Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

December 31, 2009

Beating Connecticut is no longer a “signature” win

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:16 am

Last night Cincinnati beat Connecticut 71-69 in Cincinnati, as official John Cahill broke basketball’s unwritten rule that says anything less egregious than an actual decapitation will not be called in the final seconds of a tie game. Cahill whistled UConn’s Gavin Edwards for fouling the Bearcats’ Lance Stephenson with one second remaining and the score tied at 69, thus sealing the Huskies’ fate. Was it a foul? You bet! Did the call feel out of place anyway? Absolutely. We’ve been conditioned to that place by years of whistle-swallowing in these situations.

Give all due credit to Mick Cronin for snagging a tough Big East win and, by all means, forward all due praise to Stephenson, who scored 21 points on a night when teammates Deonta Vaughn and particularly Yancy Gates were limited by foul trouble. Still, I can’t help feeling that much too much is being made out of this win. Connecticut carries the name and wears the colors of a team that got to the Final Four last April, but that team had Hasheem Thabeet, A.J. Price, and Jeff Adrien.

When the 2009-10 edition of Connecticut faces major-conference competition (i.e., LSU, Duke, Kentucky, and Cincy), however, this is a perfectly dreadful offense, one that has managed to score just 0.90 points per trip in those four contests. Little wonder. I can’t see how it’s really an “offense” in the true sense of the term. Four guys standing around and watching Jerome Dyson mount yet another doomed mad dash to the tin does not constitute a major-conference offense in my book. Dyson is taking 33 percent of this team’s shots during his minutes, yet he makes just 43 percent of his twos. 

What’s more UConn’s defensive rebounding has been thoroughly mediocre. Even their longstanding and dramatic free-throw advantage is cause for worry. It’s still in residence, mind you, and just as lopsided as ever. But what used to be a mere statistical curio for a dominant program is now a life raft for a middling team. Without a big advantage in free throws this team would have lost to UCF in Hartford. Jeff Goodman is right to worry about Connecticut.

Now for the “to be sure” walk-back. One paradox of a 16-team super-conference is that any given team’s schedule can feature a month’s worth of games that aren’t all that challenging. As long as you’re avoiding the super-conference’s elite, you’re in position to pick up some wins and please the non-attentive observer. Jim Calhoun‘s team, warts and all, would appear to be in such a position. Their next six games line up as follows: vs. Notre Dame, vs. Seton Hall, at Georgetown, vs. Pitt, at Michigan, and vs. St. John’s. The Huskies stand a fair chance of going 5-1 over that stretch and thus lurking in the polls all the way up to their home game against Texas on January 23. UConn will continue to be regarded as “UConn” for a while longer.

But absent further proof to the contrary, I’m not buying it. Based on performance to date, we would do well to ramp down our expectations for Calhoun’s team. They are not 2008-09 vintage Connecticut. Right now they are much more like 2008-09 vintage Minnesota.

BONUS navel-gazing! Goodbye, aughts. You were very kind to me and to my babbling on college hoops. Thanks.

December 29, 2009

Fredette scores 49 against Arizona

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ken Pomeroy @ 12:51 am

Not unrelated to my previous post, BYU won 99-69 at Arizona Monday night which is only going to further damage the Pac-10’s reputation. It was the worst defeat ever suffered by the Wildcats in the McKale Center. In addition, the Cougars’ Jimmer Fredette tied the building record with 49 points. At least that’s the best I can tell in doing a few minutes of research. The player he tied? Brandon Jennings, who did it while he was in high school and whose decision to play a season in Europe was one of the first in an unfortunate chain of events that has culminated in the Wildcats’ current situation. At any rate, the 49 is a record by a collegian in the building (breaking a 45-point effort by Providence’s Eric Murdock in 1990) and also a BYU record.

