Wednesday, November 25

weeks 10&11


gonna send an email out today with tomorrow's 3 games.

Tuesday, November 10

pick 'em 8 & 9

Sorry for the lapse, college basketball is back (if you happened not to notice)

Name Wk8-Wk9-Tot

Thoughts on FIU: Larry Drew II looks good, but I can't tell if it is because his back ups look so bad. The big men are just that, big, and its a deep team. But, for the 2 minutes that only freshmen were on the floor it looked pretty bad.

Tuesday, October 27

week 7 pick 'em

Week 7
ryan: 8
john: 8
kevin: 8
jason: 7
alex: 2

jason: 44
ryan: 44
kevin: 39
john: 38
alex: 35

consensus: 4-2 (more consensus picks because alex went all underdogs, so i excluded his picks)

Sunday, October 18

Week 6 Pick 'em

So, in a reversal of fortunes this week Alex has posted the highest total, he made notable headway on the Bills, Ravens and Texans.

week 6
alex: 10
ryan: 8
jason: 7
john: 7
kevin: 6

jason: 37
ryan: 36
alex: 33
john: 31
kevin: 31

This is as of Sunday night, but we all pick the two remaining games the same way (Atlanta -3 & Denver +3.5). Everyone will remain in the cumulative order shown, but we may all pick up some W's between now and week 7.

Also, this week we tried picking parlays, and we have all struck out to this point. Incorrect parlay picks include Steelers (Alex), Vikings (Kevin, Ryan), Jets (Kevin), Lions (Jason), and Eagles (John). We're 3-1 in consensus picks, wins: Pats, Falcons and Broncos and the Eagles dropping the ball.

Thursday, October 15

Week 6 Pick 'Em

Trying something new here folks:

Sunday, October 11

Setting the Week 5 table

Current Rankings

jason: 30 (8)
ryan: 28 (5)
kevin: 25 (10)
john: 24 (9)
alex: 23 (8)

Sunday, October 4

week 4

wow, i laid an absolute egg:

kevin: 8
john: 7
jason: 7
alex: 7
ryan: 4

kevin & john have pitt (-6.5), we all have minny (-3.5), so, john and kevin will pick up one and we'll all stay in stride monday night. i notably whiffed on DET, NYJ, STL, and SEA who either everyone else, or only one other person missed.

Friday, October 2

Great NBA Training Camp Stuff

So I figured that week 5 of the college football season was a great time to show everybody this NBA Training Camp footage. I found this playing on the NBA TV channel, and it's a great insight into the kinds of things coaches go over when preparing their teams for the season. Here's Nuggets coach George Karl directing rookie Ty Lawson (known only as "Rook") about eschewing the open three in favor of driving to the basket. He also teaches him about decision making on the break and when to pass up shorter shots. Starts at around the 9:00 mark, in case you don't want to watch the whole thing.

There's also an excellent video on the Lakers that runs just as long. It's available here. And yes, they do discuss Adam Morrison's future and how much less of a douche Sasha Vujacic is now that he cut his hair.

Sunday, September 27

week 3 pick 'em

Name - Wk3 (Tot)
Ryan - 11 (23)
Jason - 11 (22)
Kevin - 9 (15)
Alex - 8 (15)
John - 8 (14)

Consensus: 2-1, Giants and San Diego were on the money, and we got burned on Pittsburgh again.


Wednesday, September 23

Week 2 Final Standings

Here are the Week 2 final standings, next week's Google-style surveys will go out some time Thursday.

The three consensus picks were Minny (-10), Pittsburgh (-3), and Indy (-3).

Sunday, September 20

Week 2 Early Standings

That's 1 o'clock games only. I think I'm going to start using Google surveys to compile our data into spreadsheets, beginning with next week's games.

Friday, September 18

Week 2 spreads, 2009 season Pick'em

Time for another year of Pick'em! I love Pick'em. We'll be picking every game this season from Week 2 onward, so here are the spreads for this week.

Oakland @ Kansas City (-3)
Houston @ Tennessee (-7)
New England (-4) @ New York Jets
Cincinnati @ Green Bay (-9)
Minnesota (-10) @ Detroit
New Orleans @ Philadelphia (PICK'EM)
Carolina @ Atlanta (-6)
St. Louis @ Washington (-9.5)
Arizona @ Jacksonville (-3)
Seattle @ San Francisco (-1.5)
Tampa Bay @ Buffalo (-5)
Cleveland @ Denver (-3)
Baltimore @ San Diego (-3)
Pittsburgh (-3) @ Chicago
New York Giants @ Dallas (-3)
Indianapolis (-3) @ Miami

Since we didn't finalize the format until late this week, picks are due before 11AM Sunday. Please leave a comment with your picks for the week on the post with the spreads; Ryan will record your picks and then approve the comment when everyone's picks are in (so everyone may then see who picked whom).

Thursday, September 3

Cason Visits the Spurs, and It Was Good

As a special to Thrice Fortnight, I'm posting my write-up of my trip to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club (the Spurs) as part of my visit to London. Since we got obscenely low airfare (direct from Raleigh, which if you've ever traveled extensively, you know is a luxury in-and-of-itself), Dad took me for my birthday. I realized that if I was going to spend money on something big, I could either see this game or Shakespeare's Troilus & Cressida at the Globe. I'm not married, so Shakespeare was out. The Spurs faced Birmingham City, a freshly promoted club who was in the top half of the rankings and had only given up one goal in three prior games.

We were fortunate that Birmingham City was not a team that most fans considered a powerhouse, otherwise tickets would not have been available. As it were, there were a decent number of tickets available for purchase so I snapped up a pair that ended up being very good. The alternative would have been trying to buy them off 'touts' (scalpers) and since I had no idea whether you needed a club membership to get in with tickets from touts, I went the safe route and booked tickets online a few days before we left.

