Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

February 17, 2010

Cavaliers Choose Jamison; Clippers Benefit

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 9:02 pm

The biggest players in the 2010 trade deadline market have made their move. In a deal first reported by the Washington Post’s Michael Lee and subsequently fleshed out by Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Cleveland Cavaliers have settled on using their trade chips to acquire forward Antawn Jamison from the Washington Wizards. Cleveland held on to forward J.J. Hickson, but sent its 2010 first-round pick to Washington along with the expiring contract of center Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Ultimately, it seems the Cavaliers’ decision came down to adding Amar’e Stoudemire (which would, according to the rumor mill, have cost them Hickson) or Antawn Jamison. If Cleveland decided that Jamison was the better fit at power forward, that’s a decision I understand. Jamison better complements Shaquille O’Neal and Anderson Varejao, and while his ability to space the floor could be a bit of an issue if the Cavaliers rely on Jamison to shoot threes too heavily, it makes Cleveland potentially very potent in the half court.

The part of the deal that apparently came together more recently was the involvement of the L.A. Clippers as a third team in the deal. The Clippers used Al Thornton as a carrot to unload the final year (at player option) of Sebastian Telfair‘s contract. The Wizards subsequently offloaded Telfair on the Cavaliers, keeping Thornton for themselves. (This part of the deal too involves a pair of expiring contracts–Drew Gooden traded for the second time in four days, this time to the Clippers, and Brian Skinner headed to Washington.)

There was no need for the Clippers to be involved, so Washington’s decision was to take a flyer on Thornton. While it didn’t cost them any talent or force them to take on any contracts, Thornton’s $2.8 million salary for next season reduces the cap space the Wizards cleared by dealing Jamison. By my calculations, Washington will still be nearly $18 million under the cap, which is more than enough to make a max offer to a free agent. Still, I’d venture to guess that the Wizards could spend that $2.8 million better in free agency than on Thornton, who has yet to rate better than replacement level in three NBA seasons.

On the other end, the Clippers have to be ordering champagne. Thanks to Cleveland choosing Jamison, they were able to offload $5.5 million in salary for next season. The Clippers now have just four players under contract for next season–Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman. Add in the team’s option for center DeAndre Jordan, likely to be exercised, and that’s $33.5 million committed to five players (per Storyteller’s salaries).

Add in the cap hit from the Clippers’ first-round pick (currently 10th, but could go higher and become more expensive) and holds for the six empty roster spots and you get a little over $38.2 million. That would put the Clippers $14.8 million under a projected $53 million cap, not quite enough to make a max offer (which would be $15.9 million in this scenario). So the Clippers would have to make one more move–most likely trading their first-round pick for a future pick, which would not count against the cap–if they want to get in position to become a player in the max-contract sweepstakes. That might take a lot of faith that the Clippers can actually sign a player of that ilk, but at least they’ve put themselves in position to consider the prospect–and done it without having to sweeten the pot with any kind of picks or prospects.

(UPDATE: Hoopdata.com’s Joe Treutlein helpfully pointed out CBA guru Larry Coon’s note the other day that no matter how low the cap is set, players already making the max (like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade) will have a maximum salary of $16.6 million next year (it could be higher if the cap was over $55.3 million, but that is unlikely). For the Clippers to match that, they’d have to trade their pick and decline Jordan’s option. They’d still be a tiny bit short, but the difference would be inconsequential.)

Villanova’s weird, needless, suicidal fouling

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:37 pm

On Monday night Connecticut won at Villanova 84-75, as Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson scored 29 and 15 points respectively for the Huskies. Walker in particular had a magnificent game, driving to the tin time and time again and drawing contact. So much contact, in fact, that Walker scored 14 of his points from the line. It was a great performance, no doubt, but in this case it was helped along by one seriously foul-happy defense. Long before Walker came into view, Jay Wright ‘s team had already shown a strange willingness to foul too much.

There can be situational and strategic reasons for fouling of course. A foul can be better than an uncontested layup. And aggressive defense from a deep front-line can carry with it the risk of some opponent free throws. Understood. But I’ve tracked my fair share of major-conference hoops and over the past two seasons not one team has fouled this much with relation to what its conference’s refs usually whistle. This wasn’t a case of Villanova simply fouling late in the game against UConn because they were behind. They’ve been fouling all year.

Meet the Villanova Wildhacks
Conference games only: ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10 & SEC, 2009 & 10
Hack Factor: Opponent FTA/FGA, standard deviations above conference average

                     HF
Villanova 2010      2.43
Oregon 2009         2.25
Washington 2010     1.99
Ole Miss 2009       1.96
Indiana 2010        1.80
 

How much better would ‘Nova be on defense if they would just stop hacking? We can’t be sure, of course. In asking the question we’re trying to ascertain what would happen if what never happened happened. But here’s a suggestive comparison.  

