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

The analytic perils of dual-efficiency fetishism

winston

(msuspartans.com)

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

The case for ending the foul-out

ccny

Disqualifying players for committing too many fouls is a really old practice, but not quite as old as basketball itself.

The idea of removing players from the game after they commit their fourth or fifth or sixth personal foul has been in place for over 100 years. Indeed, disqualification of individual players is today, rather incredibly, the primary and virtually unchallenged method for penalizing fouls all over the world and at all levels of basketball. Yet you and I will likely never learn the name of the person or persons that first came up with the idea.

This is curious. After all, the shot clock had Danny Biasone and Leo Farris, and even the rather more murky-at-the-creation three-point line has multiple named aspirants for Founder status. But who will come forward and claim parenthood for, by far, the oldest feature of them all, the foul-out?

We do know the name in question wasn’t Naismith. In the good doctor’s 13 original rules, a player picking up their second foul was removed from the game, but only until the next basket was scored. That was actually more punitive than it sounds (scoring was infrequent at the dawn of “basket ball”), but the essential point is a player could still come back into the game after he or she had served their penalty.

That idea turned out to be surprisingly short-lived. By 1910, at the latest, officials in some college games were disqualifying players for committing too many fouls. The foul limit has been tweaked over the ensuing 100-plus years, and, when the upstart NBA rolled out in 1946, player disqualifications were part of that league’s original equipment.

The foul-out has been with us ever since. Continue reading

All coaches are interim

iu

(AP)

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

Never overthink a train wreck

osu

They’re No. 1.

The reaction yesterday to the first NCAA Evaluation Tool rankings for 2018-19 was so negative that there was a tendency in some quarters to see three-dimensional chess being played here by the powers that be in Indianapolis. Surely this is all a brilliant promotional strategy, a way to get otherwise preoccupied fans talking about college basketball in November.

By this reading, otherwise preoccupied fans could never have been induced to talk about college basketball in November by the release of rankings that were not the analytic equivalent of a drunken stevedore plummeting face-first down a manhole. Surely, the “needless ratiocinative mishap” aspect of the release was itself the very warp and woof of the next-level strategy at work.

Conversely, the release of sound rankings for all 353 teams all at once from a new system that will be used to actually select and seed the field for the 2019 NCAA tournament could never, by itself, furnish a coverage-worthy news peg. Got it. Continue reading

Forecasting the near futures of the nation’s two best defenses

UMHoops

(UMHoops)

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

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