The last push notification of 2018 told me Steve Alford had been let go by UCLA, and it got me to thinking about just how unique his career has been. The ex-Bruin head coach has been nothing if not innovative in his comings and goings.
If you’re looking at college basketball fixtures that have been as famous for as long as Alford, you’re working from a really short list. Jim Boeheim, of course. Plus Mike Krzyzewski, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, and Danny Manning, certainly, but not too many others. Relative newcomers like Roy Williams and Bill Self, for example, were still anonymous assistants at North Carolina and Oklahoma State, respectively, when Alford won a national title as a player at Indiana.
What’s interesting about Alford in stark contrast to other hoary holdovers from the ’80s is that, to an extent that’s unusual and that far outstrips mere maturation, he seemed to change before our eyes. Continue reading
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:
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
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
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
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
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
Where did Victor Oladipo’s 2013 came from? (Yes, this was a miss. Still.)
In the coming days I’ll post a piece at ESPN.com that purports to rank major-conference coaches on how well they’ve performed in terms of player development over the last eight years.
This might therefore be an appropriate moment to offer the following disclaimer: I’m not really sure to what extent, in the most literal and causal sense, coaches develop players.
More importantly, no one, to my knowledge, is sure on that score. I suppose what we mean by a seemingly benign and straightforward compound noun like “player development” is actually something more like “developing your players’ naturally increasing ability to score and prevent points even faster than opposing coaches do.” That’s quite different than young players merely improving measurable NBA combine-variety skills.
The analytic nut to be cracked is that all college players get better at combine-variety skills. These are athletes between the ages of 18 and 20-something, they’re going to improve naturally and at a fast rate. You did slash are doing so too at that age. Continue reading