UNC: Let’s Not Go Sucking Each Other’s [redacted] Just Yet

December 7, 2008

Yeah, like most everyone else, we’re equally in awe of what Carolina has been able to do thus far in the season.  We are on record saying that the Heels wouldn’t be able to get through a pretty tough first month of the season without taking an L due to the loss of Marcus Ginyard and Tyler Hansbrough to injuries, and we couldn’t have been more wrong.  The Heels have been nothing short of awesome through the first quarter of the regular season, beating eight opponents (two of which were in the preseason top 10) by an average of 30.4 points per game.

Their offensive and defensive stats are through the roof thus far.  They average nearly 100 pts per game (97.0), shooting 51% from the field and 41% from three.  They are #2 nationally in points per possession (1.207) and percentage of trips where they score at least a point (59.7%).   They share the ball amazingly well (#2 nationally in assists – 21.7) and have a preposterous nearly 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio (1.87).  The Heels also rebound with the best of the country (#8 nationally) and play defense with abandon (holding opponents to 37.3% shooting and forcing 19 turnovers per game – 14th nationally).   Put simply, this team is playing GREAT basketball.

The Heels are Posterizing Everyone in Their Path

The Heels are Posterizing Everyone in Their Path

photo credit:  Jim Hawkins/AP

So the question is begged – why do we need to finish out the season if we know that Carolina is far-and-away the best team?  Well… because it’s still early.  December 5th is a light year away from April 6th in college basketball time, and  a lot can and will happen in the interim.  Other teams will improve, and UNC, while looking indomitable at this point, could eventually suffer from the fatigue of increasing pressure to win every game and/or simply a rough night in March.  That’s the beauty of our game.  Short of a major injury, we can rest assured that the Lakers and Celtics will more than likely be back in the NBA Finals due to the sport’s seven-game series playoff format.  But in a one-game situation in the NCAA Tournament, much like the World Cup and NFL Playoffs, an inspired underdog can accomplish the unthinkable and take down the seemingly unbeatable favorite (witness last year’s Super Bowl for just such a recent example).

For proof of this, let’s take a walk down memory lane for a brief history lesson.  Below are a handful of teams who, like this year’s Tarheels, were seemingly invincible for the entire season.  That is, until they ran into a plucky team who had enough heart and made just enough plays in the right moments to block the favorite’s manifest destiny.

  • 1984 UNC (28-3, 15-1 ACC) – We can start with a former version of the Heels.  Bob Knight’s Indiana team shot 65% from the field (69% in the second half) to take down Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins’ Heels in the second round of the NCAAs.  To this day, old-time Heels fans lament an injury to Kenny Smith’s wrist that limited his effectiveness in the postseason.  UNC had only a 1-pt loss at Arkansas and a 2-pt loss to Duke in the ACC Tourney prior to the NCAAs.  Of the 28 victories, only four were by single-digit margins.  This team was nasty.
  • 1985 Georgetown (35-3, 17-2 Big East) – We still can’t fathom how this absolute beast of a defending national champion with Patrick Ewing and Reggie Williams lost to Villanova in the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history.  Still, they did, as Villanova hit a ridiculous 79% from the field against a defensive dynamo that regularly held teams well under 40%.
  • 1987 UNC (32-4, 16-1 ACC) – UNC, led by all-american Kenny Smith and super-frosh JR Reid, lost in the regional finals to Syracuse by 4 pts, in a game where Derrick Coleman and Rony Seikaly destroyed the Heels on the boards to eke out the victory.  Their only other losses were at UCLA (5 pts), at Notre Dame (2 pts) and in the finals of the ACC Tourney vs. NC State (1 pt).  While not as dominant as the 1984 version, this team was everyone’s choice to win the national title.
  • 1991 UNLV (34-1, 20-0 Big West) – The best team we’ve ever seen that didn’t win the national title.  Simply an astonishing combination of talent and experience on the cusp of the early-entry era.  Duke, who had lost by 30 in the NCAA Final to this same team one year prior, became Duke on this night – roaring back behind Mr. March, Christian Laettner, to win the game in the final minutes 79-77.  UNLV, who placed all five starters on the all-Big West team (four 1st teamers), had beaten its opponents by an average of 27.5 pts per game coming into the national semis, including a whipping of #2  Arkansas at the old Barnhill Arena by a score of 112-105 (the final was much closer than the game actually was).
  • 1997 Kansas (34-2, 18-1 Big 12) – We still contend that this was Roy Williams’ best team (even better than the 2005 UNC national champions).  A two-pt double-OT loss at Missouri was the only blemish on a near-perfect season until upstart and eventual national champion Arizona, led by Mike Bibby and Miles Simon, pulled off an 85-82 upset in the regional semifinals of the NCAAs.  Raef Lafrentz, Paul Pierce and Jacque Vaughn led a balanced attack that absolutely devastated most of its oppenents, many of whom were ranked (9-1).
  • 1999 Duke (37-2, 19-0 ACC) – With the possible exception of 2006 UConn (who we find overrated), this was the last college team that was absolutely loaded with A-grade NBA talent. The lineup featured two NPOYs (Elton Brand, Shane Battier) in addition to draftees Will Avery, Trajan Langdon and Chris Carrawell.   Future all-star Corey Maggette came off the bench.  Only four teams all season were able to stay within 10 pts of the Devils, who crushed teams by an average of 24.6 points per game.  Had this team won the title game against UConn, it would have been on the short list of greatest teams in the modern era.
  • 2002 Duke (31-4, 16-3 ACC) – This team didn’t have the outrageous statistical profile of its predecessor three years prior, but it was the defending national champs and boasted Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Carlos Boozer in a balanced attack that seemed destined for back-to-back titles.  That is, until this team’s only bugaboo, FT shooting (68.9%) popped up to bite them in the Sweet 16 against Indiana.  Two one-pt losses, a three-pt loss and a 14-pt loss to national champion Maryland were the only blemishes on this team’s resume.

