Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

March 15, 2010

Coming tomorrow: The essential bracket previews

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 9:14 am

I love this week. The nation as a whole is focused on what truly matters in life, college hoops. Every year this week has its own particular rhythm. Monday is for reflection, correction, and fact-finding.

But Tuesday is when it’s time to get down to cases. So we’ve decided to spring all four of our full-length regional previews on you tomorrow. It’ll be a preview roadblock, courtesy of Ken Pomeroy (South), Kevin Pelton (West), Bradford Doolittle (Midwest), and yours truly (East).

As with the conference tournament previews you’ve enjoyed the past couple weeks, the analysis will be lucid, lilting, and log5-fueled. Most importantly it’ll be reality-based and wholly free of random impressionistic buckshot like “UTEP is explosive offensively.”

Essential Prospectus analysis, now in a handy and comprehensive all-at-once container. See you tomorrow.  

March 14, 2010

Dear Non-BCS Schools: $!#@ You. Love, NCAA

Filed under: Uncategorized — jsheehan @ 7:03 pm

The committee did it again, matching up non-BCS schools aggressively and keeping them away from BCS schools. UNLV/Northern Iowa. Butler/UTEP. Temple/Cornell. Richmond/Saint Mary’s. The committee is taking one of the best things about the tournament–that the big guys have to play the little guys on a neutral floor–and destroying it, aggressively so. Defenders of the bracket and the committee will always point out that this isn’t intentional, but after it happens year-in, year-out, I simply don’t believe them. You can’t keep playing off the non-BCS schools one another every year and pretend it’s not a strategy. It very clearly is one, and it’s designed to prevent the possibility of the schools from smaller conferences showing that the main difference between them and the middle of the BCS leagues is home games. The committee and the NCAA should be embarrassed.

There are 15 non-BCS schools on seed lines 5-12 in this bracket. Eight of them are playing each other. Thanks, NCAA. Just what the fans want.

I missed two teams, getting the last SEC entrant wrong and being stubborn about William and Mary, and I’m not at all surprised. Florida/Mississippi State was kind of a toss-up, with the committee weighting Florida’s ability to lose (3-8 against the top 50) higher than I did, I guess. Minnesota got full credit for advancing through the Big 11 tournament by beating teams missing players, even after getting obliterated by the first full roster they saw. As I wrote earlier, all the picks at the bottom of this bracket are defensible, because all the choices were bad ones. For the first time in a while, I can’t get upset about the exclusions. They all earned it, one way or another. I can’t for the life of me see what Florida has over Mississippi State, but…

Oh, just for the fun of it…road: Minn 3-7, WM 10-6. R+N: Minn: 7-10, WM: 12-7. RPI: Minn: 60, WM: 58. Top 50: Minn: 5-7, WM; 3-3. Top 100: Minn: 8-10, WM: 6-7. 101-347: Minn: 15-4, WM: 15-3. The Tribe’s best road wins were at Maryland and Wake Forest. Minnesota’s were at Illinois and Penn State. That’s the same.

Maybe Wichita State and the rest of the Valley have it right. If you’re not going to get credit when you go on the road and beat BCS-league tournament teams, why not just play home games against whoever you can get, make enough money to make up for the missing tournament shares and be done with the whole process. That’s the object lesson here. The NCBSAA wants a Sweet 16 made up of BCS schools and maybe Gonzaga or Butler or Xavier, so why fight it?

From 347 to 65: Sunday morning

Filed under: Uncategorized — jsheehan @ 10:13 am

It was a day for theft, as Houston and New Mexico State stole bids from bubble teams by winning the Conference USA and WAC championship games over teams that should now get at-large bids. In a season where so many teams have weak resumes, the dominance of mid-level leagues by Texas-El Paso and Utah State, each of which won going away and reached the championship game, should be enough to warrant invitations even with both lacking top-50 wins.

Washington joined St. Mary’s as a bubble team that ended discussion about its fate by winning its conference tournament. The Huskies would have been one of the more interesting cases, with a middling RPI and just one big nonconference scalp, plus a third-place finish in a soft Pac-10. Their late defensive stand against Cal helped solve the problem.

Georgia Tech, Mississippi State and Minnesota all helped themselves by reaching their conference finals. Georgia Tech is probably in, although I’m holding back just because it seems strange to allow a win over North Carolina State to change their status on my board. Mississippi State and Minnesota are likely in as well, each picking up the top-tier win they needed to enhance their resume.