Since the game was in North London, we took the train to White Hart Lane Station and found our way to the ticket office. Other than the food and merchandise carts, you wouldn't know there was a match about to start. I found this a little odd because I'd always read about the fanaticism of the fans all over the Prem. No saturation of signage and neon. After getting through the line for our tickets, we walked around to our gate, and made it through the narrow entrance, noting that we were the only ones who were getting in, and the game had only just started. I should say that the entry way past the ticket takers is so narrow that I could not fit walking straight through and had to walk in sideways. Maybe this was to prevent any rushes into the stadium or they just wanted to keep Diego Maradona out, both laudable goals. Drew Brees would have a difficult time threading a pass in there. I forgot to take a picture because we were hurrying to get to our seats.

We discovered that we were the only people who weren't in our seats in the entire section (when was the last time you went to a pro or college anything and that happened?). We were on roughly the 35 or 40 yd line and the seats were right on top of the field, which was nicer than Bryan Park, like plush green carpet. We sang 'When the Spurs go marching in' which is very close to a song that means something to me. Dad and I quickly took a liking to the Spurs no. 7, Aaron Lennon, who was mentioned as a potential member of England's national team soon after this game.

The game proceeded with the Spurs dominating possession, as they moved the ball fluidly around the field. They had difficulty getting the ball inside 10 yards of the goal, as the Birmingham defense didn't let many balls through. Luka Modric broke his leg getting tackled while going for a fifty-fifty ball. However, this was the best thing that could have happened for the Spurs, as Peter Crouch went in as his sub.

If you've ever watched a game from Europe, you know the fans spend much of the game singing their club songs. Exactly what they're singing is another matter. I expected to be able to understand the chants word for word, but they sounded exactly like they do on television. I don't know whether this says more about the quality of the sound on televised matches or my difficulty understanding British chants. I was pretty familiar with 'When the Spurs go marching in' but had difficulty interpreting things outside of "F%$# City" or "Arsene Wanker."

Everything changed with Crouch, as the Spurs were a bit slower on offense
with Modric out but were able to play above the opposition. Birmingham City's offense came out of nowhere and held onto the ball well, producing some good scoring chances. Some poor defensive execution nearly gave some away a goal or two.

Halftime meant that everyone left for the john and for food. We didn't have to deal with people leaving four times for more food or to pee in the first half. This was important because the seats were so cramped there was barely room to stand. Once the second half was about to start, everybody was back in their seats. There were no halftime promotions of a fan trying to score a goal from all the way across the field, no T-shirt gun, no ED ads (I'd almost forgot what it was like to go to a sporting event and not deal with the image of two old naked people in outdoor tubs). Aside from the numerous Puma and signs (gambling website, official sponsor of the club and occupying the center of their jerseys) along the sidelines, there were no offical tie ins. No sideline reports, no awkward and vacant interviews with the coaches going into or out of the locker room, no overplayed OutKast anthems.

The second half was much more exciting, as City's offense emerged and Peter Crouch initiated the Spurs scoring chances. Crouch tried a number of headers, one of which was stopped by a defender right on the goal line. This was then followed by another Crouch header bouncing off the top left corner of goal. As agonizing as each of these were, it only set the stage for the exciting goal, when Crouch scored off a free kick off a foul.

When Peter Crouch finally scored, there was a great mix of celebration and relief as Birmingham's defense was finally broken. Happily, It also meant it was ok to start flipping off the City fans, which I may have taken advantage of. The goal appeared to be the result of a set piece off a free kick about 30 yards away from the goal. Crouch certainly deserved to score, as he was off by a matter of inches on three earlier occasions.

Crouch heads in the first goal

Unfortunately, the Spurs decided it was ok to start packing it in, even though there were over 20 minutes left. City then scored on a miscommunication between a defender, Hutton, and the goalie. City fans were ecstatic to be tied on the road with the first place team in the Prem. Regulation ended in a tie, but there was some stoppage time from the Modric injury, leaving time for a last chance for the Spurs.

In stoppage time, City were content to play keep away and get the point. Their fans were loudly singing and feeling like they had won something. However, a City midfielder fell over on his own (seriously, watch the highlights) and the Spurs raced up the field with numbers. A great cross to Aaron Lennon led to some great stutter steps and a whistling shot between a defender and the goalie. As soon as this happened, we all immediately turned to the City fans and shouted obscenities at them as they snatched defeat from the jaws of a draw. It was swell. As that was in the fifth minute of stoppage time, the ref called the game soon after kickoff, which was just as well since several City defenders still hadn't gotten up off the ground. It was a great Spurs win, with Crouch and Lennon leading the way. Dad and I had a great time, even if we were only working on 2 hours sleep from the flight over.

OK, so we bought scarves

In hindsight, I'm thrilled we went to the Spurs game, since they currently sit at second in the Prem, and the first place team, Chelsea, is currently banned from signing new players. Liverpool is off to a terrible start, all Arsenal cares to do is protest a UEFA ban on a forward for diving (which was obvious even for their standards) and Man U is facing similar heat as Chelsea for encouraging a player to break a contract with his French club. Given this start (best in 40 years) and the preoccupations of the big four, this is the Spurs best chance to qualify for the Champions league or even win the Premiership.

Here's the highlight video, from the BBC:

Tuesday, July 28

Okafor for Chandler, part deux

In response to Ryan's post, I am sharing my thoughts about the big Bobcats trade. Firstly, we must consider Chandler's health. After all, his health was the reason his trade was rescinded. His foot injury, which was performed by the same doctor who deemed him unfit for the trade, is certainly a cause for concern. Chandler played in 45 games last year before playing between 73-80 games over the previous four seasons. For comparison, Okafor played in 82 games the last two seasons but far fewer in the previous three. Therefore, I don't entirely buy the idea that Okafor is so much healthier than Chandler.

Next, we look at the teams' motivations for the trade. The Hornets were acting out of financial interest, since their owner wants to avoid paying him the next two seasons. In my searches, I didn't find anything that made Chandler out to be a bad teammate, so at least there won't be any bad locker room energy injected into Charlotte. In my estimations, the Bobcats are trying to shake things up either because Larry Brown told them to or they want a contract that expires way before Okafor's so the team can be sold easier. Bob Johnson has expressed a lot of interest in selling the team and once he finds serious suitors I'll bet that will convince that Larry Brown that he could do better elsewhere, since Larry hasn't always been on the best of terms with owners and management.

