When is a Game Out of Reach?

Posted by rtmsf on April 14th, 2008

If you’ll allow us the liberty of jumping back two weekends ago to the Final Four, specifically the Kansas-UNC game, we’ll present you with the following call by the venerable Mr. Cash himself, Billy Packer:

Of course, Packer was swiftly excoriated for this comment by the public and blogosphere at large for being a crotchety old bastard who hates everyone and wants you to die  national commentator whose arrogant, smug disposition is unsurpassed (third try – this is hard) knowledgable yet polarizing media figure who sometimes takes indefensible :-) positions as a product of his stubbornness.

The question we had at the time, and the question we still want to consider is this – is calling a game over when one team is leading by 26 points with 27:30 remaining in the game defensible?  Packer’s statement sure looked stupid when UNC got the margin down to 54-50 with approximately ten minutes to go in the game.  But UNC didn’t complete the comeback (losing by eighteen) and it’s quite difficult to find examples in the college game of really good teams (such as Kansas) blowing immense leads and still losing the game.  The only one we can think of in recent history was Maryland’s blown 22-point lead in the first half over Duke at the 2001 Final Four (Duke won 95-84), and that Terp team absolutely could not get the Devils out of their heads (recall the Miracle Minute at College Park that season).

Even Carolina Fans Hate Packer

Therefore from a qualitative standpoint, Packer was probably right.  The energy that a team like UNC would have had to expend to not only erase the 26-point deficit but also take the lead and win the game down the stretch would have been mindboggling.  While good teams come back from 20-point deficits to win games a fair amount of the time, it rarely happens against other good teams.  If you hadn’t noticed, Kansas was a pretty good team this year.  UNC, as good as they were, was not going to come back and win that game.  They just weren’t

What about from a quantitative perspective?  In a piece published at slate.com the week prior to the 2008 Tourney, Bill James (the original sabre-metrician) noted that he has a trusty heuristic that he uses for college hoops games to make a determination on whether the lead is large enough to “call it.”  Too bad Packer didn’t talk to this guy beforehand.  Here’s his formula:

  • Take the number of points one team is ahead.
  • Subtract three.
  • Add a half-point if the team that is ahead has the ball, and subtract a half-point if the other team has the ball. (Numbers less than zero become zero.)
  • Square that.
  • If the result is greater than the number of seconds left in the game, the lead is safe.

Plugging the UNC-Kansas lead when Packer made his statement into James’ handy little calculator, we find that a 26-point lead with 27:32 remaining in the game is only 33% safe, which effectively means that the lead is absolutely and completely safe for the next 11.7 minutes of the game.  To be clear, it doesn’t mean that Kansas had a one-third chance of winning – it means that KU was one-third of the way (statistically speaking) from holding an insurmountable lead at that point in the game.


Sorry Billy, You Jumped the Gun 

So what would have been a truly insurmountable lead at that juncture, thereby making Packer look utterly brilliant (ok, difficult, we know)?  According to James, it would have taken a 44-point lead to justify Packer (or anyone) calling the game over with that much time left.  This seems rather high, considering that we only remember one thirty-point comeback in our lifetime (Mardi Gras Miracle),  but them’s the numbers.  As for us, we stand by the hard-and-fast rule of thirty points at any moment in the game.  We’ll give odds on that number the rest of our lives and become a rich man doing it.       

