Category Archives: wednesday wonderings

Why this week’s poll speaks volumes on the 2017 champion


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:

1.  Kentucky
2.  Villanova
3.  North Carolina
4.  Kansas
5.  Duke
6.  Virginia
7.  Xavier
8.  Gonzaga
9.  Baylor
10. Creighton
11. UCLA
12. Saint Mary’s
13. Indiana

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

Final Four teams are way better at taking shots than they are at making them


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

Are the committee’s selections slowly getting better or just easier to predict?


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.

Continue reading

How to succeed on offense without really making shots


If you’re waiting for UNC’s love of two-point jumpers to doom its offense, well, keep waiting.

This season North Carolina is rather rudely meddling with the primal forces of analytic nature, ranking near the top of Division I in offensive efficiency at yet doing so by shooting more two-point jumpers than any team in the country. The sport as a whole is moving emphatically toward the threes-and-dunks approach on shot selection, yet here are the Tar Heels still firing away on low-efficiency jumpers inside the arc like it’s 1986.

Then again Roy Williams may not be as antiquarian as that sounds. In recent years Carolina has copped a page from Bo Ryan, and this season the team’s posting its lowest turnover percentage (15.5) ever in ACC play under Williams. That plus garden-variety beastly offensive rebounding — par for the course in Chapel Hill — means the Heels attempt a tremendous number of shots (which, indeed, tend to be of the two-point jumper variety). Continue reading

Twos are dying


“Let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Buddy Hield is the only player who’s making about half his threes while attempting about eight of them a game. I’m Max Landis, and I approved this message. No, not that Max Landis.”

So far in 2015-16, attempts from inside the arc have comprised just 64.8 percent of all shots in Division I. True, 64.8 percent of anything is a fair share. Nevertheless, that figure does represent an all-time low. To quote a movie, at this rate twos will disappear entirely in another 27 years.

It is therefore fair to say that a three-point revolution is at hand. Being the helpful, proactive, and modest sort, I’ve prepared a brief précis to help you safely navigate this bold new era’s tumbrils and barricades. Enjoy.

There’s a reason it may seem like you’re not really seeing a revolution
Strictly speaking threes are at an all-time high across the breadth of D-I, but, as always when the subject is college basketball, this is somewhat misleading. No human being watches all of D-I, and the numbers that emerge from this vast unseen monolith are driven by a bulky majority of programs that even most professional college basketball writers never once glimpse during a given season. For example the most perimeter-oriented leagues in the nation are currently the SoCon, the Big South, and the MAAC. Conversely, the teams that more fans and writers do tend to watch are, rather ironically, the exceptions to the revolutionary rule.
Continue reading

Buddy Hield’s season is impossible


What we’re seeing is Beamon-esque.

This season I’ve adopted a new morning ritual. I check the previous evening’s scores, glance at the headlines, and then I devote a minute or two exclusively to Buddy Hield.

If by chance Oklahoma has played the previous evening, I’ll watch those highlights. Or if the Sooners are between games, I might find myself gazing upon Hield’s body of numerical work and trying, once again, to take the true measure of what I’m seeing….

It’s good to know my need to try to situate Hield within some kind of rational framework is a shared affliction. Last week I realized that Luke Winn, Kevin Pelton, and I were all simultaneously running Hield-triggered searches on 22 years’ worth of Division I basketball at Luke heralded Hield’s membership in the 50-50-90 club. Kevin wants to gently dissuade NBA general managers from thinking this remarkable Hield of Dreams thing can possibly continue at the next level. Continue reading

Why are there so many exceptionally challenged teams in 2016?



This week John Beilein was asked about his team’s next opponent, and he came up with a small masterpiece of backhanded complimenting.


Beilein’s brand of faint praise reminded me of how former Illinois coach Lou Henson used to respond in similar situations. When I was a kid my brother and I had a running joke involving Henson’s preferred verbal tic, “super ball club.” We’d take turns inserting the most absurd opponent imaginable and mimicking Henson’s flat New Mexican twang: “Well, Jim, Immaculate Heart of Mary is just a super ball club, and we’re going to have to play our best game to win.”

Still, Beilein’s ringing endorsement of his next opponent’s Division I status weirdly paralleled some thoughts I’ve had regarding exceptionally challenged teams. For starters I’ve often wondered how ECT’s happen at all. It seems like if you squint hard enough and keep things good and abstract, such teams should be all but impossible. Continue reading