               Opp eFG%   DR%   Opp TO%   Opp PPP
Villanova        48.6    66.0    20.1       1.06
Cal              48.7    66.0    19.9       1.01

Reading left to right, ‘Nova and Cal are well nigh identical in how well they play FG defense, crash the defensive glass, and force turnovers within their respective conferences. So how come Wright’s team gives up so many more points on each possession? In large part because they foul so much. You might not think the difference between giving up 1.06 and 1.01 points per trip is anything to get too riled about, and ordinarily you’d be right. In this case, however, it spells the difference between Villanova being a somewhat overhyped team with a questionable defense and being clearly the best team in the Big East.

The Wildcats are a team with a spectacular offense and a so-so defense. Within that defense, every area of their performance has actually been better than average during conference play. Field goal defense on both sides of the arc, defensive rebounding, forced turnovers–you name it, Villanova has been above-average. Except for the fouls.

It’s true that the ‘Cats get to the line quite often themselves–and if they’d just stop hacking so much on defense they’d see much more bang for their buck from all those fouls they draw on offense. I can’t think of another improvement that a nationally-ranked team can make that would be a) so easy to implement, and b) so effective. If ‘Nova gets the memo and simply stops putting opponents on the line, look out.

February 16, 2010

Nuggets’ Karl to undergo chemo

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 10:09 pm

Sobering news out of Denver, where it was revealed that Nuggets coach George Karl has suffered a recurrence of cancer and has begun a regiment of chemotherapy treatments.

If there is a bright side to the situation for the Nuggets, it’s that Karl will remain on the bench for the most part, though he expects to miss about nine games because of the treatment. It’s difficult to be pragmatic in the face of such grim news, but this comes just three days after Karl received a contract extension through the 2010-11 season. Karl deserved the extension, of course, and there is currently no reason to believe that he won’t be around to fulfill his new contract.

However, Karl had some interesting comments yesterday regarding the value of a good coach, saying, “Now, some starters make $10 million, some starters make $5 million, some starters make $2 million. But, I think, from a standpoint of basketball value, a good basketball system is as valuable as maybe your fourth- or fifth-best starter.”

Now’s not the time to evaluate that statement and I’ve never hatched a good scheme for measuring the effect of a basketball coach, though I have little reason to doubt what Karl says is true. However, the key choice of words to me is where he says “system” rather than “coach.” Karl has had his system in place for quite a long time in Denver. His players know it; his assistants know it.

So even on those nights that Karl will be unable to lead his team from the bench, it’s still going to be Karl’s teachings on display on the court. And you have to believe that on the nights that Karl is absent, the Nuggets are going to have just a little bit more want-to than normal.

February 15, 2010

Weekend in Hoops: Boeheim was right

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:10 am

Two weeks ago the YouTube clip du jour in college hoops circles was this video of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim meeting with the press at the Carrier Dome on January 25, right after the Orangemen had blown past Georgetown 73-56. Included in this clip’s 62 seconds is the following exchange:

REPORTER: Coach, do you have a special feeling about this year’s team?

BOEHEIM: I have my special feelings when it’s over. Anything else is premature. Premature anything isn’t very good.

Doff your cap one more time to a guy who can quip so deftly, whip up a nifty double entendre in the customarily stultifying cinderblock tomb known as the postgame presser, and, not least, be exactly right about his team. The celebration of Syracuse was indeed premature.

It’s not just that the Orangemen lost yesterday at the Carrier Dome to Louisville, 66-60. It’s not even that Boeheim’s team has looked so flat in each of its last two games, including their 72-67 win at home over Connecticut last Wednesday.

No, for me it’s that Syracuse just isn’t scary enough. The Orangemen are clearly a very good team and their defense is outstanding. But “special feeling”? Best Syracuse team ever? Put it this way. Boeheim’s men are scoring 1.08 points per trip in Big East play. The conference average is 1.06. There’s no precedent in recent years for an offense this mediocre (in relation to its conference) getting to the Final Four, much less winning it all.

The problem is too many turnovers, specifically in the backcourt. Andy Rautins, Brandon Triche, and Scoop Jardine all sport high turnover rates. As a result Syracuse has given the ball away on 22 percent of their possessions in conference play, the worst such figure in the Big East.   

