Welcome to the season’s final installment of Tuesday Truths, where I look at how well 131 teams in the nation’s top 11 conferences did against their league opponents on a per-possession basis. For a tidy little homily on why this stuff is so very awesome, go here.
ACC: Fear Kelly-equipped Duke
Through games of March 10, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP)
W-L Pace PPP Opp. PPP EM
1. Duke 14-4 67.7 1.14 0.99 +0.15
2. Miami 15-3 64.0 1.07 0.93 +0.14
3. Virginia 11-7 60.5 1.05 0.94 +0.11
4. North Carolina 12-6 68.8 1.04 0.98 +0.06
5. NC State 11-7 68.2 1.09 1.04 +0.05
6. Maryland 8-10 67.6 0.97 0.98 -0.01
7. Boston College 7-11 63.5 1.04 1.09 -0.05
8. Georgia Tech 6-12 66.9 0.93 1.00 -0.07
9. Clemson 5-13 62.0 0.93 1.01 -0.08
10. Wake Forest 6-12 69.0 0.95 1.03 -0.08
11. Florida St. 9-9 63.1 0.98 1.08 -0.10
12. Virginia Tech 4-14 64.8 0.99 1.14 -0.15
AVG. 65.5 1.02
If I’m understanding this correctly, when Ryan Kelly is sidelined by an injury Duke’s defense take a big hit. But when he’s on the floor the Blue Devils’ offense is even more amazing than it was without him (and it was pretty amazing without him). That, friends, is one indispensable player. My suggestion to Mike Krzyzewski is that the young lad be encased in bubble wrap and excused from every second of practice. (That’s another thing. Kelly sitting out for six weeks and then promptly scoring 36 points against one of the best defenses in the nation in his first game back was definitely an eloquent amicus brief in the case of Iverson v. Every Coach Ever.)
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 ACC play: Infrequency with which NC State opponents attempted threes: 22.7 percent of FGAs.
Duke, Miami, North Carolina, and NC State will dance. Virginia needs to show well at the ACC tournament, and the Cavaliers also need a bare minimum of surprise champions in the other conference tournaments taking place around Division I. Tony Bennett’s team looks great here but keep in mind that, to an extent that’s unusual among peer teams, the Hoos’ per-possession greatness was recorded at home and nowhere else. (See below, way down there under the West Coast.) UVA will get the chance to show what they can do away from Charlottesville when they play the winner of NC State-Virginia Tech Friday afternoon in Greensboro.
In the 2012 NCAA tournament Bill Self proved once and for all that this so-called “offense” thing is way overrated. Save for one magical half against North Carolina, Self’s team couldn’t buy a basket. And the Jayhawks wondered and worried and fretted about that fact all the way to the national championship game.
Self might have to pull that same shtick again this season. Save for 45 magical minutes in Ames, these Jayhawks aren’t exactly sowing terror in the hearts of opposing defenses either. On the Big 12 season as a whole, KU’s shots from the field just didn’t fall, a nuisance that Self worked around with extra helpings of offensive rebounding and free throws. Speaking of work-arounds, having Jeff Withey and Travis Releford on your defense helps too. I won’t be shocked if Kansas plays a series of tense low-scoring games in the days and weeks to come.
Bruce Weber, I salute you! Somehow the news just is not getting smuggled out even at this late date, but Kansas State scored 1.20 points per trip over its last seven games. If Kansas governor Sam Brownback would only display the kind of leadership we so desperately need as a nation and combine the offense in Manhattan with the defense in Lawrence, you’d have something approximating KU 2008.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 Big 12 play: Frequency with which Iowa State attempted threes: 46 percent of FGAs.
Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and Iowa State are in, though the Cyclones are showing up in the mocks on the 11 line. A pairing with the Sooners in the Big 12 quarters Thursday afternoon is therefore a welcome development for ISU. Losing to a fellow at-large wouldn’t figure to be especially catastrophic. Winning against that at-large would be better still. And Baylor still has work to do. The 81-58 win over Kansas in Waco over the weekend was a start, but a victory over Oklahoma State in Thursday night’s quarterfinal would be helpful as well.
Big East: I’m done pointing out that Louisville is historically mighty
Now that you know Rick Pitino’s team strides the fin de siecle Big East like a colossus, I will additionally point out that Buzz Williams could take you, me, and three guys plucked at random from the crowd at the Bradley Center and mold us into the Big East’s best offense. After all, he did exactly that this season with a roster that had just lost 2012 Big East POY Jae Crowder and Crowder’s co-conspirator in insane excellence from a junior college transfer, Darius Johnson-Odom. Faced with those departures, Williams shrugged and invited Vander Blue into his office in October, where the following exchange took place:
WILLIAMS: Hi, Vander. Say, you know how you’ve been largely ineffective on offense so far?
WILLIAMS: That’s going to change. From now on you’ll be, say, 12 percentage points more accurate on your twos. Oh, and you’ll do it while playing more minutes and carrying a much larger load of possessions.
In a league where the average team made 46 percent of its twos, Marquette connected on 53 percent of their attempts inside the arc, and, again, this was not with Kentucky-in-2012 talent by any means. Williams happens to be an avuncular guy who occasionally wears silly jackets, so people have warm fuzzies for him and rightly so. Conversely Brad Stevens is an avuncular guy who does not wear silly jackets and people (correctly in my view) hail him as some kind of hoops savant. Conclusion: it’s the jackets! Williams deserves a spot up there on those same bleachers. I say this annually on the eve of Carousel season, but I once again implore athletic directors to take a very long look at the assistant coaches you already have on-site before making any hiring decisions.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 Big East play: Frequency with which Seton Hall committed turnovers: 24.8 percent of possessions.
