ATB: New Years Weekend Wrap

Posted by rtmsf on January 5th, 2009


Since the ATB writers have been in a self-induced coma as a result of last week’s NYE festivities (hey, it’s hard living in your mom’s basement), rather than rehashing a bunch of stale games from Wed-Sun, we thought it’d make more sense to just hit some highlights and trends of things we’re watching as the haze continues to wear off from our vision and the strange burning sensations subside.

Some News & Notes.

  • Is Tubby Smith on the short list of coaches looking at Arizona?  Maybe the Tubbster realized that, yes, those icicles on your c#&k really do stay there for six months of the year, and as such, Tucson is looking pretty tasty.
  • Former Hoosier and UAB carpetbagger Armon Bassett ended up transferring to Ohio U.  He will be eligible after next fall’s quarter.
  • Kyle Whelliston is awesome.  Seriously.  The Mid-Majority founder and resident subversive in the college hoops world discovered a clear trend showing that the BCS teams are playing each other more often during the out-of-conference slate, and the mid-majors less.  He thinks this is good for the mids, but we’re not so sure.  The mids really need those opportunities to shine that beating S. Florida and Oregon St. UCLA and Duke provide.
  • The Dagger had a great year-in-review wrapup article over at Yahoo Sports, as well as a look at what college hoops might look like if the BCS was running things over here.

The Big East is insane this year. In just the last three weeks, we’ve seen UConn look like the most likely hurdle for North Carolina through its clutch win in Seattle vs. Gonzaga.  Then we jumped on the Georgetown bandwagon after the Hoyas proceeded to go up to Storrs and thump those Huskies behind a balanced offensive attack and its standard sticky defense.  Only for our mis/pre-conceptions to be challenged again when Pittsburgh chose to use this weekend’s matchup in DC at Georgetown to manhandle (manhandle?  try superman-handle…  the Panthers had more o-rebs – 18 – than the Hoyas had total – 17) the same team that looked so fantastic against UConn five days prior.  We really don’t know what to make of this league with these performances.  Given the way things have gone so far, Pitt should now be in position to get its bell rung by UConn in Western Pa.  We just don’t know.  One thing we think we can say without too much hedging is that UConn, Georgetown, Pitt, and possibly Notre Dame, Syracuse and Louisville (if those three ever get it completely going), are the best top six to a conference we’ve ever seen.  It’s likely that all six of those teams would win the SEC and compete with UCLA for the Pac-10 crown.  In 1995, the ACC had a really strong top four, but nothing like this group.  As for Georgetown,  we noted after the UConn game that their lack of strong bench production could end up biting them in the arse down the stretch, and it was absolutely exhibited here (2 pts).  This will ultimately be the Hoyas’ downfall, as their 29-game homecourt winning streak was snapped when Pitt went on a 17-4 run to blow open a 40-40 tie game.  As much as we love Greg Monroe, he was schooled by the savvier Dejuan Blair, who dropped 20/17 on the bigger player.

Monday update:  Notre Dame 73, Georgetown 67. Notre Dame defeated Georgetown at home tonight, keeping their 44-game homecourt (and 19-game conference) winning streak alive.  This occurred a mere two days after the Irish laid a leprechaun egg against St. John’s in NYC.  Just like that, Georgetown is now 1-2 in the conference, when one week ago tonight they looked like the team to beat.  Wow.

Is the SEC surging? It’s probably too little, too late, for the SEC to save its sinking sunk RPI in time to matter much come Selection Sunday, but the last few days of games showed that the league may have some fight left in it, following up on Arkansas’ upset of Oklahoma and pulling off a few key wins in games that its teams would have lost in November or early December.  Consider the following scores:

  • South Carolina 85, Baylor 84. SC is one of the definite surprise teams of this season, proving once again that Dave Odom has been the luckiest man alive to have bilked multiple schools of millions of dollars by passing himself off as a legitimate head coach.  Getting a win over a ranked team in a true road game is something the SEC hadn’t done all year.  Until Friday night.  Shooting 54% and putting all five starters in double-figures helps.
  • Florida 68, NC State 66. We probably shouldn’t be giving too much love to a team that allowed its marginal ACC opponent to shoot 59% on its home floor, but hey, an intersectional win is a win!  Nick Calathes saved the day with 24 of his 34, including the go-ahead jumper with 11 seconds left, coming in the second half.
  • Alabama 88, Georgia Tech 77. Bama will be as good as Ronald Steele is and he was excellent on this night (23/10), echoing memories of his healthy first two years in Tuscaloosa.  Ga Tech appears to once again be going nowhere fast.
  • Mississippi St. 82, Houston 65. MSU simply took control of this game, holding an 8-2 Houston team to 28% shooting in the process.
  • Vanderbilt 78, Massachusetts 48. Wow, a complete obliteration of UMass in Amherst by a team that had really shown next-to-nothing so far this year.  Derek Kellogg has lost that team.
  • Louisville 74, Kentucky 71. Yeah, it’s an L for the SEC, but Kentucky has been playing better ball lately and took Louisville to the brink before Pitino whipping boy Edgar Sosa dropped a 25-foot three to win the game with 2.6 seconds remaining.  There may not be a better inside/outside duo than UK’s Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson (50/18 in this game).

