Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

March 11, 2009

Chat Tomorrow, PLUS Jerks Can Win, Too!

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 9:46 am

Join me tomorrow at noon Eastern for the live chat thing. Click here tomorrow to go live or do it now and submit your question in advance. All topics welcomed! Keep me on my toes and make up a player from the dim recesses of the past. (“Hey, John, I know you think DeJuan Blair‘s great and all, but how do you think his numbers would compare with what Marcello Alston posted for LaSalle in the late 80s? That dude was sick.”) 

And because I believe no Unfiltered post should be limited to a shameless plug for a chat, please accept an unsolicited recommendation for your reading pleasure:

Go read Dana O’Neil’s piece at ESPN.com on the seismic misery that currently prevails at Kentucky. It’s an outstanding piece of work based on four days spent with the program. O’Neil’s journalistic good fortune was the Wildcats’ agony: UK lost at home to Georgia on her watch and she documents every excruciating moment, right down to the snide comments from Rupp Arena security staff.

Billy Gillispie is, of course, front and center in O’Neil’s piece: “He is perceived as prickly, aloof and guarded, a lunch pail of bad personality traits in the fishbowl that is Kentucky basketball.” 

I have had no dealings with the man, myself. For all I know he could be warm, gracious, and unguarded–a regular Elwood P. Dowd, albeit a misunderstood one, plainly. But it’s important to underline a point O’Neil makes about Gillispie’s alleged opportunities for improvement in the interpersonal skills department: “None of that would matter if the Cats were 24-7.”

Precisely. Gillispie’s not in hot water because he was rude to ESPN’s Jeanine Edwards, per se. (Though it’s interesting to note that former Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr, for one, was rather abrupt with sideline reporters at the start of a couple halftimes. Carr, however, was an older coach with a reputation for unimpeachable old-school integrity. When he was short with a sideline reporter it came across as curmudgeonly. Gillispie is a younger coach with a reputation for working all the recruting angles–indeed, that reputation is precisely why he was brought to Kentucky to replace the more courtly and proper Tubby Smith. When Gillispie is short with a sideline reporter it comes across as boorish and arrogant.) 

No, Gillispie’s in hot water because short of an SEC tournament title, his team’s not going to make the NCAA tournament. Somehow I have the feeling that if his Cats could just cut down on the turnovers, no one would fret too much about whether their coach is cuddly or not.

BONUS applause for the conventional wisdom! The other day I wondered aloud why Ty Lawson‘s spectacular year hasn’t garnered more attention. Maybe that year’s been earning more notice than I realized. Yesterday Lawson was named ACC POY. Laudably attentive and perspicacious voters of the ACC, I salute you!

March 10, 2009

West Coast Blowouts

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:39 pm

Spending last weekend in Boston, I had one obvious conclusion reinforced: Time zones really make it difficult to follow sports. Even with my body clock still largely on Pacific time, it was a challenge staying up for the end of the TNT Thursday and ESPN Friday double-headers. The experience convinced me to redouble my efforts to pay extra attention to games here on the Left Coast for the benefit of the rest of the country.

Last night featured two coastal games that interested me, and both of them ended up decided by the early second half. Still, they had important implications.

Let’s talk first about the West Coast Conference championship, played at a relatively East Coast-friendly start time of 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific. While Gonzaga, a sure tournament lock, had nothing more than seeding at stake, St. Mary’s was playing for an automatic bid or a chance to prove to the selection committee that they could compete with the Zags on a neutral court when healthy.

Alas, the Gaels fell well short on both counts in an 83-58 loss that was never especially close. In his second game back from a broken right hand sustained with St. Mary’s leading in the first half of a matchup at Gonzaga in January, Patrick Mills looked nothing like the superstar point guard who led last year’s tournament run. Mills shot 2-for-16 from the field and missed all seven of his attempts from three-point range.

Healthy Mills or no, the Gaels were unable to slow the Zags on offense. Gonzaga shot 54.8 percent from the field and had as many three-pointers as turnovers (nine apiece), all of it combining to allow them to score 83 points on 67 possessions, a 123.2 Offensive Rating. St. Mary’s was going to be hard-pressed to match that production, and Mills’ poor night made it impossible. Center Omar Samhan had 17 points, but the rest of the team combined to shoot 22.6 percent from the field.

