The RTC Podcast: No Team is Safe Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 4th, 2014

Another weekend down means another RTC Podcast. In this week’s edition, the guys were pleased to welcome Sports Illustrated columnist and all-around good guy, Luke Winn, who regaled us with stories about some of his favorite pieces over the past few years, a couple of teams that he believes might be overlooked according to the national polls, and his favorite graphic that he’s created in the always-entertaining and informative Power Rankings column. Aside from Luke’s visit, we also found time to run down what was a simply ridiculous weekend of college basketball — Super Saturday, instead — and examine the week’s most compelling upcoming games. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts the proceedings.

Make sure to subscribe to the podcast/podblast on iTunes so that you’ll get all of the episodes immediately downloaded to your listening device.

  • 0:00-5:51 – Arizona Loses In More Ways Than One
  • 5:51-12:34 – Duke-Syracuse Lives Up To The Hype
  • 12:34-20:42 – Slew of Other Top 10s Fall (And in OK St’s Case Fall Again)
  • 20:42-33:05 – Rush The Takes: Luke Winn
  • 33:05-37:32 – Kentucky Takes a Tumble in the Ranks
  • 37:32-41:55 – Randy Overrating Cincinnati???
  • 41:55-47:08 – Ohio State And Wisconsin – Someone Technically Won
  • 47:08-51:06 – Virginia Leaps Ahead of Pitt in ACC Power Rankings
  • 51:06-58:47 – Week Preview
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Morning Five: 09.05.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 5th, 2013

morning5

  1. Wednesday was a day of moves — some planned, others not — as we slowly but assuredly inch our way to the start of season practice at the end of the month. The biggest news, of course, was that former Missouri guard Michael Dixon had been cleared by the NCAA to play at Memphis this upcoming season. Dixon was dismissed from Missouri last fall after a pair of unrelated sexual assault allegations (no charges were ever filed against him), leaving the former Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year something of a free agent last season. Perhaps using the Dez Wells/Xavier incident as a related precedent, the NCAA decided to allow Dixon to play without sitting out the mandated transfer year, a good call considering that would have represented a 32-month layoff for the senior. His addition to a Memphis backcourt of Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson makes Josh Pastner’s group one of the most talented in America — the key question is whether there will be enough basketballs to go around. In Dixon’s final year in Columbia, he accounted for nearly a quarter of the available shots while he was on the floor, while the returning Memphis trio also likes to chuck in the 19-22 percent range. Still, there’s plenty of reason for Memphis players and fans to be excited now, as Johnson tweeted a picture of the “4Kings” soon after the news was released yesterday — Dixon is a player who can mean the difference between a Sweet Sixteen and a Final Four.
  2. Another player on the move is former Louisville, FIU and Minnesota (albeit ever so briefly) forward, Rakeem Buckles. According to ESPN.com‘s Jeff Goodman, Buckles was back on campus at FIU last week and plans on spending his final year of eligibility playing for the school where he sat out last season. He had originally intended to transfer for a second time to Richard Pitino’s club after FIU was put in APR jail (hey, Isiah), but the NCAA rejected his waiver request leaving him with few other viable options. Buckles has been a case study in hard luck over his career, suffering two ACL injuries at Louisville that never allowed him to find much momentum there, followed by a transfer to a school where he now has no shot at sniffing the NCAA Tournament. At a minimum, we hope that he has an injury-free 2013-14 season with the dangling carrot of a possible pro career awaiting him somewhere overseas.
  3. So about those transfers… Luke Winn from Sports Illustrated has been quiet lately, but now that we can see the finish line of the offseason, expect a lot of great new stuff from him. On Tuesday he published his second annual look at the phenomenon of up-transferring, the growing tendency of good players at small programs to transfer to bigger programs to finish out their careers (especially in the case of those using the graduate transfer exception). What he finds is that the trend that appears to have taken off during the last offseason has continued on its upward trajectory. A total of 30 up-transfers are at bigger programs heading into this season (with three others awaiting NCAA decisions), a slight increase over last year, with notable new talent at national contenders such as Florida, Duke, Kansas, Arizona and several others. Oregon by itself is hoping to have as many as three up-transfers in its lineup, one year after former transfers Arsalan Kazemi (Rice) and Tony Woods (Wake Forest) led the Ducks to the Sweet Sixteen. Winn digs into some of the theories and reasoning behind why this trend continues to grow, and as always, you’ll enjoy the thoughtful analysis that he puts forth.
  4. Rivals.com released its post-summer Top 150 of prep basketball prospects yesterday, and there were few surprises as Chicago’s Jahlil Okafor remained firmly planted at the top of the list. Emmanuel Mudiay, the most heralded recruit that Larry Brown has wooed since Danny and Ed Manning came to Lawrence, Kansas, has moved into the #2 overall position. The rest of the top 10 at this point only bears one other committed player, North Carolina’s Justin Jackson at the #10 slot, but as we know that will begin to change in earnest as we head into the official visit period and look forward to the November signing day. Speaking of package deals — the Mannings were of the most epic variety — Adam Zagoria from Zagsblog.com breaks down the likelihood that any of the rumored deals in this year’s senior class will actually attend school together next season. The most likely scenario remains the longest-running one, which is that Okafor and Minneapolis’ Tyus Jones will end up in the same place next year — most likely at Duke. While getting two top five players in the same class has become de riguer at Kentucky under John Calipari, it’s still nearly unprecedented elsewhere. So if Coach K pulls off this coupling of elite hoops talent at the ripe age of 66, it will prove perhaps once again that as long as Krzyzewski is still involved in this game, Duke isn’t going anywhere.
  5. Winn’s partner at SI.com, Andy Glockner, was also active this week. The resident master at crowd-sourcing his Twitter followers to develop interesting column ideas, he sought to answer the question of which of the major conferences was most likely to produce the 2013-14 national champion? Given that this isn’t the BCS and there’s a wider variety of talent diffused throughout more leagues in college basketball, Glockner writes that there was “absolutely zero consensus” to the answers (we’d have to imagine that “SEC” would carry three-quarters or more of the vote in college football). Breaking down the component parts of each conference viewed through the “title or bust” analysis, he ultimately settles on the Big Ten, SEC and ACC as the three leagues with the strongest possibilities. We’d have to agree — each of those conferences has at least two teams with national championship talent, and although coaching, seeding, injuries and a lot of luck has to do with who ends on on the crown in April, you’d want to hedge your bets as much as possible with teams carrying the most future pros.
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Gonzaga Needs Przemek Karnowski to “Break Out”