Most Impressive Win of the Weekend. Wake Forest 94, BYU 87. It was televised to all of six people in America on The Mountain network, but Wake going into the viper’s pit known as the Marriott Center in Provo where the Cougars had won their last 53 games against all comers was very impressive.  This was especially so given that Wake was teetering in the mid-second half before their assassin Jeff Teague (30/4/4) and muscle man James Johnson (22/15) took over the game, as the tired BYU players starting coming up short on their shots.  What’s the difference between this Wake team and some others (most notably, the Chris Paul teams) in the recent past?  This Deacon squad plays defense.  Whether it’s by design or simply the absurd athleticism that three potential lottery picks in the starting lineup (Teague/Johnson/Aminu) provide, their length and size bothers teams, and as a result, the Deacs are currently the fifth most efficient defensive team in America.   The UNC-Wake game next Sunday in Winston-Salem looms large to see just how good this Deacon team can be.

What Has Happened to the Zags? Utah 66, Gonzaga 65. It’s almost as if that loss to UConn two weeks ago took all the wind out of the sails of the Zags.  Since that game, they’ve lost at home to Portland St. and now away at Utah in a game they had multiple chances to win.  Next they’re at Tennessee on Wednesday before WCC play starts.  Meanwhile, conference foe St. Mary’s is cruising along at 14-1, although against admittedly lesser competition.  As for the Zags, there is top ten talent on this team, and they need to stop feeling sorry for themselves because they lost a heartbreaking game.  Jeremy Pargo in particular needs to get his team’s attention and back on the right track, and Austin Daye needs to improve his shot selection (a 6’11 guy shouldn’t be shooting 44% from the field); otherwise, America’s favorite “underdog” from the Pacific Northwest will once again disappoint in March.

USC is the Most Confounding Team in America. USC 83, Oregon 62 & Oregon St. 62, USC 58 (OT).  USC once again has several future NBA Draft picks on its roster, but as has been a trend in recent years for the Trojans, they are just as likely to shock you with an efficient evisceration of an opponent as they are to simply not show up for the engagement at all.  Case in point was the Oregon two-fer last weekend.  On Friday night, the Trojans went into Oregon’s Macarthur Court (one of the tougher venues in the Pac-10, even in a year when Oregon is clearly down) and completely humiliated the Ducks with a +21-pt second half (probably its best half of the year).  Then, riding that wave of success, USC visited Oregon St. on Sunday – remember, the Beavers went 0-18 in the Pac-10 last season – and managed to hand OSU its first conference victory in 683 days.   If anyone can explain this team, let us know.

Some Other Scores That Caught Our Eye.

  • UNLV 56, Louisville 55. Of course, this was prior to the victory over their nemesis on Sunday, but the Louisville bugaboo of poor shooting (29.6%), weak guard play and a seeming lack of focus allowed UNLV (w/o Wink Adams) to come east and steal a victory.  After this game, Edgar Sosa reportedly was asked to transfer by Coach Pitino – he responded with his best game in two years against Kentucky (18 pts).
  • Marquette 79, Villanova 72. Someone send us an email when you can figure out just how good either of these teams actually are.  Both are two-loss guard-oriented teams that have similar RPI profiles (#29 and #30), capable of a major upset at any time, but not quite strong enough to reach the top tier of the Big East.
  • Arizona St. 90, Stanford 60. Has a BCS team ever defeated another BCS team by 45 points at home, only to lose by 30 points in the next week to another BCS team at home?  That’s a 75-pt difference for you mathemagicians out there.  Stanford followed up this blasting with another home win against Arizona on Sunday, so maybe the Cardinal just had a bad game against Herb Sendek’s team.
  • Xavier 84, Virginia 70. XU really needed to win this road game against an ACC team (even a likely bottom-dweller) to convince folks that their rough two game stretch against Duke and Butler last month is behind them.
  • Illinois St. 86, Creighton 64. ISU stamped itself as the team to beat in the MVC with this big home win on Saturday.  Now 14-0, the Redbirds used a huge second half to blow the game open led by Osiris Eldridge’s 20/9.
  • Michigan 74, Illinois 64. This was a big win for John Beilein’s UM squad, because the Illini have been playing extremely well of late.  Amazingly, after only two games, only Wisconsin and Michigan St. are unbeaten (2-0) in the Big Ten race.
  • Duke 69, Virginia Tech 44. A 13-point second half will not get it done in Cameron.  Although Duke is #2 now, we still don’t believe in them in the long term.  Only five points came off of their bench in this game.
  • California 81, Arizona St. 71. If this keeps up, Mike Montgomery will have to be in the conversation for NCOY.  Two days after demolishing Stanford, Arizona St. got outhustled and outplayed in the second half (Cal shot 68% behind Jerome Randle’s 26/10 assts).  This was two nights after putting away Arizona, 69-55.  Monty has this program competing way ahead of schedule.

On Tap Tuesday. check our now-daily Set Your Tivos feature for the games to watch tomorrow.

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Is Stephen Curry Overrated?

Posted by nvr1983 on January 4th, 2009

Since his 40 point explosion in Davidson’s first round victory over Gonzaga last March, college basketball fans have been bombarded with the Stephen Curry lovefest that has been spearheaded by Dick Vitale and ESPN. The WWL and other hoops aficionados loves to point out that Curry was ignored by every major school including Virginia Tech, the alma mater of his father NBA All-Star Dell Curry. Like every other basketball fan we love the way Stephen plays and his sweet stroke from the perimeter that has been augmented by a surprising ability to get to the hoop and finish. Since last March, it has been hard to find anybody that would be critical of the baby-faced assassin from Davidson, but here at Rush the Court we like to let our minds not our hearts analyze the situation.


