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December 14, 2011

An area where the NCAA could actually help

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:15 am

I loved the obligatory tone of indignation in columns that appeared when Xavier head coach Chris Mack and Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin levied suspensions following this weekend’s brawl between the Musketeers and the Bearcats. Criticism in such cases is far too easy. The real problem lies not in the penalties but in their source. The idea that a coach should also be judge, jury, and executioner when his players do wrong is novel, to say the least. The conflict of interest in such cases is intractable. The better the player, the more egregious the conflict.

I would like to see the NCAA reviewing tapes and handing down penalties in these cases, not the conferences much less the schools themselves. Currently the NCAA stipulates that anyone involved in a fight is ejected from the game and must sit out one additional contest. Of course in the case of the Xavier-Cincy melee, the schools went over and above that minimum requirement in many instances, banishing players from the court for as many as six games (and the schools were still criticized as being lenient — it is the circle of life in such episodes). But it would be better still if the good people in Indianapolis had the responsibility of reviewing these episodes on a case-by-case basis. In just about any other sport, this is the meat and potatoes of what your national regulatory body does. That the NCAA is, effectively, nowhere to be seen in a case like this is odd.

NCAA president Mark Emmert has said his organization will move away from picayune matters like auditing phone records and scrutinizing restaurant receipts. That’s a start, but the mother lode of picayune is the odd fetishization of amateurism, a pleasant and quotidian trifle that will survive for centuries worldwide regardless of what lawyers in Indianapolis did or did not do in 2011. Amateurism needs stringent protection and detailed regulations to about the same extent that politeness, punctuality, or correct spelling do.

An NCAA that came to that realization and helped out with disciplining pugilistic players might also realize it has nothing whatsoever to contribute to the ongoing pursuit of justice at Penn State. Jay Bilas has nailed it: The idea that the NCAA and Big Ten have any role to play in the Jerry Sandusky investigation is not only farcical, it’s actually disturbing. Characters like Emmert and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany loom large in their proper spheres, but their insertion into the Sandusky affair trivializes the mephitic nature of what is alleged and puts those allegations on par with mere sports, with ephemera like O.J. Mayo, Jim Tressel, and Nate Miles. To imply any such equivalence is absurd.

The NCAA and Big Ten say they’re looking to see if there was “a lack of institutional control” with regard to Sandusky and his alleged crimes. But what if there wasn’t a lack of institutional control? What if the institution was sufficiently informed of the dangers at the highest administrative levels and simply took a catastrophic turn toward inaction and cowardice? That’s not a lack of institutional control, it’s a harrowing and reprehensible surfeit of institutional corruption. It is something much worse, something quite properly beyond the concern of bodies that regulate how we play games.

To review, the NCAA votes no, yes, and yes on tasking itself with case-by-case fight penalties, the policing of amateurism, and Sandusky postmortems. I say the proper answers here instead are yes, no, and no. If we were creating a national collegiate athletic association from scratch today, this is what it would do.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

December 13, 2011

Leave Memphis alone

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:24 am

A little over a month ago I tipped off the new season with my annual voice of doom piece on an overrated team. The voice of doom piece (hereafter VOD) is good for everyone involved. It smashes the champagne bottle across the bow of the new season, as it were. It enrages fans of whichever team I write about, and generates lots of page views as enraged fans encourage one another to yell at this Gasaway character. And, at least the past two years, those crazy herd-minded pollsters have made the VOD piece really easy to write. Through no fault of their own Kansas State was egregiously overrated (No. 3) in the preseason last year, and so too was Memphis (No. 9) this season.

We are now in week 6 of the season for polling purposes, and Josh Pastner‘s team has dropped out of the top 25 completely, following Sunday’s 76-72 loss at home to Murray State. I have decided to mark this occasion by inaugurating a new annual follow-up feature, which I’m calling my voice of reason piece (VOR — what a concept!). I think people are overreacting needlessly to the spectacle presented by Memphis playing at more or less the level that should have been expected of them in the first place.

The Tigers are 5-3, with wins over Belmont, Tennessee, and Miami. Their losses are to Michigan, Georgetown, and those aforementioned Racers. On paper this is still the best team in Conference USA by a wide margin. Will Barton is having an outstanding year. For a 6-6 featured scorer to hit 61 percent of his twos against the competition that Memphis has played is remarkable.

