Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

March 30, 2012

Illinois takes a very familiar leap of faith

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:00 am

Part of our continuing Alma Mater Navel-Gazing series.

Hiring a college basketball coach is an intrinsically speculative and uncertain endeavor that we all love to speculate about with professed absolute certainty.

In 2001 Texas Tech hired a coach who had already won 764 games and three national championships. He went 53-49 in the Big 12. In 2007 Minnesota hired a coach who had already won 387 games and a national championship. He has gone 38-49 in the Big Ten. In 2011 Missouri hired a coach who had gone 43-69 in the ACC. He went 30-5 and piloted the Tigers to their highest NCAA tournament seed in 18 years.

And that’s just the degree of uncertainty one faces when bringing on board someone who already is (or was) a major-conference head coach. Those guys are scarce, and since athletic directors overwhelmingly prefer hiring someone who’s currently a head coach somewhere to hiring an assistant, a well-defined career path has emerged. Assistants leave major-conference programs to become a head coach at a mid-major. If they can get their team to the NCAA tournament and win a game or two, they might just rejoin the major-conference ranks as a head coach.

With the selection of John Groce as their new head coach, Illinois has now gone to this particular well three times in a row. The first time it worked so well that the Illini lost their coach to Kansas after just three seasons. The second time it seemed to work brilliantly at first, but a dizzying two-year ascent was followed by a dispiriting seven-season decline. Illinois is by no means immune to the uncertainty inherent to this task.

On March 30, 2012, Groce doesn’t look appreciably better or worse than his two predecessors did on June 9, 2000, and April 30, 2003, respectively. Groce was an assistant to Thad Matta at Butler, Xavier, and Ohio State. In four seasons as head coach at Ohio, he won three NCAA tournament games and was last seen taking a Kendall Marshall-less North Carolina to overtime in the Sweet 16.

Groce was exceptionally fortunate to win two NCAA tournament games this year. In fact Groce was fortunate to get to the NCAA tournament in the first place. His Bobcats entered the MAC tournament as the No. 3 seed, and they won their games by eight, three, and one points. Once they were in the field of 68, OU scored 1.12 points per possession and shot 44 percent on their threes against Michigan and South Florida. Coming from any No. 13 seed that would have been remarkable. Coming from the team that ranked last in the MAC in three-point accuracy during conference play, it was remarkably fortuitous.

Of course good fortune can smile on good coaches, and Groce may turn out to be one of those. It is important to Illinois fans that Chicago products like Evan Turner and D.J. Cooper have nice things to say about Groce. It’s even more important to those fans that Jabari Parker‘s father is saying merely polite things about Groce.

Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas first approached Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens about the job, and was rebuffed by both men. (See if I ask Stevens to write another Foreword. I’m kidding.) When you’re rebuffed by coaches and your search stretches into its third week, you are ritually accused of incompetence. But where the sole dispositive competence is getting one of these two coaches to say “yes” to coming to Champaign, we are all equally “incompetent.” True incompetence would have been running a coaching search in 2012 and not approaching Smart and Stevens with a sack full of money.

Groce will therefore have to go about his work knowing he was not his boss’s first choice. That’s not ideal, but it’s not unprecedented either. Bo Ryan‘s done OK in Madison even though he shows up at the gym every day knowing Rick Majerus was Wisconsin‘s first choice in 2001.

As with all new coaches, there’s a lot of talk right now about Groce’s “up-tempo attacking” style. That’s fine as far as it goes, and the Bobcats certainly did force their share of turnovers. But bear in mind Illinois fans should be the last people in all of Division I to buy into stylistic determinism. Between 2005 and 2012 they watched the style on offense stay exactly the same while the results on that side of the ball went from sublime to ridiculous. If Illini fans get the results they want, they’ll endorse the style. Trust me on this one.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

March 29, 2012

What if Kentucky Played in the NBA?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:04 pm

It’s almost an annual right of passage that, at some point each spring, someone brings up the question of whether the best NCAA team could beat the worst NBA team. Last Sunday, that someone was Charles Barkley, who opined on CBS after Kentucky’s easy win over Baylor in the regional final that the Wildcats could beat the Toronto Raptors. Why Barkley picked on the poor Raptors, who had just taken the NBA’s best team to overtime the night before and have a better record than three Eastern Conference teams, is unclear. The message spread virally nonetheless, until a bemused Stan Van Gundy (which is, of course, the best Stan Van Gundy) tried to end it before last night’s Orlando Magic game.

