Monthly Archives: February 2016

How to succeed on offense without really making shots


If you’re waiting for UNC’s love of two-point jumpers to doom its offense, well, keep waiting.

This season North Carolina is rather rudely meddling with the primal forces of analytic nature, ranking near the top of Division I in offensive efficiency at yet doing so by shooting more two-point jumpers than any team in the country. The sport as a whole is moving emphatically toward the threes-and-dunks approach on shot selection, yet here are the Tar Heels still firing away on low-efficiency jumpers inside the arc like it’s 1986.

Then again Roy Williams may not be as antiquarian as that sounds. In recent years Carolina has copped a page from Bo Ryan, and this season the team’s posting its lowest turnover percentage (15.5) ever in ACC play under Williams. That plus garden-variety beastly offensive rebounding — par for the course in Chapel Hill — means the Heels attempt a tremendous number of shots (which, indeed, tend to be of the two-point jumper variety). Continue reading

Tuesday Truths: Justice can wait edition

It’s been two weeks now since the Farce at Fort Collins, time enough to sift the rubble, digest the lessons learned, and make recommendations for the future.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s that requiring officials to huddle around a monitor is no guarantor of justice. Indeed it appears that requiring officials to do so with regard to teams from the state of Colorado in particular is, for some unknown reason, a positive menace.

Reviews drive everyone crazy. They drive me crazy too. Intrusions do detract from the game, and they need to be whittled down to a bare minimum. In a perfect world we would have correct calls every time delivered instantly.

We don’t live in a perfect world. In the old days, of course, we simply lived with the “delivered instantly” part. That did not always go well. Someone needs to write up the cross-sport history of reviews, but my cursory exploration of the subject suggests the 1979 AFC championship game might be a good place to start.

Much closer to temporal home, we may want to think back to the 2011 Big East tournament before we embark on any reforms of the review process. Possibly the only thing worse than seeing refs huddle around a monitor is seeing refs abjectly refuse to huddle around a monitor.

Maybe the next time a Fort Collins situation arises the refs can make sure the replay is running at the correct speed.

Welcome to Tuesday Truths, where I look at how well 55 mid-majors are doing against their league opponents on a per-possession basis.

Major-conference Truths are at ESPN Insider.

A-10: The spelling gods visit their wrath on the “Fayers”
Through games of February 22, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  VCU                  12-2   70.4    1.15    0.95    +0.20
2.  Dayton               11-3   68.0    1.09    0.94    +0.15
3.  Saint Joseph's       11-3   70.3    1.13    0.98    +0.15
4.  George Washington     9-5   66.4    1.10    1.03    +0.07
5.  St. Bonaventure      10-4   68.8    1.12    1.05    +0.07
6.  Rhode Island          7-7   65.0    1.07    1.01    +0.06
7.  Davidson              8-6   70.5    1.13    1.11    +0.02
8.  Richmond              6-8   67.0    1.11    1.11     0.00
9.  Duquesne              5-9   74.4    1.04    1.07    -0.03
10. UMass                 5-9   71.0    0.98    1.06    -0.08
11. Fordham              4-10   67.2    0.97    1.09    -0.12
12. Saint Louis           5-9   70.3    0.94    1.07    -0.13
13. George Mason         3-11   69.1    0.98    1.12    -0.14
14. La Salle             2-12   65.4    0.92    1.15    -0.23

AVG.                            68.8    1.05
KenPom rank: 8
% of games played: 78

Continue reading

Twos are dying


“Let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Buddy Hield is the only player who’s making about half his threes while attempting about eight of them a game. I’m Max Landis, and I approved this message. No, not that Max Landis.”

So far in 2015-16, attempts from inside the arc have comprised just 64.8 percent of all shots in Division I. True, 64.8 percent of anything is a fair share. Nevertheless, that figure does represent an all-time low. To quote a movie, at this rate twos will disappear entirely in another 27 years.

It is therefore fair to say that a three-point revolution is at hand. Being the helpful, proactive, and modest sort, I’ve prepared a brief précis to help you safely navigate this bold new era’s tumbrils and barricades. Enjoy.

