pm – Florida vs Mississippi St. – Biggest bubble game of the day

9pm – UCLA vs Cal – Other bubble teams keep cheering for California
9pm – Utah St. vs Louisiana Tech – Other bubble teams keep cheering for Utah St.
9pm – New Mexico vs San Diego St. – San Diego St.’s bubble was almost burst Thur.
9pm (approx) – Michigan St. vs Minnesota – Minnesota lost by 1 to MSU at home
9pm (approx) – Richmond vs UMass – How good a seed can Richmond get?
9:30pm (approx) – Notre Dame vs West Virginia – Can West Virginia get a 1 seed?
9:30pm (approx) – Kansas St. vs Baylor – Who is the second best team in the Big 12?
9:30pm (approx) – Florida St. vs NC State – Can Cinderella NC State win again?
10:00pm (approx) – Vanderbilt vs Georgia – Can Cinderella Georgia win here?

11:30 (approx) – Stanford vs Washington – Bubble journey continues for Washington
11:30 (approx) – BYU vs UNLV – Margin-of-victory stat love BYU, but in Vegas
12pm – Nevada vs New Mexico St. – Host Nevada looking to steal WAC tourney

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Early Afternoon

I’m not sure when I’ll check in next, but…

-If at all possible, try to watch a Utah St. game this year. Utah St. has a fan called Wild Bill. He’s basically a fat guy without a shirt. He’s dressed up as Cupid, Peter Pan, and the Little Mermaid this year. You have to see it to understand.

-What’s up with the tattoos on UCLA’s Reeves Nelson? They look like a middle-school student drew them on with a marker.

-What was a more shocking ending this afternoon? Was it South Carolina throwing the ball away when trailing by 3 with 8 seconds left? Or was it Memphis getting called with a double dribble in the final second costing Memphis the tying basket? I say the Memphis game because it had bubble implications. Also, one of the Houston players came on the court prematurely and arguably should have been called for a technical foul. I’m not convinced Memphis is out, but they should be very nervous now.

Hoyas Win, Hoyas Win, Hoyas Win!

I feel guilty saying this in a season where Georgetown beat Duke and Villanova, but the win by Georgetown today was clearly the most satisfying win on the season so far. Georgetown beat Duke and Villanova by simply shooting lights out. But they beat Syracuse today by playing 40 minutes of incredibly smart basketball. (OK, maybe 39 minutes as the two turnovers in the final 90 seconds were a bit nerve-wracking.)

Georgetown used Greg Monroe at the top of the key as the perfect distributor and kept hitting cutters running on the baseline for lay-ups. They didn’t turn the ball over very often against the zone and forced numerous Syracuse turnovers. And late in the game they stayed aggressive against the full-court pressure instead of getting overly conservative.

I had serious questions about whether Georgetown had the heart and the toughness to beat an outstanding Syracuse team this year, but Chris Wright showed it today. I’ve long felt Chris Wright has the potential to be the best Hoya player, and today was exactly why. Sure Chris hit some key baskets, but it was his lethal decision making in transition and in the half-court that put Syracuse away.

One play in particular stands out to me as to how smart Chris Wright was playing. With 9:53 to play in the second half and 3 seconds on the shot clock, Georgetown in-bounded the ball to Vee Sanford. Sanford was covered and didn’t feel he could get a shot off so he quickly passed it to Wright. But with so little time on the shot clock, Wright knew he couldn’t take his time. Instead, Wright simply made a volley-ball set shot. He knew he didn’t have time for a follow-through, so he simply tapped it up in the air. It was a miracle shot, but it was Wright’s smart play to avoid the shot-clock violation that was rewarded by a friendly roll.

The Best Kept Secret in College Basketball

Today is my favorite day of March. Technically it is not better than the first round of the NCAA tournament, but because the games are on multiple channels, and because the start times are staggered, it makes for fantastic flipping. Plus you still have the anticipation of next week’s NCAA tournament games.