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 23rd, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The sophomore breakout formula Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn has been using over the past few seasons to highlight players expected to dramatically improve in their second years is not like any old fuzzy, subjective, qualitative preseason guessing game. It is grounded in a precise statistical methodology, designed to identify players who evince star potential in limited sample sizes and, in turn, realize that potential over more minutes by putting up big numbers in the coming season. Here’s his explanation: “To qualify, a player cannot have averaged much more than 20 minutes per game as a freshman. But while he was on the floor, he had to use a go-to-guy’s share of his team’s offensive possessions (around 24 percent or higher) with a respectable level of efficiency (an ORating of at least 100.0, or one point per possession). The underlying theory, as first proposed byBasketball Prospectus, is that go-to-guys tend to act like it from the start of their careers, even in limited playing time. “Players who are not very involved in the offense,” Ken Pomeroy wrote for BP in 2007, “tend to stay that way.” Winn’s track record is terrific; most of the players he highlights make good on their breakout promise – from Malik Waayns at Villanova in 2010-11 to Terrell Stoglin at Maryland in 2011-12 to Andre Hollins at Minnesota last season.

A breakout season from Karnowski is exactly what Gonzaga needs to win another WCC championship (US Presswire).

This year’s No. 1 breakout candidate, according to Winn, is Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski. Last season, Karnowski averaged 5.7 points per game, posted a 102.5 offensive rating while using 27.0 percent of his team’s possessions, and logged 26.1 percent of available minutes. Karnowski’s minutes and shot opportunities are expected to increase next season – a fundamental criterion in Winn’s predictive method – largely because last season’s dominating frontcourt duo, Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk, are now playing in the NBA. The Zags need a dominating frontcourt presence to help make up for their lost production and Karnowski, a highly-touted international recruit last season, is the perfect candidate. Picking him as college basketball’s biggest breakout candidate doesn’t just pass the tempo-free smell test; it makes intuitive sense. Karnowski is in excellent position to make the proverbial sophomore leap.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 01.31.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 31st, 2013

morning5

  1. Basketball took a back seat at Ohio yesterday after an armed robbery (reportedly over $5) at 9:30 AM at an apartment complex near the campus led the school to suspend classes and cancel last night’s game against Eastern Michigan. Interestingly, the school remained open for another 2.5 hours with the suspect loose before the administration chose to close the campus. In the aftermath of the announcement there appears to have been quite a bit of confusion regarding the school’s intent, but fortunately it appears that nobody was harmed and no further incidents took place although the suspect was still at-large as of this writing. The school has announced that the game will be made up on February 20, which works well for both teams as they both have their preceding game on February 16 and next game on February 27.
  2. Much of the early part of this week in the blogosphere was spent discussing Marshall Henderson‘s various, shall we say, peculiarities, both on and off the court. After a rough shooting outing against Kentucky on Tuesday night, much of that talk has died down, but on Wednesday USA Today‘s Nicole Auerbach published an insightful piece about the life and history of the controversial Henderson that included a revelation that the junior college transfer once violated his probation in Texas for failing a drug test because he had cocaine (along with marijuana and alcohol) in his system. Both Henderson’s father and his head coach, Andy Kennedy, believe that the guard has moved past his personal demons at this point in his life, but with his on-court demeanor sure to set Twitter ablaze again soon, we’ll have to wait and see if the pressure and infamy carries over to the Oxford after-parties.
  3. The Wednesday news didn’t improve for Ole Miss fans, as the Rebels also learned that sophomore forward Aaron Jones will miss the rest of the season after injuring his ACL in Tuesday night’s game against Kentucky. The bouncy Jones was only averaging 4/4 in about 17 minutes per game this season, but his loss will be a shock to an Ole Miss lineup short on quality size. As if that weren’t enough, senior guard Nick Williams will be out an indefinite amount of time with a foot injury suffered in the same game. The timing on all of this misfortune is not the greatest, either — the Rebels on Saturday will visit a team, Florida, that is winning SEC contests so far by an average of 28.7 PPG. Good luck with that.
  4. The Big East will draw the curtains on what can only be described as a college basketball goliath in less than two months, but unlike some of the other bitterness that has infused divorcing programs in other leagues, Syracuse and St. John’s specifically are looking for an amicable split. It makes sense. Syracuse has been NYC’s flagship college basketball program for a long time now despite its location several hundred miles upstate, and without question the Orange wants to keep its presence in the New York market strong after joining the ACC. St. John’s certainly wants to keep a marquee opponent on its home schedule as Steve Lavin tries to rebuild that proud program as well. The contract begins next year at MSG with a return trip to the Carrier Dome in 2014-15, but for now the series is only scheduled for those two games. We’d expect that it will be extended indefinitely at a certain point.
  5. In this week’s edition of Luke Winn‘s Power Rankings he spends a lot of time focusing on teams in transition (literally, not figuratively). With the nerdtastic tool of Synergy Sports Technology at his disposal, Winn can find statistically enlightening nuances to explain the game in ways that both tease and titillate. In this week’s edition, he examines some of the best players in the country at shooting jumpers off the dribble (hint: two of them play each other Saturday night in a semi-important game), discusses the best transition guys in the game, and a mention of Kelly Olynyk’s “awesome hair.” Memo to Winn, though: It’s not Olynyk’s hair itself that creates the awesomeness — it’s the ropey-looking headband (color coordinated!) that he adds to the ensemble that truly elevates his look from simply Tim Lincecum cool to Andre Agassi spectacular (in his hirsute prime).
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Morning Five: 01.24.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 24th, 2013