In: Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette, Pitt, Syracuse, Villanova, Notre Dame, Cincinnati. There’s a good chance the Big East tournament will be relatively untroubled by bubble implications, freeing everyone to focus on being sad and nostalgic. I myself will be on-site moping about moodily for Thursday night’s session. See you there.
Big Ten: It may be impossible for any program to duplicate Indiana 2010-13
The path navigated by the Hoosiers over the past four seasons is going to be exceptionally difficult for any other program to repeat, not that any program would want to try. Said path starts here: 1) Be possibly the worst major-conference team in the nation. That’s where Indiana was in 2010.
Presenting the Hoosiers’ in-conference efficiency margins in each of the past four seasons:
Heck, forget 2010. In November of last season I was still being asked whether I thought IU had any shot at all at making the 2012 NCAA tournament. When I picked Indiana to win at home against Kentucky that December I was told I was crazy — by Indiana fans. It’s easy to forget now, but that UK game really was this program’s jeweled pivot, and no one has thought the same way about the Hoosiers ever since.
Fun with home/road splits! See below, way down there under the West Coast. Indiana’s per-possession scoring margin on the road in Big Ten play (+0.14) would have been good for second place in this season’s actual league (see above). These guys looked very normal at Illinois and Minnesota, and, goodness knows, at home against Ohio State, but every team in D-I has looked very normal at some point this season. Make no mistake, the Hoosiers are tough.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 B1G play: Infrequency with which Wisconsin opponents attempted threes: 23.6 percent of FGAs.
Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois are dancing. The Illini will carry the crushing burden of the Negative Efficiency Margin Curse, to wit: No team that’s been outscored in conference play has done much of anything since West Virginia came within a whisker of the 2005 Final Four. Perhaps that’s because if you’re outscored during conference play you’re not very good at basketball.
Meanwhile Iowa still lurks on the fringes of this whole field of 68 thing, but the Hawkeyes are likely in a line where teams like Virginia, Ole Miss, Baylor, and possibly Middle Tennessee are ahead of them. Fran McCaffrey now says Iowa’s calamitous non-conference schedule was a conscious choice and that his team needed to learn what it feels like to win. Fine. Now that the team knows what it feels like to win, it would be really nice to parlay that into an actual win in the quarters Friday night against Michigan State (assuming of course the Hawkeyes successfully navigate their way past Northwestern on Thursday). The Spartans are the No. 3 seed, and I’ve made no secret of my fear that the 3-line at the B1G tournament is cursed. (Ask Eric Gordon about Blake Hoffarber sometime.) You sit around the hotel and/or arena and you see no fewer than seven entire games transpire before you even take the floor for the first time. It’s just bad karma. Maybe Iowa can benefit.
Thank you, Pac-12, for illuminating our nation’s collective hoops psyche
The Pac-12 has come in for a good deal of abuse since its last really strong season (as the Pac-10) in 2009. But it seems like that abuse has largely abated this season. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I just don’t hear as much muttering about the sorry state of the Pac-12. If this is correct it’s kind of interesting. It suggests to me the way to hush critics is to have several — say, a half-dozen — pretty good teams, as opposed to having one or two really good ones.
Pollsters, laptops, and Tuesday Truths all stand shoulder to shoulder in declaring Arizona this league’s best team (even though UCLA won the regular-season title outright). But the Wildcats hold that distinction in a league that, in performance terms, is the most homogeneous major conference in Tuesday Truths’ relatively young history. It’s an open question whether UA is really all that much better than several other Pac-12 teams this season, just like it’s unclear whether this Arizona team’s any better than the Derrick Williams team or Washington in 2011, back during the bad old high-abuse days. Yet the abuse has diminished. The key here appears to be the ability to stay away from “one-bid league” jokes. If you can do that, a potential lack of seriously good teams need not be an issue.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 Pac-12 play: Accuracy exhibited by Washington State opponents on two-point shots: 53.8 percent.
A banner year for our Poster Child for Performance Homogeneity, the Pac-12: Arizona, UCLA, Oregon, Colorado, and Cal are all likely in, representing the highest number of bids the league has received since 2009. No bubble drama here, it would seem; the league is set to sprinkle its teams liberally in between seeding lines 4 through 10 in the field of 68. At the moment Stanford is probably as good as any of those other teams. Go figure.
SEC: So what just happened there with that whole Florida thing?
The Gators have just wrapped up the most statistically dominant season this feature has ever witnessed from a major-conference team (Kentucky last year: +0.26), and all it got Billy Donovan’s men was a 14-4 record. That record includes the latest in what now feels like an eerily familiar series of close-but-no-cigar road games, Saturday’s 61-57 loss at Kentucky. What are we to make of this team? Glad you asked. Here are Four Theses on Florida.
1. Turns out Florida is not the greatest team of the modern era after all. Part of their statistical glory was achieved thanks to 160 minutes against what were clearly the league’s three worst teams: Auburn, South Carolina, and Mississippi State. Take out those 160 minutes, and the Gators’ per-possession scoring margin drops to +0.21. Then again….
2. We’re cherry-picking — every good team gets to play an occasional bad team — and +0.21 is still really good.
3. No SEC team has scored more than 0.97 points per trip in any game where Will Yeguete played more than one minute. Doubt UF’s perimeter obsession on offense all you want — I’m right there with you — but this D has been consistently tough.
