Friday, November 4, 2011

ESPN the Mag

With many thanks to John Gasaway, I am pleased to announce that my preseason rankings appear in ESPN the Magazine’s Nov. 14th College Basketball Preview. If you are not familiar with my preseason predictions model, here is an overview:

The best predictor of future success is opponent adjusted margin-of-victory. This is the basis for Jeff Sagarin’s Predictor Rankings and Ken Pomeroy’s Tempo Free Rankings. But college rosters experience significant turnover between seasons. Fortunately, Dean Oliver developed statistics that estimate each player’s contribution to the offense and defense. These individual “tempo free” statistics can be used to estimate how each team’s offense and defense will change from one year to the next. Today I use this information to predict the 2011-12 season.

The basic model incorporates several well-established basketball facts: First, experience matters. Teams that have more returning minutes (and possessions) tend to improve. Second, teams that return more efficient scorers (i.e. better shooting percentage, fewer turnovers) improve more than teams that return less efficient scorers. Third, the biggest leap in development is from a player’s freshman year to his sophomore year. Teams that give major minutes to freshmen tend to improve significantly the following season. Fourth, the loss of injured players (such as USC’s Jio Fontan), and the return of injured players (such as Purdue’s Robbie Hummel) has a predictable impact on team performance. Fifth, for incoming transfers, the performance with the previous team provides some information about the player’s future performance. Sixth, coaching ability impacts performance in a predictable manner. And finally, high school recruits can have a significant impact on a team’s performance. High school recruits ranked in the Top 10 have the biggest impact, but players ranked in the Top 100 are also important. This year I also account for the fact that historical team prestige impacts recruiting. (This is less important for BCS teams where the biggest factor is Top 10 and Top 100 recruits. But for smaller schools, historical team prestige is often the only factor we have to separate the quality of recruiting classes.) These factors are combined to produce a numeric ranking of teams for the upcoming college basketball season.

ESPN voted for the Top 25 and only used my rankings to rank the other 319 teams. For the most part, I think ESPN got the top 25 right. But if you have questions about why my model loves or hates certain teams, send me a tweet @DanHanner.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Where You Can Find Me

I write for You can find my columns at But if you want a direct link to my content, I actually have two archives on the website:

Here is the archive for articles

Here is the archive for blog posts

What is the difference between an article and a blog post? I have no idea. I just write them and send them in and they appear somewhere.

Starting today, I am going to try to highlight my new content on Twitter. Find me @DanHanner. But if you want to know what you missed this summer, here is a quick summary.

You probably do not want to read more about conference expansion, but I tried to be creative when I wrote about it. For the record, I am the rare person who enjoys it when conferences re-arrange themselves. I would like to see Texas become an independent in football and join C-USA in all other sports. Here I wrote something about Baylor that was a little bit mean. I also wrote this where I blame Texas for Texas A&M leaving.

This is a fun article where I try to pick dark horse teams in 2011-2012.

When writing the article for the Tar Heel tip-off, I started thinking about whether Tony Bennett was really an elite basketball coach.

Here is something I wrote about whether college stats predict NBA draft position. For the record, I have tried to adopt the philosophy of embracing early entrants. I am not sure I can always do it, but that’s my new philosophy.

I went looking for players with great stats but an under-achieving team. It was harder than I thought.

This is the worst title for a post. I would never click on any link that said that. But the article includes a number of tangents and I think it is one of the better pieces I have written. I seriously need to go back and come up with a better title.

If you can read these tables (wow those things are hideously ugly), here is a nice analysis of Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger.

Some nice blurbs on the 2012 holiday tournaments.

Here are some things that seemed good at the time, but may be slightly out of date. I tried to average the coaching stats again this year. I thought these articles were a bit bland, because I have hit this topic before and I didn’t really learn anything new in the process. But if you haven’t seen it before, it is useful. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6. Also, my “predictions” model is being updated, and the predictions are all out-of-date. But the theme about the Big 12 being wide open this year (found at the end of this column) is something you will be reading everywhere soon. In my opinion, nothing else is worth going back to read.

And now this blog will go back to being dormant.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Welcome to Twitter

I have finally caved.

You can now follow me @DanHanner

I have been reluctant to join Twitter for several reasons:

1) I cannot seem to write anything that is less than 140 characters.

2) Twitter is often about sharing thoughts instantly. I like to wait. Allow me to explain. Most live blogs are exceptionally boring. Bill Simmons' live blogs work because they are retro diaries. He jots down numerous thoughts during a game, and then edits those into a humorous summary later. I give credit to people who can think of witty things to say on a moments notice, but that is not me. When I think of random Twitter-length things to say, I jot them down in a notebook and try to turn them into a column. In fact, this is exactly how I generate my Monday Morning column during the college basketball season.

3) When my wife and I went to Maui for our 10 year annivesary, we were walking on the Kaanapali beach boardwalk and there was this gorgeous sunset. We walked by one of the restaurants and I noticed a table of six people, all sitting with their heads down staring at their smart phones. That doesn't make any sense to me. And that's one of the reasons I'm afraid to go on Twitter. If you send me an @reply, there's a good chance I'm not going to check your message right away, and I hate to be the guy who never responds. But I am that guy.

But a few things have swung me to the dark side:

1) Every once in awhile I write something that I enjoy. Usually I hate everything I write, but when I write something good, I want to be able to shout about it to the world. But email is a poor way to do this. Twitter seems better.

2) I am afraid Ballin is a Habit is going to do another one of those, "People to Read" features and I'm going to be the only one without a Twitter account.

3) People tell me it is a better way to communicate. I'm skeptical, but why not try?

But I am warning you in advance: I am not going to check it every day, and I would like to apologize in advance for anything stupid that I do.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Uploading an image for a post.
I will explain on Twitter later.

Is the problem that I was supposed to include some text between the graphs?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

For Monday




 Space Here

I am testing out ways to include this in an article. Visit on Monday.


Monday, February 14, 2011

A New Home

As YABB is approaching its four-year anniversary, the time has come to make a change. My content will now be appearing on a website called If your interests are only college basketball, you may not have heard of these folks before. But RealGM has been covering the pro sports since 2000 with a focus on analytics and player movement.

Recently they have decided to expand their NCAA coverage, and they have asked me to join them. The type of material that I write is not going to change, but my internet home can now be found at

I realize that there is a crowded landscape of sports coverage on the internet. You have a lot of choices about who to read and when to link to content. But I want to emphasize that I am committed to providing the best original and unique content that I can develop.

In February on, I contrasted how Roy Williams and Bo Ryan utilize their players. I looked at the 4th through 6th year head coaches (the ones whose job is normally on the line). I reviewed of this year’s surprises and flops, using my tempo free predictions to identify who “broke out” and who “broke down” this season. In a column staple, I provided the latest injury splits. And of course, I talked about the games.

Why Partner with

I am joining because they sought me out and asked me to join. But as a data person, I was also attracted to the chance to work with new databases and features. The goal is not to replace your favorite stats. You should still get your Tuesday Truths from John Gasaway and your tempo free euphoria from Ken Pomeroy. But I want to emphasize that there are other interesting ways to think about teams and players. has a number of databases that I think will make for an exciting opportunity.

The one thing I fell in love with immediately is a database that links players by high school. Here is my ridiculous insider example of how to use this. Suppose you plan to interview Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and want to strike up a conversation. Why not ask him about his high school and the players who recently played on the team? On the list you will quickly see some familiar names. Why not ask him if he ever played with fellow DeMatha graduate Austin Freeman? Was Austin that impressive in high school? Even if you don’t plan on meeting one of the players, I think these are fun to explore. People always talk about all the graduates to come out of Oak Hill Academy. But when I sorted by graduation year, I recognized fewer of these players than I expected.

One word of caution: The NCAA section is currently under construction, with a few bugs and kinks preventing them from signing off completely on the content. (See the “Beta” moniker in the upper left hand corner.) But as those last kinks are worked out, I think you will find features, like the last 5 games depth charts, to be an extremely useful resource.

Final Notes

Please keep YABB in memory. As you may know, I am very reluctant to go on twitter. That may eventually change, but I want to continue to use this space to highlight when my work appears elsewhere on the web.

And as I make the transition to a new internet home, I would sincerely like to thank all the people that have read my content and linked to YABB over the last four years. Every time I see a link it gives me all the more motivation to work a little harder to do something new and unique. And thank you for all your kind words and support over the years.

Dan Hanner

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Litmus Test

Here is how you know if you are an unmitigated “homer”. Has your favorite team ever been over-seeded in the NCAA tournament? Have you ever looked at the bracket and seen a 4 seed next to your team and thought “that seems a little generous.” If that answer is no, you probably see your team through rose-colored glasses.

Note: This litmus test does not work if you are a Northwestern fan.

What is the line between fan and analyst?

One of the things that constantly baffles me is the little games people play about admitting their affiliations. Jay Bilas and Kirk Herbstreit are two of the most knowledgeable, articulate, and effective commentators in the business. But if one of their colleagues asks them if they might be exerting a little “Duke” or “Ohio St.” love, you can practically feel the fingernails scratching on the chalkboard. I much prefer Clark Kellogg’s style. If someone mentions that Ohio St. is his alma mater, he says he is happy to see the Buckeyes do well. And then he moves on. There is nothing wrong with being human. The may be “no cheering in the press box”, but being an alum does not prevent someone from being a successful analyst.

