Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

February 28, 2011

BYU and the value of two additional wins

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

On Saturday BYU won their showdown at San Diego State, 80-67, giving the Cougars the regular-season sweep over the Aztecs. As Kevin Pelton noted in his excellent recap, the most impressive aspect of an already impressive win may have been that Dave Rose‘s team prevailed despite a decidedly human-looking Jimmer Fredette (8-of-23 from the floor). Instead the best player on the court was arguably 6-5 wing Charles Abuou, who grabbed nine boards while scoring 18 points on just 11 shots. The young lad has certainly come a long way since the days when his name was spelled “Aduou” by Nike on a special Coaches vs. Cancer-themed jersey.

BYU closes the regular season with games this week at home against New Mexico and Wyoming. At 27-2 overall and 13-1 in Mountain West play, the Cougars are being talked up for a 1-seed. Certainly their in-conference performance looks worthy of that honor.

Get out of the way and let the big cats eat 
Through games of February 27, conference games only
Pace: Possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession  Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                     W-L     Pace    PPP    Opp. PPP   EM
1.  BYU             13-1     71.3    1.15     0.96   +0.19
2.  San Diego St.   12-2     64.3    1.08     0.93   +0.15
3.  UNLV            10-5     67.2    1.02     0.96   +0.06
4.  New Mexico       6-8     65.8    1.06     1.02   +0.04
5.  Colorado St.     8-6     67.9    1.01     0.99   +0.02
6.  Utah             6-8     67.1    0.97     1.03   -0.06
7.  Air Force        5-9     61.6    0.98     1.05   -0.07
8.  Wyoming         3-11     67.2    0.94     1.08   -0.14
9.  TCU             1-14     66.0    0.92     1.09   -0.17 
 

Rose’s team is outscoring the Mountain West by 0.19 points per trip, a margin that most assuredly qualifies as “dominant.” This is getting to be a habit in Provo. Last year the Cougars outscored their league by 0.22 points per possession.

In fact the similarities between BYU’s 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons are fairly uncanny. In both seasons the Cougars lost just one game in the non-conference portion of their schedule (at Utah State last year, on a quasi-neutral floor to UCLA this year). In both seasons Rose’s team arrived at the last week of January with just that one loss and ranked in or very near the top 10 nationally. And in both seasons BYU then promptly lost in Albuquerque to New Mexico. The Cougars have even stayed largely the same year-to-year in performance terms. Actually BYU might be a hair worse on D this season compared to last year (keeping in mind they were and are very good both years). They force fewer turnovers and grab fewer defensive boards. The other difference is stylistic. This year’s Jimmer-powered Cougars shoot more threes.

So how come this team got just a 7-seed last year? In their last game before Selection Sunday BYU lost in the semis of the Mountain West tournament, but surely there’s no shame in losing to UNLV in Vegas. And while it’s true that the MWC’s probably a smidge tougher top-to-bottom this year than it was last year, I think we need to look elsewhere to explain this vast disparity in year-to-year perception. 

First, BYU didn’t win their conference last year. New Mexico did. The Lobos swept the season series from the Cougs, won a series of nail-biters against the rest of the Mountain West, and captured the league title outright at 14-2. BYU beat the rest of the non-Lobo conference with much greater decisiveness than did Steve Alford‘s team, looked great in Tuesday Truths, and came in second in real life at 13-3.

Second, this year the Cougars were given the gift of an esteemed rival: San Diego State. The Aztecs were undefeated until January 26, when they lost at BYU. Before Rose’s team could record two huge wins against San Diego State, the Aztecs first had to perform at a level that earned respect nationally. My working assumption is that very good teams who are perceived as lacking a worthy in-conference foe run the risk of being underrated. Look at Duke last year. Cougar fans should be very thankful that SDSU exists.

It looks probable that BYU will finish the regular season having won two games that they lost last year: at UNLV, and at home against New Mexico. Again, the Lobos will have something to say about the latter contest — it’ll take place Wednesday night. Assuming the Cougars prevail, the contrast between then and now will be stark. What a difference two wins can make.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here. Book: now available on Amazon.