4. Among recent major-conference teams outscoring their leagues by 0.20 points per trip or more (there aren’t many of those), Florida ranks a clear No. 3 in my Gasaway Non-Bald Dome Index (GNBDI), clearly behind Kansas 2008 and Kentucky 2012, but also comfortably ahead of Texas 2011. It would be a mistake to pencil the Gators in for either a national title or a first-weekend exit just yet.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 SEC play: Infrequency with which Florida opponents score: 0.85 points per trip.
Bubble, thy name is “SEC.” Florida and Missouri are in. Kentucky and Tennessee are currently projected as No. 12 seeds, meaning they have zero grounds to feel comfortable five days out from Selection Sunday. Ole Miss is right on the line between in and out. Alabama is a few spots below the Rebels.
This is a completely eccentric and subjective view, but to my eyes the bubble team that got the worst SEC tournament draw is the Volunteers. Cuonzo Martin’s men get the winner of South Carolina-Mississippi State, a classic example of a game where (rightly) no one will care if Tennessee wins but there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth if they lose against an opponent that’s already won a game. Speaking of eccentricities, Ole Miss will actually be the higher-seeded team in a probable quarterfinal against Missouri.
To repeat a phrase used in this space more or less every week, give the numbers here the due caution that a 16-team league with a 16-game schedule demands. As it happens I do think Saint Louis is likely the best team in the conference. I suspect that VCU is the best of the rest, and that La Salle, Temple, and Butler are all at-large-caliber performers. And that’s the sum total of my confident statements on this season’s A-10. I should like it very much if in future seasons the league either has more games or fewer teams.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 A-10 play: Lack of accuracy exhibited by Charlotte on three-point shots: 25.4 percent.
Saint Louis, VCU, and Butler are headed to the field of 68. Temple almost certainly is as well, though the Owls are shown these days as a No. 11 seed. A win on Friday night against the UMass-GW winner would probably be advisable. The team with the most interesting situation of all, however, is La Salle. The Explorers are currently popping up as a No. 12 seed, and, of all opponents, they’ve drawn Butler in the quarters. (Or so we think. The Bulldogs must first get past Dayton, and, as seen here, that is no foregone conclusion.)
So, yes, bubble repercussions will likely be felt in Brooklyn this week. Too bad, too, because if the A-10 tournament were relatively untroubled by bubble implications, that would have freed everyone to focus on being puzzled and conflicted about Temple going to the league formerly known as the Big East, while, we think, Butler prepares to join seven current Big East teams in a new Big East. I myself will be on-site and just as puzzled as ever for Saturday afternoon’s session. See you there.
C-USA: Even a hollow shell of the former Big East is a good move for Memphis
For a second consecutive season Memphis has dominated Conference USA, but for a second consecutive season they’re at risk for being seeded in the 8-9 range, meaning (often) a very good opponent in your first game and (always) a preposterously good opponent in your second one. That’s a tough seed to draw, but next season things should improve for the Tigers with their move to the non-Catholic remnant of the current Big East. True, Josh Pastner’s team is taking a good portion of C-USA with them (UCF, SMU, and Houston), so things won’t look all that different. Still, getting one or even two games a season against UConn, Cincinnati, and (let’s not forget) Temple will be huge for Memphis. Perform well in those games and you should acquire the escape velocity needed to get a slightly higher seed after a very good regular season.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 C-USA play: Frequency with which Southern Miss opponents committed turnovers: 23.5 percent of possessions.
A confident march through the C-USA tournament at the BOK Center in Tulsa could help Memphis make the case for a seed in the 6-7 range in the NCAA tournament, and that would be big. Meanwhile Southern Miss refuses to be pushed all the way off the mock boards. The Golden Eagles could be earn themselves a central role in Selection Sunday speculation with an appearance in the title game. Or they can end that speculation entirely, of course, by winning that title game.
Missouri Valley: Congratulations on winning Arch Madness, you get Gonzaga
On a day when Doug McDermott was held to 14 points, Creighton won the Missouri Valley tournament title game 68-65 over Wichita State thanks in part to five threes from Ethan Wragge. The Bluejay offense skidded off track in February, but it’s worth remembering that the team’s year-end totals still look great, and indeed for long stretches of the season opposing teams simply couldn’t keep up with these guys.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 Valley play: Accuracy exhibited by Creighton from the field: 60.4 effective FG percentage.
The Bluejays are projected as a No. 8 seed, and seeing this offense go up against Duke, Indiana, Gonzaga, Louisville (shudder), or some other hegemon cut from this same cloth in the round of 32 would be slightly entertaining, to say the least. Wichita State should navigate the brackets as a 10 or thereabouts.
Mountain West: Colorado State springs a surprise ending
W-L Pace PPP Opp. PPP EM
1. Colorado St. 11-5 64.2 1.12 1.01 +0.11
2. New Mexico 13-3 64.6 1.04 0.93 +0.11
3. San Diego St. 9-7 65.2 1.03 0.95 +0.08
4. UNLV 10-6 66.7 0.99 0.94 +0.05
5. Boise St. 9-7 64.7 1.05 1.03 +0.02
6. Air Force 8-8 64.1 1.04 1.08 -0.04
7. Fresno St. 5-11 60.8 0.94 1.00 -0.06
8. Wyoming 4-12 59.2 0.90 1.01 -0.11
9. Nevada 3-13 64.7 0.96 1.10 -0.14
AVG. 63.8 1.01
Congratulations to Larry Eustachy and his Rams, who mounted a furious Tuesday Truths rally to just barely beat New Mexico at the tape, +0.1072 to +0.1056. And in the round-robin Mountain West, CSU can indeed strut around a bit on the basis of a razor-thin margin like that. The best information we have, based on over a thousand possessions balanced between home and road, is that these two teams are very similar in terms of how well they play basketball. The fact that UNM will likely get a No. 3 seed and Colorado State will get a 7 is not ideal, perhaps, but it’s certainly far from the worst such mishap we’ve seen in March.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 MWC play: Pace at which Wyoming played basketball: 59.2 possessions per 40 minutes.