For Gonzaga, a WCC title has become something of a formality more than anything to celebrate. The more interesting question is what kind of team Mark Few is taking into the NCAA Tournament. The Zags have been criticized for their soft nature and their defense, and a stretch of close WCC games midway through the season combined with a blowout loss in Spokane to Memphis cleared out the bandwagon. Yet by Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, Gonzaga still ranks fifth in the country, and 10th in adjusted Defensive Efficiency. I’ve seen plenty of the Zags this season, and I tend to lean toward conventional wisdom over Pomeroy’s stats, but I’m still not quite sure what to make of this team.

Turning to the NBA, the Portland Trail Blazers hosted the L.A. Lakers last night in another chance to prove their dominance at the Rose Garden. The Blazers blew open the game with hot shooting combined with strong defense in the second quarter, leading by 23 at the half. It was a 28-point game with mere seconds remaining in the third period when the game turned ugly. Rudy Fernandez, flying in for a transition score, was hit in the head by a trailing Trevor Ariza, sending him to the ground hard. Brandon Roy led a group of Portland players confronting Ariza, though fortunately the situation never got out of hand and no punches were thrown.

All along, Fernandez was lying relatively motionless where he had fallen, the situation quickly turning scary. For precautionary reasons, Fernandez was taken off on a stretcher with a neck brace. Reports indicate he had some soft tissue damage to his chest, but no serious injury, having been observed in a Portland hospital overnight.

As team doctors were attending to Fernandez, I could not help but think back to Saturday’s opening panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on the evolution of the fan experience. An incredulous Jeff Van Gundy railed against the Flagrant-2 foul assessed to Glen Davis during the previous evening’s Celtics game (which was in fairness subsequently reduced to a less serious Flagrant-1), and argued that fans get more enjoyment over the more physical style of basketball that the league has sought to mitigate if not eliminate. Fernandez’s fall illustrated exactly why I could not disagree more with Van Gundy. The league’s first obligation has to be the health of its players, for the benefit of all parties involved. I assure you no one left last night’s game feeling good about the game because of Ariza’s hard foul, and it served to dampen the enthusiasm of Blazers fans for what was an impressive victory over a hated rival.

It’s easy to act indignant when a player is injured, and I don’t think the outcome of a fall should have anything to do with our assessment of the play itself. Ariza’s foul was more reckless than dirty. But if the league coming down hard on players who commit borderline fouls even when nothing comes of it results in players thinking better of a dangerous effort to commit a hard foul in a situation like Ariza faced, I’m more than happy to accept the complaints from Van Gundy and his peers about the league making the game too soft in order to reduce the chances any player leaves the floor on a stretcher.

Big East Tournament Preview: A Pomeroy Sighting

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:27 am

In a few hours the first-ever 16-team Big East Tournament will tip off, bringing new meaning to the term “heavy underdog.” You thought Georgia was an inspiration in the SEC tournament last year, winning four games in four tornado-blighted days? That was nothing! From this point forward any team in the bottom half of the Big East that wants an NCAA tournament bid (assuming they don’t already have an at-large pocketed), will have to win five games in five days. When that happens it’ll officially be time to pull Al Michaels into the sport for a “Do you believe in miracles?” 2.0. He’s had years to come up with one.

Speaking of pulling folks into action, it’s a special occasion so I dragged Ken Pomeroy kicking and screaming out of semi-retirement to provide me with his patented log5-based preview of the tournament.

What’s a log5-based preview? Take it away, K-man:

The log5 method was developed by Bill James more than 25 years ago. It’s based on sound theory and provides a way to derive a team’s chance of winning a particular game using each team’s winning percentage. In the case of college hoops, we’re forced to use a schedule-adjusted version of winning percentage, one I derive from the adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies I compute.

When applied to tournament play, we can get a good estimate of each team’s chances to snag its conference’s automatic bid. It’s only an estimate, though, subject to the assumptions that my model of adjusted winning percentages is reasonable and that a team’s personnel has not drastically changed late in the season. With all that said, the numbers produced are reasonable and give us an idea of how likely a team’s path to the promised land may be.

