Entering AAC play, League Divided Into Haves and Have-Nots

Posted by CD Bradley on December 31st, 2013

With the first AAC conference basketball games set to tip Tuesday night at 5:00 PM ET, the new league is clearly divided into the haves and have-nots.

Is Louisville Still the Prohibitive Favorite in the AAC?

Is Louisville Still the Prohibitive Favorite in the AAC?

Non-conference games are nearly complete – a few key ones remain (more on those below) and rankings both old and new draw a clear line right in the middle of the conference. The AAC has five teams in the top 61 of the RPI, and five teams outside of the top 136. KenPom.com agrees, with five teams in his top 44, and five at #96 or lower. As those numbers suggest, Pomeroy’s rankings have a higher opinion of the AAC, which it ranks as the seventh-best conference, than the RPI, which ranks it as the ninth. That reflects the realities of the overall weakness of AAC schools’ non-conference schedules, and a few missed opportunities. The vast divide is underscored by his projections of the conference records. Each of the top five teams – Louisvile, Memphis, UConn, Cincinnati, and SMU – is projected to win at least 11 AAC games, while the bottom five – Temple, UCF, USF, Houston, and Rutgers – are each projected to lose at least that many. Barring a massive change in fortunes – or a run to the auto-bid by some team – only the top five have a reasonable shot to reach the NCAA Tournament. Here’s a look at each of their chances heading into conference play.

  • Louisville (KenPom #1, RPI #38). The defending champs present the most interesting profile, and this is especially true given that Chane Behanan is no longer on the team. The computers love the Cardinals; KenPom projects an AAC title with a a 15-3 league record. The RPI, which plays a large role in the NCAA Tournament selection process, for better or worse, isn’t as bullish due to their lack of quality wins. They’re currently 1-2 vs. the RPI top 50, but the one win against Southern Miss, will likely evaporate as quality once the Golden Eagles get into the weaker C-USA portion of their schedule. So the Cardinals (along with SMU) have the most to gain against the others on this list.

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Four Thoughts on Cincinnati’s Jimmy V Win Over Pitt

Posted by CD Bradley on December 18th, 2013

Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.

Brad Penner/USA Today Sports The defense of Sean Kilpatrick (right) and his fellow Bearcats was key in Cincinnati's 44-43 win over Pittsburgh at the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday.

Brad Penner/USA Today Sports
The defense of Sean Kilpatrick (right) and his fellow Bearcats was key in Cincinnati’s 44-43 win over Pittsburgh at the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday.

  1. It is clear that the question that will determine Cincinnati’s fate this year is whether their aggressive defense can overcome their inept offense. It did so, barely, Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden. The Bearcats held the Panthers without a field goal for more than 11 minutes of game action, bridging the half, but only managed to outscore punchless Pitt 6-5 over that span. After a veritable offensive explosion in which Pitt made four field goals in less than three minutes, Cincinnati endured an even longer drought, failing to make a field goal for more than 13 minutes. And yet, Cameron Wright‘s driving layup with 1:09 remaining gave Pitt a 43-42 lead. Admittedly, a key reason the Panthers failed to connect from the field was that Cincinnati continually chose fouls over allowing points in the paint; Pittsburgh shot 29 free throws (making 19) to Cincinnati’s three. But between all the fouls, the Panthers hit only 11-of-33 field goals, a testament to the consistent defensive pressure they faced all night.
  2. There was much moaning and complaining on Twitter about the lack of aesthetic appeal offered by last night’s match-up. And while it was no offensive masterpiece, scoring efficiency wasn’t awful at right around 0.9 points per possession. What really set apart this game, though, was the glacial pace of it. At approximately 48 possessions (the average this season is around 68), it was one of the slowest games of the year. As pointed out by @BPredict (proprieter of the Basketball Predictions blog), it’s only the third game so far this season with fewer than 50 possessions, and the first that didn’t involve Delaware State. Cincinnati’s style of play lends itself to slow games, with its lack of any discernible offensive sets paired with relentless defense designed to deny scoring opportunities. Read the rest of this entry »
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Four Thoughts on Cincinnati’s Missed Chance at New Mexico

Posted by CD Bradley on December 9th, 2013

Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.