See above: New Mexico, UNLV, Colorado State, and San Diego State will hear their names called on Selection Sunday. Boise State will very likely be able to make that same claim, particularly if the Broncos win their quarterfinal against the Aztecs tomorrow night in Vegas. Not bad for a nine-team league. Congratulations, MWC. You cracked the code.
The best possible situation for the West Coast
W-L Pace PPP Opp. PPP EM
1. Gonzaga 16-0 63.7 1.21 0.91 +0.30
2. Saint Mary’s 14-2 64.5 1.14 0.94 +0.20
3. BYU 10-6 69.0 1.10 1.00 +0.10
4. Santa Clara 9-7 66.5 1.06 1.05 +0.01
5. San Francisco 7-9 66.8 1.05 1.07 -0.02
6. San Diego 7-9 63.6 0.99 1.07 -0.08
7. Pepperdine 4-12 63.6 0.96 1.11 -0.15
8. Portland 4-12 64.5 0.92 1.09 -0.17
9. Loyola Marymount 1-15 64.9 0.91 1.09 -0.18
AVG. 65.2 1.04
If I’m ever named the commissioner of a nine-member mid-major conference that has three teams ranked below No. 200 in Division I basketball, I guess what I would hope for would be the following:
1. Give me the best mid-major since Memphis in 2008, and while you’re at it…
2. Besides that aforementioned squad, give me another team that is possibly the best one my league has had in the last four years (except of course for this season’s monster rival). Let them be grossly overlooked and underrated by the national media, mostly due to that other historic team. In fact, let them be mis-seeded down around 11, so they can drop on some poor hapless 6 seed like a jaguar out of a tree.
It’s all lined up pretty well for the West Coast.
Most statistically aberrant behavior in 2013 WCC play: Infrequency with which San Francisco recorded offensive rebounds: 21.0 percent of USF missed shots.
Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are poised to do the league proud, albeit from opposite seeding extremes.
BONUS valedictory goodness! Just to do this last-day thing right, here are the per-possession home/road splits for every major-conference team this season. Teams are shown in order from highest to lowest variance in performance, home vs. road.
Arkansas was two completely different teams depending on the game’s venue. Northwestern and Pitt were the same everywhere, which can be good news (Panthers) or bad news (Wildcats). Kansas State and Michigan had the same seasons in different conferences.
Generally speaking I get the yips if a national title contender shows up too high in this sequencing (I’m looking at you, Bill Self), but maybe that’s just me.
Looking through old emails, I find the first mention of a potential basketball version of the venerable Baseball Prospectus site in a note I received from Ken Pomeroy on April 26, 2007. (Subject line: “Busy?” Ken is nothing if not winningly understated.) By Memorial Day I had quit my day job.
During that summer there were several conference calls with Ken and, as he put it, “this guy from Prospectus.” That turned out to be Nate Silver. The three of us thought we were not only launching a website but also working on the first ever tempo-free college hoops preview book. As chance would have it, the latter fell through soon after I’d quit the aforementioned day job. (Ah, good times. We got the book up and running the next season.) Ken and I ended up taking all the previews we’d written for the “book” and simply flinging them up on the new site that fall, as Joe Sheehan graciously moonlighted from his work on the baseball side to help us get on our feet.
In the days and years that followed, Ken, Kevin Pelton, Bradford Doolittle, Anthony Macri, Sebastian Pruiti, Neil Paine, Dan Feldman, Dan Hanner, Corey Schmidt, John Perrotto, Asher Fusco, C.J. Moore, Nic Reiner, Jeff Nusser, Kyle Whelliston, Drew Cannon, and many others made Basketball Prospectus a place of remarkable analytic activity and centrality. I learned from all of these writers, and I worked hard just to keep up.
For six seasons I was given the opportunity to roam topically wherever I wanted, and I roamed with vigor. My work benefited from the prestige of a brand that had been established long before I arrived, and no strings were attached. It was a sweet gig, and for that I have Baseball Prospectus to thank.
When the site launched I had essentially the same relationship with televised college basketball commentary that a person sitting in a theater has with the characters in a slasher movie. I would talk at my TV screen and tell the commentators appearing on it not to go into particular rooms, analytically speaking. But, lo and behold, my talking had no visible effect.
Today, I’m happy to report, the commentary on my TV screen has changed for the better. I don’t flatter ourselves for an instant that it was Prospectus that wrought this change. No one not named either “Dean Smith” or “Dean Oliver” should flatter themselves with much in our field. But the boast I will make is that no group put the case for change more cogently, more doggedly, or more persuasively than did the writers at Basketball Prospectus. I’m proud to have been one of those writers.
Ordinarily I subscribe to the belief that utterances made by the men’s basketball committee chair are not terribly important. The chair is, after all, just one member of a committee comprised of independent-minded equals. If I want to peer into the collective hoops soul of that committee I have the perfect means to do so in the form of the field they select and seed. Words — especially vague process-oriented words uttered before Selection Sunday — are secondary. The bracket is everything.