In a log5 table, all figures listed indicate a team’s chances of getting to a particular round, with the rightmost column listing a team’s probability of winning it all. 

And so for example in this instance we find that DePaul‘s path to the promised land is not very likely:

Big East 
Seed                  Qtrs  Semis  Final  Champ
 3   Connecticut     100.0   72.3   41.3   27.1
 1   Louisville      100.0   84.4   54.0   24.8
 2   Pitt            100.0   61.9   33.0   20.7
 7   West Virginia    76.8   33.2   15.4    8.6 

 4   Villanova       100.0   53.9   24.0    8.3
 6   Syracuse         82.5   25.5    8.9    3.9

 5   Marquette        55.8   26.2   10.6    3.2  
 12  Georgetown       42.2   19.6    7.8    2.3
 
10  Notre Dame       22.5    4.8    1.2    0.4 
 8   Providence       56.0    8.9    2.1    0.3
 9   Cincinnati       42.3    6.5    1.4    0.2
 11  Seton Hall       14.4    1.7    0.2    0.1
 13  St. John’s        2.0    0.3    0.0    0.0
 14  S. Florida        3.1    0.4    0.0    0.0
 15  Rutgers           0.8    0.1    0.0    0.0
 16  DePaul            1.7    0.2    0.0    0.0
  

The number that stood out to me is pretty well buried in there: Ken’s winning percentages really like Syracuse in their second-round game against the winner of Seton Hall vs. South Florida.

Alas, I digress. Let’s stick with the obvious headline: our eyes say there’s a big three in the Big East and the numbers agree emphatically. There is a great yawing chasm between the third most likely outcome (Pitt winning it all) and the fourth most likely outcome (West Virginia winning it all).

Within that big three we see a very interesting and, I think, instructive dynamic. Yell all you want about “settling it on the floor,” but the truth is that settling it on the floor entails seeding. And seeding is huge. Look at Connecticut. They’re actually less likely than Louisville to make the semis and the finals, yet the Huskies are more likely to win it all than are the Cardinals. How can this be?

Because Jim Calhoun‘s team has a much tougher path to the finals. Louisville gets to play the winner of the game between Providence and either Cincinnati or DePaul, while UConn will most likely be up against Syracuse. No offense to the Friars, but that’s a huge benefit in the Cardinals’ favor.

Speaking of benefits, Pitt certainly didn’t get any when they were matched with (likely) the winner of Notre Dame vs. West Virginia in the quarterfinals. It’s tough to imagine a team that’s a lock for an NCAA one-seed getting a more difficult pairing in the quarterfinals of their own conference tournament. Recent accolades notwithstanding, Jamie Dixon‘s team better be ready to play from the get-go.    

March 9, 2009

Weekend in Hoops: Wildcat-Heavy Edition

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:59 am

Farewell regular season, we hardly knew ye! Seems like just yesterday the Kentucky faithful were up in arms because their beloved Wildcats had lost at home to VMI.

Don’t go to Vegas with Billy Gillispie. (Though actually it would’ve been a good idea last year.) 
Ah, but that was then. Now the Kentucky faithful are, well what do you know, up in arms because their beloved Wildcats closed the SEC season losing five of their last six. Included in that total is UK’s season-ending 60-53 loss at Florida Saturday. The late-season swoon has the ‘Cats hoping for an SEC tournament miracle to get them into the NCAA tournament and, worse, acknowledging that they will accept a bid from the NIT should it come to that.

The chorus is loud and sustained: Billy Gillispie has Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson. How can he be losing these games?

Two ways, actually. Because Kentucky is admirably tidy in their strengths and weaknesses, we can zero in on the problem performance-wise. This is after all an above-average defensive team (one that’s particularly harsh on opponents attempting twos) that shoots well from the field, attacks the offensive glass, and gets to the line quite often. What they do not do is take care of the ball. Oh, how they do not do that. In SEC play this year the Wildcats coughed up the rock on one out of every four possessions. Only Georgia was more benevolent with the ball.  

