Your category 5 update for 2016-17

rosterdurham

Not counting the 10 suits, a group like this only happens in Division I once every 1.8 years.

Now that Duke is rounding into form health-wise, this may be an appropriate moment to revisit the idea of the category 5 roster. With Mike Krzyzewski giving serious minutes to Jayson Tatum and the coach also saying that Harry Giles may play before Christmas, this epochal-roster-strength stuff is no longer a conceptual exercise where the Blue Devils are concerned. The speculative “when Duke gets healthy” dream pieces have been retired, and unalloyed present-tense adulation (heresy just two weeks ago) has begun in earnest.

A category 5 roster is one that returns at least 40 percent of its possession-minutes from the previous season, and adds a freshman class that rates out at 25 recruiting points or better based on Drew Cannon’s canonical front-loaded evaluative curve.

Duke has the nation’s only category 5 roster for 2016-17. Here’s how the Blue Devils and Kentucky fare on the metrics in question this season:

                           Recruiting
                %RPMs        points
Duke              56          36.6
Kentucky          26          35.4    

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Why this week’s poll speaks volumes on the 2017 champion

hoosiers

Indiana is ranked No. 13 in week four. Could be good to know later…. (AJ Mast, AP)

We are now in week four of the college basketball season, and here are the top 13 teams from the latest AP poll:

1.  Kentucky
2.  Villanova
3.  North Carolina
4.  Kansas
5.  Duke
6.  Virginia
7.  Xavier
8.  Gonzaga
9.  Baylor
10. Creighton
11. UCLA
12. Saint Mary’s
13. Indiana

You might be asking why I brought the curtain down on the nation’s top teams at No. 13 instead of an equally arbitrary but more customary number ending in a zero or a five.

Let me stress the word “arbitrary,” but, for now, here’s a fact worth pondering:

Every year since 2004, the eventual national champion has come from one of the top 13 teams in week four’s AP poll. Continue reading

What injury-ravaged Duke might tell us about basketball

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Marques Bolden, Sean Obi, Harry Giles, and Jayson Tatum sit and watch. (Charlotte Observer)

Duke entered 2016-17 ranked a resounding No. 1 in the nation, capturing 58 of a possible 65 first-place votes in the preseason AP poll. Alas, Mike Krzyzewski’s charges have turned out to be a rather insistently gimpy resounding No. 1.

Freshmen Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, and Marques Bolden are all yet to appear on the floor this season. Grayson Allen’s been limping noticeably, and both Chase Jeter and Amile Jefferson have been reported as being banged up as well.

Do the math and you’re left with just three current Blue Devil starters who’ve been vouchsafed as possessing more or less normal stores of health and soundness: Matt Jones, Luke Kennard, and Frank Jackson. The descriptive modifier of choice with this team so far on the young season is “injury-ravaged.”

The modifier’s accurate, surely, yet I’ve been moved to wonder whether in this case accuracy can’t additionally be somewhat misleading. If so, it’s possible this particular brand of confusion might be able to tell us an instructive thing or two about the sport. Continue reading

Notes for a lively five-month Markelle Fultz discussion

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This season Markelle Fultz will turn out to be brilliant, disappointing or something in between, and of course Washington either will or will not make the NCAA tournament. But I for one promise not to brand Fultz as a disappointment simply because the Huskies don’t receive a bid. In fact, I think it rather likely that Fultz will live up to the hype, and that Lorenzo Romar’s guys will not go dancing. There may be far less friction between these two scenarios than we’re inclined to assume.

In the one-and-done era, there is precious little precedent for a freshman single-handedly and dramatically altering the trajectory of his non-blue-chip program’s season. Yet for some reason, a decade in, we’re still talking like this should indeed happen simply as a matter of course.

We talked like that last year with Ben Simmons despite a preseason chorus of smug pre-Trump laptops saying that LSU, even with the best freshman in the country, was likely to be a bubble team. We may talk like that again with Fultz this season (though yesterday’s loss at home to Yale certainly won’t get any bandwagons rolling).

This gap between the observed performances of the past and our expectations for the near-future has come to constitute something of an esteem tariff that a coach like Romar chooses to pay when signing a one-and-done-track player like Fultz. What a terrible coach, we say. He can’t even do what’s hardly ever been done by anyone else before. It’s a vein of criticism that dates from the widespread disbelief that Kevin Durant could end his freshman season anywhere except the Final Four. It’s been a hearty perennial ever since. Continue reading

College basketball’s unabated evaluative love of the unseen

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How many games will they win this season? What seed will they get in the tournament? Who among them will go pro next summer? Good questions. (Mark Zerof, USA Today)

I may be exhibiting the slightest degree of occupational bias, but it is my considered opinion that predicting future events in college basketball represents the most difficult forecasting gig there is, period. Please consider this post a tribute, then, to Ken Pomeroy, Dan Hanner, David Hess, and all of my intrepid colleagues who are engaged in this inherently hazardous line of work. It’s brutal out here.