morning5

  1. With many observers expecting the NCAA to hand down its notice of allegations soon to Miami, the NCAA instead revealed that it was essentially putting its investigation from the Nevin Shapiro scandal on hold while it hires an external agency to look into a charge of improperly obtaining information for its investigation. The NCAA has retained the services of Kenneth Wainstein, who has previously served in the roles of Homeland Security Advisor, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and FBI General Counsel. It is a rather sudden turn of events and means that both Miami and other involved parties (see: Missouri’s Frank Haith) can breathe easy for a little while. It remains to be determined whether this will affect any punishments that are ultimately handed down or if in fact the NCAA will have to abandon the entire case, but if the latter is true, it’s safe to say that it will probably be the most embarrassing moment in the NCAA’s long history of rules enforcement.
  2. Leslie McDonald, who missed North Carolina‘s last three games with an injury to his right knee, will be out for another three games, but not because of his knee. Instead, he will miss the additional games because he did not take care of his “responsibilities as a student-athlete.” While this could mean a variety of things, we are assuming that the “student-athlete” bit means scholastic problems. In any event, the Tar Heels will need to overcome McDonald’s extended absence as they appear to have turned a corner (for now) but have games at home against Georgia Tech and on the road at North Carolina State and Boston College. With the weakness of the top teams in the power conferences so far this year, North Carolina would still be in the NCAA Tournament as of today, but they cannot afford too many more mistakes.
  3. After quite a bit of drama and instability in the first couple months of the season, UCLA has seemed to put the pieces back together in recent weeks but there are still some loose ends to tie up. Enigmatic former center Josh Smith has resurfaced at Georgetown, but until yesterday, it was still undetermined where former guard Tyler Lamb would end up. While Smith looked to get as far away from Westwood as possible, Lamb is simply moving about 30 miles southwest to the LBC. He will suit up for Dan Monson’s Long Beach State squad beginning in 2013-14, bringing a solid scoring punch and ability to distribute the ball to a team that appears to be following the Missouri template for adding talented high-major transfers in bulk (Keala King, Dan Jennings, and Tony Freeland). Lamb chose LBSU over San Diego State and began practicing with the team yesterday.
  4. Luke Winn‘s weekly Power Rankings came out prior to Wednesday night’s games, but as we all know, the real value in his column comes from the unique statistical analysis and sartorial commentary that Winn provides each week. Perhaps portending Duke’s struggles at Miami (FL) last night, Winn examines the Blue Devils without Ryan Kelly in the lineup while also making time to evaluate a disturbing trend in Nike uniforms adding a logo to the team’s chest (we completely agree, by the way). As always, you’ll learn more reading this column in 10 minutes that you will reviewing 95% of the college basketball coverage on the web, so get on over there and give it a try if it’s not part of your weekly routine.
  5. A final note about a quirky scheduling anomaly where the nation’s highest scoring team, Northwestern State (85.0 PPG), will face the nation’s lowest scoring defense, Stephen F. Austin (allowing 49.4 PPG), in a battle of contrasting Southland Conference tempos this coming weekend. According to a press release put out by the league on Wednesday, this is the first time that anyone can remember in college basketball history that such a game will occur. We can’t say that we’re going to set aside two hours to watch this one at 4:00 PM ET on Saturday, but we will keep an curious eye on the result to determine whether the old coaching adage is true that great defense is preferred over great offense.
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Morning Five: 10.23.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2012

