Category Archives: florid historical references

End the schedule obsession


Via David Hess.

The evaluative dead-end in which college basketball finds itself today has two sources. On the one hand, it’s a straightforward problem of political economy, method, and optics.

On the other hand, it’s a statistical issue that, rather remarkably, metastasized over the course of 40 years into an all-encompassing mode of entirely basketball-independent basketball perception. Ironically, that mode is engaged in mostly by those who fancy themselves as true basketball people above minutiae and pedantry like statistics.

The problem of political economy, as always when the NCAA’s involved, is maddeningly easy to solve in concept but difficult to make happen in reality. We keep critiquing the content of what this men’s basketball committee does, when in fact it is the very existence of and charge given to the committee that charts our path-dependent course. Once we’ve made the decision to let a group of eight or so people go from blank slate to a completely seeded and bracketed 68-team field, literally everything else is a footnote. Continue reading

Bid thieves are more rare than we think


Georgia in 2008 was an honest to goodness bid thief. Then again, that was 10 years ago.

If you want to start an argument, put “The myth of X” across the top of your treatise, where “X” is something that actually does occur from time to time. I was tempted to title this post “The myth of bid thieves,” but why be pointedly belligerent when such teams really do exist?

That being said….

Quick, what’s the most recent bid thief that comes to mind? I suppose Rhode Island last year might fit that description, but with the case of the 2017 Rams we’re already knee-deep in the unavoidable conceptual challenges posed by the very idea of a bid thief.

With a significant minority of bid thief cases — I peg it at about one-third of such instances — we actually don’t, and cannot, know whether they were really bid thieves. Put simply, Dan Hurley’s team may have earned an at-large last year if they had lost the Atlantic 10 tournament title game. Continue reading

Is UK’s perimeter D good or lucky?


(Photo: Elliott Hess)

John Calipari’s even-younger-than-usual team has a chance to make some history in 2018. This could turn out to be the most effective perimeter defense we’ve seen in the last five years in major-conference play, eclipsing the mark set by the storied UK team of 2015:

Lowest opponent 3FG%s
Major-conference games only, 2014-18

Kentucky     2018    27.3
Kentucky     2015    28.0
Texas A&M    2014    28.0
Providence   2016    28.5
Syracuse     2016    28.9

The Wildcats’ prowess at or good fortune in forcing misses from beyond the arc is important for understanding this team in performance terms. Actually, said ability-slash-happening is, by far, the outstanding characteristic of an otherwise so-so defense. Can it continue? Continue reading

The visual and performance implications of Michigan State never forcing turnovers



Michigan State is having one of its best seasons of the last decade, and that’s saying something. The Spartans are 26-3 and on-track for a No. 2 or possibly even a No. 1 seed. MSU also has a shot at winning its first outright Big Ten regular-season title since 2009.

Those are all the hallmarks of a team performing at the highest level, and, more to the point, the Spartans could win a national championship. You likely knew all of the above already, so consider what follows as an explanatory addendum for you, the viewer.

Michigan State is highly strange visually in 2018. This is clearly one of the best interior defenses we’ve seen in recent years. Our eyes know it, and they report that narrative back to us in breathless terms. Just look at Jaren Jackson and Nick Ward altering and swatting away shots. Besides, the numbers back up the eye test. Conference opponents are converting just 40.3 percent of their two-point tries. Continue reading

Social norms and Trae Young


(Josh Gateley,

It appears increasingly likely that Trae Young will turn out to be the most interesting player of my “writing about college basketball” career so far.

Here’s a freshman who started the season ranked as the No. 23 recruit in the country, yet who then proceeded to out-Curry Curry. (Literally.) That was, frankly, amazing to behold, and we all said so.

Now, as if that weren’t enough, Young has sparked one of the better basketball conversations to come down the pike in a long while, courtesy of his 48-point, 14-of-39 effort in Oklahoma’s overtime loss at Oklahoma State. Depending on whether one focuses on the “48” or the “14-of-39,” I suppose Young might be rendered as either a Prometheus or a problem. Continue reading

One of these 12 teams will very likely win it all


Congratulations, Zags, you still have a shot. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

I love the week six AP poll. Historically speaking, week six has been measurably more accurate in predicting that season’s national champion than its predecessors in prior weeks.

Indeed, we’ve already arrived at the point in the calendar where the added value of new information appears to evaporate. Week six is just as good at ranking the eventual champion as any future poll all the way to the one that comes out the day after Selection Sunday. Not surprisingly, that poll is the most accurate one of all. Continue reading

Don’t fear the layoff


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