Why be bad at part of a sport you’re trying to be good at?

Alex Olah seems somewhat skeptical of his coach's ban on offensive boards. (Chicago Tribune photo.)

Alex Olah is very excited about his coach’s decision to forego offensive rebounds. But has a team ever succeeded because of bad offensive rebounding and not merely in spite of it? (Chicago Tribune)

Offensive rebounding is one of the few antecedents of scoring in sports that a significant minority of coaches consciously and indeed insistently tries to do very badly.

That fact alone doesn’t mean those coaches are wrong — sometimes the smart play is to miss a free throw or let the opponent score — but it sure is interesting. This season a handful of coaches with realistic chances at an NCAA tournament bid will seek to win that reward, in part, by avoiding offensive rebounds.

Stats will be brought into this discussion momentarily, don’t you fret, but at the outset I trust plain old words can do justice to a rather remarkable state of affairs. First let us note that there’s nothing intrinsically special or magical about offensive rebounds — or, conversely, about transition defense. Continue reading

Academic life after UNC

It appears some of these guys weren't subjected to particularly rigorous challenges in the classroom. It appears in some instances there was no classroom.

It appears some of these guys weren’t subjected to particularly rigorous academic challenges. What’s far more surprising, however, is that neither were some of their fellow students in the stands. (Grantland)

After reading Kenneth Wainstein’s report on the University of North Carolina’s academic misdeeds between 1993 and 2011, it occurred to me that if I were a graduate of UNC the really galling thing would be that my highly prestigious alma mater was so badly outperformed in this one respect by Auburn.

Eight years ago more or less the exact same transgression that has now been documented so thoroughly in Chapel Hill also came to light at Auburn. In both cases a faculty member was found to be offering an inordinately high number of “independent studies classes.” In both cases the grades that athletes received in their independent studies were far higher than their overall grade point averages. Continue reading

The O’Bannon ruling is on the side of the very clumsy angels

Sugar beet farmers, 1948. The parallel between them and Jahlil Okafor is obvious. To our legal system.

Sugar beet farmers, 1948. The parallel between them and Jahlil Okafor is obvious. To the legal system.

The fact that the question raised by Ed O’Bannon landed on the docket of U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken is solely and ineluctably the NCAA’s fault. It should never have come to this. The NCAA never offered a common-sense justification for not compensating O’Bannon for the use of his name, image, and likeness. Then again logic, fairness, and common practice all unite in saying there can be no such justification, so don’t blame the NCAA’s lawyers for the weakness of their argument. Blame the NCAA for taking this to court in the first place.

With any organization that operated without the debilitating procedural inertia of several hundred otherwise distracted voting members (otherwise known as Division I), this matter would have been settled outside the courtroom. Such a resolution would have had two cardinal virtues: 1) It would have been the collaborative product of the parties involved; and 2) It would, one assumes, have been tailored to to the very different needs and characteristics of the two revenue sports, football and basketball.

Now we have a resolution to the dispute that sides with O’Bannon, but does not possess either of these two virtues. In other words, we have a court decision, and more’s the pity.  Continue reading

More powerful power conferences won’t change hoops (much)

His team had more talent. It didn't matter.

Weird things can happen to very talented teams.

Today the NCAA board of directors is expected to allow the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC to set their own rules and pass resolutions without the approval of the rest of Division I. It is widely anticipated that this so-called “big five” will move toward offering full cost-of-attendance scholarships to their athletes, thereby giving recruits an added incentive to play at one of these member institutions as opposed to any of the 280-odd schools outside the charmed circle.

This will lead to a good deal of “rich get richer” talk, and, to be sure, I don’t suppose if I were a fan of a non-big-five hoops powerhouse like Connecticut or Memphis I’d welcome this development with unalloyed euphoria. But is this really going to have a huge impact on the actual college basketball results we see on the court?  Continue reading

On the irredeemably doomed nature of (most) preseason conference hype

BP

This man is excited about the SEC’s future.

The SEC held its spring meetings last week, and the most noteworthy product of this year’s conclave was arguably the solemn and earnest talk of a potential Division IV in college athletics. Nevertheless, there was also, of course, the requisite chatter promising that the conference will henceforth be good at basketball. This time the SEC means it. Truly.

“This is as focused as I’ve seen this league and these coaches and the programs and the ADs in how do we move this ball forward,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We had three teams in the Elite Eight, two teams in the Final Four, a team in the national championship game and still … come on now. Our goal is let’s get half of our teams in within the next three years and two of us playing for a national championship.”

I share Calipari’s preferred measure of conference strength. How many teams you put into the NCAA tournament and, more specifically, where those members are seeded is to my mind the best gauge of just how good your league really is.  Continue reading

Why Aaron Gordon will never shoot better than 62 percent at the line

It's an open look. Knock it down.

Statistically speaking, this is unlikely to go well.

We typically think of bad free throw shooters as all alike. Either a player makes a normal number of free throws or he falls short of that standard, and we all know that guys in the latter category represent a special case. We sit up and pay attention when they’re at the line, we shake our heads when they miss, and we applaud a little too enthusiastically — like parents at the school play — when they make one.

Basically we define “really bad” as anything under 60 percent because, well, that is really bad. An average shooter will make something closer to 70 percent of his attempts. But in terms of measurable harm to your offense, there’s a significant difference between shooting, say, 58 percent at the line and connecting on just 42 percent of your free throws. And in his one and only season as a college player, Aaron Gordon shot 42.2 percent at the line.  Continue reading

My season’s final four days

OSM

Members of the media watch “One Shining Moment” on the mammoth HD screen above the court at AT&T Stadium after the national championship game.

Friday
It’s Media Day. My plan is to surf the press availabilities at the stadium in Arlington for a few hours and then go back into Dallas to meet up with Ken Pomeroy on his way out of town. After speaking to a room full of coaches on Thursday, Ken’s leaving town on the Friday of Final Four weekend. (“I didn’t realize there were games connected to this thing.”)

AT&T Stadium is a domed football venue 20 miles away from the city where everyone’s staying, and this necessitates a media shuttle. Because I’ve skipped out on Media Day early to meet with Ken, I’m alone on the shuttle with the driver. He lives in Phoenix, and this is his first Final Four.  Continue reading