Pace, favorites, and tournaments

retrieved

Virginia has unwittingly offered itself up as a near-perfect test case on the potential relationship between a slow tempo and very bad tournament performance. But, before we sift that rubble, a word of respect is in order for fans of a team that has somehow wandered into such an analytically convenient yet expectation-crushing artillery range.

Cavalier postseason futility is no Bill Self case, where the woke analytic point to be made is that the underlying perception is itself mistaken. Here, the perception is accurate and unavoidable.

No other team comes close in terms of quantifiable NCAA tournament misery, and the trail of statistical ugliness is easily explained. UVA keeps getting beautiful seeds, and then bowing out extraordinarily early. (The 2016 and 2017 tournaments being, in retrospect, exceptions of rare normalcy.) To gloss over that, much less to pretend otherwise, is to do traumatized Hoo fans a manifest disservice. Continue reading

Your bracket requires knowledge of shot volume

UNC

Generating a very high number of shot attempts is fun! (Photo: J.D. Lyon Jr.)

The story so far. Last year I cooked up a way of measuring how well teams combine taking care of the ball and getting second chances. I called it a shot volume index, North Carolina led the (major-conference) nation in said measure, and the Tar Heels won a national title. Boom! Analytic perfection!

Well, not really. UNC looked really good retroactively on the same measure in 2016, after all, and a fat lot of good that did them in the 40th minute of that year’s national championship game.

Speaking of the Heels, they are No. 1 again in the 2018 rankings, and this time they won going away.

Shot volume index (SVI)
Turnover percentage, offensive rebound percentage, and shot volume
Major-conference games only

                         TO%     OR%     SVI
1.  North Carolina      16.2    40.5    102.4
2.  West Virginia       16.9    36.4     99.7
3.  Florida             13.8    27.8     99.4

Year after year, the men in Chapel Hill put a nice floor under their offense, one that can come in very handy on bad shooting nights. Then again, you don’t have to be an insanely great offensive rebounding team to do so. Look at Mike White’s Florida Gators, slightly below-average on the offensive glass and generating a very high number of shots anyway. Continue reading

End the schedule obsession

Hess

Via David Hess.

The evaluative dead-end in which college basketball finds itself today has two sources. On the one hand, it’s a straightforward problem of political economy, method, and optics.

On the other hand, it’s a statistical issue that, rather remarkably, metastasized over the course of 40 years into an all-encompassing mode of entirely basketball-independent basketball perception. Ironically, that mode is engaged in mostly by those who fancy themselves as true basketball people above minutiae and pedantry like statistics.

The problem of political economy, as always when the NCAA’s involved, is maddeningly easy to solve in concept but difficult to make happen in reality. We keep critiquing the content of what this men’s basketball committee does, when in fact it is the very existence of and charge given to the committee that charts our path-dependent course. Once we’ve made the decision to let a group of eight or so people go from blank slate to a completely seeded and bracketed 68-team field, literally everything else is a footnote. Continue reading

Your viewer’s guide for Selection Sunday 2018

SDSU

(L.E. Baskow – AP photo)

The reason the mock brackets gathered together at bracketmatrix.com are so valuable collectively is that the people making those brackets are doing precisely what the committee does.

Unlike my good friends doing games on TV or talking about a given game from the studio, a person who goes to the trouble of building one entire bracket isn’t simply covering one game, pointing at a team, and saying, “They should be in.” Instead, they’re dealing with a finite number of spots, just like the committee. They have to make tough decisions regarding Arizona State versus Louisville, just like the committee. And they have exactly 36 at-large bids to hand out, just like the committee.

Then again, the reason why the cumulative consensus that results isn’t infallible is that even such a “bracket of brackets” is, in the end, just one bracket — and so too is the committee’s. Going 68-for-68 is entirely possible, but it entails luck as well as skill. Continue reading

Tuesday Truths: “The streak continues” edition

Welcome to this season’s first, last, and only installment of Tuesday Truths, where I look at how well 97 teams in eight conferences did against their league opponents on a per-possession basis.

Editor’s note: I took on some new commitments this season in the areas of teaching on Monday nights and writing a multi-thousand-word Tuesday feature on bubble watching. As a result, there was a measurable decline (to zero, if you must be so precise) in how often my traditional multi-thousand-word Tuesday feature on per-possession performance appeared. But, with today’s post, Tuesday Truths has now made an appearance for 10 consecutive seasons under two different names and across three different sites. Huzzah, The Streak!

Virginia and the incorrigible myth of in-game “separation”

Hoos

Great finish, but shouldn’t you have won by more? (virginiasports.com)

Final results, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession   Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

ACC                       W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Virginia             17-1   59.2    1.08    0.89    +0.19
2.  Duke                 13-5   69.6    1.14    0.97    +0.17
3.  North Carolina       11-7   69.2    1.16    1.08    +0.08
4.  Louisville            9-9   69.6    1.06    1.02    +0.04
5.  Clemson              11-7   66.0    1.04    1.00    +0.04
6.  Notre Dame           8-10   64.8    1.08    1.06    +0.02
7.  NC State             11-7   71.1    1.08    1.07    +0.01
8.  Miami                11-7   67.3    1.08    1.07    +0.01
9.  Florida State         9-9   71.4    1.09    1.10    -0.01
10. Virginia Tech        10-8   67.0    1.06    1.07    -0.01
11. Syracuse             8-10   62.9    1.01    1.02    -0.01
12. Boston College       7-11   69.7    1.06    1.10    -0.04
13. Wake Forest          4-14   70.3    1.00    1.08    -0.08
14. Georgia Tech         6-12   65.7    0.96    1.05    -0.09
15. Pitt                 0-18   64.8    0.87    1.16    -0.29

AVG.                            67.2    1.05

For a fifth consecutive season, Virginia is doing strange things to the basketball frontal lobes of otherwise sensible observers. It is again being said that the Cavaliers will surely have trouble achieving “separation” from quality opponents in the NCAA tournament, a nice way of saying their offense isn’t actually good enough to go far into the bracket. Continue reading

Bid thieves are more rare than we think

UGA

Georgia in 2008 was an honest to goodness bid thief. Then again, that was 10 years ago.

If you want to start an argument, put “The myth of X” across the top of your treatise, where “X” is something that actually does occur from time to time. I was tempted to title this post “The myth of bid thieves,” but why be pointedly belligerent when such teams really do exist?

That being said….

Quick, what’s the most recent bid thief that comes to mind? I suppose Rhode Island last year might fit that description, but with the case of the 2017 Rams we’re already knee-deep in the unavoidable conceptual challenges posed by the very idea of a bid thief.

With a significant minority of bid thief cases — I peg it at about one-third of such instances — we actually don’t, and cannot, know whether they were really bid thieves. Put simply, Dan Hurley’s team may have earned an at-large last year if they had lost the Atlantic 10 tournament title game. 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