I gave serious consideration to attending the Big Ten tournament this year, but I couldn’t get excited about Michigan vs Iowa when I can watch all this:

Noon – Georgetown vs Syracuse – The Rivarly
Noon – Virginia vs Boston College – Win or go home
12:30pm – Texas Tech vs Kansas – Can Kansas get to 100?
1pm – South Carolina vs Alabama – Win or go home
1pm – Houston vs Memphis – Bubble journey begins for Memphis

2:30pm – Michigan vs Iowa – Lots of missed three pointers
2:30pm (approx) – Marquette vs Villanova – The best modern rivalry
2:30pm (approx) – Miami vs Wake Forest – Wake has lost 4 of 5 and needs momentum
3:00pm – UCLA vs Arizona – Win or go home
3:00pm – Air Force vs New Mexico – Margin-of-victory? NM just wins.
3:00pm – Boise St. vs Utah St. – Bubble journey begins for Utah St.
3:00pm (approx) – Nebraska vs Texas A&M – Is Nebraska a real Cinderella?
3:30pm (approx) – LSU vs Tennessee – LSU has been playing better lately
3:30pm (approx) – Southern Miss vs UAB – Bubble journey begins for UAB

5:00pm (approx) – Indiana vs Northwestern – Remember when NU was on the bubble?
5:30pm (approx) – Oregon vs California – Bubble teams want Cal to win the Pac-10
5:30pm (approx) – Colorado St. vs San Diego St. – Bubble journey begins for SDSU
5:30pm (approx) – Fresno St. vs Louisiana Tech – No comment

7pm – Notre Dame vs Pittsburgh – Battle for NCAA Seeding
7pm – North Carolina vs Georgia Tech – NIT Bubble vs NCAA Bubble
7pm – Oklahoma St. vs Kansas St. – Some of the best guards in the country
7:30pm – Auburn vs Florida – Bubble journey begins for Florida
7:30pm – Tulsa vs Marshall – Two bubble long-shots
7:30pm (approx) – Penn St. vs Minnesota – Penn St. is the Big 10 dark horse

9:00pm – Oregon St. vs Washington – Bubble journey begins for Washington
9:00pm – TCU vs BYU – Can BYU earn the good seed it deserves?
9:00pm – Idaho vs Nevada – I never count out Nevada
9:30pm (approx) – Cincinnati vs West Virginia – Cinderella Cincinnati and WV seeks a 1 seed
9:30pm (approx) – NC State vs Clemson – Clemson could use some momentum
9:30pm (approx) – Texas vs Baylor – Potential best game of day
10:00pm (approx) – Georgia vs Arkansas – Can Georgia make a surprise run?
10:00pm (approx) – UCF vs UTEP – Bubble journey begins for UTEP

11:30pm (approx) – Stanford vs Arizona St. – Bubble journey begins for ASU
11:30pm (approx) – Utah vs UNLV – UNLV is a lock, right?
11:30pm (approx) – San Jose St. vs New Mexico St. – No comment

I have been posting comments on each session, but with so many games, I may delay my commentary Thursday. (Or in simpler terms, if Georgetown loses to Syracuse for a 3rd time tomorrow, I’m going to be too grumpy to post anything.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Day 2, Big East, Big 12, and more

Round 5

There was a late game tonight as Washington St. faced Oregon in the Pac-10 tournament opener. And Oregon's Ernie Kent may be fired, but he now holds the record for the most wins in Pac-10 tournament history with 11. Oregon's E.J. (Don't call me Kyle) Singler made a tip in as time expired to send the game in overtime where Oregon picked up the close win.

But it seemed to be a case of bad strategy that got the game to overtime in the first place. Leading by three, Washington St. did not want Oregon to get off a three point attempt to tie the game. But Washington St. fouled with 8 seconds left in the game which allowed Oregon to cut the lead to 1. Then, after Washington St. missed 1 of 2 free throws, Oregon still had 7 seconds to win or tie in regulation. Oregon chose to go for the tie, and even had time for a put-back tip-in by Singler. Certainly there are situations where you can foul when leading by three, but 8 seconds is way too early.