In 2011, the myth has long been debunked that someone cannot provide passion and insight at the same time. Bill Simmons is the most famous “fan” commentator of all time, and he is also one of the most insightful NBA writers on the planet. Lou Holtz may be the target of constant ribbing on the College Football post game show because of his Notre Dame ties, but he still knows a thing or two about football. Doug Gottlieb may have once played for Oklahoma St., but that does not prevent him from stating the biting truth.

And truthfully, Joe Posnanski might be the best at the business at using his past affiliations appropriately. He includes details from his personal past in stories without making it seem disruptive. When Posnanski wrote about the Cavs recent losing streak, he so subtly mentioned the terrible Cavs teams of his youth that you forget he might still care for the team.*

No, the worry about analysts should not be whether or not they are alumni or fans. The worry should be whether their opinions are well-founded. Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune is a long-time newspaper reporter. He has covered Twin Cities sports teams for over 50 years and a statue of him was even built in front of the Target Center. No one questions his success. But many people question his unrelenting praise. No matter what happens at a Minnesota sporting event, the players never did wrong. The loss can always be blamed on an injury or bad luck. And no Gopher or Viking coach has ever been fired for cause. Many believe that Hartman praises individual targets to retain access. Whether this is true or not, trading access for one-sided commentary does no one justice.

But caring about a team, or articulating the passion of the game is not a crime. From the joy of a fanbase when Baylor beat Oklahoma for the first time in 30 games last January, or the resigned disgust as Clemson lost for the 54th time at Chapel Hill, passion is a large part of the equation. As we enter the pulse-pounding portion of the season, the games mean something to everyone. To the elite teams, the goal is to get a high seed to reward a season of hard work. For the bubble teams, the goal is one more quality win to impress the selection committee. And for the bad teams, the goal is to win one more time for the seniors. In college basketball every game counts, and communicating that truth should never get lost.

So certainly I condemn the inappropriate praise and unsubstantiated propaganda. But if the insights are real, and the content is true, I don’t care if the analyst is a fan or not.

*An honorary Posnanski star note. Have you seen his SI photo that appears in the magazine - the man with the cowboy hat and hand extended? That is one amusing photo.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Will Bruce Pearl’s return to the sideline make a difference for Tennessee?

Eric Angevine emailed me tonight with this very interesting question. Here was my response:

First, let me emphasize the value of basketball coaches relative to the other sports. According to Forbes magazine NBA head coaches make slightly more than NFL head coaches, and both make significantly more than MLB head coaches. There may be numerous reasons NBA coaches earn more. But a reasonable inference is that incrementally, basketball coaches can make a significant difference to winning. Phil Jackson isn’t earning $10 million a year because he is a lucky rabbit’s foot. He is earning $10 million a year because he understands all the little details of what it takes to win. From the X’s and O’s, to in-game adjustments, to how to motivate his players over the long grind, Jackson has the formula down to a science. Or a zen art.

The lesson for college basketball is that coaching is a lot more than simply deciding whether to bring the walk-ons into the game at the 2 minute mark or the 1 minute mark in a blowout. Coaches can make a significant difference to whether a team is ahead when the final buzzer sounds.

And Bruce Pearl is not just another coach. I currently rank Bruce Pearl as the 30th best coach in terms of adjusted efficiency margin from 2002-2011, (which includes his successful final 3 seasons at UW-Milwaukee.) That might not seem phenomenal, but I don’t think the margin-of-victory numbers really do Pearl justice. Tennessee plays a very long rotation which tends to make some games closer than they should be. But in crunch time, Bruce Pearl always has the best lineup on the floor. And over the last seven years, no BCS coach has out-performed his efficiency margin more than Pearl. Ken Pomeroy refers to this as luck. Bruce Pearl’s teams have been consistently lucky. And there is certainly an element of winning close games that is good fortune. (Florida’s Erving Walker hit one of the biggest shots of the year to force a second overtime against Georgia, but I’d be shocked if he could repeat it.) But there’s also something to the cliché that you make your own luck.

But none of this really gets to the key question. Will Bruce Pearl make a difference when he returns to the sideline this year? The difficulty is that we know Pearl is a good coach, but we don’t know what makes him a good coach. Is it his recruiting? Is it his unique drills in practice? Is it his style of offense? Is it his pressure defense? If it is those things, then his return to the sideline should have little impact on Tennessee.

But what if Bruce Pearl’s teams win for other reasons? Is it his ability to know when to apply pressure defense? Is it his calling of set-plays? Is it his ability to draw up plays on the clipboard? Is it his half-game adjustments? Is it his key substitutions? Is it his ability to motivate players in the locker-room?

Unfortunately, when it comes to the data, we don’t have a lot of variation to sort out these factors. Coaches don’t usually leave their team in the middle of the season. I think there is some anecdotal evidence that coaching absences hurt a team. Connecticut struggled at times when Jim Calhoun was missing because of health issues. (And when Louisville’s defense was historically bad last year, I wondered how much of that was because Pitino was mentally checked out with the Karen Sypher situation.)

Perhaps most relevant this season, Rick Majerus somehow cut his leg during the Bowling Green game and missed the next three games with a leg infection. St. Louis lost all three games without Majerus on the sideline. Based on the quality of opponents, the Sagarin Predictor method says St. Louis should have lost those three games by a total of 27 points. But St. Louis was defeated by 36 points in those 3 games, or about 3 points more per game than we should have expected.

Was Rick Majerus really worth 3 points a game? That number seems a little high. Although I cannot find the citation online, I think the top coaches tend to be worth about 2 points in the Vegas lines.

Will Bruce Pearl make that big a difference when he returns to the sideline? I’d assume he is worth a little less than a point a game. But over the course of the season, when lots of games come down to the wire, you never know when that extra something will be the difference between winning and losing. And in an SEC East, where no team is under .500, every win means a lot.

Unintentional Comedy

Note to self: Learn how to take screen-shots. If anyone can send me a screenshot or youtube link of Stacey and Ray Paine, (10:41 to go in the Kansas - Missouri game), this item will be much more amusing.

But the Paines are not the subject of this header. After a commercial break, we had this exchange.

Brent Musberger, "I can't believe, especially given that his dad is in the basketball business, that Larry Drew would just walk out on North Carolina in the middle of the season. To walk out on a team like that, I'm surprised the young man would act that way."

Bob Knight - No Response

Hmm, recalling the Texas Tech situation? You just cannot make this stuff up.

Have new coaches made a difference?

What can Ken Pomeroy’s Efficiency Margin data tell us about how new coaches have done? Have they turned their programs around?

Scroll down for the tables, but first some comments:

Big Improvements

-In two years, John Calipari’s average efficiency margin has clearly outshined that of former Kentucky head coach Billy Gillispie. But Calipari has even exceeded the average efficiency margin of Tubby Smith’s Kentucky teams from 2003 to 2007. I think that is pretty amazing given the reliance on freshman over the last two years. Like most people, I’m puzzled by the recent close losses, but I think there is no doubt that Kentucky hit a home run when it hired Calipari.

-I hope people are not overlooking the job Mike Rice Jr. has done at Rutgers this year. Sometimes his expressions on the sideline seem overzealous, but he is holding his players accountable and delivering results. I thought his most impressive result of the season was his three point home loss to Pittsburgh, but his team has played well in close losses at St. John’s and at Notre Dame since that game. Interestingly, Fred Hill is starting to look like a negative blip for Rutgers, as Gary Waters at least had Rutgers fielding passable teams from 2003 to 2006.

-Is it fair to question whether Jeff Bzdelik is a good coach at this point? Colorado has improved since he left, and Wake Forest has gotten much worse since he arrived. Of course there are extenuating circumstances. Colorado is a veteran team, Wake Forest lost a ton of talent and has started over with a bunch of freshman. But the decision to remove Dino Gaudio is looking more and more puzzling.

-St. John’s coach Mike Jarvis was fired mid-season in 2003-04, and interim coach Kevin Clark could not keep the recruits. This meant Norm Roberts inherited a disaster. Meanwhile, Steve Lavin has started with a group of experienced seniors and been in much better position to succeed immediately. That’s the story most people tell to be kind to Norm Roberts. But I also think it is also fair to credit Lavin with getting his senior group to play at a higher level. I think Lavin did the right thing in increasing St. John’s strength-of-schedule. St. John’s is not a dominant enough group to win every day. But by playing enough quality teams, they’ve put together enough nice wins to look like an NCAA team at this point.

-No one is surprised to see Mike Montgomery’s teams playing at such a high level once again. The man who once dominated the Pac-10 at Stanford has California playing winning basketball again. (Did anyone see highlights of Saturday’s 3OT thriller against Arizona? The game was not on ESPN3, or any of the three Fox Regional channels on my Verizon Fios box. Where was it? On the Sportscenter U program on ESPNU, they only showed the box score. Did this game really happen?)

-I cannot give enough love to Fran McCaffery for bringing some up-tempo basketball back to Iowa. But he also has his team playing better basketball. They won at Indiana this weekend, something Illinois and Minnesota could not do.

-I’m surprised Mark Fox did not get a job offer for a BCS gig sooner. And Nevada has taken an epic fall since he left.