December 28, 2009

Guess who’s (still) coaching the Bulls

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 8:26 pm

The unsourced, speculative stories that are so prevalent in today’s media, especially of the online variety, drive me up a freaking wall. If anyone were to keep a scorecard on the accuracy rate of the rumor mill, I’d guess that about 95 percent of these types of reports turn out to be absolute b.s. Such is my interpretation of the current report being circulated suggesting that the Bulls have already decided to fire head coach Vinny Del Negro. Only one outlet has reported this; countless others have spread the story. The Chicago papers finally gave in and acknowledged the report, but also were unable to independently confirm it, which is a big, fat red flag.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Del Negro is going to be fired. I don’t know when it will be, but I think it will happen. I’ve been sitting on an analysis of that situation for about three weeks because I wrote it as an obit and expected the ax to fall any day. I’ve decided to put the piece up this week because I want to go on record about what sort of coach the Bulls should not be in the market for and there is no telling how long this saga is going to drag.

After beating New Orleans on Saturday, the Bulls are actually tied for the last playoff spot with Charlotte in the embarrassingly weak Eastern Conference. With Tyrus Thomas’ return, Del Negro has his full complement of players for the first time since early November and his recent lineup juggle (Hinrich/Gibson in; Salmons/Miller out) seems to be paying dividends. If the Bulls were to finish strong and win, say, 45 games (that’d be a 34-20 finish which is unlikely), Del Negro could save himself. I don’t think that’ll happen because I think he’s in over his head as an NBA coach. It’s not his fault — there was nothing on his resume that should have merited him getting the job in the first place. However, the Bulls need to move on to a coach with more clearly defined brand of basketball and more experience (as in having some) in working with a young roster. Del Negro … he can take an assistant coaching position somewhere and learn the trade the right way.

I don’t guess that most sports consumers care about the editorial standards governing sports reporters. If they did, rumor mongering would not be such a surefire generator of Web traffic. It’s sad to me, but I guess I’m a dinosaur in that regard. But as for Del Negro, here’s what we know. The Bulls practiced at the Berto Center on Monday and Del Negro was there with whistle in hand. At tomorrow’s shootaround, it’ll be the same story. Del Negro will be on the bench tomorrow night when the Bulls take on Indiana. That’s all we know right now. Has he already been fired? All evidence is to the contrary.



Another example of your faulty memory

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ken Pomeroy @ 1:43 am

There’s been lots of chatter about how poorly the Pac-10 has performed this season but don’t get carried away thinking this year’s version of the conference is historically bad. The current edition may feel a little more down than it actually is because the flagship programs, UCLA and Arizona, could finish 9th and 10th in some order. And admittedly, this season is likely to be historic in that sense – never in the 31 previous seasons of Pac-10 play have both UCLA and Arizona finished with conference records of .500 or worse. (The fewest combined conference wins by the two schools is 16 in 1984. UCLA supplied 15 of those.)

But I’ll submit that to find a worse Pac-10 season, one need not go back too far. I nominate 2004, a season when only four teams in the league finished with a winning record overall. Three teams got bids, putting together a total of one NCAA tournament victory, which came at the expense of a 16-seed. I expect the reason that the ‘04 season gets lost is because Stanford and Arizona were ranked in the top ten for most of the season. Stanford, as you may remember, won the regular-season title and earned a one-seed in the tourney. That was the year that the Cardinal made it to the final game of the regular season before incurring their first loss. Stanford had a great year, but there’s a little bit of the chicken-or-egg situation here. Their undefeated run was partly fueled by a weak conference and that their second-toughest conference game was also the last one on the schedule.

If we were doing some sort of decade retrospective, Stanford may well get the award for weakest one-seed of the aughts. (And if you want evidence that pollsters overvalue record and undervalue schedule strength, Stanford went into the tourney as the number one team in the country.) Even though there will be no unbeaten in the Pac-10 this season, Cal and Washington may well be as good as the Cardinal were in ’04, and USC seems to have firmed up a nice portfolio in recent days, no?

Yes, this season’s Pac-10 is below average by power conference standards, but the odds are in its favor to equal the number of bids from ’04 and certainly to exceed the number of tournament wins from that season.

December 23, 2009

On NBA Aging

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 7:38 pm

Using a study by David Berri from the forthcoming Stumbling on Wins, the Wall Street Journal reports that NBA players peak earlier than you might assume: “NBA players peak at 24 years old and basically stay at that level until they turn 25, at which point they start declining.”