So there you have it.  Our memories don’t go back further than the 80s, but we’re sure there are probably some other great historical examples of this phenomenon.  Leave them in the comments if you wish.  Of course, there are just as many (if not more) dominant teams that actually got it done and won the national title – which one will the 2008-09 Tarheels become?  To answer that question is why we will continue to watch.


Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #5 Why We Love College Basketball

November 7, 2008

Shamelessly cribbing from last spring’s very clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present to you the Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we gear up toward the start of the season a little over a month from now.  We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube. 

#5 – Where The Madness Happens


Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #8 Why We Love College Basketball

November 4, 2008

Shamelessly cribbing from last spring’s very clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present to you the Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we gear up toward the start of the season a little over a month from now.  We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube. 

#8 – Where Thankfully, No More Assclown Happens


Is the 2008-09 Big East the Best Conference Ever?

October 27, 2008

We’re barely over a week into practice and there’s already been some talk that this year’s version of the Big East, with as many as four legitimate F4 contenders (UConn, Pitt, Louisville & Notre Dame) and another five or six legitimate NCAA Tournament teams, could be the deepest, most competitive conference of all-time.  When put in those terms, it’s difficult to disagree… but you know us, we don’t take kindly to sweeping claims of superiority without some measurable statistical basis to back it up.

(photo credit: Bob Eckstein)

The problem is figuring out how to measure such a thing.  Take last year’s Pac-10, for example.  The conference was widely considered by pundits to be the strongest, deepest conference in America.  Computer ratings tended to agree.  At various points during the season, as many as eight of its ten schools were touted as NCAA-caliber teams.  Six ultimately were invited to the NCAA Tournament, but only three of those made it to the Sweet Sixteen, with UCLA the sole conference representative in the Final Four.  Was the Pac-10 stronger than the Big East, who had six teams ranked in the final AP poll last year (vs. three for the Pac-10) and had two more teams invited to the Big Dance but only found itself with a pair standing on the second weekend (and zero in the F4)?  Or was the Pac-10 superior to the Big 12, who had the strongest NCAA showing of the major conferences with a 6-0 first round ultimately resulting in Kansas cutting down the nets?  It’s hard to say, because depending on how you set the parameters, you can make fair and defensible arguments for the strength of multiple conferences in any given year (our friends dealing with the BCS go through this every year). 

Just thinking back to last season, we could break it down this way.  AP poll?  Big East.  NCAA Tournament success?  Big 12.  Computer rankings?  Pac-10.  Pundits?  Take your pick, but leaning Pac-10.    Choosing which source to buy into is based on personal taste, but for the sake of this post, we’ll admit that there is no perfect measurement and focus exclusively on Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings.  Using his data, we like that we can take stock year over year in relative terms.

(photo credit: sportsbubbler.com) 

So here’s our question: how good does the Big East need to be from top-to-bottom this year to be statistically considered the top conference of the last decade (Sagarin’s archive only goes back to the 1998-99 season – we requested data back to 1984-85, to no avail)?  For the sake of comparison, here are the top ten conferences by Sagarin’s computer ratings of the last ten years.   

As you can see, the 2008 version of the Big East wasn’t bad from top-to-bottom, but it was still a good distance away from the top ten conferences of the last decade.  The problem is that when people talk about how strong conferences are, are they really talking about team #10 or team #12 or team #16 in the cellar?  Of course not – they’re really talking about the NCAA-caliber teams, i.e., the top half of the conference.  So how does this list change if we only consider the top half of the major conferences of the last ten years (also represented graphically)?

It’s interesting to imagine if the Big East were still an eight-team conference like the old days, as last year’s top half alone would have rated the league as the second-best conference of the last decade (2004 ACC at 87.31 would still be #1).  As it stands, though, the Big East’s mammoth size probably ensures that from a statistical standpoint (Law of Large Numbers, much?), it will never be able to have enough great teams to overcome what some of the smaller conferences have been able to do.

Nothing is conclusive here, but we feel safe in saying that the 2008-09 Big East is unlikely to rise to the top of either of these lists, but it wouldn’t shock us if the conference ended up in the top ten (esp. the top-half list).  Notwithstanding where the conference Sagarin ratings finish, there shouldn’t be any question using the eyes and ears test that the Big East will be the most competitive and interesting conference in America this season.


Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #15 Why We Love College Basketball

October 27, 2008

Shamelessly cribbing from last spring’s very clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present to you the Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we gear up toward the start of the season a little over a month from now.  We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube. 

#15 – Where A Tall Goofy Dude Gets The Roll Happens


Lute Olson’s Legacy

October 23, 2008

Now that we’ve had a little bit of time to digest the news of Lute Olson’s retirement from Arizona after 24 seasons, it’s time to take a look at his legacy.  Lute wore his humanity on his sleeve for the past year or so as he’s piloted the usually steady Arizona ship into some rough waters through a minefield of health issues, marital problems, leadership changes and various other snafus.  But for the previous 34 years of coaching, Olson has consistently fielded talented teams that were a threat to win it all.  Consider the following accomplishments of a first-ballot HOF career:

  • 781-280 (.736) in 34 seasons as a head coach
  • 3 losing seasons in 34 years
  • 1 National Championship (1997)
  • 5 Final Fours (1980 – Iowa; 1988, 1994, 1997, 2001 – Arizona)
  • 15 Sweet Sixteens
  • 45-27 (.625) NCAA Tournament record 
  • 23 consecutive NCAA appearances (1985-2007)
  • 11 Pac-10 titles
  • 2 National COY Awards (1988, 1990)

Photo Credit (Tucson Citizen)

Olson’s numbers place him in an elite group of one-title coaches, including contemporaries Jim Boeheim, Tubby Smith, Rick Pitino, Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, and Gary Williams.  The one thing, however, that separates him from those other names is that each of those coaches entered programs as new coaches where basketball was already an established way of life.  In Tucson, Lute Olson IS Arizona basketball. 

