Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sam Dekker is On Fire

Dekker extended his streak of double-digit scoring games to five with an ultra-efficient performance against Nebraska last night. He scored 19 points on just six shots and also dished out four assists, including a couple of spectacular ones. All told, he had an outstanding offensive rating of 199, which roughly translated means the Badgers scored 2 points on every offensive possession that he did something.

This leads me to another streak that Dekker now has going: four straight games with an offensive rating over 150, which is pretty incredible. I don't have access to game-by-game O-rating data prior to this year, but my guess is that no Badger has had this kind of streak in conference play since Jordan Taylor's magical run in 2010-11. Certainly no one else has come close to this level of consistent efficiency this year. Here are all this years' 150+ O-ratings against top-200 kenpom teams (minimum 15 minutes played and 5 field goals attempted):

1.    Dekker, Neb., 199
2.    Dekker, Ill., 194
3.    Dekker, @NW, 183
4.    Marshall, @Ia, 178
5.    Dekker, OSU, 166
6.    Berggren, @NW, 156
7.    Bruesewitz, PSU, 156
8.    Berggren, Cal, 155
9.    Brust, Neb., 154
10.  Dekker, @MN, 153
11.  Kaminsky, @Ill., 151
12.  Brueswitz, @OSU, 151
13.  Berggren, OSU, 150

As you can see, Dekker has five of these 13 performances, including one in each of the last four games, the three best, and four of the top five. He's really good, and he is on fire right now.

Another thing to note about that list is that only one of those performances came in the non-conference portion of the schedule. This is partly because the Badgers played six games against sub-200 teams; but a bigger factor is that the Badgers played pretty poorly on offense against most of their decent competition prior to conference play. In other words, they seem to be getting better.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fucking Yankees

Several years ago my brother became sick of watching the Brewers team we watched and loved as boys get destroyed year after year due to the economics of baseball. It's not much fun to watch your team always lose, nor is it much fun to watch bad baseball. It's also hard to have any connection to a team when every few years they lose all their best players to teams that can afford to pay them more. As a result, he decided to suddenly become a Yankees fan in 2004 when the Yankees signed Alex Rodriguez. He decided if he wants to watch good baseball and enjoy watching a team that cannot be the Brewers, he might as well go with the best. He now has Yankee baseball garb, and watches the games religiously.

He sent me this article about his favorite team because this season may be the first time in 15 years the Yankees will not have the highest payroll in baseball (that will likely be the Dodgers after their insane spending spree).

He wanted me to know that despite the Dodgers spending there is only one Evil Empire. I thought my co-blogger  who is a lawyer might get a kick out of this.

I took a different route than my brother, and just stopped paying attention to baseball.

Are the Badgers Title Contenders?

Probably not.

Dan Hanner took a look at the top 16 in the Pomeroy ratings and tried to assess how many times they had "bad games" on the theory that the teams most likely to win six games in the tourney are the ones least likely to have a bad game. Wisconsin came in 16th out of 16 in this metric:

Team Bad Performances Games (Excluding 301+) Percentage of Bad Games
Indiana 4 26 15%
Louisville 4 26 15%
Michigan 4 24 17%
Florida 5 25 20%
Duke 6 27 22%
Syracuse 7 26 27%
Pittsburgh 7 26 27%
Arizona 8 25 32%
Gonzaga 9 28 32%
Ohio St. 9 25 36%
Georgetown 10 24 42%
Miami FL 11 26 42%
Kansas 12 28 43%
Oklahoma St. 11 25 44%
Michigan St. 12 27 44%
Wisconsin 14 25 56%

In breaking down the difference between the Badgers' good games and their bad games, Hanner correctly fingered shooting:
Wisconsin has looked beatable on 14 occasions. It usually comes down to shooting. In Wisconsin’s 11 best games of the year, they have an eFG% of 54%. In the 14 games where they were beatable, the Badgers eFG% has only been 44%. Even if Wisconsin has snuck back into the Top 10 of Sagarin’s Predictor and Pomeroy’s rankings, with that kind of offensive inconsistency, they do not look like a Final Four team.
Hard to argue with that. But stranger things have happened. For example, take a look at the 2000 Badgers Final Four team. They looked beatable all the time.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

This Could Get Ugly ... In a Good Way

The Badgers have the best defense in the Big Ten, and it isn't even close. According to the Kenpom numbers, Wisconsin's defense is allowing .901 points per possession, and Ohio State is second at .959. The Big Ten Geeks point out that the .901 figure is historically great in the Big Ten (assuming, that is, that history started when Ken Pomeroy created his website in 2002):
In the tempo-free era, only last season’s Michigan State squad, spearheaded by Draymond Green, defended better relative to conference average than this season’s Badgers have thus far, and it’s awfully close. Wisconsin has a legitimate chance to lower their in-conference defensive efficiency down the stretch, as three of the remaining four games come against the conference’s worst offenses.
With the Badgers, we just might be watching an historically stifling defense.
They make a good point that Wisconsin has three cupcakes coming up. Purdue, Nebraska, and Penn State are bad offensive teams. They rank 10th, 11th, and 12th in the conference in offensive efficiency, and only Northwestern is close.

These teams are not only bad, but they're bad in a way that makes Wisconsin a bad matchup: they are bad at shooting. Wisconsin plays good defense by forcing teams to take tough shots (rather than, say, by forcing turnovers or blocking shots.) So a team that can't shoot is likely to struggle even more against the Badgers.