  1. The SEC media on Monday released its preseason selections for the upcoming season and with the exception of some carpetbagging school called “Missouri” on this year’s list, it looks an awful lot like last year’s list. Kentucky came in as the choice for first place in the 2012-13 version of the SEC race with 17 first-place ballots, with Florida (five), Missouri (one) and Tennessee (one) following up the Wildcats. It appears that not much is expected from South Carolina (#11) or Mississippi State (#12) this season, which gives Frank Martin and Rick Ray an opportunity to immediately exceed expectations if they can put together some conference wins. Missouri’s Phil Pressey was chosen as the preseason SEC POY, another interesting choice given that he was a third-team selection in the Big 12 last year — clearly many pundits are predicting big things for the dynamic waterbug guard this season. Pressey was joined on the first team by Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, Arkansas’ BJ Young, Florida’s Kenny Boynton, and Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes.
  2. While on the subject of making preseason lists of elite players, CBSSports‘ Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman released their combined ballot for their top 50 Wooden Award candidates (which by rule cannot include transfers or freshmen). Forty-two players showed up on both of their lists, but the devil is always in the details, and where the pair differ is far more interesting and open for debate. Which writer left Ohio’s DJ Cooper off his list? Or Allen Crabbe? Or Elias Harris? The one thing missing here is the why/why not — we wish that the pair had taken the time to explain their differences, even if was only with a sentence or two at the end.
  3. NCAA president Mark Emmert gave a talk at Wright State University on Monday, and The Sporting News‘ Mike DeCourcy was there to report on the proceedings. In response to a question about the highly controversial NBA one-and-done rule, Emmert stuck to his previous position on the matter by stating that he “dislikes it enormously” and finds it “anathema to the collegiate model of academics.” When pressed for additional information afterward, Emmert appears to have once again punted to the NBA, stating only that he’s had “conversations” with the league and its players’ union about changing the rule. While we certainly recognize that Emmert has no authority over the NBA whatsoever, we’d like to see him take a more forceful stance on the issue that would satisfy fans and coaches alike. If the NBA refuses to cooperate in pursuit of its own self-interest, then Emmert should begin saber-rattling likewise — he has more leverage here than he’d like to admit if he’d only recognize it.
  4. With all the bad news coming out of the UCLA program recently — the ongoing sagas involving the eligibility of star recruits Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson and recent injuries to David Wear and Tyler Lamb — it was somewhat shocking to read this sunnier-than-SoCal headline from the LA Times on Monday:  UCLA basketball seems to be entering a bright new era. Mmmkay. Granted, the piece by Bill Dwyre focuses more on the long-term prospects of the Bruins program with a renovated Pauley Pavilion and a gleaming new statue of the Wizard of Westwood outside, but other than a brief mention of the NCAA’s investigation into the two freshmen, it more or less glosses over the fact that the program from the outside appears to be tottering. Maybe when Dwyre is walking around the tree-lined campus it’s easier to get lost in the Wooden mystique, but several things — not of all which are completely under Ben Howland’s control — need to come together for this program to get back on its blue-blooded track this season. It remains to be seen whether the planets and stars will indeed align.
  5. Finally, Luke Winn gets historical with us in his latest column where he enters the wayback machine and finds a slim but sturdy Shaquille O’Neal facing off in an “epic” battle between LSU and the running and gunning Loyola Marymount Paul Westheads some 22 years ago. The theme of his piece is that last season’s scoring across all of college basketball was the lowest it has ever been in the shot clock era (including when it a 45-second clock was in effect in the late ’80s and early ’90s). What was defined as uptempo two decades ago would look like a different game today — even then, nobody ran the ball like LMU, but teams regularly hit 80 possessions per game, whereas nowadays most teams never see the north side of 70 per game. There are a number of reasons for this trend, of course, but we’ll save that for the book that we’ll write someday — for now, just get over there and check out the data and a superb highlight clip of a young Shaq destroying everything in his path on the way to a 148-141 victory (you read that correctly).
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Morning Five: 10.12.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 12th, 2012