When Lute Olson stepped off the plane from the icy midwest in 1983, he encountered sunshine, babes and bikinis, but also an Arizona program that was so far off the map in terms of basketball success, you needed a magnifying glass to find it.  In the 78 previous years of its existence, the program had managed to make it to three NCAA Tournaments (1951, 1976, 1977) and three NITs (1946, 1950, 1951).  The combined NCAA record of those teams was 2-3, with both wins coming in the 1976 tournament (two upsets over Georgetown and UNLV to reach the Elite Eight).  The combined NIT record was 0-3, which meant that, upon Lute Olson’s arrival, the Wildcats had enjoyed only a single year (1976) in its basketball history with postseason wins of any kind.  To make matters worse, the team that Olson inherited was coming off the absolute worst year in the history of the program (4-24, 1-17 in the Pac-10). 

To say that Olson built the Arizona program up from the ashes insults the concept of fire.  After one mediocre year in 1983-84 (11-17), Olson found the mojo that he had utilized during previous stints at Long Beach St. (24-2) and Iowa ( 168-90), and set off onto the triumphant career in the desert that we’re talking about today.  The key, of course, was recruiting, and Lute mined the west coast hoops hotbeds (especially SoCal) on an annual basis, and it showed on the court.  Prior to Lute’s arrival in Tucson, Arizona had produced one first-round draft pick (Larry Demic in 1979).  Beginning in 1989 with the transcendental Sean Elliott, Olson put 13 first-rounders and 17 second-rounders into the NBA Draft, including such fantastic pros like Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, and Andre Iguodala.  By the time Lute got it really going in the mid-90s, Arizona had become a chic destination school for America’s blue chippers, and he was able to recruit nationally – Jason Gardner (Indianapolis) and Loren Woods (St. Louis via Wake Forest) from the 2001 runner-up team come to mind, but there were many others.  Let there be no question – Arizona basketball wouldn’t exist on the national stage were it not for Lute Olson.  Here’s his crowning moment. 

 

There’s no doubt that Lute was a tremendous program-builder, teacher and recruiter, but if we had to pick one criticism of his illustrious career, it would be that his teams sometimes appeared to lose focus and/or lack motivation.  Maybe it was the laid-back lifestyle of Tucson or simply something about the kids Olson tended to recruit, but in our view, it is somewhat telling that he won his sole national championship in 1997 with a #4 seed.  Don’t take that the wrong way – that was a SICK team that just hadn’t come together until very late in the season (and we had the privilege of watch cut down the nets).  But they were an underdog in each of their three games against #1 seeds Kentucky, UNC and Kansas, and we always felt that Lute relished and managed the underdog role a little more than he was able to do so as the favorite.  Let’s make the case statistically.

As stated above, Lute Olson has gone to five Final Fours.  Here are the NCAA Tournament seeds for those years – #5, #1, #2, #4, #2 (avg. = 2.8).  Arizona also received five #1 seeds during Olson’s tenure.  Here’s the result for those five Tourneys – F4, S16, E8, R32, E8 (avg. = 2.6 games won).  When Lute was expected to go to the F4, he went once; when he was not expected to go, he went four other times.  This quick examination of the numbers confirms what we wrote last year when we surveyed the top overachieving and underachieving programs of the 64/65-team era of the NCAA Tournament.  From 1985-2007, Arizona averaged a #4.1 seed in the NCAAs.  The historical model (above) suggests that Arizona should have won 44.1 NCAA contests over this period – the Cats won 39, which means they ‘underachieved’ by nearly five Ws, and therefore puts UA in terms of performance in the bottom third of schools with greater than eight appearances over the era.  The most obvious examples of this phenomenon were first-round upsets in 1992 (#3 UA loses to #14 ETSU), 1993 (#2 UA loses to #15 Santa Clara), and 1999 (#4 UA loses to #13 Oklahoma).  Even Olson’s most talented and decorated team, the 1998 #1 Wildcats led by Mike Bibby and Jason Terry, had a major letdown in the E8 against #3 Utah, getting run out of the gym by 25 points.  What were we saying about focus and motivation?

(Photo Credit: Tucson Citizen)

It’ll be sad to see Lute Olson go.  Even last year, when Kevin O’Neill was busily turning Arizona into Tennessee ca. 1998 (ugh), we still thought the Silver Fox would make his way back to the sidelines again.  You could always count on Olson teams to have athletes who made the game fun to watch.  If his medical problems are serious enough to warrant missing another season, then he probably is making the right decision in riding off into the desert sunset.  Best of luck to him and his family. 

Now, about that Bob Knight looking to get back into coaching thing…  what odds did we lay?  10:1?  Associate coach Mike Dunlap is expected to take over the reins on an interim basis. 


10.05.08 Fast Breaks

October 5, 2008

Folks, we’re only five weeks from the first games… just sayin…

  • Sixteen months after agreeing to return to Florida after about-facing on the Orlando Magic job, Billy Donovan finally signed his contract
  • Fooling with the Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun setup of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament because of gas prices is pure folly – surely the NCAA isn’t that stupid, is it?
  • This is a pretty interesting NY Times article on how YouTube is changing the world of prospect identification and recruiting. 
  • More foolishness involving the Gazelle Group – they’re apparently trying to move UMass to a different subregional in the CvC at the last minute.
  • The difficulty of playing in the Big East, where 9 teams could be top-25 worthy this year.  Although Jameson at B/R makes a compelling argument that Georgetown is wildly overrated this year.
  • Ok, so it turns out that the George Mason F4 rings on Ebay were stolen and will be returned to the rightful owner, Dr. Scherrens.  Nice investigative work by Chris Brooks over at B/R. 
  • Gary Parrish continues with his ‘seedy underbelly’ offseason theme.
  • So what you’re saying is that the SEC will get seven teams in the NCAA Tournament next year (and deserve four)?
  • So who wants to bet on which coach will have the better 08-09 campaign – Marquette’s Buzz Williams or Indiana’s Tom Crean?