That’s not to say the Orangemen are doomed. It’s only mid-February. Maybe the ‘Cuse offense will improve. (For one thing next Tuesday’s game at Providence should help Syracuse’s numbers on offense, if you get my drift.) Or maybe they’ll break a precedent and get to the Final Four even though they have the Big East’s eighth-best offense. But right now I’m thinking Boeheim knows whereof he speaks, even if he’s making the assembled reporters laugh in the process.

The shooting was already there in Columbus. The D? That’s new.
Ohio State is on what can only be termed a rampage through the Big Ten, the latest proof being their 72-53 shellacking of previously hot Illinois in Champaign yesterday. The Buckeyes played their first two Big Ten games without Evan Turner, who was recovering from his back injury, and even when Turner first returned he was still rounding into form. As a result Thad Matta‘s team started out 1-3 in-conference. But starting with Turner’s unforgettable “OK, I’m back” moment at Purdue on January 12, OSU is 9-0 in Big Ten play, outscoring conference opponents by an Illinois-in-2005-like 0.22 points per trip. 

One thing about the Buckeyes that may not be clear unless you watch them for several games is that they are in the midst of an incredible two-season run of excellent shooting. In fact in the book I had this to say about Ohio State’s amazing accuracy last year: “While I don’t wish to be unduly gloomy, the strong likelihood is that Matta could coach until he’s Joe Paterno‘s age without ever again having a team that shoots this well.” Statistically my reckless statement is looking good, but in this instance looks are deceiving. Again, Turner missed six games. But if you run into this team anytime soon you should know they’re once again draining their shots. (As in making 58 percent of their twos during this current nine-game Big Ten win streak.)

Of course great shooting didn’t get last year’s Buckeyes any further than a 9-seed and a first-round loss to Siena. What’s new and different about this year’s edition is that they’re defending people. On paper their D is second only to Wisconsin‘s in Big Ten play, and even this understates how good they’ve been with a healthy Turner. No defense in the conference forces turnovers as well. Moreover, the Buckeyes play a fair amount of zone yet take care of the defensive glass. And they never foul. (They can’t. They have no depth.) This is a really good team, one that hosts Purdue in Columbus Wednesday night and then plays at Michigan State on Saturday. They merit your viewing.

Sutton Agonistes
By now you’ve seen the horribly sad mug shot (which I refuse to link to–google if you must) of former Oklahoma State head coach Sean Sutton, who was arrested on Thursday in Stillwater for allegedly trying to import painkillers from out of state. Sometimes I wonder if Bill Self ever tosses and turns at night, knowing that it was his alma mater’s mistaken and indeed irrational belief that they might be able to hire him away from Kansas that led to Sutton being pushed out the door in April of 2008. (A push that was announced at the time by OSU with the following creepily Orwellian headline: “Sean Sutton and Mike Holder Reach Mutual Agreement About Future of OSU Basketball.” As I said in that year’s book, if you ever read about me coming to a “mutual agreement” with my employer like this, promise me you’ll come check my air supply.)

Who knows, maybe if 18-year-old Bill Self had decided to attend Oklahoma instead of Oklahoma State in the fall of 1981, Sutton may have kept his job.  More importantly, I’m convinced that any reasonably capable coach would have been able to get the Cowboys to the NCAA tournament in 2009, just like Travis Ford did. The same team elements–basically returning possession-minutes–that led me to believe that Virginia would be better than expected this year were in place for the ‘Pokes heading into 2008-09. If I’m right Oklahoma State’s decision to oust Sutton was a true “Sliding Doors” moment for the coach.  

In today’s less Orwellian venues….
The fantastic game that no one saw
. On Friday night when much of the world was watching the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Pitt beat West Virginia 98-95 in triple-OT. Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker had 24 points apiece for the Panthers, with the former player reaching that total while playing all 50 minutes….Missouri Valley personnel notes. Last night Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson announced that 7-footer Jordan Eglseder has been suspended for three games. Eglseder was arrested early yesterday morning in Cedar Falls for drunken driving. Also yesterday Creighton coach Dana Altman announced that P’Allen Stinnett is done for the year, due to unspecified conduct detrimental to the team. Stinnett had initially been suspended on January 25….Conference supremacy watch. The best team in the Pac-10 is pretty clearly Cal. Ditto for UTEP in CUSA. More to follow tomorrow in Tuesday Truths….The SEC race isn’t exactly close, but. One interesting little item to track is what Vanderbilt is achieving in the way of getting to the line. The Commodores are sporting a higher in-conference number for FTA/FGA (0.59) than any major-conference team in the country. By far. (Take that, Kansas State and Texas A&M!) Indeed Vandy has shot 312 freebies in just ten SEC games….Degree of DeChellis has gone west! The clutch Lobos of New Mexico won their second OT Mountain West game in as many tries, this time at Utah on Saturday by the score of 68-65. Steve Alford‘s team remains in a first-place tie with BYU in the loss column….This just in: The A-10 is really good! On Saturday Xavier won at Florida, 76-64….Duke did what Duke does at home. The Blue Devils blew away Maryland 77-56 without too much trouble. Through some kind of communications mix-up, the referees in this game did not call fouls on Brian Zoubek on every Duke defensive possession, meaning the senior could actually attempt shots, run up and down the floor, etc. A 16-17 double-double was the result. Return match between Devils and Terps happens in a couple weeks….And one more thing. That OT loss at San Francisco notwithstanding, Gonzaga is the best team in the WCC.

