Tuesday was the day for the Louisville Cardinals to visit the White House to celebrate their 2013 national championship, and perhaps the very best part of the entire proceeding was the extremely lukewarm applause at the top that Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) received when introduced by the POTUS. Obama gave his standard spiel of light-hearted remarks during the 10-minute event, referencing how Rick Pitino’s motivational technique of promising to get a tattoo “busted” his bracket and avoiding mention of the “other” school where the head coach won his first of two national titles. Pitino, to his credit, exalted the president while hitting on the themes of loyalty and perseverance that have come to define his teams at Louisville — giving Obama a Louisville Slugger engraved with his name to handle any future disruptive press conferences. For a much more detailed description of the Cards’ visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, check out Eric Crawford’s report from WDRB.com; and The Daggerhas some great pictures that the players and entourage took while there. The entire press conference is at the bottom of this post.
While Barack Obama has certainly taken his share of sniping in accordance with his lofty geopolitical position, the NCAA’s Mark Emmert may have taken even more concentrated vitriol from a unilateral perspective (at least the Democrats support Obama; few seem to like Emmert). “One misstep after another,” as one administrator in this ESPN.com piece from Mike Fish and Dana O’Neil describes his three-year tenure as president of the organization. The accusations against the NCAA boss are lengthy, including not only mishandling of both the Penn State and Miami (FL) investigations, but also a general misunderstanding of the desires of his membership and a combative, at best, relationship with the media. It’s a really interesting read about the travails of the organization under his direction, and points again to a burgeoning restlessness among everyone that the NCAA’s days as a serious player on the American sports scene are effectively numbered.
One school that certainly has no love lost for Emmert is Connecticut, given that the NCAA banned the Huskies from last year’s postseason as a result of its low APR scores. But, as Adam Zagoria at Zagsblog writes, Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier are back in Storrs and ready to make up for a lost season with a major postseason run in 2013-14. Louisville has to be considered the favorite in the spanking-new AAC, but the Huskies are a very interesting second banana. Kevin Ollie returns most of his key pieces from a 20-10 (10-8 Big East) squad that will no doubt enter next season with a major chip on its shoulder. If the chips fall into place for Boatright and Napier next season, there may not be a better backcourt in America. Only time will tell.
What’s good for Duke is good for Team USA? That seems to be the correlation, as SI.com‘s Ben Golliver relates that Mike Krzyzewski‘s original decision to retire as USA Basketball’s head coach was more about reaching another four-year milestone at Duke than it was about international hoops. Basically, Coach K asked himself at the end of the 2012 Olympics whether he felt that he’d still be coaching at Duke in 2016, and at the time, he wasn’t sure of the answer. Since he believes that Team USA’s head coach should be actively involved in the sport — as he put it, “on the firing line” — he thought it would be best to give up the gig. USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo may have sensed Krzyzewski’s eventual 180, as he kept the job in waiting until Coach K decided last spring to return (stating that he is “sure he’s going to coach for a while.”). Given K’s 62-1 record and uncanny ability to get multi-millionaires to play team basketball for the USA jersey, this is a great, great thing.
In our sport, summer is the time for testing out new things and the statistical wizardry over at KenPom is no exception. Yesterday the vaunted statistician announced a new metric to his suite of team data points yesterday: average possession length (APL). As always with KenPom, the beauty of this new metric lies in the detail. Tempo is a measure that tracks efficiency, but APL simply tracks how long you are either holding the basketball each possession, or defending the basketball each possession. The 2013 listing is here (subscription required), but as Pomeroy notes, the correlation is already clear in viewing the last four years of data. Great defenses tend to correlate well with high defensive APLs — it’s harder for an offense to find a good shot — which begs the question whether faster-paced offensive coaches may be incentivized to slow things down to make their teams better overall. An interesting intellectual exercise, no doubt.
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.