Now, is this team’s strange lethargy on the offensive glass troubling? Is Tarik Black‘s odd foul-prone regression in offensive rebounding curious? You bet! But every team has worries like that, and even with such worries the Tigers are aligned to win the C-USA regular-season title outright.

The stated rap on Pastner is that he’s a fantastic recruiter but his teams underperform. Define “underperform.” We got to see many of these same players log 1,075 possessions in C-USA last year, and what we’re seeing so far this season follows that performance arc with admirable fidelity. I think the real (implied) rap on Pastner is simply that he’s not as good a coach as John Calipari was by the time Calipari left Memphis. This is true. Of course Calipari wouldn’t be as good as 2009-vintage Calipari if you hired him at age 31.

Memphis is ritually praised as “talented,” and so they are, but if the next NBA draft were held this afternoon we might see one Tiger, freshman Adonis Thomas, go in the (late) first round. Seen by the proper lights the Tigers are fine so far, and letting Murray State jump out to an 11-2 lead to open the game might turn out to be a valuable lesson. Don’t bury the team or hot-seat the coach just yet.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

December 12, 2011

Kobe-CP3 Would Have Made for an Intriguing Experiment

Filed under: Uncategorized — Neil Paine @ 12:53 pm

Despite attempts to rework the trade this weekend, the Kobe Bryant-Chris Paul pairing is not to be. That’s sad news if you like basketball experiments, because it would have been interesting to watch the dynamic unfold between the two great guards.

As Sebastian Pruiti wrote at Grantland, Derek Fisher was essentially the Lakers’ point guard in name only over the past few seasons, as Kobe handled the ball more and played the role of offensive initiator that most teams demand from their PG. In fact, because of the triangle offense, Bryant has never really played with a ball-dominating PG. Take a look at his career as a starter, using Bob Chaikin’s “touches” metric (“%Touch” = the player’s percentage of his team touches — aka opportunities in an attacking position on the floor — while in the game, where 20% is average):

Year	Kobe %Touch	Kobe ORtg	Primary PG	%Touch	ORtg	Prv%T	PrvOrtg
1999	23.6%		106		Fisher		26.9%	103	26.7%	109
2000	26.6%		110		Harper		21.6%	98	23.0%	93
2001	28.7%		112		Shaw		21.6%	102	24.2%	97
2002	30.5%		112		Fisher		18.2%	114	21.0%	113
2003	31.5%		111		Fisher		18.2%	110	18.2%	114
2004	28.6%		112		Payton		26.7%	109	36.7%	108
2005	34.1%		111		Atkins		23.4%	112	26.0%	103
2006	32.2%		114		Parker		20.7%	108	22.1%	83
2007	31.5%		115		Parker		19.1%	101	20.7%	108
2008	29.6%		115		Fisher		19.8%	114	21.3%	108
2009	30.2%		115		Fisher		18.5%	117	19.8%	114
2010	31.2%		109		Fisher		17.3%	105	18.5%	117
2011	33.2%		111		Fisher		17.2%	105	17.3%	105
2012	---		---		Paul		---	---	43.7%	122

In recent seasons, Kobe has had about 30-34% of L.A.’s touches while on the court, while the Lakers’ primary PGs have been under 20% (they haven’t had a PG hit 20% since Smush Parker in 2006). Of the new PGs they’ve brought in, only Gary Payton (36.7% in 2003) had a particularly high %Touch the year before coming to the Lakers, and all of them saw their %Touch decrease when joining L.A.’s starting lineup. In other words, L.A. usually targeted low-touch point guards and asked them to touch the ball even less when paired with Bryant.

Chris Paul is a different sort of point guard. Here are his career %Touch numbers:

Year	Age	Team	G	MP	%Touch	ORtg
2006	20	NOK	78	2808	39.6%	114
2007	21	NOK	64	2353	42.8%	116
2008	22	NOH	80	3006	48.5%	125
2009	23	NOH	78	3002	50.1%	124
2010	24	NOH	45	1712	43.0%	122
2011	25	NOH	80	2880	43.7%	122

CP3 has been in the 43% range for two years running, and was at or near 50% before his knee injury, making him entirely different from the type of PG Bryant has played with his entire career. Although the Lakers will run a new offense this season following Phil Jackson’s departure, it would have been fun to watch Bryant and Paul learn for the first time to coexist and play with a high-touch guard partner.

