Category Archives: in many ways the work of a critic is easy

From the archives: “The Trouble with Amateurism”

This seemed worth the vowels and consonants in 2010. By 2015 or so (post-post-Branch), it felt more mundane. Now, apparently, it merits restating.

December 17, 2010
by John Gasaway

(Reprinted from the College Basketball Prospectus, 2010-11.)

“Student-athletes shall be amateurs in an intercollegiate sport, and their participation should be motivated primarily by education, and by the physical, mental and social benefits to be derived. Student participation in intercollegiate athletics is an avocation, and student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises.”
NCAA Principle of Amateurism

1.
Amateurs have given us many of the most sublime moments in sports, and I rejoice that they’ll continue to do so even if it turns out that amateurism isn’t really a principle in the true sense of the word.

No one struggles every day to grow more amateur in their conduct. No parent ever told their child, “It’s important to always be amateur.” No one ever justified a tough decision by saying, “It’s just the amateur thing to do.”

No public official ever called for a new birth of amateurism. No country ever went to war to make the world safe for amateurism. There are no parables about amateurism in the Bible, no fables about amateurism in Aesop’s, and no self-help books about achieving amateurism on Amazon. Amateurism isn’t a principle, it’s an innocent noun caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, staggering under the weight the NCAA has placed upon it. Continue reading

RPI, fatally flawed metric, finally dead at 38

ncaanews

NCAA newsletter, 1981

The Ratings Percentage Index, a misbegotten multi-sport statistic that mistakenly became an object of misplaced obsession for everyone connected with men’s college basketball, died Wednesday at the age of 38. The death was announced by the metric’s lone sponsor and last surviving adherent, the NCAA.

No official cause of death had been announced by Wednesday afternoon, though the RPI had long suffered from complications associated with chronic analytic confusion.

When the RPI was born in the fall of 1980 (no definitive birth date has ever been established), college basketball games were only sporadically televised, the NCAA tournament field consisted of 48 teams, and the men’s basketball committee had little or no reliable data with which to support its selection and seeding decisions. Continue reading

If lottery selections just parrot earlier high school rankings, does the NBA really need one-and-done?

Ayton

(Kevin Jairaj, USA Today)

One fascinating aspect of one-and-done has always been that, at least in theory, it has no logical basis for existence. Recall that the rule was instituted on July 29, 2005, in part, to give NBA franchises additional and badly needed information on draft prospects. There were to be no more Kwame Browns.

An understandable wish, surely, but one that affords an exceedingly odd occasion for a proscriptive rule. After all, in a world where high school graduates are immediately draft-eligible, why would you need to make this a rule in the first place? If a front office feels insufficiently confident to draft a player right out of high school, they can just pass. No one’s holding a gun to their head and saying they must draft an enigma.

If you’re more confident using a draft pick on a player who’s been in college for one season, fine, draft a freshman. Make one-and-done the “rule” for your franchise. It’s a free country.

Or so it would seem, based on how markets are supposed to work in a classical model. Then again, that’s not how professional basketball functions. Indeed, the NBA tried that very system 20-some years ago, and, eventually, found it wanting. Continue reading

Style, talent, and the eclipse of the chess match

Nova

(villanova.com)

Villanova has succeeded to a degree that is seen in post-Wooden college basketball only once every decade or so, and that success, of course, comes with some very serious role-model responsibilities.

There’s just one problem. Holding up the Wildcats as a paragon of How to Win in 2018 and Beyond turns out to be more easily proclaimed than promulgated. It’s difficult if not impossible to find any discretionary schematic, stylistic, and/or demographic characteristic wherein Jay Wright’s men rate out as No. 1 the way they so clearly do in terms of bottom-line results.

Take the scheme on offense. Villanova has indeed performed remarkable feats using it, and, in the 2018 afterglow, this usage is being depicted as decade-plus-long reign of laudable (if not mandatory) NBA awareness, one dating all the way back to the four-guard Wildcat lineup that reached the 2006 Elite Eight.

Those memories aren’t incorrect so much as incomplete. For, in the early years of this decade, the Wildcats consistently ranked outside the top 100 nationally for three-point attempts and, on occasion, put paint-shooting-only 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-11 types at both the 4 and the 5 spots. All it got Nova in between 2011 and 2013 was a 54-45 record and zero NCAA tournament wins. Going small has clearly been the correct choice for Wright, but his is far from the only small-ball team in Division I. Continue reading

Loyola says a lot about selection, but its run says zero

sj

(loyolaramblers.com)

When a No. 11 seed gets an automatic bid at 28-5 and then makes the Final Four, the irresistible temptation is to draw lessons from that tournament run with regard to selection. A team as good as Loyola Chicago, it is said, should have been in the running for an at-large bid even if, by chance, the Ramblers had lost to Illinois State in the Missouri Valley tournament final.

I know it is said, because I’ve said it.

Just so we’re clear, however, the fact of the matter is that we knew or should have known before the NCAA tournament that Loyola was good enough to merit an at-large bid. Porter Moser’s team outscored the No. 9 KenPom conference in Division I by 0.16 points per trip. That’s a classic bid-worthy profile, up there on the same at-large bleachers as VCU last year (a No. 10 seed), BYU in 2015 (another No. 11), or Creighton in 2012 (a No. 8).
Continue reading

Pace, favorites, and tournaments

retrieved

Virginia has unwittingly offered itself up as a near-perfect test case on the potential relationship between a slow tempo and very bad tournament performance. But, before we sift that rubble, a word of respect is in order for fans of a team that has somehow wandered into such an analytically convenient yet expectation-crushing artillery range.

Cavalier postseason futility is no Bill Self case, where the woke analytic point to be made is that the underlying perception is itself mistaken. Here, the perception is accurate and unavoidable.

No other team comes close in terms of quantifiable NCAA tournament misery, and the trail of statistical ugliness is easily explained. UVA keeps getting beautiful seeds, and then bowing out extraordinarily early. (The 2016 and 2017 tournaments being, in retrospect, exceptions of rare normalcy.) To gloss over that, much less to pretend otherwise, is to do traumatized Hoo fans a manifest disservice. Continue reading

End the schedule obsession

Hess

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