“Look, it’s absurd,” Van Gundy told reporters. “I mean, people will say, ‘Oh, Kentucky you know’s got four NBA players.’ Yeah, well the other team’s got 13.”

Maybe Van Gundy’s response is all this meme deserves; the advantages for any NBA team in this scenario are patently obvious. Nonetheless, I decided to take it seriously. Using my NCAA-to-NBA translations, adjusted to remove the year of aging NBA rookies get credit for, I projected stats for the seven players in the Wildcats’ rotation. Then, with John Calipari‘s two years as head coach of the New Jersey Nets serving as team context at the defensive end, I plugged Kentucky into SCHOENE’s projections as a 31st NBA team. The results were not pretty. According to SCHOENE, the Wildcats would average 81.1 points per game and surrender 105.6, far and away the worst margin in NBA history.

Based on player translations, the presence of one Anthony Davis and Calipari’s history, SCHOENE observes that Kentucky would be competent at the defensive end, though still worst in the league. On offense, however, the Wildcats project as scoring 15.3 fewer points per 100 possessions than anyone else in the NBA, a stat that will not be part of National Kentucky’s Offense is Even Better Than its Defense Month.

The same balance that makes the Wildcats tough for NCAA foes to stop would work against in the NBA; nobody on the roster projects as using more than 15.4 percent of his team’s plays at the pro level, which means the adjustment in SCHOENE that forces usage to equal 100 percent for teams devastates already middling efficiency. In particular, point guard Marquis Teague would struggle if forced to play against NBA opponents every night, with a projected 1.35 assist-to-turnover ratio. Aside from Davis, the shooting percentages we project for the roster as part of their NBA stats are ugly:

Player                    PPG    RPG    APG     FG%

Anthony Davis            14.5   11.8    1.2    .482
Doron Lamb               13.0    3.1    1.6    .349
Terrence Jones           13.0    8.6    1.6    .379
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist   11.8    8.7    2.1    .370
Darius Miller            10.1    3.2    2.5    .368
Marquis Teague            9.6    2.9    5.4    .310
Kyle Wiltjer              9.2    4.1    0.9    .322

Would this team win a game? Using Pythagorean expectations, yes. Over the 66-game season, we’d expect them to win 1.6 games–though surely there would be times NBA Kentucky would go 0-66. Most likely, a win would come at the hands of the lowly Charlotte Bobcats. Based on the Wildcats’ projected .024 Pythagorean winning percentage and the Bobcats’ actual .124 Pythagorean mark, the log5 method says Kentucky would win about one out of seven games head-to-head. Against Toronto, that same expectation is one in 23 games. And against Chicago, it’s one in 143, which makes it more lopsided than a 1-16 matchup.

So the Wildcats could beat an NBA team, but it’s not especially likely, even in a simulation that generally makes favorable assumptions. I didn’t penalize Kentucky at all for depth, which is the biggest obstacle to this entire question. Calipari can use a seven-man rotation with occasional contributions from Eloy Vargas over 40-minute college games without any real injuries. (Terrence Jones, with two, is the only ‘Cat regular to miss a game.) Doing the same over 66 games and 48 minutes a night is a different issue, and Kentucky doesn’t have another player outside the top eight who has seen more than 44 minutes of action all season. By contrast, even deep Charlotte reserve Cory Higgins, a rookie who might be the worst player in the NBA this year, averaged 32.2 minutes per game for a good Colorado team as a senior.

The numbers confirm what we already suspected: the best college teams just don’t compare to the worst the NBA has to offer.

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

Why a UK title will not end college basketball as we know it

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:07 am

Remember our previous definition of the “Taylor Branch fallacy“?

The misplaced belief that simply saying “I don’t like this” about something that one has accurately described is somehow not enough, that something one doesn’t like must instead be A National Menace or akin to slavery or both.

