In case you didn’t see it last week, voting for the second annual Internet Basketball Awards is open now. Run by Basketball Prospectus, the IBBAs give fans the chance to cast the same full ballots as members of the media. Voting closes Friday, so don’t delay!
April 19, 2011
April 15, 2011
While I made predictions for the three Western Conference series I analyzed, I wanted to have a place to put down my (nearly complete) first-round picks. In the name of objectivity, I’m staying away from Chicago-Indiana, but here’s who I like in the other series along with a link to our previews for BBP Premium.
April 4, 2011
HOUSTON — You realize that someday, we’re going to have to convince our children and grandchildren that for the first two decades of the NCAA’s supergonzo megabracket era, there was an invisible seal that kept low-budget teams from the smaller conferences out of the Final Four. We won’t be able to describe it, because it was a completely intangible feeling that little engines were going to fall apart at some point in the Rounds of 64, 32, Sixteen or Eight. They won’t believe us anyway.
|R64||Michigan State||W, 75-65||66||1.13||0.98|
|R32||North Carolina||W, 65-60||67||0.97||0.91|
|S16||Wichita State||W, 63-55||62||1.02||0.83|
George Mason 2006 laid the template down, led by an old and wise head coach in Jim Larranaga who had a different catch-phrase for every game and would unspool lyrical odes to George Mason University every time he ascended to the dais (indeed, when he got his raise afterwards, part of it was specifically earmarked towards the ambassadorial work he was doing). Five double-figure scorers, precise ball movement, and a team that topped out at 6-7 that finished 12th in the nation at stopping the two-point shot (42.7 percent). That was bodies-on-the line defense, which was strained and tested as the tournament went on. Still, to this day, it’s worth a moment of wonder what could have happened against Florida in Indianapolis if Coach L had any bench at all. The sixth man on that team, turnover-creation widget Gabe Norwood, scored 4.9 percent of the team’s points.
|R32||Murray State||W, 54-52||59||0.91||0.95|
|E8||Kansas State||W, 63-56||67||0.94||0.85|
|F4||Michigan State||W, 52-50||58||0.89||0.83|
The true Mason effect, as it turned out, happened not on the court but in the boardrooms. Many athletic directors called their coaches and asked, “Why aren’t we in the Final Four too, and while we’re at it, why aren’t you out there being Mr. Ambassador?” Coaching turnover helped weaken the Valley and Colonial, the two premier mid-major leagues of 2006. But five years later, a new star rose in the Midwest. When Butler 2010 came home to Indianapolis, seeing Final Four merchandise racks full of weird non-BCS logos wasn’t totally foreign anymore. And the pride of the Horizon played some of the most sacrificial and punishing defense the Tournament has seen in recent years. Still, though, how exactly did they win that Murray State game?
|R64||Old Dominion||W, 60-58||59||1.01||0.97|
Butler 2011 began the season with defensive stopper Ronald Nored struggling to recover his form with his rebuilt shins, and a lot of 2010 role players taking on larger parts in the 2011 narrative. They were bound to struggle. But the most fun thing about this Butler run, from an objective standpoint, has been the kitchen-sink chemistry lab that Brad Stevens has been running with his role players. Freshman Crishawn Hopkins playing 24 minutes in calendar year 2011 before coming in and hitting the three that re-ignited the Dawgs against Florida? Sure! Zach Hahn scoring nine points in the first tournament, then a swift eight-spot early in the second half against VCU? Why not? Can’t scout for randomness, after all. It’s definitely a more offensive story this time, as Butler finds any way possible to turn possessions into points.
|S16||Florida State||W, 63-59||74||0.98||0.94|
While the Bulldogs remain the only team on this list to have averaged more than a point per trip in each game, VCU 2011 is the only one to have run opponents right off the floor, with their sudden three-point prowess and their fearless swagger. I believe that the Rams’ run will end up as the most dissected and pondered by mid-major coaches of the future, and considered to be the most generally inspiring. It was a fairly common team statistically that made use of adjustments and the element of surprise (cases in point: the slow death-grind of the USC game, and the opening burst of energy that put the Jayhawks back on their heels) in order to survive and advance. So the threes stopped falling in Houston. VCU has become an instant symbol of hope for mid-major fourth-place teams everywhere.
One of my favorite items at the official street vendor stands here in Houston is this heather gray t-shirt for children, which shows in colorful and fun relief exactly how much of the Final Four the outsiders occupied this year. As one of my Twitter followers said once I posted the picture, “Kids are going to grow up thinking mid-majors always make the Final Four. This is fantastic.” And when little tykes grow out of these shirts and get good at basketball, they might be more likely to accept giant-killer scholarships. The future needs more Zach Hahns.
April 1, 2011
Earlier this week, a friend told me he liked Butler to beat Virginia Commonwealth easily on Saturday with VCU’s run of improbably hot shooting coming to an end. I told him the fact that the game will be played at a mammoth football stadium (Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans) could hurt the Rams’ shooting, to which he replied, “Data backs that up? It’s not just something people say?”
I had to admit the answer was no. I was just going off conventional wisdom and had never seen any numbers on how playing in a football stadium actually affects shooting. This is tricky to study, since the only games played in such large venues are in the regionals or the Final Four, which feature elite teams. I decided to throw out the Final Four and look only at regional semifinals and finals, which gave a sample of some size over the last two years. (Since none of this year’s regionals was played at a true football stadium–I consider the Alamodome, like the Carrier Dome, to be somewhere in between–I did not use it at all.)
Over the 2009 and 2010 regional finals, which were about evenly split (12 games in stadia, nine in traditional basketball arenas), here are the relevant shooting numbers:
Location 2P% 3P% FT% Arena .493 .318 .713 Stadium .481 .344 .709
Hard to see much evidence there of the shooting background mattering at all. This was a quick study, and the samples are hardly conclusive, but it’s also easy to see why it would be easy to be seduced by the allure of thinking shooting is worse in the larger buildings. Against top defenses, teams often struggle to shoot no matter the venue. It’s just easier to remember Northern Iowa going cold against Michigan State at the Edward Jones Dome (4-of-16 on threes) than it is Xavier and Pitt combining to miss 29 of 38 triple attempts at the TD Garden.
If you want to cling to the notion that the bad backdrops do hurt teams that rely on shooting, the team that relies more on threes over the course of the season went just 4-8 in the games played in stadia, as compared to about .500 everywhere else. But this almost certainly is too small a sample to be meaningful and one exception was Duke, which swept two games in Houston during last year’s regional final en route to the title.
Why, it seems like just yesterday that I was writing in the College Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 that VCU would lose five of their last eight CAA games but then make the Final Four, that Connecticut would outscore the Big East by a mere 0.01 points per trip but then make the Final Four, that Butler would lose to Youngstown State but then make the Final Four, and that Kentucky would go 2-6 on the road in the SEC but then make the Final Four. Man that was a good book.
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