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
A picture of Northwestern used to go here.
This was a big year for previously unsuccessful NCAA tournament teams. Northwestern and South Carolina both won tournament games, marking 2017 as the ultimate in upward programmatic mobility.
The list of major-conference programs that have not won a game this century is now down to just four members: Nebraska, Oregon State, Rutgers, and TCU. That being said, we’ll give the Horned Frogs an asterisk on this one. Unlike the Cornhuskers, Beavers, and Scarlet Knights, the fightin’ toads weren’t members of a “power” conference for the entire time period in question.
Every national championship this century has been won by a team at No. 17 or higher on this list. The majority of Division I — 199 teams — is yet to win an NCAA tournament game this century. Continue reading
Dear October version of me,
You turned out to be wrong about a lot of things this season. Yes, on some other things, fine, your were right. Still, the largest category of all takes in the weird and funky surprises of 2016-17.
Weird and funky surprises of 2016-17
In order of mayhem….
South Carolina made the Final Four. An offense that scored a mere 1,317 points in (well, what do you know?) 1,317 possessions in SEC play hummed along at 1.16 points per trip in the tournament. Sindarius Thornwell continued his SEC player of the year ways, and for the balance of the tournament P.J. Dozier was replaced with an NBA player who had undergone meticulous cosmetic surgery in order to look like the Gamecock sophomore (though even the doppelgänger continued to miss threes so as not to raise too much suspicion). On defense South Carolina forced its first four tournament opponents into giving the ball away on 24 percent of their possessions. You’re not supposed to be able to do that — panicky, error-prone guards should all be at home by late March — but Frank Martin’s men got it done. Continue reading
Virginia Tech ranked No. 74 out of 75 major-conference teams for shot volume, and the Hokies’ offense was above-average anyway. What is this voodoo that you do, Buzz Williams?
Basketball’s a contest to see who can put the ball in the basket the most times, and for whatever reason fans, media, and, especially, coaches (at least when they speak for public consumption) have always chosen to focus on whether a particular attempt is a make or a miss. We go into exceptional and occasionally tedious detail on the importance of creating one’s own shot, the finer points of pick-and-roll kabuki (particularly on D), proper defensive stance and hand position and such.
All of which is self-evidently important, but all of which also assumes implicitly that the number of times you get to attempt a shot is more or less constant across teams and games. That assumption doesn’t hold up.
In addition to in-play success or failure, the volume of plays is the other 50 percent of the matter that’s getting perhaps five or 10 percent of the words and attention. To redress this imbalance, I’ve been using a shot volume index this season to try to measure which teams generate the most shots. I’ve listed the final results on that metric for 75 major-conference teams below. Continue reading
Jim Van Valkenburg’s creation of the Ratings Percentage Index in the fall of 1980 marked an analytic and administrative triumph. Van Valkenburg was working in an information economy of near-total deprivation, with little or no supporting data at hand beyond wins, losses, and points. Nevertheless he was given time (six months), staff, and an office roof over his head in Kansas City by Walter Byers and told to come up with a rating system that would make the NCAA tournament’s selection and seeding processes something more than a rote parroting of the AP poll.
And, after a fashion, Van Valkenburg’s RPI did exactly what it was intended to do. Part of the impetus behind creating a rating system in the first place was the possibility that the NCAA might choose to give automatic bids to only a portion of Division I.
It never came to that. Instead, the NCAA expanded the field to 52 teams in 1983, and to 64 in 1985. By then the selection committee had already made some relatively daring at-large choices that appeared to be fueled, at least in part, by the RPI. At the same time a rating system that had been created to shed badly needed light on the game’s balance of power was beginning to change how the game was scheduled. Continue reading
Masters of the SVI genre. (AP)
For the time being I’m taking what I’ll call a shot volume index out for a test drive to see if it can be of any use. The SVI can be thought of as the number of shot attempts a team would record in 100 offensive possessions with average shooting accuracy (determined collectively by 75 teams in major-conference play in 2016), and, most improbably, zero free throws.
I need hardly add that I’m far from the first observer to look at and measure this aspect of the game. Consider this merely one more dish at the buffet.
Last February when I was juggling Tuesday Truths and other stuff, I whipped up a little shot volume casserole in the microwave, and it was, I trust, passable. But with a bit more time to prepare, I’ve come to prefer the slow-cooked SVI and its fair degree of accuracy in predicting how many points your team will score. Also, allow me to extend a big thank you to Svi Mykhailiuk at Kansas for cheerfully loaning his name to this undertaking.