  1. Several years ago we posted a column talking about the remarkable recruiting run that John Calipari was putting together in his first year at Kentucky. At the time we questioned if a group including John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe represented the greatest recruiting run in modern history. Now we are beginning to think that the debate is over as Calipari has redefined the entire concept of recruiting with his one-and-done program. On Thursday Calipari added top 10 prospect James Young to a class that is shaping up to be among the best classes ever — the Wildcats already have commitments from three of the top seven players in the Class of 2013, according to RSCI Hoops. If he grabs another player or two at the top of this class, there won’t be much to question — what Calipari has managed to do over the past few years in Lexington on the recruiting front is truly extraordinary.
  2. The NCAA has received quite a bit of criticism over the years for a variety of inane rules including the infamous ban of cream cheese on bagels. Yesterday, John Infante appeared to uncover another addition to that list of inane rules with an apparent ban on the use of Instagram filters based on a posting on the NCAA’s site. The rule appears to have been intended to prevent schools from creating images where the player was in their uniform or anything of that nature, but after a public outcry over the absurdity of the rule, the NCAA released a statement clarifying its position by saying that Instagram’s filters were not banned. We still are not sure why this rule needed to be implemented unless the NCAA was worried about schools trying to create a false impression of their student body or something along those lines.
  3. The start of the season is just around the corner and Luke Winn is here to get you ready with his preseason Power Rankings, which for our money is the best nationally-focused column out there. This version is a little light on statistics — likely related to the fact that no games have been played yet — but there are still a few valuable nuggets in the article. His top two teams won’t surprise anyone, but his third choice is likely to cause fits of apoplexy in the Research Triangle Park area. Frankly the offseason has been so devoid of this type of analysis that we will gladly take it and look forward to seeing Winn’s work again this season as the numbers come in for him to compile and put into an easily understandable format.
  4. It should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who follows this sport that Big 12 coaches on Thursday almost unanimously chose Kansas to win the Big 12 championship again. The only reason the Jayhawks didn’t get all 10 votes is because Bill Self wasn’t allowed to select his own team — he chose Baylor instead. KU and the Bears were followed on the list by Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas State, and West Virginia. Picking against Kansas in the Big 12 is a little bit like picking against Usain Bolt in the 100 meters sprint, but even with the heart-and-soul losses that the Jayhawks took this offseason, the rest of the league still doesn’t look better. Maybe if Missouri was still around — a big maybe — but with the even more significant losses at Baylor and the uncertainty surrounding Myck Kabongo at Texas, we really can’t blame any of the voters in this instance.
  5. This season carries a lot of weight for the UCLA basketball program. The roster is talented, Pauley Pavilion is renovated, and expectations are through the roof. In an attempt to tie things completely together right before what Bruins fans hope is a dream season, the school plans on unveiling a John Wooden statue in front of Pauley Pavilion on October 26. The bronze statue of the Wizard of Westwood was made possible through a large donation from benefactors Jim and Carol Collins, and was constructed by Blair Buswell, a Utah sculptor who has created numerous busts of famous sports figures over the years. The unveiling will occur as part of UCLA’s “Welcome Back Pauley Week,” a week-long celebration of the re-opening of the historic on-campus arena, and we can think of no better way to honor the 10-time national champion than this.
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Morning Five: 09.28.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 28th, 2012

  1. And so it begins? The NCAA has fairly or unfairly taken a beating in recent months over its handling of just about everything from its use of player likenesses to academic scandals to jewelry purchases to replacement refs (ok, maybe not the last one). For the most part, the federal and state governments have kept their noses out of it, preferring to let the NCAA as a private organization operate under its own auspices. But with billions of dollars flowing through the nation’s top athletic universities via lucrative sports media deals, and a general sentiment held by the public that the NCAA fosters an environment of exploiting its student-athletes, California governor Jerry Brown on Thursday signed a bill called the “Student-Athlete Bill of Rights.” This new law, which by virtue of their size will only impact the four Pac-12 schools located in the Golden State, will require greater protections for the players at those schools in terms of medical coverage, scholarship guarantees, and due process. The law is the first of its kind in the nation, and other states are no doubt watching closely to determine if they want to follow suit. We’ll have more on this interesting and important topic later today.
  2. Luke Winn has been in his Brooklyn-based math lab crunching the numbers in anticipation of the new college basketball season, and as always, his insights answer questions that most people didn’t even know they had. In his latest piece at SI.com, Winn explores the “exploitable gap” in balancing the scheduling of non-conference games for the purpose of maximum RPI juice while not particularly taxing the team in its bottom line (taking losses). He finds two case studies of “Scheduleball” to illustrate his point — Pittsburgh under Jamie Dixon, and Colorado State under Tim Miles — with each showing how the formula of scheduling top 50 and top 100 opponents and avoiding games against teams in the bottom 100 of the RPI is a key recipe for success. There are other ways to manipulate schedules to your RPI advantage, of course, but as Winn clearly argues, as long as the formula continues to use winning percentage as a proxy for schedule strength, there will continue to be flaws in the RPI system.
  3. While we continue on the theme of smart people doing smart things, the US Supreme Court will reconvene for its October term on Capitol Hill next week. One of the most controversial cases that it will consider next month has gotten the notice of many head coaches around the game because the issue involves the holistic approach of using race as a factor in college admissions decisions. While the cynics out there might believe that the self-interested coaches are merely trying to protect their own players in their defense of affirmative action, the truth is that athletes are usually admitted through other loopholes anyway. But their interest in the law (last upheld by SCOTUS in 2003) is to ensure a diverse campus environment that their players will find welcoming beyond the basketball court. This can play a huge role in recruiting, especially when often dealing with athletes largely from minority communities. Oral arguments will occur on October 10 with a decision due next spring.
  4. Alabama head coach Anthony Grant has gradually improved his Crimson Tide program since arriving in Tuscaloosa just over three years ago. His first team struggled, but he followed that up with an NIT runner-up finish in 2010-11 and an NCAA appearance in 2011-12, the school’s first since 2006. His teams get after it defensively and there’s no reason to believe given this recruiting and coaching abilities that the Tide will drop off from the NCAA level anytime soon. His bosses have noticed, as Grant was rewarded this week with a one-year extension through the 2018-19 season and a raise to $1.9 million per year (ahem, still well below Nick Saban’s  $5.6 million per year deal). With many of the traditional “SEC West” basketball programs still in transition, Grant has a golden opportunity over the next five years to turn Alabama into the top program in that geographic slice of the conference.
  5. We’ll finish with something from earlier this week on Ken Pomeroy‘s site. According to the stats guru, there were only 17 games last season where a team had less than a one percent chance of winning at any point during the game and came back to do so. The only game most of us were likely to have watched finished at #8 on his list — the early February Duke vs. North Carolina game in Chapel Hill — also known as the Austin Rivers shot game. With UNC up 10 points and 2:38 remaining on the clock, Pomeroy’s win probability states that the Blue Devils at that point only had a 0.62% chance to win the game. For those of us more accustomed to Vegas-style odds to make sense of the world, that converts to a 1-in-162 chance. And yet, “Duke would have just five possessions left and went 3, 3, 2, 2, 3 to finish.”  And remember, that game represents only the eighth least likely comeback — get over there to read about the 16 others.
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Morning Five: 09.17.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 17th, 2012