The general assumption has been that NBA players peak at about age 27, along the lines of the peak age Bill James found in baseball many years ago. While the Journal strikes an ominous tone about another James, LeBron (due to turn 25 next week) having already peaked, Berri points out on his blog that the matter is not quite so cut and dry.

the key issue is not the specific point in the player’s 20s where the peak occurs, but rather that performance after age 30 has a noticeable drop-off.  In the player’s twenties the slope downward is quite gradual (and not something you would probably notice if you watched the player).  In other words, LeBron will still be LeBron – barring injury – for a few more years.

Aging studies depend heavily upon the method used, which won’t be known until the follow-up to Wages of Wins is released next spring. These methods are a source of some debate in baseball circles; fewer attempts have been made in the NBA. I’ve never really done much of a comprehensive study, but my SCHOENE database allows a quick and dirty method similar to the one used by Mitchel Lichtman for the Hardball Times. It shows a peak age of 27.1, which is somewhat later than Berri found. [One technical note: SCHOENE uses three-year weighted averages adjusted for age rather than simply the previous season, so some of the noise has been removed.]

However, the bigger takeaway is a peak age range rather than a single number. Here are the percentage of players in my database (minimum 250 minutes played in consecutive seasons from 1979-80 through last year) who improved the following season, based on their age in the current year:

Age     Imp      N

20      .69     59
21      .58    112
22      .70    254
23      .60    630
24      .55    797
25      .52    791
26      .52    782
27      .44    714
28      .43    670
29      .41    588
30      .38    543
31      .38    461
32      .39    362
33      .33    273
34      .34    205
35      .41    135
36      .25     88
37      .30     56

Despite fairly large samples, the percentages at age 25 and age 26 are not high enough above 50 percent to be statistically certain that players to tend to improve on average at those seasons. So peak age could be anywhere from 25 through 27 by this method.

Two other notes: First, SCHOENE is built on the assumption that there is no such thing as a single aging curve, but instead unique ones for different types of players. Second, we do know that various stats have different aging curves. For example, I discussed not long ago on Unfiltered the tendency for rebounding to peak early. Since Berri’s Win Score method values rebounding especially heavily, this could explain part of why he finds a peak age slightly earlier than the one I find.

(HT to the WSJ article to @basketballgeek)

Przybilla Ruptures Patellar Tendon

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:19 am

For the Portland Trail Blazers, Tuesday night added injury to injury. Already playing without four players sidelined for an extended period, including starting center Greg Oden and key reserves Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw, the Blazers saw Joel Przybilla crumple to the ground clutching his knee after jumping for a rebound during the first quarter of a gritty win at Dallas. Shortly after halftime, Portland play-by-play broadcaster Mike Barrett announced the devastating diagnosis: Przybilla had ruptured his right patellar tendon and dislocated his patella in the process.

It was the second catastrophic injury suffered by a Blazers center in the month of December. Greg Oden fractured his left patella on Dec. 5, ending his season.

The Carroll Guide to Sports Injuries, written by Dr. William Carroll and edited by Prospectus’ injury maven Will Carroll, describes patellar dislocations.

A dislocation of the patella (kneecap) occurs when the kneecap comes completely out of its groove and rests on the outside of the knee joint. Kneecap dislocations (luxations) usually occur as a result of significant medial to lateral trauma the first time the injury occurs. When the kneecap comes out of joint the first time, ligaments that were holding the kneecap in position are torn.

In this case, it was Przybilla’s patellar tendon that was torn, precipitating the dislocated kneecap. Injuries to the patellar tendon are relatively rare in the NBA. Blazersedge commenter Norsktroll found five examples this decade, including Warriors swingman Kelenna Azubuike earlier this season. Only once did a player return that season, and that was when Antonio McDyess partially tore his patellar tendon in October and briefly played in March. To that end, while the Blazers have yet to announce a timetable for Przybilla’s return, the logical conclusion is that his campaign is likely over.