Round 4

Poor Edgar Sosa. Like Adrian Peterson with “the fumbling”, Sosa is never going to be able to shake his reputation as a late-game failure. Again it was the missed free throws, the unnecessary foul with 57 seconds left, the unnecessary three with 37 seconds left, and the turnover at the end. Edgar Sosa was without a shadow of a doubt the best player on the floor in Louisville’s loss to Cincinnati. But he’s still the goat.

(Speaking of not living things down, can Weber St. ever forget blowing a 20 point home lead with an NCAA berth on the line. Uggh.)

Cincinnati survives to play another day where they almost certainly must beat West Virginia to keep their slim NCAA tournament hopes alive. I’m not sure what went wrong with Cincinnati’s offense this year, but I find it truly depressing that so many talented players simply lacked confidence late in the year. Deonta Vaughn has been broken down from an 1800 point scoring star to a pouting senior. Vaughn was so close to tears at his limited minutes today that when he got put in the game in the final minute, his head wasn’t in it. He turned it over once in the final minute, and I think the replay was pretty clear that he traveled with 5 seconds left in the game too. The referees simply didn’t have the heart to make him the goat in that situation. I think Mick Cronin has done some nice things at Cincinnati, but he needs to make it clear that a benching isn’t personal. Sure a senior shouldn’t be pouting in that situation, but a large part of the coach’s job is to keep everyone buying in. The losing streak at the end of the season broke that “buy-in” factor, but maybe a two game winning streak in the Big East tournament will help rebuild it.

-Iowa St. made it close right before halftime which led to this discussion. “Doesn’t it seem like Texas should be up by more right now?” That’s been the story of the entire Texas season. But Texas still had enough to beat struggling Iowa St.

Round 3

Notre Dame ended Seton Hall's NCAA tournament hopes thanks to Luke Harangody's valiant renaissance. Is it wrong of me to say that Luke Harangody’s parents both look like him?

Where is this Notre Dame defense coming from? At one point in the second half, Seton Hall was shooting 27% in the game.

-“If Oklahoma didn’t have any talent, you’d just accept the losing season. We’re in a knife-fight and all we’ve got is spoons. But that’s not the case.”

Oklahoma vs Oklahoma St. was oddly similar to Nebraska vs Missouri from earlier in the day. Oklahoma St. jumped out to a 20-2 lead and had 45 points with 1:20 to go in the first half. But then Oklahoma St. went 8 minutes and 4 seconds without scoring a point. But Oklahoma St. still had enough to hold on and win by 14.

We gained a little insight into Oklahoma St.’s fantastic one-on-one shooting. Apparently head coach Travis Ford is a fantastic H-O-R-S-E player and loves beating his players on a regular basis. Keiton Page is the only player who has been able to beat him, and Page showed his shooting prowess making all 7 of his first half shots including 5 three pointers in the victory.

Round 2

Marquette continued its goal to have every game be decided in the final minute or overtime with a 2 point win over St. John’s. I love that Marquette’s David Cubillan hit the deciding three pointer and instead of raving about Cubillan’s clutch shot, the announcers spent all the time crediting Lazar Hayward with the game-deciding screen.

Marquette must have decided before the game that the only way St. John’s could win was by getting fast-break baskets. I say this because Marquette made a concerted effort not to crash the offensive boards and to send everyone back on each shot. The box score I’m staring at shows Marquette with an offensive rebounding percentage of only 8%. That worked in the first half, when Marquette was shooting lights out, but in the second half, the lack of second chance points dramatically hurt Marquette’s offensive efficiency.

St. John’s rode a wave of ridiculous buckets, (several of which were prayer shots where the player thought he was fouled), and some great inside passing in scramble situations to take a 4 point lead. But Marquette’s been in these situations before. (As in every game.) And the Golden Eagles calmly retook the lead and finished the game.