Like many NBA scouts, I have had my reservations about anointing Stephen the next great NBA player much to the chagrin of some Davidson fans. However, I continued to marvel (see my post minutes after Davidson knocked Gonzaga out of the NCAA tournament in the first round last year) at his ability to put up numbers despite the best efforts of the opposition (with the exception of the antics of Jimmy Patsos). After watching his performance against Purdue (5/26 FG), his third sub-par game this year against quality (BCS-level) competition, I started to wonder if all those BCS conference coaches and NBA scouts may have been on to something. So I started to crunch the numbers, which led to some very surprising results.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Conference Primers: #28 – Atlantic Sun

Posted by rtmsf on October 7th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:


  1. East Tennessee St. (20-7) (13-3)
  2. Belmont (19-12) (12-4)
  3. Lipscomb (15-15) (10-6)
  4. Campbell (13-16) (7-9)
  5. Gardner-Webb (10-18) (6-10)
  6. South Carolina – Upstate (6-21) (4-12)


  1. Jacksonville (17-10) (11-5)
  2. Mercer (17-12) (10-6)
  3. Kennesaw St. (14-14) (10-6)
  4. Stetson (13-15) (8-8)
  5. Florida Gulf Coast (5-23) (3-13)
  6. North Florida (3-24) (2-14)

Atlantic Sun logo

WYN2K. The Atlantic Sun has been an up and down league over the past decade. It spent much of the late 90s and early 2000s as a league hovering at the top of the low-majors (#19-#23 ranked conference most years). But the last two seasons it has fallen hard, finishing as one of the bottom four conferences in the computer rankings both years. Its OOC record (70-174, .287) the last three years is standard for a league at this level. Still, the NCAA typically shows some love to the conference champion, having given the A-Sun only five #16 seeds in 64/65-team era (and two of those were when the league received multiple bids) and peaking with a #11 seed in 2001 (Georgia St. defeated #5 Wisconsin in the first round). The league has earned a #14 or #15 seed each of the last six years, and we see no reason for this to end.

Predicted Champion. East Tennessee St. (#15 Seed NCAA). We see Murray Bartow’s ETSU squad (16-2 last season in the A-Sun) as the team to beat here. They return league POY Courtney Pigram and bring in former juco D2 POY Kevin Tiggs, a combo guard from whom big things are expected immediately. As a program, ETSU is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, having made the Dance two of the last five years (as a member of the Southern Conference) and seven times overall.

Others Considered. The A-Sun North division is clearly the class of the league, containing two-time defending tourney champion Belmont and rising Lipscomb. Belmont is a system program predicated on efficient ball movement (#21 nationally in eFG%) and tight defense (#5 nationally in eFG% defense), but the loss of their two best post men (Boomer Herndon and Andrew Preston) makes it difficult for us to pick them again. Lipscomb is another intriguing choice if for no other reason than they’re hosting the conference tourney this year – oh, and they’re 24-2 at home during the last two seasons. Jacksonville engineered one of the all-time greatest turnarounds last year, going from one win in 2006 to fifteen in 2007, and while they won eight of their last eleven regular season games, we’re not ready to push them past the more experienced teams just yet.

Games to Watch. There’s likely only one A-Sun game probably worth watching this year.

  • Atlantic Sun Championship Game (03.08.08).

RPI Booster Games. The A-Sun has thirty games against BCS opponents scheduled this year, and hopefully it can perform a little better than last year when it was 0-34. There are some opportunities against lower-tier BCS teams, however, in the following list of games:

  • Belmont @ Cincinnati (11.09.07)
  • ETSU @ Georgia (12.21.07)
  • Lipscomb @ Vanderbilt (12.08.07)
  • Campbell @ South Carolina (11.28.08)
  • Jacksonville @ Florida (12.03.07)
  • Alabama @ Mercer (11.13.07)
  • Kennesaw St. @ Auburn (11.13.07)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. <5%. It’s extremely unlikely that this is a two-bid league, but if any team was going to make it so, it would be ETSU. It would require domination of the league as well as a scintillating non-conference record before they lose in the conference tourney – we don’t see that happening.

Neat-o Stat. We have a couple for the A-Sun. First, North Florida last season enjoyed the dubious distinction of having the least efficent offense in the nation, scoring a mere 79.6 pts per 100 possessions. Secondly, Florida Gulf Coast (one of four transitional schools making the jump to D1 in the A-Sun) is the youngest D1 university in America, having opened its doors to students in 1997.

64/65-Team Era. In 26 appearances, the Atlantic Sun is 3-23 (.115) over the era, scoring the #11 over #6 upset mentioned above, #12 College of Charleston defeating #5 Maryland in 1997, and #14 Arkansas-Little Rock defeating #3 Notre Dame (Digger!) in 1986. That UALR team then took NC State to double OT in the next round before succumbing – that is the closest the league has gotten to the Sweet 16 in its history.

Final Thought. Belmont has gotten destroyed by Georgetown (80-55) and UCLA (78-44) in the last two years in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t appear that their style of play is conducive to pulling off an upset against a bigger, more athletic team. The league would have a much better chance at the first round upset if an uptempo, athletic team like ETSU earns the automatic bid.

