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.