Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

December 18, 2009

Unfiltered Post of the Decade!

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:41 pm

Knight’s more feisty when he gets away from Musburger 
I’ve been loving the analysis provided on ESPN by Bob Knight this season, but I have to admit it does feel a little odd to see perhaps the most volcanic coach ever sitting quietly and with apparent contentment while he’s poked in the ribs and joshed by an avuncular Rotarian like Brent Musburger. If the price of the superb hoops analysis is a wholly and irretrievably deracinated Knight, I’m not sure I want to sign up.

Turns out I needn’t have worried. A tart little dollop of the old great-copy Coach flashed across the wires yesterday, in the form of his comments on John Calipari, “integrity,” and the relationship between the two. Indeed such was my relief to see Knight once again being blunt and splenetic about something–anything–that I am proclaiming this the Sound Bite of the Decade. 

Timely, too, for it coincided rather conveniently with what a distinguished panel of decade experts has proclaimed the Single Oddest Bit of Punditry of the Decade, this putatively daring but inexplicably asynchronous bit of would-be iconoclasm by Gregg Doyel at “I want Kentucky to go undefeated,” he writes. “The media would hate it, but that makes me want it even more. Media groupthink has decided John Calipari is a bad guy….Media groupthink is silly.”

It sure is, which is why otherwise dissimilar observers like Jay Bilas ($), Dick Vitale and yours truly said so. Four months ago.

The problem with media groupthink isn’t that it’s being unjust to Calipari but rather that it’s forgotten Calipari entirely. Media groupthink has the attention span of a marmoset. Derrick Rose, SAT scores, and other boring conference-room matters were officially ancient groupthink history the second John Wall started being John Wall. Media groupthink would love it if Kentucky went undefeated (which, as Doyel quickly and rightly notes, won’t actually happen).

Doyel’s piece reminded me of the “Simpsons” episode where Lisa pugnaciously tries out for the football team saying, “That’s right! Me! A girl! What do you think of that?” only to be welcomed warmly and told the team already has three girls.

All postseasons expand; authentically exciting postseasons expand exponentially
The college basketball Story of the Decade has clearly been this month’s discussion of expanding the NCAA tournament field to 96 teams. Whether the final number turns out to be 96 or 128 or something else, I think it’s next to inevitable that the field will indeed grow. Networks love postseason sports because they draw large DVR-impervious and demographically-attractive audiences. The more hours of this content the networks (old-school or cable) can get the happier they are, and major league baseball, the NFL, and the NBA have all been delighted to inflate their postseasons accordingly over the past two decades. Now it’s the NCAA’s turn, and when a primal force of sports-business nature like this is combined with a warm and fuzzy but no less true statement like “It will mean more mid-majors get in,” resistance is futile. Watch.

Jamie Dixon says he doesn’t want to be rescued; Big Ten says it’s classic Stockholm Syndrome
Obviously the college basketball Conference-Alignment Story of the Decade has been this week’s announcement by the Big Ten that they will look into expanding. Yesterday Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said that he’s happy where his team is, thank you, a statement that was not only sincere (doubtless) but also entirely a propos for a coach in Dixon’s position. So far so good, but the wording of this AP write-up on that sincere and appropriate sound bite was really quite strange:

Dixon mentioned no schools by name. However, abandoning longtime Big East rivalries with Syracuse, Georgetown, and Connecticut and replacing them with Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota, and Wisconsin–distant schools with no ties or significant attraction to Pitt–could erode interest in Panthers basketball.

Oh please. In other words let’s juxtapose the most-attractive-to-Pitt schools from one conference with the least-attractive-to-Pitt schools from the other. This has pretty clearly become the Sneaky-Fatuous Ratiocinative Shtick Of the Decade and I can do it too: South Florida, DePaul, Seton Hall, and Rutgers, or Penn State, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Indiana?

Granted this whole conference-expansion train will run very slowly but inexorably on tracks laid by shadowy and all-powerful ivied types (i.e., the University of Chicago is actually involved) who don’t know and wouldn’t particularly care that this so-called “basket-ball,” the AP, or even John Gasaway exist. Meantime let us at least agree to conduct our irrelevant and pointless expansion musings in a rational and coherent manner.

Don’t just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Teams of the Decade!
I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts here at Prospectus for quite a while. All the recent talk about “teams of the decade,” “players of the decade,” etc., has gotten me thinking, so here I am with my first question ever!

In your opinion what college team was the most statistically dominant team in any individual season of the past ten years?

Joey E.

It’s understood that I’m responding with an off-the-cuff Unfiltered-back! answer, not an “I buried myself in archived footage and spreadsheets for three days and here’s my Feature” answer, right? In fact this is my Off-the-Cuff Unfiltered-Back Answer Of the Decade! (Where “Decade” of course means “in the tempo-free era.” College basketball emerged ex nihilo from darkness and ooze sometime around the second week of November, 2004.)

Kansas and Memphis of course outscore their overmatched Big 12 North and overwhelmed C-USA opponents respectively by eleventy-gillion points per possession year after dominant year, such that the analytical task at hand has become simply knowing when to say, “No, seriously, this time they are this good.” So I’m going to arbitrarily salute-and-remove them at the top here, because to me a more interesting question would be simply: Who else you got?

Non-Kansas Non-Memphis Teams of the (latter half of the) Decade! 
Conference games only: ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                         Pace    PPP    PPP      EM
1.  Illinois 2005        62.6    1.18   0.94   +0.24
2.  Texas 2006           63.6    1.15   0.91   +0.24
3.  North Carolina 2005  76.8    1.13   0.91   +0.22
4.  Wisconsin 2008       60.2    1.09   0.91   +0.18
5.  Michigan St. 2005    63.5    1.13   0.95   +0.18
6.  UCLA 2008            64.9    1.13   0.96   +0.17
7.  North Carolina 2007  74.4    1.13   0.96   +0.17
8.  Georgetown 2007      59.4    1.14   0.97   +0.17
9.  Pitt 2009            66.9    1.17   1.01   +0.16
10. Ohio St. 2007        62.2    1.10   0.94   +0.16

Read with all due caution and common sense. The putative number three here, of course, beat the nominal number one on a neutral floor for that year’s national championship. Same deal with numbers seven and eight, only it was a regional final and eight won. Moreover the prevalence of Big Ten teams near the top of this list is likely not unrelated to what through a goodly portion of the decade was a ready supply of Big 12-North-like weak sisters at the bottom of said league.

More common sense! Florida was not historically dominant in the regular season in either year that they won the national championship but in 2007 they turned it on for the postseason in classic and maddening NBA fashion, which one could certainly posit as the very essence of Decade-level performance. And in fairness I should note that the year Louisville had against the C-USA in 2005 would definitely make this list if I went to the trouble of digging it up for an off-the-cuff Unfiltered answer, which I did not.

Just saying. To the conference foes they were trouncing in these particular years, these major-conference late-’00s teams looked notably formidable.

And I eagerly await the ESPN 40-on-40 feature on the ’05 Illini, destined to be the Sports Documentary of the (next) Decade!         

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