Let log5 season begin

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ken Pomeroy @ 12:30 am

Both the Big South and Horizon play first round games tomorrow, and thus tournament time is upon us. At the Prospectus compound that means it’s also time to begin publishing a series of tables containing the probabilities which describe the prospects for each participant’s future.

For the uninitiated, probabilities are computed using the log5 equation popularized back in the day by Bill James, and adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies. (For the nerds out there, I’m using an exponent of 11 to compute each team’s pythagorean winning percentage, instead of the 11.5 used to create the values on my site. This provides more reliable percentages.) Tables will be posted more or less daily through next Wednesday on the day before each conference tourney begins.

A word of caution: These aren’t predictions. We are not saying that Coastal Carolina is going to win the Big South tournament. In fact, we are saying there’s a 33 percent chance they won’t do so. Use the information accordingly.

The numbers in each table represent the chance in percent of a team advancing to the round in question.

Big South
March 1, 3, 5 (First round/finals at higher seed, semifinals at Coastal Carolina)

Coastal Carolina ran away with the regular season race, and is the heavy favorite to win the conference tourney on its home floor. The Chants, however, found themselves on the wrong end of one of the biggest upsets in the land this season, losing to Gardner Webb at home on February 15th, which improbably ended a 22-game winning streak. (Stun-wording approved.) The two teams hook up again in Conway in round one.

                     Semis   Final   Champ
1 Coastal Carolina    93.2    80.5    67.1
3 UNC Asheville       77.7    53.8    17.2
2 Liberty             87.3    32.2     7.0
4 VMI                 70.5    12.9     4.7
6 Charleston Southern 22.3    12.3     2.1
5 Winthrop            29.5     4.5     1.3
8 Gardner Webb         6.8     2.2     0.4
7 High Point          12.7     1.7     0.1

Horizon
March 1, 4, 5, 8 (First round/finals at higher seed, second round/semifinals at UW-Milwaukee)

Milwaukee took the one-seed and home-court advantage after escaping last-place Youngstown State in overtime on Saturday, but they’re actually rated as the sixth-best team in the league. If such odds existed, you could have got pretty good ones around New Year’s on the Panthers getting the auto-NIT bid. It’s unclear whether Butler or Cleveland State is the class of the league, but the penalty for losing the three-way tiebreaker for the Vikings is being forced to play two extra games to punch their dance ticket. That alone propels Butler back to the favorite role in this event, although their chances aren’t nearly as overwhelming as last season, due to the lack of home-court advantage and that they aren’t as dominant as the 2010 team.

                       Rd1   Semis   Final   Champ
 2 Butler              100     100    63.8    42.8
 1 UW Milwaukee        100     100    60.0    24.2
 3 Cleveland St.      90.5    61.7    26.4    16.7
 4 Valparaiso         91.1    55.3    24.9     8.8
 6 Wright St.         74.2    28.8     8.1     3.3
 5 Detroit            64.0    27.2     9.4     2.5
 8 Loyola Chicago     36.0    15.6     5.5     1.3
 7 UW Green Bay       25.8     7.7     1.5     0.5
 9 Youngstown St.      8.9     1.9     0.2     0.02
10 Illinois Chicago    9.5     1.8     0.1     0.01

February 26, 2011

BYU Makes a Statement

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 6:41 pm

Jimmer Fredette put on a show in the first meeting between top-10 Mountain West rivals BYU and San Diego State, but the Cougars’ 71-58 home victory was relatively inconclusive as far as determining the conference’s best team. Not so for Saturday’s rematch, played at Viejas Arena on the SDSU campus. By going on the road to win 80-67 in a hostile environment, BYU firmly established itself as the class of the Mountain West.