But something happened yesterday that made me reconsider my long held belief. It came midway through a dull game between Florida State and North Carolina, so I got the feeling not many people were watching. (You missed a mad display of pink sartorial skills by Doug Gottlieb.) During the halftime studio segment, Seth Davis asked men’s basketball committee chair Mike Bobinski about the use of non-RPI rating systems, such as those peddled by Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin. Bobinski replied that he “personally” uses such rating systems “fairly extensively,” setting hoops hearts aflutter all throughout the Twitterverse.
On a committee of independent-minded equals in 2013, some members will use non-RPI information fairly extensively, while other members won’t use such data at all. That’s fine. When it comes to selecting and seeding the field, I’m an amenable pluralist on process but an ardent essentialist on results. I don’t care which rating systems you use — or whether you use rating systems at all — as long as you arrive at a result that is coherent, just, and defensible.
Personally I find I have zero need for the RPI in my daily life, just as I have zero need for points per game, rebound margin, or bench points. The key word being “personally.” If on the other hand you can somehow translate the RPI’s immanently erratic evaluations into a bracket that’s well crafted and balanced, more power to you. Rating systems are secondary. The bracket is everything.
And last year’s bracket included Colorado State and Southern Miss, even though those teams weren’t very good at basketball relative to other at-large candidates. Why did last year’s bracket include the Rams and the Golden Eagles? I’ve recovered the black box from the cockpit on this particular evaluative plane crash, and I’ve concluded that the RPI may have been a contributing factor.
Year RPI KenPom Sagarin Massey
Colorado St. 2012 23 96 102 100
Southern Miss 2012 26 75 73 69
The NCAA insists annually that it uses information from a number of sources, and that the committee is particularly careful when “discrepancies” arise between the various rating systems with respect to a given team. It’s striking how often these discrepancies have been resolved in a manner congruent with the RPI’s aberrant and lonely evaluative verdicts.
Maybe the 2013 bracket will be different. I take comfort in the fact that time and mere attrition very often succeed where persuasion has failed, and Bobinski’s remark struck me as a welcome demographic sign post along this road. My working assumption all along has been that with each passing year the NCAA will find more and more of its committee members spouting the kind of newfangled nonsense we heard from Bobinski yesterday. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the “discrepancies” start being resolved in a somewhat less doctrinaire manner. In 13 days we’ll get an accurate read on our current position along this particular road.
Yesterday Mike DeCourcybrought my name and Marcus Smart’s together again. I can only infer that Mike wants to start up the same kind of traveling avuncular sparring road show that Jeff Goodman and Ken Pomeroy have maintained so entertainingly, where I’m the brash and unfailingly clueless neophyte Ken to Mike’s Goodman, a crusty yet benign guardian of the game chuckling at the crazy stuff kids write these days.
I’m flattered. I’ve been an avid reader and huge fan of Mike’s for years, and in fact he was the second person I ever got the nerve up to ask for an interview for use on the blog I did back in the day. He graciously said yes to a blogger no one had ever heard of, and he gave me a day’s worth of great content where I didn’t have to write a thing. I don’t forget people who create situations wherein I look good with a minimum of exertion. So, absolutely, I’m very pro-DeCourcy.
For my side of the sparring I’m going to borrow a page from the Annales school of historiography. Here, without any interceding comments, are the words….
Different readers will make different choices regarding who’s presented the more accurate narrative of Smart’s performance throughout the season, yours truly or my colleague who nominated a point guard shooting 23 percent on his not infrequent threes for national player of the year.
Meantime allow me to note that the toy department’s somehow navigated itself into a strange and rather arid corner, surely, when noting how many shots a player makes is dismissed (”the full statistical treatment”) as newfangled, abstruse, and extraneous to the task of covering a contest between two teams to see which one can make the most shots.
Mike and I are pleased to announce that our avuncular sparring is now available for mall openings, birthday parties, and bar and bat mitzvahs. Click the link below.
Wisconsin is just average on offense this season, which is curious because, as always, Bo Ryan’s team is outstanding in terms of taking care of the ball. Customarily teams with low turnover percentages have very good offenses. What’s the problem?
Reality is usually too messy to cough up one definitive answer, but this time we really do have one definitive answer. The problem is Wisconsin’s dreadful free throw shooting. Everything else is the same as last season:
Lost in translation
Conference games only — 2013 through games of January 30
PPP: points per possession eFG%: effective FG percentage
TO%: turnover percentage OR%: offensive rebound percentage
In other words Wisconsin’s shooting from the field and their performance in terms of hanging on to the rock are both virtually identical to what they were last season. Meanwhile the offensive rebounding is actually a hair better. Ordinarily the offense that results from all of the above would be the same as what you saw the year before.
But not with this team. Last season Wisconsin hit an excellent 77 percent of their free throws in Big Ten play. This season the Badgers have connected on just 52 percent of their attempts from the line in-conference.
Even with normal free throw shooting Ryan’s offense isn’t going to look like Michigan or Indiana anytime soon. But when you’re speaking of a team that plays outstanding defense (second only to Ohio State in conference play) there’s a lot to be gained from an improved offense. And right now free throws are killing Wisconsin.
Next week on a day that I trust you can identify correctly without any further intervention on my part, that hardy perennial known as Tuesday Truths will return for a sixth season. In other words the feature’s been around just as long as Scott Martin. (Har! No, seriously, that’s more or less correct.)