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Post-Championship Fast Breaks (04.08.08)

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2008

A few more drops of residual knowledge in the wake of Super Mario’s bomb…

  • Where does 2008 KU rank among this decade’s champions?  We’d put them higher than seventh but lower than fourth. 
  • Brandon Rush is going pro, according to Yahoo Sports.  What an amazing silver lining for Rush and KU after he blew out his knee during NBA workouts last spring.   
  • As a mirror question to the one floated about One Shining Moment below, is there anyone alive who actually likes Billy Packer?
  • More blowback on Roy’s Kansas decal last night.  And here
  • Arizona’s Chase Budinger will test the waters of the NBA Draft, joining teammate Jerryd Bayless from last week. 
  • In a bit of a surprise, Florida’s Marreese Speights (14/8) will also test the waters of the draft.
  • When does that two-year rule start again?  LSU’s Anthony Randolph will also be testing the waters.
  • After not playing in the entire 07-08 season due to an injury, Alabama’s Ronald Steele is also putting his name into the draft. 
  • While not official at this point, reports are indicating that Kansas St.’s Bill Walker will also declare for the draft soon. 
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The Day After. . .

Posted by nvr1983 on April 7th, 2008

In the interest of full disclosure, I had a draft for this ready with a little over a minute left in the game congratulating Memphis for winning the game and making their FTs when it mattered since they had made their last 4 when Chris Douglas-Roberts stepped to the line. . .

After 2 blowouts in the semifinals, we finally got a close game. After a first half that lacked any real flow to it with both teams playing well offensively in spurts but never at the same time, the game took on the character we all expected with up-and-down end-to-end action. As we expected, Kansas dominated inside while Memphis won the perimeter battle. The shot charts for Kansas was particularly astounding as for most of the game Kansas scored nearly 70% of its points in the paint with most being lay-ups.

A couple of observations:
1) Billy Packer was right. As much as we hate to say it, he was dead-on when he said John Calipari should stop setting up picks for Derrick Rose since the Jayhawk big men showed absolutely no interest in staying on the guy setting the pick. This essentially put Rose up against a double-team every time without the pick man rolling to the basket hard. Bill Self almost cost Kansas the title when he switched to the box-and-one to help slow down CDR, who was destroying Brandon Rush at that point. The box created enough separation that the Tigers’ screens were useless so they stopped setting them, which freed up Rose to go by his man. I don’t understand why Calipari would even set the picks for Rose, who can blow by anybody at this level by himself. Picks can make it easier, but not when the opposition doubles the ball and the pick man doesn’t create a good passing angle. Fortunately for Memphis, Self made it easy for Calipari by switching to the box-and-one. Rose took over the game almost from the moment that Kansas switched to the box-and-one.

2) Rose should be the #1 pick in the draft. I love Michael Beasley’s game (and his “We’ll beat them [Kansas] in Africa” quote), but I just think Rose will be a much more valuable commodity at the next level as there are a lot more good PFs than PGs in the NBA. When Rose gets a full head of steam, he’s unguardable. He may struggle his rookie year adjusting to life in the NBA (the $106 per diem will buy a lot of Gummy Bears) due to his tendency to be a little bit out of control at times and the fact that he will finally play against guys who are on the same level as him. However, I can only think of two guards (Deron Williams and Chris Paul) that I would take over Rose for the next 5-10 years and that’s only because they are proven commodities while Rose still has to prove that he can handle himself at the next level. That said, as ridiculous as Chris Paul has been this year, Rose has a higher ceiling than either of them. While Rose was unable to close the deal, I don’t hold it against him (look to CDR for that) as he showed me more than enough during the tournament to make me a believer.

3) The Kansas inside game disappeared late in the 2nd half. For the first 30 minutes of the game, it seemed like I was going to be writing the Tigers 2007-2008 obituary by talking about how they got destroyed in the paint. It was probably a combination of Kansas not working hard enough to get the ball inside and Memphis packing it in late in the 2nd half. Either way, this (along with Self’s bizarre decision to go box-and-one) almost cost the Jayhawks the title. After Mario Chalmers hit his miracle 3 to force OT, Kansas reestablished itself inside and cruised to victory.

4) Heart attacks sky rocket in Lawrence and Memphis tonight. Ok. I was trying to write this paragraph during the last 2 minutes of the game to post before going to bed. Originally it was “Memphis hits the FTs when it mattered” (4/4 at that point) then it was “Rose = $$$” when he stepped to the line. This observation obviously didn’t want to be written so I’ll move onto #5.