So turnovers are one way UK is not winning these games. The other factor at work in Lexington this season is fate, and here the karma’s pretty ironic. Last year Kentucky was one of the most fortunate teams in the country, going 12-4 while outscoring SEC opponents by just 0.01 points per trip. This year they upped that scoring margin to 0.04 points per possession–and went 8-8 for their troubles. Yes, that qualifies as pretty unfortunate (that scoring margin “should” fetch you either a 10-6 or, at least, a 9-7), but keep in mind the huge departure from normality actually took place last year, when expectations were raised pretty high by a team that barely outscored its conference opponents.   

BONUS SEC note!
Not Wildcat-related in any way: Auburn took care of business on their home floor Saturday, dispatching LSU 69-53. Tune in for Conference Check tomorrow for the final numbers but take it from me: Jeff Lebo has a good team, particularly on defense. Surging late in the year in the down division (West) of a down conference (SEC), they couldn’t get anyone to notice them. Makers of mock brackets say the surge was too little, too late. Maybe so. Still, the numbers here are pretty insistent as far as what team you would not want to play in a first-round NCAA game. You’d much rather face South Carolina than Auburn.

Those Wildcats out West can shoot the rock
Last seen in this space losing at home to Cal Thursday night, Arizona rallied in impressive fashion, beating Stanford 101-87 in Tucson on Saturday. Gaze upon this box score, for it features the best shooting you will see anywhere. In making 62 percent of their threes and 73 percent of their twos, the Wildcats recorded an effective FG percentage of 80.0, making theirs the best 40 minutes of shooting posted in any major-conference game this year. ‘Zona finished the year 9-9 in the Pac-10. As the five-seed in the conference tournament, they’ll face Arizona State in a quarterfinal on Thursday. Barring a Pac-10 tourney championship, these Wildcats will probably be watching the Selection Sunday show with the unnerving knowledge that this thing could go either way.

Wildcats of the Midwest come up short
Northwestern rallied from an early 15-point deficit at Ohio State yesterday and made the Buckeyes sweat but came up just short, losing 52-47. NU finishes 8-10 in the Big Ten, a giant leap forward, goodness knows, from their 1-17 record last year. Still, they can’t help but wonder what might have been. If they’d just held on to that lead at home against Illinois.

Then again, there’s a conference tournament starting Thursday. Win it. That will end this bothersome little 70-year NCAA tournament absence.

BONUS pro-bono scouting tip for NBA front offices!
B.J. Mullens is raw. Good night is he raw. DeAndre Jordan a year ago was Steve Nash compared to Mullens. Give the kid another year or three.  

Wildcat theme ends here: Let’s talk about Aggies
Texas A&M led 51-29 at the half and cruised somewhat unsteadily from there to a 96-86 win over Missouri in College Station on Saturday. Congratulations to Mark Turgeon and the Aggies on closing the year with six straight wins and putting themselves in very good position for an NCAA bid. True, part of that surge was fortuitous scheduling: their most impressive road win over that span arguably came at Nebraska. That being said, one of the things that drives me up the wall about who-have-you-played myopia (see “Auburn” above) is that it ignores how teams are playing. During their six-game lunge for the finish line, A&M scored 1.17 points per trip, making 54 percent of their twos and 44 percent of their threes. That’ll do.  

Duke is really struggling on D
North Carolina won the ACC outright yesterday with their 79-71 win at home over Duke, all but assuring that the Heels will receive their fourth one-seed in five years. Take a bow, Roy Williams. You’ve had a run the likes of which few coaches not named Wooden can relate to. 

As for the Blue Devils, there’s no shame in losing by eight at Chapel Hill, of course, but Mike Krzyzewski has more substantial worries on his plate. On paper Duke has a defense that tied with Florida State‘s for best-in-the-ACC honors during conference play. In reality, this team allowed 1.11 points per trip over the back half of their ACC schedule. They’ve been getting riddled with made shots by opponents for weeks now. The only thing between Duke and a total defensive collapse has been a relatively high number of opponent turnovers. But when those opponents get a shot off, look out.

Teasing tomorrow’s post
The Big East in 2009 has been an NCAA selection committee’s dream league. Dividing the conference into worthy and unworthy in terms of bids couldn’t be simpler. Tune in tomorrow.

