Category Archives: florid historical references

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

Bigs, Bagley, and evaulative habit

Bagley

This week I re-ranked the top 25 players in college basketball on the occasion of Marvin Bagley III reclassifying and joining this year’s freshman class. I put Bagley at No. 1 because he’s been termed the best player to come out of high school since Anthony Davis. If Duke’s star does indeed have a Davis-level impact for the Blue Devils this season, I’ll come off looking like a genius in a vast hegemonic horde of parroting savants.

Whether that particular scenario pans out or not, I do wonder whether this Bagley moment itself may not function as a handy summation, one that can be called The (Evaluative) Trouble with Freshmen. On the one hand, the get-off-my-yard gene in all of us says that, at the very top of the rankings, freshmen are pretty much always overrated.

Markelle Fultz turned out to be as good as advertised, his team missed the tournament entirely, and his coach was fired. Ben Simmons turned out to be as good as advertised, his team missed the tournament entirely, and his coach was (eventually) fired.

Even Jahlil Okafor, who, whatever else you may think of him, was a first-team All-American as a freshman and was the leading scorer on a team that won a national title, is now being pointed at as some kind of museum exhibit for obsolete basketball artifacts and cautionary draft tales. Freshmen are always overrated. Continue reading

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