Email Neil at np@sports-reference.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Neil_Paine.

December 9, 2011

Bye, Bye, BRoy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:55 pm

Sometime soon, possibly this afternoon, Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy will announce his retirement from the NBA due to the degenerative condition of his knees. I understood this was a possibility eventually, and probably should have been tipped off by the fact that Roy was unable to play in a pair of charity games during the lockout, but recent reports from Roy’s workouts in Seattle with other NBA players had been positive. If the Blazers knew what was coming, Nate McMillan‘s announcement earlier this week that Roy would enter training camp as his starting two-guard was one heck of a smokescreen.

This is a bittersweet day, certainly. When the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008, I was consoled about the loss of my favorite team (and employer) by two facts. The Rose Garden is less than three hours down I-5 from Seattle, allowing me to attend NBA games in Portland on a regular basis, and also to see my all-time favorite player from my alma mater. When Roy was at the University of Washington, leading a program that was moribund when he arrived along with Bobby Jones, Nate Robinson and Tre Simmons to three NCAA tournament appearances during his four-year career, I was certain he would be a good NBA player. I never really imagined he would win Rookie of the Year and make the All-Star team in his second season.

By the time I got to Portland, Roy’s career was in full ascent. During the second game I attended on a Prospectus credential, Roy made a 30-foot three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Houston Rockets in overtime on national television. All too often over the last three seasons, I was there to enjoy Roy’s heroics first-hand. The last two years, they mostly concerned his triumphant return from injury. During the 2010 playoffs, Roy received one of the loudest ovations I’ve ever heard when he went to the scorer’s table to check in after unexpectedly returning far ahead of schedule from arthroscopic knee surgery. Last spring brought one of the most unforgettable games I’ve ever attended, Roy’s turn-back-the-clock fourth quarter that led a miraculous 23-point comeback against the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. As that game wound down, I had chills thanks to how Roy played and how the Rose Garden responded. That day was made all the more special when ESPN.com asked me after the game to write the lead story chronicling the twin comebacks (by the team and by Roy) to lead their Daily Dime coverage.

Those memories are all we have now of Brandon Roy the basketball player, and that’s not the worst thing possible. He struggled to deal with finding his body unable to do the same things that had once come like second nature. Earlier in the week of Roy’s triumphant game against the Mavericks, he briefly turned heel by complaining about his playing time in Game Two of the series with the Mavericks. There were bound to be more awkward moments like that as Roy adjusted to a reduced role and McMillan tried to balance his desire to play with a crowded wing rotation.

Roy’s career was painfully brief. He just turned 27 in July, putting him at an age where he should have been peaking as a player. There are no guarantees in basketball, however, and Roy packed a full career’s worth of highlights into five NBA seasons. I wish there were more to come, but I’m also thankful to have had the opportunity to see Roy come through as many times as I did.

After all, when I was first introduced to Roy, it was as the younger brother of a standout Garfield High School senior named Ed Roy. Ed was nearly as talented as Brandon and was a dominant player in high school, but academics kept him from taking his career any further. Brandon came all too close to a similar fate. Ineligible until he could get a qualifying SAT score, he spent the first semester of what would be his freshman year at UW working at a shipping-container plant.

Roy might have ended up one of those “what if?” tales that get whispered in local basketball circles. Instead, through hard work and perseverance, he was able to showcase his skills and his character on a global stage. That’s why, as tough as today might be for Roy’s fans, it should also be a chance to remember everything he did accomplish before his knees gave out.

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

Remembering Brandon Roy’s Potential

Filed under: Uncategorized — Neil Paine @ 1:21 pm

Word out of Portland this morning is that Brandon Roy will retire rather than being released by the Blazers under the amnesty provision of the new CBA.