Last week included much debate about some of the all-time great teams in college basketball. First, we released our RTC Mount Rushmore of the most significant people in NCAA basketball history, which featured discussion about the leaders of several great programs. Then, CBSSports.com released their ballots ranking the 16 greatest teams in college history, followed by our own Joshua Weill highlighting Rodrick Rhodes and his (lack of) impact on the 1996 Kentucky ‘Untouchables,’ the team ranked third all-time by CBS. Meanwhile, this year’s Kentucky Wildcats won another impressive conference road game over Mississippi State and outlasted Vanderbilt on Saturday to improve its record to 28-1 overall and 14-0 in SEC play. All of this got us to thinking: How historically great is this year’s Kentucky squad compared to some of its contemporaries? Let’s take a look at how John Calipari’s team matches up to some dominant modern teams.
How Strong is this Year's Kentucky Team, Historically? (AP Photo/ J. Crisp)
If it weren’t for Christian Watford’s buzzer-beating three on December 10, Kentucky would be 28-0 right now and in the discussion to go undefeated. Instead, Indiana got the win that day and quieted the Wildcats’ buzz for an extended period. Forward Terrence Jones had just four points, one rebound, and six turnovers in that game, concerning many fans that the team could not reach its potential without its go-to offensive guy playing at his highest level. But since that game, UK has cruised in its 14 conference games and Jones has been just fine, averaging 12.2 points and 6.7 rebounds in SEC play. Those numbers are way down from last season and far from the dominance we all expected, but with five other stars on the team this hasn’t been an issue. Shooting 49.6% with just 1.8 turnovers per game, Jones has been quite alright.
The rest of this Kentucky lineup is filled with pros at every position. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller all average double-figure scoring on the season, while freshman point guard Marquis Teague is at 9.6 points and 4.7 assists per game on the year. The three freshmen — Davis, Gilchrist, and Teague — are all projected NBA lottery picks according to DraftExpress.com, while sophomores Jones and Lamb are expected to be selected in the first round as well whenever they declare. The senior leader Miller may very well find his way onto an NBA roster too, as he is currently a top 25 available senior as ranked by DraftExpress.
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor to RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.
The Worldwide Leader is again looking to stake its claim in the advanced stat revolution, this time in the college basketball realm. Saturday was the unveiling of ESPN’s new College Basketball Power Index (BPI), which ranks all Division I teams 1-344 based on a number of factors that go beyond wins and losses. The two most obvious questions to ask of this new system are: How does the BPI compare to the KenPom and Sagarin ratings that college basketball purists have come to know so well? And is this BPI ranking system any good on its own? These rankings appears to be quite similar to those of the popular KenPom, though there are a couple of unique additions to this system that attempt to make it stand out.
The New BPI Rankings De-Value Ohio State's Games They Played Without Jared Sullinger (AP Photo/T. Gilliam)
It’s hard to argue with what ESPN is doing here by releasing a brand new metric at the perfect time now that college basketball begins to own much of the sports spotlight for the next month and a half. It will be helpful to read ESPN’s introduction to the index, which gives a chart that points out the features of the BPI compared to RPI, KenPom, and Sagarin, and also describes the benefits of their system that they believe is the most accurate assessment of team rankings. ESPN notes that their numbers include details that are “pretty technical and many people won’t be interested, so we won’t go into detail, but we think they improve how the tool works.” Considering the great technicality with which many purists understand Sagarin and KenPom, it would actually be quite useful to release this ‘technical’ information for comparison’s sake. Regardless, the BPI appears to be quite similar to these accepted ratings. BPI accounts for pace when measuring scoring margin, it awards value to winning close games more than close losses, and it includes detailed strength of schedule numbers.
Alabama star forward Tony Mitchellwas suspended indefinitely on Monday by head coach Anthony Grant, who did not elaborate on specific causes other than to say that it wasn’t the result of a specific action but a series of transgressions. The junior wing who averages 13/7 on the season picked a tough time to fail to come through for his team, as the Crimson Tide travels to Auburn tonight and LSU on Saturday. Sitting firmly on the early February bubble, Alabama cannot afford to lose either game against two lower-tier SEC teams without one of its two best players in the lineup.