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

I am a staunch supporter of reality and have never wanted a monopoly over it
On Saturday I received tweets saying ESPN was using rebound percentage and that CBS had praised the Maryland offense in terms of points per possession. This led to speculation from one quarter that I would declare tempo-free victory and retire.

I refuse to listen to such radical talk! I’m having too much fun, and if the world begins uniformly using reality-based numbers today the fun will just be starting. Sorry, you’re stuck with me. 

February 12, 2010

The NBA Week Ahead at BBP

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 4:29 am

With San Antonio’s win in Denver earlier tonight, we have officially reached the NBA’s All-Star break. Next week, things heat up with the trade deadline, meaning a big week for the association. Here’s what you can expect from Basketball Prospectus (besides the usual NCAA coverage).

– Join me Friday at Baseball Prospectus 1:00 p.m. Eastern/10:00 a.m. Pacific to chat about All-Star Weekend, the trade deadline and whatever else is on your mind right now. You know the drill: Leave your question now if you can’t make it for the chat.

– As for the actual All-Star Weekend, we’re not really planning any coverage. It’s hard to bring the trademark Prospectus analysis to All-Star (except, it should be noted, Neil Paine‘s fun look at percentages in the Three-Point Shootout as compared to how the same players have done in game situations over at the Basketball-Reference.com Blog). However, I will be on Twitter all weekend, so follow me (@kpelton) for pithy commentary on all the weekend’s big events.

– We’ll kick off next week on Monday with a back-and-forth at the break between Bradford Doolittle and I. On Tuesday, I’ll take a look at some of the most prominent players who could be moved prior to Thursday’s deadline. From there on out, while Bradford keeps an eye on other interesting topics, I’ll be focusing on daily Transaction Analysis breakdowns, Christina Kahrl-style. Naturally, we’ll have quick takes on everything that happens here on the Unfiltered blog before the fuller TA exploration.

– Everything culminates on Thursday, when Bradford and I will be joined by our Anthony Macri and Hoopdata.com‘s Tom Haberstroh for a Cover It Live chat throughout the morning/afternoon. The plan is to start chatting at about 11 a.m. Eastern (when I still may be asleep out here on the West Coast) and continue all the way through the 3 p.m. Eastern deadline, breaking down all the rumors and taking your questions not unlike we did last June for the NBA Draft.

I expect the next week to be a lot of fun for me, and I hope you will enjoy it just as much.

In Defense of Jason Kidd

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 4:11 am

Kobe Bryant is missing the All-Star Game, and that created a problem. Bryant is the third Western Conference guard to bow out of Sunday’s game, leaving the conference thin at the position. Chauncey Billups was an easy choice to replace Chris Paul and a deserving All-Star. For Brandon Roy, the league went to the frontcourt to pick Chris Kaman.

This time, another guard was needed to fill out the roster and the options were relatively slim, especially at shooting guard–currently unrepresented on the West roster. The demise of Manu Ginobili (5.7 WARP) has been exaggerated, but he hasn’t exactly played at an All-Star level. Nor has Monta Ellis (3.2 WARP)–the conclusion of my Every Play Counts column on Ellis wasn’t that positive (and Ellis is hurt anyway). Beyond them, we’re talking Jason Terry (2.9 WARP), and that’s a considerable stretch.

A point guard, then, seemed to be the way to go, but the league’s choice of Jason Kidd of the Dallas Mavericks has been criticized as pandering to the home crowd at best and at worst based simply on Kidd’s availability given the snowstorm that has shut down much of the East Coast. However, Kidd actually has the highest WARP total (7.2) of any available West guard. You might reasonably argue that rating gives Kidd too much credit on defense, since he still generates high steal totals but has become a liability against quicker guards. To try to be more equitable to the other candidates, let’s compare them on offense in graphical form.