If true, this would be a sad ending to what was once one of the game’s most promising young careers. In the modern era, here are the players with the most WARP in their first three seasons:

Player                  WARP
1. David Robinson       67.0
2. Shaquille O'Neal     62.5
3. LeBron James         53.7
4. Chris Paul           52.1
5. Hakeem Olajuwon      50.2
6. Tim Duncan           50.2
7. Larry Bird           47.9
8. Charles Barkley      46.6
9. Michael Jordan       45.8
10. Magic Johnson       44.5
11. Grant Hill          43.6
12. Penny Hardaway      43.4
13. Andrei Kirilenko    42.1
14. Tim Hardaway        39.7
15. Vince Carter        39.3
16. Elton Brand         37.6
17. Dwyane Wade         37.3
18. Paul Pierce         36.9
19. Steve Francis       36.9
20. Allen Iverson       36.1
21. Dikembe Mutombo     35.0
22. Andre Miller        34.8
23. Kevin Johnson       34.6
24. Terry Cummings      34.3
25. Jeff Ruland         33.8
26. Dwight Howard       33.2
27. Alonzo Mourning     32.5
28. Arvydas Sabonis     32.3
29. Buck Williams       32.2
30. Baron Davis         30.6
31. Isiah Thomas        30.5
32. Kevin Love          30.3
33. Damon Stoudamire    29.6
34. Yao Ming            29.2
35. Mark Jackson        28.9
36. Derrick Coleman     28.7
37. Clark Kellogg       28.6
38. Brandon Roy         28.5
39. Pau Gasol           28.2
40. Jason Kidd          28.1

Of particular note is Roy’s 2009 campaign, when he posted 14.1 WARP (good for 8th in the NBA). This meant that by age 24, he was already arguably the equal of Kobe Bryant (14.2 WARP in ’09), which is precisely why Portland signed him to a 5-year, $80M contract extension prior to the 2009-10 season.

…At which point Roy’s body promptly began breaking down. Slowed by hamstring issues throughout the 2010 season, Roy also tore his right meniscus mere days before the playoffs began. He played 3 ineffective playoff games before shutting down and preparing for a 2010-11 comeback, but that effort was cut to 47 games by soreness in his other knee. Ultimately, Roy had arthroscopic surgery on both knees in 2011 and was only a shell of his former self when he did play, posting an ugly .491 TS% during the regular season and coming off the bench for just 23 MPG during the postseason.

Had he allowed Portland to amnesty him, Roy probably could have offered average (or near-average) production off the bench for a team in need of a reserve SG, but according to ESPN he wants to stay in Portland rather than sign with another team and have to uproot.

Certainly Roy’s story is tragic, but don’t let his incredibly abrupt decline make you forget how good his career path looked before the injuries. Check out this group of 3rd-year guards that put up roughly as many Win Shares as Roy did in 2009:

Player          Season  Age     Tm      G       MP      WS
Derrick Rose    2010-11 22      CHI     81      3026    13.1
Brandon Roy     2008-09 24      POR     78      2903    13.5
Dwyane Wade     2005-06 24      MIA     75      2892    14.4
Vince Carter    2000-01 24      TOR     75      2979    12.9
Penny Hardaway  1995-96 24      ORL     82      3015    14.4
Reggie Miller   1989-90 24      IND     82      3192    12.1
Magic Johnson   1981-82 22      LAL     78      2991    12.9
Sidney Moncrief 1981-82 24      MIL     80      2980    13.4
David Thompson  1977-78 23      DEN     80      3025    12.7
Tiny Archibald  1972-73 24      KCO     80      3681    14.2
Walt Frazier    1969-70 24      NYK     77      3040    15.0

Were it not for his injury problems, Roy was definitely on track to have a special career.

Email Neil at np@sports-reference.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Neil_Paine.

December 8, 2011

A SCHOENE Spreadsheet is Coming

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 11:17 pm

A quick note to any of you out there wondering: We will be selling a downloadable SCHOENE projection spreadsheet for fantasy leagues at some point before the start of the season. As to when, that’s tougher to say. Because of the unique situation with free agency starting tomorrow, it’s impossible to say how quickly rotations will be close enough to normal to make it worthwhile to publish something. I’d hope that happens sometime next week.

Naturally, the same unpredictability applies to the Pro Basketball Prospectus 2011-12 book, which will take longer to complete. As I said last week, we may not be able to say anything about when it’s coming until it is actually available for purchase. Thanks for your patience as we work through everything.

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

Greed didn’t maim the Big East. Stupidity did.

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 5:33 pm

The Big East will of course continue in some form, but as a top-echelon basketball conference the league has been dealt a mortal blow. Pitt, Syracuse, and West Virginia are leaving, and Houston, SMU, and UCF are joining the league.