Fredette delivered plenty of the heroics that have endeared him to fans in Provo and across the nation, knocking down a pair of long three-pointers and coming up with two key and-ones during the second half. Still, this wasn’t the Jimmer’s best effort. He needed 23 shots to score 25 points and turned the ball over five times. Instead of the Fredette show, this was an opportunity for BYU’s other key players to introduce themselves to the CBS audience.

Most impressive was junior swingman Charles Abouo, whose athleticism was crucial against the Aztecs’ talented front line. Abouo delivered one of the best performances of his career on the big stage, putting up 18 points and nine rebounds–triple his season scoring average and double his typical rebounding. Abouo was unexpectedly hot from downtown, making four of his five three-point tries as part of the Cougars’ barrage from beyond the arc. Fredette was 4-of-8 on threes, Noah Hartsock 3-of-4 and Jackson Emery made a pair of triples in six attempts. Add in a three from Stephen Rogers off the bench and that’s a total of 14 three-pointers–more than half of BYU’s baskets. Hartsock was perfect inside the arc for a total of 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting and Emery added 13 as part of the balanced scoring attack.

At the other end of the floor, San Diego State’s lack of shooting again proved problematic. Cougars coach Dave Rose alternated man and zone defenses in the first half before going exclusively to the zone after halftime. The Aztecs did a better job of working the ball inside than in the first meeting, but BYU defenders dug down to contest any attempts in the paint. San Diego State was unable to convert the open looks from downtown, shooting 6-of-17 from three-point range.

In the first game, the Aztecs stayed close with second-chance scores. This time around, Brigham Young cut down on those opportunities. San Diego State grabbed seven offensive rebounds after halftime, but there were a lot of misses available. In percentage terms, the Aztecs rebounded just 26.9 percent of their own misses, far below their season average of 37.5 percent. Even the looks San Diego State did get rarely turned into scores–the Aztecs had just four second-chance points in the entire second half. Without putbacks, San Diego State simply had a tough time scoring.

We may not be done with SDSU-BYU battles with the Mountain West Tournament on tap. Of course, UNLV–which is very tough to beat in the MWC tourney thanks to hosting it each year–might have something to say about that. The biggest implication of this game might be the fact that Brigham Young is in the driver’s seat to earn the No. 1 seed in the Mountain West Tournament. With a win over New Mexico, which handed them their only conference loss at the Pit, the Cougars will almost certainly win the regular-season championship. That will likely mean a semifinal matchup between UNLV and San Diego State. In the longer run, BYU now has a shot at earning a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament by sweeping its way through Las Vegas. If the Cougars pull it off, today reminded us it will be thanks to more than just Fredette.

You can contact Kevin at kpelton@basketballprospectus.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kpelton.

February 25, 2011

UConn’s (on-court) worries

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:36 am

I realize this marks my second consecutive Unfiltered post on Connecticut, but this one will actually pertain to basketball. The Huskies lost at home in OT last night to Marquette, 74-67. After a 5-2 start in Big East play (not to mention an OT win over Texas in Austin), Jim Calhoun‘s team has won just three of their last eight games.

Over that eight-game stretch Kemba Walker has continued to perform what can only be termed heroic deeds. He’s been on the court for more than 95 percent of his team’s minutes, taken 30 percent of said team’s shots from the field while he’s in the game, and made a thoroughly respectable 37 percent of his threes — all while committing just 13 turnovers over the course of 526 individual offensive possessions. Walker is a mensch.

He may, however, be a tired mensch. Even with decent results from the perimeter his scoring efficiency over those same eight games has plummeted, due to  abysmal (39 percent) two-point shooting and suddenly mediocre accuracy (63 percent) from the line. Needless to say, when Walker sneezes the team catches cold. UConn’s offense has collapsed, mustering just 0.94 points per trip during this 3-5 run.

The Huskies are fortunate their conference is so highly esteemed. In the Big East a case of the February blahs is chalked up rather mechanistically as prima facie proof of the league’s might. (Good luck trying this in the Pac-10!) Then again maybe there’s something to that might. This 11-bid talk that’s been going around may seem a little much, but there really is a clear line between the conference’s 11th- and 12th-best teams. In fact it’s not too much to say that the Big East’s top 11 have been beating up on the bottom five. Or maybe the top one’s been beating up on the bottom 15….