On the flip side, Rhode Island and Illinois lost key games, and now will sweat out their Sunday afternoon hoping the teams above all lose unimpressively. Rhode Island is likely out, while Illinois will occupy one of the last spots one side of the line or the other.

Here’s where we stand through Saturday. I’ll have a full update this afternoon after the early championship games.

Automatic Bids (27): Vermont (America East), East Tennessee State (Atlantic Sun), West Virginia (Big East), Montana (Big Sky), Winthrop (Big South), Kansas (Big 12), UC Santa Barbara (Big West), Old Dominion (Colonial), Houston (Conference USA), Butler (Horizon), Cornell (Ivy), Siena (MAAC), Ohio (Mid-American), Morgan State (MEAC), Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley), San Diego State (Mountain West), Robert Morris (Northeast), Murray State (Ohio Valley), Washington (Pac-10), Lehigh (Patriot), Wofford (Southern), Sam Houston State (Southland), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (SWAC), North Texas (Sun Belt), Oakland (Summit), New Mexico State (WAC), St, Mary’s (West Coast).

In (28): Gonzaga, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Clemson, Texas, Oklahoma State, Villanova, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Maryland, Texas A&M, Marquette, New Mexico, Florida State, Baylor, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Brigham Young, Texas-El Paso, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Xavier, Purdue, California, Kansas State, Nevada-Las Vegas, Georgetown, Utah State.

Locks (5): Duke, Temple, Richmond, Ohio State, Kentucky.

Those five teams will use from one to four at-large bids, leaving two to five slots for the bubble teams. Here is how I have them this morning, and I’ll go into greater detail this afternoon.

Georgia Tech
Mississippi State
William and Mary
Rhode Island
Wichita State
Virginia Tech
Kent State

I note the lack of feedback links in our basketball Unfiltered module. You can still reach me at jsheehan at baseballprospectus dot com. Or by using the link at the bottom on any inline column. Also, check out @joe_sheehan on Twitter.

The improbables

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ken Pomeroy @ 3:03 am

As Championship Week draws to a close, it’s time to look back on all of the happenings and determine which events were truly unlikely. The beauty of our probabilistic previews is that they allow us to put in perspective the relative level of “shock” that each tourney event had, going beyond seed. For instance, 12th-seeded Miami making it to the ACC semifinals did not make this list since they were significantly better than their seed and had an easier draw than would normally be expected for a last-place team.

Let’s review the ten least likely events from conference tournament action.

10. San Diego State winning Mountain West title (11.9%)
The Aztecs had to beat the one-seed and win on the home floor of the three-seed. Without some late heroics to beat first-round opponent Colorado State by a point, none of that would have happened.

9. Minnesota reaching Big Ten final (11.8%)
In reality, chances were a little higher considering Purdue’s inflated rating at this point. A victory over Ohio State today would win them a title that was given a 3.4 percent chance of happening before the tournament.

8. Kennesaw State advancing to A-Sun semis (10.0%)
This feat required only one win. The Owls took down the top seed, Lipscomb, in what was the biggest first-round upset in any tournament.

7. Georgia Tech advancing to ACC final (9.3%)
The Yellow Jackets have a chance at taking 2010 improbability honors with a victory over Duke today. We had Tech with a 2.1 percent chance of winning the ACC crown.

6. Houston advancing to CUSA finals (8.3%)
As a seven-seed, the Cougars needed a bucket from Aubrey Coleman with five seconds left to beat Memphis in the quarterfinals, then got a break by drawing sixth-seeded Southern Miss in the semifinals to help them get to the title game. Of course, they weren’t done there.

5. Ohio winning MAC title (7.8%)
Despite being seeded ninth, the Bobcats were the fifth-most likely team to win the MAC tournament, and, at least in my ratings, a slight favorite over third-seeded Akron in the title game.

4. Winthrop winning Big South title (6.6%)
The Eagles’ were a three-seed in an eight-team field, but having to beat a dominant league champ (Coastal Carolina) on its home floor is what sent Winthrop’s chances downward. The title is a huge accomplishment for a team that shoots 26.5 percent from beyond the arc.

3. N.C. State reaching ACC semifinals (5.6%)
The Wolfpack’s ride to the semifinals was significantly more unlikely than Miami’s, although their wins didn’t have much suspense. At least not as much suspense as two- or six-point wins normally do.

