Author Archives: johngasaway

The Big East could turn out to be the most entertaining conference ever

Spellman

Scoring 1.31 points per trip? That’ll do. (Eric Hartline — USA TODAY Sports)

It’s early in the season, but, with 21 percent of its conference games already in the books, it bears mention that the Big East is playing historically entertaining basketball. We can’t know if this is going to continue, of course, but the salient present-tense point is that the games we’ve seen so far have been outrageously high-scoring.

Teams in the league are simultaneously playing at a fast pace and scoring with a high degree of efficiency on each possession. Val Ackerman, I salute you!

scattered2

This combination of speed and effectiveness has put the Big East on an entirely different level in terms of scoring. Continue reading

One of these 12 teams will very likely win it all

Gonz

Congratulations, Zags, you still have a shot. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

I love the week six AP poll. Historically speaking, week six has been measurably more accurate in predicting that season’s national champion than its predecessors in prior weeks.

Indeed, we’ve already arrived at the point in the calendar where the added value of new information appears to evaporate. Week six is just as good at ranking the eventual champion as any future poll all the way to the one that comes out the day after Selection Sunday. Not surprisingly, that poll is the most accurate one of all. Continue reading

The trouble with Arizona

Cats

Photo: Casey Sapio, USAT Sports

If you could travel back in time to one month ago, and tell someone there that Arizona is 5-3 and unranked, they wouldn’t believe you. And by that I more specifically mean I wouldn’t believe you.

I ranked the Wildcats No. 1 in the preseason, and I had good company.

Arizona’s preseason rankings

    AP     Coaches    KenPom    SI.com/Hanner
     3        5          3           1

Keep in mind nothing’s “happened” to Arizona that we didn’t know about previously. Yes, Sean Miller has had to play without Rawle Alkins to this point, but we knew that when these preseason rankings were derived. Yes, the program, like much of the sport, is under active federal investigation, but we knew that too when these numbers were formulated. Continue reading

Peer performance pressure, and the limits of coaching theory

Feagin

Last season, this offense made its shots and took outstanding care of the ball. What could possibly have gone wrong?

Years ago, when rebound percentages were still seen as newfangled, the first question I was ever asked by a Division I coach was what the best target numbers are for both offensive and defensive rebound rates. I don’t remember my response, though I would guess I delivered, as requested (I was thrilled simply to have had my opinion solicited), two numbers spelling out what the team “should” be doing.

I now think that was a mistake. True, thanks to Dean Oliver, we know that the four factors in basketball are shooting, turnovers, rebounds, and free throws, and we rank offenses and defenses on each of those metrics.

But of late, however unconsciously, I find I no longer regard all of the factors as a must-watch sequence in and of itself. Instead, I’ve elevated shooting to a co-starring role above the title in this movie we call hoops.

Furthermore, I’ve collapsed turnovers and offensive rebounds into one quantity and elevated that into the other co-starring role, one I call shot volume. (In this two-factor amalgam, offensive rebounding is clearly the junior — or at least downstream — partner.) And, for better or worse, I now regard free throws as an occasionally dispositive but basically exogenous event, kind of like a power outage or visiting relatives.  Continue reading

Don’t fear the layoff

B1G

This week when I attended Big Ten media day in New York City (pictured!), there were several questions raised about the league playing its conference tournament in Madison Square Garden.

The move to the Garden will require the Big Ten to play its tournament a week earlier than what the league’s accustomed to doing, because, as always, the Big East has the World’s Greatest Arena booked for the following weekend leading into Selection Sunday. Consequently, the league’s coaches were asked repeatedly at media day whether this layoff will hurt the performance of their teams in the NCAA tournament.

Whether they were being sincere or not, the coaches said the right things. They said they were excited about playing the Big Ten tournament in the Garden, and that they’re not really worried about a layoff or about moving the whole conference schedule up a week.

What the coaches said, however, is at odds with a piece of hoops folk wisdom that holds that long layoffs before the tournament are to be feared. (To be sure, the other extreme is said to be bad too. No one wants to finish their conference tournament on Sunday afternoon and then open the round of 68 a few time zones away on Thursday at noon Eastern.) The folk wisdom has always interested me on a couple levels. Continue reading

There are still six major conferences

Shockers

A couple years ago, I ventured an opinion to the effect that there were, at that time, six major conferences. Now, with a new season almost upon us and Wichita State following in the footsteps of upwardly mobile predecessors like Creighton and Butler, it’s high time to take another look at the matter.

It turns out that, by my lights, there are still six major conferences. “Power 5” is a football term that should be banished from your basketball vocabulary. Say “major-conference basketball,” and people will know you’re referring to the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC.

Naturally this is a characterization offered in advance of any changes that may be wrought in the American Athletic Conference’s profile this season due to the arrival of the Shockers. Maybe this question will require another look come March. If so, here’s how you’ll find me trying get my arms around the matter at that time….

For my part, I throw three separate yardsticks at the question of whether or not a given group of teams constitutes a “major” conference.

  1. KenPom AdjEM
  2. NCAA tournament seeds
  3. NCAA tournament wins

Continue reading

Coaching, leading, and Rick Pitino

Rick

Rick Pitino was a rarity even among the tiny group of elite coaches at the top of the college basketball pyramid. Let’s define that elite as active coaches who have either won multiple national titles or been to six or more Final Fours.

It’s a short list:

                   Titles     FFs
Mike Krzyzewski      5         12
Roy Williams         3          9
Rick Pitino          2          7
Tom Izzo             1          7
John Calipari        1          6

With the possible exception of Tom Izzo, the Louisville head coach appeared to rely less on recruiting top-20 talent than his fellow legends. He demonstrably relied on it less than John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski, for example, but he also relied on it less than Bill Self or even a relative youngster like Sean Miller.

I had occasion to make this same point when the Louisville staff was found to be cheating on its recruiting by enlisting the assistance of strippers and escorts. That particular episode had zero measurable impact on recruiting. In point of fact, Louisville hasn’t signed an RSCI top-20 recruit since Samardo Samuels arrived on campus in the fall of 2008. Continue reading