I avoided the Spinal Tap reference in this headline 
Through games of February 24, conference games only
Pace: Possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession  Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                     W-L     Pace    PPP    Opp. PPP   EM
1.  Pitt            13-2     62.7    1.13     0.98   +0.15
2.  Villanova        9-6     65.0    1.09     1.03   +0.06
3.  Louisville      10-5     65.2    1.04     0.99   +0.05
4.  Notre Dame      11-4     62.8    1.12     1.07   +0.05
5.  Syracuse        10-6     65.0    1.06     1.01   +0.05
6.  Marquette        8-7     65.6    1.11     1.07   +0.04
7.  West Virginia    8-7     61.9    1.06     1.02   +0.04
8.  Cincinnati       9-6     62.9    1.02     0.98   +0.04
9.  Georgetown      10-6     63.0    1.06     1.04   +0.02
10. Connecticut      8-7     65.2    1.02     1.01   +0.01
11. St. John’s      10-5     65.7    1.00     1.00    0.00
12. Seton Hall      5-10     67.5    0.95     0.99   -0.04
13. Rutgers         4-11     63.8    1.01     1.08   -0.07
14. Providence      3-12     71.6    1.02     1.10   -0.08
15. S. Florida      2-13     62.7    0.97     1.09   -0.12
16. DePaul          1-14     66.2    0.96     1.16   -0.20

When speaking of the Big East in 2011 it would appear that team Nos. 2 through 8 are really similar in terms of performance. Not that they’ll all share the same fate next month, of course. That will be in the hands of the teams, the selection committee, and the hoops gods, in roughly that order. But for our purposes it’s good to know: throw a stick at the Big East just under Pitt and you’ll hit a ton of me-too solid-but-not-scary teams.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here. Book: now available on Amazon.  

February 24, 2011

Making Sense of Baron Davis to Cleveland

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:04 pm

When David Aldridge first reported on Twitter than the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers were considering swapping their point guards, it seemed like a bad joke, one of those silly trade conversations that are forgotten within two weeks of the deadline. Instead, within the hour, the deal had been confirmed. Eventually, the full picture of the deal came out, making it more sensible for Cleveland with the addition of the Clippers’ first-round pick. But the initial deal–and Baron Davis‘ reputation for lackadaisical play–tainted the whole thing.

Clearly, the Cavaliers’ motivation was adding a pick that currently would be eighth entering the lottery. The Clippers could move a fair bit in either direction depending on how well they play with Mo Williams and how quickly Eric Gordon returns, but eighth is a reasonable guess at the pick Cleveland is getting. So what is that pick worth? According to the research I did last year as part of the Summer 2010 Preview series, an eighth pick can be expected to produce about $25 million of value in wins on average during his rookie contract. Over the same period, based on the current CBA, he’d be paid $10 million. That implies a value of $15 million for the eighth pick, were teams able to pay that much for it in actual cash.

The Cavaliers couldn’t do that, but they could swallow the difference between Davis’ and Williams’ contracts, both of which run through the 2012-13 season. Over that span, Davis will be paid $15.4 million more than Williams (per ShamSports.com). Because Jamario Moon was included in the deal, this year’s money is about a wash, so call it $12.4 million.

According to Chad Ford, part of the reason the Clippers were willing to make this trade is their pessimism about this year’s draft, which could be weakened by players who don’t want to come out early only to get locked out. In that case, the pick might be worth less than usual. Still, when you pencil this out on paper, it looks like a decent gamble on young talent for Cleveland at worst.

You can contact Kevin at kpelton@basketballprospectus.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kpelton.