In the Truths I present what I’ve learned by tracking per-possession performance for selected teams in conference play. Which begs the question: Why track per-possession performance in conference play for selected teams?
For the same reason that any college hoops fan does anything analytically, to win the office pool. Mind you, when it comes time to fill out my bracket, I won’t always follow the Truths unquestioningly. Last season the Truths and I had a season-long knock-down drag-out tussle over what to make of Texas, for example. (Turned out I was right. Take that, snooty “analytics”!) But I do give an awful lot of credence to the counsel born of a thousand or so possessions, perfectly balanced between home and road, played against nominal programmatic equals in resources.
You may on occasion hear this kind of thing called “advanced,” where said term is shot off like a flare to warn of suspect innovations, because it is a truth universally accepted that “advanced” stats killed all the fun in baseball. You may also see this sort of endeavor placed in opposition to the wisdom gained from looking at simple wins and losses.
Nonsense. If this is advanced, so is looking at a final score. Tuesday Truths simply brings the score-keeping increment down to the level of one possession at a time. And as for good old wins and losses, this season TCU will have very few wins in Big 12 play (quite possibly none, in fact), and a ton of losses. That will result in a very lousy number for per-possession performance for the Frogs. This stuff is merely a further refinement of wins and losses.
For the 2012-13 season, Tuesday Truths will faithfully report on the per-possession doings of all six major conferences, plus the Atlantic 10, Conference USA, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, and West Coast. These 11 leagues represent Division I’s top third, and if you stick with the Truths through to early March you should have a reasonably solid evaluative grasp on all of them.
As a sneak preview, here’s the current reality presented by the Missouri Valley, a laudably proactive league that’s already played a whopping 22.2 percent of its games.
Creighton has a very good offense
Through games of January 10, conference games only
Pace: Possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP)
The Bluejays have scored 336 points in just 262 Valley possessions. Greg McDermott’s team, a lot like Greg McDermott’s son, is very likely to be statistically gaudy for the balance of the season, a gaudiness that will be doubted because of the competition. Those doubts will be well founded some of the time (scoring 1.36 points per trip against Drake is standard operating procedure for Bulldog opponents) but not all of the time (recording 1.29 points per possession against Indiana State is impressive).
As for defense, McDermott is apparently about to put his total ban on going for takeaways to the ultimate test. Creighton simply will not allow you to give them a turnover. Valley opponents have given the ball away on just 12 percent of their possessions. The sheer number of shots launched by opposing teams results in a D that looks average, even though the field goal defense in Omaha is actually better than average (and the defensive rebounding is quite insanely good, as it always is with McDermott’s teams).
While researching a piece on Creighton over the summer, I spoke to Coach McDermott on the phone and, 80 percent of the way through a discussion filled with my fulsome praise of his success on offense, I asked, respectfully and diffidently, whether this zero-takeaway approach could be a limiting factor on the Bluejay defense. The coach, respectfully and diffidently, gave me the verbal equivalent of a shrug. I shrug still.
Michigan has opened Big Ten play by scoring 189 points in just 136 possessions, which nets out to 1.39 points per trip. Object to that ridiculous figure if you wish on the grounds that the Wolverines have played “only” Northwestern and Iowa. Fair enough, but be sure to acknowledge two additional points in your objection. The Hawkeyes, for one, are the proud owners of a top-50 defense. And, anyway, John Beilein’s team has been doing this kind of thing more or less all season long.
Whether your preferred standards of sublime-efficiency comparison are Kentucky in 2012, North Carolina in 2009, or Illinois in 2005, Michigan’s offense has to date benefited from the same kind of network effects as all those other eminences. It works like this:
You have a first-team All-American. Let’s call him Treytythonyeron Burkebrowngilchristborough. He’s having a season for the ages. But he additionally finds himself in happy proximity with another guy or perhaps even other guys who will also play in the NBA at some point.
Opposing Division I defenses that don’t have Jeff Withey, even very good major-conference ones, are simply not equipped to cope with this kind of elite multiplicity over the long haul. Naturally there will be off games, even from these juggernauts. (Ask UK fans about the 2012 SEC tournament title game.) But a coach who recruits his way to this kind of embarrassment of offensive riches has the court tilted in his favor.
Michigan’s numbers will correct downward because they won’t continue to shoot 52 percent on their threes, as they’ve done over their first 80 minutes of conference play. But the Wolverines are hardly living and dying by the three. They’re making their twos, and their 80-minute turnover rate is microscopically and West Virginia-era-Beilein-low. About once every 20 minutes or so they actually miss a shot, and on those occasions they’ve exhibited a decent proclivity toward getting that rebound.
I don’t know if Trey Burke can continue to play at this level on offense all season long, but if he does he’ll be up there on the same bleachers as Ty Lawson in 2009. And, praise-wise, that’s it, that’s all I have for any point guard. If sports actually mattered, the 15-month transformation of Burke from high school who-dat into Oscar Robertson II would have long since resulted in recruiting analysts being subpoenaed to testify before Congress.
By rule Colorado should have won their game against Arizona in Tucson last night, but I don’t understand the people who say Sabatino Chen clearly released his shot in time. There may be a paradox in that sentence, but there’s no contradiction.
Chen’s shot constitutes one of the rarest of basketball artifacts, a play where seeing it on replay doesn’t definitively solve the riddle. This comes up more often in football (with receptions made close to the ground, for example, or quarterback sneaks at the goal line), but we’re not used to this kind of thing in hoops.