There’s a reason it may seem like you’re not really seeing a revolution
Strictly speaking threes are at an all-time high across the breadth of D-I, but, as always when the subject is college basketball, this is somewhat misleading. No human being watches all of D-I, and the numbers that emerge from this vast unseen monolith are driven by a bulky majority of programs that even most professional college basketball writers never once glimpse during a given season. For example the most perimeter-oriented leagues in the nation are currently the SoCon, the Big South, and the MAAC. Conversely, the teams that more fans and writers do tend to watch are, rather ironically, the exceptions to the revolutionary rule.
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Tuesday Truths: Mock selection edition

The NCAA’s annual mock selection exercise was held last week, and as usual this meant my Twitter stream was filled with (literally) minute-to-minute updates on which No. 9 seed was going 130 miles more distant to which arena in a wholly fictitious bracket. In my most idealized self-conception I most certainly didn’t send out such tweets in February of 2012. In reality I probably did.

(By the way, moving the actual selection to NYC  is an excellent move. Salute.)

When mock selection occurs, the continuing presence of the three-letter antique is made painfully clear. In fact if I were a conspiratorial sort (I rejoice I am not), I would speculate that the NCAA goes through this exercise just so my brethren and sistren in the media will tweet out team sheets to show that once again the three-letter antique is the very bone and sinew of this entire selection process. Speak now or forever hold our peace.

I’ve spoken, and it’s still here. So be it. It will still be here next year, and I’ll still believe that obsessing over “top-50” wins with a metric that’s off by 50 or more spots seven percent of the time is a tad counterproductive, inertial and needlessly blinkered by an arbitrary fascination with round numbers. But it will still be here next year.

I will be too.

Welcome to Tuesday Truths, where I look at how well 55 mid-majors are doing against their league opponents on a per-possession basis.

Major-conference Truths are at ESPN Insider.

A-10: Dave Paulsen really does not like takeaways
Through games of February 15, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Dayton               11-1   67.4    1.11    0.91    +0.20
2.  VCU                  10-2   70.5    1.14    0.94    +0.20
3.  Saint Joseph's       10-2   69.7    1.12    0.95    +0.17
4.  Rhode Island          6-6   64.4    1.07    0.98    +0.09
5.  St. Bonaventure       9-3   68.9    1.13    1.05    +0.08
6.  Richmond              6-6   67.2    1.11    1.07    +0.04
7.  George Washington     7-5   65.8    1.08    1.06    +0.02
8.  Davidson              6-6   70.7    1.10    1.09    +0.01
9.  Duquesne              5-7   75.5    1.03    1.05    -0.02
10. UMass                 4-8   71.5    0.98    1.07    -0.09
11. Fordham               3-9   66.7    0.96    1.10    -0.14
12. George Mason          3-9   69.2    0.98    1.14    -0.16
13. Saint Louis           3-9   70.2    0.93    1.09    -0.16
14. La Salle             1-11   65.0    0.93    1.16    -0.23

AVG.                            68.8    1.05
KenPom rank: 8
% of games played: 67

Continue reading

Louisville, path dependence, and punditry


Billy Minardi Hall.

Last Friday Louisville announced that its investigation of its strippers-and-escorts scandal had led it to self-impose a postseason ban on the men’s basketball team for this season. This means Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, who transferred into the program this season as seniors and thus had no connection to the events described in Katina Powell’s book, will not play in an NCAA tournament where otherwise the Cardinals were most assuredly going to land a really nice seed.

I’m obviously late to this particular topical party (Mondays and Tuesdays are hectic around here), and, anyway, my first order of business is a simple amen. It really is awful that the postseason dreams of Lee and Lewis have been sacrificed on the altar of post-facto justice, and I dare say they’ve carried themselves far better than I would have at age 23. Please file what follows not under “Yes, but,” much less “On the contrary!” This is more of a “Yes, and,” exercise.

