Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

December 30, 2010

One-Man Shows

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kyle Whelliston @ 7:30 pm

Where have you gone, Harold Arceneaux? Back in March of 1999, “The Show” scored 713 points in a single season for Weber State, was named Big Sky player of the year, and led the 14th-seeded Wildcats to a 76-74 NCAA first round win over No. 3 North Carolina with a stunning 36-point performance. (Woah, woah, woah.)

People still remember that game, because it featured an easy narrative hook: there was this one guy who went completely nuts from the floor. Harder to recall an individual from any of the other 15 teams who pulled 14-over-3 upsets, unless you’re either an alum or it happened recently. Can you name one guy from that Northwestern State 2006 team, even the player who hit the game-winning shot against Iowa? How about Austin Peay 1987? UALR 1986?

Solid team play is totally overrated, at least when it comes to fond remembrances down at the local watering hole. For those purposes, teams that rely way too much on a single star are far more easily recalled and cherished. Here and now at the beginning of conference play, with the 2011 Big Dance ten weeks in the future, it’s as good a time as any to speculate on who that next unknown small-conference star to join the eternal March Madness highlight reel might be.

Anatoly Bose, Nicholls State — The Southland Conference has long been a children’s treasury of positive basketball lessons: share the ball and stay within the system, and championships will surely come. This is where teams once reigned like defense-first (and second, and third) Southeastern Louisiana 2005, and that Round of 32 Northwestern State team the next year, and the Texas A&M Corpus Christi team that almost upset Wisconsin to cap its first year in the league. It’s been a long time since one guy took the conference over, even though Texas-Arlington’s Marquez Haynes tried his best these past two seasons.

Now comes a senior swingman from Nicholls’ long-running Australian pipeline, a 6-foot-6 midsize model who’s currently the nation’s second-leading scorer on a per-game basis (26.2 ppg), and third on the list when it comes to points per 40 minutes (30.6). No other player in Division I is utilized on as many of his team’s possessions; Bose is America’s leader in usage percentage (FGA + (FT Att. x 0.44) + (Ast x 0.33) + TO] x 40). Twenty-eight of this year’s points came in a gigantic upset of LSU in Baton Rouge, and the Colonels are 6-4 in non-conference. Sure, three of those wins were against lower-division opponents (the man in question hit seven threes against Dillard of the NAIA), but Nicholls still has the 44th strongest schedule as per the Pomeroy SOS ratings. A few Bose 35-point performances in March, and J.P. Piper’s squad might leapfrog over league favorites Stephen F. Auston and the defending champions from Sam Houston State.

Vlad Moldoveanu, American — The 6-foot-9 senior from Bucharest, a Romanian national team member, was a little-used first-half sub during his freshman year at George Mason in 2006-07. When his playing time was cut back further, he left before the semester break of his sophomore season. Once he was eligible at American in December 2009, he played as long as foul trouble would allow him to. He’s cut back on the hacking this time around (no DQ’s and only two four-foul games), and is putting together a solid senior season. Just before Christmas, he put up 23 in a losing effort at Pittsburgh.

At press time, his Eagles are one of just three of the eight Patriot League teams with a winning record, and the only one that’s at least one game clear of .500 (8-5). How much does American rely on Moldoveanu? He’s scored 28.5 percent of the team’s points, takes 27 percent of its shots, and, perhaps in keeping with a Euro-style big man’s style, he puts up 30 percent of the team’s three-point attempts (74 so far, with a 35 percent conversion average). American missed out on the NCAA Tournament in 2010 after two straight appearances; those teams were typified by their balanced attacks, and this one would not be.

Norris Cole, Cleveland State — The Vikings have been one of the best mid-major stories of the season’s first two months, and they’ve gone 13-1 (lone loss: at West Virginia) by way of a killer defense that yields only .91 points per possession. Until 2010 national runner-up Butler barreled through high-major competition on the way to the Diamond Head Classic championship in Hawaii last week, Cleveland State was not only arguably the best team in the Horizon League, they were the best team in the Horizon League.