-Is Buzz Williams a better coach than Tom Crean? His teams have had better efficiency margins than Crean’s did. And this data includes Crean’s team with Dwayne Wade. Until Williams gets to a Final Four, I think the answer is no. But I will say this: Buzz Williams' teams almost never get blown out.

-I’m not quite in agreement that Iowa St. has played well this year. They beat Creighton early in the year before Gregory Echenique was eligible, beat an Iowa squad that was still learning to play for Fran McCaffery, and currently sit 1-8 in the Big 12. Obviously the close losses to Kansas St, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St. Nebraska, and particularly Kansas mean this team is competitive. But until they start winning some Big 12 games, it is hard to proclaim this a success story yet. Realistically, the true evaluation of Fred Hoiberg will come next year when all those transfers become eligible.

Notes on the table:

EM is the average efficiency margin over the coach’s tenure.
Impact is the difference in EM between the current coach and the previous non-interim head coach.

Avg adj off is the average adjusted offense over the coach’s tenure.
Avg adj def is the average adjusted defense over the coach’s tenure.

Scroll to the right to see the average performance of the former coaches. Ken Pomeroy only tabulates data back to 2003, so there is no coaching data before the 2002-2003 season.

Not a Good Start

-Wake Forest suffered a huge talent drain, and Indiana suffered an epic talent drain, but those teams are still performing substantially below historical expectations.

-I actually thought that when Oliver Purnell took over at DePaul, he could get the team to win some Big East games on hard work alone. But no team in a BCS league has fewer natural shooters. At 28.2% from 3 point range, DePaul shoots too poorly to run an effective offense.

-At least Auburn has Earnest Ross who can get hot and make a game fun once in a while. (See OT loss to Georgia, where Ross scored 30 points.)

-I really like LSU newcomer Andre Stringer, but LSU needed more than one player to turn around last year’s debacle. Two years of horrific basketball may have shortened Trent Johnson’s clock.

-Also, shouldn’t Trent Johnson and Tony Bennett get some blame for departing along with their seniors and leaving rebuilding projects at Stanford and Washington St.?

-I think Sean Miller is doing a fantastic job at Arizona, but it is worth noting that he has a long way to go to duplicate Lute Olson’s level of success. I think he’ll eventually get there, but it would help if the rest of the Pac-10 was not so down. Even when Arizona wins Pac-10 games, it has not improved their efficiency margin very much.

-I don’t think anyone thinks the Pat Knight experiment is working.

Notable Non-BCS Impacts

It might seem that non-BCS turnaround projects would be a great place to find prospective BCS coaches. And while that’s true, coaches in the CAA and similar places only tend to get credit when they finish the job. Turning a team from a 1-15 doormat to an 8-8 competitive team is a nice accomplishment, but it usually will not get you hired. You usually have to make it to the NCAA tournament, and maybe even win a game. As such, I am not going to present the whole table for non-BCS turnarounds, but here are some highlights:

- James Madison was a perennial CAA cellar-dweller under Dean Keener, and Matt Brady currently has the team at 7-6 in the conference, the second winning mark in the last 3 years. He probably needs to do more to earn a BCS job, but if James Madison makes the tournament in a couple of years, he will definitely be a top candidate. (For those of you tripping over the name, this is not former LSU coach John Brady who now coaches at Arkansas St.) Matt Brady also coached at Marist in the MAAC which has really struggled since he left.

-With the WAC falling out of national relevance, Don Verlin probably won’t get much credit at Idaho. But he took over a team that was usually the worst in the WAC, and has them playing .500 ball.

-North Florida had a pair of 3-26 seasons under its previous coach which is making Matthew Driscoll look like a miracle worker for finishing near .500 in the A-Sun.

-Finally, the UCF story has been ruined by a terrible performance in conference play this year. Donnie Jones looked like a great prospect for a BCS job in December, but not right now.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

That "game" may be on Sunday, but I live for Saturday

I think the high point of the day came around 5:30pm ET on Saturday. Four games came down to the wire simultaneously:

1) Leading by only one point at LSU with a minute to go, Mississippi St. needed some stops. And the much-maligned pair of Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost came through for Mississippi St. First, Sidney blocked a shot in the lane. Then on the next possession, Bost stripped the ball allowing time to expire. Normally you expect star players to win the game on the offensive end, but today Mississippi St.’s stars won it on the defensive end.

2) Trailing by one point while hosting Iowa, Indiana called time out. Then the Hoosiers wasted about 15 seconds without doing anything which caused a frustrated Tom Crean to call time out again. After this time out, Indiana’s Verdell Jones took a tough pull-up in the lane, and Victor Oladipo missed a tip-in that would have won the game at the buzzer. Iowa held on.

3) Generally, FG droughts are a dumb statistic. If a team is still scoring at the FT line, the fact that they do not make any FGs from the floor is irrelevant. But at a certain length of time, FG droughts do become an interesting stat. And Memphis went 11:47 in the second half vs Gonzaga without making a bucket from the floor. At a certain point Gonzaga just realized that Memphis could not make jumpers and started packing 4 or 5 players in the paint. The strategy almost worked, but a couple of late baskets, most notably Antonio Barton’s game-winner, were the difference. Barton’s game-winning shot was all the more amazing because it was a complete brick. It hit the back of the rim, but instead of the normal ricochet out of the basket area, the ball died, and fell into the hoop. Hey, sometimes when you go 11:47 without a made basket, you catch a break.

4) Meanwhile, on the tree-floor at Oregon, Washington suffered its 3rd straight loss. Despite a relentless effort by Isaiah Thomas to get the ball to the basket and extend the game, Oregon made enough free throws to hang on. Washington was rated 6th in the Pomeroy ratings last week, but 2 losses to Oregon schools have caused their rating to plummet. Credit should go to Oregon's Joevan Catron for a number of key baskets that put the game away late.

Speaking of Washington, things have not gone that well for the Maui invitational field lately. Washington has lost 3 in a row. Connecticut barely won at Seton Hall tonight and Kemba Walker is falling out of the national POY race. Ignoring Saturday night’s game (which is in progress), Kentucky was only 4-3 in SEC play. And Michigan St. is struggling more than any of these teams. You have to believe all four coaches can get their teams back on track, but while these Maui particpants once looked like Final Four contenders, none would be a clear Final Four pick right now.

Other thoughts in my head:

-Thursday night my wife noted the following: Doesn’t Abromitis sound like some sort of medical condition. As in:

“Did you know that kid has been playing with Abromitis all year?”
“Wow, that can really be painful. I’m glad to see he’s toughing it out.”

-When USF plays at the St. Pete Forum in Tampa, why don’t they paint the floor green? A lot of these Big East schools have alternate arenas, but most of them make some effort to make it seem like a home floor. Poor Stan Heath, this is what he is working with.

Georgetown - Providence

I have not had much to say about Georgetown this year. Part of that is because this is such a veteran team, that there are not a lot of NEW observations to be made. But I still remember how upset Doug Gottlieb got when the Hoyas "got lucky" and won a ton of close games with Jesse Sapp, Jonathan Wallace, and Roy Hibbert. And I wonder if Doug Gottlieb is going to freak out when he sees the ending of the Georgetown-Providence game today. Chris Wright made an amazing play to steal the ball, but it looks an awful lot like he calls time out despite the fact that Georgetown did not have any timeouts left. The officials didn’t grant it, so it was not a technical foul. But if I was a Providence fan, I would have definitely wanted two free throws in that situation.

Georgetown continues to struggle in games where a single player gets hot. I think of Stephen Curry in the tournament a few years ago, Armon Bassett in the tournament last year, and even Dominique Jones at the Verizon Center not that long ago. Today Marshon Brooks scored 43 points. I’ve always thought it was because Georgetown did not have a single lock-down defensive stopper. But now I wonder if it might be a flaw in John Thompson’s coaching. He said after the game that when a player is having a career day, he tells the players to focus on shutting off the other players. He figures it is rare that one player can win a game single-handedly. Over the long haul, I think that’s right. But in the NCAA tournament, I’m not sure I would want to risk it. I’d love to see someone (Jerrelle Benimon perhaps?) take it upon himself to become a lock-down defender for this team.

Also, even though he did not play well today, I have to commend Hollis Thompson for hanging tough and realizing what a spark he can be off the bench. His three pointer against Louisville on Monday was the deciding factor, and you need players who are willing to put the team first. After Larry Drew transferred this week in response to his new role as a bench player, I am reminded what a mature decision it is for Hollis to accept a role coming off the bench. As we saw against Louisville, just because he does not start, that does not mean Thompson will not be on the floor in crunch time.


The Illinois vs Northwestern game was not on TV in my area, but thanks to the miracle known as a “Slingbox”, I was able to watch the game. A few notes:

-CBS claimed this was the first time CBS televised a game at Northwestern. Is that really possible?

-CBS kept talking about how long a streak it had been since Northwestern had defeated a ranked team. But their last win over a ranked team came in 2010. I’m not saying it is a meaningless streak, but we’re not talking about DePaul here.

-Northwestern won despite Luka Mirkovic being called for an unintentional punch to the face. Northwestern won despite a bad-offensive goaltending call wiping out a basket.

