Category Archives: with apologies to stephen hawking

History says one of these 12 teams will win it all

Heelnew

National title? It’s a possibility. (Jeffrey A. Camarati)

Every year since 2004, the eventual national champion has been ranked no lower than No. 12 in that season’s week six AP poll. Naturally, the eventual national champion tends to be highly ranked in any given week, but the week six poll in particular has, over the last 14 years, proven to be better than the rest all the way to Selection Sunday.

This bears mentioning because the 2018-19 week six AP poll was just released today. Here are its top 12 teams:

1.  Kansas
2.  Duke
3.  Tennessee
4.  Gonzaga
5.  Michigan
6.  Virginia
7.  Nevada
8.  Auburn
9.  Michigan State
10. Florida State
11. Texas Tech
12. North Carolina

Coaches love to say that rankings don’t matter, and, strictly speaking, they’re right. Teams don’t win games in the NCAA tournament just because they earned a nice ranking in week six.

Instead, it tends to be the case that AP pollsters have learned a good deal by week six but aren’t yet too caught up in regular-season noise.  Their rankings of eventual champions therefore tend to be a bit more accurate by this point than they are in the preseason. Continue reading

UK’s curiously linear relationship between returning experience and performance

RT

Reid Travis is older and more experienced than your usual Calipari-era Kentucky player. That may turn out to matter, even if he’s not, strictly speaking, “returning.”

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. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I would never want to be a member of a club voicing 93 percent agreement on what’s probably more of a 53 percent chance kind of thing.

This is where I additionally point out that a Duke “upset” win (ha) would indeed hold a measurable if still modest amount of predictive heft with regards to the rest of the season. Say “it’s only November” all you want.

The truth is they’ve been playing this four-team Champions thing now for seven years. The 14 winners have, on average, gone on to be seeded almost two full lines higher in the ensuing NCAA tournament than have the 14 losers. In fact, prepare to be shocked. One Champions loser actually missed the tournament entirely. 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

Why measuring player development’s easier than developing players

DipoDunk

Where did Victor Oladipo’s 2013 came from? (Yes, this was a miss. Still.)

In the coming days I’ll post a piece at ESPN.com that purports to rank major-conference coaches on how well they’ve performed in terms of player development over the last eight years.

This might therefore be an appropriate moment to offer the following disclaimer: I’m not really sure to what extent, in the most literal and causal sense, coaches develop players.

More importantly, no one, to my knowledge, is sure on that score. I suppose what we mean by a seemingly benign and straightforward compound noun like “player development” is actually something more like “developing your players’ naturally increasing ability to score and prevent points even faster than opposing coaches do.” That’s quite different than young players merely improving measurable NBA combine-variety skills.

The analytic nut to be cracked is that all college players get better at combine-variety skills. These are athletes between the ages of 18 and 20-something, they’re going to improve naturally and at a fast rate. You did slash are doing so too at that age. Continue reading

The cumulative game

EP

There’s something to be said for combining a very low turnover rate with normal (or even below-average) offensive rebounding, a la Villanova. Conversely, other teams may be underperforming by four or even five points per game due to a sheer lack of scoring chances. (Bill Streicher, USA Today Sports)

Over the past couple years, I’ve started wondering whether the manner in which our brains are hard-wired is conspiring with the inherent nature of basketball to keep us from recognizing how important it is to generate a lot of shot attempts.

Consider the Premier League. A proper appreciation of shots that had a chance to go in but didn’t for Arsenal or Chelsea constitutes a rudimentary level of “well, duh” analysis. In that setting, shots on goal are a really big deal. They’re tracked closely and dissected individually by the studio talent after the match.

In basketball, however, attempted shots are the fabric of the game itself. Attempts in this sport are numerous, unremarkable in isolation, and, indeed, most of them (56 percent, give or take) are misses. Shots that don’t go in aren’t exciting visually, they’re never featured in highlights, and each miss represents a failure, of sorts. Continue reading

You say you want a (three-point) revolution

Marjack

Mark Jackson, three-point forefather. Yes, Mark Jackson. (Photo: Ray Chavez)

Today at ESPN.com, you’ll find a good many words in two pieces on the three-point shot written by Myron Medcalf and yours truly, respectively.

It’s a good topic upon which to lavish a good many words. You can make a case that the rapid increase in three-point attempts is the central performance story in the sport of college basketball over the last five years.

Here, in thumbnail form, is one possible version of how that story’s played out thus far, and what may lay ahead. Consider what follows as a conjectural narration of the three-point revolution’s origins, spread, and limits, delivered in handy pocket size.

Origins
Somewhere in the front offices of the late-1960s-era American Basketball Association (ABA), there resided a pioneering thinker who had the idea of resurrecting a novelty dating from (we think) the early-1960s-era American Basketball League. It seems unlikely in retrospect that said thinker could have had any idea of exactly what it was being unleashed. Continue reading

Is UK’s perimeter D good or lucky?

UK

(Photo: Elliott Hess)

John Calipari’s even-younger-than-usual team has a chance to make some history in 2018. This could turn out to be the most effective perimeter defense we’ve seen in the last five years in major-conference play, eclipsing the mark set by the storied UK team of 2015:

Lowest opponent 3FG%s
Major-conference games only, 2014-18

                     Opp.
                     3FG%
Kentucky     2018    27.3
Kentucky     2015    28.0
Texas A&M    2014    28.0
Providence   2016    28.5
Syracuse     2016    28.9

The Wildcats’ prowess at or good fortune in forcing misses from beyond the arc is important for understanding this team in performance terms. Actually, said ability-slash-happening is, by far, the outstanding characteristic of an otherwise so-so defense. Can it continue? Continue reading