“I can’t imagine him returning this year,” Will Carroll wrote in an e-mail. “It’s plausible, I guess. Still, probably not.”

I also asked Carroll the question on the minds of Blazers fans: Is Przybilla’s injury worse than Oden’s?

“Not apples to apples, but I’d rather have the fracture,” Carroll responded. “Those heal, usually predictably and cleanly. Oden has other issues, including size, but I’d still take the fracture.”

December 22, 2009

Analysis: Jazz Sends Harpring, Maynor to Thunder

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 8:45 pm

In a financially motivated move, the Utah Jazz sent injured forward Matt Harpring and rookie guard Eric Maynor to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday in exchange for the rights to 2002 draft pick Peter Fehse, according to multiple reports.

In making the deal, the Jazz slashed its luxury-tax obligation. When Carlos Boozer decided not to opt out of the final year of his contract, Utah was forced to go well over the tax limit to re-sign Paul Millsap. This deal eases some of that burden because the Jazz will not pay tax on Harpring’s 2009-10 salary of $6.5 million. Utah also saves about $1.7 million remaining on Harpring’s contract that would not be covered by insurance. The Jazz will have to replace Maynor on the roster at some point to get to the NBA minimum of 13 players, but will also save a little money by adding a lower-salaried player. The ultimate benefit to Utah will be at least $8.2 million and could come to as much as nearly $10 million if the Jazz makes use of the loophole in the rule that allows teams to play with 12 players for as long as two weeks at a time.

For the Thunder, the cost of adding Harpring and Maynor is much lower. Oklahoma City will be responsible for the remaining $1.7 million on Harpring’s deal not covered by insurance, which means effectively the Thunder bought Maynor for that cost. When first-round picks are sold, they usually go for $3 million, which is the most cash a team can include in any NBA trade. For example, that was the reported amount the L.A. Lakers got from New York in exchange for the 29th overall pick (used on Toney Douglas), nine picks after Utah drafted Maynor.

In making the deal, Thunder GM Sam Presti relied on the the team’s space under the salary cap. A close reading of Larry Coon‘s indispensable CBA FAQ reveals a hidden benefit to the deal. Because Oklahoma City is under the cap, it is not bound by the usual rules that prevent teams from packaging newly-acquired players in multiple-player deals for the next two months (a period that would ordinarily extend past the trade deadline at this point). So the Thunder is free to use Harpring’s expiring contract again. By the deadline insurance will cover nearly all of his remaining salary, an additional bonus to teams looking to save money.

Essentially, this is a win-win deal made possible by the two teams’ contrasting positions relative to the cap. For Utah, this is the culmination of a process the Portland Trail Blazers helped set in motion by extending an offer sheet to Millsap and forcing the Jazz to pay him market value despite the luxury-tax ramifications. As a result, Utah has to forfeit a useful young player and downgrades slightly in the short term from Maynor to Ronnie Price. In Oklahoma City’s case, this is the latest example of Presti using the team’s salary flexibility to add assets. Maynor has been a capable backup point guard for Utah as a rookie and gives the Thunder a long-term answer at the position behind starter Russell Westbrook. In Maynor’s limited minutes, his assist ratio is sixth in the league, trailing a group of the NBA’s best point guards (Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, former teammate Deron Williams and Jason Kidd).

The funny part of the deal is resurrecting the name of Fehse, drafted in the second round seven years ago when the team was still in Seattle. That was so long ago it was prior to my time working for the Sonics, when I was writing about the team on and filed this story about the selection of Fehse. Suffice it to say he does not figure in the Jazz’s plans, but league rules require teams to get something back in the trade, which is why these rights are often passed around years after a player was drafted.

December 21, 2009

Weekend in Hoops: No one looks better than Texas

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:21 pm

Texas beat North Carolina 103-90 on Saturday in the first basketball game ever played at Jerry Jones‘ new $1.3 billion Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, and to my eyes what inside-the-Beltway types would call “the optics” of this game took some serious getting used to. This year I’ve seen Carolina outplayed and schematically frustrated by Syracuse, and I’ve even seen them matched athletically by Kentucky. But I literally can’t remember the last time I found myself bestowing mid-major-variety “You poor overmatched dears” pity upon a Tar Heel team. Next to a physical specimen like Dexter Pittman, Ed Davis looked like John Henson. (Don’t ask me what Henson looked like.) To see a Roy Williams team operate at a clear horespower deficit is, to say the least, rare.