Unfiltered-Back!
Don’t just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Mon dieu! The French were right with their posh talk about post-modernism! (Stupid French)
Hi, John,

I had a comment concerning the column on “luck.”

As far as I understand it, “luck” is the difference between the pythagorean winning percentage and the team’s actual winning percentage. 

In the business that I work in (economics), I would call that “error,” not “luck.” Calling it luck presumes the pythagorean percentage is the exact specification for winning.

Thanks!

Ben A. 

This is what I’ve been saying all along: the confusion here arises from the English language, not from the numbers. “Luck” connotes meanings which I do not hold with regard to these teams. Therefore I propose to start calling this phenomenon a team’s degree of DeChellis, in honor of the Penn State coach who’s had an extremely high degree of DeChellis for two seasons running now.

Though, truth be told, the Nittany Lions actually lost a close game (!) Saturday at Iowa. It looked very strange. I didn’t know that was possible.  

March 8, 2009

Five Thoughts: Boston-Orlando

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:55 pm

BOSTON – I’m in Beantown (for the next couple of hours) for yesterday’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (recap forthcoming). The timing was fortunate, with the Celtics also playing a pair of huge games at TD Banknorth Garden against Cleveland and Orlando. Friday’s matchup of the East’s leaders was too popular to get into, but I was credentialed for today’s afternoon affair against the Magic, a potential preview of an Eastern Conference Semifinal series. It was my first chance to take in a game in Boston, and for that matter anywhere in the Eastern Conference. Here are my five observations from the affair.

1. Boston missed Rajon Rondo.
This is the kind of unique insight you will get only on Basketball Prospectus. The Celtics’ point guard sat out with a sprained right ankle sustained in Friday’s win over Cleveland, leaving Doc Rivers to start newcomer Stephon Marbury at the point. Without Rondo, Boston’s ball movement suffered. In the first 17 minutes of the game, the Celtics had just two assists–and one of those was dubious scoring at best. Everything was isolation plays for Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, and that simply won’t work against a team as capable defensively as the Magic. In 48 first-half possessions, Boston mustered but 33 points–68.8 per 100 possessions. Yikes. The Celtics were sharper in the second half, but even then it had little to do with players creating for each other and a lot to do with Allen (23 second-half points on 8-of-17 shooting). So I don’t want to hear anyone telling me about how Rondo is just a product of the Boston system or his teammates.

2. Marbury isn’t ready.

The Celtics missing Rondo was exacerbated by how poorly Marbury played during the first half, when he had two points on 1-of-3 shooting, no assists and two turnovers in 15 minutes of action. In the first quarter alone, he passed up a layup opportunity for a kickout to a defended Pierce and committed an unforced turnover when he caught the ball standing out of bounds. I understand Rivers’ logic in starting Marbury, figuring that the chance to play with the team’s veterans would allow him to get up to speed in the Boston offense more quickly. However, Rivers should have pulled the plug and gone with Eddie House earlier in the game, as the Celtics were outscored by 14 points with Marbury on the court. The question I can’t yet answer with any certainty is whether this is to be expected given Marbury’s layoff of more than a year or whether this is indicative of the type of player he is at this stage of his career.

3. Celtics fans, Marcin Gortat.

The largely obscure reserve Magic center offered his introduction to Boston fans in a big way. With Dwight Howard in foul trouble, Gortat played more than 23 minutes during the first three quarters and offered a credible impersonation of Howard’s production. Orlando was +13 with Gortat on the floor, tops on the team. Gortat is a solid defender with lateral quickness that belies his size and strength. The box score had him down for two blocks, but I counted at least one more, and Gortat was a factor contesting shots at other times. Then a rested Howard came back in to play big down the stretch for the Magic.

4. Orlando’s offense struggled down the stretch.
The Magic wasn’t quite as bad in the second half as the Celtics were before halftime, but 35 points in 43 possessions is problematic in its own right. Orlando was 4-of-19 from the field in the fourth quarter, with go-to players Howard, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Tukoglu combining to make three of their 11 shot attempts. The Magic usually likes to go to pick-and-rolls with Turkoglu in those situations, but Boston defended those well and Turkoglu ended up taking multiple off-balance shots. Certainly the Celtics’ defense deserves a lot of credit, and the other time I watched Orlando in person the Magic executed brilliantly to rally from a good-sized deficit late to win in Portland. Still, it’s worth noting Orlando was not even close to perfect in what was for the team an important win.