-How poorly did defending Big 12 tournament champion Missouri play against the Big 12’s last place team today? Even after Nebraska had a 6 minute 18 second scoring drought in the second half, Missouri was still down by 10 points. At that point Brandon Richardson made a three pointer and was fouled, and that was it. From the game announcer. “It’s like Missouri has been running on a treadmill with the incline set to 9.0.”

The 12-5 upset was only the second time in Big 12 tournament history that the 12 seed won a Big 12 tournament game. You can blame the loss on Nebraska’s incredible shooting, particularly in the last 5 seconds of the shot clock. You can blame the loss on Missouri’s inability to adapt to Justin Safford’s injury. You can point to the fact that Missouri couldn’t set up its full-court pressure because they weren’t making any baskets. But for a rare time this year, Nebraska was simply the better team.

Round 1

Last night in the Big East we saw the nation’s fastest paced BCS team in Providence. Today the Big 12 features the 5th fastest paced BCS team in Texas Tech. But this game didn’t get to 100 points. I’d like to blame Colorado for slowing it down, but the truth is Colorado had one of the biggest increases in pace of any team in the nation this year. Colorado’s adjusted tempo ranked 305th last year, but is up to 125th this year. Texas Tech ran at times today, but with Colorado struggling to score in this one, Texas Tech was content to save their energy for Kansas tomorrow.

Elsewhere Georgetown crushed South Florida. I view today’s win by the Hoyas as answering three questions:

1. Are the Hoyas collapsing again? No, a two game winning streak might not mean much, but after the way 2008-09 ended, it matters.

2. Can the Hoyas win without Austin Freeman scoring in bunches? Yes, Jason Clark and Chris Wright can play smart and compensate if Freeman isn’t feeling his jump shot.

3. Can the Hoyas win with their front line in foul trouble? Yes, John Thompson was reluctant to bring in Henry Sims, but he proved competent defensively. An aggressive Sims may be better than a reluctant Greg Monroe or Julian Vaughn who has to give ground due to foul trouble.

Of course all this happened against a South Florida team that flat out could not make jumpers in this tournament. South Florida made only one three-pointer in the last two games. And it came from a late minute, garbage-time sub. But you can’t underestimate how important confidence is to a college team, and the last two games have restored some of that for Georgetown.

On the other hand, people talk about teams passing the “eye-test”. I’ve never understood that, but I think today's game showed some of it. If South Florida can’t make any threes, how can they beat any good teams? Realistically, the reason South Florida beat Georgetown the first time is that they got Georgetown in foul trouble, and took away the Hoyas defensive intensity. But with Georgetown looking for revenge for the earlier loss, the lack of outside shooting was a fatal flaw today.


Somewhere Air Force held Wyoming to 40 points in the MWC opening round. And no one noticed. CUSA's Southern Miss, Houston, Tulsa, and UCF also advanced and still no one cared. Tommorrow those leagues will start to get interesting.

Does NCAA Tournament Bracket Placement Matter?

Let me share a few quotes:

Quote 1: It doesn’t matter what seed you get as long as you are in. (Various)

Quote 2: It doesn’t matter if you are a 1 seed. If you are a 1, 2, or a 3 and you have a good team, you should be able to get to the Final Four. (Bob Knight)

Quote 3: I’d much rather be a 6 seed than a 5 seed anyway. (Fan)

The first reaction to Quote 1 should be a laugh. After all, 1 seeds are much more likely to reach the Final Four. But do they reach the Final Four because they have an easier path or because they are better teams?

One way to answer this question is to assume the beautiful log5 predictions of Ken Pomeroy are correct, and show how team's odds change in different bracket positions. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do today.

Consider a good, but not great NCAA team in last year’s NCAA tournament. (I’m looking at someone with a .9550 Pythag Winning Pct.) How likely would this team have been to advance to the Final Four in various bracket slots?

