Category Archives: florid historical references

Even good math’s downstream from the big decisions

Bubas

(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

nebrut

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

court

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
                          EM
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

The Gonzaga miracle before our eyes

Zags

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

Carousel speed as social-media artifact

Martin

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

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

Why freshmen may dominate the draft more than they did the college season

RW

Robert Williams.

The 2017 NBA draft is likely to be the league’s most freshman-dominant selection, well, ever. Since the one-and-done rule was enacted over a decade ago, the record for most freshmen taken as lottery picks is eight.

That occurred just two years ago in 2015. Sing along with me: Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, Stanley Johnson, Justise Winslow, Myles Turner, Trey Lyles, and Devin Booker.

However this freshman class we currently have before us looks like it’s going to beat that record with ease. Right now on the mock draft boards, one of the few people on earth who’s not currently a college freshman but who stands an excellent chance of being taken in the lottery is Belgium’s own Frank Ntilikina. Another potential gate-crasher here could be Cal sophomore Ivan Rabb.

Other than those guys and their ilk, however, the top of the draft may be thick with freshmen, to wit:

Markell Fultz
Lonzo Ball
Josh Jackson
Dennis Smith
Jonathan Isaac
Jayson Tatum
Malik Monk
Lauri Markkanen
De’Aaron Fox
Miles Bridges
Justin Patton
Robert Williams
T.J. Leaf

Continue reading

What I saw at the scoring revolution

Lauri

He makes twos, threes, and all kinds of symbolic sense. (Kelly Presnell, Arizona Daily Star)

With February now upon us, I want to update the yay-scoring hallelujah I posted at ESPN.com a few weeks back. Here are the changes we’ve seen in major-conference play since 2013, in order of magnitude…

1. Scoring’s up 12.3 percent
There are exactly eight more points scored per 40 minutes of major-conference play than there were in the 2013 season. You can now expect a team to put 73.3 points on the board. (Well, not literally. On average.)

2. Three-point attempts are up by 9.4 percent
Changes Nos. 1 and 2 are correlated. (Ahem, coaches.) Note that both major-conference play and Division I basketball as a whole are more perimeter-oriented than they’ve ever been. This statement specifically includes the 2007-08 season, back when it was widely said there were “too many threes” and the three-point line was therefore moved back a foot. Now there are more threes than there were when there were too many threes. Personally I’m fine with it. Continue reading