-Davide Curletti’s block of Mike Tisdale’s shot in the first half was one of those plays that was quite symbolic of Tisdale’s career. For all the big shots he has made, smaller defenders can still easily guard the Illini’s 7 foot center. Bruce Weber responded by putting Meyers Leonard in the game and Leonard proceeded to get a monster wrap-around dunk. You sometimes wonder if the Illinois freshman should be playing more because the seniors continue to fail in key situations. Mike Tisdale seemingly can only score on the pick-and-roll, and when teams play zone he is a non-factor. Mike Davis made some key plays in this game, but he also missed a ton of two point jumpers. Davis, more than anyone, needs to realize the value of drawing contact inside. And Demetri McCamey was once again a non-factor for the first 35 minutes of the game.

Last week I mentioned that Illinois had been unlucky for 7 years in a row, and David Hess recently did a little analysis of what impacts luck. If you have not read it, please check it out.


I really hate the focus on seeding and the bubble this time of year because there are so many games left to play. If teams win, things tend to take care of themselves.

But Northwestern’s resume has to be mentioned. Even with this win, Northwestern is just 1-8 vs the RPI top 50, and 2-8 vs the RPI top 100. As much as I’d like to see Northwestern make a surprise run at the NCAA tournament, if I’m going to cheer for a surprise Big Ten team at this point, it has to be Penn St.

I’ve also started to believe that Alabama is a solid team this year based on their improving Pomeroy rating and great conference record, but we cannot overlook how terrible the SEC West is this year. Alabama is just 2-4 against the RPI top 100 (beating Kentucky and Tennessee.) With the weakness of the SEC West, Saturday Night’s OT win at Tennessee was enormous for the Crimson tide.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

49-47 in the ACC and the Unintended Consequence of the New Injury Sub Rule

I love Tony Bennett in the ACC. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to watch Big Ten teams play Wisconsin or Penn St., and I love seeing Bennett bring that painful slow-paced magic to the ACC. Clemson scored 13 in the first half of this game. Virginia had 13 through the first 19 minutes of the second half. Ouch.

The end of this game actually had a very interesting sequence. Virginia’s Mustapha Farrakhan was 6 of 6 from the free throw line, and showed no signs that he would miss. But Clemson hit him in the gut on a late game foul which caused Farrakhan to leave the game. The unfortunate thing was that the new “replacement player” rule came into effect. Instead of Virginia choosing a replacement free throw shooter, Clemson got to choose a player, and Clemson chose Assane Sene who was shooting 56% on the year. So apparently the new best strategy when you can’t get the ball out of a good free throw shooters hands might be to innocently hit them below the belt.

In some sense, the NCAA rule is a catch 22. The old rule rewarded teams for faking an injury. The new rule rewards teams for injuring a good player and getting him out of the game. The good news is that it is usually hard to intentionally injure a player without getting a flagrant or technical foul, so the new rule is probably the right rule. But late in the Virginia – Clemson game, it certainly did not seem that way.

But despite this 49-47 drama, the real fun of the night was elsewhere:

With 10 seconds left, and trailing #6 San Diego St. by 2 points, Colorado St.’s Travis Franklin got the ball in the lane and converted a bucket to tie. Then, without calling timeout, San Diego St.’s DJ Gay took the ball the length of the floor and hit a pull-up jumper for the game winner.

Not to be outdone, Rutger’s Robert Lumpkins hit a pair of threes to pull Rutgers close to St. John’s in the final seconds. Then coming off a beautiful screen, Lumpkins hit a wide open three to tie the game with 20 seconds left. St. John’s ran some clock and called timeout, and then Justin Browlee, who injured his finger earlier this week, caught the ball in the lane and made the game-winning basket. Four fantastic end-game shots in a five minute span. This is why I watch.

A few other notes on these games:
CBS CS was airing the SDSU-CSU game, and the post-game interview with Steve Fisher was one of the longest post-game interviews I have heard in some time. Um, isn’t there suppose to be a limit of 3 questions or something?

Obviously the Duke win was more important, but in a lot of ways, this game was vital to St. John’s NCAA chances. Their schedule was front-loaded with a ton of Top 25 opponents, but if St. John’s does not beat some of the lower level Big East teams down the stretch, everything they have done so far will be meaningless. And Mike Rice’s Rutgers team is no longer a push-over. I thought Rice was going a little crazy when he was taking players out one-at-a-time for committing stupid turnovers in the second half. But Rice has Rutgers believing they can compete. Lumpkins, a transfer from New Mexico St., still has hideous three point shooting numbers on the year, but he is on fire right now. He also hit some big shots late in the loss to Pittsburgh.

Other games:

-Missouri had another frantic comeback at Oklahoma St. Almost all Missouri games seem more entertaining when they are behind. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they could not finish the comeback, and they are now winless on the road in the Big 12.

-Mason Plumlee’s dunk with 8 minutes to go when Maryland had cut the lead to 5 was one of those critical, rally interrupting plays. I keep seeing flashes of brilliance out of Plumlee, and that’s why I enjoy watching him despite his horrific turnover rate and worst efficiency rating in the Duke rotation. I assume Mike Krzyzewski puts up with his turnovers because of his great rebounding numbers.

-I am becoming a huge fan of Villanova’s Mouphtaou Yarou. When he is in the ball-game, Villanova is just a different team defensively. 7 footers can do that. Marquette now sits as the 11th place Big East bubble team. This is probably a good time to take the trip down to USF, right?

-On a night when C-USA leading UAB and Memphis both lost at home, UTEP’s game was postponed. Sometimes the best thing your team can do is not play. If the game is made up tomorrow and UTEP loses, there would be 6 teams in first place with 3 losses. (Southern Miss at 6-3 would technically have a half game lead.)

-Thanks to VCU’s loss, George Mason is now tied for first in the CAA.

-Duquesne crushed George Washington. The margin-of-victory numbers are going to continue to love this team. And thanks to Xavier’s surprise loss at Charlotte, Duquesne now sits alone in first place in the A10.

-The bottom of the Big Ten is making the middle of the Big Ten look very incompetent. Here are my thoughts on Indiana’s three point win over Minnesota:

Hoosier Havoc Part 2

Sports do not always follow the script. I had a couple of themes in my head prior to the Minnesota – Indiana game.

The first theme was going to be how Indiana is a bad match-up for Minnesota. The Hoosiers foul at a higher rate than any team in a BCS conference, and Minnesota is not particularly adept at the charity stripe.

The second story was going to be how Minnesota was going to struggle with ball-handling now that Al Nolen is out. While Michigan and Northwestern, by virtue of their passive defensive, were not going to expose Minnesota’s ball-handling, Indiana surely was going to attack this weakness.

Of course neither storyline really came to pass. Minnesota struggled with ball-handling early, and Indiana’s ball-pressure prevented Minnesota from passing the ball inside. But Minnesota’s turnover rate for the game was not excessive. And the Gophers actually forced a number of Hoosier turnovers during a late comeback.

As for the free throws, Minnesota made only 11 of 22, and Blake Hoffarber surprisingly missed two technical free throws, but free throws hardly seemed like the story of the day either.

The story of the day was Indiana’s tenacity on the offensive boards. Tom Pritchard scored what will be his career highlight dunk in the first half on a run-the-lane, sky-in-the air, and thunder-home the offensive rebound dunk. And despite the fact that Minnesota did grab a slightly higher percentage of offensive boards 41% to 36%, Indiana’s competitiveness in this category was the difference in the game. Amazingly the Hoosiers two big wins, against Illinois and Minnesota, came in games when Indiana did not shoot the ball incredibly well. But they made enough of the other plays to hang on for victory.

I honestly cannot decide whether I respect Tom Crean a lot as a coach or dislike him. On the one hand, no coach in the country (outside perhaps former assistant Buzz Williams), is better at teaching great post defense to smaller players. (Note to Bill Carmody, just because the other team is bigger, does not mean they have to dominate the paint.) But I also question the length of the rebuilding process in year three at Indiana. Maybe John Calipari sets the bar too high, but you might expect a storied program to be winning some game on talent, not just grit.

I also tend to dislike many of the defensive techniques Tom Crean’s players use. When Daniel Moore pulled Blake Hoffarber out of bounds by hooking his elbow, that was just an unnecessary play. There was also the play where one of the Indiana players kicked Trevor Mbakwe’s foot out from underneath him. After the Derek Elston’s trip at Northwestern earlier this year, I expected Tom Crean to suspend him and try to clean up the program. Instead, I’m starting to believe he teaches his players to push the boundaries. The fact that they lead the nation in fouling leads me to believe they do.

Has Tom Crean saved his job with a nice mid-season streak of games? Who knows? Let’s see how the team finishes the season.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Kentucky is not a terrible road team, Harrison Barnes is getting better

After watching Kentucky fall on the road for the 3rd time in SEC play, I’m sure a lot of people are going to say that Kentucky is a terrible road team this year. And certainly, the splits bear that out to some degree. Here is Kentucky’s Adjusted Offense and Defense, replicating the Pomeroy formula, but NOT adjusting for venue:

Adj Off: 120.3
Adj Def: 84.3

Adj Off: 116.1
Adj Def: 85.6

Adj Off: 114.0
Adj Def: 94.1

Kentucky’s defense has been a little bit worse on the road, but Kentucky’s splits are very similar to the average D1 team. In fact, when I adjust for venue, using Pomeroy's traditional home/road weights, the road/home difference is not that big, especially regarding the offense:

Adj Off: 118.6
Adj Def: 85.5

Adj Off: 116.1
Adj Def: 85.6

Adj Off: 115.6
Adj Def: 92.8

The real problem for Kentucky is that the teams they have played on the road in the SEC are not as bad as people think. Georgia has at least three or four of the top players in the SEC, depending on your metric. Alabama, much like Florida St., is an incredible defensive team that can beat anyone any time. And Ole Miss was a pre-season favorite to contend for the SEC West title. Ole Miss has not played well, but that does not mean the Rebels do not have some good players on the team.