To put this in perspective, let's look at the teams' true-shooting percentages:

Team       TS% (overall / conf.)
Nebraska  48.9 / 46.6
Purdue     47.9 / 46.2
PSU         47.8 / 45.2

By comparison, the lowest TS% for the Badgers in conference play under Bo Ryan is 51.5% in 2006. As I showed the other day, Ryan Evans is the only mid- to high-usage player in the Bo Ryan era to go a season with a TS% lower than 48.9%. By comparison, Purdue, Nebraska, and Penn State each have a team TS% that is 48.9% or below. Yowsa.

More perspective. The Badgers have had just four players go a season with a usage rate above 20% and a TS% under 50% in the last 12 seasons. Purdue, Nebraska and PSU currently have four. If you expand the sample to include players who've played at least 50% of the teams' minutes, there are an incredible eight players on these three teams with a TS% below 50%—two on Purdue (T. Johnson and R. Johnson—A. Johnson barely misses the cut with 49.3% of minutes played and a TS% of 42.6), four on Nebraska (Talley, Gallegos, Rivers, and Parker), and two on PSU (Newbill and Travis). Yowsa.

I will be surprised if the Badgers allow more than 50 points to any of these three teams. So the Badgers' historically good defensive stats have a very good chance to get even better by the end of the regular season.

StatWatch™: Badgers Defense Under 1 PPP

The Badgers have held their last six opponents under one point-per-possession. The only time since 2003 the Badgers have had such a streak in conference play was in 2008 (the last time they had a historically great defense) when they had a streak of seven. But the current streak is already more impressive than the 2008 streak because five of the six opponents are kenpom t-40 teams. In 2008, the Badgers faced just three top-50 games during the seven games. Anyhow, if the Badgers can hold Nebraska under 1 PPP—and I'll be shocked if they don't, as Nebraska has managed 1 PPP just once in seven tries against the top-5 in the Big Ten—they'll tie the 2008 team for the longest such streak since 2003.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Double Digit Streak

As I mentioned earlier, Sam Dekker has scored 10 or more points in four straight games, all of them conference games. This got me to wondering: when was the last time a freshman did that under Bo Ryan? More specifically, has any done it since Alando in 2003?

No. According to my research, the only freshmen to score 10 or more in four straight games under Bo Ryan are Alando Tucker, Devin Harris, and Sam Dekker.

Harris had three such streaks, of 8, 4, and 4. But only one of those streaks—7 games of the 8-game streak—occurred in conference play (including one Big Ten Tournament game).

Tucker had four streaks, of 7, 6, 6, and 4. In conference play, he had streaks of 6 and 4.

Mike Wilkinson's had just one streak—and I define a "streak" as at least 3 games in a row—of 3 games, and it did occur in conference play. He also had consecutive double-digit games three other times, one of which occurred in conference.

Other than that, no freshman under Bo Ryan has had a streak of even 3 games or more in double figures—except for Sam Dekker. That's right, Dekker already had a separate three-game streak earlier this year, and it was during conference play (against Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa).

Marcus Landry and George Marshall are the only other Bo Ryan freshmen to have scored double figures in back-to-back games. Each did it once in the non-conference portion of the schedule.

Anyhow, just some more data showing that Dekker is having a real nice freshman season. Hopefully this will turn out better than the last Wisconsin schoolboy legend who had a great freshman year for the Badgers.

Here is the complete list of double-digit streaks (3 or more) by freshmen under Bo Ryan:

Conference Games
7 - Harris
6 - Tucker
4 - Dekker
     Tucker
3 - Dekker
     Wilkinson

All Games
8 - Harris
7 - Tucker
6 - Tucker (twice)
4 - Harris (twice)
     Tucker
     Dekker
3 - Dekker
     Wilkinson
   
   

What are the Bucks doing?

That was the response from several commentators after the Bucks made both the biggest trade and were part of the biggest non-trade at the NBA trade deadline.

Charles Barkley summed it up as only he can:

“I don’t know what Milwaukee is doing," Barkley said on Thursday night. "They are just trying to cover the market on guards. They’ve got Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings . . . .Redick isn’t better than either one of those guys. I don’t know what they’re trying to do.”

The biggest trade was actually made several weeks back when Memphis traded Rudy Gay to Toronto in a salary dump, rarely seen from a team that was in 4th place in the west at the time of the trade. Although with the new salary cap rules, it's probably something there may be more of. Since that trade didn't happen at the deadline, the Bucks pickup of JJ Redick made the most news this week. Redick is a good shooter and an improved player in most other facets of his game, which is to say the rest of his game isn't that good. Still, pure shooters are a sparse commodity and something the Bucks have been lacking with only Dunlevy on the roster.

The price for Redick was pretty small, as the Bucks traded Beno Udrih and his expiring contract along with prospects Doron Lamb and Tobias Harris. Harris seemed to be progressing this fall when he got minutes due to the injury to Mbah-a-Moute, but with his return to health Harris has been riding the pine for months. With Mbah-a-Moute signed for 2 more years and a strong likelihood Milwaukee will try to resign Dunlevy this offseason, Harris' outlook on gaining playing time did not look good. Harris is only 20 years old, and may yet turn into a good player. He does not have elite athleticism, but showed some decent skills in his meaningful playing time. Lamb was a second round pick, and garbage time player. He showed some good things, but nothing to write home about.
 
To answer the question Barkley and others have asked, this trade fulfilled 2 needs. The first was to add some perimeter shooting to a team sorely lacking in that skill. The second and more important was to scratch Herb Kohl's itch to meddle with his team. The Bucks have been a revolving door for the last decade with their personnel as they constantly tinker, dump bad contracts and tinker some more. There are only 2 players on the roster who have been with the Bucks for more than 4 seasons, role players Mbah-a-Moute, and Ilyasova.
 
