Author Archives: johngasaway

History says one of these 12 teams will win it all

Heelnew

National title? It’s a possibility. (Jeffrey A. Camarati)

Every year since 2004, the eventual national champion has been ranked no lower than No. 12 in that season’s week six AP poll. Naturally, the eventual national champion tends to be highly ranked in any given week, but the week six poll in particular has, over the last 14 years, proven to be better than the rest all the way to Selection Sunday.

This bears mentioning because the 2018-19 week six AP poll was just released today. Here are its top 12 teams:

1.  Kansas
2.  Duke
3.  Tennessee
4.  Gonzaga
5.  Michigan
6.  Virginia
7.  Nevada
8.  Auburn
9.  Michigan State
10. Florida State
11. Texas Tech
12. North Carolina

Coaches love to say that rankings don’t matter, and, strictly speaking, they’re right. Teams don’t win games in the NCAA tournament just because they earned a nice ranking in week six.

Instead, it tends to be the case that AP pollsters have learned a good deal by week six but aren’t yet too caught up in regular-season noise.  Their rankings of eventual champions therefore tend to be a bit more accurate by this point than they are in the preseason. Continue reading

Seeking the next extreme scoring event

MSU

Michigan State rang up 1.33 points per trip against Iowa. Highly impressive, but not quite “extreme.” (MSU Athletics)

With major-conference play having already tipped off in the Big Ten, this is a good time to revisit the record book. The first thing to be said of the book is that it’s pretty big. Starting with the 2006 season and running up through last night, there have been 8,355 major-conference games played.

Out of all that basketball, there have been just 49 instances where a team scored 1.45 points per trip or better. And, in what surely ranks as the all-time upset, two of those instances actually happened in the same game. It’s tough to lose when you score 1.46 points per possession, but that’s exactly what happened to Buzz Williams on February 18, 2017. Hoops. Go figure.

When something occurs 49 times out of 8,355 chances, that gives us roughly a one-in-170 shot at seeing the amazing episode in question at any given game. Put rather more positively, we’ll expect to see three or four extreme scoring events this coming season in major-conference play. An extreme scoring event is one where a team scores at least 1.45 points per trip. Continue reading

Never overthink a train wreck

osu

They’re No. 1.

The reaction yesterday to the first NCAA Evaluation Tool rankings for 2018-19 was so negative that there was a tendency in some quarters to see three-dimensional chess being played here by the powers that be in Indianapolis. Surely this is all a brilliant promotional strategy, a way to get otherwise preoccupied fans talking about college basketball in November.

By this reading, otherwise preoccupied fans could never have been induced to talk about college basketball in November by the release of rankings that were not the analytic equivalent of a drunken stevedore plummeting face-first down a manhole. Surely, the “needless ratiocinative mishap” aspect of the release was itself the very warp and woof of the next-level strategy at work.

Conversely, the release of sound rankings for all 353 teams all at once from a new system that will be used to actually select and seed the field for the 2019 NCAA tournament could never, by itself, furnish a coverage-worthy news peg. Got it. Continue reading

Forecasting the near futures of the nation’s two best defenses

UMHoops

(UMHoops)

To the casual fan it must seem that, on or about November 10, 2017, John Beilein was abducted from his home while he slept and was replaced by a cunning cyborg body double running the software package branded as “Deluxe Tony Bennett 2.0 Except for the NCAA Tournament.”

That’s one possibility. Another is that Beilein hired something of a defensive mastermind the previous summer in the form of assistant coach Luke Yaklich.

As has been well documented, Michigan’s defense has been on a tear since Yaklich arrived in Ann Arbor. Indeed, this marks the assistant coach’s third consecutive season of incredible D.

The first took place when Yaklich was still on Dan Muller’s staff at Illinois State, and one of the most remarkable aspects of the assistant’s personal streak is surely that it started after he lost the nation’s No. 1 shot-blocker. Only when Reggie Lynch transferred out of Normal and embarked on his ill-fated journey to Minnesota did the ISU defense achieve escape velocity. Yaklich plainly knows his stuff. Continue reading

Let us all welcome our new Duke overlords

Zion

(AP/AJ Mast)

In the wake of Duke’s 118-84 demolition of Kentucky on a neutral floor in Indianapolis, it’s clear that this paragraph from my previous post aged far better than, well, my previous post:

Duke may very well beat Kentucky at the Champions Classic this week, and, if you didn’t think so before, consider the fact that no fewer than 28 out of 30 writers surveyed (including yours truly) think the Blue Devils are going to lose. That kind of consensus fairly begs to be wrong.

I for one will never look at Zion Williamson or RJ Barrett (or, for that matter, the newly feisty and assured Jack White) quite the same way as I did before Election Night 2018.

This was a Champions Classic wipeout on the same magnitude as Kentucky’s 72-40 pummeling of Kansas four years ago. That Wildcat team then went undefeated all the way to the Final Four, and, until further notice, you will hear that kind of expectation voiced with regard to this 2018-19 Duke team.

Too soon, you say? Fine, go fight hoops city hall. These expectations were already being voiced on social media during the second half last night. It’s what happens when you beat the No. 2 team in the country by 34 points. Continue reading

UK’s curiously linear relationship between returning experience and performance

RT

Reid Travis is older and more experienced than your usual Calipari-era Kentucky player. That may turn out to matter, even if he’s not, strictly speaking, “returning.”

Duke may very well beat Kentucky at the Champions Classic this week, and, if you didn’t think so before, consider the fact that no fewer than 28 out of 30 writers surveyed (including yours truly) think the Blue Devils are going to lose. That kind of consensus fairly begs to be wrong. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I would never want to be a member of a club voicing 93 percent agreement on what’s probably more of a 53 percent chance kind of thing.

This is where I additionally point out that a Duke “upset” win (ha) would indeed hold a measurable if still modest amount of predictive heft with regards to the rest of the season. Say “it’s only November” all you want.

The truth is they’ve been playing this four-team Champions thing now for seven years. The 14 winners have, on average, gone on to be seeded almost two full lines higher in the ensuing NCAA tournament than have the 14 losers. In fact, prepare to be shocked. One Champions loser actually missed the tournament entirely. Continue reading

From the archives: “The Trouble with Amateurism”

This seemed worth the vowels and consonants in 2010. By 2015 or so (post-post-Branch), it felt more mundane. Now, apparently, it merits restating.

December 17, 2010
by John Gasaway

(Reprinted from the College Basketball Prospectus, 2010-11.)

“Student-athletes shall be amateurs in an intercollegiate sport, and their participation should be motivated primarily by education, and by the physical, mental and social benefits to be derived. Student participation in intercollegiate athletics is an avocation, and student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises.”
NCAA Principle of Amateurism

1.
Amateurs have given us many of the most sublime moments in sports, and I rejoice that they’ll continue to do so even if it turns out that amateurism isn’t really a principle in the true sense of the word.

No one struggles every day to grow more amateur in their conduct. No parent ever told their child, “It’s important to always be amateur.” No one ever justified a tough decision by saying, “It’s just the amateur thing to do.”

No public official ever called for a new birth of amateurism. No country ever went to war to make the world safe for amateurism. There are no parables about amateurism in the Bible, no fables about amateurism in Aesop’s, and no self-help books about achieving amateurism on Amazon. Amateurism isn’t a principle, it’s an innocent noun caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, staggering under the weight the NCAA has placed upon it. Continue reading