Category Archives: counting things

Even good math’s downstream from the big decisions


(Photo: Tony Triolo, Getty)

When the first preliminary reports reached Winston Churchill regarding the as yet unconfirmed death of his longtime political rival, Stanley Baldwin, he is reputed to have said: “Embalm, cremate, bury at sea! Take no chances!”

Which brings me to the Ratings Percentage Index.

Putting the haplessly erratic RPI out to pasture is long overdue, of course, but, since it hasn’t happened yet, the NCAA voicing a likelihood of doing so by 2018-19 is quite plainly an occasion for genuine, if watchful and conditional, celebration.

In 2012, fresh from the outstanding mock selection exercise that the NCAA runs annually, I speculated that the reason the knowledgeable, diligent, and inquisitive men and women in Indianapolis hadn’t already cast off the RPI’s deleterious cognitive shackles could only have been simple organizational inertia. Decry that inertia if you wish, but don’t wax superior about it. This, surely, is an affliction visited upon us all, varying only in its extent. (I will grant you this was one pretty extreme case.) Continue reading

There are just four major-conference teams missing from this list


A picture of Northwestern used to go here.

This was a big year for previously unsuccessful NCAA tournament teams. Northwestern and South Carolina both won tournament games, marking 2017 as the ultimate in upward programmatic mobility.

The list of major-conference programs that have not won a game this century is now down to just four members: Nebraska, Oregon State, Rutgers, and TCU. That being said, we’ll give the Horned Frogs an asterisk on this one. Unlike the Cornhuskers, Beavers, and Scarlet Knights, the fightin’ toads weren’t members of a “power” conference for the entire time period in question.

Every national championship this century has been won by a team at No. 17 or higher on this list. The majority of Division I — 199 teams — is yet to win an NCAA tournament game this century. Continue reading

There’s a hack for national-title game picks most years, but not for 2017


In each of the last 13 national championship games, the team with the better per-possession scoring margin in the five previous tournament games has won:

Tournament games only, through national semifinal
EM: efficiency margin
2016  Villanova         +0.38
      North Carolina    +0.25
2015  Duke              +0.28
      Wisconsin         +0.12
2014  Connecticut       +0.12
      Kentucky          +0.06
2013  Louisville        +0.27
      Michigan          +0.20
2012  Kentucky          +0.17
      Kansas            +0.11
2011  Connecticut       +0.17
      Butler            +0.07
2010  Duke              +0.28
      Butler            +0.11
2009  North Carolina    +0.28
      Michigan State    +0.11
2008  Kansas            +0.24
      Memphis           +0.23
2007  Florida           +0.22
      Ohio State        +0.16
2006  Florida           +0.25
      UCLA              +0.19
2005  North Carolina    +0.21
      Illinois          +0.17
2004  Connecticut       +0.21
      Georgia Tech      +0.07         

There are three things you should know about this streak. 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

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

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

Tuesday Truths: Penultimate edition

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

A theory of Duke


One of the better looks Jayson Tatum and the Blue Devils got against Miami. (Lance King)

Through games of February 27, 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.  Louisville           11-5   67.9    1.13    0.99    +0.14
2.  North Carolina       13-4   70.1    1.15    1.02    +0.13
3.  Florida State        11-5   71.8    1.13    1.03    +0.10
4.  Virginia             10-7   60.7    1.04    0.96    +0.08
5.  Duke                 10-6   68.5    1.14    1.08    +0.06
6.  Notre Dame           11-5   68.0    1.10    1.06    +0.04
7.  Miami                10-7   63.7    1.06    1.04    +0.02
8.  Wake Forest           7-9   71.9    1.12    1.11    +0.01
9.  Syracuse              9-8   66.8    1.11    1.12    -0.01
10. Virginia Tech        10-7   67.6    1.10    1.13    -0.03
11. Georgia Tech          7-9   69.1    0.95    0.99    -0.04
12. Clemson              4-12   66.8    1.07    1.15    -0.08
13. Pitt                 4-12   65.1    1.06    1.15    -0.09
14. Boston College       2-14   72.0    1.01    1.15    -0.14
15. NC State             4-13   71.2    1.02    1.18    -0.16

AVG.                            68.1    1.08
Acceleration since 2015:        7.8%
KenPom rank: 2
% of games played: 91

For all we know Duke could yet win the 2017 national championship — way stranger things have happened — but invoking those trusty Stranger Things is surely not a good sign. Besides, everyone and I do mean (almost) everyone thought the Blue Devils would look much better by now than they do in the numbers shown above. What has happened so far? Continue reading