Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Gonzaga miracle before our eyes


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


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

Carousel speed as social-media artifact


With job changes in 2008, 2011, 2014, and 2017, Cuonzo Martin is a one-man (cyclical) carousel. (

It started with NC State. The Wolfpack let Mark Gottfried go way back in mid-February. Then came news of openings at Missouri, LSU, Illinois, Indiana, Washington, and, finally, Georgetown.

Cuonzo Martin took the job at Missouri, creating an opening at Cal, and Brad Underwood elected to take the helm at Illinois, leaving behind a vacant chair at Oklahoma State.

That makes nine major-conference head coaches who will be rookies in their positions next season. Naturally, that number could go higher still if one or more of the remaining openings (Indiana, Cal, Oklahoma State, Georgetown) were to be filled by a candidate who’s presently a major-conference coach somewhere else.

It feels like an unusually active carousel this season, and by “feels like” I refer not to any silly conventional wisdom out there in the world at large but to my own real-time reactions. The past 10 days it’s felt like I can’t write two paragraphs without my phone chirping at me about yet another coaching move.

Well, it turns out my real-time reactions are slightly misleading. This isn’t even close to the most active carousel season we’ve seen this century.  Continue reading

These are the teams that can generate shots

Va Tech

Virginia Tech ranked No. 74 out of 75 major-conference teams for shot volume, and the Hokies’ offense was above-average anyway. What is this voodoo that you do, Buzz Williams?

Basketball’s a contest to see who can put the ball in the basket the most times, and for whatever reason fans, media, and, especially, coaches (at least when they speak for public consumption) have always chosen to focus on whether a particular attempt is a make or a miss. We go into exceptional and occasionally tedious detail on the importance of creating one’s own shot, the finer points of pick-and-roll kabuki (particularly on D), proper defensive stance and hand position and such.

All of which is self-evidently important, but all of which also assumes implicitly that the number of times you get to attempt a shot is more or less constant across teams and games. That assumption doesn’t hold up.

In addition to in-play success or failure, the volume of plays is the other 50 percent of the matter that’s getting perhaps five or 10 percent of the words and attention. To redress this imbalance, I’ve been using a shot volume index this season to try to measure which teams generate the most shots. I’ve listed the final results on that metric for 75 major-conference teams below. Continue reading

A viewer’s guide to Selection Sunday


Stanford Robinson, Jeff Dowtin and Hassan Martin straddle the ridge between 67 happy teams and 283 benighted programs who will blame the coach, refs, the committee, East Coast bias, or all of the above. Welcome to Selection Sunday.

There are three broad areas of suspense in play for Selection Sunday 2017. Two of these areas are inherent to the endeavor itself and therefore venerable. The third’s arisen just within the past few years as a result of the committee’s unstated and perhaps unconscious but nevertheless unmistakable moments of Cal Trask-like rage against the unbidden and unwelcome KenPom dad figure.

The three areas of suspense to watch are:

1. The No. 1 seeds
I’ve suggested from time to time that No. 1 seeds don’t really matter. Villanova did pretty well without one last year, and, anyway, the magic numero uno is purely an artifact of how many quote-unquote regions there are. If the committee someday decides we should have 72 teams and eight regions with nine teams each, are we really going to obsess over the cut line on the S-curve between team Nos. 8 and 9? That answer would be yes. Admit it. Continue reading

Tuesday Truths: Final reality

Welcome to this season’s final installment of Tuesday Truths, where I look at how well 120 teams in the nation’s top 10 conferences did against their league opponents on a per-possession basis.

A shot volume dynasty


UNC’s dominance on the offensive glass is made even more effective by the Tar Heels’ low turnover rate. (Jeffrey A. Camarati)

Through games of March 5, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession   Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

ACC                       W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  North Carolina       14-4   70.2    1.16    1.03    +0.13
2.  Louisville           12-6   67.9    1.13    1.01    +0.12
3.  Virginia             11-7   60.6    1.05    0.95    +0.10
4.  Florida State        12-6   71.1    1.12    1.03    +0.09
5.  Duke                 11-7   68.7    1.14    1.08    +0.06
6.  Notre Dame           12-6   67.9    1.10    1.05    +0.05
7.  Wake Forest           9-9   71.7    1.14    1.12    +0.02
8.  Syracuse             10-8   67.0    1.12    1.12    +0.01
9.  Miami                10-8   63.6    1.05    1.04    +0.01
10. Virginia Tech        10-8   67.7    1.10    1.14    -0.04
11. Clemson              6-12   66.8    1.09    1.14    -0.05
12. Georgia Tech         8-10   69.0    0.94    1.00    -0.06
13. Pitt                 4-14   64.7    1.02    1.14    -0.12
14. Boston College       2-16   71.6    1.00    1.15    -0.15
15. NC State             4-14   70.9    1.03    1.18    -0.15

AVG.                            68.0    1.08
Acceleration since 2015:        7.6%
KenPom rank: 2

In winning the 2017 ACC regular-season title outright, North Carolina came close but could not quite capture still another banner of sorts. This group was very nearly the best offensive rebounding team Roy Williams has ever had in Chapel Hill. Alas, the Tar Heels in 2008 rebounded 43.0 percent of their misses in ACC play, while this season Carolina posted a 42.1. Continue reading