As for the effect on the teams, I think Chandler will (surprise!) miss running the PNR with Chris Paul for easy buckets. He'll have better defensive help with the Bobcats, but you have to wonder who is going to be doing all the scoring when Gerald Wallace has an off night or inevitably gets injured. As for the Bugs, they will appreciate Okafor's rebounding and attitude (not that they disliked Chandler), but I've never seen Okafor move well on a PNR. He could very well have been trapped on the wrong team, but he seems to lack the fluidity Chandler has. We'll see what happens to his numbers from playing with Chris Paul. I think we'll have to wait and see as to who profits more. The sad thing, as Bill Simmons pointed out, that both teams wanted to dump salaries and that was the main reason for this happening. We'll see if either team benefits from their new centers.

Okafor for Chandler?!?!

Last night I was eating at Moe's (WELCOME TO MOE'S), it was $5 chicken-only Joey night, when I nearly spat my queso out over something I thought I saw go by on the crawl beneath the Cardinals-Dodgers game, "...eka Okafor for Hornet's C Tyson Chandler."

WHAT?!?? Why? How? Who? The Bobcats have only made a few successful draft picks, Okafor being one (at least relative to the others, and within his draft class). He's the rock and face of the franchise, an original Bobcat, he shot 56% from the field last season and he's a double double machine. OK, maybe machine is a bit generous, but he's a double double source. Put it this way, he's a double-double source only by nature of our base-10 counting system. If we admired 11 the way we do 10 he'd only have produced a single double double season once, and his points aren't that far ahead of his rebounds.

Anyways, I tried to legitimize the deal from the booth at Moe's. They're probably the same age (since Chandler entered the league from high school). It is likely a salary dump, they're just not reporting that Nazr Mohammed is included in the deal.

As I returned home and was able to look into all the details a few things became obvious and the deal came into focus. 1) Larry Brown doesn't like Okafor, for all his hard work 'Mek doesn't have the basketball instincts or ability that Brown wants. 2) Okafor has a 6 year contract while Chandler has a 2 year deal for less average money. 3) The 'Cats are not significantly worse with Chandler than they are with 'Mek (this one has a huge condition, that Chandler can stay healthy).

All in all two main things make me happy about this trade. The Bobcats are making business decisions. The easy way out would be to let Okafor's permanence with the team blind them, but they're making a tough choice for the good of the team (think of the Panthers letting Dan Morgan or Will Witherspoon go). They're also planning for being good in the future, not just mediocre. If this deal works they will have cap space in 2011 without being significantly worse next year. This allows for the team to get much better that year as opposed to settling for sneaking into the playoffs as the number eight seed.

This year the deal favors the Hornets, who get a quality big man and about 1 mil of cap relief, but from 2011 to 2014 they'll be paying 30+ year old Emeka Okafor 12 mil per year to be an undersized, aging bench player. In the NBA cap space is as valuable as not screwing up draft picks, the Bobcats seem to be learning at least one of these lessons.

Cason is much more NBA knowledgable than I, so that said any thoughts Mr. Dwyer?

Tuesday, July 14

I'm pretty sure we didn't make this up...

Quentin Thomas, of "Just the Two of Us" fame from 2005's Midnight Madness, is going to be providing the intro to NBA Live 2010. We'll be checking for YouTube clips in November, when the NBA Season really starts.

Here, Thomas is seen clearly fouling Gerald Henderson, now of the Charlotte Bobcats.

From the N & O:

Monday, June 22

Roy is more popular than Coach K in North Carolina and in life...

In a poll that should surprise no one, the Public Policy Polling firm declared that Roy Williams is liked by more people in the state of North Carolina than is Mike Krzyzewski. Sixty-one percent of voters had a favorable opinion of Roy while only fifty-two percent felt the same about Coach K. This indicates that fans of Duke and UNC appear to have a healthy respect for the suit on the other sideline. On an interesting note, Sidney Lowe and Dino Gaudio had zero favorable opinion* in this poll.

*Dino Gaudio and Sidney Lowe were not part of this survey, but zero percent popularity is our most approximate figure based upon State fan griping that they didn't have a winning season yet again and Wake fan griping that their team quit on their coach during their first round loss to Cleveland State.

Thursday, April 2

Now you too can dress like your favorite Final Four coach...

As you've watched Roy's Heels over the last couple of years, you may have probably thought to yourself, "How does our team play so well while our coach wears such ugly ties?"

I often wondered where Roy Williams got his ties, and now I present to you the very same ties that Roy has famously worn over the past couple of seasons. From Alexander Julian:

Julian updated the UNC uniforms in the late 80's by adding the argyle to the UNC Uniforms after consulting with Michael Jordan and Dean Smith. This was certainly a nice touch, bringing argyle to basketball before the Izod Center did, shown here:

Of course, Jay Wright is no slouch. I've heard he has a nice 12 piece outfit he just picked out just for Saturday's semifinal. I'd be remiss to leave him out of this discussion of well-dressed coaches. The University of Pennsylvania even gave him space to write his own editorial in response to not being in People's Sexiest People issue.

If you're wondering how the two coaches compare, you can read up on GQ's editors discussing Dick Vitale's list of best dressed coaches. Both Wright and Williams made the list with favorable reviews from Glenn O'Brien, one of the first people to discover Haitian neo-expressionist Jean-Michel Basquait.

Tuesday, March 31

Saturday, March 21

The ACC & the NCAA Tournament

As I sit here writing, Florida State has just lost to Wisconsin, Wake Forest face planted against Cleveland State, and Boston College fell to Southern California. Clemson was flummoxed by Michigan last night.

