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

There are just four major-conference teams missing from this list

nebrut

A picture of Northwestern used to go here.

This was a big year for previously unsuccessful NCAA tournament teams. Northwestern and South Carolina both won tournament games, marking 2017 as the ultimate in upward programmatic mobility.

The list of major-conference programs that have not won a game this century is now down to just four members: Nebraska, Oregon State, Rutgers, and TCU. That being said, we’ll give the Horned Frogs an asterisk on this one. Unlike the Cornhuskers, Beavers, and Scarlet Knights, the fightin’ toads weren’t members of a “power” conference for the entire time period in question.

Every national championship this century has been won by a team at No. 17 or higher on this list. The majority of Division I — 199 teams — is yet to win an NCAA tournament game this century. Continue reading

Four lessons from a hideous title game

UNC

After a thorough statistical review I have determined that the 2017 NCAA tournament stood out most dramatically in terms of turned ankles. Speaking in an actuarial sense, we should be turned-ankle-free now through at least the 2023 brackets. We’re due.

Other conclusions to be drawn….

Hideous title games have to happen
An unsightly mess on the biggest evening of the college basketball year is unfortunate, but it will, unavoidably, occur. The 2011 game between Connecticut and Butler was even worse than what we saw last night. And, while this definitely falls under the heading of “How did you like the play otherwise, Mrs. Lincoln?” praise, North Carolina’s full six-game title run was if nothing else the fastest-paced such campaign by far that we’ve seen since this same program cruised to a much easier title in 2009. The Tar Heels averaged 74 possessions per 40 minutes in the tournament. (Villanova last year: 64.) UNC’s tournament run was a sprint that ended with fouls and missed shots exploding in every direction. Continue reading

There’s a hack for national-title game picks most years, but not for 2017

court

In each of the last 13 national championship games, the team with the better per-possession scoring margin in the five previous tournament games has won:

Tournament games only, through national semifinal
EM: efficiency margin
                          EM
2016  Villanova         +0.38
      North Carolina    +0.25
2015  Duke              +0.28
      Wisconsin         +0.12
2014  Connecticut       +0.12
      Kentucky          +0.06
2013  Louisville        +0.27
      Michigan          +0.20
2012  Kentucky          +0.17
      Kansas            +0.11
2011  Connecticut       +0.17
      Butler            +0.07
2010  Duke              +0.28
      Butler            +0.11
2009  North Carolina    +0.28
      Michigan State    +0.11
2008  Kansas            +0.24
      Memphis           +0.23
2007  Florida           +0.22
      Ohio State        +0.16
2006  Florida           +0.25
      UCLA              +0.19
2005  North Carolina    +0.21
      Illinois          +0.17
2004  Connecticut       +0.21
      Georgia Tech      +0.07         

There are three things you should know about this streak. Continue reading

The Gonzaga miracle before our eyes

Zags

Mark Few (partially obscured), Matt Santangelo, and Dan Monson in the huddle, 1999.

Gonzaga as a program and Mark Few as a coach were written off for years as never being able to win the big one. Then when the Bulldogs and their coach finally did reach the Final Four, they were greeted with the same ho-hum reaction that North Carolina’s getting as a No. 1 seed while everyone (quite rightly) rubs their eyes in amazement at the presence of South Carolina.

That is entirely fitting, and possibly the highest compliment to be paid to a program that was once a mid-major. No one thinks of the Zags as a mid-major program any more. When Few lands a McDonald’s All-American like Zach Collins or schedules a neutral-floor game against Arizona at the Staples Center, no one bats an eye. Well, those are not the hallmarks of a mid-major. Continue reading

A letter to the preseason me

Martin

Who knew?

Dear October version of me,

You turned out to be wrong about a lot of things this season. Yes, on some other things, fine, your were  right. Still, the largest category of all takes in the weird and funky surprises of 2016-17.

Weird and funky surprises of 2016-17
In order of mayhem….

South Carolina made the Final Four. An offense that scored a mere 1,317 points in (well, what do you know?) 1,317 possessions in SEC play hummed along at 1.16 points per trip in the tournament. Sindarius Thornwell continued his SEC player of the year ways, and for the balance of the tournament P.J. Dozier was replaced with an NBA player who had undergone meticulous cosmetic surgery in order to look like the Gamecock sophomore (though even the doppelgänger continued to miss threes so as not to raise too much suspicion). On defense South Carolina forced its first four tournament opponents into giving the ball away on 24 percent of their possessions. You’re not supposed to be able to do that — panicky, error-prone guards should all be at home by late March — but Frank Martin’s men got it done. Continue reading