Damion James wasn’t particularly efficient, missing 14 of 22 shots, but he recorded a 25-15 double-double for Texas, while freshman Avery Bradley revealed speed and confidence on offense that he hadn’t shown before on his way to 20 points. (The efficiency prize goes to J’Covan Brown, who scored a quiet 21 points, if such a thing is possible, coming off the bench.)

In an exceptionally fast-paced game (87 possessions) where the Longhorns didn’t shoot as well from the field as did the Heels, Rick Barnes‘ team won rather easily anyway by getting to the free throw line and, especially, by beating Carolina to a bloody pulp on the glass. I have promised never to speak of the unicorn stat known as “rebound margin” again. However if I had not made that promise, I would point out here how this game perfectly demonstrates how useless said stat is. The 60-41 advantage on the boards posted by Texas, as impressive as it may look, in fact doesn’t begin to capture the degree of abject domination that the ‘Horns inflicted on their opponent.

Keep in mind North Carolina actually shot pretty well, and, more to the point, they shot significantly better than Texas. Which means there were fewer opportunities for the ‘Horns to haul down defensive boards. So for this team to get 19 more rebounds anyway means their work on the glass had to be absolutely absurd. Indeed it was: the Longhorns got to fully half of their own misses and rebounded 72 percent of Carolina’s missed shots.

Give Pittman most of the credit for UT’s stellar showing on the offensive glass. The big guy recorded 12 offensive boards in just 26 minutes of playing time. From my chair Pittman’s performance in this game (he recorded a 23-15 double-double) marked something of a return to 2008-09 form. I realize he’s been garnering headlines this year for his unbelievable shooting (he is making 79 percent of his twos on the season), but what had interested me about that shooting was that these are not just put-backs he’s recording. Before he saw Carolina blue, Pittman’s offensive rebounding was actually down from last year. But after what I saw him do Saturday against a frontline stocked with future NBA players, I know that Pittman has the potential to achieve DeJuan Blair-level domination in any game against any team, up to and including Kansas.   

Ah, yes, Kansas. ESPN made the Jayhawks the victims of what we in the trade call an invidious comparison on Saturday, kind of like when it’s December and you hear John Lennon‘s totemic classic “Happy Xmas, War is Over” played back-to-back with Paul McCartney‘s singularly unfortunate and synthesizer-riddled piece of dreck, “(Simply Having a) Wonderful Christmastime.” On this day Bill Self‘s club was clearly McCartney to the Longhorns’ Lennon, as the Jayhawks limped along to a lifeless 75-64 win over previously struggling Michigan in Allen Fieldhouse, a game which provided the lead-in to North Carolina-Texas on ESPN. Cole Aldrich in particular, a preseason All-American according to this writer, looked synthesizer- and skinny-tie ready, scoring five points on 0-of-3 shooting from the field against a defense that for the year has allowed opponents to make no less than 52 percent of their twos.

An off game for the big guy and his team? Absolutely, and off games do happen, even for Teams of the Decade. I’m just surprised that the team I ranked number one in the nation in the preseason has such unimpressive “quality” wins at this point. Kansas beat Memphis by two on a neutral floor; Saturday night the Tigers lost at UMass, a fate Cornell, for one, managed to avoid. The Jayhawks also won by 12 at UCLA, a feat that would have meant a lot in any year prior to this one, when Cal State Fullerton also won at Pauley Pavilion. Cal hasn’t exactly been a juggernaut this year or anything, but Self’s team may want to improve on what they showed against the Wolverines to be extra double-sure that they keep that gaudy home winning streak in tact tomorrow night.  

