Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pay for Pom

Yup, Ken Pomeroy is charging now to his see his statistical breakdowns and predictions. A man's gotta eat, I suppose, and it was kind of incredible that such an insane wealth of stats was free for the picking. Combine a matter of time with a recent rash of Pomeroy ego stroking and it is what it is. Asking price is 20 bucks for the year.

I wonder if he could have made more by opening up his site to advertising. I don't pretend to know the difference these days between advertising and subscriptions, and maybe Pomeroy didn't want to go the way of ads regardless. I'll just say I personally wouldn't have minded dealing with some flashing nonsense if it meant continued free use.


Season's Here

It officially started on November 7th, say you? Yeah, technically. And that game on the aircraft carrier was fun, even if it was more of an exhibition spectacle. You'll just have to forgive me if I label tonight the true start to the season.

Michigan State vs. Duke, 7pm on ESPN Michigan State lost their first game on a boat to the number one team in the nation, North Carolina, and shot an abysmal 30% from the field in doing so. The upside is that they out rebounded the Tar Heels by 15, so if they can find a way to get some of their shots to actually go through that round thing attached to the backboard, State could be in much better shape. Duke lost Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving from last season. Spartan fans are likely happy to see Irving gone, as he torched Michigan State for 31 points in Duke's 84 to 79 victory last year. The bad news for State is that Duke has Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee and Andre Dawkins back. Duke also added a third Plumlee brother, Marshall. Miles, Mason and Marshall. Weird? Beyond. And, oh yeah, Coach K is going for the all time win record with 903 wins if his team can take care of MSU tonight.

Ohio State vs. Florida, 8pm on ESPN 2 Number 3 Ohio State had no trouble dispatching the Wright State Raiders, but I think everyone is interested to see how a slim downed Jared Sullinger will perform against an opponent with teeth. Enter the Gators. Sullinger was quoted as saying this game will "determine what kind of team" Ohio State is and I tend to agree with him. I know the Buckeyes are a talented team. You don't have to convince me of that. But a team doesn't lose players like Jon Diebler, David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale and pretend like nothing's changed. William Buford is the only senior on the roster and I'm interested to see how Aaron Craft steps up this season in the absence of Diebler and Lighty. As for Florida, they're looking to atone for an embarrassing 93 to 75 loss to Ohio State on their home court last season. Florida has good guard play returning in Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker. The big, though trimmer, question that any team playing Ohio State this year will be asking, does Florida have an answer for Sullinger? Probably not, but I get the feeling this one could be good.

Kentucky vs. Kansas, 9pm on ESPN Kentucky boasts the number 2 ranking and has another ridiculously stacked freshman class, highlighted by the likes of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague. They also have two great returners in Darius Miller and Terrance Jones, who each played 30 plus minutes a game last year for the Wildcats. Yet after the Jayhawks impressive dismantling of Towson, 100-54, Kansas is poised to give Kentucky all they want and more tonight. Of course, it's hard to read much of anything into a blowout of Towson, but the speed of Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson in the backcourt could make Kansas scary good this year. Talent and speed. Look for an absurd display of both in what should be an incredibly entertaining night cap.

Pangos Is Greek For 3 Points

Kevin Pangos, freshman guard for Gonzaga, went 9 for 13 on 3 point attempts last night as he led his team to victory over Washington State, 89-81. He scored 33 points altogether and quick math says 27 of those came from 3's. It doesn't look like we're going to get to watch Jimmer Fredette take aim in the NBA anytime soon. Kevin Pangos is looking like a good substitute.


Monday, November 14, 2011

24 Hours of Hoops Starts Tonight

At 12 midnight, going till 12 midnight tomorrow. College basketball players can tip off at 2 am, but college football players can't have a playoff because the student athlete is a student first and it would prove too disruptive to their student life *wink, wink*.

I love the idea of 24 hours of college hoops in theory, but ESPN's lineup for the majority of this marathon isn't worth cracking a red bull for. Washington State at Gonzaga tips off at midnight and registers as mildly compelling. Northern Iowa at St. Mary's pits two schools with recognizable basketball names against each other, doing little else to garner excitement. These two games aren't likely to keep many awake till 4 am. For those still giving it the old college try, Cal State Northridge at Hawaii should kick that right out of them.

The marathon doesn't really get good till about 6pm the next evening with George Mason vs. Virginia Tech, leading into the likes of Duke vs. Michigan State and Florida vs. Ohio State. It ends with a flash. As for the start, ESPN should have let the student athletes get their rest like the rest of the nation will be.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Don't Look Now, Big Ten's Recruitin'

According to ESPN's Class Rankings for 2012, the Big Ten has 3 teams in the top 10. Michigan State leads the charge at number 3 after landing 5 star SG Gary Harris last night. The Wolverines are next up at number 6, anchored by star PF Mitch McGary, and Indiana is right behind at number 7. It's been a long time since the Big Ten's recruiting has looked this good. Purdue is just outside at number 14 and even Iowa (I know, I had to rub my eyes too, but apparently Fran McCaffery can recruit) round out the Big Ten appearances at 19.