True, Connecticut, Louisville, Villanova, Georgetown, and Marquette are all strong programs, but strong programs are done no favors by new members like these. To use marketing-ese, the “brand” of the Big East has been seriously diluted, and no one is more brand-conscious than recruits. Some Big East coaches are going to heroic lengths to try to spin this as a good thing somehow, but the truth is no one wants to get worse.

Too bad. The Big East just got worse.

Beastly no more
NCAA tournament wins since 2000

1. Connecticut (26)
2. Louisville (12)
3. Villanova (12)
4. Georgetown (9)
5. Marquette (8)
6. Cincinnati (7)
7. Notre Dame (6)
8. Seton Hall (3)
9. DePaul (1)
10. St. John’s (1)
11. Providence (0)
12. Rutgers (0)
13. S. Florida (0)
14. Houston (0)
15. SMU (0)
16. UCF (0)

Everyone can agree this is a shame, but let’s form a reality-based alliance and agree not to blame “football” or “greed.” Football is indeed the direction the wind is blowing in, but football doesn’t compel people to behave stupidly when it gets a little windy. And as for greed, there’s no reason whatsoever why everyone — schools, conferences, networks, everyone — couldn’t have made fistfuls of dollars across multiple sports while Syracuse, Pitt, and West Virginia remained in the Big East for basketball.

The conference alignments that make the most sense for football from a revenue standpoint don’t necessarily make the most sense for basketball from a revenue standpoint — and it goes without saying they don’t make the most sense from any other standpoint. (See the new-look Big East, above.) In a more rational world, one staffed by grown-ups, the implications of this incommensurability would be plain: render unto football what is football’s and leave every other sport alone. Configure football conferences any way you want, but leave these three great basketball programs in the Big East, and while you’re at it leave Missouri basketball in the Big 12 where the Tigers can get their hate on with Kansas twice annually.

There’s nothing new or revolutionary about a school maintaining memberships in different conferences for different sports. It just means there’s a little more work for everyone involved: different TV deals covering different sports, more hoops to jump through in terms of revenue distribution, etc. None of that is particularly daunting much less earth-shattering, but in the form of the new Big East we are now confronting the consequences of not doing that work.

An ersatz Big East is being portrayed as a regrettable but inevitable byproduct of football-driven evolution. Nonsense. This didn’t have to happen, and it pisses me off.

Thanks to John Infante, who answered some questions I threw his way for this post.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

December 7, 2011

Is the Big 12 losing its best team?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:51 am

When one is speaking of the Big 12 and the sport is basketball, you know the drill. It’s all about Kansas. Also Kansas. Then there’s Kansas. And finally, on occasion, Kansas.

Even this year the only part of that equation that was supposed to change was that a newly feisty Baylor team was going to rise to challenge the Jayhawks in a year where, for once, Bill Self does not have a bottomless reservoir of NBA-track bigs.

It’s only December, and the Big 12 title could still very well go through Lawrence or Waco or both. But after watching Missouri handle Villanova by the score of 81-71 in Madison Square Garden last night, I think the Tigers will have a say in this discussion as well. Frank Haith‘s team is looking to hang a Big 12 banner on their way out the door, in this their last season before joining the SEC.

Granted, it’s difficult to know just how good Missouri is. Six of their seven opponents can be classified as falling into one of two categories: “cupcake” or “major-conference team that may not be all that great on defense.” (The seventh opponent, Mercer falls between those two stools. The Bears are too good for cupcake status. Mizzou handled them anyway.) Nevertheless, all the Tigers can do is play the games on their schedule, and they’ve played those games very well. Fun fact: on consecutive nights in the CBE Classic in Kansas City the week before Thanksgiving, Missouri inflicted upon Mike Brey the worst loss he’s ever suffered at Notre Dame, and then handed Mike Montgomery the worst defeat he‘s ever recorded at California.

That’s striking, to say the least, and I salute Frank Haith for his cunning stylistic blend of conservatism and reform. Any first-year coach dealt a roster this experienced should be required to take a Hippocratic oath: first, do no harm. Haith, as one would expect, scrapped the pressing and trapping defense of the Mike Anderson years, but met his new players half-way stylistically, upping the tempo dramatically from anything seen in recent years from his teams at Miami. As Bradford Doolittle has pointed out, the Tigers are attacking more off the dribble under Haith, with the result being that they’re getting to the line more often. This blend of Haith and speed seems to be working. At some point Missouri will face an opposing big man that demands the ball on offense (paging Meyers Leonard), and when they do this smallish team will encounter a new challenge. But to this point Missouri has met every challenge by exceeding expectations.