Your reaction to the Butler-Xavier game reveals your comfort with Rawls. Discuss.
Unless you were entombed in a shopping mall all weekend, one buried underground and impervious to cellular reception, you know that Butler beat Xavier 69-68 in Indianapolis on Saturday thanks to a highly controversial last-second lay-in by Gordon Hayward. When Hayward hit his game-winner the clock showed 1.2 seconds remained in the game, time enough for the Musketeers to have one last chance to win. After a lengthy review of the tape, however, officials determined that the clock had been stopped incorrectly for 1.3 seconds on the Bulldogs’ final possession and that time therefore “should” have expired right after Hayward’s shot cleared the net. The officials therefore declared the game finished.

To say first-year Xavier coach Chris Mack was not thrilled with this ruling would be putting it mildly. He shouldn’t have been thrilled with this ruling. No one in his position would be. I would not have been, had I been in his position. Then again I’m not in his position. The officials spent ten to 15 minutes trying to figure out what the outcome of this game would have been if the clock had been operated correctly. The 40-minute time-limit we put on games is of course arbitrary and it can never truly be measured accurately down to the tenth of a second. But it’s all we have.

If (I stress if) it’s correct that 40 minutes had come and gone by the time Hayward made his shot, then it was incumbent upon the officials to rule game-over, incumbent upon Mack to go nuts, and incumbent upon the rest of us to say “Man, tough break” and nothing more, certainly not “Xavier should have had one more shot.” For if you had asked Mack before that game if his team “should” be given 40 minutes and 1.3 seconds to beat Butler, he would ignored your silly question entirely. He would have been right to.

Fast becoming a weekly feature! These Are Not Upsets….
This top-25 thing that some people apparently actually pay attention to in December is fast becoming a problem. Last Monday I was wondering why in the world people were running around screaming with their hands above their heads just because Temple won at home against Villanova, and the problem was quickly traced to an ersatz and indeed meaningless “3” that had previously been appearing next to the Wildcats. 

Alas, there was even more misplaced noise this weekend, which is too bad because there were indeed surprises enough happening around the country, goodness knows (see below). But Wichita State beating Texas Tech 85-83 in Wichita is not a surprise, even if the Red Raiders were in the top 25. Richmond beating Florida 56-53 in suburban Fort Lauderdale is not a surprise, even if the Gators were in the top 25. Even Old Dominion beating Georgetown 61-57 in the Hoyas’ 2500-seat on-campus venue, McDonough Arena, is way less of a surprise than you’d think. The Monarchs’ 7-4 record is highly misleading for a team that, albeit in still-murky December, appears to have one of the best defenses in the nation. Should this level of D continue, don’t be shocked if Blaine Taylor‘s group wins the CAA this year. 

Now then, for your running-around-and-screaming-with-your-hands-above-your-head-but-accurately purposes, here are your actual weekend surprises in no particular order:

Duke absolutely pummeled Gonzaga 76-41 in Madison Square Garden. I realize that in recent years the Blue Devils have on occasion looked really impressive in December and January, only to have the impression fade in March. Still, to do this against a team with wins over Wisconsin, Cincinnati, and Washington State was undeniably striking.

USC absolutely pummeled Tennessee 77-55 in L.A. I’m on the record as thinking Bruce Pearl‘s club will be able to surmount last year’s horrible three-point shooting with the sheer wealth of experienced personnel on hand. Maybe so, but it sure didn’t look like it Saturday, as the Vols went 2-of-22 on their threes. Give the Trojans’ newly-eligible Mike Gerrity all the praise and attention you want, but Tennessee won’t win many games scoring 0.79 points per trip. 

Georgia edged Illinois 70-67 in a quarter-filled Gwinnett Center (sorry, “The Arena @Gwinnett Center”–please)  in suburban Atlanta that, if anything, tilted toward the Illini in terms of crowd support. Fans of the orange and blue should have no illusions as far as the magnitude of this surprise. This is a bad loss. The Bulldogs entered this game the functional equivalent of Iowa in terms of Pomeroy Rating. Maybe it was the Dawgs’ tenacious D on ball screens. All I know is scoring 67 points in 70 possessions against this defense is a surprise. Kudos to Mark Fox for registering what is clearly a nice program-furthering win.     