5. Boston wasn’t awake for the early start.
Before the game, Rivers was asked his opinion on the number of matinees the Celtics have played recently, and he said he would rather not play them at all. Then his team went out and offered a credible reason for Rivers to be anti-matinee, starting extremely slowly. I was also surprised how quiet Boston fans were during the first quarter. Granted, there wasn’t much action to cheer, but the Garden was more silent than I’ve ever heard this season at the Rose Garden for much of the early going. After halftime, team and crowd both came alive, the fans offering some additional energy by getting loud at the earliest hint of a comeback. Come the stretch, the atmosphere was as loud as I expected from Boston fans.

March 7, 2009

From 344 to 65: No Change

Filed under: Uncategorized — jsheehan @ 1:22 pm

Creighton and Notre Dame were the only discussion-relevant teams to play yesterday. Notre Dame handled St. John’s easily at home, leaving open the possibility they could play their way into the field in New York next week. They need a trip to the semis with the quality win in the quarters that would provide. Creighton tried to end their hopes by blowing a 20-point second-half lead over Wichita State in a hail of turnovers and missed free throws, but State couldn’t hold a rebound with two seconds left, and Booker Woodfork stuck an 18-footer as time expired. Neither of these games helped the teams involved; it’s just bad-loss avoidance.

Also, Cornell became the first team to clinch a bid by beating Penn as Princeton was losing at Columbia, giving them their second straight Ivy League crown.

There are critical games all over the docket today. Throw in the World Baseball Classic, and I really need more TVs for the next week or so.

March 6, 2009

Hard Times for the State of Arizona

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:07 am

Lately the only way for either Arizona or Arizona State to pick up a win has been for the two teams to play each other. They did so a couple weeks ago in Tempe and the Sun Devils recorded a 70-68 win. Since that time, however, the two teams are a combined 0-6. The trend continued last night, as both teams lost home games to Bay Area conference opponents.

ASU’s 74-64 loss to Stanford was the more surprising of the two results. (It certainly took the Sun Devil athletic department completely by surprise. The game is currently listed as an Arizona State win in the sidebar of their schedule page.) The Cardinal are re-building nicely in their post-Lopez incarnation under first-year coach Johnny Dawkins, but this team has been very accommodating to opposing offenses that wish to score from the paint. Last night, however, ASU chose instead to stay true to form and bombed away from outside, attempting 30 threes and making just eight. Meantime the hitherto meek Stanford offense was racking up 74 points in 62 possessions, thanks in large part to the 20 points scored on 8-of-12 shooting by Landry Fields.

And yet, Arizona’s 83-77 loss to Cal was the more damaging of the two games. I’ve been seeing bubble pieces labeling the Wildcats as safely in. Me, I’m not so sure. Having now lost four straight, Russ Pennell‘s team would be well advised to win one for the seniors (I mean the players, not Lute) against Stanford on Saturday in Tucson. A loss would give Arizona an 8-10 conference record. The committee has taken sub-.500 teams before, but the Pac-10 this year may not be of sufficient stature to justify a reach that far down.

Actually in tempo-free terms you do have to reach down a ways to get to the Wildcats, who clearly haven’t received the memo about the league’s sassy new emphasis on defense

UCLA Finally Gets Oregon Teams at Home, Numbers Surge (It’s True!) 
Through games of March 5, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                                    Opp.
                     Pace    PPP    PPP      EM
1.  UCLA             64.1    1.17   1.04   +0.13
2.  Washington       70.9    1.11   1.01   +0.10
3.  Arizona St.      58.6    1.08   1.01   +0.07
4.  Cal              64.5    1.10   1.05   +0.05
5.  Washington St.   57.0    1.02   1.02    0.00
6.  USC              62.0    1.04   1.04    0.00
7.  Arizona          64.2    1.08   1.08    0.00
8.  Stanford         65.0    1.05   1.09   -0.04
9.  Oregon St.       58.0    0.97   1.09   -0.12
10. Oregon           65.4    0.97   1.16   -0.19 
 

Barring Kentucky-level surprises, UCLA will end the year as the per-possession league champs.  A more interesting question is what records they can shatter for offensive efficiency. Their last game will be at home on senior day against the notably permissive Oregon defense. Watch out. 