Gary Waters’ team scores a phenomenal 1.05 points per trip, but that’s all the more remarkable due to the offense’s distinct lack of dimension. It’s a team ruled by guards, and 6-foot-2 senior Cole is king of kings. He scores 29 percent of the team’s points, is already over 300 for the year, and has put up 210 shots — 60 more than his closest teammate. He’s used on 32 percent of the team’s possessions, 24th in Division I. And he has notable March experience, too. On Friday, March 20, 2009, as a sophomore, Cole led his team with 22 points on 8-for-18 shooting as No. 13 Cleveland State took down No. 4 Wake Forest 84-69 for the team’s first NCAA win since 1986. Get past Butler again, and the Vikings will be back for another attempt. If you’re looking for the next Show, Cole could very well provide it.

It doesn’t always work. For every Bose and Cole and Moldoveanu, there’s a Xavier Silas. The former Colorado Buffalo-turned-Northern Illinois Huskie is used on 36 percent of his possessions and is second in the nation at 31.4 points per 40 minutes, but his team is 3-7.

And the burden of being a high-usage star on a championship team can be heavy indeed. The NCAA Tournament’s graveyard is filled with 25 point-per-game scorers who were shut down by double teams and then scrap-heaped. Not even the power conferences are immune. Take a brief moment to remember poor Lucas Cameron Harangody, who singlehandedly lifted Notre Dame to the 2010 Big Dance, didn’t score in the first round until the final minute as the Fightin’ Irish were put out by a feisty Old Dominion team that featured a total of zero future professional benchwarmers.

But the dream remains. Somewhere out there, there’s a guy ordering his teammates give me the damn ball, over and over… in the hope that someday, atop a blue and black NCAA logo in some distant NBA arena, he’ll be able to say told you so.

December 29, 2010

CHAT TODAY

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 1:06 pm

A reminder that I’ll be taking questions about hoops, and maybe even a little hardball, today at our sister site, Baseball Prospectus. We’ll get started at 1 p.m. EST (about an hour from now) but you can ask your question right now by going here:

(Ask your questions now!)

See you soon!

December 23, 2010

Airing a Grievance on Injuries in the Draft

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 5:29 pm

Today is Festivus, so it’s only appropriate that I air an NBA grievance. Brandon Roy‘s knee troubles have brought up something that drives me batty: The overly conservative nature of general managers when it comes to dealing with the health of potential draft picks. In an Art Garcia piece on NBA.com, former Timberwolves decision-maker Kevin McHale explained that Roy’s knees–which had already been operated on twice, once for each knee, by the time he entered the draft–were a factor in Minnesota choosing to deal Roy’s rights for those to Randy Foye.

“I remember very vividly sitting in a room with a bunch of doctors and they were saying, ‘Well, I don’t know, he could have problems in a couple of years. It could be five, it could be 10, it could be never, but the range that he has, he’s going to have problems with his knee,'” said McHale, now an NBA TV analyst. “This was before he played one NBA game.”

As it turned out, Roy is now dealing with those very knee problems, but only after a highly productive start to his NBA career. Here are the WARP totals through 2009-10 of everyone drafted in the 2006 lottery:

Pk   Tm    Player              WARP

1    TOR   Andrea Bargnani      5.9
2    CHI   LaMarcus Aldridge   18.6
3    CHA   Adam Morrison      - 8.0
4    POR   Tyrus Thomas        11.4
5    ATL   Shelden Williams     1.3
6    MIN   Brandon Roy         37.9
7    BOS   Randy Foye           5.1
8    HOU   Rudy Gay            11.1
9    GSW   Patrick O'Bryant   - 0.5
10   SEA   Mouhamed Sene        0.2
11   ORL   J.J. Redick          5.2
12   NOK   Hilton Armstrong   - 3.5
13   PHI   Thabo Sefolosha      0.9
14   UTA   Ronnie Brewer        9.6

Of the 14 lottery picks, how many of them are likely to match Roy’s current WARP total? LaMarcus Aldridge is likely to get there, and Rudy Gay, who is still young and already has put up 3.0 WARP this year, has a pretty good shot. Tyrus Thomas might do so if he figures things out. And that’s it. So even if we conservatively assume that Roy is entirely finished as an NBA player of value, he is still likely to be at worst the fourth-best player in the lottery. Suffice it to say that Foye, who can’t even get off the bench for one of the league’s worst teams, is not going to make it.