Don’t just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Using this nomenclature, Duggar Baucom is truly maniacal
John, I loved your piece on rebounding. One thought: I have taken to referring to team pace as “manic” or “deliberate.” If you use “fast” and “slow” people tend to think of fast as good and slow as bad. Perhaps manic is also bad, but it takes people a while to think about it before forming an opinion.

Bruce B.

Yeah, I plead guilty to saying “fast” on occasion when I should say “fast-paced.” Then again the “slow” stigma will fade when a, uh, deliberate team wins it all. Georgetown came darn close to doing so in 2007.     

December 19, 2009

Reader’s Choice

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:52 am

The week of Christmas is always light in terms of traffic, so I want to use next week to test out something new–the idea of giving some column-scheduling power to you, the readers. I’ll determine an NBA topic for sometime next week based on reader feedback. If there’s something you’d like to see covered, e-mail me at by Sunday night and make your case for why it would interest your fellow Basketball Prospectus readers.

December 18, 2009

Unfiltered Post of the Decade!

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:41 pm

Knight’s more feisty when he gets away from Musburger 
I’ve been loving the analysis provided on ESPN by Bob Knight this season, but I have to admit it does feel a little odd to see perhaps the most volcanic coach ever sitting quietly and with apparent contentment while he’s poked in the ribs and joshed by an avuncular Rotarian like Brent Musburger. If the price of the superb hoops analysis is a wholly and irretrievably deracinated Knight, I’m not sure I want to sign up.

Turns out I needn’t have worried. A tart little dollop of the old great-copy Coach flashed across the wires yesterday, in the form of his comments on John Calipari, “integrity,” and the relationship between the two. Indeed such was my relief to see Knight once again being blunt and splenetic about something–anything–that I am proclaiming this the Sound Bite of the Decade. 

Timely, too, for it coincided rather conveniently with what a distinguished panel of decade experts has proclaimed the Single Oddest Bit of Punditry of the Decade, this putatively daring but inexplicably asynchronous bit of would-be iconoclasm by Gregg Doyel at “I want Kentucky to go undefeated,” he writes. “The media would hate it, but that makes me want it even more. Media groupthink has decided John Calipari is a bad guy….Media groupthink is silly.”

It sure is, which is why otherwise dissimilar observers like Jay Bilas ($), Dick Vitale and yours truly said so. Four months ago.

The problem with media groupthink isn’t that it’s being unjust to Calipari but rather that it’s forgotten Calipari entirely. Media groupthink has the attention span of a marmoset. Derrick Rose, SAT scores, and other boring conference-room matters were officially ancient groupthink history the second John Wall started being John Wall. Media groupthink would love it if Kentucky went undefeated (which, as Doyel quickly and rightly notes, won’t actually happen).

Doyel’s piece reminded me of the “Simpsons” episode where Lisa pugnaciously tries out for the football team saying, “That’s right! Me! A girl! What do you think of that?” only to be welcomed warmly and told the team already has three girls.

All postseasons expand; authentically exciting postseasons expand exponentially
The college basketball Story of the Decade has clearly been this month’s discussion of expanding the NCAA tournament field to 96 teams. Whether the final number turns out to be 96 or 128 or something else, I think it’s next to inevitable that the field will indeed grow. Networks love postseason sports because they draw large DVR-impervious and demographically-attractive audiences. The more hours of this content the networks (old-school or cable) can get the happier they are, and major league baseball, the NFL, and the NBA have all been delighted to inflate their postseasons accordingly over the past two decades. Now it’s the NCAA’s turn, and when a primal force of sports-business nature like this is combined with a warm and fuzzy but no less true statement like “It will mean more mid-majors get in,” resistance is futile. Watch.