February 23, 2011

Prospectus’ Deadline Acquisition

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 10:38 pm

The New Jersey Nets and the New York Knicks aren’t the only teams loading up at the deadline. Basketball Prospectus has made a move as well, and though plenty of first-round picks were offered for Sebastian Pruiti, we didn’t have to give up anything in return. I’m pleased to announce that Dan Feldman of PistonPowered.com has joined us as a weekly NBA contributor.

A 2009 graduate of the University of Michigan, Dan has written for ESPN.com, Hail to the Victors, Michigan Alumnus, The Detroit News, The Flint Journal, Lost Lettermen and The Michigan Daily in addition to his work at PistonPowered.com, which is a part of the True Hoop Network.

Dan’s analytical mindset makes him an ideal fit for Basketball Prospectus, and we’re hoping he can spice up the site with the charts that have been a fixture in his features at PistonPowered.com.

Dan will join us tomorrow, when we discuss all the action leading up to the trade deadline in a live chat running from about 11 a.m. Eastern right through and past the 3 p.m. deadline, and will make his debut as a Prospectus author later this week.

Hawks, Wizards Swap Guards

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 9:24 pm

Whither the Atlanta Hawks? There are four real contenders in the Eastern Conference (and yes, I still include the Orlando Magic in that group), while the New York Knicks just made their bid for relevance. That leaves Atlanta, which is currently just 1.5 games back of Orlando for home-court advantage in the opening round but is beginning a brutal stretch run that figured to expose the Hawks as pretenders.

Atlanta GM Rick Sund is reportedly close to making his move, and I’m dubious whether it’s going to be enough. The Hawks are sending their starting point guard, Mike Bibby, to the Washington Wizards for Kirk Hinrich. To even up the swap, Atlanta is sending rookie Jordan Crawford and its 20111 first-round pick to Washington, while veterans Maurice Evans and Hilton Armstrong were thrown in on each side for cap purposes.

Hinrich is better than Bibby, let’s be clear. The latter has a slight advantage on the offensive end, where he remains a superb three-point shooter (44.7 percent from beyond the arc this season to Hinrich’s solid but less spectacular 38.4 percent) and the rest is pretty much a wash. Both Hinrich and Bibby are largely spot-up shooters and facilitators at this stage of their careers. Neither is doing much to set up teammates or get to the rim off the dribble.

At the defensive end, Hinrich more than evens up that difference. He is one of the league’s better defenders at guard, and while Hinrich does not excel against quicker guards, point guards of all varieties torched Bibby at the defensive end. According to Basketball Prospectus’ counterpart numbers, the Hawks have defended point guards as poorly as any team has defended any position. Hinrich’s size and strength will also help Atlanta switch at the defensive end.

How much is that upgrade worth? I’d say maybe a game or two over a full season. Ordinarily, that’s an enormous difference. But the gap between the Hawks and the East’s best teams is so large that I’m not sure this move makes much of a dent. Atlanta still looks to me like first-round fodder for the Magic. That’s when you have to start wondering about the Hawks’ future. This deal means giving up two years’ worth of young contributors on cost-effective rookie deals. Backup point guard Jeff Teague is the only growing player of note on the Atlanta roster, and this deal along with rumors involving Teague seem to indicate the Hawks don’t view him as a starter any time soon. So Atlanta isn’t good enough right now, and can’t count on adding young talent. That’s a pretty bad recipe for long-term relevance.

You can contact Kevin at kpelton@basketballprospectus.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kpelton.

Quick Take on Landry Trade

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 7:10 pm

While it has been overshadowed by the day’s other trade, according to multiple reports the New Orleans Hornets and Sacramento Kings have come to terms on a deal that sends Carl Landry to the Bayou in exchange for guard Marcus Thornton and cash. By all accounts, the Hornets have been very aggressive leading up to the deadline in their search for bench production. Landry is a fine sixth man, as he showed with the Houston Rockets, and the price isn’t excessive. Nonetheless, the fit of this deal doesn’t seem right to me.

