On Improving the NCAA Tourney: Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 28th, 2017

Last June the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) empaneled an ad hoc committee whose stated purpose was to provide the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Selection Committee a perspective from men’s basketball coaches and their teams regarding selection, seeding and bracketing for the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA has in recent years become increasingly receptive to considering and making changes, and as this year’s event reaches its climax, we decided to offer some specific recommendations to bolster the best three weeks in sports. Let’s focus today on improvements to the selection and seeding process.

John Calipari is one of the members of the recently created NABC ad hoc committee formed to make recommendations to the NCAA Selection Committee. (Kevin Jairaj / USA TODAY Sports)

John Calipari is one of the members of the recently created NABC ad hoc committee formed to make recommendations to the NCAA Selection Committee. (Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports)

Bye Bye, RPI

Whenever the subject arises of improving the primary metric that the Selection Committee uses, there is one recurring response: Either dump the RPI altogether, or dramatically limit its influence. The good news is that we may finally be headed in that direction. A month after the NABC formed its committee and began communicating with the NCAA, the following statement was made as part of an update on the current NCAA Selection Committee:

The basketball committee supported in concept revising the current ranking system utilized in the selection and seeding process, and will work collaboratively with select members of the NABC ad hoc group to study a potentially more effective composite ranking system for possible implementation no earlier than the 2017-18 season.

Moving away from the RPI as the primary method for sorting teams into composite tiers would be a huge step toward improving the balance of the field. We have heard committee members for years make the point that a school’s RPI ranking is just one factor of many on its resume. But then the same committee members turn right around and cite that team’s record against the top-50 or top-100 — or its strength of schedule rating — all of which, of course, are derivative of the RPI. That means that the outdated metric is still, even now in an environment of Big Data, a highly significant influence on how teams are judged. The real harm occurs when the RPI results in entire conferences being overrated, which leads to those member institutions likewise being over-seeded. Placing five to seven teams well above their proper seed lines can have a substantial negative impact on the overall balance and corresponding fairness of the entire NCAA Tournament. Here are three recent examples.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 South Carolina 88, #2 Duke 81 (CN)

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 19th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Greenville this weekend.

Celebrate Rakym Felder, you and your teammates just made school history. (Getty)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. After a terrible offensive performance in the first half, South Carolina had another second half explosion. It was a repeat of Friday’s win over Marquette when it scored 54 second half points. Despite holding Duke to 30 points in 33 first half possessions, the Gamecocks were still down seven at the break because they shot 20 percent from the floor. But the change of baskets after intermission did wonders for the South Carolina aim. They connected on 20 of their 28 shots in the second stanza for 71.4 percent shooting. Additionally, the Gamecocks were great at the foul line–icing the game away by making 21-of-23 from the stripe in the second half. South Carolina put up 65 points after intermission in a complete turnaround that propelled the Gamecocks to victory.
  2. Overall, South Carolina did a great job containing Duke’s explosive offense. The Blue Devils looked rattled for much of the first half, committing 13 turnovers. About midway through the opening stanza Frank Martin went to a zone, which stood up the Duke offense and forced many of those miscues. It was more of the same after the break. For the game, South Carolina forced Duke into 18 turnovers and 41.5 percent field goal shooting. The result: South Carolina held one of the nation’s best offenses to 1.07 points per possession and the preseason #1 ranked Blue Devils end the year in disappointing fashion.
  3. Sindarius Thornwell is a bona fide stud. Earlier in the week, Mike Krzyzewski called him one of the nation’s least known great players. Maybe America will know who he is now as the senior forward displayed his versatility on both ends of the floor. He finished with a game-high 24 points, six rebounds and five assists. Thornwell, a member of the SEC All-Defensive Team, also deserves praise for his work against Duke’s star Luke Kennard. He was a primary reason that Kennard finished with just 11 points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field. And there’s no question that his play raises the level of his teammates’ confidence as well.

Player of the Game. Sindarius Thornwell. See Above! Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 72, #8 Arkansas 65

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 19th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Greenville this weekend.