2. New Mexico State winning WAC title (3.0%)
The Aggies only had to win three games, but they didn’t get any breaks. They had to win on Nevada’s home floor and then take out top-seeded Utah State.

1. Houston winning CUSA title (2.3%)
This isn’t exactly Georgia winning the SEC tournament in 2008, but Tom Penders’ club did have to take the down top-seed and tourney favorite UTEP to earn the title which capped off an improbable four-game run in Tulsa.

March 13, 2010

From 347 to 65: Saturday morning

Filed under: Uncategorized — jsheehan @ 12:37 pm

The Big 11 and Mountain West were the biggest winners yesterday, as bubble teams in both conferences beat teams already in the field, helping to maximize each circuit’s entries into the NCAA tournament. It was a welcome sight following Thursday’s endless parade of fail. San Diego State and UNLV moved onto the “Locks” list, while Illinois and Minnesota greatly enhanced their chances of selection.

We had some missteps as well. Virginia Tech dropped an ACC quarterfinal game to the worst team in the conference, leaving them with an even weaker profile than the marginal one they had yesterday morning. Dayton blew a big second-half lead against Xavier and fell off the board. Florida became the first good SEC East team to lose a game to an SEC West team, falling to Mississippi State.

Overall, it was a day where the national picture came a bit more into focus, and that picture is this: The last half-dozen or so teams to get at-large bids into this year’s NCAA tournament will do so with some of the least impressive resumes on record. I won’t make the statement that these teams are “better” or “worse” than those in previous year, just that as a whole they will be less accomplished, with fewer good wins, more bad losses, less success away from home and lower RPIs than we normally see in those spots. If there’s an effect on the field, it could be to elevate the seeds of teams that would “normally’ be 13s and 14s; this week’s train wreck has seen Cornell move into the RPI top 50, and Oakland (52) and Murray State (55) sitting just outside. This may lead to higher seeding. Also, I suspect the 5/12 and 6/11 games will be less primed for upsets, as the teams on the lower seed lines aren’t as dangerous as usual.

There are 12 conference finals and eight semis today, and teams hoping for an at-large bid from the sidelines have some definite rooting interests. We kick off with UTEP, now safely in the field, trying to keep Houston from stealing Conference USA’s automatic bid. The WAC, similarly, will see Utah State, seemingly in no matter tonight’s result, looking to fend off a New Mexico State team that won a big road game in the semis against host Nevada. Finally, Washington is probably in the field, but it wouldn’t hurt them to at least show well tonight against Cal in the Pac-10 final.

The semifinal rounds carry more danger. The ACC has two teams, Miami and North Carolina State, trying to steal bids from the middle of nowhere. Duke and Georgia Tech are charged with ending Cinderella’s night. Illinois and Minnesota are right on the edge of the bubble after yesterday’s big wins, as they still have incredibly high RPIs for at-large teams. They’ll play semis in the Big 11 against Ohio State and Purdue, respectively. Mississippi State may need to beat Vanderbilt to get into the tournament; it would be just their second win over a team above the at-large cut line. Finally, Rhode Island can move to the right side of the line for good by beating Temple to advance to the Atlantic 14 final.

Based on yesterday’s results, I moved Saint Louis and Dayton off my bubble, and advanced San Diego State, Nevada-Las Vegas and Utah State to the “Locks” column.

Here’s where we stand through Friday:

Automatic Bids (15): East Tennessee State (Atlantic Sun), Montana (Big Sky), Winthrop (Big South), Old Dominion (Colonial), Butler (Horizon), Cornell (Ivy), Siena (MAAC), Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley), Robert Morris (Northeast), Murray State (Ohio Valley), Lehigh (Patroit), Wofford (Southern), North Texas (Sun Belt), Oakland (Summit), St, Mary’s (West Coast).

In (18): Gonzaga, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Clemson, Texas, Oklahoma State, Villanova, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Maryland, Texas A&M, Marquette, New Mexico, Florida State, Baylor, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Brigham Young.

Locks (18): Duke, Temple, Xavier, Richmond, Kansas, Kansas State, West Virginia, Georgetown, Purdue, Ohio State, Texas-El Paso, San Diego State, Nevada-Las Vegas, California, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Utah State.

