Category Archives: tuesday truths

Tuesday Truths: “Final reality” edition

They're getting ready in Indy.

They’re getting ready in Indy.

There are at least two problems with focusing on who does and does not get a No. 1 seed. The first problem is that 13 of the last 16 No. 1 seeds have failed to make the Final Four.

The second problem is that this year in particular there will be no meaningful distinction to be drawn on the S-curve between the last No. 1 seed and the first team seeded on the 2-line. In fact in 2015 the number of interest appears to be six, not four. And I’ll go to war with these six: Kentucky, Arizona, Villanova, healthy-Anderson-version Virginia, Wisconsin, and surging Duke.

Sure, other things being equal, it’s best to be a fellow No. 1 seed alongside UK so that you don’t have to face John Calipari’s team until you get to Indy. But this piece of conventional wisdom — trusty enough in its essentials — somewhat overstates the difference between Kentucky and the other five teams named above while also (and we do this one every year) vastly overrating the actual likelihood of a region’s top two seeds meeting up in the Elite Eight.

The probability of a 1 vs. 2 collision in a regional final is 29.3 percent, and while we’re on the topic it’s not terribly clear who should be afraid of whom in such instances. Top seeds are a mere 17-17 in such games. My recommendation is to look past the question of who receives the four No. 1 seeds. Keep your eye on the Big Six instead.

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Tuesday Truths: “Lessons of history” edition


Jahlil Okafor says Kent Benson’s two-point percentage is too low.

Kentucky is trying to do something that hasn’t occurred in 39 years, and assuming UK continues to progress toward that goal (starting with tonight’s road test at Georgia) we will be treated to some good comparisons to that 1976 Indiana team. For instance the Hoosiers that season outscored opponents by 17.3 points a game. As for the Wildcats this season that number is currently 21.8.

That’s not apples-to-apples, of course. We’re viewing IU’s scoring margin after Bob Knight’s men completed a successful trip through the NCAA tournament against some of the best teams in the country. Nevertheless, in early March of 2015 it’s fair to say that John Calipari and his team are giving history a good run for its money. So far.

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Tuesday Truths: “Yet another 2 x 2 matrix” edition

I for one don’t fret about successful slow-paced teams like Wisconsin or Virginia causing other teams to go slow. If other coaches do indeed choose to decelerate, my happiness in watching their games will be a function primarily not of pace but of quality. Basically I like good hoops at any speed.


The contours of this discussion are durable across the years. There’s always room for a perceptive and through first-person disavowal of a particular team’s style. If a team really does displease your eyeballs, your senses are sovereign in the matter. A problem arises only when this distaste is elevated — as it always is — into somehow being a matter of civic hoops concern.

Good luck with that, but my tastes are incorrigibly catholic. Good hoops arrives in many styles.

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Tuesday Truths: “Give it to the big man” edition


This week 15 honorees were named for a first-ever Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award watch list. The award, which will be given in April to the player named as the nation’s most outstanding center, is one of four companion honors being introduced this year by the Naismith Hall of Fame — one for each position on the floor other than point guard (which already has the Cousy Award).

Dominant big men became markedly less dominant with the introduction of the three-point shot, but in their arc-less day they could perform feats we can’t even begin to wrap our 2015 heads around.  Take the guy this new award’s named after….

In the first game ever played at the then brand new Pauley Pavilion, the award’s namesake led his UCLA freshman team against a Bruin varsity squad that was the defending national champion and ranked No. 1 in the nation in the preseason. The freshmen won 75-60. Their center recorded a 31-21 double-double with seven blocks.

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Tuesday Truths: “On the shoulders of giants” edition



It may have been pure chance that the genius who invented the very idea of advanced stats also happened to be: a) the most successful college basketball coach not named “John Wooden” up to his time; and b) one of the finest and most praiseworthy people you would ever wish to encounter. His idea’s sheer power was such that it would have made basketball divulge its secrets even if the man who first conceived of it had been an imperious egoist with a losing record. However the fact that the man was none of those things would prove convenient for me personally on more than one occasion.