For some reason I thought of that this week when I read the following peroration from Chuck Klosterman, on the likely consequences of a potential national championship for Kentucky and John Calipari:

Now, I’m not suggesting that every single college will turn into a clone of Kentucky, because that’s impossible. There aren’t enough good players in America for that to happen. But Calipari’s scheme will become standard at a handful of universities where losing at basketball is unacceptable: North Carolina, Syracuse, Kansas, UCLA, and maybe even Duke. These schools already recruit one-and-done freshmen, but they’ll have to go further; they’ll have to be as transparent about their motives as Calipari is (because transparency is the obsession of modernity). If they resist, they will fade. And the result will be a radical amplification of what the game has already become: There will be five schools sharing the 25 best players in the country, and all the lesser programs will kill each other for the right to lose to those five schools in the Sweet 16. It will skew the competitive balance of major conferences and split D-I basketball into two completely unequal tiers. Final Four games will look more and more like sloppy pro games, and national interest in college basketball will wane (even if the level of play technically increases). In 10 years, it might be a niche sport for people like me — people who can’t get over the past.

I blame Klosterman’s unseen and nefarious editors for this vision of Lord Calipari and Empress Judd laughing maniacally in 2022 as helpless college basketball fans from the rest of Division I toil in UK’s underground sugar caves.

Editors love Grand Sweeping Narratives. Last year we had the least chalky Final Four ever, so the GSN, not surprisingly, revolved around A New Dawn of Parity. (Ah, memories.) Do we have any reason to believe this year’s GSN will have a longer shelf life?

Not really. Calipari’s hegemony is not only real (no other program’s been to the last three Elite Eights), it’s old news, and it poses no threat to the competitive balance of the sport. To say his hegemony’s degree or duration depends greatly upon whether he wins the national championship this weekend rather underestimates Calipari (who’s on a remarkable personal run of seven consecutive Sweet 16s), while greatly overestimating the immediate return on a national title (just ask Duke and Connecticut).

If Calipari keeps being this good — and we have no reason to think he won’t — he will most certainly win a national championship, if not this year then very soon. That won’t change what I’ve alluded to earlier as the structural essentials of 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, [and] they have been for decades….

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 [the December 3] 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….

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.

Of course there’s always a chance I could be mistaken. Here’s a friendly wager extended to Mr. Klosterman’s editors. Let’s reconvene in one decade’s time. If I am in fact lamenting the jeweled pivot upon which the entire sport swung into the abyss on April 2, 2012, I will change my Twitter avatar to “I (HEART) RPI.” Rest assured the metric in question will still be in use — a prediction which, yes, I realize is itself a Grand Sweeping Narrative. Consider this my pitch.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

March 28, 2012

A good year for tempo-free chalk

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:27 am

My bracket‘s doing well this year, and that’s good news on several fronts. First, it’s nice at home. My neighbor was very excited to have this college basketball type move in next door last summer, because he figured it would pay dividends in his office pool come March. With 64 tournament games now in the books, I am happy to report I can look my neighbor in the eye, at least until next year.

I didn’t tell my neighbor about last year. Back then I lived in Montreal. (I’ve had three different addresses over the last three Final Fours. That streak ends next year.) My neighbors, even in a locale that produced Kris Joseph and Laurent Rivard among others, plainly thought it very strange that a grown man should devote his time to writing about such an obscure sport, and at the college level to boot. To them I might just as well have been poring over stats from the McGill Table Tennis Club.

So, no, those neighbors weren’t asking for help with their brackets, and that turned out to be a good thing. Last year I correctly identified just one of the Final Four teams in advance: No. 4 seed Kentucky. My showing in the ESPN Tournament Challenge was so bad that my editor (somewhat too eagerly, I thought) encouraged me to sift that rubble at length in a piece that could have been headlined “Hi, I’m John Gasaway, and I Got Beat by 900,000 of You.” (But, hey, I did at least beat five million others.)

I’ll tell you now what I told my editor then. The extent to which my bracket does well in any given year is entirely up to actual basketball teams, who can make me look smart or foolish as they see fit. I will always be at the same old stand, voting more or less a straight tempo-free ticket.

This year that ballot’s winning in a landslide. Michigan State got punched between the eyes by the Louisville defense, but otherwise the participants gathering in New Orleans this week were all kissed on the cheek in advance by Tuesday Truths, my viewer’s intuition, and other such trusty screening devices.