Mississippi's Chris Warren is destined to go down as one of the most under-rated players in SEC history. Despite playing in virtual obscurity thanks to the SEC West having a limited number of TV games over the last 4 years, Warren has done nothing but produce. This year he once again has a nice assist rate, and a high number of threes made. But most importantly he is great at avoiding turnovers despite being a primary ball handler. Here are his career ORtgs according to StatSheet:

Freshman: 108.4
Sophomore: 110.7
Junior: 116.3
Senior: 122.4

Tuesday is a night we should be applauding Chris Warren for winning a big game in his senior season, not knocking the Wildcats.

The other big story Tuesday was Harrison Barnes emerging with his second 20 point game of the season. I’m not quite ready to anoint Barnes as a star, because the debacle at Georgia Tech was not that long ago, but he has definitely improved his shooting. Here are his eFG% splits. (Remember eFG% gives 3/2 weight to made threes.)

Harrison Barnes eFG%
First 9 games: 38.1%
Next 10 games: 47.2%
Last 2 games: 72.6%

72.6% is not sustainable over the course of the season, but it is a sign that Barnes is now at least sometimes, a dominant player.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Can we ask for a Delayed Reality Series?

Ken Pomeroy asked a new question on Monday. Should the NCAA committee go out and watch games? But that is not his real question. His real question is whether the NCAA committee should care about style of offense, the quality of guard play, and the quality of post play? And he answers with a resounding “no”. He argues that we should not confuse an already ridiculous process with more irrelevant variables. And I cannot imagine anyone disagreeing with him on that point. (Unless you have an injury situation to analyze, these types of data points should not come into the discussion.)

But I think his general question is actually more fascinating. Should the NCAA committee go out and watch college basketball games? I think the answer is a resounding yes. If the NCAA committee was made up of librarians who never watched college basketball, would they really have a handle on how to rank basketball teams? NCAA committee members should care about basketball and want to watch basketball games whenever possible.

Stats Do Not Tell Us Everything in Basketball

One of the things I love about basketball is that it is not baseball. Not every important piece of information can be found in a Sabermetric log. There are a ton of things you can learn by watching games that you just cannot pick up in the box score data. As an example, Kevin Pelton recently posted a fantastic discussion of what stats can and cannot tell us about NBA players. It is not a fair comparison, because Ken Pomeroy is asking about team quality and not player quality. And I cannot currently think of any team statistics that are not measured in the box score. But I would put it this way: Having more information is a good thing. I do not think anyone should harass the committee for attempting to learn more about teams throughout the season.

But the real problem that Ken and others identify is what happens if watching a subset of games causes the selection committee to have biased perceptions. [[This concern about “human bias” has long been discussed in the context of the BCS. The problem is that even if humans can be biased, at least humans are dynamic. People can put the wrong weight on certain pieces of data, but absent new forms of artificial intelligence, computers can only handle the problems they have encountered before. Formulas cannot anticipate or deal with unique or unusual new situations. I don’t know which form of bias is larger. I don’t know whether “personal experience bias” or “new situation bias” is a bigger problem. But I do know that computers will never win this argument. No selection process will survive if its conclusions do not mesh with popular opinion. And in the BCS, virtually all the weight has been put on the polls because that is the only system people will accept.]]

The idea that the NCAA selection committee may be biased by seeing a subset of games does not bother me. I happen to believe that people are quite capable of putting things in context. They can watch St. John’s win on Sunday and know that it is only one data point. Perception bias is a risk I am willing to take in order to have an engaged, aware, and thoughtful committee.

Moreover, if we are really concerned about personal biases, I would love to see the NCAA committee institute a monitoring system. We want the committee members to be free to have open and honest discussions, so I would not release the documentary immediately. But what if CBS recorded the NCAA selection process and agreed to air it 10 years after the tournament occurred? Would that be the most fascinating reality series of all time?

Wouldn’t you love to someday go back and listen to the discussion of where Davidson deserved to be seeded when Stephen Curry had led them on that long winning streak? What about when Memphis earned a 1-seed in 2006 with a questionable resume but a dominant late-season performance.

And wouldn’t it be fun to hear the committee debate the age-old questions? What value should we put on winning on the road relative to at home? What value do we put on close losses? What value do we put on how a team has played recently?

Ken Pomeroy may find his formula to be the best way to answer these dilemmas, but I think he would agree this is not a one-dimensional question. People can differ in the weights they put on different factors.

Ken’s rightful crusade is to try to remove the RPI from team data sheets, because the RPI is very weakly correlated with anything meaningful. And his crusade to eliminate non-essential variables like “style-of-offense” from the discussion is important. But I would never discourage the committee from following college basketball and collecting more information, even if watching games induces the possibility of “subset bias”.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday Notes

1) I’ve come to take it for granted that every enjoyable game is available on cable or, but this week a lot of the interesting non-BCS games were nowhere to be found. UAB took a late lead against UCF and continued the UCF conference play collapse, but I could not find the game. Charlotte and La Salle went to double overtime, but it was not on locally. Meanwhile the non-BCS games that were on TV tended to be blowouts. George Mason easily beat William & Mary in the annual battle of green and gold. Xavier at Richmond was surprisingly not competitive. And so I have no lead story about the under-rated game of the day.

2) Despite my hopes that Penn St. vs Wisconsin would be a 40-38 affair in a 46 possession game that would break the shot clock, the two slow paced Big Ten teams produced a relatively exciting game. Penn St. beat a 3rd ranked opponent at home to improve to 5-4 in the Big Ten. But why do the Big Ten schedule makers hate Penn St. so much this year? Penn St. plays ever team twice EXCEPT Indiana and Iowa. That’s just not fair.

Of course, if Penn St. finishes 9-9 in the Big Ten and 16-13 on the year, they will be a very interesting bubble case. Before you condemn the 16-13 record, remember they are projected to finish with a top 5 SOS. And even though it is really too early to speculate who will be in the RPI top 100, a 16-13 Penn St. team would probably have 8 top 100 wins. That would certainly put them in the discussion.

3) Is the SEC West better than we think? Or is the SEC East worse than we think? Given what happened in the non-conference schedule, I know some people expected a 36-0 sweep by the East, but halfway through the East-West matchups, the East only leads the series 12-6. Even Auburn earned a win against South Carolina on Saturday, and no one expected that at the end of December. I do question Tony Barbee’s sanity leaving a C-USA leading UTEP team for this mess, but Auburn has become a no lose situation for him, at least in the short term. Any Auburn win is considered a huge accomplishment at this point.

4) I wrote on Tuesday that Arizona St. was not as bad as their record indicated, and I was looking forward to saying “I told you so”. But then UCLA pulled out the win at ASU in overtime. (And if UCLA could have grabbed missed free throws, it would not have taken the extra session.)

5) Remember when Iowa St. was picked to have a winning Big 12 record by After losing at home in overtime to Oklahoma, Iowa St. is now 1-6 in Big 12 play. Non-conference games don’t tell us everything.

6) Most of my other comments today seem like clichés:

-College teams often win a huge game and then go on the road and overlook their next opponent. See BYU and St. Mary’s.

-Teams often get caught looking ahead. See Texas A&M, looking past Nebraska prior to the Big Monday game against Texas.

-There is parity in college basketball. See Pittsburgh and Ohio St.’s close wins.

But hold on a second. I get the feeling people think Ohio St. is not that good because they keep winning close. But I think it is very impressive to keep winning, even when you do not play well. It is very impressive to win when your opponent is on fire, as Michael “Juice” Thompson was late in Saturday’s game. I keep hearing that there are no “great” teams in college basketball this year, but I don’t buy it. I think there is a huge gap between the top tier and the next tier. Forget SI’s “Magic Eight”. I think there are only 6 teams with a legitimate shot at a national title. Here’s the list:

Ohio St.

I don’t think anyone else is really close.
-John Calipari has really been a magician this year, but I don’t think Kentucky can win 6 games in a row with that young a team.
-I think Purdue’s lack of depth in the paint will eventually cause them to lose in the tournament. (Although they proved again today that they can rebound against bigger teams.)
-I think BYU and San Diego St. are fantastic, but I don’t see either really cutting down the nets.
-And most of the rest of the team’s with the best margin-of-victory numbers are in the Big East. And I’m not quite ready to endorse anyone other than Pittsburgh in that conference.

7) Speaking of the Big East, fantastic win for Marquette on Saturday, but it really was not a surprise. Everyone who follows college basketball knows that Buzz Williams’ teams work as hard as anyone in the country. And another fantastic win for Louisville. After I blasted Mike Marra for his terrible 3 point shooting, of course he hit a critical shot late in the game. With three one point wins this month, people are going to start calling Louisville “lucky” and over-rated, but I’d rather be 6-2 and lucky than 3-5.