BONUS Pac-10 fun fact! Did you know that technically Johnny Dawkins is not the head coach at Stanford? It’s true! He is in fact “The Anne and Tony Joseph Director of Men’s Basketball.” Zounds that’s impressive.

Henceforth I am no longer merely a Basketball Prospectus writer. I am “The Bill and Melinda Gates Executive Vice President for Hoops Analysis.” Which will come as news to Bill and Melinda but what the hey. Gotta order up the new business cards. 

March 5, 2009

Weirdest Night Ever in the SEC

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:52 pm

I mean, where to start?

In Lexington: Georgia 90, Kentucky 85
I recently wrote a piece seeking to define more precisely the term “bad loss.” This is a bad loss. Stupendously, unfathomably, piercingly, soul-crushingly bad. At home in your venerable arena, to a team that comes in 2-12 in your conference and is being led by an interim coach. The Bulldogs are on-track to be, along with the 2008 editions of both Rutgers and Oregon State, one of the most impotent offenses of recent major-conference history. Not last night! Pete Herrmann‘s team racked up 90 points in 75 possessions, thanks in large part to 11-of-16 shooting on their threes. (Terrance Woodbury and Corey Butler were a combined 7-of-7.) Fluke? Somewhat. Does it matter how much of a fluke it was? Not much. It is done.

In Baton Rouge: Vanderbilt 75, LSU 67
It took two solid months of Basketball Prospectus editorializing but people were finally starting to come around on Trent Johnson‘s Tigers. (Oh, yeah. It was all us. Our influence is exceeded only by our glamour.) Then this. Yes, the Commodores have been playing better of late, but this? A.J. Ogilvy tore through the hitherto reputable LSU interior D like a Kentucky Secretary of State ripping into his beloved team, scoring 33 points on 12-of-17 shooting from the field and 9-of-14 marksmanship from the line. On any ordinary day I’d haul out the superlatives to limn what a bad loss this was.

In Starkville: Mississippi State 80, Florida 71
Bad in a different way. While there’s no particular shame attached to losing by (high) single digits in Starkville, the Gators’ tournament hopes are much more precarious than they were 12 days ago.

The Have-Nots Rose Up on March 4 
Through games of March 4, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                                    Opp.
                     Pace    PPP    PPP      EM
1.  LSU              69.6    1.10   0.97   +0.13
2.  Florida          70.2    1.11   1.05   +0.06
3.  Kentucky         69.4    1.04   0.98   +0.06
4.  Auburn           70.0    1.04   0.99   +0.05
5.  Tennessee        68.5    1.10   1.05   +0.05
6.  South Carolina   75.4    1.02   1.00   +0.02
7.  Alabama          70.4    1.04   1.05   -0.01
8.  Mississippi St.  69.9    1.02   1.03   -0.01
9.  Ole Miss         68.4    1.04   1.06   -0.02
10. Vanderbilt       68.3    1.01   1.05   -0.04
11. Arkansas         70.6    0.99   1.09   -0.10
12. Georgia          70.3    0.89   1.07   -0.18 
 

Note to hoops pundits pooh-poohing Auburn‘s worth: the teams above the Tigers are certainly doing everything in their power to elevate Jeff Lebo‘s team still further.

The Truth about Northwestern

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:17 am

For one thing they beat Purdue 64-61 in West Lafayette last night, giving the Wildcats wins at both Michigan State and Mackey Arena. That helps any resume.

Another truth: as of this moment NU is functionally equivalent to Penn State on a per-possession basis.