Great offensive rebounding teams that commit a turnover before they attempt a shot don’t get a chance to display their greatness. Conversely teams that excel at taking care of the ball but place a transition-D-focused ban on offensive boards see their shot volumes suffer relative to competitors with identical or even significantly higher turnover rates. The SVI proudly carries this brand of sequential flow-charting horse sense in its DNA. Continue reading
Not counting the 10 suits, a group like this only happens in Division I once every 1.8 years.
Now that Duke is rounding into form health-wise, this may be an appropriate moment to revisit the idea of the category 5 roster. With Mike Krzyzewski giving serious minutes to Jayson Tatum and the coach also saying that Harry Giles may play before Christmas, this epochal-roster-strength stuff is no longer a conceptual exercise where the Blue Devils are concerned. The speculative “when Duke gets healthy” dream pieces have been retired, and unalloyed present-tense adulation (heresy just two weeks ago) has begun in earnest.
A category 5 roster is one that returns at least 40 percent of its possession-minutes from the previous season, and adds a freshman class that rates out at 25 recruiting points or better based on Drew Cannon’s canonical front-loaded evaluative curve.
Duke has the nation’s only category 5 roster for 2016-17. Here’s how the Blue Devils and Kentucky fare on the metrics in question this season:
Duke 56 36.6
Kentucky 26 35.4
Indiana is ranked No. 13 in week four. Could be good to know later…. (AJ Mast, AP)
We are now in week four of the college basketball season, and here are the top 13 teams from the latest AP poll:
3. North Carolina
12. Saint Mary’s
You might be asking why I brought the curtain down on the nation’s top teams at No. 13 instead of an equally arbitrary but more customary number ending in a zero or a five.
Let me stress the word “arbitrary,” but, for now, here’s a fact worth pondering:
Every year since 2004, the eventual national champion has come from one of the top 13 teams in week four’s AP poll. Continue reading
The mystery of Duke 2010 — solved!
Last season I was struck by how some of the most incredible performances we saw from teams on offense were not necessarily all that incredible in terms of shooting. I realize this was a long time ago, but think back, for example, to the 82-50 win that Frank Kaminsky-era Wisconsin recorded at home against Iowa. That day the Badgers committed just one turnover and scored an absurd 1.52 points per possession while making 54 percent of their twos and 41 percent of their threes.
Obviously the shooting displayed by Bo Ryan’s guys against the Hawkeyes was excellent, but it’s at least possible for the very best offenses to achieve that roughly that same level of accuracy over an entire season. (Indeed that’s about how well Iowa State just shot in Big 12 play.) Conversely no offense in the history of the game has ever or will ever come anywhere close to scoring a point-and-a-half per trip for any appreciable multi-game length of time.
Mindful of this fact, I made a mental note to look into this whole matter of launching shots in mass quantities. (I vaguely remember thinking I’d use a picture of Phil Spector and tackle the subject under a “Wall of Shots” headline.) Then I got busy and did other things. Continue reading
The 65-team field was statistically puzzling in 2007. Things have been more predictable lately, though the courts are less distinctive visually.
One way to think of the NCAA tournament is as the most popular nightclub in town. The men’s basketball committee is the bouncer, of course, stationed outside the club and working the rope line. There are 351 teams queued up hoping to get in, and the bouncer gives familiar and knowing nods to the first 20 or so teams as they breeze in. It’s pretty much the same group every year.
Next, after the usual teams have been waved through, there is always the same number of unfamiliar and oddly attired out-of-towners who show up. Once they explain that they’ve won the conference tournaments in their one-bid leagues, however, these teams are also let in.
Lastly, there are the toughest decisions of all. These are the final at-larges, and up until a few years ago the best way to get in was to engage in some form of the following conversation. For example this particular discussion took place in 2012:
SOUTHERN MISS: Uh, hi, I’m Southern Miss. I think I’m on your list for 2012.
BOUNCER (suspicious, checks clipboard). Nope, sorry, pal. Don’t see you. Wait behind the rope, please.
SOUTHERN MISS: I think there must be some mistake. I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be on the list. My RPI is 21.
BOUNCER: Right this way.