On the X axis, we have the “pass” rating I use that is based on assists per minutes and assist-to-turnover rate, weighting the former more heavily. Note that because per-minute assists are squared, this rating is fairly non-linear, so the graph probably overstates the difference between the best and worst passers. The Y axis shows something I’ve been toying with lately, an adjusted version of True Shooting Percentage that is normalized to estimate what each player’s TS% would be if they used 20 percent of their team’s possessions. Basically, it allows us to capture scoring contributions in one number and the combination of Adjusted True Shooting Percentage and Pass rating should sum up offensive performance pretty well for these players.

The four players initially chosen for the All-Star Game stand out here. Paul and Steve Nash have both played at an MVP level this season (at least when healthy in the case of Paul), while Billups and Deron Williams have not been far behind. There is an evident drop to the contenders for this spot.

The cluster of players on the left–Aaron Brooks, Stephen Curry and Tyreke Evans–provide most of their value on offense with their scoring as opposed to their passing. (Admit it–you’re surprised how well Curry stacks up with that group.) Baron Davis, Andre Miller and Russell Westbrook have been more balanced. Then there’s Kidd, whose solid .576 True Shooting Percentage is knocked down by his small role in the Dallas offense but whose passing is clearly tops among this group.

Based strictly on offense, you could make an argument for a lot of players, but their lack of contributions elsewhere knock out Brooks and Curry. Miller and Davis have been less effective on offense–a bit of a surprise in the latter case, since Davis is next behind Kidd with 6.3 WARP–while Westbrook is only in the conversation because of his rebounding and defense.

Ultimately, the spot appears to come down to Kidd and Evans, who has been a quick study defensively as a rookie and nearly as much a contributor on the glass as Kidd. Ultimately, I think the veteran point guard would be my pick, but at the very least this analysis seems to show that Kidd’s selection is hardly the travesty it’s been made out as in some circles. Yes, as at best the fifth-best point guard in the conference, Kidd doesn’t really belong in the All-Star Game. Given the circumstances, however, I think the NBA did the best it could.

The same can’t entirely be said in the East, where David Lee was a fine pick on his own merits, but Josh Smith was passed over yet again when the league replaced Allen Iverson due to personal reasons. I think Ben Q. Rock of Orlando Pinstriped Post put it best on Twitter. If the people in charge of All-Star selections are to be believed, there are now 13 Eastern Conference players apparently having a better season than Smith. That simply doesn’t add up.

February 11, 2010

Now for the ACC’s truly important game

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:13 am

Last night in Chapel Hill Duke beat North Carolina 64-54 in a really ugly game that was watched first-hand by a lot of very important people because, after all, it was Duke-Carolina. That’s fine, but you should know that this Saturday’s game between the Blue Devils and Maryland in Durham is actually way, way more important in actual 2010 terms.

Showdown between the clear top two 
Through games of February 10, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                     W-L   Pace    PPP    Opp. PPP   EM
1.  Duke             8-2   66.5    1.10     0.94   +0.16
2.  Maryland         6-2   69.4    1.10     0.94   +0.16
3.  Virginia         5-3   64.4    1.03     0.96   +0.07
4.  Virginia Tech    6-3   69.1    1.00     0.96   +0.04
5.  Wake Forest      7-3   69.2    1.01     0.99   +0.02
6.  Clemson          5-5   69.8    0.94     0.94    0.00
7.  Georgia Tech     5-5   68.9    0.99     1.00   -0.01
8.  Florida St.      5-5   67.7    0.98     1.00   -0.02
9.  BC               3-7   64.8    1.01     1.10   -0.09
10. North Carolina   2-7   70.3    0.97     1.06   -0.09
11. Miami            3-7   65.9    0.98     1.08   -0.10
12. NC State         2-8   67.7    0.98     1.08   -0.10

You could make a case that one of the single largest surprises of the season nationally has been Maryland’s shooting from the field. You could also make a case that this year’s Terrapins demonstrate the indirect and highly tenuous relationship between coaching and outcomes in basketball.

Last year the Terps ran a heavily Greivis Vasquez-centered offense and their shooting was awful from both sides of the arc in ACC play. Only Virginia was worse. In fact one year ago almost to the day the Washington Post ran the first installment in a 10,000-word series that might as well have been called “Gary Williams is Now a Really Bad Coach.” (The actual title, “Missed Shots” was much more apt than they knew.)

Now look. Maryland is running a heavily Greivis Vasquez-centered offense and their shooting in ACC play has been absolutely magnificent, particularly from beyond the arc. During last night’s Duke-UNC game I kept hearing what “a great job Gary Williams is doing with those kids.” What a difference, from one February to the next.  