Those screening devices may have counted for less if Kendall Marshall had been available against Kansas. When our brackets fare badly it’s due to exceptionally bad luck. When they do well it’s because we’re so brilliant.

To be sure, even the tempo-free chalk can get a little muddy when making picks in the round of 64. For instance my laptop and I had a running argument about Texas all year, one that came to a boil when I went with Cincinnati in my bracket over the Longhorns. My laptop took that “Fine, be that way, you’ll see” attitude that drives me crazy, and when the Bearcats stumbled badly down the stretch of that game I had to leave the room a couple times to escape the taunting from my know-it-all hard drive. But it worked out.

My assumption is that over the long term a tempo-free bracket tweaked and realigned by this kind of don’t-mess-with-Texas analytic guardrail will do well, and specifically will do better than the traditional chalk based on seeding. But until I do 20 or so ESPN Tournament Challenges I of course don’t know that for a fact. So my Gasaway Bracket Challenge is this: Meet me back here in 2032, and let’s compare.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

March 27, 2012

The trouble with officiating

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:34 pm

The trouble with officiating is that it varies more than actual basketball performance does.

In their regional final against Ohio State in Boston on Saturday, Syracuse was called for 29 personal fouls in a 69-possession game. Of all the games the Orange played during the Big East regular season, at Madison Square Garden for the Big East tournament, and in the NCAA tournament, the game against the Buckeyes represented the team’s season-high for number of fouls per possession. By far.

The day the Orange got their hack on
Syracuse 2012, highest fouls-per-possession
Conference play, Big East tournament, and NCAA tournament only

                        F/P
vs. Ohio St., March 24  0.42
@ Notre Dame, Jan 21    0.34
@ Providence, Jan 4     0.32

It’s entirely possible, of course, that Jim Boeheim‘s team really did deserve more foul calls on Saturday than they did in any other game during the year. By definition there has to be an outing at some point in the season where a team’s at its hackiest, and there’s no law that says that game won’t be the last one a team plays in a given year.

Besides, even a team that plays zone does indeed have foul-prone players. Every team does. Rakeem Christmas fouled out in just 16 minutes in the game the Orange played at Providence in early January. Lastly, Syracuse’s final foul total on Saturday was inflated by deliberate hacks in the last minute as they tried to extend the game.

All true enough, but we’ve seen Christmas get minutes before, and we’ve even seen end-of-game fouling from a desperate Cuse team (against Cincinnati in the Big East tournament). The one thing we haven’t seen is a foul rate this egregious.

In games played on or after December 28 leading into the regional final on Saturday, Syracuse logged 1,540 possessions of basketball, during which time their performance was officiated by 34 different refs. Among those 34 officials a rough consensus emerged from hundreds of split-second decisions over thousands of possessions: Syracuse will, on average, commit a foul on about one in every four possessions.

On Saturday the Orange’s fouling jumped to closer to one in every two possessions. Was their actual basketball performance really three standard deviations more hacky than what they’d done all year?

I’m not saying the refs changed the outcome of the game. Actually they were more or less equally capricious with both teams. Until Syracuse started fouling to extend the contest, the numbers for free throws shot by the Buckeyes and the Orange were similar. Jared Sullinger took a seat with 13:42 remaining in the first half and didn’t come back on the floor until after intermission. Aaron Craft fouled out for just the second time in 38 games.

I am saying the refs ruined what in all likelihood would have been a fantastic Elite Eight game. Don’t hate the refs, hate the rules. We’ve reached the point where officiating a basketball game is like judging a figure-skating competition. Fouls need to be redefined, and in particular we have to get away from this idea that a defensive player can demand the action be stopped and a foul be called one way or the other by flopping anytime he chooses.