From a player forced to sit to a coach choosing to do so, College of Charleston head man Bobby Creminsopened up Monday about his recent leave of absence from the team. Citing doctor’s orders, the 64-year old coach said that he was running himself into the ground: “I got physically exhausted, fatigued and lacked the necessary energy to coach our team. My doctor advised me to take an immediate medical leave of absence, which I did.” Coaches are competitive and stressed-out people in general, so it probably didn’t help matters that Cremins’ team got off to a 9-1 start this season before dropping eight of their next 11 games. Reading between the lines a bit in Cremins’ statement to the media, he didn’t sound like someone ready to stop coaching — let’s hope he gets his energy back in time to lead CofC to a run in the Southern Conference Tournament next month.
If you were like most of America, you didn’t know Duke had lost another home game until sometime yesterday given that Miami’s overtime victory over the Blue Devils finished as most people were either en route or settling into their Super Bowl parties. One man who knew it all too well and no doubt carried it with him into a sleepless night on Sunday was Mike Krzyzewski. Already having assailed his team in the postgame interview for a perceived lack of effort, the venerable coach on Monday took to the airwaves on 99.9 FM The Fan in Raleigh to further chastise his team for not “playing hard” during parts of the loss to Miami. As we all know, Duke’s ridiculous success has always been predicated on its tough man-to-man defense; and its defensive success has derived from equal parts talent and effort. This year’s defense, however, is one of the worst the Blue Devils have fielded since Chris Collins and Jeff Capel were hoisting shots at the rim rather than dry erasers at the white board. Coach K cannot change the talent part of his defensive problem overnight, but he can change the effort issue. We’d expect his players to come at North Carolina like a pack of starving jackals in Chapel Hill tomorrow night.
We’re really not sure what to make of this, but if your goal is to figure out who has the best chance of finding the sunny side of the bubble on Selection Sunday, maybe this simple equation from Drew Cannon at Basketball Prospectus is really all you need. Could it really be that easy — perhaps so. Considering that the RPI is the metric favored by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, it makes sense that teams rated highly in that manner have a bit of a leg up. When you then add Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency-based metrics to the RPI, you’re essentially favoring teams that play the game of basketball (from a possession-by-possession standpoint) a little better than those who do not. Voila, the combination seems to result in a hybrid model that is a fairly accurate predictor of the field.
Seth Davis was back in action Monday with a new Hoop Thoughts column, and although we disagree with him that the Kansas-Missouri rivalry will take very long to see back on the regular season schedule (five years, tops), we completely concur with his sentiment that the entire rabbit hole of conference realignment is a very, very bad thing for college athletics. And yet this is the tip of the iceberg, we’re afraid. The Pac-12 on Monday just rewarded its commissioner, Larry Scott, with an extension of his contract through 2016. How is this relevant, you ask? Recall that it was Scott’s maneuvering two summers ago in trying to lure several Big 12 schools to the Pac-10 that set into motion much of the ensuing hysteria and deal-making among schools and conferences looking out only for themselves. Without Scott’s overtures, would Missouri and Texas A&M be going to the SEC? Would Pittsburgh and Syracuse be ACC-bound? It appears that there’s no honor among the barbarians at the gate, though — say it with us now — Scott’s contract extension was approved… unanimously.
Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor & correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.
You know each of our four team’s records, you can see where they’re ranked relative to other teams, and their advanced statistical breakdowns are easily accessible on sites like StatSheet and KenPom. But what about how they actually look in person? If you haven’t watched these teams play multiple times this season, we have the quick-hitting analysis of their strengths and weaknesses. This week’s TT4 Wildcard gives a scouting report for each team, which is a useful way to compare and contrast teams and also look at how they perform in future games relative to their expected tendencies. Feel free to chime in if you think we missed on something!
A Dynamic Offensive Attack has Led to Indiana's Success (AP Photo)
They space the floor very well offensively, capable of attacking from a variety of angles… Capable of running offense inside-out through Cody Zeller, or outside-in by swinging the ball around the perimeter amongst a number of dangerous scorers.