Roy Williams leads North Carolina back to the Sweet 16 for the ninth time in his 14 years at the helm. (Lance King/wralsportsfan.com)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. What a turnaround we had. After the first 16 minutes of action North Carolina was in complete control of the game or so it seemed. The Tar Heels built a 17-point lead by dominating Arkansas on the defensive end of the floor as the Razorbacks committed 10 turnovers and were shooting close to 25 percent from the floor with four minutes before intermission. Suddenly things changed dramatically and Arkansas closed the half on a 16-6 run. That momentum carried over into the second half as Arkansas surged past the Tar Heels before North Carolina rallied to win a game that it appeared to have in the bag long before. With the game in the balance the Tar Heel defense came up big again as Arkansas failed to score on its last five possessions.
  2. For some reason, this North Carolina team doesn’t finish games very well away from home. For most of the year the Tar Heels have struggled to beat good teams when they aren’t playing in the Smith Center, which is surprising for such a veteran team. Fortunately for Roy Williams, they managed to make enough plays to win a tight game tonight, but the way they almost melted down is still concerning. As Arkansas made its comeback, the Hogs were greatly aided by the Tar Heels’ sloppy play – 10 second half turnovers that became 17 Arkansas points. Perhaps this year’s North Carolina team misses the steadying influence of departed guard Marcus Paige. As the competition improves, the Tar Heels must be a better 40-minute team to make it to Phoenix.
  3. Arkansas shot well enough to win after a slow start. To have a chance to upset the Tar Heels, Arkansas needed to have an effective shooting night from the perimeter. That was certainly not the case early as the Razorbacks clanked their first five shots from deep. But after that cold beginning, they heated up considerably – making eight of their next 13 from behind the arc and ended the night at 38.1 percent on three-pointers. JUCO transfer Daryl Macon led the Arkansas shooting comeback, coming off the bench to make 3-of-5 from behind the arc.

Player of the Game. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ senior center led his team with 16 points and collected a game-high 11 boards. His putback basket in the last minute gave his team a three-point lead and basically clinched the game. Meeks was also instrumental to North Carolina’s defensive effort, blocking three shots and helping to hold Moses Kingsley to 4-of-12 shooting. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #7 South Carolina 93, #10 Marquette 73

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Greenville this weekend.

Frank Martin leads South Carolina to its first NCAA Tourney win since 1973.
(thestate.com)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. In the match-up of great offense (Marquette) and great defense (South Carolina), something had to give. Sparked by a decided home crowd advantage — unusual for a #7 seed — the Gamecocks’ defense was more than up to the challenge tonight. Although the Marquette shooters were able to shake free for numerous threes, South Carolina got the job done in other areas, harassing the Golden Eagles into 18 turnovers and limiting them to only six offensive rebounds. In the end, Marquette scored nine points below its season average, while South Carolina scored an incredible 54 points after intermission.
  2. Marquette showed why it’s one of the most dangerous three-pointing shooting teams in the country. The Golden Eagles controlled most of the first half by hurting South Carolina from behind the arc. The nation’s best three-point shooting team made 8-of-16 in the first half and 11 of their first 22 for the game. But the Gamecocks’ relentless pressure eventually wore down their shooters, causing the Golden Eagles to misfire on their last five long-range attempts.
  3. South Carolina kept Marquette off the free throw line. Throughout his coaching career, Frank Martin’s teams have been known for their aggressive defense. Unfortunately that often results in a lot of trips to the free throw line for the opposition. Tonight the Gamecocks were able to play hard defensively without fouling, an especially important factor considering Marquette shoots 78 percent from the stripe. For the game, South Carolina only committed 13 fouls (eight under its season average) and Marquette as a result went 12-of-14 from the line.

Player of the Game. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina. The 6’5″ senior forward was easily the best player on the floor tonight, scoring a game-high 29 points in a superb all-around effort. Thornwell also led all players with 11 rebounds, blocked two shots and collected three steals. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 87, #15 Troy 65

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Greenville this weekend.