This leaves Maryland, North Carolina and Duke as the only ACC teams to win their first round games. Sad as it sounds, is anyone really surprised that things turned out this way? Wake had the greatest variance of any team, as some people had them as a dark horse Final Four team, yet others felt they wouldn't get to the second round.

I realize that UNC and Duke were touted as the only serious Final Four prospects, but come on. I want the rest of the teams to at least win a game or two. "Conference strength" is a fickle concept, but the ACC sure doesn't look too hot right now. Granted, if UNC and Duke make the Final Four (thereby creating civil unrest in North Carolina) and Maryland finishes in the Sweet 16, you will forget about the early losses by the other schools.

It's impossible to judge all the teams right now, but it is fine to express disappointment with the rest of the conference's performance. In the meantime, let's not forget to cheer on Virginia Tech in the NIT (and Davidson, too). I'm hoping Malcolm Delaney and AD Vassallo can finish their season on a high note.

Thursday, March 5

A Little Something to Get You Excited for Sunday...

The latest SI cover, for the week of March 9. Enjoy :)

Wednesday, March 4

Everybody's All-ACC

As this year's ACC tournament seeds are becoming clear, I'll take a minute to look at the All-ACC performers for this year. The league gets to name a first, second and third team conference all star team, but I wanted to recognize the players who deserve to make it. Even though most teams are performing close to pre-season expectations, there have been many players who have taken over games. Since I feel that picking several teams won't do many players justice, I'm just giving you two tiers of players.

Here's my list, feel free to agree/disagree:
Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough, Gerald Henderson, Kyle Singler, Trevor Booker (who secures rebounds like the grown-ass man he is), Toney Douglas (in the top 500 in a great many Ken Pom categories), Jeff Teague, James Johnson, Greivis Vasquez, Jack McClinton, and Tyrese Rice all make the first tier. Malcolm Delaney, Sylven Landesberg, Tracy Smith, KC Rivers, Ben McCauley, and Gani Lawal all make the second tier of players who deserve praise. These players all had strong seasons and many of these players who will return next year will be able to build off the work they did this season.

Sunday, March 1

Pre-Tourney Thoughts

Early today I posted a some bubble thoughts over at Triangle Offense, and bit my tongue about my thoughts on RPI. In truth, it is a blunt tool that measures only wins and losses and ignores quality. Now, to be fair the NCAA selection committee does a fine job sorting through all the available information (and ignoring conference affiliation, no we're serious folks, we don't count conference bids). They use useful information like best and worst wins and average win RPI and average loss RPI (hmmm, I wonder if they compare it with the median...).

Anyways, I pulled the numbers off KenPom and compared them with RPI, just to get a short list of what teams the RPI is over and undervaluing. Since the committee is partially seeding by RPI, look for these teams to under or over perform their seed expectations, or "PASE" (see previous post for more PASE fun).

RPI>KenPom (Number is actual difference)
-52 Dayton
-43 Siena
-33 George Mason
-29 Florida St.
-25 Louisville
-21 Mississippi
-20 Tennessee
-20 Utah St.
-18 Illinois St.
-17 Oklahoma

These are teams the RPI loves while KenPom is a bit more doubtful of, since I trust KenPom I'd say these are teams you should think twice before blindly filling in to fit their seed line.

KenPom>RPI (Number is difference)
26 Gonzaga
29 Kentucky
35 Houston
36 Kansas St.
38 Notre Dame
39 New Mexico
42 North Dakota St.
49 Stanford
61 Washington St.

Ditto from above, but opposite direction. These teams are better than their RPI's indicate, not all of them will make the NCAA's, but the ones that do may be a seed line or two lower than they should be. A team that should be a #3 playing as a #5 or #6 seed (UCLA) is a pretty big change.

More importantly, what causes this discrepancy in the rating systems? Well, my theory is that it is everything that the RPI ignores: scoring margin. The RPI sees a win as a win and a loss as a loss, when in reality there are good losses and bad wins. Virginia Tech taking Duke to the wire today was a good win, it was likely a better performance than they had expected. Similarly, Butler only defeating Cleveland St. by two points at home was a closer game than expected, and should be counted as such.

To determine if my hypothesis is correct, I've taken the top 100 teams and determined how over or under rated they are in RPI (a "Delta" value), and calculated the correlations and r squared values for each of the front page KenPom values (Pyth, OE, DE, Cons, etc.) to the calculated Delta value. This should show if any KenPom value can be said to be causing the difference between the two ranking systems.

Once I did this, there were several KenPom values that stood out with a better than random correlation (.300 or greater):

The stats with the most significant correlations are Luck, Consistency, Wins, and Losses. Wins and Losses are obvious and easily explainable, since the RPI is strictly based on wins and losses it is tied to them, while KenPom often sees through the good losses and bad wins to discredit fraudulent teams eking by easy competition or the good ones losing heartbreakers against strong competition.

Consistency isn't as obvious. The stats are saying that a higher consistency rating correlates well with a higher Delta value (higher being better in KenPom, worse in RPI, think of it as "higher up in Ryan's opinion). My guess would be that this inconsistency is penalized, because it often results in losses. The inconsistency can also win games a team shouldn't win, and perhaps KenPom's system rewards teams more than RPI does. This correlation doesn't make as much sense as the Luck correlation.

Luck is pretty obvious, and I'm glad it is by far the strongest correlation. Luck amounts to winning close games or, on the reverse side, losing them. Luck can be considered KenPom's way of wiping away close results, since they come down to random chance anyways (today, ABC proved the point, by repeatedly showing VA Tech's record in close games in the Seth Greenberg era, 33-35 I believe, 9-9 in 1 point games). RPI is essentially luck blind, beating a team by 1 point is the same as beating a team by 41, and we all know that simply shouldn't be the case. Appropriately Luck has a -.602 R-Squared value, meaning that bad luck (lower values) correlate to higher Delta values (overrated in RPI). Teams that play in and lose close games end up being underrated by RPI, while those that win too many close games are overrated.