When a game’s being officiously over-officiated, announcers like to say “the players have to adjust.” But until the sport’s potential for free-floating intrusive caprice is reigned in, the truth is we’ll always be at risk for another Ohio State-Syracuse.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

Scouting the NIT’s Final Four

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:25 am

The NIT’s “Final Four” is here, as tonight’s semifinals of the longest-running postseason tournament will be played at Madison Square Garden. At 4 p.m., UMass faces Stanford, followed by Washington and Minnesota at approximately 6:30 p.m. Both games air on ESPN2. Here’s a look at what to expect

(1) Washington Huskies
Record: 24-10 (14-4 Pac-12)
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 109.0 (55)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 95.8 (71)
Pace: 69.9 (30)
How They Got Here: 82-72 vs. Texas Arlington, 76-55 vs. Northwestern, 80-76 vs. Oregon

From a subjective standpoint, the Huskies are the Kentucky of the NIT. According to selection committee chair C.M. Newton, Washington was the No. 1 overall seed. Like Newton’s former college, the Huskies are also the lone No. 1 seed to advance to the Final Four. Washington pulled away from Texas Arlington late, delivered its most impressive performance of the season against Northwestern and then used home-court advantage to outlast a feisty Oregon squad.

The Huskies have the most NBA talent in the remaining group. In wing Terrence Ross and guard Tony Wroten, they boast two future first-round picks. Ross has been terrific in the NIT, averaging 26.3 points on 66.3 percent True Shooting. Wroten turned passer in the first two games, handing out 15 assists and attempting just 10 shots, before getting to the free throw line 14 times and scoring 22 points against Oregon. Washington has also gotten solid contributions from point guard Abdul Gaddy, a non-factor at times much of the season.

As good as the Huskies’ top-end talent is, they reliably go just six players deep. Beyond that, Lorenzo Romar has been forced to turn to inconsistent freshmen big men Desmond Simmons, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Shawn Kemp, Jr. So foul trouble for shot-blocking center Aziz N’Diaye could spell doom for Washington, though the Huskies have been able to overcome it twice so far in the NIT.

(6) Minnesota Golden Gophers
Record: 22-14 (6-12 Big Ten)
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 110.0 (40)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 94.6 (53)
Pace: 64.3 (261)
How They Got Here: 70-61 at LaSalle, 78-60 at Miami (Fl), 78-72 at Middle Tennessee

Minnesota’s NCAA tournament hopes took a major hit when star forward Trevor Mbakwe suffered a torn ACL during the season’s seventh game. Tubby Smith‘s charges still negotiated a non-threatening non-conference slate at 12-1, the only loss at Dayton, before sinking to 6-12 in conference play. In practice, Minnesota was more competitive against Big Ten foes than the record would indicate. The Golden Gophers were outscored by 0.04 points per possession, which would ordinarily translate into seven or eight wins out of 18.

Improbably, Minnesota came together over the course of the NIT without its other senior starting post, Ralph Sampson III. The 6-11 shot blocker has not played since the regular-season finale due to a knee injury. Yet the Golden Gophers won three road games against teams rated as essentially their equal entering the tournament, including an impressive 18-point blowout at Miami.

The key for Minnesota has been the play of athletic forward Rodney Williams, who shifted from the wing to the post after Mbakwe’s injury. Williams has always been an impact defender and high-percentage shooter, but using an above-average share of the Golden Gophers’ plays is a new addition to his repertoire. Williams has averaged 22.0 points in the NIT. Minnesota has also gotten 17.0 points per game from freshman point guard Andre Hollins, who has shot nearly the same percentage from three (39.1 percent) as inside the arc (39.8 percent) this season. Better to play Hollins–no relation to backcourt-mate Austin Hollins, who is the son of Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins–for the drive.

Sampson’s status for Tuesday’s game is uncertain. If he doesn’t go, the Golden Gophers have little size inside behind redshirt freshman Elliott Eliason. The best matchups for Washington might come from going small and putting Ross on Williams for extended stretches.

(3) Stanford Cardinal
Record: 24-11 (10-8 Pac-12)
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 106.6 (81)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 92.4 (26)
Pace: 67.7 (95)
How They Got Here: 76-65 vs. Cleveland State, 92-88 vs. Illinois State (OT), 84-56 vs. Nevada

As the No. 3 seed in its region, Stanford took advantage of upsets to stay at home on The Farm throughout the first three rounds of the NIT. The Cardinal rallied from a second-half deficit to beat Illinois State in the extra session, then demolished Nevada to reach the semifinals. Stanford is now an impressive 13-2 against non-league competition, the lone losses coming against Syracuse at Madison Square Garden (where both the Cardinal and the Huskies, oddly, played early in the season) and home against Butler. Had Stanford been nearly as effective against a down Pac-12, the Cardinal would have reached the NCAA tournament.