Cincinnati's swarming defense wasn't good enough to overcome New Mexico's efficient offense in a 63-54 loss Saturday. (GoLobos.com)

Cincinnati’s swarming defense wasn’t good enough to overcome New Mexico’s efficient offense in a 63-54 loss Saturday. (GoLobos.com)

  1. Every basketball fan understands the concept of the run, where a team strings together a series of defensive stops while scoring points on the other end. The name is appropriate for a team like Louisville, which can put up a dozen straight points in an eye blink. Cincinnati can’t really do that, particularly against a quality foe. What the Bearcats do – when the ferocity of their defense overwhelms the ineptitude of their offense for a while; or for the other team, when it doesn’t – is more like a walk. In the first half on Saturday, New Mexico walked away from Cincinnati in The Pit, outscoring the Bearcats 16-4 over a period of a little more than 10 minutes to take a 27-10 lead. Cincinnati later cut that lead to only two early in the second half, but never got it all the way back to even. The Bearcats have never been a good offensive team under Mick Cronin (KenPom had UC ranked #64 in offensive efficiency coming into the game, which would be near the top of the Cronin era), but no matter the quality of your defense, beating a good team on the road is going to be nearly impossible when you shoot 29.5 percent and score around 0.9 points per possession, as Cincinnati did in this game.
  2. That said, the defense wasn’t good enough on Saturday either. Cincinnati was ranked #9 in adjusted defensive efficiency (92.4), #12 in effective field goal defense (42.1 percent) and #2 in turnover percentage (27.5 percent) coming into the game. New Mexico brought thoroughly mediocre ranks in effective field goal offense (#128) and turnover percentage (#100), so a path to victory for the Bearcats had to include getting stops and turning over the Lobos. The Bearcats did force 15 turnovers, roughly one out of every four possessions, which might have been enough on its own had they also not allowed New Mexico to shoot 50 percent from the field. Moreover, they couldn’t get those stops when it counted. After cutting a 12-point lead down to seven with 3:29 remaining, Cincinnati allowed New Mexico to score on its next three possessions. The first of those possessions lasted 61 seconds, thanks to an offensive rebound more than 30 seconds into the shot clock that allowed another 20-plus seconds to run off. The last of those scores made it a 13-point game with a minute left, putting things out of reach. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC off to So-So Start With Precious Few Shots at Quality WIns

Posted by CD Bradley on November 16th, 2013

Selection Sunday may seem far away just days after the start of the college basketball season. But since the NCAA tournament committee agreed four years ago to weigh all games equally – to consider each team’s whole body of work – wins and losses before Thanksgiving can be crucial for teams who end up on the bubble. As Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com points out, it was the Cavaliers’ losses in November last year that probably cost Virginia a bid, and a November win at Creighton was certainly a major factor to Boise State being among the last four in. So how has the American done in terms of getting out of the gate?

Ryan Boatright led UConn over Maryland on opening night, the AAC's best win thus far.

Ryan Boatright led UConn over Maryland on opening night, the AAC’s best win thus far.

The good news is that the teams in the AAC are 21-4, and winning 84 percent of the time is better than, well, not. What tempers the good news is the lack of much quality among the wins. When we reviewed the AAC teams’ non-conference slates before the season began, we found there wasn’t much that impressed (except for Temple; more on the Owls in a minute). Because of the lack of power foes (with a few exceptions), the AAC will have to make up with quantity and by winning road games and avoiding home losses, and so far it has done an OK job. Louisville, Memphis and UConn — the consensus top three teams in the league, and the only three ranked squads – are a combined 7-0. UConn boasts the league’s best win, at least according to the criteria that matter to folks seeding the NCAA Tournament, by managing to hold off a middle-of-the-ACC-pack Maryland squad on a neutral court opening night, while Memphis and particularly Louisville have rolled vastly inferior competition. Every team schedules a few creampuffs, but Louisville risks a pretty severe tummy ache by filling up on all the wrong things. Not one of the Cardinals’ three foes has a KenPom ranking of better than #165. The defending champs should have done better and challenged themselves a bit more, but they’re hardly alone.

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Jalen Jones’ Transfer Illustrates SMU’s Chemistry Challenge

Posted by CD Bradley on November 9th, 2013

Many observers, us included, consider the SMU Mustangs a darkhorse (pardon the pun) contender for an NCAA bid out of the AAC this season. At the same time, we also have noted that the biggest challenge facing Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown is figuring out how to combine five returning starters with a bunch of talented newcomers. That chemistry experiment had its first failure before SMU’s first game even tipped off on Friday night. Reporters noted that Jalen Jones, a 6’7” wing who averaged 14.0 points, 7.7 rebounds (leading the team in both categories) and more than 32 minutes per game for SMU last season, didn’t dress for Friday night’s opening win over TCU. After the game, Larry Brown implied the reason had to do with a disagreement over playing time. And Saturday afternoon, Jones tweeted that he would be transferring at the end of the fall semester.