And of course a fantastic win for Georgetown at Villanova. A few quick bullets from the Hoya perspective:

-I continue to be concerned about Georgetown’s big men’s ability to score in the paint. Teams keep hugging the shooters and daring Julian Vaughn and Henry Sims to win the one-on-one battle, and while both have improved this season, neither can consistently score against taller players. This may seem like an odd comment after a win, but until Mouphtaou Yarou got in foul trouble, I thought he was a huge defensive difference maker. Sims has turned into a great passer this season, but he needs to develop at least one true post move.

-I loved Georgetown’s ability to avoid charges against Villanova. I know the fans in attendance must have been going nuts, but when you looked at the replays, Georgetown was constantly jumping to the side of Villanova players that were trying to draw the charge.

-I loved the emotion Julian Vaughn gave us around the 10 minute mark of the second half. Vaughn was fouled after grabbing a defensive rebound and realized he needed to go to the other end to shoot a one-and-one. The look on his face said he was not sure he could convert, but he knew the free throws were critical. And after he made them both, you could just tell his smile was a little bigger than normal.

-I hated ESPN for giving us “bonus coverage” of the UConn game and missing the late 7-0 run for Villanova. How did Georgetown go from up 8, to up 3 with Nova at the free throw line? Like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie-pop, the world may never know.

-I loved Austin Freeman’s toughness in this game. His heavily guarded pull-up jumper in the corner was not his only amazing shot. He also hit a jumper in the lane while falling to the ground where Doris Burke and I simultaneously praised Freeman’s incredible strength. And Freeman got a key offensive rebound on another of his misses. Freeman does not have the classic quickness of most guards, but his strength and touch are off the charts.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Illinois continues to fold under pressure

With 25 seconds left and trailing by one point, Mike Tisdale caught the ball in the lane for Illinois while being guarded by a smaller Indiana defender. He took two dribbles away from the basket, and proceeded to throw the ball in the corner and out-of-bounds. It was the perfect microcosm of the Illinois season to date. The announcer said it perfectly. “No one on Illinois looks like they want to take the shot right now.”

Here in brief, is a recap of all conference games and key non-conference games for Illinois this season:

Big lead vs Maryland, Maryland comes back late but basically runs out of time
Big lead vs North Carolina
Big lead vs Gonzaga
Big lead vs Iowa
Big lead vs Northwestern
Relatively close game against Wisconsin, but Wisconsin can never make any shots or make a run
Clutch win against Michigan St., McCamey makes some very tough threes to seal the game

Loss to Texas in OT - Texas forced the ball out of McCamey’s hands and Illinois could not execute
Loss to UIC – Illinois took a late lead, but could not execute on the final possessions
Loss to Missouri - Illinois was down by one in the final minute, but Missouri sealed it with an 8-0 run
Loss to Penn St. – Penn St. wins in the final seconds
Loss to Wisconsin – Never really close
Loss to Ohio St. – Illinois blows 8 point second half lead and cannot execute in the final minutes (but a lot of that may be because Ohio St. is legitimately an elite team)
Loss to Indiana – Mike Tisdale throws away a chance to take the lead late

What you see is a pattern very consistent with a team with solid margin-of-victory numbers. When Illinois wins, they win big. But in virtually every pressure situation this season, Illinois has failed. This leads to several thoughts:

1) Demetri McCamey is still not a consistent winner.

Demetri McCamey was told by NBA scouts that to be a 1st round draft pick, he needed to win more games. So far, he is failing again this season. Over 4 years, McCamey has developed an incredible chemistry with his 3 fellow seniors. His gaudy assist numbers are a function of the fact that he knows the type of shot each teammate likes, and he can find them in perfect rhythm. McCamey also runs the pick-and-roll exceptionally well with Tisdale, and he has picked up on a lot of Deron William’s NBA mannerisms for how to run selectively and surprise opponents with a change of acceleration. In a lot of ways, McCamey the college player is like Deron the NBA player. But that is actually why I think the comparison to Deron Williams is a terrible one. McCamey’s college game is very refined. He seems to be playing at near his peak performance. On the other hand, Williams was only using a fraction of his talent by the time he was a junior at Illinois. Williams never ran the pick and roll. He was still learning how to use his quickness effectively. Williams had significant upside as a junior. McCamey is a polished college senior without much more room to grow.

2) Bruce Weber should be on the hot seat.

I am very hesitant to say this, because I think it is wrong to be reactionary to close losses. And Bruce Weber is absolutely one of the great teachers of college basketball. But I jump back to something Weber said after his Final Four run in 2005. After the team went 37-2, there were lots of fans that said, “We’ll win it next year.” And Bruce Weber was very cautious. “You have to enjoy this season for what it was. 37-2 was a very special year. Seasons like that do not come around very often.” Weber hoped to be back in the Final Four, but he knew that even for dominant coaches like Mike Krzyzewski, there can be long Final Four droughts.

The question for most teams is not whether they can make the Final Four every year. The question is whether, when the team is back, when the talent is there, can they live up to their potential?

And there can be no question that this is a talented Illinois team. This is one of the greatest collections of shooters ever assembled. No BCS conference team shoots better from 3 point range than Illinois, and seven of the nine rotations players are clearly great shooters.

But when the shots are not falling, Illinois does not step up and make the basketball plays it needs to win. They do not drive and get fouled. They do not get the key steal. They do not get the key stop. Statistically, the most glaring deficiency is probably the team’s defensive rebounding. And Indiana and Penn St. both beat Illinois with offensive put-backs.

The end result is the scatterbrained outcomes you see above. When the shots are falling, Illinois blows teams out. But when things are not clicking, players are afraid to take the shot.

At one point, the question was whether Illinois could compete for a Big Ten title. Then the question was whether the team could make a Sweet Sixteen run and make some real noise in the NCAA tournament. Today, the question is more appropriately whether Illinois can make the NCAA tournament at all. Like Purdue, Illinois has a schedule that was very favorable early. But Illinois ends the year with road trips to Ohio St., Purdue, Michigan St., Minnesota, and a desperate Northwestern team. Simply finishing 10-8 or 9-9 and qualifying for the NCAA tournament would probably qualify as a success at this point. And that is why Bruce Weber should be on the hot seat this year.

3) Margin-of-victory is not everything.

Illinois continues to be ranked much higher in Sagarin’s predictor than in their Elo Chess ranking, reflecting what I stated above. When Illinois wins, they win big. When they lose, they lose close games.

Pomeroy calls this difference luck. And for the most part, we tend to believe this is random noise, not a real skill. (People have argued very persuasively that clutch hitting does not exist in baseball. And I’ve studied the “luck” numbers in college basketball, and the year-to-year correlations in “luck” are pretty small.)

To the extent some coaches are consistently unlucky, that reflects the fact that if you have a large enough sample, sometimes a coin will come up tails 7 times in a row. But I think it is interesting that Bruce Weber’s teams have not had a positive luck rating since his first year with the team (2003-2004). Many years his team’s luck ratings have been close to zero, but at no point have Bruce Weber’s teams really over-achieved.

And at a certain point, you do ask if there is something to the poor play in close games. If Mike Tisdale takes that shot in the lane and it clangs off the back rim, I probably deem it to be bad luck. But when he passes up the shot, and kicks it to a corner where no one is currently standing, that is when I scratch my head. Big Ten Geeks described Illinois' performance this way. "The Illini simply looked lost offensively down the stretch, when almost any aggressive play to the basket would have probably gotten them a trip to the foul line." That type of description is not just bad luck.

At a certain point, when a team fails to execute in pressure situations, I begin to believe that they are a bad team. And that is where I am with Illinois. Until I see them play well under pressure, I am very skeptical that they can perform under pressure.

And this also causes me to ponder a frequent blog question:

4) Should margin-of-victory matter for NCAA seeding?

In past years, fans of the tempo free stats have discussed in length the idea that when seeding teams, margin-of-victory should not be ignored. It is important that the 1-seed not face an 8-seed with great margin-of-victory numbers in the second round or there is no benefit to earning a 1-seed.

But watching Illinois reminds me that I’m not even sure that is right. The question is not necessarily the average quality of a team, but how often they play great. Would you rather face a team that is dominant half the time, and terrible half the time, or a team that has rarely shown signs of being dominant, but usually executes in close games?

Or to put it another way, I would be much more afraid to face Michigan St. than Illinois this year. In terms of margin-of-victory, Michigan St. has not been nearly as good as Illinois. But when the games are close, when the pressure is on, Tom Izzo and his players have been able to execute. And even when they lose, as they did Thursday, they still had a shot to win at the end. Against Michigan, Keith Appling’s three was in-and-out, and with a different flip of the coin, that game goes differently. For Illinois, I don’t feel the same way. I don’t think Illinois deserves a better seed just because they have better margin-of-victory numbers.

And this is why, despite people’s complaints about New Mexico’s seeding last year, or possible complaint’s about Washington’s seeding in mock bracket’s this year, that I continue to love the NCAA tournament selection format. In the end, a group of people reach a consensus and decide on the bracket. There is no formula; there is no guaranteed critical criteria. There are just a group of smart basketball people that are using the best available information to reach a consensus. The process is not perfect, but I think it is the best outcome of any sport.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Is Kansas better with Josh Selby? How much did Notre Dame miss Carleton Scott?

