Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Articles, Upsets, and Plans

I’ve spent the last few weeks finishing my contribution to the 2010-11 Basketball Prospectus Book. I’ll have more to say in the future, but suffice it to say I am very excited about the publication. Besides the normal preview content, (the returning players and predictions), the heart of the book is the detailed statistical discussion of every major conference team. You knew South Carolina was fast, but were you aware of South Carolina’s woeful defensive rebounding and commitment to one-on-one play? And thanks to John Gasaway’s hard work expanding the publication, the book now includes several words on all the small conference teams as well. Are you prepared for a full discussion of Eastern Kentucky’s unorthodox style of play?

Early this summer, I also wrote an article for the Jayhawk Tip-Off. I’m always hesitant to suggest a team-specific publication. If you are a fan of Georgia Tech, I assume you have better ways to spend your money. But if you do care about the Jayhawks, I was blown away by the quality of work Eric Angevine was able to pull together last year; and I expect even better things this year.

When you write these articles, not everything you write makes the final cut. I’ll have some posts on what did not make it into the Basketball Prospectus Book in future weeks. But today I wanted to share something that did not make the final cut in the Jayhawk Tip-Off.

One concern for Kansas fans is that Bill Self keeps showing up in the next table. Using the post-tournament Pomeroy Ratings, here are the most unlikely NCAA tournament upsets in the last seven years.

Most Unlikely Upsets in the NCAA Tournament in the Last Seven Years

If you ask him, Ken Pomeroy would probably point out that some of these upsets do not pass the eye test. Dayton hardly qualifies as a dramatic upset. But if you look at the full-season numbers for those teams, (their margin-of-victory against the quality of competition), the numbers do not lie. West Virginia was blowing teams out in 2009, and it was a significant surprise to see them perform so poorly against Dayton.

Similarly, you may be surprised that George Mason only appears on this list once. But by winning four NCAA tournament games, including wins over Michigan St. and North Carolina, George Mason had the profile of a very strong team at the end of the season. History no longer looks at the first round win over an inconsistent Michigan St. team as a huge surprise.

The shocking thing is that Wisconsin and Kansas show up as upset victims three times. Is that a sign of good coaching or bad coaching? These teams have clearly been dominant in the regular season. But for the large segment of fans that only watch NCAA tournament games, Bo Ryan and Bill Self are not leaving a good last impression.

More Quality Writing

This summer I also posted some “free” articles on this blog. First, I discussed the off-season coaching changes. I also followed that up with a detailed discussion of coaching turnover in the NCAA tournament era. And I concluded the series here. Coach ratings are my signature blog feature and this analysis is definitely worth a read if you missed it this summer.

What else can you expect from YABB this season?

For starters, I’ll be rolling out statistical predictions for all the major conferences. You may remember this spring I estimated a statistical model that predicted the tempo free stats for various teams. Here is an example of the output. Well, one thing I promised was to add some individual defensive stats to the model. And after playing with the numbers, I can say the defensive player statistics have some predictive power. Teams that lose a player with a high block rate or steal rate will perform worse on average on defense the following season. The model is still a work in progress, but it is becoming more refined. I plan to present predictions for the major conferences in the coming weeks.

(By the way, Ken Pomeroy continues to do a number of amazing things. After he revealed his win probability charts, I’m not sure I will be able to look at a game the same way again. Am I in the red zone or the green zone? And while I cannot speak to what brilliance Ken will share next, I may not be the only one developing a predictive model for tempo free stats. If Ken shares anything, I think it will be worth examining which model does a better job predicting the season.)