Those 18 teams will take at least eight and up to 15 at-large bids,leaving one to eight bids for 16 remaining bubble teams. In rough order:

Georgia Tech’s win over Maryland on a neutral court would seem to have them squarely in the field. They’re back to .500 in conference, for one. The Yellow Jackets have the highest RPI on my board, and now have records of 5-6 against the RPI top 50 and 10-9 against the RPI top 100. I remain a little leery of the 3-8 road record, but even that is leavened by a 7-9 mark in road and neutral-court games combined, as well as the second-highest average opponents’ RPI and wins’ RPI on the board. The catch is that losing to North Carolina State today would be a bad loss, damaging their numbers. We’ll leave them here for now, but they might be in already.

By getting to the A14 semis, Rhode Island gets to put their stats back on the table: RPI of 39, NC RPI of 5, 10-6 away from home, 7-6 against the top 100. The neutral-court win over Oklahoma State is getting lonely, and could use some company. Beating Temple would push the Rams over the top, because having just one win over a team in the field is the kind of thing that gets you left home.

Louisville is 5-8 away from home, 3-7 against the RPI top 50, 8-11 against the top 100, and in on most boards. With an RPI of 40 they’re safely inside the line-that mark is third on this board-but when you get down to it, the Cardinals are here solely and completely because of the sweep of Syracuse. Even their other top-50 win, over Notre Dame, was a double-OT home win over a team missing its best player. Having good basketball players isn’t the same as being a good basketball team, and certainly not the same has “having the best qualifications.” If Tulsa had those numbers, would be be having this conversation? They’re listed this high because I think that’s where the committee has them, but I’m not personally convinced.

Missouri is in on most boards, wearing white on at least one. I see a team with one good win, at home against Texas during the Longhorns’ freefall, since January, with a 4-6 road mark and just one win in eight shots at top-25 competition, and three sub-100 losses. Like Louisville, they’re probably in because they posted double-digit wins in a BCS league.

Washington has beaten the teams in front of them, advancing to the Pac-10 finals without beating a team in the RPI top 150. It’s not their fault that the conference isn’t very good, or that Arizona State tanked against Stanford, but the two wins are illustrative of the problem: how relevant is a third-place finish and finals appearance in a conference that has one clear NCAA-caliber team? The Huskies have twice as many sub-100 losses (four) as top-50 wins (two), and their eight best wins came at home-their best work outside of Seattle was road wins at Oregon and Stanford. It’s a weak field, maybe they get in, but this isn’t a good c.v. for an at-large team.

If Illinois doesn’t run the table in Indianapolis, they’ll be aiming to be the third at-large team with 14 losses. The first, Georgia in 2001, played maybe the greatest schedule ever, with 29 of 30 games against the RPI top 104, 27 against the top 100. They had four top-25 wins and eight wins against the top 50. Last year’s Arizona team was probably the last team in the field and a surprise pick; they had big scalps over Kansas and Gonzaga. Illinois currently has an RPI above 70 (usually no-man’s-land) and while they have five top-50 wins and three top-25 wins, none of them are the caliber of what Georgia and Arizona put up. They have an unimpressive nonconference RPI (132), a 6-9 record against the top 100 and a silly four losses outside of the top 100. Let’s just say I’d like to see them win today to make it easier.

Minnesota has Illinois’ resume, more or less: lots of losses, poor RPI, three sub-100 losses. They add in a bad record outside the state (3-7 road, 6-9 R+N) and an even worse mark against the top 100 (5-8). Let’s see what happens today; they need a win more than the Illini do.

Let’s hope this catches on: William and Mary has more good road wins in the ACC than do Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Combined. If making the tournament is about beating good teams, I’ll put William and Mary, with a 3-3 mark against the top 50 and 6-7 against the top 100, up against all these teams. Their three sub-200 losses are just killing them, but Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri and Washington all have a lot of bad losses, too. The Tribe went 10-6 on the road, 12-7 away from home in total, and they didn’t no-show in their conference tournament, reaching the final and nearly knocking off Old Dominion. There’s more evidence that William and Mary can beat tournament teams in a tournament setting than there is for most of the teams on the bubble. Maybe the 57 RPI and bad losses and third-place finish knock them off, but they deserve to stay in this discussion until the end.

As opposed to, say, Virginia Tech, which played one decent nonconference game (against Seton Hall in Puerto Rico) and has one road win over a good team (Georgia Tech), and faced with needing one win to end the discussion, lost to the #12 seed in the conference on a neutral court. If Tech gets in, it’s a repudiation of the principles the committee has tried to espouse over the last decade: play good teams in the nonconference and win on the road.