Great perimeter shooting… They take good shots, which leads to a high three-point percentage… Jordan Hulls and Matt Roth have unlimited range on their shots… Christian Watford excels in the mid-range.
Cohesive unit that has started the same five players in every game… Starters and reserves both know their roles.
Poor perimeter defense, often leaving opposing guards without much ball pressure… Allow opponents to run offense comfortably.
Lack depth in the frontcourt, putting themselves in a bad position if Zeller is fatigued or in foul trouble.
No true point guard on the roster has led to struggles penetrating offensively… Poor assist percentage for such a high-scoring offense.
Overview: A dynamic offensive team that thrives during up-tempo games, enabling them to consistently space the floor and hit open shots… Struggle defensively in the half court with physical teams, and can get in trouble when Zeller or Watford get in foul trouble… Very streaky performance has led to extended runs and deficits during games… Improving defensive team but continue to have trouble getting stops in conference play.
You simply must check out how, in his attempts to get back to school for a game against Albany, Xavier’s Tu Holloway went through his own version of Plains, Trains, and Automobiles. Even more impressive was what he did when he made it back — 32 minutes, 11 points on 4-6 shooting, nine dimes, one turnover, and all while sick and exhausted. And let us say this — Tu, we love ya, man, but the image of you on a Greyhound bus with a morbidly obese man snoring on your shoulder is freaking hilarious. At least you didn’t have a conversation upon waking that ended with the words, “Those aren’t pillows!“
Speaking of Xavier, you can likely find coach Chris Mack down at City Hall in Cincinnati inquiring as to whether the Cintas Center was, in fact, built on a Native American burial ground. Whatever it is, there’s something out there that doesn’t like Xavier basketball — yesterday it was announced that freshman swingman Jay Canty (1.0 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 9.5 MPG) has a broken right foot and will be shelved for a month. That leaves XU with nine scholarship players. If we know Coach Mack, though — and we don’t — he’ll somehow get the Musketeers to overachieve in March even if he has to suit up the mascot and a pull a couple of business majors out of Smith Hall in order to have enough practice players.
The Niagara Gazette’s Jonah Bronstein invites all Western New Yorkers to come out and see native son Jimmer Fredette when he and BYU arrive at Buffalo tonight to play the Bulls. Bronstein and UB head coach Reggie Witherspoon anoint Fredette as the best player “ever to visit Western New York,” which we assume to mean UB’s Alumni Arena in this case. Bold claim, but the gentlemen make an interesting case.
For those of you who, like us, are into such things, Ken Pomeroy added the player ratings to his website late last night. Some of the more interesting findings after one month of the season? Arizona’s Derrick Williams and UConn’s Kemba Walker have the two highest offensive ratings in the nation, Miami’s Reggie Johnson has been the best offensive rebounder in the country, and St. Mary’s guard Steve Holt is the nation’s best pickpocket. Steve Holt! You can spend hours fiddling around on there learning the hidden secrets of the game, secure in the knowledge that Pomeroy’s work has made the college basketball world a slightly better place.
From the you-don’t-see-this-every-day department, College of Charleston announced on Monday that the school had signed top-50 recruitAdjehi Baru, a 6’9 forward who spurned offers from several ACC schools including North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia Tech. Needless to say, Baru represents the highest-rated recruit ever signed by the school. The SoCon occasionally puts players into the NBA (most notably, Stephen Curry), but rarely are those players considered elite recruits coming out of high school. Tremendous get for CofC head coach Bobby Cremins.
Seth Davistakes a look at some of the intricacies of calling a foul when a player swings his elbows around, and even though he warned us, we came out of it more confused that we were before we started. One of the more interesting nuggets of the article, though, is that it appears that the use of the block/charge semi-circle underneath the basket in select preseason tournaments was a rousing success. We’ve been asking for that thing for years (familiarly called the “Battier zone”), and with that sort of a commendation it may be well on its way.