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Gary Williams Hates Graduation

Posted by rtmsf on October 4th, 2007

Yesterday the NCAA released its latest graduation rate figures for all D1 athletes who entered school in the classes of 1997-2000. Unlike the federally-mandated graduation rate, the GSR (Graduate Success Rate) is more realistic for athletes – it gives each player six years to complete his degree and it does not count transfer students against a school (reflecting the reality of athlete puddle-jumping for playing time in D1).

Here are the NCAA’s key findings:

The latest GSR figures show that 77 percent of student-athletes who began college from 1997-2000 graduated within six years. That four-year graduation rate is unchanged from last year’s data and up from 76 percent two years ago.

The Graduation Success Rate for men’s basketball rose from 55.8 percent in 1995 to 63.6 percent in 2000, a 7.8 percent increase. Football increased from 63.1 percent to 66.6 percent for teams competing in the Bowl Subdivision and from 62 percent to 64.7 percent for teams competing in the Championship Subdivision. Baseball increased from 65.3 percent to 67.3 percent.

Gary Williams chicken wing

Gary is Too Busy to Worry About Graduation Rates

Since the NCAA doesn’t provide a sortable database of team information (or at least we can’t find it), we decided to quickly throw together some tables showing how the BCS schools performed in this cohort. Gary Williams should be especially proud of himself. Seriously, Gary, the best you can do with those Juan Dixon/Lonny Baxter teams is zero?!? Not even ONE player???

Big 10 + ACC GSRs 07

Big East + SEC GSRs 07

Big 12 + Pac-10 GSRs 07


  • At the high end, Florida St. at 100% makes us wonder if any of these stats are credible. Then again, Florida is also at 100%, and these numbers are around 2000, so maybe there was a hanging chad issue or something. We’re also amazed that Eddie Sutton’s band of merry criminals men led the Big 12.
  • At the low end, Jim Calhoun at UConn, Lute Olson at Arizona, Tim Floyd/Larry Eustachy at Iowa St., Ron Jirsa/Jim Harrick at Georgia, and the seediest of all, Clem Haskins at Minnesota, join Gary Williams in the dregs of their respective conferences. What a list of slimy characters there.
  • The Pac-10 is surprisingly low, given that Stanford, Cal, UCLA and USC are all great schools. Especially Stanford – how can Mike Montgomery justify graduating only 2/3 of his players? Guess he doesn’t have to at this point – or does he? And the SEC is surprisingly high, with Alabama, the Mississippi schools and South Carolina doing well.

We may have more thoughts on this later, but we’re heading for the airport at the moment, so it’ll have to wait.

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NCAA Tourney Conference Overachievers and Underachievers (1985-2007)

Posted by rtmsf on July 11th, 2007

Today we’re ready to unleash the last installment of our analysis of NCAA Tournament stats of the 65 (64) team era… that is, unless we decide to analyze the coaches too… well, it is over three months until Midnight Madness, so ok, hold that thought.  Anyway, as you hopefully recall, during the weekend we took a look at the raw numbers of the era by conference, and essentially concluded that the ACC has been the most successful conference of the last 23 years, the Pac-10 SWAC/NEC the worst, and that the mid-major conferences may not have been as consistently good as we had hoped over the years.

Now let’s take a look at the conferences who have overachieved and underachieved over the 65 (64) team era. In our analysis of this measure by school, you may remember that we looked at two different models – a Standard Model of expected wins by seed (e.g., a #1 seed should win 4 games per appearance), and a Historical Model of expected wins by seed (e.g., a #1 seed has actually won 3.36 games per appearance from 1985-2007). We concluded then that the true value lies in considering the Historical Model foremost because the Standard Model places too unrealistic of an expectation on high seeds and not high enough of one on low seeds, which ultimately skews its results in favor of lower-seeded schools and conferences. Given that condition, we now show the Overachiever and Underachiever conferences of the 65 (64) Team Era using the Historical Model. See Table A below.

Table A. Historical Model applied to 65 (64) Team Era

Notes: the table is sorted by “+/- per App,” which represents the number of games won above or below the expected number of wins for that seed per NCAA appearance (1985-2007). The conferences whose names are in bold are BCS conferences. The conferences whose names are in red are conferences that no longer exist.

NCAA Tourney by Conf v.3

Not Just George Mason. The first thought everyone will have (because we had it too) is that George Mason‘s miraculous run in 2006 accounts for the Colonial Conference’s rather aristocratic pedigree at the top of our list. But looking a little further inside the numbers somewhat mitigates this idea. Sure, the Masonites (as a #12 seed) won 3.52 games beyond its expected value of 0.48 wins per appearance in 2006, but that only accounts for half of the Colonial’s wins beyond expectation during this era. So where are the rest of the wins coming from? Thank David Robinson’s Navy squads of the mid-80s and Dick Tarrant’s Richmond Spiders in the immediate aftermath for the CAA’s perch as the biggest overachiever on our lofty list.

David Robinson

George Mason isn’t the only CAA School to Overachieve

BCStriation. Unlike our previous posting that used standard objective measures (wins, F4s, titles, etc.) to show that the six BCS conferences were without question the top six leagues of the era, today’s posting paints a substantially different picture. A league can be very successful objectively and still considerably underachieve, as in the strange case of the Pac-10 (and to a much lesser extent, the Big 10). Although the Pac-10 was clearly the weakest of the BCS conferences by the raw numbers, we certainly didn’t expect that it would be the second-worst underachiever of the 65 (64) team era – but it unquestionably is. The Pac-10 has won sixteen fewer games than it should have during this period, which dwarfs the negative output of any other conference – next in line for public shaming are Conference USA (7.6 wins fewer) and the Big 10 (6.5). Looking back at our list of chronic underachieving schools, we note that Stanford, Arizona and Cal all fall into the frequent NCAA underachievers list, which should have tipped us off that this was coming.