While Landry and New Orleans starter David West score in very different ways–West is the master of the pick-and-pop, while Landry is more of a post scorer–they’re both undersized four-men. That makes Landry a good insurance policy in case West, who can opt out out of the final season of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent, heads elsewhere. But for the remainder of this season, it will be difficult for Hornets coach Monty Williams to use the two players together in the frontcourt. That kind of pairing could be a disaster at the defensive end of the floor, since neither West nor Landry is especially effective as a help defender.

Because West plays 35 minutes a night, and because New Orleans is weak in the middle behind starting center Emeka Okafor, West is sure to end up playing some five next to Landry to allow the newcomer to play the 20-25 minutes a night his play merits. Because of the defensive shortcomings, I’m not sure that’s much of an upgrade on the trio of Jason Smith, Aaron Gray and DJ Mbenga. Landry will help–especially in the 13 or so minutes he’ll get to play at his natural position–but not as much as a player that better fit the Hornets’ needs might have done.

You can contact Kevin at kpelton@basketballprospectus.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kpelton.

Deron Williams to the Nets: Quick Reaction

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 2:18 pm

The details aren’t all quite concrete, but the Nets and Jazz have upped the ante in what is shaping up to be an eventful deadline week. In fact, even if another major deal fails to materialize, it’s already been a league-scrambling few days. As first reported by Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Jazz have traded franchise point guard Deron Williams to the Nets for a package that includes rookie power forward Derrick Favors, former All-Star point guard Devin Harris and a pair for first-round draft picks. As an adjunct to that deal, the Nets are reportedly on the verge of sending the expiring contract of Troy Murphy to Golden State in exchange for backup center Dan Gadzuric and talented-but-underachieving forward Brandan Wright.

Kevin Pelton will check in later with a full Transaction Analysis, so for now we’ll just touch upon a couple of major themes. First, the first reaction of many in my Twitter feed is that the Nets have effectively trumped the Knicks’ acquisition of Carmelo Anthony. In terms of notoriety, that’s probably not true. The run-of-the-mill hoops fan is likely much more familiar with ‘Melo and buys into the mainstream of him as a top-five player. However, on the court, the Nets have acquired a foundation player that would have been a perfect answer for New York. There would have been no questions about D-Will’s ability to mesh with Amar’e Stoudemire, nor would there be any doubts about whether he could have run Mike D’Antoni‘s system. The Knicks would have landed a player that is younger, better and, as of now, cheaper. So the question is, did the Knicks even kick the tires on a possible Williams acquisition? If not, this is an epic fail on their part, one that has the grubby fingerprints of James Dolan written all over it.

For the Jazz, the trade signals a couple of things. They apparently did not feel like Williams was likely to extend with the team before he can opt out of his contract following next season. They chose not to wait Williams out, as the Raptors and Cavaliers tried to do with Chris Bosh and LeBron James respectively. Instead, Utah general manager Kevin O’Conner has taken the route Denver took with Anthony–he’s proactively gotten what he can, while he can. That he’s brought back Harris and an upside player in Favors plus draft picks suggests that Utah is turning the page to a post-lockout rebuilding effort. He’s now got two starting-caliber power forwards on his roster in Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, plus the talented Favors. You can expect the Jazz to continue to re-shape that roster.

For the initial reaction on the Nets’ angle in this deal, I turn to colleague Sebastian Pruiti:

“It is going to be interesting to see how Avery Johnson works Deron Williams into the Nets’ system.  With Devin Harris in New Jersey, there weren’t a lot of sets being run Harris.  Harris got most of his points out of a simple 1/4 pick-and-roll or transition.  Williams is a much better all around offensive player, so you can expect to see some new sets in New Jersey.  My guess would be a few post-up sets.  Also, expect to see Williams playing some two-guard with Jordan Farmar running the point.  Johnson was doing that with Devin Harris who isn’t much of a shooter, so it would only make sense that he continues to experiment with a two point-guard lineup with Williams, who actually plays the two-guard position very well.”