Great West Conference: Another Play-In Game on the Horizon

September 27, 2008

Several sources today are announcing the formation of the 32d Division 1 league, the Great West Conference, which will begin organized basketball operations in the 2009-10 season.  You may recall that the GWC already exists in football as a transitional league between D2 and D1-AA (or whatever they’re calling it now).  The basketball counterparts at most of these schools have largely been relegated to the dreaded Independent status, which forces those teams to schedule games anytime, anywhere, anyplace, in order to complete a full schedule.  One of these teams, the much-maligned New Jersey Tech, made infamy last year with an 0-29 season, earning the lowest Sagarin rating (46.91) of the past several years.

Frankly, despite the league’s spin on the matter, reading down a list of these schools sounds a little like something out of the American Chiropractic Colleges Association manual.  Houston Baptist, Texas-Pan American, New Jersey Tech, Utah Valley, North AND South Dakota.   Not to mention the fact that with two Texas schools, a Utah school, two Dakota schools and a freakin NEW JERSEY school, this new league is all over the place (Cal Poly, UC-Davis and Southern Utah, each of whom play in the football version of the GWC, are not expected to leave their basketball conferences – the Big West x2 and Summit, respectively).

In fact, looking at the map below, this “Great West” conference is 2,194 miles from east to west, 1,639 miles from north to south, and if you decided to drive the circuit between all six schools, it would take you through 22 states, 6,540 miles and approximately 41 Waffle Houses.  Oh, and only one team is even in a “western” time zone, with UVU in MST.   

So what’s really going on here?  Of course, money.  The GWC is attempting to become the 32d league that gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and while that may be a decade away (fulfilling all the requirements would take until 2020), Kyle Whelliston thinks that’s a possibility. 

NCAA men’s basketball rules require conferences to pass a three-step eligibility check for auto-bid qualification: at least seven fully fledged Div. I members, seven that have been Div. I for at least eight years (known as “core members”), and six core members who have been league mates for five years. The current membership wouldn’t meet all of those guidelines until the year 2020.

You can rest assured that if the GWC eventually gets an automatic bid that the NCAA won’t take away one of the current 34 at-large bids, so the natural response would probably be to add another play-in game to the scorecard.  That would allow for two more teams to “make” the dance, and it would balance the brackets on both sides.  While this makes economic sense from an NCAA Tournament perspective, it’ll end up minimizing the achievements of the MEAC, SWAC and other league champions that have gotten accustomed to playing in the “real thing” on Thursday like everyone else. 

And what happens to everyone’s bracket if one of these teams actually beats a #1 seed one of these days? 


Improving ESPN’s Prestige Rankings: Public Comment

August 6, 2008

On Monday RTC’s East Coast field office submitted a piece that has driven considerable discussion, both internally and externally, as to the legitimacy of ESPN’s Prestige Rankings of college basketball programs in the 64-team era (since 1985).  While we have the utmost respect for ESPN interns researchers Harold Shelton,  Nick Loucks and Chris Fallica for plowing through mounds of college hoops data in the interest of the greater good,  Nvr1983 noted in his post that there were several areas where he (and by proxy, we) take issue with how they attributed their points (their NCAA appearance = NIT appearance is just killing us) and ultimately, the rankings.  Don’t get us wrong – overall, we think ESPN did a solid job with their effort.  We just think it could be better. 

 

Graphic Credit (The Hype)

With that in mind, and with the full realization that we don’t have all the answers ourselves, we took a stab at creating a new attribution of points that more accurately reflects what college basketball fans really care about.  The key difference between us and them is that we want to hear from you, the readers, what should be added, eliminated, changed, revised, re-scored, or whatever else.  Feel free to leave a comment below or simply fire us an email at rushthecourtATyahooDOTcom.  It’s not guaranteed that we’ll take every suggestion to heart in our final analysis, but in the spirit of web 2.x, we want to hear your thoughts. 

In Table A below, we show ESPN’s attribution of points, our suggested revision, and any justification as such where we felt it was necessary.  Criteria that we changed or added are represented in blue font.  Items that we removed are in gray shading.  The list is also stored on a separate Google Docs page, so you can copy/paste if you like and we can publicly update it as we move forward. 

We now submit this revised scoring attribution list to you, the readers, for public comment. 

 


Breaking Down ESPN’s Prestige Rankings

August 4, 2008

Ed. Note:  Don’t like ESPN’s Prestige Rankings?  Provide your comment on how to improve them here.  We’re going to take this information and create a new set of rankings based on additional factors (and getting rid of the moronic NIT appearance = NCAA appearance (1 point) criterion). 

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that ESPN was trying to fill the dead space between the NBA Finals and the Olympics with yet another list. Normally I wouldn’t have even bothered to look at it because ESPN’s lists have been getting progressively more ludicrous (hitting its peak–or nadir–when John Hollinger put Dwayne Wade’s 2006 “Fall down 7 times, shoot 14 free throws” performance above every single one of Michael Jordan’s masterpieces). However, when I noticed that ESPN was trying to rank the most prestigious programs for college basketball in the 64-/65-team era, I was intrigued and figured it was worth some analysis.