It’s possible that the gap between the SEC East and SEC West gets Florida in, because their 10-8 in conference isn’t a typical 10-8. Then again, the ability to lose to good teams is really a scheduling issue; the Gators are 1-8 against the top 25, 3-8 against the top 50. They’re one of at least three teams on this list hanging their hat on beating Michigan State one time.

Mississippi State became the first SEC West team to beat one of the four good teams in the SEC East by taking out Florida yesterday. It’s not enough; they have to beat Vanderbilt today to get into the field, because otherwise they have just one win, back in November over ODU, over a team clearly in the field.

Wichita State just keeps looking better and better, as the clear #2 team in the Valley, with a respectable RPI (43) and a 9-5 mark against the RPI top 100. It’s all bottom-heavy, though; State’s second-best win is over Texas Tech. Some years, the committee weights different factors, and if they emphasize conference performance and conference-tournament performance this time around, the Shockers could squeak into the field.

Here’s a tip: if you want to reach the NCAAs, don’t miss more than half your free throws in what is your chance to show that you belong. Mississippi won’t get to cash in their wins over Kansas State and UTEP because they didn’t beat a single SEC team capable of reaching the field.

Kent State hangs on as a lesser version of Wichita State, with a 9-5 road record, 5-4 mark against the top 100 and a depressing list of quality wins.

Memphis didn’t beat enough good teams and lost a game it had to win Thursday. They’re done.

Alabama-Birmingham can’t get in ahead of Memphis, and comes off this list now.

Just 24 games left in the regular season. It’s actually a little depressing.

March 12, 2010

Does it matter if Syracuse is a 1-seed? (PLUS chat!)

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:40 am

Congratulations to Georgetown, 91-84 winners over Syracuse in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden yesterday. The Hoyas will meet Marquette in the semifinals tonight. Meantime the Orangemen have now lost two straight, and Arinze Onuaku left yesterday’s game late in the second half with a knee injury. While Onuaku is scheduled for an MRI this morning, his team’s presumed one-seed is now a topic of discussion. That one-seed may well be perfectly safe, of course, but to even raise the issue would have been unthinkable just six days ago when Jim Boeheim‘s team was still 28-2.

Upon hearing this one-seed being questioned, my immediate reaction was to be impressed that observers seem to understand just how important Onuaku really is to this team, even though on paper he scores but 11 points per game. For all the attentions paid to Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins, the ‘Cuse offense does what it does thanks largely to twos and offensive boards. The points in the paint offset the turnovers, which still furrow Boeheim’s brow. (Or they should. The Orangemen coughed the ball up on 21 percent of their possessions in Big East play.) Onuaku, of course, is a monster of two-point excellence. Put it this way, he made 18 more twos than Johnson this season–on 25 fewer attempts. And Onuaku and Rick Jackson give Boeheim the luxury of having two very strong offensive rebounders on the floor at the same time.

Then came my sober second thought. What difference does it make if Syracuse is a one-seed or not? Being put on the top line of your regional is a really cool honor, of course. But historically the instrumental value of a one-seed is that it keeps you away from the one or two other best teams in the country for as long as brackets will allow. And in 2010 I’m just not convinced that there is truly a Big Scary prohibitive favorite team to fret about staying away from. On paper those teams this year would be Duke and Kansas. Worthy foes, certainly, but would facing either in a regional final as opposed to seeing them in Indy really be the end of the world for the Orangemen?

Not to mention some of the teams I’m seeing projected as seven-seeds would be much easier second-round opponents than some potential eight-seeds. If I’m a team about to be seeded on one of the top two lines, the opponents I want to stay away from are teams like Cal (currently shown as an eight) and Richmond (seven), while teams like Oklahoma State (seven) and Florida State (eight) are, relatively speaking, good news. In other words, if there were a method to the seeding madness (something like this) then of course it would matter if you were a one-seed versus a two. But since seeding as currently constituted is such a blunt and clumsy instrument, there are any number of scenarios where you’re better off as a two.

BONUS programming note! I’m doing a live chat today starting at noon ET. Join me

March 11, 2010

From 347 to 65: Thursday morning

Filed under: Uncategorized — jsheehan @ 11:48 am

Updates from Wednesday’s action as we get set for moving day:

Oklahoma State moves off the bubble and in with a thumping of Oklahoma. Avoiding the bad loss was all they needed to do given four top-25 wins, an RPI of 27 and a solid finish in a good Big 12. In the future, however, they might want to work harder in the nonconference. Had they not beaten Kansas, a NC SOS of 157 and a complete lack of quality wins outside of the Big 12 would have been an issue. They were hurt a bit by down years for Utah and Stanford; on the other hand, they played three SWAC teams. In any case, they’ll play next week no matter what happens today against Kansas State.