Over the course of the season, freshman Chasson Randle has emerged as Stanford’s go-to player. Randle is a versatile scorer who’s made 81 three-pointers at a 43.8 percent clip and can get to the paint off the dribble, though he too has struggled as a finisher, making 43.4 percent of his twos. Randle is at his best when he’s getting to the free throw line. He drew 12 foul shots in a 30-point effort against Arizona State. Inside, senior Josh Owens commands a double-team in the post. Owens has nice touch on hook shots and has shot 57.6 percent on two-point attempts. Sophomore point guard Aaron Bright is the last stalwart for the Cardinal, contributing 43.3 percent shooting from downtown.

Beyond them, Johnny Dawkins mixes and matches from a large pool of role players. 6-9 sophomore forward Dwight Powell is the most talented of the group, but the one-time NBA prospect has yet to translate that into consistent production. He did have 18 points and nine boards against Illinois State. Josh Huestis has emerged as a perimeter stopper for Stanford, but he is not a threat from the perimeter.

(5) Massachusetts Minutemen
Record: 25-11 (9-7 Atlantic 10)
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 106.1 (88)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 95.5 (88)
Pace: 73.7 (3)
How They Got Here: 101-96 at Mississippi State (2OT), 77-67 at Seton Hall, 72-70 at Stanford

Like Minnesota, UMass took the hard route to Madison Square Garden, winning three times on the road. Most impressive was a 72-70 win at Drexel, which had been the favorite to win the NIT on paper. The Minutemen have been hot since the end of the regular season, going 5-1 with their lone loss by four to St. Bonaventure in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Previously, UMass knocked off Temple, one of five wins this season over NCAA tournament-bound opponents. (By contrast, Washington had none.)

The Minutemen rely heavily on sophomore point guard Chaz Williams, a 5-9 transfer from Hofstra who has played 127 of a possible 130 minutes in the NIT. Not unlike Andre Hollins, Williams is more accurate shooting threes (42.5 percent) than twos (40.4 percent). His size works against him at the rim, so defenses should make him finish in traffic rather than over-helping and allowing him to set up teammates. Williams is a willing passer who adds 6.3 assists per game to his 16.9 points. Look for Stanford to use 6-4 defensive specialist Jarrett Mann to put size on Williams

Beyond Williams, UMass is balanced, with three starters using between 19 and 20 percent of the team’s possessions. During the NIT, six Minutemen are averaging at least 9.0 points per game. Forward Terrell Vinson has had a solid postseason, scoring 20 points against St. Bonaventure and 18 against Drexel. Stanford can back off Vinson, a 30.5 percent three-point shooter.

The Cardinal will also want to slow down UMass, which played at the nation’s third-fastest tempo, by taking care of the basketball. In December, Stanford used offensive execution to blow out Seattle University, which led the NCAA in adjusted pace and also likes to pressure full court.

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

March 21, 2012

Kendall Marshall’s Plus-Minus

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:37 pm

Some two days before North Carolina faces Ohio in St. Louis to advance to the Elite Eight, we still don’t know Kendall Marshall‘s status for this weekend. The Tar Heels’ sophomore point guard underwent surgery Monday to place a screw in the fractured scaphoid bone in his right (non-shooting) wrist, but whether Marshall can play with the injury remains uncertain.

In the wake of the injury Sunday night, pessimists immediately wrote off North Carolina’s title hopes. That left cooler heads like Ken Pomeroy and our own John Gasaway to remind everyone that even if Marshall can’t go, the Heels have a fine assemblage of offensive talent that could still reach the Final Four on its own.

To try to assess the impact of Marshall’s possible absence, I turned to the plus-minus data available at StatSheet.com. Unfortunately, not every game is available–why it’s still so difficult to get uniform play-by-play in big-time college hoops in 2012 is a rant for another day–but the numbers StatSheet.com does have show Marshall’s value to North Carolina’s offense.