Your #1 team of the era
Your #1 team of the era

The first thing I always do when looking at any list is to see the scoring system used and ESPN sure picked an interesting system. I’ll break it into segments with some analysis:

• National title … 25
• Title game loss … 20
• National semifinal loss … 15
• Elite Eight loss … 10

– All four of these things seems pretty reasonable. I think that most fans would value the post-season performances in a way that is pretty close to the points awarded although it seems like a Final 4 berth is considered a great accomplishment for any program (even for the Duke’s and North Carolina’s of the college basketball world). I probably would have bumped up the national title, title game loss, and national semifinal loss by 5 points to give a 10 point spread between an Elite 8 loss and a national semifinal loss.

• Best W-L record in conference’s regular season … 5
• 30-plus wins in a season … 5
• Sweet 16 loss … 5

– This is where the scoring starts to get questionable. I’m assuming the “Best W-L record in conference’s regular season” is lawyerspeak for regular season conference champion. I’m glad that ESPN has decided that the America East regular season champion deserves more points for their in-conference performance than the regular season runner-ups in the ACC, Big East, and SEC. The 5 points for the 30-plus win season may seem like a lot, but in fact they are very rare (Duke leads with 9 such seasons and I could only count/remember 16 programs with any 30-win seasons since the start of the 1984-85 season) so that seems reasonable (as does the 5 points for a Sweet 16 loss although 16 programs achieve are awarded this each season while approximately the same number have achieved it for a 30-win season during the entire era). My main question with the 5-point awards is if they really consider all regular season conference titles the same as it is easier to win certain titles than others. One interesting note about this methodology is that Princeton with 10 regular season Ivy League titles is awarded 50 points with this methodology while Duke with 9 30-plus win seasons is only awarded 45 points for that feat (ignoring the fact that Duke probably won the regular season conference title most of those years).

• Conference tournament title … 3
• AP first-team All-American … 3
• Losing in NCAA second round … 3

– I’m assuming that the Ivy League regular season champ automatically gets the 3 points for winning the conference tournament title since they don’t have a post-season tournament. This only further skews the points Princeton and UPenn get in this system as they receive 80 points and 96 points respectively for their Ivy League titles not to mention the 20-win seasons they racked up beating up on Cornell, Columbia, Harvard, and Brown. I’m perfectly fine with the AP 1st-team AA points as at most 5 teams a year will have a player earn that distinction. Perhaps they should have thrown in a National POY bonus as that player is the one who usually defines the season (Ralph Sampson, Christian Laettner, etc.). Likewise, I’m in agreement with the 3 points for the 2nd round NCAA tournament loss.

• Player in top 10 of NBA draft … 2
• NCAA first-round win as a 12-16 seed … 2
• NIT title … 2
• AP second-team All-American … 2

– This is where it starts to get really weird. Let’s get the reasonable things out of the way first. Top 10 pick worth 2 points? Ok. That seems fine even if the draft was dominated by high schoolers and Euros for a few years. In the future, the one-and-done rule might make this benefit the schools that are willing to take the one-and-done guys even if it does hurt their APR. That is unless those guys start going to Europe. Cinderella getting 2 points for a 1st-round upset? Fine with this too even if we will all remember the Hampton upset of Iowa State more than we will remember the annual 5-12 upsets. AP second-team AA worth 2 points? Ok with this one too even if I think once you start getting to the 2nd team the players selected start getting more dependent on the voters. I’m too lazy to check this out (perhaps rtmsf can do it), but I’d be willing to venture there is a lot more variation in the guys selected to the 2nd team by various publications/groups than there is with the 1st team. Now for the crazy one. . .Awarding 2 points for a NIT title? Maybe in the 1950s, but today winning the NIT only makes you the butt-end of every more successful team in your conference. How many message board threads have trolls made mocking the 65th (now 66th) best team in country? I’ll admit that the NIT champs would probably beat the 13-16 seeds most of the time, but is there really any pride in being the small fish (mediocre team) in the big ponds (power conference) that can beat up on the plankton (13-16 seeds)? I’d give the NIT champ 1 point overall, which leads into the next big problem. . .

• 20-29 wins in a season … 1
• NCAA tournament berth … 1
• Postseason NIT berth … 1
• AP third-team All-American … 1

– Let’s get the easy ones out of the way. No problems here with the 20-29 wins or AP 3rd team AA getting 1 point. I would probably differentiate between 20-24 wins, which is usually a solid season, and 25-29 wins, which usually will put you into consideration for a top 4 seed if you’re from a power conference. Like I said before the further down the AA list you go, the more variation you will have by publication/group, but it’s not really worth arguing about for 1 point. The thing worth arguing about is giving the same number of points for a NCAA tournament berth and a postseason NIT berth. To borrow an over-used phrase from John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious!” While I recognize that in this system the NIT team can only receive 2 points from the tournament (if they win), it is ridiculous to even consider invitations to the 2 tournament similar when the entire selection special is based on camera crews camping out in rooms with bubble teams to see if they got into the NCAA tournament. Maybe the ESPN stat whizzes have access to different camera feeds than I do, but it seems like the players, coaches, and families are happier when they get into the NCAA tournament than when they find out they are going to the NIT (even if Madison Square Garden is a slight upgrade from Boise, Idaho–unless we’re talking NBA). That’s just one man’s interpretation of the reactions I see although I could probably point out that a few years ago Georgetown declined an invitation to the NIT because they wanted to give their players more time to study for exams. . .in March. I wonder why Georgetown didn’t turn down its #2 seed this year. Do John Thompson III and the Georgetown AD not care about those same exams any more?