Fortunately the NCAA has made procedural provision for what we should do when we don’t know with certainty what happened. Rob Dauster already touched all the correct bases last night. The key wording is on page 91 of the rulebook: “When definitive information is unattainable with the use of the monitor, the original call stands.”
The original call on the floor was a made three, and with good reason. In real time it seemed apparent that Chen released his shot before the horn. The pixels above are anything but “definitive,” therefore the original call should have been left alone. Game over, Colorado wins.
Instead, the refs waved off the shot. The game went to overtime, and Arizona won. I understand why CU head coach Tad Boyle is livid and why he would say something petulant and aggrieved like “Get rid of instant replay,” but the truth is the Internet’s real-time outrage, confusion, errors, corrections, and eventual consensus made the case for replay convincingly, albeit unwittingly.
Deadspin had a post up instantly last night with video and a claim that the clip “clearly” showed that Chen’s shot had been released in time. But with two additional hours to scrutinize screen caps (and contemplate one-point safeties — it was a wild night), the site came back with an “update” citing Dauster and making the exact opposite (and correct) point. Since it was not clear whether the shot was really released before the clock hit zero, it should have counted because that was the initial ruling on the floor. With additional time, Deadspin got it right.
We are all Deadspin, refs included. Replay’s essential not only because it furnishes additional information but also because it comprises a ritual that confers additional time. In any event like this there’s a direct correlation between time elapsed and the quality of its analysis, whether that analysis comes in the form of a ref’s call or a spectator’s tweet. (Any weathered Twitter user knows in his or her weary bones that the quickest tweets are usually the dumbest.)
Instead of killing replay we should be telling refs: Take all the time you need, and if a pdf of the rulebook on an iPad would help, that’s fine too.
Before you sign Boyle’s Death to Replay petition, please revisit the conclusion of the 2011 Big East tournament game between Rutgers and St. John’s. Those refs threw away any possibiity of additional time for review with both hands, and the result was a true travesty. Conversely, last night’s travesty was at least arrived at in the prescribed deliberate manner. When the outcome of a game is in the balance, time is everything simply because perfect knowledge, like perfect justice, is unattainable.
Last night we learned that the NCAA has once again done something narrowly consistent yet broadly and irredeemably idiotic, suspending Texas point guard Myck Kabongo for the season. It seems the sophomore was less than truthful when the NCAA asked him about his dealings with agent Rich Paul and a trip to Cleveland last spring, one where Kabongo worked out with a professional trainer.
The fact that talking to or even having an agent, traveling to Cleveland, and participating in a workout are all perfectly licit activities has once again eluded the NCAA. To busy people with mortgages and kids, this kind of thing is, of course, beneath trivial. And I know from personal experience that the NCAA is staffed by exceptionally bright and well-intentioned busy people who do indeed have mortgages and kids. Yet somehow the organization as a whole lacks this essential perspectival flywheel. How these two undeniable truths can both be equally true is a paradox worthy of Michael Lewis if not Chekhov, but there it is.
Mind you, just because Kabongo has furnished the latest occasion for the NCAA to display its unique brand of silliness doesn’t make him an ideal victim. He’s been more inconvenienced than victimized. Kabongo knew the silly rules going in, and, anyway, his “punishment” is that, should he choose to avail himself of the opportunity, he’ll continue to get a free ride at one of our nation’s most outstanding universities while he prepares for a fantastically lucrative career in professional basketball.
My stake in this centers not on Kabongo, who will be fine, but on the NCAA tournament. It’s surpassingly close to perfect the way it is, but whenever the NCAA does something Kabongo-level stupid I worry that the major-conference programs will at long last say, “We’re done here.” I could envision the FBS-level programs forming their own postseason basketball tournament, one where the participants set and enforce their own standards of academic eligibility, throw the RPI in the trash, and smile, as does reality, on the otherwise innocuous boundary between amateurism and professionalism.
It could happen, and with the suddenness of the Big East collapsing. A tournament where Cinderella is drawn from the likes of Georgia Tech and UCLA is not my idea of March Madness. My preference would be that the NCAA wake up and realize they can be made to look like Mike Aresco in a heartbeat.
BONUS sartorial note! I have a t-shirt I wear whenever the NCAA does something like this.
The trouble with amateurism isn’t that it’s being enforced by a peculiarly well-heeled organization. The trouble is that “enforcing” something as unthreatened and commonplace as amateurism is simply odd to begin with, like “enforcing” shyness, procrastination, or eye contact. Amateurism and professionalism coexist naturally and strike their own bargains every day of the week in non-NCAA settings.
I’m proud to announce I’ve discovered an “ideal of the amateur coach.” Compared to the thin and meager history behind that wobbly and dubious model of the amateur athlete, I can footnote my exciting new ideal something fierce, citing precedents dating back to Socrates. Henceforth coaches will receive no outside compensation, no endorsement deals, no fees from speaking engagements, nothing. Schools can pay for a coach’s room and board and a few other incidental expenses, but that’s it.
In Joe Lunardi’s latest mock bracket at ESPN, he projects that fans in Indianapolis will get to see top seed Indiana disembowel either Texas Southern or Western Illinois, before moving on to meet the winner of an 8-9 Pitt vs. Kansas State matchup. Were the Panthers to prevail in their round of 64 game against the Wildcats, it would set up a collision between what are now two of the best five or six teams in the country statistically.