February 9, 2010

Is the NCAA couch-diving for chump change?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 3:02 pm

The story so far. In day-to-day life I’m a happy meliorist who makes fun of how college football fans act like each annual futzing with the clock rules in their stupid four-hour games is tantamount to the Dreyfus Affair. But then talk starts to circulate about expanding the NCAA basketball tournament to 96 teams and suddenly I’m kissing the family goodbye and living in a tree outside NCAA headquarters, armed with a bullhorn and a sign that keeps a running tally of my hunger strike.

So I should be linking to Michael Hiestand‘s piece in today’s USA Today in order to say: Yeah! Right on, dude! Money-grubbin’ NCAA, messing with March Madness, and for what? Chump change! (Actual headline: “NCAA chasing loose change with an expanded basketball tourney.”) But regular readers know I have this weird stay-off-my-side gene, where someone agrees with me in print and my first reaction is often: No, the real problem with the thing we’re both against is X. (I blame endless childhood arugments with an older brother who is now an attorney. I went 0-612.) So let’s get to it.

Hiestand:

Consider that CBS’s first-round NCAA time slots last year, which combined regionalized audiences from overlapping games, averaged 4.2 percent of U.S. TV households. Showing teams that wouldn’t make the tournament in its present format likely would produce smaller ratings.

[snip]

So if the NCAA–getting more than 85 percent of its revenues from its CBS deal–ends up watering down college basketball, it won’t be because TV networks are demanding new, underwhelming NCAA tournament games. Sure, TV networks–especially ESPN–will always take more tonnage. No, if the NCAA cheapens college hoops, it’s because it’s doing something that might be quite familiar to its unpaid athletes: Looking under its couch cushion for every coin it can find.

If the ratings are going to be so tiny, why on earth would ESPN or any network or indeed any entity with watchful stockholders ante up for the rights to 16 newly-created first-round games?

One clue is suggested by staggeringly capacious adjective “first-round,” a label which takes in everything from 1-vs.16 blowouts, to highly competitive 8-vs.-9 thrillers, to storied 12-over-5 surprises, to, most crucially, afternoon vs. evening sessions. It’s true a network might think twice about preempting a hit Thursday night scripted drama in order to televise, I don’t know, Marshall vs. Miami. But not all first-round games take place in the evening. A lot of them take place in the afternoon, in which case the game would instead be preempting ratings juggernauts like “SportsCenter” (today’s offering at 2 ET on ESPN) or “As the World Turns” (CBS). Prospectus readers know you can’t just look at a player’s stats, you also have to look at who that player is replacing.

In addition to asking “how many?” with respect to viewers, networks also ask “which ones?” If the viewership of the DVR-resistant NCAA tournament is anything like the readership of this and similar sites, it skews very young compared to the general population. And for reasons that largely escape me (old people have always looked pretty rich to me) advertisers love them some young people. I don’t want to overstate this demographic factor, but it’s notable that for years Fox has apparently been quite happy to push back the season premiere of “The Simpsons” and its ilk and instead devote Sunday nights in October not only to the World Series, but also to the LCS’s and even, most saliently for present purposes, the LDS’s.

Then again who cares about the networks? They’ve got their bottom lines to look to and if they think it makes sense to pay for a newly-configured tournament, they’ll do it. The larger issue here centers on what constitutes “loose change” for the NCAA. Let’s accept that the difference between what a network will pay for a 96-team field and what they’ll lay out for a traditional 65-team version wouldn’t be all that much in percentage terms. Hiestand’s right: The new games would be the least attractive ones and, anyway, they’d represent just 17 percent of the programming “tonnage.” But if you’ve ever bought or sold a house, you’re intimately familiar with the paradox at work here. You negotiate a price and give a few thousand here or take a few thousand there. Then you step away and think: Sweet mother of Ben Bernanke, that right there’s the equivalent of a new car or three years of daycare for your kid, or 50 HDTV’s, etc. 

The D-I men’s basketball tournament is the NCAA’s revenue equivalent of selling a house. They negotiate these contracts by the decade, and with the revenue they generate from the broadcast rights for 16 newly-created somewhat unattractive first-round games of wildly varying quality the NCAA could easily fund entire new line-items or build a new wing or hire a flock of staff or do whatever they wish. It is far from loose change in their eyes.

(HT: MGoBlog.)         

February 8, 2010

Weekend in Hoops: Unruly fans, no point guard, elite team

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:50 am

Yes, sadly, West Virginia has its coin-hurling partisans and, yes, there is no “true” point guard in Morgantown. Even so, possession for possession the Mountaineers have played better than any other Big East team thus far. 