Once strippers and escorts were paid to be at Billy Minardi Hall, everything else — even any correct decision taken subsequently — was going to be a footnote
Louisville’s decision to forego the 2016 NCAA tournament has its fair share of critics in February, but back in October there was no lack of published speculation that the Cardinals would in fact do precisely what they’ve just done. What has changed over the last four months is nothing more complex or material than the fact that Rick Pitino has turned out to have a much better team than we thought he would have. This fact makes the postseason ban all the more painful for Lee and Lewis, surely, but, speaking now as a punditry, is this really how we wish to codify our theory of moral sentiments? That postseason bans are fine (hello, Missouri) as long as you’re not going to make the tournament anyway?
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Tuesday Truths: Art-of-the-question edition


Cam Newton walked out of a certain press conference on Sunday night, and I immediately thought of interview guru John Sawatsky. Then again I’m weird. After all, maybe Newton left because he overheard Denver cornerback Chris Harris giving a somewhat boastful interview of his own on the other side of a nearby logo-bedecked curtain.

In any event, the spectacle of a Super Bowl quarterback walking out on the Fourth Estate resulted in a Zapruder-like focus on the questions leading up to Newton’s hasty exit. For the record, those questions were as follows:

Q. Can you put into words the disappointment you feel right now?

A. We lost.

Q. Did Denver change anything defensively to take away your running lanes?

A. No.

Q. I know you’re disappointed not just for yourself, but your teammates. It’s got to be real tough.

A. [shakes head] I’m done, man.

Press conferences are tough, and huge press conferences are especially difficult. Goodness knows I’ve mangled questions in them myself. It’s also true that if an interview subject is fully committed to being a recalcitrant and enigmatic frog in the rain, no question however artfully phrased is going to change that.

Nevertheless these three questions, purely as disembodied objects of study, contain within them no shortage of cautionary lessons. (For starters one of them isn’t even a question.) Rather than merely sift rubble, however, allow me instead to pass along this interview that my colleague Jeff Goodman did a couple weeks ago with Bob Huggins. Jeff got an abundance of good stuff from West Virginia’s head coach, and from my chair he was able to do so because he Sawatsky’d the heck out of their session.

Welcome to Tuesday Truths, where I look at how well 55 mid-majors are doing against their league opponents on a per-possession basis.

Major-conference Truths are at ESPN Insider.

A-10: My streak of consecutive posts without a pun on Charles Cooke’s name continues!
Through games of February 8, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Dayton                9-1   66.7    1.13    0.90    +0.23
2.  VCU                   9-1   70.8    1.15    0.96    +0.19
3.  Saint Joseph's        8-2   70.6    1.08    0.95    +0.13
4.  Rhode Island          5-5   64.0    1.07    0.98    +0.09
5.  St. Bonaventure       7-3   70.3    1.15    1.07    +0.08
6.  George Washington     7-3   66.7    1.10    1.03    +0.07
7.  Richmond              4-6   67.8    1.11    1.10    +0.01
8.  Davidson              5-5   71.9    1.11    1.11     0.00
9.  Duquesne              5-5   74.8    1.03    1.04    -0.01
10. UMass                 2-8   70.5    0.95    1.08    -0.13
11. Saint Louis           3-7   70.9    0.95    1.09    -0.14
12. George Mason          2-8   69.9    0.99    1.15    -0.16
13. Fordham               3-7   67.4    0.94    1.10    -0.16
14. La Salle              1-9   64.6    0.92    1.14    -0.22

AVG.                            69.1    1.05
KenPom rank: 8
% of games played: 56

Continue reading

Buddy Hield’s season is impossible


What we’re seeing is Beamon-esque.

This season I’ve adopted a new morning ritual. I check the previous evening’s scores, glance at the headlines, and then I devote a minute or two exclusively to Buddy Hield.

If by chance Oklahoma has played the previous evening, I’ll watch those highlights. Or if the Sooners are between games, I might find myself gazing upon Hield’s body of numerical work and trying, once again, to take the true measure of what I’m seeing….

It’s good to know my need to try to situate Hield within some kind of rational framework is a shared affliction. Last week I realized that Luke Winn, Kevin Pelton, and I were all simultaneously running Hield-triggered searches on 22 years’ worth of Division I basketball at Luke heralded Hield’s membership in the 50-50-90 club. Kevin wants to gently dissuade NBA general managers from thinking this remarkable Hield of Dreams thing can possibly continue at the next level. Continue reading