There are just four major-conference teams missing from this list


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

Four lessons from a hideous title game


After a thorough statistical review I have determined that the 2017 NCAA tournament stood out most dramatically in terms of turned ankles. Speaking in an actuarial sense, we should be turned-ankle-free now through at least the 2023 brackets. We’re due.

Other conclusions to be drawn….

Hideous title games have to happen
An unsightly mess on the biggest evening of the college basketball year is unfortunate, but it will, unavoidably, occur. The 2011 game between Connecticut and Butler was even worse than what we saw last night. And, while this definitely falls under the heading of “How did you like the play otherwise, Mrs. Lincoln?” praise, North Carolina’s full six-game title run was if nothing else the fastest-paced such campaign by far that we’ve seen since this same program cruised to a much easier title in 2009. The Tar Heels averaged 74 possessions per 40 minutes in the tournament. (Villanova last year: 64.) UNC’s tournament run was a sprint that ended with fouls and missed shots exploding in every direction. Continue reading

There’s a hack for national-title game picks most years, but not for 2017


In each of the last 13 national championship games, the team with the better per-possession scoring margin in the five previous tournament games has won:

Tournament games only, through national semifinal
EM: efficiency margin
2016  Villanova         +0.38
      North Carolina    +0.25
2015  Duke              +0.28
      Wisconsin         +0.12
2014  Connecticut       +0.12
      Kentucky          +0.06
2013  Louisville        +0.27
      Michigan          +0.20
2012  Kentucky          +0.17
      Kansas            +0.11
2011  Connecticut       +0.17
      Butler            +0.07
2010  Duke              +0.28
      Butler            +0.11
2009  North Carolina    +0.28
      Michigan State    +0.11
2008  Kansas            +0.24
      Memphis           +0.23
2007  Florida           +0.22
      Ohio State        +0.16
2006  Florida           +0.25
      UCLA              +0.19
2005  North Carolina    +0.21
      Illinois          +0.17
2004  Connecticut       +0.21
      Georgia Tech      +0.07         

There are three things you should know about this streak. Continue reading

The Gonzaga miracle before our eyes


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

A letter to the preseason me


Who knew?

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

Carousel speed as social-media artifact


With job changes in 2008, 2011, 2014, and 2017, Cuonzo Martin is a one-man (cyclical) carousel. (

It started with NC State. The Wolfpack let Mark Gottfried go way back in mid-February. Then came news of openings at Missouri, LSU, Illinois, Indiana, Washington, and, finally, Georgetown.

Cuonzo Martin took the job at Missouri, creating an opening at Cal, and Brad Underwood elected to take the helm at Illinois, leaving behind a vacant chair at Oklahoma State.

That makes nine major-conference head coaches who will be rookies in their positions next season. Naturally, that number could go higher still if one or more of the remaining openings (Indiana, Cal, Oklahoma State, Georgetown) were to be filled by a candidate who’s presently a major-conference coach somewhere else.

It feels like an unusually active carousel this season, and by “feels like” I refer not to any silly conventional wisdom out there in the world at large but to my own real-time reactions. The past 10 days it’s felt like I can’t write two paragraphs without my phone chirping at me about yet another coaching move.

Well, it turns out my real-time reactions are slightly misleading. This isn’t even close to the most active carousel season we’ve seen this century.  Continue reading

These are the teams that can generate shots

Va Tech

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