Missouri took the bad loss, and in fact, got blown off the court by the worst team in the conference, Nebraska. Their standard profile is now unimpressive, with an RPI of 45, a 4-7 mark against the RPI top 50 and three bad losses. The Tigers have one win over a tournament team, a home win over Texas, since January 30. They’re probably going to squeak in, but it will depend on the performance of teams around them now, and they’re not going to get off the bubble until Sunday. Note that the Tigers look much better if you consider possession-based stats, and I acknowledge the arguments by John Gasaway and Ken Pomeroy that these should have a place in this discussion. I’m just not sure they do, at least not enough to push Missouri over the top at this point.

In the Big East, South Florida’s loss to Georgetown ends their run at a bid, as does Seton Hall’s loss to Notre Dame. Louisville’s loss to Cincinnati, while not as bad as Missouri’s, leaves them in a tough spot. Quite frankly, the only thing they have going for them is the sweep over Syracuse, and while that’s incredibly impressive, it’s weighed against some of the ugliest second halves any team has had. Louisville has simply tanked against St. John’s, Marquette and Cincinnati, and I’ll again make the point that if any BCS team has the “eye test” working against them it’s the Cardinals. This is maybe the most interesting situation on the board.

Cincinnati’s win keeps them in the picture, although they need at least one more win to get a bid, and perhaps two. The Bearcats are 3-9 against the RPI top 50, 7-14 against the top 100. That’s evidence that you don’t belong, not that you do. (It’s the main reason Seton Hall, 3-7 and 6-12, is an easy drop.)

I shouldn’t be hesitating as much as I am with Notre Dame and Marquette, both of whom are into the Big East quarters and cannot take a bad loss any longer. I’m held back by the RPIs in the 50s, which seem to high to make any team a lock at this point. Those RPIs are driven by bad losses, three for the Irish, two for the Golden Eagles, which serve to counter the good wins. While Marquette finished ahead of Notre Dame in the Big East, Notre Dame won the head-to-head matchup in Wisconsin and has much stronger records against the top 25, top 50 and top 100. It’s that last data point that pushes me over on Notre Dame, which I now consider a lock. They are 3-2 against the RPI top 25, 3-3 top 50 and an impressive 11-7 against the top 100.

I’ll reserve judgment on Marquette for one more day. Win and they’re in, lose and I want to see the data.

Here’s where we stand through Wednesday:

Automatic Bids (14): East Tennessee State (Atlantic Sun), Montana (Big Sky), Winthrop (Big South), Old Dominion (Colonial), Butler (Horizon), Cornell (Ivy), Siena (MAAC), Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley), Robert Morris (Northeast), Murray State (Ohio Valley), Wofford (Southern), North Texas (Sun Belt), Oakland (Summit), St, Mary’s (West Coast).

In (1): Gonzaga.

Locks (30): Duke, Maryland, Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State, Temple, Xavier, Richmond, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma State, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Brigham Young, California, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee.

Those 30 teams will take at least 22 and up to 30 at-large bids,leaving three to 11 bids for 25 bubble teams. I’ve taken Virginia Commonwealth off my board, as they would be behind William and Mary (and maybe even Northeastern). Here’s about where those teams stand:

Texas-El Paso
Nevada-Las Vegas
Utah State
San Diego State
Virginia Tech
Georgia Tech
Arizona State
Rhode Island
William and Mary
Kent State
Wichita State
Mississippi State
Saint Louis

Just about every game today matters. I’ve said it before, but in some ways, today and tomorrow are better than their big brothers next week.

March 9, 2010

An Alternative Look at Great Shooters

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:16 pm

In today’s PER Diem column (Insider only), John Hollinger has an interesting look at the NBA’s best shooters of all time. I was inspired to take an alternative look using my own metric to rate shooters. A classic junk stat, my “shoot” score takes three-point percentage squared times threes per minute, multiplies by 100 and adds free throw percentage. Is there anything statistically rigorous about this process? Absolutely not, but it rewards players first for three-point accuracy, second for three-point frequency and uses free-throw percentage to help distinguish among players who don’t shoot threes. The result is a component of the similarity method used by the SCHOENE projection system.