Redick's contract will expire at the end of this season as well, so this is probably a short term thing that will probably make the Bucks better this year. I'm OK with that. The only way this trade is a disaster is if Harris grows into a star and is resigned in Orlando 2 years from now, which doesn't seem very likely. How much difference will Redick make? Maybe the Bucks are a couple wins better as they close out the year. They are still a first round playoff out, but with only a 3 1/2 game lead for the final playoff spot, they are more likely to at least get in with Redick. At least the Buck's didn't pick up any more bad contracts.
 
The Bucks were also close to getting Josh Smith from Atlanta in the biggest trade people thought would happen that didn't. Josh Smith will be a free agent after this year, so even if this trade had occurred, the Bucks would still be in line for another overhaul this off season. The Redick trade doesn't give any indication of where they plan to go either. There is little doubt Milwaukee will match any offer Jennings gets as a restricted free agent, as he is the only marketable player they have. In an NBA where 20+ teams start the year knowing they won't win a championship, they still have to find ways to fill the seats. They do that by marketing their stars, and without Jennings the Bucks will draw even less attendance than they do now. I know that may seem hard to believe.
 
All indications are the Bucks were ready to do the deal for Smith, and Atlanta pulled out. What this tells me is that the Bucks are ready to blow up this roster yet again, they just couldn't find a willing partner. Chances are they will find partners this off season either in trades or free agency, so get ready for another new team next season.

StatWatch™: Sam Dekker & the 300-point Club

Sam Dekker has now scored in double-figures each of the last four games, and he is moving up the charts for freshman scoring under Bo Ryan.  He passed Josh Gasser during the Michigan game, and now has 248 points on the season. This puts him behind only Wilkinson (299), Tucker (385), and Harris (394) for most points scored by a freshman under Bo Ryan. Here's the StatWatch™: Will Dekker score join Tucker and Harris as the only 300-point scoring freshmen in the Bo Ryan era?

Chances are very good. He's currently averaging a little over 9 points a game, and the Badgers have at least 6 games left. So he'll do it as long as he gets his average the rest of the way in—and indications are strong that his role in the offense is only increasing.

Dekker's scoring as a true freshman is all the more remarkable given that he is playing behind three seniors. Tucker, Wilkinson, and Harris all played their freshmen seasons on teams with basically no upperclassmen, much less upperclassmen at their position.

Obviously Dekker needs to improve his overall game, but his career is off to a great start and the future looks very, very bright.

For the record, here's the list of freshman who scored at least 100 points under Bo Ryan:

Harris, 394
Tucker, 385
Wilkinson, 299
Dekker, 248
Gasser, 202
J-Bo, 151
Marshall, 123
Krabby, 111


Friday, February 22, 2013

Sell Seth Davis

Every year, right around the start of the conference season, Seth Davis writes a piece for Sports Illustrated in which he treats basketball teams like stocks, and advises us whether to "buy," "sell," or "hold" our imaginary holdings in various teams. This year he published that column on January 3d. I decided to see how he is doing as of now.

Not well.

I went through and gave his advice a grade of "good," "bad," or "meh" for each of the 41 teams he rated. The result: Davis had 10 "good" picks, 13 "meh" picks, and 18 "bad" picks. You would expect a monkey to get just under 14 "good" picks just picking at random. Davis's performance of 10 was more than one standard deviation below expectations. In other words, a monkey would have gotten more "good" picks about 85% of the time.

Moreover, in 11 of the 41 picks (more than 25%) Davis was as wrong as he could be—advising to sell to a stock he should have put a buy rating on, or vice versa. According to my simulations, a monkey picking randomly would generally make just 8 such terrible picks, and Davis was again more than a standard deviation off the mean. The monkey would make 10 or fewer or screw-ups like this more than 80% of the time.

Even worse, you would expect Davis to do significantly better than a monkey because the sample isn't random: he is choosing which teams to opine on, and he is presumably choosing to give advice on the teams he has his strongest, most well-founded opinions on.

The raw data is below, with Davis's terrible picks in bold. For example, he advised to "sell" Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Miami but "buy" Kentucky, North Carolina, and San Diego State. I guess you could argue there's still time for those predictions to come true, but ... Ouch.

Preliminary conclusion: Don't let Seth Davis fill out your tourney brackets for you, because you can't trust this guy with even five bucks when it comes to college basketball. And, to be safe, don't let him invest your money either.