5) FTs killed Memphis. This should have been the #1 point and it will be the headline of this game as long as people talk about it. It’s sort of humorous that the media finally stopped hounding Calipari about the Tigers’ FT shooting coming into this game and they laid an egg in the biggest moment. The last minute-plus was basically the anti-Rumeal Robinson as CDR was the guy that Memphis fans wanted to be in that position. After going 11/14 before the last minute-plus, Memphis finished 1/5 giving Chalmers the chance to hit a 3 that will only grow in legend in Lawrence, Kansas.

6) Holy $&!% I can’t even begin to come up with a word to describe how big that 3 by Chalmers was. The only other thing I can compare it to is Keith Smart’s shot in 1987 to help Indiana beat Syracuse. While this didn’t officially win the game, for all intents and purposes Chalmers shot won the game. There was no way Memphis was going to come back after they choked away the game at the line and Chalmers hit that shot. I would criticize Calipari for not taking the foul at that point, but it appears they Rose tried to commit a foul but it wasn’t called. After the shot, the game like this post-mortem was over.

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Thoughts on Kansas-UNC

Posted by nvr1983 on April 5th, 2008

Wow. If the Memphis-UCLA game gave us a dominating performance, this game gave us a roller-coaster ride. I called one of my friends who is a UNC fan when Kansas was up by 22. He didn’t answer (not a surprise) so I left a message that consisted mostly of me laughing. I kept on expecting a return call from him in the 2nd half, but mercifully that call will never happen.

1) I don’t think I have ever seen a quality team get blown out as decisively as UNC did at the beginning of the game. Kansas was all over the court and UNC looked like their feet were in cement. The only thing I can think of that comes close to this was the 2001 Duke-Maryland Final 4 game that Packer and Nantz refered to the entire game. Although Packer blew it when he said “This game is over” with 7:32 left in the 1st half, he was quick to criticize the Jayhawks for letting the Tar Heels back in the game late in 1st half.

2) The next 15 minutes were a completely different story. Kansas wore down after their torrid start. UNC didn’t even play exceptionally well to make the game close again. Kansas just kept on making dumb plays and coming up short on 3s while UNC played solidly hitting a few 3s to get themselves back in the game. UNC cut it to 54-50 with 11:16 left. At that point, I fully expected UNC to win this game.

3) Amazingly the guy who may have saved the season for the Jayhawks was Sasha Kaun, who made several nice plays just before the 6 minute mark to give Kansas some much needed breathing room (because they were choking if you didn’t notice).

4) In the end, Kansas used a late spurt to win rather easily (in relative terms). Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington both had decent if unspectacular games. The key for UNC was that Ty Lawson was awful going 2 for 8 (1 was a meaningless jumper with 20 secs left) from the floor and allowing Kansas to force a ton of UNC turnovers. I know it was the whole UNC team that was turning it over early, but Lawson should have made sure that Kansas didn’t steal the ball every freaking time in that first half stretch. I’m not really sure what to make of this Kansas team. Which team will show up on Monday night?

5) Tip of the hat to the Kansas fans for what I thought was a “Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk” towards the end of the game.

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Friday, March 21st: Update #1

Posted by nvr1983 on March 21st, 2008

– It looks like Bruce Pearl’s Volunteers haven’t shown up for the tournament yet. It’s 59-53 with 2:13 left. American is riding a big game from Garrison Carr’s 24 pts. It looks like Tennessee is pulling away now, but it should be an interesting finish.

– Gonzaga is up 71-70 against Davidson with 4:30 left. Stephen Curry is having a huge game with 34 pts. This looks like it is going down to the wire. Should be an exciting finish? We are enjoying Billy Packer having to sit/suffer through this.

– It looks like Western Kentucky and Miami (FL) are in control. We’ll update you if those games get interesting.

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