Best Slots
Final Four Odds - Slot
28.9% - 1 Midwest
25.0% - 1 East
24.5% - 1 South
21.5% - 2 East
20.2% - 4 East
19.5% - 2 Midwest
17.9% - 3 East
17.5% - 1 West
16.8% - 2 West
16.4% - 2 South
15.9% - 4 Midwest
15.2% - 6 East
15.0% - 6 Midwest

Worst Slots
Final Four Odds - Slot
6.3% - 16 West
6.2% - 15 West
6.1% - 9 West
5.9% - 14 West
5.9% - 11 West

Note that I’m projecting a good, but not elite team in each slot. Louisville’s Final Four odds last year were closer to 40%.

But I actually think this provides some decent support for Quote 1. The odds are not impossible in even the worst slot and the odds are not fantastic in even the best bracket position.

As for Bob Knight’s point, certainly 1, 2, and 3 seeds generally have better odds of making the Final Four. But what these numbers should emphasize is that the bigger question is who you draw in your region.

Last year the West was brutally stacked. To get to the Final Four, Connecticut, the 1 seed in the West was projected to face the tournament’s toughest 8 seed in BYU, one of the tournaments toughest 4/5 match-ups in Purdue or Washington, and either a dominant Memphis or Missouri team in the Elite Eight. On paper, Duke had an easier path with a 2 seed in the East.

Certainly, 1, 2, and 3 seeds have some of the easier Final Four paths, but region plays a huge role. And I find even better support for a long-held belief by fans. Sometimes being a 6 seed and facing a number of good but not great teams is an easier path to a deep tournament run.

Finally, in terms of getting to the Final Four, the 16 seeds are not the worst Final Four slot. Theoretically if you knock off the 1 seed, you take over their favorable draw. An 11 seed that has to face a strong 6, 3, 2, and 1, could have worse Final Four odds. The reason 16 seeds never advance deep in the tournament is not their slot. It is because 16 seeds aren't very good.

After the brackets are announced, check out Basketball Prospectus for the official log5 breakdown, a complete break down of tournament odds for every team. It is the combination of team quality and likely opponents.

But as a plug for myself, stop by late Sunday night and I’ll give you a statistical answer to the long-held question. What is the toughest region and toughest slot in the tournament? The TV announcers always like to say what they feel is the toughest. I’ll give you the statistical answer.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Big East Day 1

I love being on vacation when everyone else is at work.

Game 4

It's like De Ja Vue all over again. Cincinnati vs Rutgers had almost the exact same ending as Cincnnati vs Connecticut at the start of the Big East season. In the UConn game, Kemba Walker hit a three to tie before Lance Stephenson was fouled in the final second. And today Mike Rosario hit a three to tie before Lance Stephenson was fouled in the final second. In both games, Stephenson hit the game winning free throw.

There's just something special about Madison Square Garden. Special players make special plays. (I still can't believe Rosario's leaning three went in to tie the game.)

But this is exactly why the Marquette - Cincinnati game puzzled me. Even if Lance Stephenson was having a bad game, sometimes you have to let your stars work through it. In this game, Stephenson was allowed to stay on the floor in crunch time despite a terrible first half. Against Marquette, he wasn't and Cincinnati lost in OT. Win the Marquette game, and Cincinnati is legitimately in the NCAA tournament discussion right now. As is, I don't even think a victory against Louisville is enough.

Game 3

A few years ago, the Atlantic 10 got sick of a lack of respect from ESPN and decided to go their own way. And now that the Atlantic 10 tournament final is on CBS, I don't think ESPN and the A-10 are going to end their feud anytime soon. Sadly, this means no A-10 tournament games online on ESPN360. Checking the ticker, while Dayton and Rhode Island kept their faint tournament hopes alive, Charlotte ended all questions.