Tonight Bob Huggins‘ team will be tested when Villanova pays a visit to WVU Coliseum as part of ESPN’s Rivalry Week. Nor do things get any easier after that, as the Mountaineers will next travel to Pitt for a rare Friday night tilt against a Panther team that figures to be, oh I don’t know, just a little fired up. So really this is a dumb time to write about West Virginia. Conventional wisdom says you only shine a light on a Big East team when they’re about to play Rutgers. That way you know you won’t be undercut by tomorrow’s headlines. Maybe so, but let’s at least take note of what we’ve already seen from this team.

First and foremost we’ve seen a defense that, along with that of Syracuse, is the best in the Big East. The Orangemen get a ton of ink with their 2-3 zone, and deservedly so. Their D really has been magnificent this year and, of course, Jim Boeheim‘s team went to Morgantown on January 16 and emerged with a one-point win. I just wish to point out that the West Virginia defense merits equal time. In fact the two squads have been virtually indistinguishable this season, both holding Big East opponents to just 0.96 points per trip.

On offense the Mountaineers aren’t as good as Villanova, but they’re better than anyone else in the Big East and, more importantly, better than you’ve been given reason to believe. Let others worry about this team’s lack of a “true” point guard. Da’Sean Butler is a 6-7 “small forward” who dishes assists, hits threes, drives into the paint, and shoots 77 percent at the line. Devin Ebanks will likely go in the first round this summer. And Kevin Jones is more efficient than all of the above, hitting 44 percent of his rare threes and 59 percent of his frequent twos. 

Put it this way. If the no-true-point-guard West Virginia offense is somewhat worrisome to you while scoring 1.14 points per trip, then the Syracuse offense must be in mortal peril because it scores “just” 1.10 points for every possession in conference play. (Obviously both figures are excellent.) But I think it’s more likely that a team turning the ball over on just 17 percent of its possessions in Big East play, like the Mountaineers, has its point-guard activities in good hands, even if said activities are being shared. 

Nevertheless, at some point Huggins’ team will lose a game and, just as sure as a personal-injury attorney has the ad on the back cover of your yellow pages, you’ll hear that West Virginia’s “lack of a true point guard” came back to haunt them yet again. When you hear that, just substitute “failed to conform with our visual expectations and with long-held folklore” for “lack of a true point guard.” After all, for years another piece of sports folklore held with absolute certainty that a quarterback under 6-3 or even 6-4 couldn’t possibly succeed in the NFL. How’s that looking in 2010?

What the heck happened to Texas?
The other featured Rivalry Week game on ESPN tonight will be Kansas versus Texas. Since the moment they were voted the number one team in the nation on January 18, the Longhorns have gone 2-4, with road losses to Kansas State, Connecticut, and Oklahoma, as well as a loss at home in OT to Baylor. What’s the problem?

Offense. In each of their three losses in-conference UT scored less than a point per trip. Right now the ‘Horns are just average in terms of how well they shoot both twos and threes. I’ve praised Rick Barnes in the past for doing so well on something I call the “barrage factor,” basically how well a team combines a high number of offensive rebounds with a low number of turnovers. Texas is on-track to excel there again this season, but they just can’t get the ball in the basket. On paper one would not expect that to change against a defense like KU’s, which is why colleague Ken Pomeroy‘s computer expects the Longhorns to lose a close game tonight. We shall see. 