High Achievers. On the other side of things, the ACC and the Big East fall in line behind the CAA as the biggest overachievers of the era, which proves that you can get great seeds, have tremendous objective success in terms of wins and titles, and still overachieve as a conference. The ACC has won a whopping 22 games and the Big East 18 games beyond expectation; and the SEC isn’t far behind with 13. We also want to nod a tip of the hat to the Mid-Continent (+4.5 wins), MAC (+4 wins) and Horizon (+4 wins) conferences, each of which shows that leagues with consistently low seeds can do some damage on a regular basis in the NCAA Tournament.


Missouri Valley Teams Need to Do More of This

What About…? If anything, these last two posts have opened our eyes to just how traditionally overrated the Missouri Valley Conference has been. For a so-called mid-major who gets multiple teams invited every year, its performance leaves a lot to be desired (4 wins below expectations). We realize that things change – conferences get better and worse over the years – but the MVC is going to have to really start producing in the next 5-10 years to lose our proffered overrated tag. As a comparison, the Horizon and West Coast conferences have performed nearly as well (19 wins each) as the MVC (22 wins) despite earning far fewer NCAA bids and having a slightly worse average seed.

Ivy League Paradox. We suppose that if you asked a hundred college basketball fans whether they believed the Ivy League traditionally overachieves in the NCAA Tournament, 99 of them would likely agree. This is probably due to a memorable upset or two over the years in addition to a common perception that the Ivies are a “tough out” every year. But looking above, we see quite starkly that the Ivy League has been one of the biggest underachievers of this era, earning only three wins versus an expected total of seven. This is largely because the Ivy champs (usually Penn or Princeton) have consistently earned seeds ranging from #11-#13 over the last decade, but haven’t been able to earn a single win during that period. The lesson here, we suppose, is to never take an Ivy team in your brackets (we’ve heard that taking an Ivy team against the spread in the first round is a good bet, however).

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NCAA Tournament Success in the 65 (64) Team Era by Conference

Posted by rtmsf on July 7th, 2007

Hope everyone had a great 4th of July holiday… although we gotta say this midweek holiday thing kinda sucks. Give us the three-day (or four!) day weekend instead.

Anyway, we’re now ready to unveil the conference follow-up to our June analysis of the Top NCAA Performers of the 65 (64) Team Era. Once again, we’re going to take several different views of the world here. Today we’ll just look at the raw statistics and make some obvious insightful observations. In the next post, we’ll take a look at how conferences have performed versus its seeds during this era, and whether we can draw any broad conclusions from the data about overachieving and underachieving conferences.


What Kind of Conference is This?

A couple of notes before rolling out the data. First, with only one notable exception, we counted a team’s performance in a given year toward the totals of its conference at the time. For example, Louisville’s 1986 national title counts toward the Metro Conference totals (the Metro disbanded in 1995), not the Big East totals. The notable exception is that all Big 8 totals were subsumed into the new Big 12 conference, since every member of the Big 8 ultimately became Big 12 members. See Table A below.

Table A. NCAA Tournament Success by Conference (1985-2007)

Notes: this table is sorted by winning percentage. The conferences whose names are in red are conferences that no longer exist.

NCAA Tournament Conferences v.5

BCS Conferences. This won’t surprise anyone, but we wanted to show the numbers in context. The following represents the percentage of each category achieved by the six BCS conferences from 1985-2007.

  • 46.4% of all NCAA Appearances
  • 60.9% Winning Percentage
  • 72.5% of all Wins
  • 76.6% of all Sweet 16s
  • 87.0% of all Final 4s
  • 90.2% of all #1 Seeds
  • 91.3% of all Titles

If you’re writing a paper on the correlation between resources, exposure, talent and success in NCAA basketball, the above numbers should be included in your first paragraph. It matters.

Best in Show

Best in Show?

Best in Show. Over this 23-year period, there can be no question that the ACC has been the strongest performer in the NCAA Tournament. This conference leads in every objective category except for appearances, which actually makes their hard numbers with respect to S16s, F4s and Titles look even more impressive. The most shocking finding for us regarding the ACC’s success was that more than half (52.5%) of its participants during this era won at least two games (i.e., made the Sweet 16). This is phenomenal, especially considering that the next-best major conference is the Big East at 42.6%. Of course, when you’re winning greater than two-thirds of your games as a conference, then it shouldn’t be that surprising.

Next Best. From our view, the next tier of conferences include the Big East, SEC and Big Ten – you can pretty much throw them all in a pot and pick any of the three as second behind the ACC. The Big East leads in S16s and winning percentage; the SEC leads in titles and mostly has middle-of-the-pack numbers otherwise; and the Big Ten leads in appearances and F4s. We rate the Big 12 slightly below this group because there seems to be a drop in most categories from the above three, most notably in winning percentage and titles (ouch – only one). But the Pac-10 clearly performs worst over this era, earning the fewest bids, having the worst winning percentage and owning by far the least wins, S16s and F4s.