The most surprising aspect to the numbers is the lack of Big Ten super recruiter Ohio State among them. Competitive, parity, cliches. The Big ten is stepping up its game and this should make for a very entertaining league in years to come...minus Nebraska, where shucking corn is still right behind football and well ahead of basketball.


*Writer's note, this is what I've been saying the Big Ten should have been doing all along.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Back to Bracketology

Is it too early? Yes. But, mostly no. Joe Lunardi is back at it and his first bracket of the season has been released: http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/bracketology.

Three of the four 1 seeds are simply the first three teams in both polls: North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio State. Then Lunardi gets really crazy and skips right past number 4 UConn to give the fourth 1 seed to Syracuse, the number 5 team in both polls. And that's about as crazy as you would expect things to get this early in the season. I know there is a lot of work that goes into Lunardi's method, so I'm not going to try and tear any of this down. For the record, I agree with Syracuse over UConn sans Kemba Walker anyway.

For anyone pondering the age old question of when will Northwestern dance (which I always am), Lunardi has them sitting at an 11 seed right now. Crossing my fingers.

Oh, and by the way, for anyone who would like college credit in bracketology, here you go http://www.sjuprofessional.com/bracketology-course.asp. No, this is not a joke. Yes, you can take a college class in bracketology from Professor Lunardi. I know, the world is awesome.

"Stats are for losers!" -Pat Narduzzi

Yes, I borrowed a football quote to talk about basketball. The nerdy, glasses push up stat-love that has become so prevalent in college basketball isn't nearly as common in college football land. You likely won't hear a basketball coach make as brash a statement as the ever so quotable Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator for Michigan State Football.

Over the past 5 years, or so, tempo free stats have become all the rage. If you want a sentence capsule, the basic point of tempo free stats are to gauge how effective a team is based on each possession (which takes tempo out of the equation). For an excellent breakdown, refer here http://tempo-free-stats-for-dummies. Ken Pomeroy, stat nerd extrodanaire, is the godfather of the tempo free stats and you can view his impressive array of work at http://kenpom.com.

As a fan, this is great stuff to geek out over. But how useful is it to a coach? First lieutenant in this good fight of basketball analysis, John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus fame, was quoted in his perception that while not many head coach's are into them, the younger assistants are all over it. Well, be that as it may, I found this piece from CAA Hoops telling life as a mid major tempo free stats. Turns out most coach's in the Colonial Athletic Conference, including coaching wonderkid Shaka Smart, pay no or only partial attention to them.

Why is this? Stats, tempo free or otherwise, can help identify areas in which your team is doing well, or poorly. They can tell you the same of your opponent. But they have no context and they offer no solutions. Stats can't tell a coach how to fix a set play that didn't go right, or what to do about your center's free throw shooting mechanics that are dragging down the average. That's where a coach earns his money.

Any coach worth his salary should be able to tell you the reasons for his team's success or failure well before the statistician has his say. Typically speaking, a coach knows the reason his team lost that last game game was because they turned the ball over 24 times and he doesn't have to wait for the stat's guy to crunch the percentage. There is no substitute for a feel for the game. If you need the "four factors to winning" to tell you the reason your team got beat was because you got out-hussled on the boards and your guys couldn't hit a free throw to save their lives, I hear the sport of competitive ping-pong is always looking for coaches.

The real challenge in coaching is knowing how to correct your teams mistakes. That is the key. Tempo free stats are fun for us a fan. It's an activity that we can wrap our hoops starved minds around. It makes us feel like we have a better understanding of our team. For the head coach it can't hurt to take an occasional glance. But if the stats are what the coach needs for an understanding of his team, coach is in trouble.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tu Holloway Out for Opener

Tu Holloway will not be allowed to play in Xavier's season opener against Morgan State on November 18. Why, you may ask? Miss some practices? Fail to meet an academic obligation? Did he get himself into a DUI tangle and then ask the officer if he knew who he was, Miguel style?* Nope, no, not quite. He played in too many summer leagues. That's right, too many voluntary, just for fun, no money involved leagues. Apparently that breaks some NCAA rule. Basketball is suppose to be fun, right? When there are so many ugly abuses of college athletics out there, why is the NCAA enforcing this joke of a rule?


The Season is Upon Us

I'll forgive you if you didn't greet the new season by turning your devout attention to Valpo tussling with Arizona, St. Johns vs. William and Mary or Mississippi State pitted against a directional Kentucky. Like so many college basketball seasons before it, this one started with three largely unremarkable and forgettable games.