Jamie Dixon says he doesn’t want to be rescued; Big Ten says it’s classic Stockholm Syndrome
Obviously the college basketball Conference-Alignment Story of the Decade has been this week’s announcement by the Big Ten that they will look into expanding. Yesterday Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said that he’s happy where his team is, thank you, a statement that was not only sincere (doubtless) but also entirely a propos for a coach in Dixon’s position. So far so good, but the wording of this AP write-up on that sincere and appropriate sound bite was really quite strange:

Dixon mentioned no schools by name. However, abandoning longtime Big East rivalries with Syracuse, Georgetown, and Connecticut and replacing them with Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota, and Wisconsin–distant schools with no ties or significant attraction to Pitt–could erode interest in Panthers basketball.

Oh please. In other words let’s juxtapose the most-attractive-to-Pitt schools from one conference with the least-attractive-to-Pitt schools from the other. This has pretty clearly become the Sneaky-Fatuous Ratiocinative Shtick Of the Decade and I can do it too: South Florida, DePaul, Seton Hall, and Rutgers, or Penn State, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Indiana?

Granted this whole conference-expansion train will run very slowly but inexorably on tracks laid by shadowy and all-powerful ivied types (i.e., the University of Chicago is actually involved) who don’t know and wouldn’t particularly care that this so-called “basket-ball,” the AP, or even John Gasaway exist. Meantime let us at least agree to conduct our irrelevant and pointless expansion musings in a rational and coherent manner.

Don’t just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Teams of the Decade!
I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts here at Prospectus for quite a while. All the recent talk about “teams of the decade,” “players of the decade,” etc., has gotten me thinking, so here I am with my first question ever!

In your opinion what college team was the most statistically dominant team in any individual season of the past ten years?

Joey E.

It’s understood that I’m responding with an off-the-cuff Unfiltered-back! answer, not an “I buried myself in archived footage and spreadsheets for three days and here’s my Feature” answer, right? In fact this is my Off-the-Cuff Unfiltered-Back Answer Of the Decade! (Where “Decade” of course means “in the tempo-free era.” College basketball emerged ex nihilo from darkness and ooze sometime around the second week of November, 2004.)

Kansas and Memphis of course outscore their overmatched Big 12 North and overwhelmed C-USA opponents respectively by eleventy-gillion points per possession year after dominant year, such that the analytical task at hand has become simply knowing when to say, “No, seriously, this time they are this good.” So I’m going to arbitrarily salute-and-remove them at the top here, because to me a more interesting question would be simply: Who else you got?

Non-Kansas Non-Memphis Teams of the (latter half of the) Decade! 
Conference games only: ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                         Pace    PPP    PPP      EM
1.  Illinois 2005        62.6    1.18   0.94   +0.24
2.  Texas 2006           63.6    1.15   0.91   +0.24
3.  North Carolina 2005  76.8    1.13   0.91   +0.22
4.  Wisconsin 2008       60.2    1.09   0.91   +0.18
5.  Michigan St. 2005    63.5    1.13   0.95   +0.18
6.  UCLA 2008            64.9    1.13   0.96   +0.17
7.  North Carolina 2007  74.4    1.13   0.96   +0.17
8.  Georgetown 2007      59.4    1.14   0.97   +0.17
9.  Pitt 2009            66.9    1.17   1.01   +0.16
10. Ohio St. 2007        62.2    1.10   0.94   +0.16

Read with all due caution and common sense. The putative number three here, of course, beat the nominal number one on a neutral floor for that year’s national championship. Same deal with numbers seven and eight, only it was a regional final and eight won. Moreover the prevalence of Big Ten teams near the top of this list is likely not unrelated to what through a goodly portion of the decade was a ready supply of Big 12-North-like weak sisters at the bottom of said league.

More common sense! Florida was not historically dominant in the regular season in either year that they won the national championship but in 2007 they turned it on for the postseason in classic and maddening NBA fashion, which one could certainly posit as the very essence of Decade-level performance. And in fairness I should note that the year Louisville had against the C-USA in 2005 would definitely make this list if I went to the trouble of digging it up for an off-the-cuff Unfiltered answer, which I did not.

Just saying. To the conference foes they were trouncing in these particular years, these major-conference late-’00s teams looked notably formidable.

And I eagerly await the ESPN 40-on-40 feature on the ’05 Illini, destined to be the Sports Documentary of the (next) Decade!         

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