Team Record on 1/3 AP then Davis Rec Record now AP  now result Correct advice
Arizona 12- 0 3 Hold 22-4 12 Meh Sell
Baylor 8-4 - Hold 16-10 - Bad Sell
Butler 11-2 17 Buy 22-5 15 Meh Hold
Cincy 13-1 14 Sell 19-8 - Good Sell
Creighton 13-1 16 Buy 22-6 - Bad Sell
Duke 13-0 1 Buy 22-3 6 Meh Hold
Florida 9-2 13 Hold 21-4 5 Meh Buy
Georgetown 10-1 15 Buy 20-4 11 Good Buy
Illinois 13-2 11 Sell 20-8 - Good Sell
Indiana 13-1 5 Buy 24-3 1 Good Buy
Kansas 11-1 6 Buy 22-4 9 Meh Hold
K State 11-2 25 Hold 21-5 13 Meh Buy
Kentucky 9-4 - Buy 18-8 - Bad Sell
Louisville 13-1 4 Buy 21-5 10 Meh Hold
Maryland 12-1 - Sell 18-8 - Good Sell
Miami 9-3 - Sell 22-3 2 Bad Buy
Memphis 9-3 - Hold 23-3 21 Bad Buy
Michigan 13-0 2 Hold 22-4 7 Good Hold
MSU 11-3 18 Sell 22-5 4 Bad Buy
Minnesota 10-2 9 Hold 18-9 - Bad Sell
Missouri 10-2 12 Buy 19-7 - Bad Sell
New Mex. 13-2 20 Hold 22-4 16 Meh Buy
UNC 10-3 - Buy 18-8 - Bad Sell
NC State 11-2 23 Buy 19-7 - Bad Sell
Notre Dame 12-1 21 Buy 21-6 25 Meh Hold
OSU 11-2 8 Sell 19-7 18 Meh Hold
OK State 10-2 22 Sell 19-6 14 Bad Hold
Oregon 11-2 - Buy 21-6 23 Meh Hold
Pitt 12-2 24 Buy 20-7 20 Meh Hold
SD State 12-2 19 Buy 19-7 - Bad Sell
Syracuse 13-1 7 Sell 22-4 8 Bad Hold
Tennessee 8-3 - Sell 15-10 - Good Sell
Texas 8-5 - Buy 12-14 - Bad Sell
UCLA 10-3 - Buy 19-7 - Bad Hold
Uconn 10-3 - Sell 18-7 - Bad Hold
UNLV 11-2 - Hold 20-7 - Good Hold
VCU 11-3 - Buy 21-6 24 Good Buy
Wichita St. 13-1 - Buy plus! 23-5 - Bad Hold
Wisconsin 9-4 - Sell 19-8 19 Bad Buy
Xavier 7-6 Sell 15-10 - Meh Hold
Wyoming 13-0 Sell 18-8 - Good Sell

Here's a link to the spreadsheet I used in case you're interested. I probably screwed a bunch of stuff up. If I can remember, next year I will make random picks corresponding to Davis's, and we'll see who comes out ahead.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

StatWatch™: Ryan Evans Update

Following up on the Ryan Evans 2P% vs. FT% StatWatch™...

Evans had another terrible offensive game against Northwestern. He was 1-6 from the field, all two-pointers, and 2-5 from the line (and his 3 misses included a ridiculously short airball and an unintentional bank-shot). But the gap between his two-point FG percentage and his FT percentage narrowed because his 2P% got significantly worse. He's now shooting 40.5% from the line and 41.6% on twos.

For a while there I was thinking that Evans might be getting past his mental issues on free throws and shooting. But that appears to have been overly optimistic.

Incidentally, Evans's "true shooting percentage" (which accounts for the effective field goal percentage of twos, threes, and free throws) is historically bad this season, at 39.9%. Here is a list of players in the Bo Ryan era whose usage rate was at least 20% and whose TS% was less than 50%:

1.  Ryan Evans, 2010-11, 38.1%
2.  Ryan Evans, 2012-13, 39.9%
3.  Ryan Evans, 2009-10, 46.5%
4.  A. Tucker, 2005-06, 48.9%
5.  Brian Butch, 2004-05, 49.4%**
6.  M. Bruesewitz, 2011-12, 49.7%
7.  Ryan Evans, 2011-12, 49.8%

It's pretty remarkable for Ryan Evans to show up four times on that list of seven player-seasons, mainly because it's pretty unusual for Badgers to use up 20% of possessions in their freshman or sophomore years. It certainly appears that last year's decent (though still bad) shooting was an aberration.

That Evans is such a consistently inefficient contributor on offense is a testament to his defense and rebounding. As Sam Dekker said recently, “If you can play defense [for Bo Ryan] you’re going to be on the court regardless of how good you are offensively." Or how bad.


(**Note: I had to manually calculate Butch's estimated usage rate (~23%) and could be totally wrong.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Is the Big Ten the best?

The Big Ten is pretty widely regarded as the best conference in the nation this season and rightly so. The Big Ten has 3 top 10 teams that can win a national championship in MI, IN, and MSU. There are another 3 teams that are tourney locks and could make a deep tourney run in UW, OSU, and Minn. There are 2 more bubble teams in Iowa and IL, and Purdue and Northwestern are hardly pushovers. 5 teams are currently ranked in the top 25, and 7 teams have been ranked during the year. Kenpom currently has the top 6 teams all ranked in the his top 14, and Iowa and IL are in the top 30. Solid resume for a conference. Most of college basketball can't even get close in any regard to the Big Ten, except the Big East.

The Big East has a pretty good argument of their own, but I don't hear many people talking them up. The Big East will probably get 8 teams into the tourney, and would probably have 9 in UConn were eligible this year. There are 2 top end championship contenders in Louisville, and Cuse. There are currently 6 teams ranked in the top 25, and Kenpom has 6 Big East teams in his top 25.

Maybe it's not enough for them to win the argument they are the best, but they should at least be in the conversation.

StatWatch™

Here's a new feature where I point out interesting stats to keep track of as the season goes on. Today's edition: Ryan Evans's two-point FG% versus his free-throw percentage.

Right now Evans is shooting 42.1% on two-pointers. This is pretty terrible. Only Jackson (39.2%) and Marshall (33.3%) are shooting worse on twos for the Badgers, and their bad percentages are partially explained because they are often called on to shoot crazy runners at the end of the shot clock.

Amazingly, Evans's free-throw percentage is even worse, at 40.1%. It is remarkable for a high-usage player such as Evans to shoot worse at the line than he does on two-pointers.

