Let us all welcome our new Duke overlords

Zion

(AP/AJ Mast)

In the wake of Duke’s 118-84 demolition of Kentucky on a neutral floor in Indianapolis, it’s clear that this paragraph from my previous post aged far better than, well, my previous post:

Duke may very well beat Kentucky at the Champions Classic this week, and, if you didn’t think so before, consider the fact that no fewer than 28 out of 30 writers surveyed (including yours truly) think the Blue Devils are going to lose. That kind of consensus fairly begs to be wrong.

I for one will never look at Zion Williamson or RJ Barrett (or, for that matter, the newly feisty and assured Jack White) quite the same way as I did before Election Night 2018.

This was a Champions Classic wipeout on the same magnitude as Kentucky’s 72-40 pummeling of Kansas four years ago. That Wildcat team then went undefeated all the way to the Final Four, and, until further notice, you will hear that kind of expectation voiced with regard to this 2018-19 Duke team.

Too soon, you say? Fine, go fight hoops city hall. These expectations were already being voiced on social media during the second half last night. It’s what happens when you beat the No. 2 team in the country by 34 points. Continue reading

UK’s curiously linear relationship between returning experience and performance

RT

Reid Travis is older and more experienced than your usual Calipari-era Kentucky player. That may turn out to matter, even if he’s not, strictly speaking, “returning.”

Duke may very well beat Kentucky at the Champions Classic this week, and, if you didn’t think so before, consider the fact that no fewer than 28 out of 30 writers surveyed (including yours truly) think the Blue Devils are going to lose. That kind of consensus fairly begs to be wrong. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I would never want to be a member of a club voicing 93 percent agreement on what’s probably more of a 53 percent chance kind of thing.

This is where I additionally point out that a Duke “upset” win (ha) would indeed hold a measurable if still modest amount of predictive heft with regards to the rest of the season. Say “it’s only November” all you want.

The truth is they’ve been playing this four-team Champions thing now for seven years. The 14 winners have, on average, gone on to be seeded almost two full lines higher in the ensuing NCAA tournament than have the 14 losers. In fact, prepare to be shocked. One Champions loser actually missed the tournament entirely. Continue reading

From the archives: “The Trouble with Amateurism”

This seemed worth the vowels and consonants in 2010. By 2015 or so (post-post-Branch), it felt more mundane. Now, apparently, it merits restating.

December 17, 2010
by John Gasaway

(Reprinted from the College Basketball Prospectus, 2010-11.)

“Student-athletes shall be amateurs in an intercollegiate sport, and their participation should be motivated primarily by education, and by the physical, mental and social benefits to be derived. Student participation in intercollegiate athletics is an avocation, and student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises.”
NCAA Principle of Amateurism

1.
Amateurs have given us many of the most sublime moments in sports, and I rejoice that they’ll continue to do so even if it turns out that amateurism isn’t really a principle in the true sense of the word.

No one struggles every day to grow more amateur in their conduct. No parent ever told their child, “It’s important to always be amateur.” No one ever justified a tough decision by saying, “It’s just the amateur thing to do.”

No public official ever called for a new birth of amateurism. No country ever went to war to make the world safe for amateurism. There are no parables about amateurism in the Bible, no fables about amateurism in Aesop’s, and no self-help books about achieving amateurism on Amazon. Amateurism isn’t a principle, it’s an innocent noun caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, staggering under the weight the NCAA has placed upon it. Continue reading

Why measuring player development’s easier than developing players

DipoDunk

Where did Victor Oladipo’s 2013 came from? (Yes, this was a miss. Still.)

In the coming days I’ll post a piece at ESPN.com that purports to rank major-conference coaches on how well they’ve performed in terms of player development over the last eight years.

This might therefore be an appropriate moment to offer the following disclaimer: I’m not really sure to what extent, in the most literal and causal sense, coaches develop players.

More importantly, no one, to my knowledge, is sure on that score. I suppose what we mean by a seemingly benign and straightforward compound noun like “player development” is actually something more like “developing your players’ naturally increasing ability to score and prevent points even faster than opposing coaches do.” That’s quite different than young players merely improving measurable NBA combine-variety skills.

The analytic nut to be cracked is that all college players get better at combine-variety skills. These are athletes between the ages of 18 and 20-something, they’re going to improve naturally and at a fast rate. You did slash are doing so too at that age. Continue reading

What we talk about when we talk about “major” conferences

AZ

Major-conference status is subject to change, but not merely on the basis of one really good, or really bad, tournament. (AP/Otto Kitsinger)

If you see someone say or write “power 5” in a basketball context, it means they’re not actually talking or writing in a basketball context. Excluding one of the six major conferences — the one that’s won two of the last three national titles, no less — just because it doesn’t play FBS football is, in basketball terms, problematic.

In other nomenclature news, there are still, by my lights, six major conferences.

Let’s look at the contenders for this label starting with the 2014 season, when conference memberships assumed more or less their current form.

1. Tournament wins
Congratulations, ACC. It’s been an impressive five years in the tournament, even allowing for the fact that you have 15 teams with which to flood that zone while other majors have just 10.

NCAA tournament wins, 2014-18

Based on current memberships
              Total wins    Per team-season
1. ACC            69             0.92
2. Big 12         41             0.82
3. Big Ten        47             0.69
4. Big East       31             0.62
5. SEC            40             0.57
6. Pac-12         31             0.52
7. American       18             0.33       

Continue reading

The cumulative game

EP

There’s something to be said for combining a very low turnover rate with normal (or even below-average) offensive rebounding, a la Villanova. Conversely, other teams may be underperforming by four or even five points per game due to a sheer lack of scoring chances. (Bill Streicher, USA Today Sports)

Over the past couple years, I’ve started wondering whether the manner in which our brains are hard-wired is conspiring with the inherent nature of basketball to keep us from recognizing how important it is to generate a lot of shot attempts.

Consider the Premier League. A proper appreciation of shots that had a chance to go in but didn’t for Arsenal or Chelsea constitutes a rudimentary level of “well, duh” analysis. In that setting, shots on goal are a really big deal. They’re tracked closely and dissected individually by the studio talent after the match.

In basketball, however, attempted shots are the fabric of the game itself. Attempts in this sport are numerous, unremarkable in isolation, and, indeed, most of them (56 percent, give or take) are misses. Shots that don’t go in aren’t exciting visually, they’re never featured in highlights, and each miss represents a failure, of sorts. Continue reading

RPI, fatally flawed metric, finally dead at 38

ncaanews

NCAA newsletter, 1981

The Ratings Percentage Index, a misbegotten multi-sport statistic that mistakenly became an object of misplaced obsession for everyone connected with men’s college basketball, died Wednesday at the age of 38. The death was announced by the metric’s lone sponsor and last surviving adherent, the NCAA.

No official cause of death had been announced by Wednesday afternoon, though the RPI had long suffered from complications associated with chronic analytic confusion.

When the RPI was born in the fall of 1980 (no definitive birth date has ever been established), college basketball games were only sporadically televised, the NCAA tournament field consisted of 48 teams, and the men’s basketball committee had little or no reliable data with which to support its selection and seeding decisions. Continue reading