No numeric ranking system that I am aware of includes the impact of injuries or transfers. As I discussed last year, Ken Pomeroy’s does weight recent games more heavily, and after studying his methodology last year, I’m convinced that in the vast majority of cases this is adequate. But let’s face it. We are all curious. We want to see the injury or suspension splits. Are teams better or worse without their stars?

Today I am going to talk about almost every major injury, suspension, and transfer this season. My list includes over 100 events that caused players to miss games, but even my list is not exhaustive. First, I am limiting myself to the top 7 RPI conferences (plus the top of the A10, Butler, and Gonzaga).

I am also going to limit myself to players who play at least 50% of their team’s minutes when active. The NCAA tournament committee does take a look at a player’s on-court contribution when evaluating injuries, and almost no player can be deemed irreplaceable when he plays less than half the team’s minutes when healthy. In the end, you’ll see of the approximately 100 events, only a handful really make a difference in our evaluation of NCAA tournament teams.

A few quick notes:

-Data are through Monday January 24th.

- I am NOT presenting raw offensive and defensive splits. I am replicating the Pomeroy method that adjusts for the quality of opponent. I calculate the adjusted offense and adjusted defense. To the extent my splits do not add up to his totals, keep in mind that he weights recent games more heavily.

-Also keep in mind that the sample sizes are small in almost every analysis you see here. Quite a few of these results seem believable, but with small sample sizes unusual outcomes can always skew the results.

-Finally, notice that my list does not include players that have missed the entire season. When a player misses the whole season, the ranking is no longer misleading. If we want to know how Purdue will perform without Robbie Hummel, the full season ranking is adequate.

25 Splits You Need to Know

I present a table with the numeric splits below. (Scroll down if you are impatient.)

1) I’m mostly going to focus on players who missed games, but John Shurna is the lone exception. He injured his ankle against Mt. St. Mary’s and he has been trying to play through it. I think it is interesting to note that Northwestern’s offense has continued to play well even after his injury. But Northwestern’s defense has taken another step back since he was hurt. Obviously having one of your defenders lose lateral quickness is not going to help you win games. The difference is pretty minimal however.

2) Next, I present Minnesota with and without Al Nolen. Nolen re-injured his foot on Saturday, and may miss the rest of the season. Minnesota has been a substantially worse team defensively and offensively without its starting point guard. And the future outcome may be even worse when you remember that Minnesota had Devoe Joseph to fill in for Nolen during his previous injury. Joseph has recently transferred and now the Gophers must turn to three freshman guards to fill the void. I’m a little skeptical that Nolen is as big a difference maker as these splits show. But Nolen has historically been one of the Gopher’s best defenders. And as someone who has watched almost all their games this year, let me confirm that Nolen does matter to the Gopher offense. When he can drive into the lane and create, this is a different team. If you don’t think Nolen matters, go back and watch the Gopher's wins in Puerto Rico. Nolen almost single-handedly won the game against West Virginia by driving into the paint and creating for his teammates.

3) Louisville has been a bit of an injury nightmare, and I’m not even counting Jared Swopshire who is out for the year. First and foremost, Rakeem Buckles injured his finger and has been out for a month, and Mike Marra injured his ankle and missed four games. And Terrence Jennings and Kyle Kuric have also missed games this season. I’m going to slice it three ways. Louisville without Buckles (which is the current state of the world), Louisville without various other players, and Louisville at near full-strength (but minus Swopshire of course.)

Louisville has been struggling substantially on defense without Buckles in the lineup. At first his impact on the defense may seem too big. But remember he has a 25% defensive rebounding rate and he is one of the only Louisville players who is an elite defensive rebounder. They clearly miss his defensive post presence.

More surprising is the fact that Louisville’s offense has been much worse when the team has been at full strength. That might be a bit of a fluke. Louisville blew out St. John’s in a game Marra and Jennings sat out, and blew out some non-conference opponents when Marra sat out. If you really want to believe Marra is a drag on the Louisville offense, consider that he is only shooting 27% on 95 three point attempts this year. In other words, Louisville without Buckles is worse defensively, Louisville without Marra might be a better offensive team.

4) Carleton Scott missed four Notre Dame games with a hamstring injury and the team played substantially worse when he was out. Scott is currently Notre Dame’s most efficient offensive player, so I think we need to seriously discount their performance in losses at Marquette and St. John’s. This team is almost certainly better than the 26th best team in the nation (the current Pomeroy rank.) With Scott healthy, I have Notre Dame as the 14th best team in the nation.

5) Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell injured his wrist and then was shot. Seton Hall’s offense suffered tremendously when he was out, but since he is not 100% yet, the offense has not rebounded to form either.

6) South Florida’s Augustus Gilchrist had philosophical differences with his coach that caused him to miss 3 games in December. (Jarrid Famous was also out for one of these 3 games, a five point loss to Kent. St.) And I can’t even remember why Anthony Crater was out for 3 games in December. But the offense is clearly better with everyone available. The splits are even more surprising when you consider Crater missed USF’s best performance of the year, a near win against BYU. In non-BYU games without Gilchrist or Crater the team has really struggled.

7) Josh Selby was declared eligible part of the way through the season and the Kansas offense and defense have played worse since he joined the team. The Pomeroy rankings currently have Kansas 3rd nationally, but with Selby they have looked more like the 7th best team in the country. Now, you can argue that Kansas was never really tested before Selby showed up, but I don’t think that is fair. Selby currently has a terrible assist to turnover ratio and has struggled with his two point field goal shooting. I fully expect Selby to get better, but so far Kansas has not played better with him on the floor.

8) I think Nebraska’s loss of Christian Standhardinger is a little over-rated. He only played six games and the team has performed at a high level without him. (But the story about him being cited for indecency was still crazy.)

9) Kansas St. rebounded with a nice win Monday night. One is tempted to ask whether the team’s poor Pomeroy ranking is simply because Curtis Kelly and Jacob Pullen have missed time this year. Curtis Kelly was suspended early in the year because he was not practicing hard enough. Then he missed six games for receiving improper benefits. Jacob Pullen was also suspended for three games for improper benefits. Sadly for Kansas St. fans, these suspensions are not the explanation for Kansas St.’s poor play. Clearly Kansas St.’s defense has been better with both Pullen and Kelly on the floor, but they have struggled offensively even with Pullen and Kelly on the floor.

10) How has Duke performed without Kyrie Irving? Very well, thank you very much. The team has not missed a beat without its star freshman point guard.

11) How has Virginia fared without forward Mike Scott who is out-for-the-year with an ankle injury? Shockingly well. I thought his loss was devastating, but you cannot overlook the emergence of Assane Sene in the post for Virginia this year.

12) How has Virginia Tech fared without Dorenzo Hudson who is out-for-the-year with a foot injury? Surprisingly, they have played better. You might think that is unrealistic, but consider that Hudson had by far the worst ORtg on Virginia Tech. His high turnover rate and low eFG% was a terrible combination. This may legitimately be a case of addition by subtraction.

13) Tracy Smith missed most of November and December and NC State is glad to have him back. The offense has jumped back up with his return.

14) Washington’s splits are the most puzzling of all. Why would the loss of a great scorer and distributor in Abdul Gaddy hurt the defense? Perhaps it is a fluke or perhaps Gaddy’s injury is forcing Washington to play 5’8” Isaiah Thomas and 5’11” Venoy Overton more minutes. Given their lack of size, you can understand the perimeter defense sagging. Then again, this was always going to be a problem once conference play started and Washington started playing taller guards on a regular basis. So maybe it is just a coincidence that Washington’s defense has sagged in Pac-10 play.

15) Jio Fontan joined USC as a mid-season transfer. He’s been playing 33 minutes a game and from the moment he joined the team, USC’s offense and defense have improved. (Note: when joined the team, Bryce Jones playing time shrunk dramatically, which ultimately led to his transferring from the team. I could come up with a new “split” of data after Jones left, but the reality is that Jones ceased being a key member of the rotation the day Fontan showed up.)

16) Gary Franklin decided to transfer from Cal mid-season. He had a 75.7 ORtg prior to the transfer, so it is no surprise that California’s offense has improved with him absent. The defense has slipped however since he left the team.

17) Besides Kansas St., one of the puzzles this year has been the extremely poor play of Arizona St. Say what you will about Herb Sendek, his teams are usually competitive. Clearly injuries have hurt in Pac-10 play. Jamelle McMillan was injured for three games which may have cost Arizona St. in home games against Stanford and California. And the team was missing leading scorer Trent Lockett during the previous trip to Oregon and Oregon St. Arizona St. is playing poorly right now, but when healthy, they are not the worst team in the Pac-10.

18) UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis missed the start of the season after being arrested, then missed two conference games with a knee injury. But the team did not play substantially worse with him out.

19) Drew Gordon transferred to New Mexico mid-season and New Mexico’s defense has slipped since he joined the team. This strikes me as a bit of a surprise because Gordon has been a rebounding machine. Of course, around the time Gordon joined the team, Emmanuel Negadu left the lineup with an injury and he was posting similar rebounding numbers. Perhaps Gordon just needs time to fit into the New Mexico offense and defense.

20) Utah’s Jay Watkins has missed games because of abdominal and back problems this year, and he may be done for the season at this point. But JJ O’Brien missed the start of the season with a foot fracture and has stepped into the lineup. With O’Brien’s additional size, the defense has improved, but the offensive improvement is a puzzle because O’Brien is not an efficient offensive player.