But the most important thing I want to do this season is get back to talking about the games. Last winter I bought a townhouse and moved to the suburbs and it significantly curtailed the number of college basketball games I watched. But now that I have a treadmill set up in my basement, and fewer worries about moving and painting, I can re-focus my leisure hours on the things that matter. While the stats are not going away, this season’s theme will be simple. Enjoy the games!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


After the 6 to 12 games per day in the FIBA preliminary round, the 2 games per day in the FIBA knockout round has been a crawl. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday’s games were all blowouts with the exception of Brazil vs Argentina. And despite all the crowd shots showing fans agonizing in the stands, the Argentina-Brazil game lacked drama. Argentina built a small lead thanks to Luis Scola’s incredible shooting and simply held off Brazil. It just goes to show that just because a game is close, it isn’t necessarily memorable. Onto the Elite Eight and some potentially better match-ups.

Serbia led by Oklahoma City’s Nenad Krstic and 2010 Euroleague MVP Milos Teodosic face the incredibly deep Spanish team featuring Portland’s Rudy Fernandez, Memphis’ Marc Gasol, and a host of players that could play in the NBA if it wasn’t so enjoyable and lucrative to play in Europe (i.e. Fran Vazquez, Ricky Rubio, and Juan Carlos Navarro).

Fran Vazquez has particularly impressed me in this tournament. The Orlando Magic holds his rights in perpetuity, and if some NBA team can ever convince him to come to the US, he seems like an impact post player.

Then the host country Turkey featuring Phoenix’s Hedo Turkoglu and three lesser known NBA players takes on a Slovenian team featuring Phoenix’s Goran Dragic, Milwaukee’s Primoz Brezec, and 8 year NBA veteran Bostjan Nachbar.

Spain vs Turkey seems like the likely semifinal based on Spain’s superior talent and Turkey’s home court advantage, but any of these teams could advance to the Finals.

The US team faces a Russian team featuring former Kansas Jayhawk Sasha Kaun.

Then Lithuania featuring former Missouri Tiger and future Toronto Raptor Linas Kleiza faces an Argentina squad featuring Houston’s Luis Scola, Milwaukee’s Carlos Delfino, and Washington’s Fabricio Oberto.

The US is the prohibitive favorite against Russia. Lithuania can advance if Linas Kleiza can continue his incredibly hot shooting. Kleiza is averaging 19.5 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game in the tournament. But that’s nothing compared to what Argentina’s Luis Scola has done to date scoring 30.3 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game. In fact, these are the two top scorers left in the tournament.

Argentina is deeper and Scola had better numbers to-date, but Lithuania’s overall toughness intrigues me in this one. For some reason I predict a Lithuanian victory in a minor upset.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The First Saturday in September

I was watching Kansas St. vs UCLA on ESPN2 and the announcers said, “There haven’t been a lot of close football games today.” And as of 10:30pm Saturday, that’s still true. The college football season has started with a thud. I know the joy of the first weekend is just seeing real football games again, but usually one or two of the BCS matchups goes down to the wire. Today we saw North Carolina crippled by suspensions against LSU, UConn and Purdue providing surprisingly little resistance to Michigan and Notre Dame, and not a lot else. Heisman hopeful QB Jake Locker of Washington could not even mount a drive when trailing by 6 against BYU. Oregon St. trailed TCU by 7 late, but rather than rally for a tie, they had a bad snap and kicked the ball out of the endzone for a safety. This is not drama. Even matchups that are usually great rivalries like Colorado-Colorado St. simply had no sizzle this weekend. I enjoyed watching North Dakota State beat Kansas, but not quite enough to write a blog post. But there was obviously one game of the day, Jacksonville St.’s win over Ole Miss.

(Of course as soon as I was putting the finishing touches on this post, I flipped back to ABC and saw North Carolina inside the 10, trailing LSU by 6 points with 2 seconds left. UNC’s pass fell incomplete as time expired. What?!! North Carolina came back? And after a day of garbage games, I missed that comeback. Sigh.)