What’s odd is that this is the exact opposite of a moral hazard for GMs. Most likely, by the time long-term knee problems develop, they’ll have moved on (as is the case for both McHale and the guy who landed Roy, Kevin Pritchard). My sense is that they don’t want to be blamed for something that is easy to argue in hindsight. Still, better to be known as the guy who drafted a productive but injury-prone player than the one who can’t play at all.

Can Al Nolen save Minnesota?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ken Pomeroy @ 10:54 am

Minnesota is 10-1 with wins over North Carolina and West Virginia and optimism abounds in The Barn, yet I am concerned about their future. Here’s a graphical view of the Gophers’ chances of winning X number of Big Ten games this season based on adjusted efficiencies through Tuesday’s action.

Assuming Minnesota continues to play the way it has for its first 11 games (which is to say, not great, with the exceptions noted above), it has about a 15 percent chance of winning at least ten Big Ten games. With the two quality wins and plenty of schedule strength involved with playing about 20 games against Big Ten opponents, the Gophers won’t need that many wins to get to the NCAA tournament. But Minnesota’s expectations at this point probably aren’t to just make the field of 68, it’s to win a few games. And winning ten conference games is probably a minimum threshold to get a seed worthy of doing that.

While I’m not going to express supreme confidence in adjusted efficiency to accurately evaluate Minnesota at this point, it’s quite likely this method has a good handle on the collective strength of the other ten teams in the conference. And that is where things get scary to a team that is showing signs of underperforming. In addition to the expected bulk at the top of the conference, teams at the bottom are lurking to vulture wins from anyone that is willing to play a bad game against them. Collectively, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa and Penn State are not nearly as harmless as we might have thought before the season.

In good Gopher news, the team reportedly will get point guard Al Nolen back for tonight’s game against South Dakota State after missing five games with a foot injury. Nolen is notable in numbersy circles for his absurd steal rates. He’s recorded a steal about once in every 20 possessions during his career. But if Minnesota is to avoid a tailspin, it will be the result of improvement in the other ten guys in Tubby Smith’s rotation.

I can say that with a degree of confidence because we have some evidence of what Nolen’s presence means to the team. Last season, Nolen played six Big Ten games before being ruled academically ineligible. With Al Nolen, Minnesota was outscored by 0.5 points per 100 possessions in those six contests. Against the same opponents in Nolen’s absence, the Gophers outscored their opponents by ten points per 100 possessions.

Now, Minnesota is probably not a worse team with Al Nolen on the floor. But whatever boost he brings is easily overwhelmed by the variability in the performance of his teammates over the course of six games, which indicates that Nolen’s influence is that of a role player more than a star. Basically, if Minnesota is going to finish in the top four of the Big Ten, it’s either going to take some luck in close games, or substantial improvement from the team as a whole.

December 22, 2010

Brown Out in Charlotte

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 7:00 pm

The big surprise from today’s news that Larry Brown has stepped down as head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats is that the decision apparently started with CEO Michael Jordan, who removed Brown’s entire coaching staff, as opposed to the itinerant Brown being on the move again. Still, the decision was termed a mutual one, and that makes sense. Rumors have swirled this week that Jordan is considering major changes to the roster, including dealing stars Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace. Brown has never been much for rebuilding, so there was little reason for him to stick around.

If Brown’s departure indeed marks the start of a Charlotte makeover, it is for the best. Following this week’s drubbing at the hands of the lowly Washington Wizards, the Bobcats sit 13th in the Eastern Conference in point differential. At best, Charlotte would be hoping to sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed (something John Hollinger‘s Playoff Odds give them a 0.7 percent chance of doing) to get swept again. While last year’s playoff appearance, combined with Jordan’s purchase of the team, helped the Bobcats gain support in the market, another brief playoff run would have been less effective.

Let us not gloss over how ugly things might get in Charlotte, however. If the Bobcats were this bad with Jackson and Wallace, not to mention Brown keeping the team at least somewhat competitive at the defensive end of the floor, there is the real possibility that Charlotte could end the year as the league’s worst team. That should influence Jordan’s decision on a replacement for Brown. Since the Bobcats are going to bring someone in from outside the organization, it ought to be a person who could be a long-term answer on the sidelines for a franchise that has never had a coach for more than three seasons, not a caretaker who will be judged on the team’s success the rest of the way.