In summary (and I commend you if you've made it through this quantitatively heavy post, I can't post stuff like this at TO, so while the week to week Four Factor stuff will end up there, the math lectures will remain a TFSB item) you can't rely on past performance in close games as an indicator of future performance. RPI is blind to margin while KenPom takes it into account. Use this to your advantage next weekend when filling out brackets, unless you're in my bracket pool of course...

Monday, February 16

PASE Projections and the Tar Heels

I was reviewing the Basketball prospectus today and they had a good article about a custom PASE formula. The author used it to determine the success of teams vs their O Eff, D Eff and Pythag rankings (pre-tourney) in the NCAA tournament. While it looks at all teams as a whole, it's interesting to see how their D Eff and Pythag seem to correlate well with success or failure in the tournament.

There is a list of common traits the author pulled to show successful teams since 2004 at the bottom article, shown here:

We hit all those markers except for two: pts allowed <> 88.8. While it is likely impossible that we'll get PPG allowed below 64.2, it is possible to get our D Eff down below 88.8. The author notes that 2 of the last 5 champs hit all the criteria (ignoring the last trend, at least 2 straight NCAA bids).

This raises many questions for our team. I am projecting that we will maintain the marks we are currently hitting (esp. with the second half of our schedule giving us easier games). My hope would be that our D Eff improves throughout the season and Roy uses the rest of the season to focus on our defense (I'm looking at you two, Bobby and Tyler). Our D Eff currently sits at 88.8. If we can reduce the number of points scored against us per 100 possessions by at least .1, we'll be in better shape once the tournament starts.
As you can tell, this is not difficult, it just requires a sustained effort.

Of course, there are critiques to be made with this formula. I'm sure there are other statistical measures that can indicate how successful a team is but the author didn't include. There may be some random stat out there that does a much better job of correlating regular season performance with tournament performance. Since that stat remains to be seen, we'll give the author the benefit of the doubt. Also, there's no real way to look at how teams match up against each other player to player. That certainly matters because every team has a style it's vulnerable to that other teams don't have to worry about.

On a final note, UConn is one of the few teams that's close to hitting all the marks here. Defensively, they are better than the Heels but are just shy of the O Eff numbers they are looking for here. Memphis is also hitting 8/9, lacking in the O Eff dept by a bigger margin than UConn. It would appear that if UConn can boost their O Eff while holding other stats to current levels, they are a near lock to make the final four and could very well be the favorite.

Wednesday, February 11

Previewing Duke

Even up in Wisconsin, I'm having a hard time containing my excitement for tonight's game. As usual, this should be a great game as Duke hosts the Heels. There's disagreement between the AP Polls and Ken Pomeroy's ranking system, hardly surprising, but popular opinion favors the Heels.

The latest spread has the Heels at -1.5, up from -2 at opening. The O/U is 156, suggesting the winning team will need at least 79 points to win. Ken Pom favors Duke at 81-76 and gives us just under a 1/3 chance of winning. Duke is coming off a big overtime win over Miami, 78-75 and the Heels recently cruised over UVA 76-61. Although many in the media have brought up the bad Duke loss at Clemson, they ignore the importance of the comeback against the U, where Duke was down 15 before tying the game with 10 minutes to play and winning in OT.

Greg Paulus has also been named the starting point guard, likely because of Nolan Smith's recent slump in production. Historically, Paulus has done well against the Heels, especially as a 3 point threat. This leaves Duke with four legit 3 pt shooters: Singler, Henderson, Scheyer and Paulus. Given the Heels' difficulties with high screens and pick & rolls, I hope everybody knows how they're supposed to play different screens. Given Duke's irritating ability to get opponents to pick up cheap fouls, Deon, Tyler and Ed better be careful when they switch on high screens. I predict we'll see a lot of pick and rolls that result in kickouts to the corner.

The Blue Devils also rebound well for a team known for perimeter and slashing play. If anybody recalls the BC game, they'll remember it's entirely possible for the Heels to have a difficult time on the boards. By sending everyone for rebounds, BC got a lot of boards and thereby gave us few transition opportunities. I wonder if Coach K will send lots of bodies to the boards to get more offensive rebounds or have people get back to stop the break. Methinks it will be a combination of the two to keep us on our toes.

Anybody else, feel free to post your thoughts/comments about tonight's game.

Sunday, February 8

What's Demonizing the Deacs?

Early this week someone asked me what I thought had happened to Wake Forest. This was just on the heels of their abysmal performance at Miami that left them at 1-3 over their last 4 and able to slay such giants as Duke and UNC, but unable to handle the ACC's cellar dwellers such as Georgia Tech.

About the Deacons, an opinion you'll likely hear a lot of, is that the Deacon's inexperience is a main cause for their inconsistency. This is not untrue, as the ACC is a tough conference (#1 in RPI) where if you let up for any game, especially on the road, almost any team can beat you. The Deacons are indeed inexperienced, with their main contributors (Johnson 15.7%, Teague 23.2%, Aminu 16.5) all being underclassmen and using over 50% of their total possessions. Similarly Wake ranks 274th in "Experience" on KenPom, with an average of 1.32 years (this is of course weighted by minutes played). Though they have some upperclassmen, Senior role player Harvey Hale and Juniors who play large parts (McFarland, Williams, Smith), this team thrives off of the three underclassmen. So Wake Forest is young and inexperienced, this isn't news to anyone. They played a soft non-conference schedule (Non-Conf SOS 269th) that didn't quite let anyone get a really in depth look at how their young talent would react to adverse situations and mold into a team. Younger players typically have more drastic ups and downs than older ones (see Wake's 292nd consistency rank), and obviously this has positive ramifications. If Wake were insanely consistent, they may have never played well enough to beat UNC or Duke. However, the opposite side of that coin is that often times the Deacons play way under their potential other games (see VATech, GT, Miami).

