Monthly Archives: November 2016

Why this week’s poll speaks volumes on the 2017 champion


Indiana is ranked No. 13 in week four. Could be good to know later…. (AJ Mast, AP)

We are now in week four of the college basketball season, and here are the top 13 teams from the latest AP poll:

1.  Kentucky
2.  Villanova
3.  North Carolina
4.  Kansas
5.  Duke
6.  Virginia
7.  Xavier
8.  Gonzaga
9.  Baylor
10. Creighton
11. UCLA
12. Saint Mary’s
13. Indiana

You might be asking why I brought the curtain down on the nation’s top teams at No. 13 instead of an equally arbitrary but more customary number ending in a zero or a five.

Let me stress the word “arbitrary,” but, for now, here’s a fact worth pondering:

Every year since 2004, the eventual national champion has come from one of the top 13 teams in week four’s AP poll. Continue reading

What injury-ravaged Duke might tell us about basketball


Marques Bolden, Sean Obi, Harry Giles, and Jayson Tatum sit and watch. (Charlotte Observer)

Duke entered 2016-17 ranked a resounding No. 1 in the nation, capturing 58 of a possible 65 first-place votes in the preseason AP poll. Alas, Mike Krzyzewski’s charges have turned out to be a rather insistently gimpy resounding No. 1.

Freshmen Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, and Marques Bolden are all yet to appear on the floor this season. Grayson Allen’s been limping noticeably, and both Chase Jeter and Amile Jefferson have been reported as being banged up as well.

Do the math and you’re left with just three current Blue Devil starters who’ve been vouchsafed as possessing more or less normal stores of health and soundness: Matt Jones, Luke Kennard, and Frank Jackson. The descriptive modifier of choice with this team so far on the young season is “injury-ravaged.”

The modifier’s accurate, surely, yet I’ve been moved to wonder whether in this case accuracy can’t additionally be somewhat misleading. If so, it’s possible this particular brand of confusion might be able to tell us an instructive thing or two about the sport. Continue reading

Notes for a lively five-month Markelle Fultz discussion


This season Markelle Fultz will turn out to be brilliant, disappointing or something in between, and of course Washington either will or will not make the NCAA tournament. But I for one promise not to brand Fultz as a disappointment simply because the Huskies don’t receive a bid. In fact, I think it rather likely that Fultz will live up to the hype, and that Lorenzo Romar’s guys will not go dancing. There may be far less friction between these two scenarios than we’re inclined to assume.

In the one-and-done era, there is precious little precedent for a freshman single-handedly and dramatically altering the trajectory of his non-blue-chip program’s season. Yet for some reason, a decade in, we’re still talking like this should indeed happen simply as a matter of course.

We talked like that last year with Ben Simmons despite a preseason chorus of smug pre-Trump laptops saying that LSU, even with the best freshman in the country, was likely to be a bubble team. We may talk like that again with Fultz this season (though yesterday’s loss at home to Yale certainly won’t get any bandwagons rolling).

This gap between the observed performances of the past and our expectations for the near-future has come to constitute something of an esteem tariff that a coach like Romar chooses to pay when signing a one-and-done-track player like Fultz. What a terrible coach, we say. He can’t even do what’s hardly ever been done by anyone else before. It’s a vein of criticism that dates from the widespread disbelief that Kevin Durant could end his freshman season anywhere except the Final Four. It’s been a hearty perennial ever since. Continue reading

College basketball’s unabated evaluative love of the unseen


How many games will they win this season? What seed will they get in the tournament? Who among them will go pro next summer? Good questions. (Mark Zerof, USA Today)

I may be exhibiting the slightest degree of occupational bias, but it is my considered opinion that predicting future events in college basketball represents the most difficult forecasting gig there is, period. Please consider this post a tribute, then, to Ken Pomeroy, Dan Hanner, David Hess, and all of my intrepid colleagues who are engaged in this inherently hazardous line of work. It’s brutal out here.

If there’s a similarly daunting predictive challenge, I’m yet to find it. Other sports? Football introduces some interesting randomness, what with the microscopic number of games, alpha-and-omega nature of the quarterback position and win-probability-shattering pick-sixes. Yet somehow even the gridiron can’t give us anything to compare with Middle Tennessee State on March 18, 2016. (Spoken like a repentant forecaster.) At the end of the day pro sports and college football alike bequeath upon their predictors the cardinal blessing of year-to-year carryover in elite personnel. In college hoops, conversely, the best players by definition (almost) always leave. Continue reading