Give a lot of the credit there to 6-3 senior Marcus Denmon. Watching Denmon in person, as I did at the Garden last night, you can’t help but be struck by how effortlessly he carries the role of featured scorer. In most offenses a player who personally accounts for 31 percent of his team’s shot attempts during his minutes is going to be the focus of attention in more ways than one. Both the crowd and the opposing defense will track our featured scorer intently as he runs himself silly off multiple screens meant to get the ball in his oh-so important hands. That’s not how Denmon gets his shots. The ball simply arrives for him naturally, as Missouri’s well-spaced offense places pressure on the opposing D and makes it very difficult for defenders to help. (Shades of Ohio State, with Ricardo Ratliffe doing his best Jared Sullinger, of sorts.)

The way Missouri has looked in three games on neutral floors against major-conference opponents, combined with the way Baylor looked against Northwestern on Sunday, makes it hard not to go ahead and circle January 21 on the calendar. The game in Waco that day has all the trappings of a can’t miss speed-vs.-size collision.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

December 6, 2011

The only compliance issue is with normalcy

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:11 pm

In the current issue of ESPN The Magazine, NCAA president Mark Emmert was asked about a policy that I have long advocated: allowing college athletes to sign endorsement deals and agreements for representation with agents. This is a step that I refuse to call a “reform.” It is instead a benign yet necessary and inexplicably overdue concordance with non-North Korean reality.

Here’s what Emmert said.

Just imagine the compliance issues. Two universities that happen to be in the same state want a young man to come play football for them. One says, “Well, you know, we can’t provide you with any money, but the bank down the street we know is looking for somebody to endorse their bank.” And the other school says, “Yeah, but we have a car dealership, and they want to endorse you.” Before you know it, you’ve got this war going on between institutions over who can throw the most money at some youngster. You’ve converted the whole system from a collegiate model to a pay-for-play one. You’ve just disguised the money.

Just imagine the compliance issues. Exactly. Compliance with what?

Emmert doubtless overstates the eagerness of banks in the current economic climate to shower funds on 18-year-olds who may or may not reflect credit upon their enterprise. One great thing about allowing this kind of activity is precisely that there will be an immediate onset of sobering marketing screw-ups. Big ones. Not every McDonald’s All-American pans out, many underclassmen engage in behaviors unbecoming to a product endorser, and you’ll do your Ford dealership no favors locally by prominently featuring the face of an underperforming and/or carousing player, even if he was a five-star.

Allowing legal adults to sign contracts as legal adults, even though they happen to play college sports, is about to happen, the only questions being when and why on earth it’s taken so long. Emmert thinks this means “pay-for-play,” but we already pay for play, the only issue being how much.

Emmert’s preference for the status quo is shared, somewhat ironically, by many college basketball fans who have no problem bashing the NCAA but nevertheless worry about a strange new Hobbesian world where McDonald’s All-Americans will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. I too treasure college basketball, and I don’t suppose I’d be terribly happy in a strange new Hobbesian world where McDonald’s All-Americans are auctioned off to the highest bidder. That’s why I’d be fine with the NCAA requiring that athletes complete a couple semesters of college in good academic standing before they sign with that advertiser and/or agent. That being said, we’d do well to preface any discussion of competitive fairness with a frank acknowledgment of the extreme talent imbalance that’s always existed in college basketball.

Basically there are three “national” teams, in the sense that the nation’s best recruits compete head-to-head for the honor of playing for them: Kentucky, North Carolina, and Duke. In any given two- or three-year span those three are customarily joined talent-wise by a team like, say, Kansas, Connecticut, UCLA, or Michigan State. Happily, every player has an insatiable hunger for playing time, and even these heavyweights, as formidable as they are, cannot corner the market on talent. Not only is it possible for a Butler or a VCU to happen, but even Duke won a national title in 2010 with zero representation in the ensuing NBA draft. (Not even in the second round!) Those are the essentials, they have been for decades, and those essentials won’t change if players are allowed to function like every other sentient person their age.