                W/MARSHALL              NO MARSHALL             DIFFERENCE
Off40  Def40  Net40    Off40  Def40   Net40    Off40  Def40  Net40
Season       82.9   68.3   14.5     72.6   78.0    -5.4     10.3   -9.7   19.9
Since 1/26   83.0   68.2   14.8     51.9   69.8   -17.9     31.0   -1.6   32.6 

Over the course of the season, the Tar Heels have scored 10.3 more points per 40 minutes with Marshall on the floor. Intriguingly, his impact rates just as positive at the defensive end of the floor. The more relevant numbers here, however, are the ones since Jan. 26, when North Carolina lost starting shooting guard Dexter Strickland–who also served as Marshall’s backup–to a season-ending knee injury. During the last two months, the Tar Heels’ offense has collapsed every time Marshall has left the floor.

In part, these numbers are limited by garbage time, which is much more of a problem with college plus-minus than in the NBA. Basically, because so many games are lopsided, the numbers are biased. Much of the time Marshall has spent on the bench, especially since Strickland’s injury, has come with deep reserves in the game. So I went through and looked only at the stints Marshall has rested from games over the last two months. Clearly, Roy Williams has been strategic about getting Marshall out of the game. He typically does so right before a media timeout, and I suspect if we had possession data it would show that Marshall has rested more on defense than offense. The abysmal rate at which North Carolina has scored without Marshall in that span shouldn’t be taken too literally.

Still, even the longer stretches Marshall has sat out have been painful for the Tar Heels. Take their Feb. 25 game at Virginia, when Marshall was on the bench for nearly three minutes during the first half. North Carolina mustered just two points in that span with Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller all on the floor.

Beyond that, the way Williams has used Marshall is a data point in and of itself. In four of the last 11 games, Marshall has played the entire second half. The heavy minutes Marshall has logged are an indication that Williams doesn’t trust his other options (true freshman Stilman White and defensive specialist Justin Watts, who is not really a point guard) in close games. White and Watts will be more prepared if they have to replace Marshall this weekend, but the Tar Heels will still miss their starting point guard. I don’t think North Carolina’s title chances go to zero without Marshall, but they’re a lot closer to that than to favorites to reach the Final Four.

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

March 20, 2012

NIT Log5 Analysis

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 5:04 pm

The world has cried out for a Ken Pomeroy-style analysis of the chances of each team advancing in the NIT, and since I care a wee bit more than normal about the NIT (for nebulous reasons), I did one for the eight teams that have advanced to the quarterfinals.

Team              Rating  Semis   Final   Champs
------------------------------------------------
Drexel             .829    .760    .454    .252
Stanford           .789    .760    .357    .175
Washington         .789    .640    .309    .152
Middle Tennessee   .786    .590    .292    .142
Minnesota          .820    .410    .225    .121
Oregon             .790    .360    .174    .086
UMass              .734    .240    .110    .046
Nevada             .673    .240    .079    .027

As the NIT probably should be, the tournament looks wide open. The three Pac-12 teams have essentially identical ratings, with Middle Tennessee State close behind. Drexel and Minnesota are the top-rated teams by Pomeroy, with UMass and Nevada lagging behind. Because the NIT doesn’t shift to a neutral site until the semifinals and finals at Madison Square Garden, home-court advantage has a big impact here. That explains why the Golden Gophers are still unlikely to reach New York. (Note that projections for this set of games are based on FanMatch, so as to include home-court advantage.) The Ducks’ chances are also much better if they get to the Garden.

Barring an upset by one of the weaker teams, we should have three solid games at MSG next week. Drexel is the favorite, definitely, but doesn’t project to win more than 57 percent of the time on a neutral floor against any of the non-UMass/Nevada opponents, so expect a dramatic conclusion. The other likely winner here is the Pac-12. The chances of someone from the conference winning are better than 40 percent, and there’s about a one-in-six shot (17.2 percent) of an all Pac-12 final matching Stanford against either Oregon or Washington.

Intrusions

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:18 am

Last week I posted my 12-step program to perfect the very nearly perfect sport of college basketball. I’ve been trotting these suggestions out for three seasons now, and again this year there were a good number of fresh eyes looking at them. As I chatted back and forth with the newcomers this time around, it occurred to me I’ve been fighting these brush fires ad hoc when in fact there’s a common systemic cause behind at least some of these blemishes.

