Monthly Archives: March 2016

An accelerated and higher-scoring version of Madness


Are you not entertained? (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Maybe it’s just me, but it seemed like this March there was a marked drop in the number of more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger pre-mortems for college basketball. True, there was one such foray that I know of, and, to be sure, there could be more to come. The week before the Final Four’s a five-day blank canvass for eager coroners of the sport. Perhaps I’m a little too eager to be the coroner of coroners. We’ll see.

Still, it’s possible that the sudden downturn in doomsaying so far can be traced to a realization that is both quantitative and rooted in that proverbial gut we’re always consulting so assiduously. Even back in the bad old days of the Scoring Crisis and a 35-second clock, the NCAA tournament was still rather entertaining. Now the event is a faster-paced and higher-scoring version of its usual rollicking self. That plus a charitably selective memory (we’ll look past Wisconsin-Pitt and remember Wisconsin-Xavier) makes for a media property worth billions.

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A selection at war with itself


Every year a bracket comes out, and every year there’s plenty of yelling and screaming to the effect that this is the worst bracket in history and lovable mid-major X that just missed the cut has been traduced in a way no other team ever has been before. That’s what Sunday night and Monday morning are for. Then we promptly forget about the yelling and screaming and we savor the actual games.

The same sequence will play out in 2016, and that’s fine. In this brief, fleeting moment when there are no games, however, I want to hold on to this feeling of dissatisfaction for just a second and suggest that it’s the product of a selection process that’s undergoing an arduous and unavoidably public transition. If I’m right, many of the same bracket objections will be filed by we the people next year even if the committee doesn’t pull a Tulsa.

In effect the selection process is navigating three transitions at once. All three changes are difficult to navigate (or at least the NCAA’s making it look that way), and last night we saw the stormy petulance of an adolescent raging at its fate. Continue reading

How to watch Selection Sunday 2016


This is where the selection magic will happen today. (Photo: Nicole Auerbach.)

I’m hearing a good deal of talk to the effect that this is the closest or toughest selection ever. One possibility is that this sentiment is a backhanded acknowledgment that basketball-specific metrics are gaining greater acceptance in the committee room by default if not by rule. (Four years ago I dreamily envisioned such a day. Well, it’s likely here.) When you have accurate information at your elbow, you can see how excruciatingly complex that bubble you’ve been assaulting with a blunt instrument for decades really has been all that time.

If UConn beats Memphis in the inconveniently late American title game this afternoon, what you will have is effectively eight teams chasing four bids. For the moment let’s just stick with this scenario. Here are your eight bubble aspirants, listed in rough order of Lunardi-Palm bullishness.

Just four will dance (the “UConn wins today” scenario)
South Carolina
San Diego State
Saint Mary’s

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Final Four teams are way better at taking shots than they are at making them


The mystery of Duke 2010 — solved!

Last season I was struck by how some of the most incredible performances we saw from teams on offense were not necessarily all that incredible in terms of shooting. I realize this was a long time ago, but think back, for example, to the 82-50 win that Frank Kaminsky-era Wisconsin recorded at home against Iowa. That day the Badgers committed just one turnover and scored an absurd 1.52 points per possession while making 54 percent of their twos and 41 percent of their threes.

Obviously the shooting displayed by Bo Ryan’s guys against the Hawkeyes was excellent, but it’s at least possible for the very best offenses to achieve that roughly that same level of accuracy over an entire season. (Indeed that’s about how well Iowa State just shot in Big 12 play.) Conversely no offense in the history of the game has ever or will ever come anywhere close to scoring a point-and-a-half per trip for any appreciable multi-game length of time.

Mindful of this fact, I made a mental note to look into this whole matter of launching shots in mass quantities. (I vaguely remember thinking I’d use a picture of Phil Spector and tackle the subject under a “Wall of Shots” headline.) Then I got busy and did other things. Continue reading

Tuesday Truths: Final Reality


He looks like you look when you’re trying to look relaxed.

Events move fast this time of year. Seven days ago I was patiently building an airtight and irrefutable case for why I would not pick likely No. 8 or 9 seed Wichita State in a round of 32 game against a No. 1 seed. Now the Shockers are said to be in danger of falling out of the field entirely. It’s like I’ve been preparing to defend Aqaba, but now the invaders have come from the land instead of the sea.

The plight faced by Gregg Marshall’s team will rightly be discussed from now until Sunday. Here are three more thoughts to toss into that mix.