If there’s a similarly daunting predictive challenge, I’m yet to find it. Other sports? Football introduces some interesting randomness, what with the microscopic number of games, alpha-and-omega nature of the quarterback position and win-probability-shattering pick-sixes. Yet somehow even the gridiron can’t give us anything to compare with Middle Tennessee State on March 18, 2016. (Spoken like a repentant forecaster.) At the end of the day pro sports and college football alike bequeath upon their predictors the cardinal blessing of year-to-year carryover in elite personnel. In college hoops, conversely, the best players by definition (almost) always leave. Continue reading

Great offense is an outcome, great shooting is an event

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If Thomas Walkup bumps into any Villanova players, he can set them straight on which team really had the most remarkable shooting performance of 2015-16.

Watching Villanova do amazing NCAA tournament things in terms of scoring against Miami and in terms of shooting against Oklahoma made me realize I didn’t really have good information close at hand to describe just how amazing this was. I resolved to be better prepared the next time a once-in-a-generation feat takes place.

In the offseason I’ve compiled a quick and dirty record book of the best scoring and shooting performances in the seven thousand major-conference games that have been played since 2006. Last week I rolled out part one of this data, the 10 best scoring games we’ve seen in major-conference play in the last decade. One takeaway here was that if you want to see historically insane scoring, your chances are increased dramatically by attending a Big Ten game on senior day-slash-night.

Now I want to look at shooting. If you’re wondering how impressed you should have been by the 82.7 effective field goal percentage that Jay Wright’s team posted against the Sooners, the answer there is “extremely.” Out of seven thousand games (6,996, if you must know), I’ve only seen that mark bettered twice. In fact teams record an eFG north of 80 percent, on average, less than once a year.

                           opponent      H/A   eFG    PPP   PF  PA  MOV
1.  Clemson 12-Jan-11      Georgia Tech   H    83.3  1.31   87  62   25
2.  Ohio St. 6-Mar-11      Wisconsin      H    83.0  1.61   93  65   28
3.  Providence 23-Feb-14   Butler         A    82.1  1.37   87  81    6
4.  Illinois 6-Jan-11      Northwestern	  H    80.7  1.20   88  63   25
5.  W. Virginia 31-Jan-07  Rutgers        A    80.4  1.48   89  83    6
6.  Illinois 29-Dec-10     Iowa           A    80.2  1.30   87  77   10
7.  Arizona 7-Mar-09       Stanford       H    80.0  1.41  101  87   14

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The political economy of college sports is infuriating, profitable, and remarkably resistant to asteroids

Paige

The viewership for this game was, comparatively speaking, terrible. Why didn’t that matter to advertisers? (USA Today)

This week USA Today followed in Kyle Whelliston’s venerable footsteps and termed college sports a “bubble” that’s sure to pop sooner or later. Something strange happened in between the piece’s inception and publication, however, because the final product turns out to consist of a labored and rather convoluted lede placed atop the latest iteration of what has long been an excellent and even invaluable set of data.

For starters the nominal news hook presented by the numbers — most athletic departments operate at what they are pleased to term deficits — would seem to be something of an awkward fit for our traditional stock of “bubble” iconography. Maybe it’s me, but I always assumed that tulip merchants in 1637, the South Sea Company in 1720, Webvan.com in 1999, and subprime lenders in 2006 instead showed astronomic operating surpluses. In fact I rather thought this was precisely the red flag in those cases.

Nor is it clear why a bubble would aptly describe a revenue model now entering its sixth decade of “Seriously! Any day now!” impending legal doom. Finally, fretting about those darned young people and their cord-cutting in a piece based in no small measure on a brand new TV deal whose lead signatory is a legacy broadcaster founded in 1927 qualifies as still another curious ratiocinative choice, surely.

Far from being an “unstable situation,” college sports in general, college basketball more especially, and the NCAA tournament in particular instead present a series of successively smaller and progressively more advantageously situated concentric circles characterized by an unusual degree of hardiness solely as media properties. There are variables in play, naturally, and it’s not too much to term the threat of legal exposure “existential” — with regard to the NCAA. I don’t know who or what will be governing the sport in 2032, and I do trust that by then the players will have long since been receiving their fair share of the resulting revenues.

But if we view the essentials of the tournament as nothing more or less than 68 college teams playing 67 games of win-or-go-home basketball over three weeks from mid-March to early April, I’m yet to see anything even remotely persuasive in the way of a Book of Revelation. The essentials are eyeballs and basketballs, and if a tournament that earned record-setting revenues for a decade before, during and after the largest economic calamity since the Great Depression constitutes a bubble, well, put me down as bullish on this particular bubble.  Continue reading