• NCAA first-round loss to a 12-16 seed … -2
• Losing season … -3
• Ban from NCAA tournament … -3

– No problem with the first two although I wonder if a losing season is counted against you if you have it expunged from your record and throw your long-time assistant coach under the bus? Also, I’d consider a 15-16 season a disappointment while I would consider 8-20 a complete embarrassment, so I’d probably make the less than 10-win season a significantly bigger penalty. I think the NCAA tournament ban should be a much larger penalty in this scoring system as the public (and press) reaction tends to be pretty bad (see below).

This is only a 3 point deduction per year?
This is only a 3 point deduction per year?

>> Minimum 15 seasons in Division I
** Ties are broken by overall winning percentage since the 1984-85 season

– After all the issues with the scoring system, I’m not going to complain about these minor qualifiers and tiebreakers. Both of them seem reasonable and none of the top 50 teams were tied.

Now that we’ve looked the methodology it’s time to pick apart the rankings to see what ESPN got right and what they screwed up. Duke is the run-away winner as even the most ardent Duke-hater (feel free to chime in here rtmsf) would agree that Coach K’s Blue Devils have been the most dominant program of the era even if their results have been underwhelming the past few years. The Blue Devils are followed by the Jayhawks in 2nd and the Tar Heels in 3rd. I’m not going to argue much with this although I would have UNC in 2nd just because I consider Kansas a team that historically underperforms in the tournament (Mario Chalmers’ shot and Danny and the Miracles not withstanding). Now onto the rankings I am utterly confused by.

Overated:
UNLV: 8th?!? I loved Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebs, who may have been one of the best college teams ever even if they lost/threw the 1991 national semifinal against Duke, but there is no way this has been the 8th most prestigious program in the country over the past 20+ years just like Memphis isn’t in that category. ESPN provides a pretty clear summary of why UNLV shouldn’t be in the top 10: “2 NCAA sanctions; 10 coaches since 1984-85; 0 NCAA tourney wins between 1992 and 2007”. I’d keep UNLV in the top 20, but they definitely don’t belong in the top 10 with that track record.
Xavier: The Muskeeters (at #17) have a nice Atlantic-10 program, but the fact that they have never made a Final 4 should automatically keep them out of the top 25. The Musketeers are buoyed by 21 combined conference titles, but have not really been a threat in the NCAA tournament having only racked up 15 NCAA tournament wins. Interestingly, Xavier came in 2 spots ahead of Cincinnati even though Xavier is widely considered the red-headed stepchild in the city.
Temple: I don’t mean to sound like Billy Packer ripping on the mid-majors (sorry, if you’re not a BCS conference, you’re a mid-major in my eyes), but the Owls never made the Final 4 despite five trips there under John Chaney. I think they’re a very good program, but like Xavier, Temple shouldn’t be in the Top 25 without a Final 4 appearance.
Murray State: Now this is the point where I rip the little guy. I was absolutely stunned when I saw this one. The Racers always seem to be one of those teams you see at the bottom of the bracket and maybe every once in a while you decide to take a chance on them to pull off the huge upset. Unfortunately, if you’re one of those people, you’ve only been rewarded once (1988 against 3rd-seeded NC State). The Racers piled up the points by dominating the Ohio Valley Conference racking up 22 (or 24 depending on your addition skills) conference titles and twelve 20+ win seasons (thanks to an easy conference schedule). Somehow this manages to put them above Villanova, Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, and Wake Forest.

Underrated:
Maryland: The Terps (28th) are killed by the fact that they play in the ACC and have lost out on a ton of points thanks to playing in the same conference as Duke and UNC. Although Gary Williams hasn’t had good teams the past few years, the Terps run especially in the Juan Dixon era should have been enough to propel them into the top 20. How does this program only rank 2 spots ahead of Murray State?
Utah: I don’t think the Utes would be able to move up much higher, but it would be interesting to see how high they would be on this list if they didn’t have the misfortune of playing Kentucky so many times in the 1990s. While the Utes benefited playing in a softer conference than some of their peers on the list (SEC and ACC), the Mountain West has been a fairly strong conference in recent years.
Florida: I’m not sure how much higher the Gators could move up because of their relative lack of success (not counting Lon Kruger’s 1994 Final 4 run) before Joakim Noah and company ran off back-to-back titles, but it seems like that alone should be enough to crack the top 20 especially when programs like Xavier and Temple are ranked ahead of them despite not making a single Final 4 appearance. The Gators probably belong in the top 15 although that may be more of a recency effect, but it just seems that there recent run puts them at a level that isn’t that much different than UNLV with its run with Larry Johnson.

Other points of interest:
– Coach K’s current program (Duke) ranks #1. The program he left (Army) comes in tied for 298th, or as it is more commonly referred to “DFL”. Hopefully the Duke athletic department program has a better succession plan in place than Army did when Coach K decides to leave the sidelines.
– I found this rather amusing from personal experience. Boston University comes in at 108th ahead of programs such as Clemson, Providence (with a Final 4 appearance), Washington, and USC.
– In the current SportsNation voting, Kentucky is in the lead (good work out of the Sea of Blue crowd) with Duke in 4th even though they have the most #1 votes (something tells me they were left off a lot of ballots or voted 25th). The three teams I singled out as being overrated in the top 25 were moved down quite a bit. Note: I thought they were overrated even before I saw the online voting.

No bonus points for Dream Teamers?
No bonus points for Dream Teamers?

Syracusean Thoughts

August 4, 2008

A post today from the most entertaining Syracuse sports blog Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician got us thinking about a couple of seemingly disparate things today. 

First, is there any more difficult impossible charge for a college athlete to shed than that of some kind of sexual assault?  Similarly, is there any more difficult impossible charge for an institution and the police to prove than that of some kind of sexual assault (eliminating the outright rapes involving DNA, of course)?  Usually all that anyone can seem to agree upon is that something happened involving a player and an unnamed woman.  How far that something went and whether it was consensual or a simple misunderstanding often involves convolution that would make Robin Lopez’s lafro look stick-straight in comparison.