Mid-Majors. From the numbers, we only recognize four true mid-major conferences during this period – the Metro/Great Midwest/CUSA and WAC/Mountain West hybrids, the Atlantic 10 and the Missouri Valley. What’s interesting is that only the Metro/GM/CUSA teams have a winning record during this period, while of course all of the BCS conferences easily have winning records. This shows once again just how large of a disparity there is between the three levels of college basketball. Remember when during the mid-90s, the A10 was supposedly overtaking the Big East in talent and performance? – the lesson here is to not believe the hype. Within that group, Metro/GM/CUSA has had the most success, led by Louisville, Cincinnati and Memphis. Now that two of those three are in the Big East, we don’t expect CUSA’s success to continue. We were also a little surprised at how low both The Valley and the Mountain West performed here – they have poor winning percentages and the Mountain West in particular has only put two teams (of 18 bids) into the Sweet Sixteen since its inception in 2000 – pathetic for an annual multi-bid league.


Tark Has This Effect on Everyone

UNLV and Gonzaga Effect. The Big West and West Coast Conference exhibit how one very successful school can make a league look better than it actually is. By the numbers, the Big West looks like a mid-major league, but when broken down further, you quickly realize that the Rebels account for 21 of the conference’s 28 wins over this period. Excluding UNLV, the Big West is only 7-23 (.233) in the NCAA Tournament, which would put it on par with the Sun Belt and the Mid-Continent. The same is true with the WCC – when Gonzaga is excluded, the league is 7-21 (.250) during this period.


Stay Away from the NEC if you Want to Win in the NCAA Tournament

Low Majors. Picking a best conference among the low majors is a little like picking the prettiest ugly girl in the bar (not that we know anything about that, mind you), but if we have to choose, we’ll take the Southland Conference (note: we consider the conferences on the list above between the Great Midwest and the Sun Belt mid-majors, although the Sun Belt’s one S16 appearance with 32 bids is strong evidence that we might be giving that league too much credit). We choose the Southland because it’s one of only two of these conferences to put a team into the Sweet 16 (Karl Malone’s Louisiana Tech in 1985), and it has a better winning percentage than the others. We realize, of course, that all of these low majors are virtually equal in their NCAA ineptitude – only the Ohio Valley and the MAAC have ever received at-large bids (1987 – Middle Tennessee St.; 1995 – Manhattan) – but that’s our pick here. Our vote for the worst conference in D1 is a tie – the SWAC and the Northeast Conference. Each has the unenviable distinction of only winning one game in the NCAA Tournament during this period. Of course, maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way, and instead we should be celebrating the fact that every single conference has managed to win a game in the Dance during this period.

Final Thoughts. Can anyone catch the ACC? The Big East has a chance to tally significant gains if it continues to put eight teams into the NCAAs, as it did in 2006. But numbers alone probably isn’t enough – after all, the Big 10 has put the most teams in the Tournament since 1985. Rather, the ACC gives the obvious recipe for success by having two dominant programs that over the long haul consistently go deep into the NCAA Tournament (Duke and Carolina). Looking ahead, the Big East has an aging Calhoun at UConn and Boeheim at Syracuse so we’re not sure about its prospects. The Big 10 has Thad Matta the Recruiting Machine at OSU, but Michigan St. has regressed in recent years, and who else can rise up (Weber at Illinois? Beilein at Michigan? Tubby at Minnesota?). We’ll keep looking. The Pac-10 has an obvious supernova developing in Westwood at UCLA, but where else? Arizona will be in what kind of shape after Lute retires? Our choice for the conference to challenge the ACC in the next decade is the SEC. Billy Donovan at Florida has already proved his mettle; and with Billy Gillispie at Kentucky and Bruce Pearl at Tennessee challenging anyone to outwork them, it almost makes up for the coaching lightweights over in the SEC West (you know who we’re talking about). The youthful exuberance of these coaches at several programs willing to put forth the resources for success may give the SEC the best shot at catching the ACC, but the truth will ultimately lie in what happens to Duke after Coach K retires. If Duke manages to keep its dominance intact with their next coach, then it won’t much matter what happens with the other conferences – they’re not going to catch the ACC.

Coming Next: a look at how conferences overachieve and/or underachieve relative to their seeds over the years. Should be interesting stuff. Check back early next week.

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2007 NBA Draft Musings

Posted by rtmsf on June 29th, 2007

Note:  If you’re looking for the 2008 NBA Draft Musings, look here. 

Some post-apocalyptic draft thoughts for your Friday, as we settle into a long summer of waiting for something to happen…


Championship or Bust in Portland?

  • One and Dones. These players acquitted themselves quite well in this year’s draft, which means they were getting good information from their schools and representatives. Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Mike Conley, Jr., Brandan Wright, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young were six of the top twelve players taken. Not coincidentally, five of those were among the top seven seniors of the Class of 2006, according to Rivals (Chase Budinger of Arizona was the lone holdout returning to school, and Conley was rated #18). Javaris Crittenton and Daequan Cook were also selected in the first round, meaning that every college freshman who declared was taken this year. Although it’s arguable whether the one-and-done system worked for college basketball (Ohio State – yes; Washington – no), we assert from a player perspective that it helped them exponentially in terms of marketability and readiness to perform at the next level. Every sports fan in America now knows who Greg Oden and Kevin Durant are – that wouldn’t have been the case prior the one-and-done rule.
  • Gator Rule. As we alluded to yesterday, the Florida Gators were set to greatly increase its all-time count of draft picks last night, and they did so with a flourish (see Joakim Noah‘s getup below), increasing its total from 10 to 15 overnight. Florida’s five entries into the NBA last night – Al Horford, Corey Brewer (who looked like the happiest man alive), Noah, Chris Richard (we figured he’d get a look), and Taurean Green – ties UConn for the most draft picks in one year. What, no Lee Humphrey?!?! The Huskies also entered five in 2006. One question, though. Where was Billy Donovan during this celebration of Pax Floridana? Maybe Christine hasn’t let him out of the house yet.