Whether it’s five timeouts in the last 60 seconds, or camera-craving excessive refereeing, the enemy is intrusiveness — specifically intrusions from persons no longer in college. Think of a basketball floor as being populated by 15 people: ten players, three officials, and two head coaches. I want as much in-game basketball content as I can possibly get from the first ten and as little as feasibly possible from the last five.

I would rather see college athletes playing basketball in the open floor than see them in a huddle listening to a grown-up on the sidelines, or arrayed around the lane waiting on two free throws, or, for that matter, on the bench in foul trouble. The last ten seconds of the round of 32 game played between Michigan State and Maryland in 2010, for example, were close to perfect. There were no fouls or timeouts called, and the cream of both teams’ personnel was on the floor to decide the outcome. Our goal should be to export that kind of near-perfection so far as we’re able. (Close to perfect unless you’re a Maryland fan. I know.)

Anytime I see old footage of John Wooden seated comfortably and placidly on the UCLA bench for the balance of a given contest with that ubiquitous rolled-up program of his, I do wonder if maybe the love that so many of us have for college hoops has set off this mounting undertow of intrusions. Millions of us watch the NCAA tournament because this is an intuitively just and compelling way to determine a champion in what happens to be a gem of a sport. Because millions of us watch, the stakes are very high for the participants, particularly the coaches. Because the stakes are very high, coaches feel like they need to be seen coaching, often histrionically. Officials feel like they need to be seen officiating, often needlessly on block/charge calls. Basically I view with heightened suspicion and weathered trepidation any action on a college basketball floor authored by someone 24 years of age or older not named Bernard James.

On a separate note, a healthy aversion to intrusiveness is also one completely non-mathematical and non-analytical grenade to lob the RPI‘s way. In my piece on the origins of the RPI, one anecdote I left out involved John Calipari, when he was still at Memphis, spending several hours on the phone over a period of two days with an NCAA staffer, trying to understand the intricacies of scheduling to the RPI‘s liking. Here a coach was saying to the entity that would be evaluating his team’s performance, in effect: Tell me how to create a schedule that will conform to your subjective preferences. Once a coach has to say that, we’ve reached the saturation point for evaluative intrusion.

I’d prefer for the evaluator to tell the coach simply: Play basketball as well as you can. That’s your job. We’ll be able to tell how well you did even if Arizona State isn’t as good this year as you thought they’d be when you put them on the schedule. That’s our job. We don’t wish to intrude.

BONUS plug! The essential Sweet 16 preview starts rolling out tomorrow. Lucid, lilting, lean, keen and comprehensive, guaranteed. That last adjective’s a lot easier now than it was last week. It will be easier still next week.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

March 14, 2012

The second annual Prospectus bracket challenge

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 6:59 am

We here at Prospectus wouldn’t be credible hoops writers/fans/analysts/zealots if we didn’t go ahead and fill out brackets, make them public, and invite the public ridicule that is sure to follow. So we’ve created an official Basketball Prospectus bracket group as part of ESPN’s Tournament Challenge.

Join our bracket group here and submit your entry by noon Eastern tomorrow.

The winner(s) will get his/her name(s) emblazoned into the Prospectus permanent record and spread all over various Prospectus Twitters. More importantly the winner(s) will come to know the ineffable analytic satisfaction that comes from saying, “I beat John Gasaway, Kevin Pelton, Drew Cannon, and various other allied know-it-alls with my bracket.”

Last year I correctly identified one — count ’em, one — of the Final Four teams in advance. Believe me, in a season where Connecticut went 9-9 in the Big East, Butler entered the Horizon tournament as a No. 2 seed, and VCU lost five of its last eight pre-NCAA tournament games, I was pretty pleased with myself to have gone with No. 4 seed Kentucky.

Recall that “Kentucky” meant something much different 365 or so days ago. Particularly prior to the SEC tournament, everyone was always yelling at that team. They didn’t have John Wall anymore! They couldn’t win on the road! Picking just one Final Four team represented my worst bracket in years. And I was happy.

Maybe I’ll do better this year. Join our group and find out.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

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