Jalen Jones is Leaving SMU at the End of the Semester

Jalen Jones is Leaving SMU at the End of the Semester

Four newcomers played key roles in the TCU win. Illinois State transfer point guard Nic Moore led the team in points and minutes, McDonald’s All-American freshman guard Keith Frazier scored 11 in his college debut, JuCo center Yanick Moreira grabbed eight boards, and Villanova transfer big man Markus Kennedy scored four points and grabbed four rebounds in 23 minutes. With incoming players taking many of the minutes in the rotation, there was a logjam of incumbent wings between 6’4” and 6’7” – Ryan Manuel, Nick Russell, Shawn Williams, and Jones – all of whom all started last season. Jones apparently got squeezed out.

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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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Brackets, Braces & Parentheses – Part 1

Posted by rtmsf on December 23rd, 2009

Because sometimes, playing with the numbers is more fun than watching the actual games.  This is the first of a three-part series on height and college basketball.

“You can’t teach height.” – Frank Layden, Utah Jazz Basketball Coach

More so than in any other sport, height plays a huge role in determining a player’s fate on the court.  My wife’s jaw drops when I tell her I’m the same height as Steve Nash.  However, as a friend once told me, “being tall does not necessarily correlate with ability to play basketball.”  For example, growing up in Charlottesville, the late nineties saw a man by the name of Chase Metheny suit up for the Cavaliers.  Chase was an astonishing 7 feet 4 inches tall and he was… terrible. He just didn’t have the body coordination necessary to compete with other bigs in the conference and proving the point that being tall doesn’t mean you can dominate everyone.

So, then, what does it buy you?  How does being taller help the average college basketball team?

Ken Pomeroy looked at this last year, but I’d like to take it a bit further. I’ve gone to kenpom.com (where else?) and downloaded the statistics for the effective height of each team.  A team’s effective height is the sum of the height of each player on the team weighted by the percentage of minutes played (assuming the player has played at least 10% of the teams minutes).  Thus, a team’s effective height can change depending on who they put on the floor.  If Texas gives Dexter Pittman (6’10) more minutes relative to Dogus Balbay (6’1), they become a taller team in effective height terms.

I’ve separated the data out into offensive and defensive efficiency and plotted it versus effective height.  (Note that redder is better.)

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09.21.09 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on September 21st, 2009

It was a very quiet weekend in college hoopsland, which is a good thing, because the RTC staff is working madly behind the scenes to get things together for the upcoming season.  You guys realize that we’re seven weeks to the day away from the first game, right (Nov. 9FIU @ UNC in the CvC)?

  • Jeff Goodman wrote a post on his blog last week that asked the question of which teams in 09-10 could be categorized as the deepest in college basketball.  He concluded that Big 12 stalwarts Kansas and Texas along with Kentucky are all bursting at the seams with nasty talent.  We have no dispute with him there – you’d have to be blind to state otherwise.  But after thinking about it a bit, we were left with the so-what question.  Having 10-12 players at your disposal doesn’t mean a whole lot unless you’re willing to use them, and we wondered what Self, Barnes and Calipari’s coaching history could tell us about just how important that depth will be for them this season.  Thanks to KenPom’s site, we did a quick analysis of how these coaches used their benches over the last three years (data was only available from 2007-09).  As you can see in the table below, the two Big 12 coaches are much more likely to ride their starters over the course of a season than Calipari will.  But none of them will often be accused of leading the way in bench usage.  Of course, if we had players like Kevin Durant, Brandon Rush, Derrick Rose and so forth at our disposal, we’d probably be hesitant to bring in their backup also.
  • reserve minutes 07-09
  • Luke Winn broke down his top ten nonconference schedules last week (among the good teams), and we really don’t have much else to say about his analysis, which is spot-on as usual.  Calling out Big East teams Pitt and Syracuse was great, especially since we all know that they’ll use the excuse of being young this year (true), even though they always pull this never-leave-home stuff in the preconference slate (also true).  We also noticed another oddity in Winn’s “Major Generosity” section, where he points out that UNC, Georgetown and Michigan St. will visit such titans as Charleston, Savannah St. and The Citadel, respectively, this season.  Strangely enough, these three homestanding schools are within about a two-hour drive of each other.  A weird confluence of luck , friendships and payback games means that the Low Country will be privileged to host three of the best teams in the nation on their turf within a six-week period starting November 21.  If you live around there, get your tickets now – this will probably never happen again!  Oh, and back at ya, Luke.
  • Quick HitsBilal Batley: yeah, this was itThe Jewish Jordan: retires at 27Greg Monroe: ready to forget about last seasonGene Iba: one more season for Hank’s nephew.  Freshmen in 09-10: seems eminently reasonableArkansas Gangbang: someone will be punished for somethingThe New Myles BrandMichael AdamsJunior Cadougan:  Marquette’s presumed starting PG out for the seasonTruck Bryant: was there ever a questionJosh Tabb:  Tennessee guard suspended indefinitely.
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