The mock bracket confusion triggered by Wichita State is extreme but not unprecedented
It’s true that some name-brand bracketologists have the Shockers out of the field entirely, while others have them as a No. 7 seed. That’s unusual, to say the least. Still, it turns out that past mock brackets have disagreed even more sharply on other teams. Continue reading

Are the committee’s selections slowly getting better or just easier to predict?


The 65-team field was statistically puzzling in 2007. Things have been more predictable lately, though the courts are less distinctive visually.

One way to think of the NCAA tournament is as the most popular nightclub in town. The men’s basketball committee is the bouncer, of course, stationed outside the club and working the rope line. There are 351 teams queued up hoping to get in, and the bouncer gives familiar and knowing nods to the first 20 or so teams as they breeze in. It’s pretty much the same group every year.

Next, after the usual teams have been waved through, there is always the same number of unfamiliar and oddly attired out-of-towners who show up. Once they explain that they’ve won the conference tournaments in their one-bid leagues, however, these teams are also let in.

Lastly, there are the toughest decisions of all. These are the final at-larges, and up until a few years ago the best way to get in was to engage in some form of the following conversation. For example this particular discussion took place in 2012:

SOUTHERN MISS: Uh, hi, I’m Southern Miss. I think I’m on your list for 2012.

BOUNCER (suspicious, checks clipboard). Nope, sorry, pal. Don’t see you. Wait behind the rope, please.

SOUTHERN MISS: I think there must be some mistake. I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be on the list. My RPI is 21.

BOUNCER: Right this way.

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Tuesday Truths: Law of March Twitter edition


In? Out? Twitter will know.

Customarily when March arrives a proposal will surface to expand the NCAA tournament to include every team in Division I. I’m not opposed to the idea, I just think that in effect it’s what we already have. The blank-slate pathway to the field of 68 that’s made available to (nearly) every team is the best thing about the first half of the calendar’s best month.

Now that NJIT is safely ensconced in an auto-bid conference, the tournament-eligible population is once again synonymous with the non-banned and non-self-imposed-ban portion of D-I itself. Every eligible team in the nation save eight (sorry, Ivy — but what you have is kind of cool too) gets a court, a ball and 40 minutes in the form of a bid in their conference tournament. Win enough games and you’re dancing.

It may seem self-evident to observe that most teams don’t win their conference tournaments, but every March I’m struck by Twitter’s hard-wired zeal to proclaim that every single losing team beyond only the most obvious blue-chippers has seen their bubble burst. Losing in a conference tournament does indeed decrease your chances of getting into the field of 68, and Twitter understands this point well. Too well, in fact. Thus the Law of March Twitter:

Fandom hath no hurry like the rush to declare every conference tournament loser “out” of the NCAA tournament.

What my feed loses sight of annually, however, is that there’s a countervailing force being exerted on the losers’ behalf in the form of a fixed number of at-large berths. This ratio — 36 at-large bids versus 300-some-odd losing teams in conference tournaments — stays the same every year as one “weakest bubble ever” follows another like clockwork.

When you hear Twitter saying last rites for your team, grieve not. Rather find strength in what remains behind, namely the fact that the committee has to get to 68 somehow.

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.

It’s unclear how many of the A-10’s clear top three will go dancing
Through games of February 29, 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                  13-3   70.1    1.13    0.96    +0.17
2.  Saint Joseph's       13-3   70.3    1.12    0.97    +0.15
3.  Dayton               12-4   67.7    1.06    0.94    +0.12
4.  George Washington    10-6   66.5    1.09    1.02    +0.07
5.  St. Bonaventure      12-4   68.9    1.13    1.06    +0.07
6.  Rhode Island          8-8   64.9    1.06    1.01    +0.05
7.  Davidson              9-7   70.1    1.13    1.11    +0.02
8.  Richmond              7-9   67.5    1.10    1.09    +0.01
9.  Duquesne             5-11   74.0    1.03    1.08    -0.05
10. UMass                5-11   70.8    0.98    1.07    -0.09
11. Fordham              6-10   67.0    0.99    1.08    -0.09
12. George Mason         4-12   69.4    0.99    1.10    -0.11
13. Saint Louis          5-11   70.1    0.92    1.05    -0.13
14. La Salle             3-13   65.5    0.93    1.13    -0.20

AVG.                            68.8    1.05
KenPom rank: 8
% of games played: 89

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