Ok, we can all agree that Wake is inexperienced and inconsistent, but specifically how has this let them down and resulted in losses? Jeff Teague feels that teams have begun to game plan against him and shut him down, not untrue but I don't think this is the main issue. It's certainly doesn't help to have a point guard who takes 14 shots to get to 15 points (average over the last 3 games), but against Duke he only scored 11 points (2 assists) and they somehow managed to win. That is because the true cause for their recent slide is defense. Looking at the Deacon's last 8 games they're 5-3 (ACC schedule +BYU who I'll include because they're of roughly comparable ability and skill to the slightly above-average ACC team, such as Miami). In their 5 wins they gave up only a 94 defensive efficiency, and not against many offensively inept teams (UNC averages 123, Duke 115, BYU 116). In the 3 losses they've allowed a 109 defensive efficiency, to the likes of Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Miami (110, 98, and 115 respectively). Wake's reputation is and was built on defense. Much like the Tar Heels, a lot of their offense comes from fast breaks created off forced turnovers and missed shots. The Deacon's offense may not have been operating at full capacity in those 3 losses, but if so it's only because their defense didn't set it up for easy buckets. When their defense is working, the Deacons have many more fast breaks and easy baskets, as evidenced by their torrid pace in wins (79.2 poss/game) when compared to the pace at which they've played their losses (71.0). At a deeper level, why is the Deacon's defense failing? Their tightly packed zone forced opponents to take jump shots. This is in line with one of the most famous talking points of basketball "don't foul jump shooters". Wake's zone doubles down low without fouling and forces opposing teams to take jumpers. In their wins the Deacon's opponents average a 33.3* Free Throw Rate (FTA/FGA) practically identical to Wake's season average (33.5). In the 3 losses, their opponents have a 54.9 Free Throw Rate. That rate of fouling is way too high to succeed playing a zone defense built around forcing poor shots and playing staunch defense on the easy ones.

Obviously there are other statistical discrepancies in their wins and losses, but I feel those (FG%, Offensive Efficiency, Offensive and Defensive Turnover Rate) are mainly effects of the Deacon's main issues, sloppy zone defense that results in fouling opponents too frequently. The Deacons are suffering from the problem that has seemingly plagued the Roy Williams-led Tar Heels every February/March for the past 6 years, consistently being able to put forth the effort it takes to play high level defense.

*Take out the UNC game (the foul line frequenting Heels posted a 51.4% FTR) and this number drops to 28.8.

Saturday, January 31

Super Bowl Sunday

Anyone feel gutsy enough to take the Cards? I sure don't.

Monday, January 19

Updated standings

1. John 8 (6-4)
2. Ryan 4 (7-3)
3. Lucy -16 (3-7)

Steelers-Cards in two weeks.

Saturday, January 17

Top Shelf Saturday

Just thought I'd take down some thoughts as I watch a very interesting Saturday in college basketball. A several pairs of highly KenPom-rated teams are going at it today:

(5)G'town @ (1)Duke: Duke won a game that was somewhat closer than the score indicated. With Monroe saddled with 3 fouls the Blue Devils took an 11-0 run to lead 40-29 at the half. Similarly in the second, the Hoyas were within 4 when Monroe picked up #4 (a technical from the bench), without Monroe (the Hoyas main rebounding threat) in the the game, the Blue Devils pulled away, knocking down shots in their 5 guard spread offense. Singler started slowly and shot poorly (7-18, 1-6), but was able to contribute in other ways, mainly with 5 offensive and 13 total rebounds, Henderson was able to pick up the Blue Devils' offense with 23 pts (10-15, 3-6).
Bottom Line: The Hoyas are a good all around team, with a gimmick offense that can catch some teams flat-footed and a true star in Greg Monroe, but the Devils staunch defense and small lineup did a good job defending the "Georgetown" (read: modified Princeton) offense, and without offensive trickery and their star, the Hoyas were somewhat easily vanquished. As always, when the Devils are hustling on defense, they easily outwork their size disadvantage. Similarly on the offensive end, when the shots are dropping for any of their main weapons (Singler, Scheyer, and Henderson)*, the Devils are hard to beat.

(8)Wake @ (17)Clemson: Early, Clemson had seemed to suck Wake in to a helter-skelter, poorly organized, style of play, during which the Tigers were hanging tough and seeming to avoid the Deacons half court defense. Since then Wake has seemed to take control, executing by making open jumpers, running the break well, and keeping Clemson off the offensive glass which helped their defense shine through. Opening the second, the Deacons do their best Tar Heel impression, running out to a 12 point lead on a made three and easy (I mean EASY) transition baskets, including a ferocious dunk by Aminu. The most impressive thing about Wake, aside from their defense, is their laundry list of big bodies to both rebound and play defense. A bonus is that none of them are good enough to be missed when in foul, except perhaps Aminu. Wake Forest's matchup with Duke next week should be interesting, their offensive styles are in stark contrast while they both play excellent defense (#4 and #2 respectively). Needless to say, I am quite jealous of the Demon Deacon defense. They are using a very Tar Heel-esque blueprint of speed and offensive rebounding on offensive, but their zone defense seems to be working better for them than intense switching man-to-man has for the boys in powder blue (come on, Marcus...).
Bottom Line: This is a very familiar Clemson team, who relies on outside shooting runs and full court pressure, that works against 80% of the country, but won't against the top three teams in the ACC. Wake has taken a large step forward, with the addition of a few extra big bodies, and a talented freshman (think Marvin Williams) in Aminu. They will challenge for the ACC and the 3 game lead the Heels have given them will be a tall mountain to climb. The more I watch this game, the better and better I feel about the Heels 3 point loss in Winston-Salem.

