These are the teams generating shots in 2018


Welcome to the shot-volume party, Wildcats. (NBC Sports)

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. Woo-hoo! Analytic perfection!

Well, not really. UNC is again leading 74 other major-conference teams in terms of shot volume, but, unless the Heels start more closely resembling last year’s team on defense, a repeat is unlikely (though not impossible). No, what I like about measures like this one (there were other trusty metrics for this kind of thing already in place before I came along with mine) is how they show there’s more than one way to generate shots.

More specifically, there are two ways, as seen at the top of this season’s leaderboard.

Shot volume index (SVI)
Through games of February 12
Major-conference games only

    	                 TO%     OR%     SVI
1.  North Carolina      16.1    41.0    102.8
2.  Villanova           12.9    28.4    100.7
3.  Duke                17.2    37.4     99.8
4.  Ole Miss            15.9    32.9     99.8

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Why do we worry about college players’ minutes?


Will he collapse in a heap?

This is the year of fatigue in the Big 12. When an elite team like Kansas or West Virginia drops a game or two, it is said to be because key players aren’t getting enough rest.

The explanation rises like a perennial in the spring every time the Jayhawks lose a game, and we all form a worry-circle around Devonte’ Graham’s current streak of six consecutive 40-minute games. Conversely, when the Mountaineers suffered a three-game losing streak, it was said that Jevon Carter was exhausted, and that the system itself wears out its players long before March. (Such talk has subsided now that WVU has won two straight.) Continue reading

Social norms and Trae Young


(Josh Gateley,

It appears increasingly likely that Trae Young will turn out to be the most interesting player of my “writing about college basketball” career so far.

Here’s a freshman who started the season ranked as the No. 23 recruit in the country, yet who then proceeded to out-Curry Curry. (Literally.) That was, frankly, amazing to behold, and we all said so.

Now, as if that weren’t enough, Young has sparked one of the better basketball conversations to come down the pike in a long while, courtesy of his 48-point, 14-of-39 effort in Oklahoma’s overtime loss at Oklahoma State. Depending on whether one focuses on the “48” or the “14-of-39,” I suppose Young might be rendered as either a Prometheus or a problem. Continue reading

The Big East could turn out to be the most entertaining conference ever


Scoring 1.31 points per trip? That’ll do. (Eric Hartline — USA TODAY Sports)

It’s early in the season, but, with 21 percent of its conference games already in the books, it bears mention that the Big East is playing historically entertaining basketball. We can’t know if this is going to continue, of course, but the salient present-tense point is that the games we’ve seen so far have been outrageously high-scoring.

Teams in the league are simultaneously playing at a fast pace and scoring with a high degree of efficiency on each possession. Val Ackerman, I salute you!


This combination of speed and effectiveness has put the Big East on an entirely different level in terms of scoring. Continue reading

One of these 12 teams will very likely win it all


Congratulations, Zags, you still have a shot. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

I love the week six AP poll. Historically speaking, week six has been measurably more accurate in predicting that season’s national champion than its predecessors in prior weeks.

Indeed, we’ve already arrived at the point in the calendar where the added value of new information appears to evaporate. Week six is just as good at ranking the eventual champion as any future poll all the way to the one that comes out the day after Selection Sunday. Not surprisingly, that poll is the most accurate one of all. Continue reading

The trouble with Arizona


Photo: Casey Sapio, USAT Sports

If you could travel back in time to one month ago, and tell someone there that Arizona is 5-3 and unranked, they wouldn’t believe you. And by that I more specifically mean I wouldn’t believe you.

I ranked the Wildcats No. 1 in the preseason, and I had good company.

Arizona’s preseason rankings

    AP     Coaches    KenPom
     3        5          3           1

Keep in mind nothing’s “happened” to Arizona that we didn’t know about previously. Yes, Sean Miller has had to play without Rawle Alkins to this point, but we knew that when these preseason rankings were derived. Yes, the program, like much of the sport, is under active federal investigation, but we knew that too when these numbers were formulated. Continue reading

Peer performance pressure, and the limits of coaching theory


Last season, this offense made its shots and took outstanding care of the ball. What could possibly have gone wrong?

Years ago, when rebound percentages were still seen as newfangled, the first question I was ever asked by a Division I coach was what the best target numbers are for both offensive and defensive rebound rates. I don’t remember my response, though I would guess I delivered, as requested (I was thrilled simply to have had my opinion solicited), two numbers spelling out what the team “should” be doing.

I now think that was a mistake. True, thanks to Dean Oliver, we know that the four factors in basketball are shooting, turnovers, rebounds, and free throws, and we rank offenses and defenses on each of those metrics.

But of late, however unconsciously, I find I no longer regard all of the factors as a must-watch sequence in and of itself. Instead, I’ve elevated shooting to a co-starring role above the title in this movie we call hoops.

Furthermore, I’ve collapsed turnovers and offensive rebounds into one quantity and elevated that into the other co-starring role, one I call shot volume. (In this two-factor amalgam, offensive rebounding is clearly the junior — or at least downstream — partner.) And, for better or worse, I now regard free throws as an occasionally dispositive but basically exogenous event, kind of like a power outage or visiting relatives.  Continue reading