Some injury news… Duke’s Kyrie Irving will likely not play in Wednesday’s game at home against Bradley as a result of a toe injury that they’re hopeful will not become a serious problem. They clearly want to be careful with him, but with games against the Braves, St. Louis, Elon and UNC-Greensboro between now and the new year, they can afford to take their time with him. In less important-to-his-team news, Baylor will lose freshman guard Stargell Love for up to two months as a result of a stress fracture in his left foot. He was playing about sixteen minutes per game, but with AJ Walton and LaceDarius Dunn manning most of the backcourt minutes, the Bears should be alright in his absence (assuming no further injuries).
We hate doing these, but long-time Marquette Warrior Hank Raymondspassed away on Monday after a battle with cancer. Raymonds was not nearly as well-known nationally as his boss Al McGuire, but he was an integral part of the Marquette program as the masterful x & o tactician/assistant behind the charismatic McGuire. After the 1977 national title and McGuire’s retirement, Raymonds took over the program as head coach and athletic director, and led the Warriors to a 126-50 (.716) record in six seasons, including five NCAA Tournament appearances and a Sweet Sixteen in 1979. In reading through the comments in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s story on Raymonds, it’s easy to see just how beloved this man was in the Marquette community. RIP, Hank.
The Lede. Monday night was one of the lightest weekday nights you’ll see this season, with only a handful of games on the docket and only a couple that seemed to have any potential (they didn’t, as it turned out). So we’ll use this opportunity to prep for Tuesday night’s Jimmy V Classic, featuring four ranked teams: #4 Kansas, #6 Michigan State, #14 Syracuse and #18 Memphis. It’s an exceptional group of teams that should make for a double-header that will have the Garden rocking. But if you want breakdowns on the games, we encourage you to read tomorrow’s Set Your Tivo feature, where both contests will get their proper analytical treatment. No, in this space, we’d like to take a moment to remember the reason for the Classic in the first place: the V Foundation’s ongoing battle against the most insidious of diseases, cancer. In the eighteen years since its founding, the organization has raised over $100M for cancer research and funded grants throughout the nation. When we watched the original ESPY speech by Jim Valvano in 1993, we were moved by his courage, poise and humor in the face of a horrific personal situation. But given our youth, we were also somewhat inured to the harsh realities of life and the cruel punishments of the disease of which he was afflicted. Now that we’ve gotten older and had the painful experience of living through close family members and friends suffering at the hands of this disease, we understand even more the need for continued dollars for research and exploratory treatments. ESPN and Dick Vitale will hammer you over the head with commercials asking for donations throughout tomorrow night’s broadcast, but if you can take a moment to reflect on someone you know with the disease, or someone you hope won’t get cancer, then it becomes much easier to make the call (1-800-4JimmyV) or click the button. Every dollar counts.
“Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.” — Jim Valvano, 1993
Your Watercooler Moment. Your watercooler moment from Monday was that after seemingly thirty consecutive days of basketball worth watching, Monday night was a brief respite in the schedule. Things will pick back up on Tuesday with the Jimmy V Classic, but the truth is that as teams gear up for exams and the bowl season kicks off, the next few weeks will generally be filled with cupcakes and time off.
Tonight Quick Hits...
Luke Sikma. The Portland Pilot and son of former NBA great Jack, is putting together a nice senior season. After a 14-point, 16-rebound effort at Washington tonight in a loss, he’s now averaging a double-double with 12.3 PPG and 12.1 RPG and is among the very best rebounders on both ends of the floor according to KenPom. The Pilots have lost badly to each of the power conference teams they’ve faced — Kentucky, Washington State and Washington — but they’ve won all the others (7-3) and could ultimately play a nagging role in the WCC as both Gonzaga and St. Mary’s appear to be somewhat rebuilding this year.
Marshon Brooks. There are so many good players in the Big East in any given year that it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of them all, especially on the worse teams. As PC has roared to a 9-1 start, though, Brooks has exploded onto the scene as the primary reason. Last night against Brown he dropped 33 points, pulled eight rebounds and ripped four steals, and his progression from run-of-the-mill guard to Big East star appears complete. He’s shooting the ball at a ridiculous 61% from inside the arc and contributing 21/9/2 SPG this year, considerable increases over his 14/4 averages from last season. An interesting game at BC on Wednesday may tell us whether Providence is for real this year.