Joakim Noah Suit

Love the Seersucker, Jo

  • Conference Breakdown. The BCS conferences accounted for 39 of the 60 picks last night. The ACC (9 total; 6 first rounders) led the way, with the SEC close behind (8/3); the Big 10 (6/4), Pac-10 (6/4) and Big East (6/2) each showed moderate success, while the Big 12 fell behind the others (4/3). Considering that there were thirteen international players selected, that left only eight picks for the mid-majors. The highest mid-major player selected was Rodney Stuckey from Eastern Washington at #15; although Nevada also placed two players in the second round (Nick Fazekas and Ramon Sessions).
  • Dumb Declarations. By our count, only four players from D1 schools who stayed in the draft as an early entry candidate were not selected this year (most notably, Shagari Alleyne, formerly of Kentucky). This shows again that players are improving at determining their real value (vs. perceived inflated value) before making the decision to jump.

“Why Didn’t I Go Pro Last Year????”

  • A Year Late, A Dollar Short. Three players from big-name schools were probably kicking themselves for not leaving school early last year, when their weaknesses weren’t as exposed to the scouts. Duke’s Josh McRoberts (offensive skills), LSU’s Glen “Big Baby” Davis (weight issues) and Arizona’s Marcus Williams (headcase) all would have been much higher picks last year. Now each must battle for scraps as second-round selections this time around.
  • Parlez vous français? We always hate to see guys who put in their four years at college and were pretty good players, only to get passed over in the draft for Pau Gasol’s little brother. So a special shout-out goes to Zabian Dowdell (Virginia Tech), JR Reynolds (Virginia), Curtis Sumpter (Villanova), Mario Boggan (Oklahoma St.), Ekene Ibekwe (Maryland) , Brandon Heath (San Diego St.), Ron Lewis (Ohio St.) and Kyle Visser (Wake Forest) for providing wholesome collegiate entertainment over the last half-decade. We were tempted to also include Mustafa Shakur (Arizona) here, but he seemed to disappoint more than inspire during his tenure in Tucson.

SLAM Oden & Durant

Oden Wins Championships; Durant Wins Scoring Titles.

  • Final Thought. Oden vs. Durant was endlessly debated all season long. While we have to agree that we enjoy watching Durant play far more than Oden, that belies our bias against watching post men in favor of perimeter players in general. Still, Oden is the kind of player that championship teams are built around, and the Durants of history are comparitively light in the hardware department. We saw this played out in this year’s NCAA Tournament, where Oden’s team went to the national finals, and Durant’s squad was out (embarrassingly) in the second round. Either way, we wish the best of luck to both of them, as they made college basketball a more interesting game for the year they spent with us.
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NBA Draft Picks by School Part II

Posted by rtmsf on June 27th, 2007

Thanks to everyone who took a few moments to look at our post from yesterday – NBA Draft Picks by School (1949-2006). There was an overwhelming response, and we appreciate all the commentary and advice, which is how we learn how to manage this thing a little better day-to-day.

First, let’s address a couple of the points we heard from you via email, msg boards and commentary.

  • The “modern draft” refers to the era in which the NBA began using a round-by-round system. Even though there was an NBA Draft in 1947 and 1948, the round system did not begin until 1949, which is why we decided to start there.
  • Following up on that point, we also chose to only review the first two rounds of the NBA Draft during this period. The current version (two rounds) began in 1989, and after a cursory review of the “extra” rounds – which totaled as many as twelve over this era, we realized very quickly that the vast majority of the players drafted in rounds 3+ never saw action in the NBA. For that reason, we decided to focus solely on the first two rounds.

Now, on with the data. We promised a breakdown by round and by decade, and we’ll deliver on half of that promise today. We also have sliced the first round into a “Top 10” and “Top 5” pick column, just for kicks. See Table B below.

Table B. NBA Draft Picks by School & Round Taken (1949-2006)

Notes: this table is sorted by the 1st Rd column, and is limited to schools with six first round picks since 1949. The yellow shading refers to the highest value in that column.

NBA Draft Picks by Round - 06 v.1


Super Six. Remember what we were saying about the so-called Super Six yesterday? Well, these six schools – UNC, Duke, UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana and UCLA – take a larger piece of the action the higher up the draft board we go. They collectively comprise 13.4% (149 of 1115) of the all-time first-rounders, 14.8% of the top 10 picks (86 of 580), and 17.6% of the top 5 picks (51 of 290). In other words, more than a sixth of the top 5 picks in history came from one of the above six schools.

Jordan and Perkins

With Studs Like These, How do They Ever Lose?

