Category Archives: with apologies to stephen hawking

Bigs, Bagley, and evaulative habit

Bagley

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

The Gonzaga miracle before our eyes

Zags

Mark Few (partially obscured), Matt Santangelo, and Dan Monson in the huddle, 1999.

Gonzaga as a program and Mark Few as a coach were written off for years as never being able to win the big one. Then when the Bulldogs and their coach finally did reach the Final Four, they were greeted with the same ho-hum reaction that North Carolina’s getting as a No. 1 seed while everyone (quite rightly) rubs their eyes in amazement at the presence of South Carolina.

That is entirely fitting, and possibly the highest compliment to be paid to a program that was once a mid-major. No one thinks of the Zags as a mid-major program any more. When Few lands a McDonald’s All-American like Zach Collins or schedules a neutral-floor game against Arizona at the Staples Center, no one bats an eye. Well, those are not the hallmarks of a mid-major. Continue reading

What I saw at the scoring revolution

Lauri

He makes twos, threes, and all kinds of symbolic sense. (Kelly Presnell, Arizona Daily Star)

With February now upon us, I want to update the yay-scoring hallelujah I posted at ESPN.com a few weeks back. Here are the changes we’ve seen in major-conference play since 2013, in order of magnitude…

1. Scoring’s up 12.3 percent
There are exactly eight more points scored per 40 minutes of major-conference play than there were in the 2013 season. You can now expect a team to put 73.3 points on the board. (Well, not literally. On average.)

2. Three-point attempts are up by 9.4 percent
Changes Nos. 1 and 2 are correlated. (Ahem, coaches.) Note that both major-conference play and Division I basketball as a whole are more perimeter-oriented than they’ve ever been. This statement specifically includes the 2007-08 season, back when it was widely said there were “too many threes” and the three-point line was therefore moved back a foot. Now there are more threes than there were when there were too many threes. Personally I’m fine with it. Continue reading

Your category 5 update for 2016-17

rosterdurham

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:

                           Recruiting
                %RPMs        points
Duke              56          36.6
Kentucky          26          35.4    

Continue reading

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

hoosiers

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

What injury-ravaged Duke might tell us about basketball

ravages

Marques Bolden, Sean Obi, Harry Giles, and Jayson Tatum sit and watch. (Charlotte Observer)

Duke entered 2016-17 ranked a resounding No. 1 in the nation, capturing 58 of a possible 65 first-place votes in the preseason AP poll. Alas, Mike Krzyzewski’s charges have turned out to be a rather insistently gimpy resounding No. 1.

Freshmen Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, and Marques Bolden are all yet to appear on the floor this season. Grayson Allen’s been limping noticeably, and both Chase Jeter and Amile Jefferson have been reported as being banged up as well.

Do the math and you’re left with just three current Blue Devil starters who’ve been vouchsafed as possessing more or less normal stores of health and soundness: Matt Jones, Luke Kennard, and Frank Jackson. The descriptive modifier of choice with this team so far on the young season is “injury-ravaged.”

The modifier’s accurate, surely, yet I’ve been moved to wonder whether in this case accuracy can’t additionally be somewhat misleading. If so, it’s possible this particular brand of confusion might be able to tell us an instructive thing or two about the sport. Continue reading

College basketball’s unabated evaluative love of the unseen

uk

How many games will they win this season? What seed will they get in the tournament? Who among them will go pro next summer? Good questions. (Mark Zerof, USA Today)

I may be exhibiting the slightest degree of occupational bias, but it is my considered opinion that predicting future events in college basketball represents the most difficult forecasting gig there is, period. Please consider this post a tribute, then, to Ken Pomeroy, Dan Hanner, David Hess, and all of my intrepid colleagues who are engaged in this inherently hazardous line of work. It’s brutal out here.

If there’s a similarly daunting predictive challenge, I’m yet to find it. Other sports? Football introduces some interesting randomness, what with the microscopic number of games, alpha-and-omega nature of the quarterback position and win-probability-shattering pick-sixes. Yet somehow even the gridiron can’t give us anything to compare with Middle Tennessee State on March 18, 2016. (Spoken like a repentant forecaster.) At the end of the day pro sports and college football alike bequeath upon their predictors the cardinal blessing of year-to-year carryover in elite personnel. In college hoops, conversely, the best players by definition (almost) always leave. Continue reading