So the StatWatch™ is: will Evans's FT% catch up and surpass his 2P%? Stay tuned!

Monday, February 18, 2013

wrong rationalization

As I was watching UW dismantle OSU it seemed like UW had learned something from the first meeting and was using it to take them apart. Perhaps they saw something that they could take advantage of, because they were killing them with cuts to the hoop. It occurred to me that maybe this could be a trend too. Maybe Bo routinely finds holes in teams and kills them the 2nd time around.

I looked back at UWs record vs opponents they played twice in the regular season to see if they had a better record the 2nd time around. Nope. The numbers when controlled for home and away games are about the same.

Bo may have found some weaknesses in OSU, but it was more likely just the impact of playing at home. It also helped to hit a bunch of 3s early which forced OSU to extend the defense and opened up the court.

An Easy Fix That Proves The Game Ain't Broke

Just wanted to post a quick follow-up on the "crisis" in college basketball—namely, the idea that offense is too hard.

There are all sorts of proposals to fix this supposed problem. Some people want to go to a 30-second shot clock. This would create more possessions, but it would actually hurt offense by making it easier to play good defense. (It's easier to bear down for 30 seconds than it is to bear down for 35 seconds—just ask any Badgers opponent who's watched them get a wide-open look with two seconds on the shot clock.) So this is a stupid idea if your goal is to make the game more entertaining (unless you love the sound of the shot-clock buzzer and the clang of bricks bouncing off the back-iron..)

Some people want to crack down on physical play to open up the game, etc. This is fine in theory, but in practice what this means is lots of fouls called. And then more fouls called. That means a game that is riddled with interruptions gets even slower and more riddled with interruptions. And it means more free throws, the second-most boring scoring play in all of sports (behind the extra-point attempt). The hope is that coaches and players would adjust, so eventually we'd be left with a more open game without all the foul calls. Maybe. But it's much more likely that the referees will adjust by eventually just letting everyone get away with what they get away with now. It's no accident that we've reached this equilibrium, and it would take something quite extraordinary to get us out of it.

But I can think of some simple rule tweaks that we know would work to increase scoring in college basketball, and nobody seems to be talking about them. Here they are: adopt the NBA rules on traveling and continuation. We know those rules work would because they work in the NBA. A lot of people complain about the charge / block call in college basketball, but it's not a problem in the NBA because the offensive player can just take another step and go right around the defender.

I think I know the reason that no one wants to talk about making these rule changes in college ball. It's because those NBA rules are kind of a joke, and true fans of the game find them sort of repugnant. But  fiddling with the rules of a sport to make it more "entertaining" is, fundamentally, kind of a joke. You just can't do it without sacrificing core sporting values. This doesn't mean you can't do it—clearly you can change the rules of a sport to make it unfairly pro-offense, and I think it's pretty clear that in college basketball's case this would likely make the sport more popular. But this is a Faustian bargain. Unlike sportswriters, I don't make money off of college basketball, and stand to gain nothing if the game becomes more "entertaining" and popular among the philistines. So I am just fine with the status quo.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Offensive Woes

We don't need statistics to tell us this Badgers team is not up to snuff on offense. But the comparison to prior teams is stark. Here are Pomeroy's offensive efficiency numbers for the Badgers in conference play since 2002-03:

Year OE  Rank
2003: 108.2 1
2004: 112.2 3
2005: 107.6 3
2006: 104.2 5
2007: 107.5 3
2008: 109.8 1
2009: 109.3 1
2010: 110.4 1
2011: 119.9 1
2012: 103.8 8
2013:   97.1 9

This year's number is probably unfairly low, given that the Badgers have yet to play the easiest portion of their schedule, but they will still almost certainly end with the lowest number on the list—probably below one point-per-possession for the first time under Bo. Moreover, you can see that the sharp turn started last year when—after having the league's best offense for four years in a row—the Badgers fell to 8th in the conference in OE.

The reason is obvious: the Badgers' three front-court starters these last two years (Berggren, Bruesewitz, and Evans) are all essentially defensive specialists. Berggren is the only one who is even remotely "skilled" on the offensive end. Bruesewitz has shown flashes, but he's a sub-30% three-point shooter for his career (and for his senior season). Evans is what he is—and this year he is easily the least effective high-usage player in Bo Ryan's tenure.

I don't mean to rag on these guys. They are the reason that the Badgers are again in contention for a top-4 finish in the Big Ten, with a legit chance to make another Sweet 16. Their defensive mastery has kept Wisconsin in games and allowed the Badgers to pick up two great and memorable wins this season. But Chorlton was right, oh those many years ago, when he said this senior class just doesn't have any scorers.

As a result, you get the numbers above. And you get stretches like the one the Badgers are in now, in which they've been held under a point-per-possession in six of the last seven games. This is unprecedented under Ryan. The remarkable thing is that they won three of those six games despite the anemic offense because no one can score on the Badgers, either.

The only hope for this team turning it around on offense is that someone (or sometwo) gets hot. Brust has been playing well, and Dekker was easily the best offensive player on the floor last night. But they really need one of the seniors to get going, and really the only one capable is Berggren. The silver lining is that their last five conference games (starting after the OSU game on Sunday) are against much easier competition. So maybe they can get a groove going into the post-season.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Secret to Bo Ryan's Success

According to Jim Souhan, a sportswriter for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, it is "the subtle muggings Ryan and his peers teach." That's right: Ryan's famous no-foul defense is effective because, actually, he's secretly fouling all the time:
Next time you see two teams in the 20s in the second half of a big-time college basketball game, watch the defenders. They bump every offensive player who cuts into the lane. They use their chests and legs to bump and jostle. They play post defense the way many offensive lineman block, knowing officials aren't going to call holding on every play.
Certainly the Badgers bumps and jostle on defense with their chests (but not really their legs). But that's called basketball. Everyone does that. Imagine trying to defend in the post without using your chest!