UPDATE: And, an hour later, we know it’s Paul Silas. Silas had a very good run as head coach of the Hornets in both Charlotte and New Orleans before flopping as LeBron James’ first coach in Cleveland. It is somewhat inexplicable that it took him more than five years to get another chance. Silas is 67, so he isn’t going to be around forever, but he has the ability to give the Bobcats some needed stability on the sidelines.

In Its Own Way, a Classic

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:19 am

When Ross Siler asked our waitress to turn the TV to the Golden State Warriors-Sacramento Kings game at tonight’s SSSBDA meeting, it was with a certain sense of shame. What kind of people want to watch two teams that are a combined 24 games below .500? As it turned out, the game was well worth the effort to get the remote control. No, Warriors-Kings won’t have any impact on the season as a whole. It wasn’t particularly well-played by NBA standards. In fact, the final two minutes featured a series of painfully ill-conceived mistakes.

Still, when I think back of the most entertaining games of the 2010-11 season, Golden State and Sacramento will have a place because of its wacky, funhouse quality. The Warriors blew a double-digit first-half lead only to see the Kings go up by 16 points early in the fourth quarter. Sacramento still led by five with 19 seconds left when the Kings fouled three-point shooters not once but twice on the same possession, getting a break when Reggie Williams and Dorell Wright combined to split their six attempts at the foul line. Williams missed his second free throw with a 102-99 score and less than three seconds on the clock, but Golden State got a reprieve from DeMarcus Cousins, who fumbled a missed free throw for the second time in 20 seconds. In this instance, the ball bounced out of bounds to the Warriors, who got a chance to tie the game on their final shot.

The game-tying hero would be Vladimir Radmanovic, the enigmatic forward whose play I lamented on Twitter each of the last two nights (this time because of a costly turnover in the midst of a Golden State run and a blown finish at the rim in the final minute). Radmanovic, having already redeemed himself by hustling down a loose ball to set up Wright’s free throws, rattled in a high-arcing triple attempt as the buzzer sounded to force overtime, where the Warriors finished the game on a 7-0 run to win going away. Did I mention that this run was highlighted by Monta Ellis banking a shot with his back to the basket to give him 36 points on the night?

The Warriors and the Kings will never be confused for a battle of top teams, but for those of us on the West Coast and East Coast night owls who happened to catch it, it was the kind of unexpected treat that makes the long NBA regular season worth watching.

December 15, 2010

Rebound margin is dead? That was fast.

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:43 am

One year ago this week I penned a piece under the winningly accommodating let’s-all-be-friends headline “Rebound Margin Must Die.” The inciting incident behind my urgent call to arms was a major-conference head coach crowing on Twitter that his team was ranked in the top 30 or 40 or something nationally in rebound margin.

I had no contact with that coach, I simply retreated to my lair and wrote RMMD. Nevertheless, within 40 minutes of hitting “post” I had a DM in my Twitter inbox from that very same head coach:

Good read regarding rebounding margin. You bring up some interesting points, and agree with several, though not all.

And I knew then that the forces of light and reason had triumphed over darkness and “plus-12 advantage in rebounds.”

To paraphrase Sir Christopher Wren‘s epitaph, reader if you seek rebound margin’s demise look around you. Look at the use of rebound percentages on the major-conferences’ official stat pages in 2010. Look at the national writers not using rebound margin. Best of all type “rebound margin” into Google and see what happens. Just one year after RMMD, I am declaring victory and leaving the field.

Yes, rebound margin continues to pop up here and there. It too is tracked on those official stat pages. Occasionally a national writer on a tight deadline will slip up and make a desperate grab for the familiar old fossil. Heck, the NCAA even gives out a plaque to the team that records the best rebound margin.

So be it. I’m not here to enforce speech codes and prohibitions. I have sought only the effective demise of rebound margin in the eyes of serious people who want to do right by reality. That demise has come, and much sooner than I thought it would.

BONUS diagnostic note! Incredibly the Big Ten is continuing its lonely stand as the only major conference that does not track offensive and defensive rebound percentages on its official stat page. I say “incredibly” because this is manifestly schizophrenic behavior from a league that co-sponsors a blog that fairly sets the standard where analytically sophisticated conference-specific coverage is concerned. 