Besides, anyone who fears a coming era of pernicious talent oligopolies hasn’t been paying enough attention to the present. Others have already pointed out that Saturday’s game between North Carolina and Kentucky featured seven of the top 14 players on the oracular mock draft board at DraftExpress.com. Meaning 50 percent of 2012’s projected lottery picks are concentrated within 0.6 percent of Division I. Excuse me if I don’t wring my hands in panic at the dawning new age of talent imbalance.

If I were asked to name the best college players of the last five years, I’d tap many of the usual suspects: Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, John Wall, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, DeJuan Blair, DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Williams, Jimmer Fredette, etc. None of those guys won a national title, and just two (Wall and Cousins) played for what I’ve called a “national” team. UCLA under John Wooden has long been held to represent the absolute pinnacle of egregious talent-hoarding — what with that nefarious Sam Gilbert character running amok and all — but even the golden-age Bruins, upon closer inspection, merely amassed talent about as well as Duke or Carolina do today. The givens of the situation feel very durable, incorrigible, and immutable. Talent distributes itself across national programs according to a player’s preference and in response to available playing time at a given player’s position.

Emmert’s on the wrong side of history on this one, and if you’re a college basketball fan there’s nothing to fear in his coming forensic defeat.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

December 5, 2011

How Bad is the Back-to-Back-to-Back?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:39 am

Of all the features of the compressed schedule the NBA is planning to fit a 66-game season into about four months, none sparks as much as interest as teams having to play back-to-back-to-back games. While teams often played three consecutive games in the league’s early days–remarkable given the league still traveled by commercial flight back then–such stretches have been banned by rule for decades, with the only exceptions coming following the last two lockouts. Playing two nights in a row is already considered hard enough, so going back-to-back-to-back seems like death to teams.

To try to quantify the difficulty posed by the back-to-back-to-back, I used Dougstats.com‘s game results for the 1998-99 season to study the impact of rest during the last lockout-shortened schedule. Here’s how win-loss records broke down by rest (note that X denotes season-opening games):

Type    #    Win%

X       29   .448
0      485   .489
1      774   .509
2      126   .508
3       24   .542
4       10   .400

btb    421   .496
btbtb   64   .438

So, by this measure, the back-to-back-to-back was rough on teams, which won just 43.8 percent of the time. Of course, with sample sizes this small, one close game or two can swing the numbers. As a result, we’re better off looking at point differential.

Type    #    Diff

X       29   -1.2
0      485   -0.8
1      774    0.4
2      126    1.0
3       24    1.6
4       10   -0.1

btb    421   -0.9
btbtb   64   -0.2

Now, while back-to-backs look much worse, back-to-back-to-back games look basically average. Turns out there are a couple more layers we have to consider. One is location of games. In general, back-to-backs seem much harder than they are because they are primarily played on the road. During 1998-99, for example, more than 60 percent of the time the second game of a back-to-back was played on the road. However, the league granted a break to the teams playing three games in a row. The final game of a back-to-back-to-back was at home half the time.

At the same time, teams on back-to-backs got a break of their own. On average, they played teams with an adjusted point differential of -0.3 points per game. When we combine both of these factors to get ratings for each game adjusted for opposition and location, here’s how performance breaks down by rest.


Type    #    AdjD

X       29   -0.5
0      485   -0.5
1      774    0.1
2      126    0.7
3       24    3.2
4       10    2.0

btb    421   -0.5
btbtb   64   -0.3

When we account for all these other factors, rest simply doesn’t make a huge difference except on the rare occasions where teams had multiple days off–enough time to fully recuperate from the busy schedule. (And those numbers are based on tiny, tiny samples.) A team that’s been off for two days facing one on a back-to-back derived an advantage of just 1.2 points. While that’s not insignificant–it represents a swing of about 4 percent in the chances of winning a game–it’s also typically not a determining factor.

Considering everything, back-to-back-to-backs apparently were actually somewhat easier for teams than back-to-backs during 1998-99. What we haven’t considered here is the cumulative effect of fatigue, and teams that knew they were playing three games in a row may have adjusted their rotations in the first two, meaning back-to-back-to-backs had an impact that can’t be felt from the last game alone. Still, when this year’s schedule is released Tuesday night, it’s probably not worth obsessing over how many back-to-back-to-backs your favorite team has. (Each team will have at least one such stretch and a maximum of three.) It’s unlikely to have much of an impact on how their season goes.

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

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