Blue Heaven. The school with by far the most first-round picks, the most top 10 picks, and the most top 5 picks clearly resides in Chapel Hill. Let’s put this in perspective. UNC has had more top 5 picks than all but ten schools have had first round picks. It accounts for 6.2% of the top 5 picks in history all by itself, and dominates each of the above categories. That’s unbelievable. Nobody can ever say that Carolina hasn’t had a surplus of talent. Maybe that criticism of Dean Smith “only” winning two national titles at UNC has some legs after all.

Who doesn’t belong? Notre Dame, and again, Minnesota, seem to be the extreme outliers here. Was Digger Phelps really so bad of a coach that the Irish can produce twenty first-rounders (fifth on our list) and five top 5 picks but ND has only been to one F4 in its history? Guess so. We still can’t figure out Minnesota either. The Gophers are behind only UNC, Duke, UCLA and Kentucky in all-time top 10 picks. All we can guess is that Whitey Skoog, Ed Kalafat and Dick Garmaker must have been tremendous players back in the day. Also, a tip of the hat to Alabama and Missouri for producing a combined 27 first-rounders with nary a F4 to show for it. Nice work, gents.

Digger Phelps 2

Digger Must Have Been Even Worse as a Coach

We have a lot of good, but not great, players. The second round is always a fascinating hodgepodge of players who may have been fine collegians but were undersized, overslow or otherwise fraught with concerns about their transition to the League. Nothing says slow like Indiana, who coincidentally leads the way with 22 second round picks. Of course, Arizona follows up with 20 and UCLA with 19 second-rounders, so maybe that theory is a little half-baked. Nevertheless, it was cool to see the schools that consistently produce top talent vs. mediocre NBA talent (in the eyes of the GMs, at least). For UNC, it’s first round or bust, mostly (81% of its draftees went in the first round); for a school like LSU, either you’re drafted in the top 5 (8 of its 12 first-rounders) or you’re likely to end up in the second round (11 of the remaining 15 picks). One other neat example is Utah, where 9 of its 10 first-rounders went in the top 10 picks – maybe praying to Joe Smith (not the former Terp) or whatever it is that they do out there for a high NBA pick only works if you’re taller than 6’9 (e.g., Andrew Bogut, Keith Van Horn, Tom Chambers, Bill McGill).

Penn State Logo

Evidence that Penn St. Basketball Exists

Who is missing? Several schools with some solid history, including Marquette (5 first-rounders and 14 (!!) second-rounders), Pittsburgh (4/4), Xavier (4/6), Gonzaga (3/3) and UTEP (3/8), didn’t make our cut. Just for fun, the BCS schools with the least successful draft histories belong to… South Florida (only one second-rounder) and Penn State (two second-rounders). USF we understand – they’re new to the Big East and all – but Penn State? – that school has been in the Big 10 for almost fifteen years. That’s pathetic.

Coming Next: the final installment will take a look at draft picks by decade, so we can see how things have trended over the years. Which schools have consistently supplied talent to the NBA and which have long since passed or are rising fast? View Part III here.

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Columbia has as many titles as Duke??

Posted by rtmsf on May 22nd, 2007

One thing that a casual fan of college basketball may never hear about unless he makes a practice of sifting through the detritus of message boards is the curious case of Helms Foundation titles. Everyone knows about NCAA titles – UCLA has 11, Kentucky 7, Indiana 5, UNC 4, and so on down the list. But not everybody is aware of these Helms championships, and with good reason.

Helms National Champ

National Champions?

In 1936, Bill Schroeder and Paul Helms created the Helms Athletic Foundation (now defunct) in Los Angeles, a panel of experts in college basketball and football who were tasked with designating retroactive “champions” and all-america teams for each year since the inception of the sport (football in 1883; basketball in 1901). Keeping in mind that this group formed in the mid-1930s, they had very little in the way of substantive evidence on which to make their decisions, other than personal recollections and (perhaps) newspaper clippings of the games. This is a surely a long way removed from the modern analysis involving strength of schedules, efficiency ratings and RPIs – analytical tools that results in an invitation for a chance to win the national championship!

We won’t even get into the ridiculousness of the modern BCS rankings in college football, but suffice it to say that given the evidentiary limitations of the times, a Helms title that was given retroactively is at best a loosely educated guess of who may have been the best team during a particular year. Who can honestly say that the Helms Champion 1906 Dartmouth (16-2) squad was better than every other team that season (irrespective, it’s always Drinking Time at Dartmouth)? It’s difficult enough to make such an assessment in today’s environment, even with bountiful video and statistical data on every team available in seconds – imagine doing it without ever seeing a team or their opponents play a single game! Which is, of course, essentially what the Helms Foundation did when making its selections.

Keggy the Keg

Is Keggy the Keg aware of Dartmouth’s National Championship?

So why is this relevant to today’s game, and by proxy, this blog? Ten years ago it wouldn’t have been. But nowadays, this has become a fairly contentious issue amongst some of the game’s bluebloods. Most notably, UNC has inarguably been touting its retroactive 1924 Helms title as a championship on equal footing with its four NCAA titles in its media guides and other media outlets (ESPN, CBS, etc.). It also has a banner celebrating this championship hanging next to its NCAA championship banners in the Dean Dome (see the 1:00 minute mark). And Heel fans can also purchase replica banners, including one honoring the 1924 champions, at a store on Franklin St. in Chapel Hill. In a sport that has always crowned its champions at every level in a tournament format, this does not sit well with members of other traditional powers, especially at Kentucky and Kansas, where the message boards enjoy periodic states of delirium over this issue.

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