Don’t fear the layoff

B1G

This week when I attended Big Ten media day in New York City (pictured!), there were several questions raised about the league playing its conference tournament in Madison Square Garden.

The move to the Garden will require the Big Ten to play its tournament a week earlier than what the league’s accustomed to doing, because, as always, the Big East has the World’s Greatest Arena booked for the following weekend leading into Selection Sunday. Consequently, the league’s coaches were asked repeatedly at media day whether this layoff will hurt the performance of their teams in the NCAA tournament.

Whether they were being sincere or not, the coaches said the right things. They said they were excited about playing the Big Ten tournament in the Garden, and that they’re not really worried about a layoff or about moving the whole conference schedule up a week.

What the coaches said, however, is at odds with a piece of hoops folk wisdom that holds that long layoffs before the tournament are to be feared. (To be sure, the other extreme is said to be bad too. No one wants to finish their conference tournament on Sunday afternoon and then open the round of 68 a few time zones away on Thursday at noon Eastern.) The folk wisdom has always interested me on a couple levels. Continue reading

There are still six major conferences

Shockers

A couple years ago, I ventured an opinion to the effect that there were, at that time, six major conferences. Now, with a new season almost upon us and Wichita State following in the footsteps of upwardly mobile predecessors like Creighton and Butler, it’s high time to take another look at the matter.

It turns out that, by my lights, there are still six major conferences. “Power 5” is a football term that should be banished from your basketball vocabulary. Say “major-conference basketball,” and people will know you’re referring to the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC.

Naturally this is a characterization offered in advance of any changes that may be wrought in the American Athletic Conference’s profile this season due to the arrival of the Shockers. Maybe this question will require another look come March. If so, here’s how you’ll find me trying get my arms around the matter at that time….

For my part, I throw three separate yardsticks at the question of whether or not a given group of teams constitutes a “major” conference.

  1. KenPom AdjEM
  2. NCAA tournament seeds
  3. NCAA tournament wins

Continue reading

Coaching, leading, and Rick Pitino

Rick

Rick Pitino was a rarity even among the tiny group of elite coaches at the top of the college basketball pyramid. Let’s define that elite as active coaches who have either won multiple national titles or been to six or more Final Fours.

It’s a short list:

                   Titles     FFs
Mike Krzyzewski      5         12
Roy Williams         3          9
Rick Pitino          2          7
Tom Izzo             1          7
John Calipari        1          6

With the possible exception of Tom Izzo, the Louisville head coach appeared to rely less on recruiting top-20 talent than his fellow legends. He demonstrably relied on it less than John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski, for example, but he also relied on it less than Bill Self or even a relative youngster like Sean Miller.

I had occasion to make this same point when the Louisville staff was found to be cheating on its recruiting by enlisting the assistance of strippers and escorts. That particular episode had zero measurable impact on recruiting. In point of fact, Louisville hasn’t signed an RSCI top-20 recruit since Samardo Samuels arrived on campus in the fall of 2008. Continue reading

Instead of prosecuting bartenders in speakeasies, let’s repeal prohibition

NY

The federal government alleges that Chuck Person, Emanuel Richardson, Lamont Evans, and Tony Bland abused their positions as assistant coaches at Auburn, Arizona, Oklahoma State, and USC, respectively. The Justice Department and FBI charge that these coaches were bribed by sports agents and financial advisors to steer talented players their way. These same federal authorities are also charging that James Gatto paid out six-figure sums to players on behalf of Adidas to secure their commitments to programs (e.g., Louisville, reportedly) affiliated with the shoe brand.

I’m not building any parade floats in honor of any of the above alleged activities, particularly as those activities relate to an alleged willingness to prey on young men so guileless or trusting or both that they would sign up a financial advisor without even Googling the guy. But I also don’t particularly need to see my state actor visit its displeasure upon these actions through the draconian and imprecise medium of its punitive machinery. Above all, I would much prefer to free up my state actor and its limited resources for any number of other far more pressing prosecutorial needs.

Because, speaking as longtime observer of the business of mass-spectator sports on college campuses, we’ve got this one. Trust me. We can fix it ourselves without wiretaps or indictments, though, paradoxically, your wiretaps and indictments may be just the jolt that was needed to do so. Continue reading

Bigs, Bagley, and evaulative habit

Bagley

This week I re-ranked the top 25 players in college basketball on the occasion of Marvin Bagley III reclassifying and joining this year’s freshman class. I put Bagley at No. 1 because he’s been termed the best player to come out of high school since Anthony Davis. If Duke’s star does indeed have a Davis-level impact for the Blue Devils this season, I’ll come off looking like a genius in a vast hegemonic horde of parroting savants.

Whether that particular scenario pans out or not, I do wonder whether this Bagley moment itself may not function as a handy summation, one that can be called The (Evaluative) Trouble with Freshmen. On the one hand, the get-off-my-yard gene in all of us says that, at the very top of the rankings, freshmen are pretty much always overrated.

Markelle Fultz turned out to be as good as advertised, his team missed the tournament entirely, and his coach was fired. Ben Simmons turned out to be as good as advertised, his team missed the tournament entirely, and his coach was (eventually) fired.

Even Jahlil Okafor, who, whatever else you may think of him, was a first-team All-American as a freshman and was the leading scorer on a team that won a national title, is now being pointed at as some kind of museum exhibit for obsolete basketball artifacts and cautionary draft tales. Freshmen are always overrated. Continue reading

Even good math’s downstream from the big decisions

Bubas

(Photo: Tony Triolo, Getty)

When the first preliminary reports reached Winston Churchill regarding the as yet unconfirmed death of his longtime political rival, Stanley Baldwin, he is reputed to have said: “Embalm, cremate, bury at sea! Take no chances!”

Which brings me to the Ratings Percentage Index.

Putting the haplessly erratic RPI out to pasture is long overdue, of course, but, since it hasn’t happened yet, the NCAA voicing a likelihood of doing so by 2018-19 is quite plainly an occasion for genuine, if watchful and conditional, celebration.

In 2012, fresh from the outstanding mock selection exercise that the NCAA runs annually, I speculated that the reason the knowledgeable, diligent, and inquisitive men and women in Indianapolis hadn’t already cast off the RPI’s deleterious cognitive shackles could only have been simple organizational inertia. Decry that inertia if you wish, but don’t wax superior about it. This, surely, is an affliction visited upon us all, varying only in its extent. (I will grant you this was one pretty extreme case.) Continue reading