One wonders: has Jim Souhan ever played basketball with grown ups? When I was a little kid playing basketball on playgrounds, it was a free game with very little bumping. Little guys could dribble around and get layups. Playing organized basketball for the first time—and I'm talking about a 3-3 tournament, here—was a rude awakening to the way good basketball is actually played. It's played with your muscles. Those big muscles in your legs, mainly. It's a physical sport played by big strong men. Don't like it? Go watch arena football, or soccer, or whatever.

The other half of Souhan's accusation, that the Badgers illegally bump cutters is just nonsense. Bo Ryan often spends entire games begging the officials to call this kind of stuff because his offense is predicated on these kinds of fouls actually being called. A lightly officiated game hurts Bo's offense more than it helps his defense.

The ultimate idiocy of this piece is the idea that changing the way the game is called could somehow stop Bo Ryan from winning. Nothing can stop Bo Ryan from winning. If you tweak the rules and start calling more fouls, Bo Ryan will still figure out how to beat you. It cannot be said enough: Bo Ryan is a basketball genius. He loses more basketball knowledge every time he clips his toenails than Jim Souhan has ever had in his walnut-sized brain.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Is Miami a championship contender?

Doubt it.

I got chance to watch Miami play at FSU tonight as I was working out. The only other game I saw them play was the 2nd half of their blow out of Duke. That was an impressive game as I remember thinking someone put some glue on the bottom of Duke's shoes. Duke just looked slow compared to a Miami team that ran circles around them.

Miami only has 3 losses, and unlike the Ole Miss team I shredded earlier this year they have some legit wins over Duke, Michigan State and at NC state. They are undefeated in the ACC which is probably the 3rd or 4th best conference depending on how you feel about the Big 12. Miami lead most of this game but FSU battled back to tie about half way through the 2nd half. Miami responded and took control of the game back, rebuilding a lead on some fine shooting by Barry Larkin's son Shane.

This is where my problem with Miami comes in. With 2 minutes left and Miami up 7, all they had to do was run some clock to shorten the game, but Scott their leading scorer decided to take an off the dribble step back 3 with 22 seconds on the shot clock. Scott is a senior, so he really doesn't have a good excuse for this. Stupid mistake, OK, lots of kids do that. Bo Ryan would have had that kid on the bench, but Miami plays a different way. On Miami's next possession Scott again got the ball but held the ball at the top for a good 7-8 seconds. Then he got a little opening and drove the ball into traffic in the lane and turned the ball over with 19 seconds on the shot clock. Another stupid mistake which lead to a FSU hoop and the lead cut to 3 now with 52 seconds still on the clock.

Still a pretty good situation for Miami, but for God sake run some clock. Miami's coach must have been peeved because he had Larkin take the ball up court this possession. Larkin rewarded him by crossing half court and immediately getting a shot up with 25 seconds left on the shot clock. He was bailed out when one of Miami's bigs got the rebound and got fouled. He made one free throw and when FSU missed on the next possession Miami salted this one away with free throws.

Even worse than the quick shots was the shot selection. FSU had 2 bigs foul out with about 3 minutes to go, and the 3rd big was on the bench with cramps. FSU was playing 5 guards the last 3 minutes, none of which is over 6'5". Miami had 2 bigs in the game including Reggie Johnson who was 5-5 on the day and weighs about 320 (imagine Derrek Nix when he was a freshman).

Miami may win a lot more games this year, but performances like that just don't impress me. Stupid play will come back to haunt them eventually, and probably in the games that mean the most.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Big Ten Championship Game?

Michigan (8-3) plays at Michigan State (9-2) tonight. Michigan is favored by one—a rare instance of the Spartans playing as home underdogs.

I think it is extremely likely that the winner of this game gets a share of the Big Ten title. This is Michigan's last difficult road game, and their only remaining tests after tonight will be at home against MSU and Indiana. I expect them to win both games, but they definitely won't lose both. So a win by Michigan puts them on course for 14-4, with a real possibility of 15-3. It's hard to see anyone getting ahead of Michigan if they win tonight.

Michigan State still has road games at Michigan and Ohio State, and home games against Indiana and Wisconsin. I expect them to go 2-2 in those four games, so a win tonight gets them on pace for 14-4 as well. 14-4 is very likely to win a share of the title.

So, high drama. Who ya got, Chorlton? I'm taking State.

Foul or Defend?