How Twisted and Convoluted?

We can think of a couple of recent examples where the he-said/she-said repartee ultimately resulted in a slightly uncomfortable exoneration of a player’s name, where everyone sorta shrugs their shoulders, looks around and wonders exactly what the hell happened while simultaneously hoping that it doesn’t impact next year’s team.  Kentucky’s Chuck Hayes is but one example.  Kansas’ Sherron Collins another.  Need we even mention Kobe Bean’s douche d’amour  in Eagle, CO?  And now we encounter the trio of Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn, Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson, each of whom was accused of playing a role in a sexual assault on the Syracuse campus last fall.  Flynn is arguably Cuse’s top returning player, and Jardine/Jackson are both contributors whose roles should increase next season.

   

Come On Ladies, It Was Only a Kiss…

Reading through the grand jury account (filtered through the Syracuse Post-Standard’s news report) is a lot like watching hockey on tv – you know the puck is down there somewhere, but you can’t really follow it until it hits something.   Depending on who you ask, the accuser is a) not seeking criminal prosecution; b) seeking criminal prosecution; c) is no longer claiming she was a victim of sexual assault; d) is claiming that she was a victim of sexual assault; e) being treated as a pawn amongst her mother and the university.  In other words, about as clear as Mudd.

Ultimately there was a grand jury proceeding, and the accuser testified at the hearing. She must have apparently been laughed out of the room due to the fact that, according to the old legal adage that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich, the accuser’s story did not rise to ham sandwich level.  According to Troy Nunes, Syracuse University will continue with its own internal disciplinary proceedings in this matter (on what evidence, we’d love to hear).

Juli Needs to Put the Screws to Jim Again

The other thing that this post got us thinking about was Jim Boeheim’s program in general.  We’ve a notion that Boeheim should be called Mail It In-heim for the way he’s been handling the Orange in the years since his only Carmelo-led championship.  With his hot MILF wife and his secure ring finger, does Jimmy B. have the drive to push beyond mediocrity anymore (we were going to compare him to Gary Williams at Maryland, but realized quickly that GW deserves his own category of underachievement)? 

Consider: 

  • Three of Boeheim’s eleven 10+ loss seasons in 32 years as a head coach have come in the last three years (12, 11, and 14 losses, respectively).   Last year’s 14 losses were the most for a Jim Boeheim-coached team EVER. 
  • Before last year, the 1980-81 and 1981-82 seasons were the last period where Syracuse had not gone to the NCAAs in consecutive years.  (granted, Cuse got screwed royally in 2006-07, but they were still a bubble team)  It could have been three in a row if not for G-Mac’s miraculous Big East Tourney title run in 2006. 
  • In fact, Syracuse hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2004, its longest streak of such misery since prior to Boeheim’s arrival in 1976.      
  • Boeheim’s winning percentage from 1976-2003 is .743.  His percentage from 2004-present is .694, and that includes four bogus NIT wins played in the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome. 
  • Honestly, the only highlights of the last five seasons since the national championship were the 2005 and 2006 Big East Tournament titles.  That’s great and all, but it’s not how Syracuse basketball built its name (both of those were Cinderella runs). 

Perhaps this is old news for Syracuse faithful, but it really surprised us when we took a look at the numbers.  With an eligible Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris in addition to a healthy Eric Devendorf, there is potential for Syracuse to break its stranglehold on an NIT bid this season; but we’re not sure that Boeheim is getting as much from his players as he once did.  We’ll definitely be keeping a closer eye on upstate New York this year. 


Vegas Odds Check-In – Summer Edition

July 29, 2008

We’re quite sure Vegas Watch can analyze this much better than we can, but we stumbled across the idea on his site last week and decided to throw up this post showing what the current Vegas odds are for winning next April’s national championship.  Analysis to follow table…

Source:  TheGreek.com

Thoughts. 

  • It’s a LOCK!!  Given the unpredictable nature of the NCAA Tournament (much less the regular season), getting +350 on a team like North Carolina is as close to a lock as it gets.  We wish we had access to the summer 2001 Duke and summer 2006 Florida numbers to see if they were higher than UNC’s.  Regardless, we still think this bet is a little high; if it were in the +400 to +500 range, we’d like it a lot better. 
  • Overvalued.   Unless Coach K has figured out how to bring Dwight Howard with him from Beijing to Durham next season, we don’t see how Duke can be +800.  Same with Florida at +1000 – is there any skilled size whatsoever on these two teams?  Kentucky at +1500????  Patrick Patterson and whose army?    
  • Undervalued.  Because only UNC, Duke and Florida are currently higher than the Field (+1200), we see quite a few undervalued teams out there right now.   Let’s start with UConn and Louisville at +1200 each.  These two teams are probably the most well-suited to challenge the Carolina juggernaut next year with their size, strength and athleticism.   How about Tennessee and good grief have we learned nothing yet about Ben Howland – UCLA!!! – at +1500?  There is a ton of talent remaining on those two squads.  Mid-majors Davidson at +2500 and Gonzaga at +4000 also seem like decent values – both teams should be stacked next year… and if Carolina falters somewhere along the way, who knows?
  • Indiana.  Wow, for only $1, you can win $500 if Tom Crean, Kyle Taber and company manage to pull off the most miraculous sporting turnaround in the history of organized sports.  Pass. 
  • Your Team Isn’t Good Enough to Post Odds.  55 of the listed 59 teams are from BCS conferences.  Other luminaries such as Colorado, Virginia, Iowa St., Rutgers, Depaul, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Penn St., Auburn, South Carolina and Oregon St. were missing from the list.  Actually, we would have loved to have seen what odds Oregon St. would have gotten (0-18 in the Pac-10 last year).  Ok, so we’re joking about the above schools being included, but no Xavier? – they’re usually solid.   