Jayson Tatum was excellent on both ends of the floor in his first NCAA Tourney game.
(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. When they are hitting their threes this Duke team is almost impossible to guard. The Blue Devils came out on fire from deep – hitting 10-of-17 threes in the first half. And it wasn’t just one guy going off. Grayson Allen hit all three of his attempts from distance before half time, but four others connected as well. For the game, Duke went 13-for-28 from behind the arc and that was the difference in the game. That enabled the Blue Devils to overcome an off night by Luke Kennard  —  eight points on 3-of-12 shooting — and a deficit (-2) in points-in-the-paint.
  2. Troy is a good offensive basketball team. On the season, the Trojans are among KenPom’s top-75 in adjusted offensive efficiency and they showed us why tonight. After showing initial jitters–five turnovers in its first eight possessions–Troy settled down about halfway through the first half. After trailing by 15 early, the Trojans calmed down and ran their offense well–hitting five straight shots during one stretch–to close to within seven before Duke spurted again. In the end, Troy couldn’t get enough of its threes to fall as they ended the game shooting 5-for-23 from deep.
  3. Defensive consistency is still a concern for the Blue Devils. There were several stretches in the game where the Trojans scoring rather easily, particularly on the interior. That remains the biggest question for Duke going forward. Good offensive teams often have their way with Duke in the paint. Harry Giles did not build upon his impressive performance last week at the ACC Tournament as he was scoreless and committed two fouls in four first half minutes. For Duke to survive off-shooting nights in the future, they will need more from him.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 103, #16 Texas Southern 64

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Greenville this weekend.

Justin Jackson busted out of his recent shooting slump with a huge first half.
(newsobserver.com)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. There was never a possibility of a historical upset today in Greenville. Thursday top seeds Villanova and Gonzaga let their #16 opponents hang around for a full half before pulling away, but #1 North Carolina cruised to a 25-point halftime lead today and rolled from there. The Tar Heels played to their size advantage in dispatching the Tigers, piling up a huge advantage on the boards (+27) and in points in the paint (+24). As expected, North Carolina was particularly effective on the offensive glass, turning 20 offensive boards into 29 second chance points.
  2. Texas Southern was not equipped to pull off a March upset. Not only did North Carolina hold a significant edge in size and talent, it was not facing the kind of team that we typically see spring the big NCAA First Round surprise. Usually that kind of underdog is a dangerous three-point shooting squad that gets hot in a timely way from deep. The only thing dangerous about the Tigers’ outside shooting, however, was the potential harm it could do to the rim. Texas Southern shoots below 30 percent from deep on the year and only connected on 7-of-27 from distance today.
  3. Justin Jackson has found his shooting touch again. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Justin Jackson was mired in a recent shooting slump. In his last four outings, the ACC Player of the Year was a combined 20-of-60 from the floor for a chilly 33 percent. Jackson turned that situation around fast, nailing 5-of-6 from three-point land in the first half alone. Of course, he was not up against a stout defense today and most of his attempts were wide open looks — still, Roy Williams has to feel better about his star forward’s confidence level going forward.

Player of the Game. Justin Jackson, North Carolina. In addition to his first half outburst, Jackson had a fine all-around game. He finished with a game-high 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and also chipped in with seven rebounds and three assists. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Arkansas 77, #9 Seton Hall 71

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Greenville this weekend.

Mike Anderson leads Arkansas into the second round. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Did the tempo get to Seton Hall? Arkansas came into the game as the team most likely to favor an up-and-down contest. With a first half played at 39 possessions, Kevin Willard wisely used his bench to give each starter at least five minutes off the floor before halftime. Halfway through the second half, the Pirates spurted to an eight-point lead, but could not maintain it. Down the stretch, Arkansas looked like the fresher team and Seton Hall made sloppy mistakes that tired teams often make. After halftime, Arkansas turned eight Seton Hall turnovers into 14 points. And the key play of the game was also a mental error–the flagrant foul called on Desi Rodriquez that gave the Razorbacks a huge late advantage.
  2. Arkansas is not good at defensive rebounding. For the year, the Razorbacks rank among the worst 30 teams in the nation on the defensive glass and they played true to form today. Seton Hall snagged 21 offensive boards to make up for a poor shooting performance from the floor and keep the game close. Fortunately for Arkansas, the Pirates only turned those rebounds into 14 second chance points. So the positive for the Razorbacks is that their second shot (and sometimes third shot) defense was good.
  3. Seton Hall’s shooting tells the tale. The Pirates have not shot well for much of the season and they struggled to put the ball in the basket again today. Seton Hall was ineffective from everywhere – making only 39 percent of its twos, 35 percent of its threes, and just 62 percent from the foul line. Khadeen Carrington was the only Pirate that could make shots for much of the game as he finished with 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 12th, 2017

The ACC received nine bids to the NCAA Tournament today, as the Selection Committee rewarded one of the league’s two bubble teams with Wake Forest making the field over Syracuse and its 2-10 record away from the Carrier Dome. Another big question going into today was whether regular season champion North Carolina or ACC Tournament winner Duke would get a #1 seed? The Tar Heels, on the strength of their regular season work, ultimately got the nod from the committee. Here are some quick best- and worst-case scenarios for each of the nine ACC teams in the field.

