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
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).
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
(Josh Gateley, soonersports.com)
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
The federal government alleges that Chuck Person, Emanuel Richardson, Lamont Evans, and Tony Bland abused their positions as assistant coaches at Auburn, Arizona, Oklahoma State, and USC, respectively. The Justice Department and FBI charge that these coaches were bribed by sports agents and financial advisors to steer talented players their way. These same federal authorities are also charging that James Gatto paid out six-figure sums to players on behalf of Adidas to secure their commitments to programs (e.g., Louisville, reportedly) affiliated with the shoe brand.
I’m not building any parade floats in honor of any of the above alleged activities, particularly as those activities relate to an alleged willingness to prey on young men so guileless or trusting or both that they would sign up a financial advisor without even Googling the guy. But I also don’t particularly need to see my state actor visit its displeasure upon these actions through the draconian and imprecise medium of its punitive machinery. Above all, I would much prefer to free up my state actor and its limited resources for any number of other far more pressing prosecutorial needs.
Because, speaking as longtime observer of the business of mass-spectator sports on college campuses, we’ve got this one. Trust me. We can fix it ourselves without wiretaps or indictments, though, paradoxically, your wiretaps and indictments may be just the jolt that was needed to do so. Continue reading
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
(Photo: Tony Triolo, Getty)
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