Arizona was the only ranked team in action and their performance was just about as underwhelming as the evening's viewing menu, finishing the Crusaders by a final margin of 9. If you were looking for someone to step up and fill Derrick Williams shoes for the cats, you're going to have to keep looking for now. Solomon Hill managed only 4 rebounds and 8 points in 24 minutes of action. Jesse Perry did come through with a double double, recording 14 points and ten boards. Kyle Fogg managed to be the other bright spot racking up 16 points. Does that make them number 16 in the nation? At this point in the season that's hard to define, but Arizona certainly didn't bring any of the lines into focus.

While Mississippi State's victory wasn't any more resounding than Arizona's, Dee Bost picked up where he left off last season with 23 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds and a block. We're talking Eastern Kentucky, but still. St. Johns had the most complete team performance of the night, beating William and Mary 74 to 59 without Coach Steve Lavin, who is still recovering from prostate cancer surgery.

Not a terribly exciting Monday, but this Friday's lineup is just a tad bit more enticing...yes, I'm talking Carrier Classic.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Michigan Hype

We're specifically referring to the Michigan Wolverines here and their 18 spot ranking in the AP and the Coach's Poll. It feels a slight bit like Déjà Vu. The funny thing about hype is that is it has a ridiculously short memory and dusts off scripts that are only a few seasons removed from the cutting floor. (Do scripts and cutting floor go together? I don't think so, but I've acknowledged what you were thinking so onward we march.)

I'm talking, of course, of the 2008-09 season. Remember that one, where they went 21-14, beat Clemson in the first round of the tournament and played a competitive game against Oklahoma before bowing out? Michigan started out that next season ranked 15 in both polls. Manny Harris was back. DeShawn Sims was back. Much less exciting, but still there, were Zach Novak and Stu Douglas. You even had a plucky young freshman guard on the scene named Darius Morris. John Beilein's kooky 3 point-fest and chess board antics were finally getting into a grove. Yes, the Maize and Blue Kool Aid was in vintage form that preseason. Harris even started out recording the second ever triple double in school history. That season concluded with a 15-17 fizzle of a record.

Here we are fresh off another 21-14 Michigan season and an even closer and more competitive loss to the Duke Blue Devils in last year's tournament. The din is rising. Why, if only Morris had returned we'd be looking at a Final Four contender. But surely, even without, this is a team that can push Ohio State at the top of the Big Ten. If you believe the hype. For those of us in the skeptics' column, why is this season different? I'm not convinced it is.

For starters, the 2009-10 class lost far less production from the previous year's success story than the current version of the Wolverines is losing. They gave up a role playing guard and forward in David Merritt and Jevohn Shepherd. They were both good for about 10 minutes a game, bare minimum production and were hardly missed. Undoubtedly, if any team was ready to build on the previous year's momentum, it was this team.

So why the backslide? There were rumors that Harris wasn't happy in the system and it didn't take a master of detection to figure out that the Wolverines never really gelled on the court that season. Since I was never in the locker room and can only speculate on chemistry issues, we'll call that a wash.

What is telling, however, is the Ken Pomroy ranking from 2008 through 2010. In their 21-14 season, their tempo free rating was good for 50th in the nation. Other than an early season upset of Duke, two wins against Minnesota were their only Ws with a pulse. A competitive bout with Oklahoma and the return of all their major players built the buzz for the next year. But for a team that finished 50th, what was the realistic ceiling? Finishing 63rd in the kenpom rankings and a 15 and 17 record was disappointing by any measure, but not completely shocking.

Last year U of M finished 25th in the tempo free rankings. Even if Morris were coming back, is it really realistic to think Michigan would be competing for a Final Four? We can make those arguments in theoreto-land, where they belong, but either side you come down on Morris is a part of a locked out crackpot of a league right now. And he was their point guard. A position that's kind of important in this game we call basketball. A guy who led the team in assists, points and steals last year. I think they just might miss him.

You may cry that Tim Hardaway Jr. is back and you'd be right. But who do you think was one of the main beneficiaries of Morris's 6 plus assists a game? Morris made everyone on that team better, including Stu Douglas and Zach Novak—a feat in itself. The next highest assist per game total after the 6.7 from Morris was Stu Douglas at 1.7 per game. This year it’s up to either Stu Douglas or Trey Burke, the freshman point guard, to fill the Morris shoes. If I’m a Michigan fan, I’m praying Burke is a fast learner.

Still, people will talk of the improvement Michigan made in the second half of last season, after a 6 game losing streak made them appear dead in the water...but it was a bit of a mirage. Their best win during that span was against Illinois. The average kenpom ranking of the teams they beat in that stretch comes out to 50. That first win in the tournament was against a hapless Tennessee team who had lost 7 of their past 11 games in the regular season.

A close loss to the blue blood of college basketball in last year's tourney aside, 18th in the nation really? I realize preseason polls are a patchwork guessing game. I realize it's hard to fill out that top 25 ballot at this juncture in time. But for me, I've read this script before and it doesn’t end 18th in the nation.