North Carolina (#1 South)

  • Best Case: The Tar Heels’ size and experience results in another appearance in the National Championship game with a chance for the school’s sixth national title.
  • Worst Case: North Carolina has another bad shooting night away from the Smith Center against an opponent (e.g., Butler) that will not allow the Heels to dominate the offensive glass.

Duke hopes to continue to play like it did in Brooklyn where they won four games in four days to capture the ACC Tourney Title. (abc11.com)

Duke (#2 East)

  • Best Case: Duke builds on its current momentum all the way to Phoenix, giving Coach K a shot at his sixth National Championship.
  • Worst Case: On a day when Duke’s threes are not falling, the Blue Devils get picked off in the Second Round by South Carolina, which benefits from a friendly local crowd in Greenville.

Louisville (#2 Midwest)

  • Best Case: Louisville’s defense overwhelms its foes and the Cardinals hit enough shots to get Rick Pitino back to the Final Four for a chance at his second title at the school and third overall.
  • Worst Case: The threes and free throws don’t connect for the Cardinals and they can’t get turnovers against a hot Michigan or Oklahoma State squad in the Second Round.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VIII – Final Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 7th, 2017

Here is the final edition of our weekly review of the current ACC standings and team performances where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records indicate. Each week we delve into advanced metrics to reveal a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends. With the regular season now complete, we will look at which ACC teams performed better in the second half of league play and how that may impact the upcoming ACC Tournament. Finally, we forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins and what that means for each team’s postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Saturday, March 4.

Current Standings

North Carolina finished with an impressive two-game lead in the standings to edge out Louisville with the league’s top efficiency margin. Since the Cardinals finished as the #4 seed for this week’s ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, the two best teams in the conference landed on the same side of the bracket. The Tar Heels finish with the league’s top offense for the first time since 2009 — incidentally the last time North Carolina won the National Championship. This year, Roy Williams’ club used an outstanding offensive rebounding rate (42.5%) to overcome a modest shooting year — the Heels finished 10th in the league in effective field goal percentage (51.7%). Virginia reclaimed its status as the ACC’s best defensive squad, as Tony Bennett‘s teams have now finished as one of the ACC’s two best defenses in each of the last six seasons. Virginia’s pack line defense led the league in forcing turnovers (20.1%) and finished third in opponents’ effective field goal percentage (48.5%). Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Weekend Review: 03.06.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 6th, 2017

The ACC regular season wrapped up on Saturday and things went mostly according to plan with home favorites winning six of the seven contests. The lone road underdog to triumph was Wake Forest boosting its NCAA Tournament hopes with a nice comeback win at Virginia Tech. In one of the season’s most exciting games, North Carolina earned revenge for an earlier loss at Duke defeating the Blue Devils on Saturday night in the Smith Center. In other important action, Louisville and Florida State clinched double-byes in the upcoming ACC Tournament by beating Notre Dame and Miami, respectively. Syracuse also routed Georgia Tech in the Carrier Dome in what was effectively an NCAA Tournament elimination game. Here are the highlights of the weekend around the ACC.

After Saturday night’s win over Duke, Roy Williams celebrated North Carolina’s second consecutive outright ACC regular season title (Getty/Streeter Lecka)

  • Best Win I: Even though North Carolina had already clinched the ACC regular season title, the Tar Heels still had much at stake in its annual season-ending meeting with Duke. In using a late-game spurt to beat the Blue Devils, Roy Williams’ club avenged an earlier loss and moved considerably closer to clinching a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The game was a riveting back-and-forth affair with great individual performances on both sides. Luke Kennard made his case for ACC Player of the Year by leading the Blue Devils with 28 points, but his efforts were not enough to overcome outstanding performances from North Carolina’s Joel Berry (28 points including 5-of-5 on threes) and Isaiah Hicks (21 points, nine rebounds). Another difference this time came in the form of North Carolina’s improved perimeter defense. Duke punished the Tar Heels from beyond the arc with 13 three-pointers several weeks ago; on Saturday, the Blue Devils managed only 7-of-19 from deep.

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