Adios, Billy Packer!

July 14, 2008

In a move that we are certain will generate a ton of praise around the college basketball world (and the blogosphere), CBS has decided to not renew everyone’s least favorite curmudgeon Billy Packer (h/t to The Big Lead for pointing this out). After 27 years at CBS and having called the national championship game every year since 1977, CBS has “decided to move into another direction” (a phrase I’m sure many of our readers have heard before).

Like most college basketball fans, I’m excited to see Packer and his bitterness leave the airwaves (although I’m sure that rtmsf is sad to see a Wake Forest alum lose his job). While Packer has certainly become an institution (of hatred) in college basketball, it seems like in recent years, Packer has been more controversial than normal although that may just be a recency effect.

Among Packer’s “memorable” moments:
1996: During a Georgetown-Villanova game, he calls Allen Iverson a “tough monkey”. He apologizes and John Thompson (the original, not JT3) says it’s a non-issue because he says Packer is not a racist.
2000: When two Duke female (yeah, I know an oxymoron) students ask to see his press pass, Packer reportedly responds “Since when do we let women control who gets into a men’s basketball game? Why don’t you go find a women’s game to let people into?” Once again Packer apologizes.
2004: Criticizes the NCAA selection committee for giving 1-loss Saint Joseph’s a #1 seed in the East Regional. This leads to a small disagreement between Packer and the CBS guest–St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli. The Hawks go onto reach the Elite 8 (beating Packer’s alma mater Wake Forest in the Sweet 16) before losing to Oklahoma State in a tight game.
2006: Packer rips into the selection committee for taking mid-majors over BCSconference schools. The mid-majors responded by having Bradley and Wichita State make it to the Sweet 16 and George Mason make it to the Final 4.
2008: With 27:30 left in the national semifinal, Packer tells viewers that the game is over. Surprisingly it isn’t. I’m sure the CBS bigwigs weren’t too thrilled that Packer essentially told viewers they could stop watching with 27:30 left in the game.

I’m sure there are others dating back to the beginning of his time on TV, but frankly I’m too young to remember the more distant controversies.

In an attempt to remain “fair & balanced”, we should note that Packer is most likely the 2nd person casual college basketball fans think of when they think of announcers–a distant 2nd to Dick Vitale. We’ll leave you with this YouTube clip from last year with Packer and Jim Nantz discussing his potential legacy (disclosure: I haven’t listened to this because I’m at work and I forgot my headphones–it’s a Monday):


Where Near Chokes Happen.

June 9, 2008

Like most basketball fans I spent last night watching Game 2 of the NBA Finals and assumed the game was over well before it actually was. Unlike most people I also sent taunting text messages to the Lakersfans I know with 1:21 left in the 3rd quarter when Boston went up by 20. I was feeling pretty confident in my rather moronic display of hubris when Boston was still up by 24 with 7:40 remaining in the game.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten Billy Packer’s faux pas from just over 2 months ago when he awarded Kansas a place in the NCAA championship game when they went up by 26 with 27:30left in their game against UNC–the Tar Heels subsequently cut into the margin enough to make the game competitive and make Packer look like an idiot once again. To be fair, 20 points with 16:21 left and 24 points with 7:40 left is certainly a much, much bigger margin than what Kansas was working with, but nonetheless I should have turned to the Bill James Lead Calculator before I sent those text messages (not to mention the voice mails).

A quick calculation would have revealed the following “facts”:
– At the time of my text messages (20 point lead with 16:21 left), the lead was 28% safe.
– At the time the Lakers started their comeback (24 point lead with 7:40 left), the lead was 91% safe although it would have been “over” (100% safe) according to James if the Celtics had the ball at that time.

Fortunately, the Celtics survived the Lakers 3-point barrage and Vladimir Radmanovic’s 5-step breakaway dunk to win or I would still be getting text messages and voice mails right now.

Moral of the story: Before you decide to call “ballgame” (and taunt everyone you know), ask yourself “What would Bill James do?”

Update: Apparently rtmsf decided to make a post about this late last night (an advantage of being on the West Coast) and being the idiot that I am (see the aforementioned reference to taunting text messages) I decided to throw up a post without looking at the blog even though I had mentioned that he might consider writing a post about it last night. Anyways, I just went to The Big Lead and saw that our blog was linked to and realized that this was a duplicate post. Hopefully, you can at least enjoy my stupidity. Hey, it was better than the “19-0. Next. . .” text that I sent when I saw Eli Manning jogging out onto the field with 2 minutes left. . .


One reason to bask in the glow of last night’s collapse

April 8, 2008

Normally I am not one to enjoy seeing another team’s fans suffer unless they are a rival in which case I will taunt them mercilessly. However, I did not have a rooting interest (spiritual or financial) in last night’s game so part of me felt bad for Memphis as they choked away the game and the title. I just uncovered something that makes their collapse a little more enjoyable.

Hahahahahahaha

Just knowing that Justin Timberlake had to sit through the last 2 minutes of regulation and the inevitable loss in OT will make the replays much more enjoyable for me since he’s already run through Britney Spears (pre-KFed), Cameron Diaz, Scarlett Johansson, and Alyssa Milano not to mention countless other girls we haven’t heard about. At least we know that last night he experienced the same empty feeling that all of us have experienced at one time or the other. So what now, Timberlake?

Oh yeah.

Well he has that. . .

Well, at least he had to suffer until he got back to that. . .

Editor’s Note: We are aware there are better pics of Miss Biel online, but we try to keep a family-friendly blog here so you’ll have to use Google Images for that stuff.