Note: Be sure to check in on the site tomorrow, where myself, Sebastian, Kevin and a new contributor (tune in tomorrow to find out–we’re excited) will be conducting a live chat up to and past the deadline. I’ll be hanging out at the United Center for the Heat shootaround in the morning in advance of tomorrow’s big game between the Heat and Bulls, so there should be plenty to discuss.

BBP TWITTER DIRECTORY

Bradford Doolittle

Asher Fusco

John Gasaway

Kevin Pelton

John Perrotto

Ken Pomeroy

Sebastian Pruiti

Kyle Whelliston

group list

UConn, the NCAA, and the cult of the lawyer

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:33 pm

The correlation between the eventual on-court performance of an elite prospect and the NCAA grief they can bring down on a program is weak. Derrick Rose brought NCAA grief down on Memphis, but at least he, with a little help from his friend Chris Douglas-Roberts, got the Tigers to the 45th minute of a national championship game. (Unofficially.)

On the other side of the ledger, poor Rick Stansbury did everything except rename the state flower of Mississippi “Renardo Sidneyola” just to lure Renardo Sidney to Mississippi State, and now look. Stansbury’s handshake with the opposing coach before every Bulldog game is always the same:

STANSBURY (reaching to shake hands): Good luck tonight, Coach!
OPPOSING COACH: (pointing, emitting Nelson laugh) Ha-ha! You have Renardo Sidney and I don’t!

Call the Nate Miles episode at Connecticut a “severe Sidney.” Miles never played a minute for the Huskies, but the efforts that UConn devoted to recruiting him in 2007 and 2008 resulted in an announcement from the NCAA yesterday that Jim Calhoun will be suspended for three games next season. Following up on leads first developed by Adrian Wojnarowski and Dan Wetzel in a 2009 Yahoo! Sports report, the Committee on Infractions found that UConn made too many phone calls, sent too many texts, and picked up too many tabs (part of a bill for Miles’ foot surgery, enrollment at his oxymoronically labeled basketball academy, etc.).

Some observers think this punishment is about right, others think it’s too lenient. I think it’s too lawyerly.

The problem’s in the word choice, isn’t it?

Between April 2007 and February 2009, members of the men’s basketball staff violated the provisions of NCAA recruiting legislation by exchanging 150 impermissible phone calls with and sending 190 impermissible text messages to prospective men’s basketball student-athletes.

Recruiting “legislation”? You can have a governing association that administers championships in college sports and I will wish you well. You can even adopt a rule within that association that says schools can only place a certain number of phone calls at certain times to recruits. I will think such a rule is somewhat quaint and wholly unnecessary in 2011, but adopting unnecessary rules is your prerogative. Fine, have at it. But when you refer to this prosaic and subjective phone-call-etiquette preference of yours as “legislation,” I see trouble ahead. I see the divorce of “amount of effort” and “intrinsic importance.”

“My lawyer and I are evaluating my options,” Calhoun said yesterday. I saw that and thought: J’accuse. One more gym rat sucked into the insatiable maw of the college-sports-litigation complex. This genius for inserting lawyers and the appurtenances of litigation into inherently trivial matters causes no end of problems. The malady shared by the NCAA, by many but by no means all coaches, by many but by no means all administrators, and by writers up to and including yours truly on occasion is an overestimation of what’s really at stake. Very little is really at stake. What is at stake is nothing more or less than a game that I and many others are passionate about, the key word being “game.”

I don’t suppose anyone’s to blame for this state of affairs, or if there is such a person I don’t know who it is. I certainly don’t blame the NCAA. We’ve arrived at this spot incrementally over a long period of time, as people of good will made what seemed like the correct decisions at the time. Maybe we can pack up and move to a different spot incrementally over time, one where we enjoy our trivial matters and argue about them passionately and set rules for them and free up our nation’s lawyers for the more important stuff. Let’s give it a shot, with patience, a sense of humor, and due appreciation of proportion.

A coach once said, “I always tried to make it clear that basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live.” Words worthy of a cult following.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here. Book: now available on Amazon.

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