21) Alabama’s best player, JaMychal Green, was suspended for three games in the middle of the season. The offense was substantially worse without him.

22) Georgia’s Trey Thompkins missed the first three games of the season with an ankle injury, and Georgia barely snuck by teams like Mississippi Valley St. without him. Thompkins was missed more on the defensive end. With Thompkins, I have Georgia as the 43rd best team in the country, but Pomeroy lists Georgia as 51st nationally.

23) Mississippi St. finally got Dee Bost back for the start of SEC play, after getting Renardo Sidney on the court a few games earlier. But the team has not played substantially better with both players on the floor. Pomeroy currently predicts a 5-11 finish for Mississippi St. and my splits do not disagree with that assessment. Mississippi St. might finally start to click at some point, but they just do not look like a dominant team right now.

24) LSU’s Ralston Turner has been out for four games with a foot injury and the offense has fallen apart without him. (I know you are laughing and saying LSU’s offense was not great before Turner’s injury, but it has reached a new low.)

25) Auburn’s Andre Malone has decided to transfer, and Frankie Sullivan is out for the year with a knee injury. This might seem irrelevant, but remember Sullivan’s last game for Auburn was the win over Florida St. At the time he was injured Auburn had just started to find a rhythm, winning four in a row. OK, who am I kidding? This was a bad team before; this is still a bad team now. But without Sullivan and Malone the offense is worse, while the defense is trying a little harder.

Less interesting, but here are the splits:

Iowa point guard Cully Payne played the first five games of the season before suffering a season ending back injury. Matt Gaten’s was also struggling to return from an injury and missed a couple games early in the year, so throwing those first five Iowa games out seems to make some sense when evaluating the team. Clearly Iowa has been a better team after the first five games, but part of that may be the fact that Iowa was learning a new system too.

Pittsburgh’s Nasir Robinson had knee surgery and missed the first three games of the season, and played sparingly in the fourth game. Pittsburgh has looked similar before and after he returned.

Texas Tech starting forward D’walyn Roberts has been injury plagued throughout his career and missed much of the non-conference schedule. Texas Tech has looked similar whether he plays or not.

LaceDarius Dunn missed the first three games of the season after an arrest. (AJ Walton also sat out the season-opener.) The offense did not really take off until he returned.

Washington St.’s Reggie Moore missed 5 games with a wrist injury, and one game due to a marijuana charge. (DeAngelo Castro missed two of the same games early in the year.) Washington St. was playing an unsustainable level of defense while he was out.

Vanderbilt’s Andre Walker has missed a ton of games due to injury. But despite hitting the game winner against Marquette, Vanderbilt has not really missed him.

Trevor Gaskins sprained his hamstring and missed three games for Ole Miss. No one really noticed.

Kevin Smith missed the first three games of the season for Richmond. They played great defense early in the year, but with only a three game sample, it was pretty unsustainable.

Sammy Yeager was kicked off the TCU team five games ago with little impact on the team. I know no one cares about TCU, but they will be in the Big East soon.

Worth monitoring

Indiana’s Maurice Creek is out for the season, and Verdell Jones missed the last game with an injury as well. It is still too early to know how the team will respond, but the blowout loss to Iowa was not a good start.

Clemson’s Tanner Smith missed Saturday’s two-point loss at Maryland thanks to a knee sprain. It is not clear how soon he will return.

Washington St.’s Faisal Aden sat out the Arizona St. win with a knee injury and played only limited minutes in the Arizona game.

West Virginia's Casey Mitchell was just suspended indefinitely.

It might have mattered, but it was only one or two games, so I’m not listing a split:
Jereme Richmond missed Illinois’ loss at Wisconsin due to a personal issue.

David Jackson missed Penn St.’s narrow win over Mt. St. Mary’s. That would seem significant except Mt. St. Mary’s was missing five players in that game too. You can also argue that Jackson’s neck injury played a role in the team’s next two games, losses to Virginia Tech and Maine. But that probably wouldn’t be fair. Jackson played very well in those two games. Right now the loss to Maine is Penn St.’s only loss to a team outside the Pomeroy top 75. Penn St. has actually played the second toughest schedule in the country according to Monday Night’s Pomeroy rankings.

Dominic Cheek missed Villanova’s two-point loss to Connecticut. That’s exactly the type of fact that will be passed along to the NCAA committee by the Big East regional scout. (Cheek also played against Syracuse, but I’m not convinced he is fully healthy yet.)

Kris Joseph missed Syracuse’s loss to Pittsburgh after banging his head on the court. And he may not have been full strength in the team’s subsequent loss to Villanova, but based on his 8 of 15 shooting night, I think you would have a hard time making that argument.

Cade Davis missed Oklahoma’s 13 point loss to Baylor. By the way, in case you have not seen an Oklahoma game this year, Cade Davis is a starting guard averaging 36 minutes and 13 points per game, so his absence is nothing to sneeze at.

Texas Tech’s John Roberson missed the team’s one point loss to New Mexico. The starting guard almost never scores, but he is a decent distributor, so perhaps his ball-handling was missed in that game.

Corey Raji was missing for two Boston College wins, but both games were close, and he could have made the margin more comfortable. More importantly, when Biko Paris had the stomach flu on Saturday and missed the game against Florida St., Boston College was blown out. And Danny Rubin did not play in Boston College’s loss to Yale. These guys may not be household names, but all log major minutes for BC and with a team learning a new system, it does not help when players are missing in action.

Erick Green missed Virginia Tech’s loss to UNLV in the 76 Classic thanks to a calf injury. He also missed the team’s win against Oklahoma St. and most of the game against CS Northridge in the same tournament.

Tyler Honeycutt missed UCLA’s one point win over UC Irvine. If he was healthy, it might not have been so close.

Joevan Catron sprained his calf and missed a pair of games against USC and UCLA. Oregon went 1-1 and probably was not going to beat UCLA anyway, but you never know. Malcolm Armstead also missed the loss to Washington St.

Kawhi Leonard and Chase Tapley missed San Diego St.’s win against Cal Poly. I bet San Diego St. wins that game by more than 6 points if they play.

Ronnie Moss missed TCU’s loss to Rice.

Taylor Broekhuis sat out Air Force’s blowout loss to UTEP.

JayDee Luster missed Wyomings’s losses to Missouri and TCU. Djibril Thiam was also out in the loss to TCU.

Melvin Goins missed Tennessee’s four point win over Missouri St. He could have helped make the final margin a little more comfortable.

Lance Goulbourne missed Vanderbilt’s one point win over Marquette. He might have made the final margin more comfortable.

Storm Warren missed LSU’s loss at Virginia. He might have made the final margin more respectable.

Juan Fernandez missed a pair of Temple wins, but the Saint Louis game probably would not have been nearly as close if he played.

Jamel McClean somehow only missed 1 game after fracturing a bone in his eye socket, but Xavier clearly missed him in a close win over Western Michigan.

Ronald Nored missed Butler’s loss to Evansville. They probably win that game if he plays, right?

Steven Gray sat out Gonzaga’s win over Xavier. Would that win have really been better with him on the floor?


Korie Lucious missed the season opener after an off-season drunk driving incident, but Michigan St. won easily. William Buford missed Ohio St.’s blowout win over Morehead St. Northwestern’s JerShon Cobb missed a pair of blowout wins in the non-conference schedule, and Iowa’s Eric May missed the team’s close home loss to Ohio St. Darryl Bryant missed West Virginia’s blowout win over VMI. Dwight Buycks missed Marquette’s blowout win over TAMU-CC. Julian Vaughn missed Georgetown’s blowout win over Tulane. Scott Martin missed Notre Dame’s blowout win over Chicago St. And Herb Pope missed Seton Hall’s blowout win over NJ Tech.

Nate Tomlinson missed a pair of mindless blowouts for Colorado. Michael Dixon was suspended for Missouri’s blowout wins against Oral Roberts and Central Arkansas, but returned for his team’s key victory against Illinois. Carl Blair missed two blowout wins at the start of the season for Oklahoma. Jamar Samuels missed a meaningless non-conference blow-out by Kansas St. And Scott Christopherson missed Iowa St.’s win against Northern Illinois. Bonus question: Does anyone remember Scott Christopherson playing at Marquette three years ago before transferring? Yeah, me neither.

Deividas Dulkys missed Florida St.’s blowout win over Hartford. Demontez Stitt missed a pair of blowout wins for Clemson. Malcolm Lee missed UCLA’s blowout win over Pacific. Venoy Overton must have known Washington would blow out Nevada even if he did not step on the court. Markhuri Sanders-Frison missed California’s win over Hartford. His name is somewhat hard to spell.

Alex Tyus missed a game that Florida won by 50 points. John Jenkins missed Vanderbilt’s big win over Davidson. Ravern Johnson missed Mississippi St.’s big win over Alabama St. Reginald Buckner missed Ole Miss’s blowout win over Alcorn St. Hank Thorns sat out TCU’s blowout win over Chicago St., and TCU’s Nikola Gacesa missed the two opening games of the season. Michael Lyon’s sat out Air Force’s win over Sam Houston. Desmar Jackson missed Wyoming’s win over North Florida. Damian Saunders sat out the season opener for Duquesne. Gonzaga’s Elias Harris sat out the blowout win over Eastern Washington.