Jacksonville St. vs Ole Miss

We start with the back-story. Mississippi head coach Houston Nutt was a former assistant under Jacksonville St. head coach Jack Crowe from 1990-1992 when Jack Crowe was the head coach at Arkansas. But in 1992, in his third year at Arkansas, Jack Crowe lost the season-opener to the Citadel. Crowe was fired immediately. (I love how whenever someone gets fired in the middle of the season, people act like this is a “new trend”. But this has been happening for decades, and it was certainly not a new trend in 1992.)

The other piece of back-story is the QB situation at Ole Miss. TMQ Gregg Easterbrook would probably label this game the curse of Jeremiah Masoli. Masoli, the former Oregon quarterback had multiple off-field incidents that led to him being dismissed from the Oregon team. But Ole Miss was happy to snap him up and let him play immediately. Anytime you are willing to look past indiscretions other teams take seriously, it usually comes back to haunt you.

But that did not appear to be the case early. Ole Miss had a huge lead in this game, something like 20 points, and I almost deleted it from my rotation of channel flipping. But nothing else was really must-watch TV, so I kept coming back. And in the fourth quarter, Jacksonville St. brought in freshman Coty Blanchard to play some snaps. It seemed like an innocent move at the time. Both teams wanted to play some of their backups to get them some game experience.

But out of nowhere Blanchard immediately sparked the offense and helped pull Jacksonville St. within 5 points. Arkansas added a field goal to make it an 8 point lead, and then with limited time remaining, Jack Crowe made the head-scratching decision to put QB Marques Ivory back in the game. Was he trying to give the game to his former assistant? This logic was baffling. Blanchard was the hot hand, why not continue to use him? But of course, Ivory now saw that his job was in serious jeopardy and lead the team down the field for the touchdown and game-tying two point conversion. And we headed to overtime.

In OT, Jacksonville St. scored first and Ole Miss needed a fourth down conversion for a TD to send the game to a second OT. Then after Ole Miss scored a TD again, Jacksonville St. found themselves with their back against the wall. After a loss of 5 yards, Jacksonville St. faced a 4th and 15 from the 30, needing a TD to stay alive. And of course Jack Crowe chose this moment to reinsert QB Coty Blanchard. Blanchard then proceeded to throw a 30-yard precision touchdown strike, caught at the very back of the endzone by a Jacksonville St. receiver. It was an insane pass and an insane moment. This type of QB shuffling almost never works, but here Crowe shuffled QBs at the end of regulation, and in OT, and whoever he played rose to the occasion.

At this point, Jacksonville St. just decided to end the insanity and go for the two point conversion. Either they would win or lose, but it would all come down to this play. Ole Miss blitzed, Jack Crowe faced huge pressure up the middle, and calmly flicked the ball ahead for the game winning conversion.

You might coach 20 years, and only once are your QB substitutions going to work as perfectly as they did in this game. Congratulations to Jack Crowe, and here’s hoping Houston Nutt doesn’t get fired after week 1, even if he was willing to play Jeremiah Masoli.

The FIBA Knockout Round is Here

First, here is a quick recap of Thursday. In a complete shocker, Ivory Coast upset Puerto Rico and that allowed China to advance to the knockout round.

Elsewhere New Zealand beat France which allowed Spain to steal the second spot in Group D. But because Greece finished third in Group C, this meant Greece and Spain met today in the first round of the knockout round. Spain and Greece were effectively 1-seeds and expected to be semifinalists in this tournament. But because neither team could win their group, they make for an insanely marketable first round match-up.

Meanwhile the other “1-seed” Argentina fell to Serbia which means that only one of the group favorites, the United States, won their group.

Today we had two knockout round games on tap.

Spain vs Greece

The matchup of these two heavyweights was a disappointment, because in the end, it wasn't close. With Greece within 4 points, Spain grabbed a pair of late steals, built a 10 point lead, and coasted to victory. From what I could tell, the early part of this game was back and forth and if you watched the whole thing, you probably were not disappointed. But if you tuned in with 6 minutes left in the game like me - sorry.