On the Brink of History in Evanston? 
Through games of March 4, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                                    Opp.
                     Pace    PPP    PPP      EM
1.  Michigan St.     63.4    1.07   0.94   +0.13
2.  Purdue           63.3    1.04   0.95   +0.09
3.  Wisconsin        57.6    1.06   1.00   +0.06
4.  Illinois         61.1    0.98   0.92   +0.06
5.  Minnesota        62.5    0.98   0.96   +0.02
6.  Ohio St.         61.3    1.07   1.06   +0.01
7.  Michigan         61.3    1.00   1.03   -0.03
8.  Northwestern     60.0    1.03   1.07   -0.04
9.  Penn St.         60.0    1.00   1.04   -0.04
10. Iowa             57.0    0.98   1.08   -0.10
11. Indiana          63.4    0.93   1.11   -0.18 
 

Is it just me or does Bill Carmody look strangely hip these days with his Tony Bennett look? Someone needs to do a rigorous tempo-free study on how well Northwestern does when Carmody doesn’t wear a tie. He’s almost 19 years older than Matt Painter, but last night it was Painter who looked like the up-tight tie-enslaved elder statesman. Carmody on the other hand looked like someone who was calmly going about the business of winning a road game and then was going to go out for some tofu. Neither of those things are easy to do in West Lafayette. 

Anyway, the answer to the question could Northwestern actually get a bid is: of course. Win Sunday at Ohio State, finish 9-9, win a game or two at the Big Ten tournament, see what happens. The Buckeyes, however, will have other ideas. 

Chat Today, PLUS: Indiana, Oregon St., Yin, Yang

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:43 am

Join me today for the live chat thing. Click here starting at noon Eastern to go live or do it earlier and submit your question in advance. All topics welcomed! Keep me on my toes and make up a plausible sounding coach name. (“Hey, John, where’s the love for the job Fran McFlannery’s doing at Texas-Beaumont? Will his Waves make a splash this month?”) 

And because I believe that no Unfiltered post should be limited to a shameless plug for a chat, please accept this moment of tempo-free Zen:

In researching an upcoming piece on the odd lethargy of two major-conference teams that had a lot of minutes returning from groups that went to the NCAA tournament last year, I tallied up how all 73 teams in the big six conferences have done relative to their performance last year. “Performance” here is defined as per-possession scoring margin.

The two teams that have made the biggest leaps forward year-to-year probably come as no surprise.

Craig Robinson Should Do Church Revivals 
Largest gains in efficiency margin, 2008 to 2009
Conference games only, 2009 figures through games of March 3
Efficiency margin: points per possession – Opp. PPP

                      2008     2009    Change     
1.  Oregon St.       -0.30    -0.10    +0.20  
2.  LSU              -0.06    +0.14    +0.20  
3.  Missouri         -0.06    +0.13    +0.19  
4.  Northwestern     -0.21    -0.04    +0.17  
5.  Oklahoma         -0.02    +0.13    +0.15
 

Keep in mind that the Beavers, in addition to being dramatically better this year, have also experienced some extremely fortuitous bounces of the ball in 2009. In short: this is as good as it can possibly get in terms of year-to-year change. Drink it in Corvallis.

At the other extreme from OSU are some teams that have seen things change dramatically in the other direction this season….

Tom Crean Probably Feels Like Going to a Church Revival 
Largest drops in efficiency margin, 2008 to 2009
Conference games only, 2009 figures through games of March 3

                      2008     2009    Change     
1.  Indiana          +0.07    -0.18    -0.25  
2.  Oregon           +0.01    -0.18    -0.19  
3.  DePaul           -0.08    -0.25    -0.17  
4.  Arkansas         +0.05    -0.11    -0.16  
5.  Georgetown       +0.12    -0.03    -0.15

And yet those Hoosiers are feisty, giving Michigan State everything the Spartans wanted Tuesday night in Bloomington before losing by five. Not bad when your team is returning just four percent of its minutes from 2008.

Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Of all the minutes that the Hoosiers played in 2007-08, just four percent of that total (in the person of Kyle Taber) was still present and accounted for in 2008-09.

True story: When Ken Pomeroy and I were in the final hectic stages of putting the book together, I got an email from the publisher asking about the typo in my table for returning minutes in the Big Ten. That “4” next to Indiana couldn’t be right, could it? After all, out of 73 major-conference teams this season, 69 of them returned at least 40 percent of their minutes. What’s up with this “4”?

No, it was correct.

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