(9)Ariz St @ (10)UCLA: Wow, Arizona St's road unis are classy. I'm a sucker for simple, clean, classic designs. I'll also have to confess that I had NO idea Herb Sendek was in the Pitino coaching tree. It will be interesting to watch a Sendek team flow through one player as much as the Sun Devils do, James Harden (if you haven't heard of him, look him up) uses 34% of possessions while playing 83% of the team's minutes. Early, Harden's offensive prowess is drawing the attention of literally every Bruin at that end of the court. The Bruins have no individual defensive stopper with the size and speed to match up with Harden, while his teammates have been able to hit the open shots they've been the beneficiaries of. Arizona St's zone had seemed to perplex UCLA into poor outside shots, and to more than make up for the Sun Devils lack of size (only one player 6-9 on the starting lineup, 201st in effective height). The Bruins have been able to have some jumpers fall and score when the zone isn't fully set (on fast breaks and offensive rebounds) to bring the game to a tie late in the first. The Bruins march continues into the second. They're double-teaming Harden on one end and getting into the fast break and hitting shots opened up by their excellent passing to beat the once perplexing ASU zone.
Bottom Line: UCLA has the offense of past years, while their defense has slipped, Arizona State is in the Georgetown mold, with a go to guy that they are too reliant on, not that I can blame Herb Sendek, because James Harden is a special player now, and will be in the NBA (think Brandon Roy).

I won't be watching (14)L'ville host (4)Pittsburgh, but I will be interested to see how Pitt handles only its second real challenge of the season. The AP #1 Panthers have only played one other team in the KenPom top 50, a win at Georgetown early in the Big East schedule

*I'm intentionally leaving out Smith, who's main contribution is sound ball handing (a 23.5 TORate is an improvement over Paulus who averaged a 30 TORate the last 2 years). His assist and steal rates are respectively 2nd and 3rd on the team, among starters. As a side note, Mile Plumlee has a 45.4 TORate, he's a forward, right? Its no wonder Coach K doesn't run a standard offense.

As a bonus, I'll go ahead and throw together an underrated/overrated list with KenPom and the AP. I'll use the AP rankings out to about 42 (43-47 all only received 1 25th place vote, but I will mention AP #44 Mizzou)

Overrated (AP/KP)
Texas (11/30)
Minnesota (18/40)
Syracuse (8/32)
Michigan (25/51)
Florida St. (31/58)
Notre Dame (12/43)
St. Mary's (30/62)
George Mason (41/77)
Boston College (37/81)
Arkansas (27/90)

Most of the teams are mysterious, I don't know why half of them are on anyone's top 25 ballot, while some are more obvious (BC). Florida St., Syracuse, and Notre Dame are benefiting from playing in strong conferences. I didn't realized George Mason was still riding the publicity bump from 3 years ago. Oh, and who the hell voted for Arkansas?

Underrated (AP/KP) NV=No Votes (appeared on 0 ballots)
Missouri (44/11)
West Virginia (36/7)
Washington (NV/25)
Gonzaga (26/2)
Kansas St. (NV/26)
Utah (NV/27)
Brigham Young (34/13)
Kansas (38/19)
Memphis (29/12)
Illinois (28/16)

USC and Kentucky would be on this list, but KP has taken into account their recent upsets (ASU and Tenn) while the AP hasn't, I'll bet they show up on a ballot or two this week. Some good teams are getting no attention at all (UK, but that will change) Washington, K-State, and Utah are no where to be found, on any ballot. Then there are those that the national media know about but apparently don't respect enough: Gonzaga, West Virginia, Memphis and Mizzou. Obviously due to the absurd nature of polls, teams with 4 losses (Zags, WVU) can't be ranked high nationally, no matter how respectable the losses may be.

Tuesday, January 13

Championship round

That's what they call it, right?

Ravens @ Steelers
Eagles @ Cardinals

Birds abound! Allocate 10 points between the two games any way you please.

Wednesday, January 7

Divisional Round

Ravens @ Titans
Birds @ Cats
Eagles @ Giants
Bolts @ Steelers

Updated standings:

1. Ryan 6 (6-2)
T1. John 6 (5-3)
3. Lucy -12 (2-6)

"My support seems to be the kiss of death."

Monday, January 5

Follow up to Anatomy of an Upset

Ryan's excellent post gave a number of good reasons why we lost. The Ken Pomeroy stats reveal our porous defense combined with poor free throw shooting and rebounding equals a loss. By looking at different games, Ryan shows how we're underperforming.

I wanted to poing out some of the x's and o's reasons we lost. Strategically, BC held us out of the break in the first half and most of the second by sending as many guys as possible for offensive rebounds. By pulling down lots of first half offensive rebounds (I believe we were outrebounded but I'll have to verify) and battling for rebounds every other time, we couldn't get into our secondary break. Previously, we saw that sending a safety or two back on defense was the best way to slow our break as Kansas and Valparaiso have shown. This time, we were undone by poor defensive rebounding, leading to few opportunities for run-outs.

Next, BC's flex set offense flummoxed our defense. A basic flex set employs lots of screens, movement and passing to lose defenders or create mismatches. This is used almost exclusively against man-to-man defenses and often means medium-to-long possessions on offense. Other characteristics of the flex set are: it's easy to learn, everyone knows that they should do next, and you don't need to create your own shot to be successful (although nobody told Tyrese Rice).

If you recall BC's offensive sets, they would line up 4 men parallel to the backboard, in between the FT line and 3 pt line. Rice is the odd man out, bringing the ball up the right side of the floor. The flex set would then spring to life as O2 and O4 would set screens for each other and O3 or O5 would stay in the lane while the other drifted closer to the basket. In short, this means a lot of action taking place around the free throw line, where a player can pass off to a 3 pt shooter with relative ease or look for a man posting up down low. Mid-range shots can also open up easily as a player whose defender is tired or confused can be lost in the myriad of screens and end up taking the wrong man.

I've certainly complained about our guards' abilities to communicate and get around screens quicker. Last night, there were missed assignments galore as Rice and Sanders got good mid and long range looks through the flex set. Also, Rice hit some extremely difficult shots that were close to indefensible. Credit him for having the soft touch to hit some step back jumpers and circus shots.

My next bone to pick is with our half court trap. I may never understand why Roy didn't put his foot down at halftime (or sooner) and tell everyone to quit trapping. It felt like the BC-UNC football game, where BC curiously decided to leave Hakim Nicks in single coverage. I wondered why they would risk getting burned over and over and over and over again. Well, Roy returned the favor by allowing us to keep gambling on the half court trap. We got burned over and over and over and over again.