For all the strong opinions out there about fouling when up three late, there's remarkably little data on the subject. Here comes Ken Pomeroy.  He examined every game since the 2009-10 season to see whether fouling actually works. The conclusion: not really. He found that the teams that chose to defend won 94% of the time and the teams that fouled on purpose won 92.7% of the time. (This assumes that each team had a 50/50 chance of winning if the game was forced to overtime. Actual results were 93.4% to 92.3%) In sum:
The fact is, chances of losing are close to remote in either case, but execution errors, an inflated offensive rebounding percentage, poor three-point shooting, and the chance of an extra possession are enough to counteract what might otherwise be the advantage of forcing a team to shoot free throws. In cases where the opponent has multiple good three-point shooters and you have confidence in rebounding a missed free throw, fouling may be the better option. But it appears the default decision should be to not foul.
So depending on the situation, there may be a slight advantage to fouling, or a slight advantage to defending. But, overall, the evidence is clear: it just doesn't matter very much either way. That sportswriters and sports-talkers spend so much time blathering about this issue just shows that: (a) they have too much time on their hands, and (b) they aren't as smart as they think they are.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Fouling fanatics

I'm getting a little tired of the tone of talking heads when discussing fouling in end of game situations. I understand this can be a good strategy in certain situations, but it's no guarantee of victory as the people I have heard recently seem to portray it to be. There seemed to be tons of this in response to the UW vs MI game. In that game both teams had fouls to give after the game was tied, and both coaches took criticism for not fouling. Since both Hardaway and Brust made ridiculous shots, those criticisms seem more valid to casual fans. Since end of game situations get all the publicity, every time someone makes a shot in this situation the criticism will come and be heard. What isn't heard is the 99% of the time those shots harmlessly miss.

Again, I don't have a problem with the fouling strategy, my problem is that people talk about it as if it is a sure thing that if a coach tells his players to foul, then victory is guaranteed. I don't think there is any significant difference in going either way. There are a ton of things that can go wrong when a coach tells his players to foul. In the Michigan game both coaches actually did instruct their players to foul in certain situations (if the player isn't shooting) but Bruiser didn't get the foul called, and MI didn't get a good opportunity. Basketball has a major human element that makes this strategy a lot harder than it sounds.

If UW had fouled as the clock got low, it wouldn't have eliminated OSU's chance for a game winning shot. The idea is that by fouling you break up the play they have called and force them to start over with an inbound pass. This in theory, will lead to a harder shot, and less chance to make it. I'm not sure this part of the theory is even correct, as many coaches (I'm thinking specifically of Izzo here) have a number of great in bounds plays that create good shots for their team. In any case I doubt the possibly worse shot created from this scenario makes a significant difference in win-loss outcome. The shot Hardaway took was very difficult and I find it hard to believe UW could have forced a much tougher shot than what he took.

On the MI side, Beilein wanted to foul being up 3 points with fouls to give. Seems good except Brust caught and got off the shot very fast and MI couldn't foul. If they had, MI risked flaw #2 in this theory- the refs fuck up. How much flak would Beilein have got if the refs we see mess up all the time, had called a foul on a half court shot that would have given UW 3 free throws to tie the game. Is MI better off letting a long prayer shot fly, or taking a chance a ref wants a little extra camera time.

How about when a team fouls when up 3 to send a team to the line for 2. There is still time left if they make both throws for a steal, or even worse what if the refs call a foul on the rebound of the 2nd miss and send them back to the line again. I could go on and on with examples of how players, and refs can screw things up in end of game situations when they foul. The bottom line is that there is a very good chance the team with the lead is going to win regardless of the strategy. If someone thinks there is a significant difference in winning based on the foul strategy they are overstating the case.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Frank Kaminsky has some long legs

So I probably should have a photo attached, but it wouldn't do justice. After the game today I went to get a beer and burger with my dad at the Nitty Gritty. Most of the Badger's basketball team and their families showed up to do the same and were sitting in the same room with us (sorry but no Jim Jackson or I would have got a photo). Frank Kaminsky was sitting in a chair with his legs extended and I swear his legs went past the table and past the chair of the person sitting across from him.

I know it sounds silly to say a 6'11" kid has long legs, but some kids are leggy than others. Sitting in the chair he didn't look much different from everyone else, until you saw those legs that just didn't stop.

That game almost made me cry

Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age. More likely I'm just falling into a chasm of mental instability, but when the clock expired today and I watched those kids rush the court the same way I did when UW beat Minnesota when I was in school, the throat tightened and the eyes watered. That was the best basketball game I have ever seen in person. That is largely based on the fact my team won, but I have some credibility on this issue. Until recently the best game I had ever been to was a Badger loss to Indiana in triple overtime in 1987 (that game is still to date the loudest game of any kind I have every attended). That game was surpassed in recent years by the Taylor team's win over #1 OSU, but still, for 20 years my favorite Badger game was a loss.

From the Berggren dunk and one, to the Hardaway 3 with Bruiser in his face, to the Brust heave, you have to go back to Oklahoma vs Boise St to find a game with that kind of crazy end of game drama. This was a great game even without the spectacular finish. Neither team led by more than 6 in the 2nd half. I've had a grin on my face since about 1pm, and it doesn't appear to be going anywhere.

I love you Bo Ryan.

Friday, February 8, 2013

How much scoring is enough?

Some people claim college basketball is "broken." The basic criticism is that the number of possessions is down, and overall scoring is down. Both of these trends are long-term and continuing. We have more and more games in the 40s and 50s, and more and more outliers like Eastern Michigan's 42-25 win over Northern Illinois (A game in which NIU scored just 4 points in the first half.)

I frankly reject the premise that college basketball is too low scoring. Look at that epitome of ugly basketball, EMU's 42-25 win. That's a total of 67 points, and it was accomplished with 21 field goals and 20 free throws. So the ball went through the hoop 41 times.

There is no other sport where 41 goals scored is considered an abomination of offense. Even if you count just field goals, that's 21 field goals, or one every other minute of game play. Imagine if there were 21 scores in a football game. There's a name for that: arena football. Not a popular sport, and for good reason.