Here is this year’s shooting leaderboard:

Player              Tm    Shoot

Kyle Korver        UTA     3.51
Channing Frye      PHX     2.26
Daniel Gibson      CLE     2.22
Anthony Morrow     GSW     2.16
Mike Miller        WAS     2.13
Chauncey Billups   DEN     2.12
Matt Bonner        SAS     2.08
Mo Williams        CLE     2.05
Nicolas Batum      POR     1.96
Rashard Lewis      ORL     1.91

Kyle Korver hasn’t quite yet played 500 minutes, so his impressive rating is bound to come down somewhat the rest of the way, but you’ve got to give it up for a guy making a cool 58.0 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Still, the more impressive season may belong to Channing Frye, who has a chance to surpass Brad Lohaus (2.29) for the best shooting season ever by a player 6’11” or taller (with apologies to Dirk Nowitzki, whose best season by this method was 1.61). The rest of the list is filled with shooting specialists … and Nicolas Batum, who also is just shy of 500 minutes but has been much improved from beyond the arc and is making 91.3 percent of his free throws thus far.

Anyways, one of my questions about Hollinger’s list was whether it was penalizing players like Larry Bird for playing in an era where the three-pointer was a lower-percentage shot than it is today. Also, players who were around in the mid-90s derived the benefit of a shortened three-point line that resulted in record numbers of threes being made (and also reduced the number of long two attempts, improving two-point percentages, which Hollinger factored in).

To put everyone on a level playing field, I decided to use the standardized version of the shoot rating that goes into the similarity scores, which adjusts for league average and the distribution of ratings. Doing so initially goes the opposite direction. The best standardized seasons in NBA history were all in the first couple of years of the three-point line, when anyone who could make the shot regularly stood out. So I also capped single-season ratings at 3.33, which is the best score in modern history (Ray Allen in 2005-06, when he broke the NBA record for threes in a season). If you add each player’s year-by-year standardized scores, here are the all-time leaders.

Player              Yrs    Shoot

Reggie Miller        18    40.89
Dale Ellis           17    39.50
Dell Curry           16    33.52
Steve Kerr           15    30.39
Dana Barros          13    29.45
Ray Allen            13    28.52
Brent Barry          14    27.45
Danny Ainge          14    27.07
Terry Porter         17    26.95
Trent Tucker         11    26.69

As compared to Hollinger’s top 10, we’ve added a pair of gunners from the late ’80s and ’90s in Dell Curry and Dale Ellis. Ellis is third in league history in threes, but his 78.4 percent career shooting from the charity stripe kept him out of Hollinger’s top 20. Curry, meanwhile, was just a 47.8 percent shooter on twos, below most of his sharpshooting peers. Brent Barry and Danny Ainge also move up a little, though Ainge’s former teammate Bird doesn’t get the ’80s boost I was expecting and actually dropped to 13th. Terry Porter isn’t thought of as an elite shooter, and the length of his career helps him by this method, but the guy could shoot it. Lastly, Trent Tucker got a name ruled after him but his sharpshooting has been largely forgotten.

What if we change things to look at average standardized shooting rating per year (minimum five seasons qualifying) instead of total? The new top 10 looks like this:

Player              Yrs    Shoot

Craig Hodges         10     2.53
Trent Tucker         11     2.43
Mark Price           11     2.40
Dennis Scott         10     2.39
Dale Ellis           17     2.32
Reggie Miller        18     2.27
Dana Barros          13     2.27
Kyle Korver           6     2.24
Hubert Davis         11     2.20
Ray Allen            13     2.19

Craig Hodges didn’t crack Hollinger’s top 20, but when we focus on three-point shooting instead of the other factors, he jumps to the top of the list. If you remember Hodges’ three-point shootout wins, there’s no question the guy could shoot it, though the rest of his game was so weak he was quickly out of the league when he faded slightly beyond the arc. (He also filed a lawsuit claiming he was blackballed due to his association with the Nation of Islam.) Tucker, like Hodges, gets the benefit of standing out in an era where there were some great three-point shooters but percentages weren’t as high as they are now. While they weren’t great players, they were great shooters, and deserve to be remembered as such.