BC got lots of open shots because Al Skinner and Tyrese Rice did their homework. Rice knew where the help would be each time. As a consequence, our defense had to shift and recover, leaving Reggie Jackson open. Since we're known to trap after timeouts, some FTs or out of bounds plays, BC had a fair idea of when the trap was coming. We continued to gamble after halftime to much the same result.

On defense, Boston College did a good job of pulling 4 or 5 men into the lane to force bad shots and turnovers. We shot 9-25 for 2 pt FGs in the 2nd half, a testament to the strong BC defense. The Eagles were physical. Hansbrough was well covered, being forced off the block or doubled to prevent a good entry pass. Although Hansbrough made his shots, Deon Thompson and Danny Green struggled.

If you watched Deon's body language when he shot FT's, it was clear he was winded. Pushing and being pushed often tends to leave one's arms tired. His 1-6 shooting hurt our comeback chances.

Since we were behind for most of the game and didn't have our inside shots falling, we started hoisting 3's with about 7 minutes left. Wayne's 3 pt shot is still MIA. Ty, Danny and Will Graves shot 33% individually and as a whole. Roy may or may not have addressed the eagarness of our 3 pt shooting, but the Heels kept shooting away.

Finally, we didn't try to foul like a team that's trailing should. No one other than Rice was a remarkable free throw shooter, why did we not try fouling earlier? Why not send Larry Drew, Will Graves or Marcus Ginyard to foul the poorer shooters, let the crowd yell during FT attempts, and grab the rebounds? At 78-71, would it have killed us to start fouling to save time and make them earn their points? It's not like we would run out of bench players. This is my boldest assertion of this post, but I'm a bit perplexed as to why we wouldn't make them get their points 1 or 2 at a time instead of 2 or 3 at a time. With guards doing so much shooting, it's less likely to have continuation fouls where the shot counts and a FT is awarded.

In summation, BC's stratetic moves and our un-strategic moves fueled a significant defeat. I hope that our players and our coaches will realize the mistakes that were made. As a consqequence of this game, we'll see more teams following Boston College's formula for beating us. Hopefully we'll be better prepared to stop beating ourselves and resume beaing our opponents.

The Anatomy of an Upset

(Ok, I apologize for the length of this post, if you want the short and sweet version, scroll down to the "Basically" I've bolded in the second to last paragraph, it is a happy synopsis)

So, remeber how, at the beginning of the season, I remarked that the Heels have won games with several of the 4 factors. Well, since the Oregon game, they haven't exactly won any games with FG defense. In fact, excluding the Nevada game, the Heels defense has allowed 50.9% eFG over the last 5 games. And not against stop notch competition either (ORU, Evansville, Valpo, Rutgers, & BC). This is quite disconcerting, however the Heels defense is built to stand on other factors averaging turnovers on 26% of their opponents possessions in those same games (that would average about 15th in the nation for the season UNC's season average is 23.9 good for 49th).

Now, your opponents can shoot the lights out of the gym if you can limit offensive boards and cause turnovers. For the uninitiated, imagine a team that allows the opponent to make every shot they take, but force a turnover on 75% of possessions, that's as good as forcing 25% shooting while forcing no turnovers. Now, imagine they go up against a team of all point guards, who never turn the ball over. In this matchup, allowing the opponent to sink every attempt causes a huge problem because you don't end the possesions before the shots occur.

Snap back to reality. This is pretty much what UNC did (or failed to do). They were relying on steals and defensive rebounding to cover up their inability to defend shots. Well, BC does a great job taking care of the ball (17.5 TO% 25th) and offensively rebounding (40.9 OR% 16th), countering UNC's defensive strengths.

Now, what was the icing on the cake? The Heels have played defense this poorly before (as you can see above, Notre Dame posted a 119 OE in Maui). However, in this example the Heels offense simultaneously failed them. Shooting 55% from the free throw line won't win you any games (in fact it will lose you many). Also, it was UNC's worst night from the field of the season. This was likely because the turnovers weren't available to lead to layups and fast breaks. Winning on turnovers and with a fast pace is a double-edged sword (much like winning on 3 pointers, yes I'm looking at you coach K), you limit the opponent's shots, but you also give yourself 10 to 12 "bunnies" per game, bouying even the poorest shooting team's field goal percentage. All this lead to UNC's poorest offensive efficiency number of the year, but only by a hair. As you can see in the table above, UNC posted a similarly poor 104 against Kentucky, its other sub 50% eFG game, but forced enough turnover and limited offensive rebounds to win the game (handily).

Basically, if you combine the porous defense against Notre Dame, with the weak offensive output against Kentucky, you get almost identical stats to the BC loss. The Heels have played like this at various times during the year, but the other end of the floor happened to pick them up to hide such ugly performances. UNC's strength is its depth and talent, the Heels can win games in a number of different ways. But take solace, UNC fans, in the fact that a loss like last night's occurs when all of those ways fail.

On another note, and I don't want to sound cocky here, but the looming top ten matchup between UNC and Wake Forest may be more of a dud than a stud, as Wake's turnover rate is something of a bugaboo (21.1 181st), though it should be one horse race of a dud projecting at around 85 possessions. Check back for more on that game and throughout the ACC season.

Friday, January 2

If anyone's interested...

Here are the matchups for the wild card round.

Dirty Birds @ Redbirds
Colts @ Bolts
'Vens @ Fins
Philly @ Minny

This will be separate from the regular season pick'em and will probably just be for bragging rights (since I know Ryan is anxious to display his playoff pick'em prowess). Interested parties (Lucy, this includes you) should pick all four games, weighted. Four points for your most certain pick; one point for your least certain. Incorrect picks will be penalized the amount of the weight, correct picks will be awarded that amount. The lines are all under a field goal anyway, and it's winner advances at this stage, so picking winners feels better.

1. Ryan 4 (3-1)
T1. John 4 (2-2)
3. Lucy -4 (1-3)