Then again this is the same league that co-founded a TV network that changed the landscape of collegiate athletics and then reorganized the conference under names that were apparently culled from a National Association of Motivational Speakers thesaurus and which are identical when abbreviated. Schizophrenia is deep in the Big Ten DNA. “She’s my daughter! She’s my sister!” “Big Ten Network! Legends and Leaders!”

Email: johngasaway@basketballprospectus.com; Twitter: @JohnGasaway    

December 13, 2010

Syracuse is doomed. Like Duke last year.

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:01 am

Maybe “doomed” is a bit strong. In a sport where you score by putting the ball in the basket, putting the ball in the basket’s pretty important — certainly more important than turnovers, rebounds, or getting to the line.

Which brings me to the always excellent Luke Winn and the widespread concern he’s triggered with regard to the poor three-point shooting displayed by 10-0 Syracuse thus far this season. Luke’s right, of course. As great as the Orange zone defense may be, the prospects for Jim Boeheim‘s team going forward will be brighter if they can do better than their current 259th in the country from beyond the arc. But I was struck by the timing of this concern for the ‘Cuse, given the identity of our defending national champion.

That would be Duke. Despite my own best efforts and indeed those of my colleague Ken Pomeroy in this year’s College Basketball Prospectus book, I still have the nagging feeling that no one truly understands just how incredible it was that the Blue Devils could win a national title while shooting so miserably from inside the arc last year. Then it occurred to me that Luke may have at last broken this perceptual gridlock, albeit unwittingly. The best way to appreciate what Mike Krzyzewski pulled off last year could well be to compare Duke’s two-point apples to Syracuse’s three-point oranges.

I’m going to veer from Luke ever so slightly, however, and use FG percentages from conference games only. I like conference play. It balances “home” and “road” and the schedule is dictated to you, not chosen by you. Of course we don’t have conference shooting stats yet for Syracuse 2010-11, but happily we do have them for 292 other major-conference teams over the past four seasons. For the sake of simplicity let’s say that the ‘Cuse ends up making a measly 30.9 percent of their threes in Big East play, just as they’ve done in their games to date. How bad is that?

Pretty dang bad. You probably don’t need me to tell you that, but let’s quantify the bad shooting here. The average major-conference team will make 34.7 percent of its threes in league play, putting Syracuse’s 30.9 percent three-point shooting a robust 1.2 standard deviations on the wrong side of the mean. As I said, pretty dang bad.

Now for gridlock-breaking part. Duke’s two-point shooting last year? The Blue Devils made just 45 percent of their attempts inside the arc in ACC play. The average major-conference team, conversely, makes those shots at a 48.5 percent clip, putting Duke a full 1.1 standard deviations to the dark side of normal. Nevertheless, Coach K’s team won it all, thanks to good three-point shooting, the beastly offensive rebounding of Brian Zoubek, and, not least, an excellent D.

None of which makes Syracuse a shoo-in for the Final Four next April. But the 2010 national champion Duke Blue Devils were nothing if not a beacon of hope for teams that suck at one discrete thing.

Email: johngasaway@basketballprospectus.com; Twitter: @JohnGasaway   

December 10, 2010

Addition to the Basketball Fantasy Projection download

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 8:37 pm

There have been a couple of tweaks to the downloadable spreadsheet with our daily fantasy projections. First, I added a column called GR Trend. I define it as such:

GR TREND – Compares a player’s per-game GR (Game Rating) for the last two weeks to his season number and expresses the result as a percentage. Thus, players with a GR Trend over 100% are producing more in their recent games and vice versa for players below 100%.

This is just a quick and easy way to see which players are hot or are playing increased or reduced roles.

Perhaps just as important, we’ve put in a process that allows me to upload the new sheets myself each day as soon as they are available. You probably thought this was already happening, but it wasn’t. So we’ll be able to get the sheets up a little sooner and at a more consistent time each day.

ABOUT THE  BASKETBALL FANTASY PROJECTION

Our downloadable Basketball Fantasy Projection spreadsheets are available for anyone with a premium subscription to Basketball Prospectus. The sheet is updated daily and can be found on your ‘Manage Profile’ page. The download includes a forecast for the next seven days for every player, game-by-game projections and health status updates.

