On Selection Sunday morning, I wondered aloud why people still get so wrapped up in the question of who gets a No. 1 seed when it’s been six years now since Ken Pomeroy showed that it really doesn’t matter in basketball terms.
The first batch of answers to my query muddled the distinction between cause and effect. Yes, No. 1 seeds have a great track record of getting to the Sweet 16 and the Final Four and winning national titles. Top seeds also tend to be the best teams.
A far better response I received was that arguing about who should get a No. 1 seed is fun and, besides, receiving a top seed is a really cool honor. No disagreements there.
Perhaps we could talk about No. 1 seeds in that vein henceforth, more like an MVP award than as something dispositive to title hopes going forward. It’s a venerable honorific with some nice history behind it, and it provides its own ready-made zero-sum boxing ring for debate. That’s fine. Continue reading
In a normal year, Auburn would be a 50th percentile Sweet 16 team. In 2019, however, the Tigers rank No. 13 among remaining teams. (Wade Rackley, Auburn Athletics)
We’ve suspected for weeks now that there’s an unusually dense concentration of big swaggering capital-letter Great Team behemoths roaming our hoops landscape in 2018-19. Pick your flavor and choose your boundary line, but, speaking generally, this field’s top 10 or 11 teams together constitute an oligopoly of hoops hegemony the likes of which we don’t often get within the confines of a single season.
Well, it just so happens that all of those teams, every one of them, won two games during the first weekend of the 2019 NCAA tournament. Not to be outdone, so, too, did the tier of teams right below the big guns.
When you put chalk together with behemoths, you get a Sweet 16 that fairly blows its predecessors out of the statistical water.
(Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)
We live at a time of televised analytic plenty, yet, somehow, you still see rebound margin numbers flung up on the screen during this or that telecast in 2019. That makes me grit my teeth at the blatant luddite behaviors on display, of course, and, well, I’m right to do so. Rebound margin really is meaningless, an ersatz and mislabeled tribute paid to teams that alter shots yet refuse to go for steals and/or charges (with all of the above, preferably, transpiring at a fast pace).
In partial defense of my well-intentioned graphic-making brethren and sistren, however, I will additionally confess to the following. I’ve been mulling just how peculiar rebounds really are for a while now, and (this may say more about me than about rebounding) I’m still not sure I’ve found solid ground on this particular subject.
Here’s what I think I think….
I’m not a fan of whole-season rebound percentages in college basketball
Leave it to the sport’s endearing and enduring idiosyncrasies to overturn perfectly sound axioms regarding sample size. Continue reading
We’ve reached the time of year when good teams are being praised on the basis of showing up “in the top-[highest applicable number divisible by five] for both offensive and defensive efficiency at KenPom.” Specifically, Michigan State’s getting a lot of this variety of love at present.
(Virginia qualifies for this treatment too, surely, but the Cavaliers in 2019 are destined to be a special case. There’s a lingering UMBC effect 10 months after the fact that seems to be inhibiting a more full-throated chorus of bedazzlement.)
The Spartans are indeed destroying opponents, of course. Tom Izzo’s guys could well win the national title. (Heck, I’ve sung their praises too.) Not to mention it’s a clear basketball benefit to be one of the best teams in the country at offense at the same time that you’re also one of the best teams in the country at defense.
There’s no searing indictment to be filed against such common-sense notions, goodness knows, but a warning label may still be in order. “Top-X in both offensive and defensive efficiency at KenPom” isn’t as predictive of tournament success as you probably think it is, and, in particular, dual-efficiency essentialism can’t shed much light on whether a team so blessed — even if it’s a top seed — will reach the Final Four. Continue reading
Those were the days. Sort of.
Every time my colleague Dick Vitale sees Zion Williamson take a seat on the bench after picking up two first-half fouls, he launches into an impassioned and loquacious plea (it’s true!) for increasing the number of personal fouls allowed per player to six.
And every time that happens, Twitter reacts to Dickie V with arch and snarky dismissiveness (it’s true!) and says it would never work.
Young turks on social media say, hey, great, just what we need, more fouls. Old geezers say, hey, I remember the old six-foul Big East from the 1990s, and it was awful.
Well, score one for the old geezers. Six fouls is not the answer, at least not now, and the Big East proved it between 1990 and 1992. (For the record, the Trans America Athletic Conference, the forerunner of today’s Atlantic Sun, joined the Big East in taking the six-foul rule out for a spin at that same time.) Continue reading
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