On the other hand, while I was initially skeptical of using two-point percentage because finishing is such a distinct skill from shooting in my mind, I must say Hollinger’s method does better to credit guys like Jeff Hornacek, Chris Mullin and Steve Nash who took/take relatively few threes but are phenomenal shooters from anywhere on the court. As usual, no one measure gives the complete picture when it comes to shooting.

Bumping into furniture

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:30 am

In his customarily perceptive recap of this past weekend’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, colleague Kevin Pelton reports that he’s returned from Boston convinced that the work you find here every day at Prospectus is now a part of the proverbial mainstream.

‘Bout bloody time. I’m all about the mainstream, as long as one of its inputs is reality. And so I’m happy to report that we have evidence in our own little college basketball world that Kevin’s impression is indeed correct. John Wall apparently will not win national POY. What seemed inevitable just a couple weeks ago has become a piece of discursive furniture that simply isn’t being bumped into.

In recounting conversion experiences from the conference, Kevin notes that onetime apostates like former Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson and former player Brent Barry once were lost but now are found. That’s cool, but I can add from my own experience that I’ve spied a third choice on this ballot in addition to “This Prospectus stuff is great” and its antipode, “Uh-oh, 4th-and-inches on my opponent’s 32, time to punt.” I call this third category “I know this stuff is out there.”

People in this category, or IKTSIOTs as I call them, certainly don’t spout adjusted offensive efficiencies or fret about rebound percentages. But if you’ve watched IKTSIOTs over the past couple years you’ve noticed something unspoken yet quite remarkable. They’ve simply stopped bumping into things. The number of misbegotten Wall-for-POY pieces that remain stubbornly unwritten constitute Exhibit A here. My friend Kevin is exactly right. Mainstream, I salute you!

With the main prize likely unavailable, some Wall for Freshman POY pieces have started popping up this week. Only here too there’s a problem. If it’s understood that Evan Turner has outperformed Wall this year, it’s not too great a leap to acknowledge additionally that Wall’s own teammate and fellow freshman DeMarcus Cousins has also outperformed him. How, then, do I write the Wall-for-Freshman-POY piece that my editor is demanding? (That’s rhetorical, by the way. My editor is way cool.)

This is just me, but I would outflank the small matter of actual on-court performance with two additional actualities. First I would adopt a Slate-esque stance of breezy cynicism and declare college performance wholly beside the point. College? Who’s talking about college? Kentucky‘s just a farm club for the NBA, one that’s grooming the player we can all agree is the next level’s Next Big Thing. So performance, schmerformance. Who do you think is going to put more butts in the seats for David Stern next year, Wall or Cousins?

Then I would endeavor to make myself David Foster Wallace to Wall’s Roger Federer. I would discern things in Wall’s (true) in-game artistry that everyone perceives and is moved by but that no one has, as yet, successfully captured in words. If I can make this less about extraneous matters like “making baskets” and ($) “playing defense” and more about hoops-as-figure-skating, Wall wins hands down.

But to plunge forward and try to tout Wall as the Freshman POY along traditional performance-based criteria is merely to bump into furniture in a loud and declarative fashion. In this sense Wall has become a handy test case, much like the Belichick 4th-and-short kerfuffle was last fall. You don’t, of course, have to agree with Belichick’s decision. But in order to critique it productively, you do have to understand why he made that decision.

BONUS bruised-shin note! In terms of bumping into the furniture, I specifically exempt this Wall-for-POY piece at by Andy Staples, which apparently was a made-to-order bookend for an adjoining Turner-for-POY piece by Stewart Mandel. It can therefore be reasonably inferred that Staples was coerced into his advocacy by mean editors (redundant), and indeed the substance of the piece gives all kinds of evidence to this effect.

For example Staples notes that Wall’s teammates are way more talented than Turner’s. Indeed they are, and I thought I knew what was coming next. Man, was I wrong: Staples actually cites this as evidence in support of Wall. I’ve been reading POY/MVP advocacy for many a moon, but this was a first: Vote for the guy whose teammates make his job easier. I literally had to read Staples’ remarkable passage three times to make sure I was understanding him correctly. This could only have occurred under severe editorial distress. Bold ratiocinative innovator Andy Staples, I absolve you!   

Revised Big East probabilities

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:22 am

Some of the figures in the log5 table that ran atop Ken Pomeroy‘s Big East tournament preview were inaccurate as originally posted. Those numbers have now been corrected. Not a dramatic shift–Syracuse and West Virginia are still virtual co-favorites–but we apologize for any confusion. 

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