"Hey committee, I know we might have been on your list, but really it is OK if you take us off the board. Thanks." - Signed Charlotte and UConn.

The lack of A10 tournament converage also meant I kept the TV on Providence vs Seton Hall, long after I should have abandoned this game. By now you've probably seen what happened. Providence came back from 29 and missed a game tying three at the end of regulation.

ESPN Chatter Point: Is Providence's lack of defense a problem? I'd like to give you a statistical answer here. On average, changes in defense are gradual. Most bad defensive teams don't get better over time. (See Notre Dame.) But there are rare exceptions. A good defensive coach will sometimes bounce back from a bad year. If you look at my surprises and flops post, you'll see that Virginia Tech's defense made a shocking jump up in quality this year. So it can happen.

And I'd like to give Keno Davis the benefit of the doubt. He's early in the rebuilding process and he seems to have a plan. Build an exciting program, upgrade the talent, then figure it out. And what recruit doesn't see Jamine Peterson and say, "That could be me scoring 38 points and getting 16 rebounds." So everything seems to be going according to plan. We'll know in a couple years whether the bad defense is a fatal flaw for Keno Davis.

Game 2

St. John's crushed UConn, but the final margin does not reflect the entertainment value of this game. Both teams started out crashing the boards. Both rebounded over half their misses in the first half. And in the second half, it became a full court frenzy. That would seem to favor UConn, but it was St. John's that was beating UConn at their own game with above the rim dunks and crazy steals for fast-break baskets.

UConn's Jerome Dyson was benched in the second half and he was visibly angry. But one second half possession showed why he's become such a frustrating player this year. Dyson jumped in the air, didn't have a shot, threw the ball towards the back-court which seemed to lead to a St. John's lay-up chance. But then Dyson ran down the St. John's player and stole the ball back. But then Dyson's attempted to pass it back up-court and turned it over again. For all his hustle and energy, Dyson just has not been playing smart basketball this year.

ESPN Chatter Topic #1: Should Norm Roberts keep his job? I think St. John's either needs to make a two year committment to Roberts or get rid of him this year. The team is going to have 9 seniors next year, and the next recruiting class is vital. You can't afford to fire your coach at exactly the moment you try to replace 9 players. That's what happened to Norm Roberts in the first place. He inherited a disaster, and it has taken him this long to rebuild. So either St. John's makes a change now and gives the new coach a decent chance to win and recruit next year, or St. John's has to make a commitment to Roberts and stick with him for a couple more years.

ESPN Chatter Topic #2: Jim Boeheim doesn't like the double byes in the Big East tournament. He has proposed having Tuesday include games such as 1 vs 16 and 2 vs 15 instead of 9 vs 16 and 10 vs 15. I can see pros and cons here. The nice thing about double byes is that it rewards the regular season. That's why I love the byes in the NFL and always use byes in my fantasy football league. But NCAA seeding already rewards regular season success so maybe the double bye isn't necessary.

Game 1

South Florida faced DePaul, and on paper this was not a compelling matchup. But that's why they play the ga.... No wait. It wasn't very compelling. DePaul and South Florida started the game a combined 0-18 from three point range. But South Florida won because they were better able to score in the paint and get transtion baskets. Dominic Jones is phenomenally strong and a fantastic college scorer. But as Fran Fraschilla emphasized, if he doesn't have a consistent jump shot, he is not going to be able to play guard in the NBA. Just to be clear, South Florida won despite never heating up from the outside. At the end of the game the ESPN graphic showed South Florida was 0-16 on perimeter shots.

Chatter Topic: DePaul needs a coach who knows how to recruit.

An ESPN graphic showed the Chicago area guards that didn't go to DePaul:
Evan Turner - Ohio St.
Jacob Pullen - Kansas St.
Jerome Randle - California
Sheron Collins - Kansas
Demetri McCamey - Illinois

But, DePaul does have a walk-on that played at St. Joe's with Turner and McCamey. Yeah, that's not a good sign.