  1. In the wake of last week’s announcement by Notre Dame that it was leaving the Big East to join the ACC in all sports except football, new Big East commissioner Mike Aresco said on Friday that his league is not dead, and as a matter of fact, is still “the strongest basketball conference in the country.” We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here and assume that when he made reference to conference strength he was talking about the upcoming season only — before he loses the likes of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame from his lineup of stalwart programs. At the end of the day, much will be written about the relative strength of the two leagues once all the realignment moves have propagated, but from our view a top eight of UNC, Duke, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Maryland, Florida State and NC State looks equal to or better than Connecticut, Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, Memphis, Georgetown, Villanova and Temple. Of course, the bottom half of the Big East is where the ACC really increases its lead — UCF, SMU, Rutgers, DePaul and the rest have no business competing with programs like Virginia, Miami, Clemson and Wake Forest.
  2. Right on cue, Luke Winn last week analyzed a similar comment made by Aresco (“We’re still the strongest top-to-bottom basketball conference in the country.”) in his own inimitable way. Winn used KenPom efficiency data to compare leagues based on their current configuration and their new configurations, and with the caveat that past performance does not accurately predict future success, the Big East as a whole falls from the second-best basketball conference over the last 10 seasons to sixth. As he notes, “realignment has made the Big East the weakest top-to-bottom major conference, not the strongest.” He also shows a chart exhibiting that only four of the top 11 leagues have improved themselves on the hardwood through conference realignment — the WCC, ACC, Atlantic 10, and SEC. Each of these leagues has added at least one solid basketball school to its mix.
  3. Sam Cassell caused a commotion upon his entry to the ACC two decades ago with his brashness, outspoken demeanor, and his talent on the court. Late last week some of those same characteristics came to bear as the now-Washington Wizards assistant spoke to Jeff Goodman about the NCAA’s rejection of his son’s appeal to play as a freshman next season at Maryland. Comparing the organization to “neighborhood bullies” and accusing the governing body of wanting “kids to fail,” Cassell is clearly unhappy with the NCAA’s decision to invalidate courses his son took at Notre Dame Prep as a high school junior even though other players such as Pittsburgh’s Khem Birch and Marquette’s Todd Mayo took the exact same courses and were eligible to play last season. Cassell, Jr., has not made a decision on what his next step will be, but
  4. The other player hurt by the NCAA’s decision to invalidate those Notre Dame Prep courses may not have a famous father to speak on his behalf, but Myles Davis will sit out next year at Xavier — paying his own way — and he’ll have some additional company doing it. Jalen Reynolds, another member of Chris Mack’s incoming recruiting class, was deemed ineligible by the NCAA on Friday for a similar issue, and he too will have to sit out the entire 2012-13 season while paying his own tuition at XU. With these two losses and the recent expulsion of Dez Wells, Xavier is now down to only eight scholarship players — none of whom were significant contributors on last year’s Sweet Sixteen team. The Musketeers’ first season in a revamped Atlantic 10 boasting new instant impact programs Butler and VCU will certainly be interesting with such a young and inexperienced squad — Mack will need to find a way to work miracles on the banks of the Ohio River if he plans on keeping Xavier’s NCAA Tournament streak of seven straight seasons alive.
  5. College basketball is legitimately just around the corner, and what better way to get your juices flowing than to read an interview with Gus Johnson. Johnson, of course, is spending his time nowadays as the lead college football announcer on Fox while also doing some Big Ten Network work on the side. This Q&A with Johnson isn’t necessarily ground-breaking in its breadth, but there were two college basketball takeaways that came out of it. First, and perhaps unsurprisingly since Johnson is a Detroit guy and given his obvious enthusiasm during games, he said he has long admired Dick Vitale as a sportscaster. Next, out of all the great games he’s covered over the years, his favorite? The 1996 NCAA Tournament Princeton upset over the defending national champions, UCLA. Give us more Gus, anytime.
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Morning Five: 09.06.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 6th, 2012

