Putting Syracuse’s historically atrocious three-point shooting into context

He's been far and away Syracuse's most accurate three-point shooter. He's shooting 28 percent.

He’s been far and away Syracuse’s most accurate three-point shooter. He’s shooting 28 percent. (syracuse.com)

If the Unannounced Audit Panel of the US Basketball Writers Association shows up at my door later today, I think I’ll be in pretty good shape. I’ll steer them toward my pre- and early-season wariness of a North Carolina team that at the time was being ranked in the top 10 or even in the top five. I’ll trot out my hearty approval of Tony Bennett’s decision to embrace offensive rebounding last season. (Now look. The guy’s practically Tom Izzo Jr.) And I may even call attention to my canny (if entirely risk-free) decision to leave an analytic light on just in case an NJIT team returning six members from a seven-man rotation should decide to win one of its four tries against major-conference competition — despite the fact that the Highlanders entered the season 0-22 lifetime on that score.

All in all I feel like the audit will go pretty well. But then the diligent and tireless auditors will ask me about Syracuse, and that’s where things could get a little awkward. What was that I said again about the Orange being “underrated”? Just what exactly did I mean when I said “the laws of statistical gravity suggest an offense powered collectively by Trevor Cooney and players to be named later can shoot just as well as if not better than the one that last season was focused with surprising insistence on C.J. Fair”?

Since those statements were so confidently asserted Syracuse has started the season 5-3, losing two of those games by double-digit margins to unranked opponents. Furthermore Jim Boeheim’s men have reached mid-December shooting 20.8 percent on their threes. So, yeah, at that point in the audit I’ll have two options — flee or explain. And since I’ve already given the USBWA my home address, I guess I’ll have to opt for the latter.  Continue reading

Before UAB: When schools say no to football

Amos Alonzo Stagg coaching the University of Chicago Maroons.

Amos Alonzo Stagg coaching the University of Chicago Maroons.

“We agree with you that the first purpose of an educational institution is to educate, with football of secondary importance. We, the players, are proud of you and the University of Chicago.”
Letter to president Robert Maynard Hutchins from a freshman football player after the University of Chicago discontinued the program in 1939

It’s rare for an institution to face a situation where the benefits of retreating from football at its highest level are perceived as outweighing the disadvantages. Nevertheless, those situations do arise, and — notwithstanding the University of Pacific’s decision to drop football in 1995 — such instances tend to occur in clusters at times when the nature of participation in major college sports is changing dramatically.

December 2014 may be one such time. Cost-of-attendance scholarships are rapidly becoming commonplace, and UAB says it would have cost the school $49 million over the next five years to try to put a competitive football team on the field in Conference USA.

This is not the first such era, however. In the years preceding and following the Second World War, colleges and universities were forced by unfolding events (including but not limited to a 1930s-era college sports reform movement triggered in part by the Carnegie Report of 1929, postwar increases in student enrollments, and the infancy of televised college football) to weigh the costs and benefits of pursuing fame and glory through sports.  Continue reading

Conference strength is somewhat related to results in the Iowa Caucuses of hoops

Kaminsky vs. this guy -- should be a pretty good game in Madison. (newsobserver.com)

Kaminsky vs. this guy. That should be fun. (newsobserver.com)

Tonight the ACC-Big Ten Challenge will tip off, with Florida State hosting Nebraska and Clemson playing at home against Rutgers. This will be the 16th time the conferences have squared off in this event, meaning if there had been a Lamar Hunt figure at the founding we would be referring to this as Challenge XVI.

The ACC holds a 10-3 advantage since 1999, though in truth John Swofford’s league hasn’t won the event outright since December 2008. The last two Challenges have ended in 6-6 ties. This will be the first year that 14 games are played — the ACC chose to leave Boston College at home for this one.

If the ACC leads the Challenge 10-3 all-time, that must mean it’s been the better conference over the past 15 years, right? Well, sort of. Continue reading

I rushed to finish this judgment of our rush to judge a rush to judgment

When historically bad sports-transcending actions transpire in your program, your peer institutions may take note. That's unobjectionable, unless of course the peer institutions call themselves the NCAA.

When historically diabolical sports-transcending actions transpire in your program, your peer institutions may object. That’s unobjectionable — unless of course the peer institutions call themselves the NCAA.

If tomorrow it emerges that a staff member at a blue-chip college basketball program has for decades used his position of power and prominence to secretly carry out terrible criminal actions of unimaginable scope and magnitude, I will have no problem whatsoever with the other revenue-sports-playing universities in the vicinity collectively considering — at the conference or national level — whether some form of censure and redress, subordinate to and cognizant of criminal proceedings, might be appropriate.

Apparently I’m in the minority. Today the conventional wisdom is that those universities rushed to judgment in 2012 when they reacted to Jerry Sandusky’s crimes by fining Penn State, imposing a postseason ban, taking away some football scholarships, and vacating 14 years’ worth of Joe Paterno’s wins. Reasonable people can differ over whether that was the best blend of sanctions, but what’s being asserted now is the far more sweeping claim that any action at all undertaken by the universities was categorically unwarranted. That strikes me as a novel contention, to say the least.  Continue reading

Seven teams account for 25 percent of all tournament wins since 2000

Two coaches, four titles.

Life is good at the top of Division I. (USA Today)

Counting NCAA tournament wins since 2000 is little more than a blinkered exercise in setting arbitrary and subjective quantitative goalposts. Much like a good portion of real life. Let’s do this.

                     NCAA tournament         National
                     wins since 2000     titles since 2000
1.   Kansas                38                    1
2.   Michigan State        36                    1
3.   Duke                  34                    2
     North Carolina        34                    2
5.   Florida               33                    2
6.   Connecticut           32                    3 (4 since 1999!)
     Kentucky              32                    1

After Connecticut and Kentucky there’s a big drop — equivalent to one national championship run — before you get down to plucky underdogs like Arizona, Louisville, Syracuse, and Wisconsin. No other program has won more than 25 games. (Full team list at the bottom of this post. Limber up your scrolling finger.)  Continue reading

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