December 9, 2010

How Ravine Was My Valley

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kyle Whelliston @ 4:09 pm

For the very good part of a decade, the Missouri Valley could be counted on for solid, multi-bid performance. In the nine seasons between 1999 to 2007, the league collected 22 NCAA berths — peaking in 2006 with four — and won 14 tournament games during that stretch. (Take that, Billy Packer!) But it very well could be another decade before the conference sends a second team again. Northern Iowa’s 2010 Sweet 16 run notwithstanding, the MVC hasn’t been a multi-bid collective for three straight seasons, and it’s currently hard at work on a fourth.

In historically strong mid-major conferences, a second bid is generally won or lost before the turn of the calendar year, and the MVC is currently losing, losing, losing. Back in the Big Salad season of 2005-06, member teams played exceptionally well against top competition, winning 11 of 24 opportunities against the six power leagues. That year, the Valley’s non-conference winning percentage was .689 overall (73-33), helped along by league office initiatives that dissuaded low-RPI scheduling with cash prizes. In the two-bid followup of 2006-07, the Valley was 16-10 against the Big Six, and won 70 percent of the time outside the conference walls (82-36).

But then, something happened.

Season NonConf/W Pct vs. Big 6
2007-08 77-46 .626 13-13
2008-09 74-51 .592 3-17
2009-10 86-39 .688 9-10

In none of the three above seasons did the Valley receive an extra bid. Via a combination of upward mobility and increased attention to basketball success among the less successful schools, the league has sustained near-total coaching turnover. The only two out of ten that remain in their positions since 2006 are Southern Illinois’ Chris Lowery (hired in 2004) and MVC coaching dean Jim Les at Bradley (2002). Commissioner Doug Elgin has since discontinued the financial incentive programs as a measure against over-scheduling self-destruction, allowing schools to schedule anyone they want. And with coffers full of NCAA distribution money from tournament wins, a substantial part of those funds have been spent by the new generation of coaches on guarantee games against teams from the tiniest of conferences. The strength of schedule figures have been sent into a tailspin; witness this year’s numbers.

Evansville 25
Northern Iowa 53
Wichita State 54
Creighton 110
Southern Illinois 140
Missouri State 154
Indiana State 175
Drake 211
Bradley 253
Illinois State 307

This season has been a crater among craters so far, league-wide. As of December 8, MVC teams are 3-11 against the SEC, ACC, Pac-10 and the Bigs (Ten, 12 and East), and were recently embarrassed by a 1-8 showing in the second annual Missouri Valley-Mountain West Challenge (thank you, UNI!). More frightening has been the performance against the others. The Valley is a perfect 15-0 against the Great West, Southland, Summit, SWAC and independents, but maintaining a .500 overall record has been difficult. As of press time, the MVC’s non-conference mark is a pedestrian 40-36. Teams aren’t even winning the games they’re supposed to win anymore.

The easy answer is that the basketball in the Missouri Valley Conference is just plain worse than it used to be. The harder and harsher answer is that it’s a real quandary and a downward spiral. Schools get quick-hit gate receipts and gaudy win-loss records by buying Texas Southern and SIU Edwardsville, but there’s a very heavy cost. Single-bid status means diminished recruiting power, fewer national television appearances, less NCAA win share money, and disappearance from relevant conversation. Which is what’s happening now. Chances are that you, a serious college basketball fan, haven’t entertained a passing thought about the MVC since Wichita State played out in Maui last month.

Reviving the Valley’s legacy will be difficult, and it will take time. For the St. Louis-based league office to re-institute a scheduling mandate would be murder-suicide at this point, and the backlash would be similar to that for the Sun Belt’s planned “150 Rule.” You can’t just throw teams to the wolves like that, especially not the Red Wolves.

Rebuilding the Missouri Valley as a solid mid-major conference might require the humble approach of reestablishing it against the similar-sized leagues that took its place in the at-large pool. Instead of financial incentives to play only the top half of Division I, perhaps a simple reward program for MVC programs to enter into home-and-homes with teams from like-minded conferences. For whatever reason, the Horizon and MVC only play each other six times this year (down from 17 last season), and there are only two Valley-Atlantic 10 tilts on the regular schedule. That’s somewhat mind-boggling.

College basketball needs a strong Valley. The whole game is worse off for not having a giant-killing, corn-fed 10-team collective directly in its geographical center, anchoring the nation, scaring and surprising everybody else.

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