In today’s less Lone Star State venues….
Michigan State has come back to the Big Ten field
, losing road games at Wisconsin and then Illinois. The latter result was helped along by the fact that MSU’s Kalin Lucas missed the game with a sprained ankle and is now in the weird vaporous “day-to-day” realm. The Spartans are now just one game ahead of the Illini and, perhaps more saliently, the Badgers and Ohio State, with Purdue just one back in the loss column as well. Evan Turner is right, this race is now wide open. And tomorrow’s Tuesday Truths will show a new per-possession leader in the Big Ten….Rampant conference egalitarianism! (ctd.) The A-10 just got a lot more messy. Xavier and Temple entered the weekend as the league’s best teams, but the Musketeers were pasted by 25 at Dayton, while the Owls lost by 17 at Richmond. At 8-1 your league leader is now Charlotte, though not in per-possession terms. Stop by Tuesday Truths tomorrow….Rampant conference egalitarianism! (ctd., pt. II) Not only did BYU lose at UNLV 88 to 74, they lost while looking really beatable. The Cougars entered this game sporting some truly gaudy Kenpom numbers, but the most gaudy feature of this game was the 12-for-23 three-point shooting that the Rebels put up against the visitors. BYU, UNLV, and New Mexico now share the Mountain West lead with two losses apiece….Rare conference clarity! The last best chance for a team to seriously challenge Kentucky in the SEC was probably Vanderbilt, and the Commodores looked really unimpressive in losing at Georgia by 14….Cal won a road game (at UCLA), thereby wresting control of the Pac-10 race (ha). The Bears are 7-4. Half the league (literally) is 6-5. Meanwhile people are yelling at Oregon coach Ernie Kent for losing at Oregon State by 20….Maryland stomped on North Carolina 92-71 in College Park. I love the storied Carolina-Duke rivalry as much as anyone, but in 2010 it’s going to be the two upcoming games between the Terrapins and the Blue Devils that really matter….Whoops, this one does take place in the Lone Star State. I must tell you I was skeptical of early-season attentions paid to UTEP. I thought said attentions were purely a product of Derrick Carater‘s unlikely presence in far distant El Paso. Well, they probably were. (He has a frohawk, an interesting personal history, and he used to play for Rick Pitino. Survey says: Coverage! Even in El Paso.) But the coverage-independent truth is the Miners have indeed turned out to be the best team in the exciting first season of a sassy new post-Memphis CUSA. Coach Tony Barbee, I salute you!

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

I post an impassioned anti-RPI screed from a reader annually
Here is this year’s. It was written before Northwestern beat Indiana 78-61 yesterday in Evanston.

With nine regular season games remaining, NU still has some work to do to get off the bubble. Meaning the Wildcats’ RPI is currently 61.

Win eight of those nine and things should be great: 23-8 overall and 11-7 in-conference. Sure, that’s not likely, but if the Cats pull off the improbable it should really boost their RPI, right?

No. In such a scenario Northwestern’s RPI will actually fall to 67 under this inane “scheduling is destiny” system.

And if NU miraculously wins all nine remaining games (which, again, won’t actually happen) their RPI will stay about the same. These results are predestined by the fact that the Wildcats will play Iowa, Indiana, and Penn State twice, and Chicago State once. But I defy any of your readers to say that Northwestern is a better team now than they would be if they went 8-1 the rest of the way.

I hope the valuable missionary work that you, Ken Pomeroy, and others have done over the years has appropriately diminished the status of the RPI in the eyes of the selection committee. If Northwestern is excluded from the NCAA tournament based on their Sagarin or Pomeroy ratings, I can accept that. And if they’re excluded because of too few good wins or too many bad losses, I can accept that.

But if Northwestern is excluded on the basis of RPI, I will be angry and will redouble my efforts to see that a better system is used to select tournament teams.

Ben J.

Strictly speaking Ken and I have been proselytizers more than missionaries. I’m too lazy to go to a street corner with an accordion and a monkey and thump my copy of Basketball on Paper. (Though I don’t know, maybe Ken does that. If so can someone send me a pic from their cellphone?) I just say a little tempo-free prayer from where I sit. 

But your fear of the RPI highlights a teachable point. The Ratings Percentage Index started life as a handy new internally-consistent light that was shed on old shorthands but, invariably, it became its own shorthand. And when you have something that looks as apodictic and tidy as a “67,” it’s going to misused by busy people in a hurry. Like, say, a selection committee.

My sense, and this can change over the next four weeks, is that we’re still a year away from the selection committee being somewhat aware of the proselytizing that has taken place “over the years.” (Which by the way makes me sound old. And I’m not.)

Stan the Stat Geek

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 4:15 am

It wasn’t exactly a secret, but the Orlando Sentinel pulled back the curtain last week to reveal Magic coach Stan Van Gundy‘s fondness for statistical analysis. This quote could easily be pulled from a Basketball Prospectus column:

“Your gut is one thing, but I think you need to check and see if your gut is correct,” Van Gundy says. “I’ve had people say, ‘I don’t need to check the numbers. I’ve seen it with my eyes.’ Well, I would also say your eyes lie to you sometimes, and some of the guys you may really like and think are really doing things, when you get deeper into it, aren’t or vice versa.”

Van Gundy has plenty of influences supporting his interest in statistics. His brother Jeff was known to use the numbers as a head coach and their mentor Pat Riley is also open to statistical analysis.

While Orlando does not employ an outside consultant, according to the article, Magic scouting information manager Charles Klask is responsible for a lot of the analytics work that Van Gundy uses.

Also worth noting: the positive nature of the quotes from the Orlando players interviewed in the article about Van Gundy’s use of statistics. That’s not entirely typical, although if coaching staffs do a good job of presenting numbers in context to make a point, players can often be receptive.

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