… and Misses.
K-State From the Line. Kansas State went 23-40 from the line it it easy win over Alcorn State tonight, but this is a season-long problem (54%). Only one other team in America throws up fewer bricks from the line, and they play in the SWAC (Alabama State). Depending on whom you ask, K-State is either extremely overrated or just working through some things before putting it together. We know one thing, though — Jacob Pullen dropping 24/5 against Alcorn is one thing, but he needs to find his game against real competition soon (19-61 FG against five other D1 opponents).
Tweet of the Night. Hoop Nerd Christmas Festivus came three weeks early for most of us, as Ken Pomeroy announced his player statistics are now active on his site.
Washington State lost its dispute with Oregon over a controversial technical foul call at the end of the first overtime in a New Year’s Eve conference game in Pullman. The issue arose after Wazzu seemingly won the game with 0.3 seconds remaining when several bench players and at least one fan stepped onto the court. A technical foul was called, and Oregon was awarded two FTs to tie the game, sending it into double-OT where they won 91-89. From our viewing of it here, it looked like a hundred other exciting endings that happen during the normal course of a season, but the Pac-10 chose to hide behind the technicality.
St. Louis coach Rick Majerus, in the midst of a somewhat promising season at 12-6 and 3-1 in the A10, took an opportunity to throw his conference (the Atlantic 10) under the bus yesterday, sparing no complaint about the expensive East Coast cities, the travel, the airports and even the old standby, academics. He said he’d prefer to play in the MVC, which makes geographic sense, but what’s left unsaid is that he’d prefer the built-in advantage of playing in Arch Madness for a trip to the NCAA Tournament just minutes from the SLU campus. He didn’t mention whether a lack of high thread count towels in their budget hotels factored into his decision.
Another interesting insight from Mike DeCourcy — Duke’s much-lauded point guard Jon Scheyerisn’t getting it done down the stretch of close games. Someone out there surely has the time and energy to track his numbers in those games, right? Let us know in the comments if you do.
Gary Parrish: not a fan of the Christian Drejer/Lucca Staiger method of doing business. We think the lesson here is that coaches will have to carefully vet European players they’re recruiting to try to ensure they’ll have a modicum of loyalty to the school should an offer appear on the table back home midway through the season.
Luke Winn moves Kentucky up to #1 in his Power Rankings. He refers to it in the Tennessee section (#7), but it’s worth noting that KenPom rates the Cats #13 in his latest rankings, in large part because the defensive efficiency is a pedestrian #36 in the nation (offensive efficiency is #11). The biggest two drivers of that stat are the fact that UK doesn’t defend the three well (36%, #254) and doesn’t force a lot of turnovers (20.9%, #167). This should be somewhat concerning for John Calipari, as his best Memphis teams (2006-09) all had superb defenses that consistently shut down the three-ball. If/when Kentucky loses, expect it to be because of a hot shooting night from deep.
Despite a pretty miserable year at Oregon State, athletic department officials there are already worrying about the possibility of losing head coach Craig Robinson to his former stomping grounds of Chicago and DePaul University in the offseason. Certainly reasonable, especially given that some ADs are often more excited about shiny objects rather than layers of substance (i.e., wins; cf. with Lane Kiffin).
Vegas Watch looks at the current KenPom top 20 and adjusts his ratings according to how Vegas sees those teams. Key findings: Kansas and Duke are by far the two best teams in the country; and presumptive #1-in-waiting Kentucky is incredibly overrated!
Luke Winn delves a little deeper into Jim Calhoun’s decision yesterday to take a medical leave of absence from Connecticut. He expects it to merely be a temporary respite that was caused by excessive stress.
From the Christian Drejer school of flaking out, Iowa State’s Lucca Staiger announced that he is leaving his team immediately to pursue professional opportunities in his home country of Germany. This is a huge blow to Greg McDermott’s program, as Staiger was averaging 9.4 ppg and hitting nearly 43% of his shots from distance this season.