  1. The NCAA has ruled on the eligibility of one of the high-profile recruits in the Class of 2013, and it appears it’ll be “see ya next year” for Providence guard Ricardo Ledo. The star prospect who bounced around between numerous high schools in his prep career has been deemed a ‘partial qualifier,’ which effectively means that he can practice with the team during the upcoming season but will have to wait until 2013-14 to put on the Friar uniform and play. Ledo said earlier this week that he planned on staying at the school regardless of the NCAA’s decision, but if things change between now and next spring for the 6’6″ guard, he would of course have the option of entering the NBA Draft pool. Ed Cooley’s talented recruiting class — along with Ledo, point guard Kris Dunn is out until January with an injury — isn’t off to the best start, but the season after next could end up being PC’s long-awaited return to prominence. Here come the Friars, indeed.
  2. It it weren’t so sad due to his current hospitalization for high blood pressure, the outrage about Billy Gillispie‘s treatment of his Texas Tech players and staff would without question be much less muted. The story keeps getting weirder, though, as Texas Tech disclosed on Wednesday that it had reprimanded the head coach earlier this year after it was discovered that he was holding practices last December that were much longer than allowed by NCAA. The school self-reported the violations to the NCAA in January, and the governing body accepted the penalty as a result (docking itself twice the number of hours of practice). There’s almost no way that this story ends well for Gillispie or Texas Tech, and Gary Parrish writes what everyone around the college basketball world has been thinking: “Bottom line, this [Gillispie] is done.” How someone can blow the next chance he receives after self-immolation at a blue-chip job is a trajectory we have trouble reconciling, but that appears to be the only possible outcome here.
  3. Every year one of the most fun preseason exercises that a college basketball fan can go through is to attempt a prediction of the next group of breakout stars. Luke Winn’s annual Sophomore Breakout column, meticulously supported by their freshman efficiency numbers, is one of the better such examples that you’ll find. His group of five breakout players last season, for example, yielded Maryland’s Terrell Stoglin, Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick and Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas. And while his choices for this year’s group of next-gen stars definitely leans to the mid-major level, just consider it homework that you can drop on your buddies sometime during the holiday season. Oh, you don’t know about VCU’s Treveon Graham? — amateur hour.
  4. While on the subject of efficiency numbers, NC State‘s Backing the Pack published an interesting article this week examining the question of what the profile of a power conference champion looks like. The premise, of course, is to project just how much better Mark Gottfried’s Wolfpack squad needs to improve to have a reasonable shot to take the ACC regular season championship next season. Basically, the post concludes that the magic number of efficiency to have a reasonable shot at a league title is around a +10.0 points per 100 possessions differential. What’s not discussed here, though, is that the competition at the top in NC State’s league — ahem, Duke and North Carolina — have regularly blown past that differential into the range of +20.0 points per 100 possessions in the five-year sample. With those two schools poised to take a bit of a step back next season, it’s certainly possible that the top of the ACC could fall into Wolfpack hands, but it’s sorta like KU losing the Big 12 championship — we’ll believe it when we see it.
  5. Remember the tragic and hard-luck story of the Fort Wayne, Indiana, prep prospect, Austin Hatch, who lost his father and stepmother and nearly killed him in a small-engine plane crash last summer? The 6’6″, 210-pound wing did not play in what would have been his junior season as he rehabilitated from his injuries, and with the blessing of the Indiana High School Athletic Association, he has been approved to reclassify to the Class of 2014. This will allow him two years to graduate high school and also find his game again (assuming he wants to go in that direction, and who would blame him if he doesn’t?). Michigan has already agreed to hold a scholarship for him, but his reclassification means that John Beilein’s excellent 2013 class will now have an open scholarship. We certainly wish Hatch nothing but the best in trying to piece together a semblance of a normal high school existence this year and next — he certainly deserves it.
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Morning Five: 07.19.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 19th, 2012

  1. Breaking news from the absolutely-no-surprise department, but a couple of days after the Big East announced that it had reached a $7.5 million buyout deal with Syracuse to allow the Orange program to alight for the ACC in July 2013, Pittsburgh followed suit. Even better, the Panthers got the exact same buyout deal of $7.5 million to transfer its conference allegiance to Greensboro instead of Providence. The ACC and the Big East will certainly look very different as basketball leagues starting in 2013-14, but with a total of five schools consisting of two of its best football (Miami and Virginia Tech) and basketball programs (Syracuse and Pittsburgh) now having left, is it safe to say that the battle for east coast college sports dominance has finally been won?
  2. With the geographic and metaphysical heart of the Big East slowly moving south and west with its own expansion efforts, one of its new basketball-centric schools is in the midst of a local scheduling controversy. According to CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish, Ole Miss recently announced a combined football and basketball agreement to play regional rival Memphis, but Tigers head coach Josh Pastner apparently has not received that memo. According to the Memphis side of things, the agreement in place refers to a football series only, with the squishy caveat that the two schools will “talk” about resuming a basketball series. In terms of value-add, a home Memphis football game versus Ole Miss is worth considerably more (both financially as well as in perceived status) than a home Ole Miss basketball game versus Memphis, which is why despite Pastner’s protestations, we’d expect to see what should be an interesting series take place on the hardwood sometime soon.
  3. Back to the actual players rather than the legal and political wrangling of their schools, Duke’s Mason Plumlee certainly didn’t expect to be spending the summer after his junior year prepping for another season in Durham. Certainly not last offseason, when he told everyone around him that his 2011-12 year would be his last in Durham. And certainly not three years ago when he figured he was a surefire one-and-done candidate along with his peers John Wall, Derrick Favors, Xavier Henry, and the rest. As Jeff Goodman writes, the middle Plumlee who never thought he’d become a four-year Blue Devil is prepared for his senior season as the captain and leader of the team — we’re guessing in 30 years when he reflects back on this time at Duke he’ll have no regrets for sticking around campus four years.
  4. For those of us who follow the game closely, Northwestern‘s decades of futility in reaching the NCAA Tournament has become the standard by which all other failures is measured. If you need a reminder, the Wildcats are currently oh-for-74 in reaching the Big Dance, which is particularly astonishing when you consider that the Wildcats play in an elite basketball conference where more than half the teams in the league have a reasonable shot at the NCAAs in any given year. Dime Magazine has put together a nice piece discussing not only the ‘streak,’ but the chances for the 2012-13 team to finally break it in its 75th opportunity. It says here that next season is the year… and if you believe that, it’s also looking like a World Series on the North Shore in 2012.
  5. Luke Winn checks in this week with an analysis of something on which everyone in the industry seems to have an opinion — transfers. Winn is known for his columns heavily based on quantitative analysis, but in this article he shows his chops for a bit of qualitative work. He clearly shows that the phenomenon of what he calls “up-transfers” — players looking for opportunities at better schools — has risen significantly in the past few years. As an example, from 2007-11 there were 27 up-transfers in college basketball; in just 2012-13, there will be 25 more, and there are already 16 more pending in 2013-14. As Winn notes, the prospect of players bettering their situations isn’t necessarily a bad trend, but it also provides an increased likelihood of bigger programs tampering with and ultimately poaching disaffected players at lower-level schools. Something to keep an eye on.
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Morning Five: 06.08.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 8th, 2012