Whenever those of us who were following gratefully in these footsteps were told that what we were doing was somehow threatening or peripheral, contrived or irrelevant, abstruse or faddish, the plain truth always sufficed as a response. Always.

Read more about a brilliant man who was doing this stuff when Bill James was still in grade school. And at at the other end of the timeline, the story on the college basketball side from Dean Oliver through 2013 has also been summed up nimbly.

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Tuesday Truths: “Undivided attention” edition


“Good game. You’re shorter than you look on TV.” (USA Today)

Welcome, casual fan. Some play call, huh? Turning to what truly matters, here’s a 60-word synopsis of the college hoops season so far:

Kentucky is good. So are Gonzaga and Virginia. Duke is likely overrated at the moment, and Arizona is probably underrated. Scoring is down, but not as much as you’ll hear and not at all uniformly. Scoring is actually up in ACC play, but good luck finding a pundit to throw that confetti. (Though I guess I kind of just did.)

Good stuff, right? It’s a fine sport, truly. Read on….

Welcome to Tuesday Truths, where I look at how well 131 teams in the nation’s top 11 conferences are doing against their league opponents on a per-possession basis.

The unusually adequate Notre Dame defense
Through games of February 2, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession   Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

ACC                       W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Virginia              8-1   57.2    1.11    0.92    +0.19
2.  Louisville            6-2   65.2    1.10    1.01    +0.09
3.  Notre Dame            8-2   61.9    1.16    1.07    +0.09
4.  North Carolina        7-3   67.8    1.10    1.03    +0.07
5.  Duke                  5-3   66.4    1.11    1.06    +0.05
6.  NC State              5-5   64.3    1.08    1.05    +0.03
7.  Syracuse              5-3   65.4    1.01    1.01     0.00
8.  Miami                 4-4   62.2    1.04    1.05    -0.01
9.  Clemson               5-4   60.0    0.98    0.99    -0.01
10. Florida State         4-5   62.6    1.04    1.10    -0.06
11. Georgia Tech          1-8   60.7    0.97    1.03    -0.06
12. Pitt                  4-5   60.3    1.06    1.13    -0.07
13. Wake Forest           2-7   67.5    1.01    1.09    -0.08
14. Virginia Tech         1-7   63.0    0.98    1.12    -0.14
15. Boston College        1-7   60.5    0.97    1.12    -0.15

AVG.                            63.0    1.05

Notre Dame was just upset by an opponent that hadn’t previously done much of anything, so this is perhaps a good non-bandwagon moment to make an affirming point: Mike Brey likely has one of the best teams he’s ever had in South Bend. Continue reading

Tuesday Truths: “Statistically extreme” edition

A low-fumble group.

A low-fumble group.

Warren Sharp’s analysis of the low fumble rates recorded by New England since 2007 immediately made me wonder how unusual the Patriots’ numbers really are. And by “really,” I of course mean “in college basketball terms.”

Using our old friend Mr. Standard Deviation, let’s frame this question in a way that anyone who follows our nation’s True Greatest Sport can understand. Here are a few of the more statistically aberrant team-based behaviors currently occurring in college hoops:

                                  SD's better/worse (-)
                                       than mean
Utah efficiency margin                    1.95
Richmond offensive rebound %             -2.31
Arizona defensive rebound %               2.34
Kentucky defense                          2.44
Wisconsin turnover %                      2.46
Kentucky efficiency margin                2.53
San Diego opp. turnover %                 2.54
Wichita State turnover %                  2.59
San Jose State offense                   -2.61
Virginia defense                          2.62
Wisconsin offense                         2.63

Patriot fumble rate, 2010-14              3.83

Basketball stats: Relative to respective conference means, conference games only
Football stat: Relative to NFL mean (offensive plays per fumble lost, all games) 

“Tuesday Truths” has been one of our country’s most cherished traditions since the Taft administration, and in that time I’ve never seen a team statistic vary from its league mean by three standard deviations, much less close to four. I don’t suppose there’s a single correct conclusion to be drawn from that observation — mundane circumstances produce statistically zany outcomes once in a great while. But put me down as one vote for “the most statistically extreme thing I’ve yet run across.”

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