It’s true. Whether your laptop-based rating system of choice comes from Jeff Sagarin or Ken Pomeroy, you’ll find Jamie Dixon’s team ranked right up there with the Hoosiers, Syracuse, Michigan, and that snooty crowd. This is what happens when you outscore your opponents by 0.41 points per possession.
So much for laptops. Humans know that Pitt hasn’t beaten “anyone” (their “best” win would be their victory at home over Lehigh), and that they were taken to overtime at home by Oakland. That’s why the Panthers are still unranked.
I’m here to mediate this laptop-human tussle. It’s what I do.
Even though Pitt laid an egg against the Golden Grizzlies, there’s a significant likelihood that the Panthers are for real, where “real” simply means something closer to what the laptops are saying (No. 5 or 6) than what the humans are voting (No. 27). Note for example that the performance we’re seeing from this team is not merely a case of showing off against helpless opponents. These guys are just good. In the Panthers’ last two home blowouts, the starters have averaged just 22 minutes.
And, anyway, why single out Pitt for their weak schedule? To this point that schedule (No. 288 SOS in Division I) rates out as similar to Ohio State’s weak schedule (No. 276), and stronger than Missouri’s weak schedule (320). Good teams sometimes play weak schedules. Indeed, Pitt, Ohio State, and Missouri are all one-loss teams that came up short in their one shot against an elite opponent (Michigan, Duke, and Louisville, respectively).
At the moment Dixon has no fewer than six players who’ve posted offensive ratings of 125 or better. Let’s put that into context: Steven Adams is a seven-foot freshman who’s projected to play in the NBA someday. He already takes excellent care of the ball and makes 60 percent of his twos. And on this roster that’s been good enough to make him the No. 9 option on offense.
Naturally I’ll be much more confident in my grasp of Pitt’s true worth once Big East play begins. That’s why, for now, I have ranked the Panthers at a lowly No. 10, and not the lofty No. 5 or 6 suggested by the rating systems. But you should harbor no illusions about what’s taken place so far. Scoring 1.27 points per possession is amazing, and this team’s performance to date has been far more aberrant than their schedule. If we’re lucky, Indiana and Pitt really will play in the NCAA tournament, because the Hoosiers and Panthers may turn out to have the two best offenses in the country.
On Saturday, the Big East’s seven Catholic universities — DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, and Villanova — announced that they’re leaving the conference. Some group of teams somewhere will still call themselves the “Big East” in the years to come, but go ahead and scrawl “Died of a Theory” across the whole idea that major-conference basketball programs without FBS football can share a league affiliation with schools that have goalposts. The Big East tried to make that idea work, but couldn’t.
The remaining members of the conference — Cincinnati, Connecticut, and South Florida — will either flee to another major conference or, failing that, will poach new members from the ranks of the mid-majors. Ostensibly Temple (already a Big East member for football), Memphis, SMU, UCF, and Houston are due to arrive next season, with Tulane to follow in 2014-15, but how much of this will actually come to pass is and will remain an open question.
It’s a shame that football, one sport, has dictated all this and the money that one sport apparently is swinging around and swaying universities to make the decisions. We’re sitting here in a state [West Virginia — UC won at Marshall on Saturday] where the state school is 800 miles from its closest road game. It’s ridiculous. Don’t tell me that people care about student-athletes.
Lost in the shuffle in all this is our volleyball team, our soccer team, Marshall’s tennis team. It’s all ridiculous. Let’s call it what it is. I’ve thought about this long and hard and I’ve waited to say this. If it’s all about this much money and money grabbing, the players need to get paid.
Amen! Wait, make that: Amen on one discrete and specific matter!
It is indeed ridiculous for, say, West Virginia’s soccer program to be flung together with teams from Lubbock, Texas, and Manhattan, Kansas, simply because those groupings were at one time believed to make good revenue sense for football. Ridiculous and wholly needless. Geography should reign supreme in the matter of conference alignments for non-revenue sports.
The rest of Cronin’s statement, however, is very strange. Conference realignment has nothing to do with the NCAA’s indefensible blanket insistence that student-athletes maintain their amateur standing at all times and in all cases. In an alternate scenario where the NCAA had long since made its peace with an Olympic-style blend of amateurism and professionalism, major-conference presidents and ADs would still be hopping from conference to conference. The calculus that leads programs to switch conferences would be exactly the same, even with a reality-based NCAA. It’s as if Cronin’s house has just been leveled by a hurricane, and when he’s interviewed in the rubble he uses the occasion to complain about our trade imbalance with China.
Besides, even if the timing of Cronin’s statement had been more logical, there would still be strangeness worth unpacking here. Having quite correctly railed at College Sports Today for lumping together all athletes — the revenue and non-revenue alike — he then proceeds to lump together all athletes and say they should “get paid.”
Why on earth should we pay a soccer player at West Virginia? Instead, I propose to make that young man or woman an offer they can’t refuse. No more trips to Lubbock, and in return you get free tuition. The essentials of that offer will be sufficient to deliver just results for 99.9 percent of Division I student-athletes. And if a tiny sliver of those student-athletes is somehow able to generate enough interest so that an advertiser and/or an agent wants to enter into a contractual arrangement, that’s perfectly fine.
A rationale for prohibiting such arrangements has never been offered. I should know. I issued an open invitation for such a rationale, one phrased in terms of the tangible good it does for student-athletes. That was two years ago, to the day. I’m still waiting.
Realignment’s a shame because it killed a jewel of a basketball conference, and killed it as dead as the Whigs. Realignment would have killed that conference with or without a philosophically confused NCAA. Scream accordingly.