  1. ESPN.com released its list of the top 10 coaching jobs in college basketball yesterday. This article was a capstone piece to a week’s worth of solid analysis evaluating the best-to-worst coaching jobs in each of the six power conferences, and the overall best/worst mid-major positions as well. Just over a year ago we did a similar analysis here at RTC, ranking the top 20 coaching jobs at the time, using the general criteria of attractiveness of the position to potential suitors. This is a bit of a flash point to many fans of top programs who generally go through life with the attitude of ‘what’s not to like?’ without considering that choosing among the elite schools is a bit like dating Miss America candidates. To paraphrase a line from Garrison Keillor, everyone is above average — the differences are really at the margins. With that said, we believe that ESPN is seriously underrating Duke in terms of its job attractiveness. We understand the point about Coach K as the heart and soul of the program, but that doesn’t make the job any less enticing. What K has built there over three decades is a brand synonymous with elite college basketball — this indisputable fact alone makes the job better than the sixth best in the country. At worst, Duke should be listed as third behind Kentucky and North Carolina; but behind Indiana? Now, that’s just silly.
  2. Earlier this week we learned that Mark Madsen is headed back to the college basketball world to join Johnny Dawkins’ staff as a new assistant coach at Stanford. Mad Dog led the Cardinal to its last Final Four in 1998, and won two NBA titles as a benchwarmer with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2001 and 2002. The Dagger‘s Jeff Eisenberg caught up with Madsen on Wednesday and published this entertaining interview that discusses such disparate topics as his world championship dance moves, recruiting, and the Zen Master, Phil Jackson.
  3. Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes was one of the best surprises of the 2011-12 conference season, quite literally walking from high school on to the Volunteers’ roster at midseason and immediately becoming the team’s best player in a matter of weeks. This week, he and 22 of his fellow 18-and-under friends are competing for 12 spots on the Team USA Under-18 national team, and his experience of playing in a major collegiate environment for half a season gives him a distinct advantage over the others (all of whom are either still in high school or just graduating). Mike DeCourcy writes that the powerful young player is clearly a “star in the making” for Tennessee, and the additional experience he gains this summer will no doubt give him even more of a leg up on the rest of his contemporaries who have never seen the speed of high D-I basketball.
  4. Luke Winn had better step away from the excel spreadsheets for a while to get ready for the London Olympics next month, because when he starts writing columns about the Herfindahl Index (HHI) to explain trends in college basketball, we know that he’s gone certifiable. It’s certainly not that it doesn’t make any sense — it certainly does — it’s just that we’re worried about the guy. Regardless of his mental health, the HHI is a business analytical tool that typically measures market share concentration, but Winn uses it in his latest column to study offensive balance among national championship teams over the last 16 seasons. Perhaps the most interesting finding from his analysis was that the two Kentucky champions covered in this period (1998 and 2012) also happened to be the most balanced teams of the era — a quirky truth separated by 14 years, a couple of coaches, and quite a bit of talent and experience. Interesting post.
  5. Is NCAA head honcho Mark Emmert on the way out? Sports by Brooks reported on Thursday that it had information on good authority that Emmert was in discussions with LSU (where he served as their chancellor a decade ago) to become a combined president/chancellor with considerable power and prestige under the new position. Emmert, through a spokesman, called the report “complete nonsense,” but it brings up an interesting thought that the pull to become a president of a major state university could be considered a step up from the presidency of the NCAA. We have to admit some ignorance on this point, but LSU isn’t Michigan, and we would think that as president of an organization with a billion dollar budget the likes of the NCAA would be a better gig than whatever Baton Rouge might offer, but maybe we’re just admittedly out of touch on this point. It’ll be interesting to see regardless of whether there’s any fire with this smoke.
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