Serbia vs Croatia

I start with two pieces of background on this game. First, like Turkey-Greece in the opening round, Croatia and Serbia are geographic rivals. Croatia and Serbia are both part of the former Yugoslavia. Here’s a map. Second, note that there have probably been over 100 players from this region to play in the NBA. This region tends to be a huge recruiting zone for NBA big men. And college basketball is full of them too. I remember a time when nearly every player on Northwestern’s basketball team had an “ic” at the end of their name.

Also note that Serbia was the heavy favorite in this game. They’ve already beaten Argentina in this tournament and they have the Euroleague MVP form last year in Milos Teodosic and NBA forward Nenad Krstic. Meanwhile, Croatia has a decent team, but after losing to the US, Brazil, and Slovenia, they finished 4th in group B. On paper this was a mismatch. But that’s why they play the games.

With 1 minute to go in regulation, Croatia’s Roko-Leni Ukic had one of the best drives and passes of the tournament as he drew two defenders and flicked the ball to Marko Banic to pull within two points.

Fast forward to 24 seconds left. Croatia was still down three points, but they had the ball with a chance to tie. And Serbia decided to foul with 15 seconds to avoid the game-tying three. I thought this was a horrible decision. 15 seconds was way too early to foul in that situation. And for once this instinct was correct. After Croatia made both free throws, Croatia’s Marko Tomas stole the inbounds pass. Instead of a last second desperation three to tie, Croatia now needed just a two-point bucket to win the game.

But Serbia fouled again and this time Croatia made 1 of 2 free throws to tie the game. Then after a time-out, Croatia fell asleep on the inbounds pass and Serbia hit the home run ball for a wide open-layup to take the 72-70 lead. But once again Serbia fouled. What were they thinking fouling when up two? Again, the logic seemed to be to avoid a three pointer, but I was baffled by this strategy as it almost certainly meant overtime.

Croatia made both free throws to tie the game at 72. But in a tie game with 5 seconds left, Serbia pulled it out. After driving the ball up court, Serbia drew a foul with 1 second left and hit a free throw to hold on to win the game. Yes Serbia won, but the crazy fouling at the end almost cost them to game. I’m sure at some point, fouling while leading by three makes sense. But I’m pretty sure it is not with 15 seconds left.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Day 5 FIBA

Group A:

On Wednesday Angola played Germany with the winner advancing to the knockout round. And in a major shocker, Angola was victorious in overtime. Remember this same Angola team lost by 50 to Serbia, and Germany beat Serbia in double overtime. But after winning that 2 OT game, Germany simply hasn’t shown up for two straight games and the loss to Angola eliminated them from the field. Angola (2-2) now faces Australia (2-2) with the winner taking third place in the group. Meanwhile Serbia (3-1) faces Argentina (4-0) with the winner taking first place in the group.

Group B:

Slovenia (3-1) edged Brazil by three to clinch second place in Group B, behind only the US (4-0). Brazil (2-2) now faces Croatia (2-2) for third place.

Group C:

As I expected, Turkey had a bit of a let down after beating Greece, but Turkey still rode the home court advantage to a two point win over Puerto Rico. Turkey (4-0) has now won Group C thanks to head-to-head wins over Greece and Russia. Greece (3-1) and Russia (3-1) play for second place on Thursday. China (1-3) and Puerto Rico (1-3) can both still take the final spot in the knockout round, but Puerto Rico holds the tie-breaker after winning the head-to-head matchup on Wednesday. And with Puerto Rico facing winless Ivory Coast Thursday, it looks like China is done.

Group D:
The top four are set after Canada stayed winless losing to New Zealand and after Lebanon lost to Spain and was eliminated. That leaves only seeding to discuss. Lithuania (4-0) won the group on Wednesday beating France by 14. France (3-1) now faces New Zealand (2-2) on Thursday with second place on the line in the group. If France wins, they get second. If New Zealand wins and Spain (2-2) beats Lebanon, there will be a three way tie for second place and points scored tie-breakers will come into play.