Looking at the box score, Eastern Michigan and NIU played a slow tempo game, with just 52 possessions. But Northern Illinois alone took 61 shots, making just 8 of them. Here's my question: are missed shots boring? I don't really think so. In sports, what you want to keep things interesting is legitimate opportunities to score. The NIU / EMU game had plenty of that: NIU put up 33 three-point shots (and made just one).  The point is, this isn't soccer, where entire games can be played without even legitimate scoring chances. Even in the worst college basketball game, there are an absolute abundance of scoring chances. If 96 shots on goal in 40 minutes of play is too "boring" for you, the problem is yours.

In fact, I've always thought the problem with basketball is that it is too high scoring. This is problem because individual scores are close to inconsequential to the outcome. For this reason, many casual sports fans will joke that they just turn on a basketball game with five minutes to go, because the first 35 minutes are pretty much meaningless. And there's a lot of truth in that. The sport absolutely does not need more scoring chances.

What's really going on here is a stylistic clash. There's an element in college basketball that thinks beautiful offense is running, jumping, and dunking. These people prefer high-possession games with lots of transition offense. There's another element in college basketball that thinks beautiful offense is passing, screening, cutting, and shooting. These people prefer half-court offense.

In my opinion, the beautiful thing about college basketball is that both styles can be successful. The issue is that the fast-break proponents seem to think it's unfair that the half-court teams can beat the fast-break teams. But that's just stupid. The athletes that are good at fast-break offense are often just different than the athletes that are good at half-court offense. And it so happens that a good coach can usually teach his players how to neutralize a team that just wants to run and jump and dunk. Unless you have truly elite, NBA-bound players, a good half-court offense is just way harder to stop than a transition offense. More and more coaches have figured that out. Is that a problem? I think not.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Question

Is this a legal guarding position?


This is right before Craft stole the ball and then went on a fast break, only to have the ball stripped back by Burke.

By the way, I honestly don't know the answer to my question—I'm just wondering.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Big Ten Mid-Season Review

We are now almost exactly halfway through the Big Ten conference schedule, with every team having played at least nine games (Nebraska and Northwestern have played ten). The standings are:

Indiana, 8-1
Michigan, 7-2
MSU, 7-2
OSU, 7-2
Wisconsin, 6-3
Minnesota, 5-4
Purdue, 4-5
Northwestern, 4-6
Iowa, 3-6
Illinois, 2-7
Nebraska, 2-8
Penn State, 0-9

Contenders: Indiana, Michigan, MSU, OSU, Wisconsin, and Minnesota

So far, things are going relatively according to plan. Chorlton's Big Five—IU, Mich, MSU, OSU, and UW—are a clear cut above every other team with the possible exception of Minnesota. These six teams are all clearly going to the NCAA tournament. At the very top, Indiana, Michigan, and Michigan State all appear to be Final Four caliber teams. Here's a breakdown of the contenders, worst-to-first:

Minnesota. Coming in to the conference season, Minnesota was a mystery, and a source of disagreement between me and Chorlton. Although I disparaged Tubby Smith before the season, I was starting to become a believer in this year's squad. Chorlton thought they were a clear cut below the Big Five. Halfway through, Minnesota is still a difficult team to get a read on. They lost four in a row at one point, but three of the losses (at Indiana, vs. Michigan, and at Wisconsin) were entirely excusable. Only the loss at Northwestern stands out as a bad loss. But then they barely beat Iowa at home yesterday, and only because Iowa made a series of blunders in the final two minutes. Still, Minnesota has one of the more favorable schedules remaining among the top conference teams: @MSU, Ill., UW, @Iowa, @OSU, IU, PSU, @Neb., @Purdue.  They've got a good shot at winning six of those games and finishing 11-7 in conference. The key for them will be the stretch next week when they host Wisconsin and go to Iowa. They'll be favored in both games, and have to win one of them. If they lose both—and they could—I think the wheels could fall off.

Ohio State. Another tough team to figure out. On offense they are a one-man show, with Deshaun Thomas taking nearly a third of the team's shots when he's on the floor (which is almost always). But they play great defense, led by handsy Aaron Craft, and Matta has them coached up, as always. The problem is that OSU's remaining schedule is pretty brutal. Incredibly, they have zero games left against PSU, Purdue, Nebraska, and Iowa. And road games against Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana await them: @Mich., IU, NW, @UW, MN, MSU, @NW, @IU, Ill. Not a lot of sure things in there. If Ohio State wants to stay in the hunt for its fourth straight title they are going to have beat Indiana and Michigan State at home and beat Wisconsin on the road. A difficult task, but it wouldn't be shocking.

Wisconsin. We know all about Wisconsin, obviously. They are at 6-3, which is where I predicted they'd be—but they got there in a surprising way: road wins at Indiana and Illinois, and losses at Iowa and to Michigan State. They are almost through their murderer's row portion of the schedule, and we'll find out if they can keep their dark-horse hopes for a title alive over the next two weeks: three home games against Iowa, Michigan, and OSU, and a trip to Minnesota. Two wins there keeps them on pace to finish 12-6, as we both predicted; but if they manage to get three then we can start to dream a little. Perhaps a more realistic goal is finish ahead of Minnesota and OSU to keep the "top 4" streak going. If they can beat OSU and win at Northwestern, I think they'll at least tie with OSU for fourth. Remaining schedule: Iowa, Mich., @MN, OSU, @NW, Neb., Purdue, @MSU, @PSU.

Indiana. Indiana stands alone atop the conference (and the nation) at 8-1, with just a single, glorious loss at home to Wisconsin. But, like Ohio State, the Hoosiers have yet to face the meat of their schedule, with four tough road games remaining at OSU, MSU, MN, and Michigan—not to mention a losable game at Illinois. Indiana is a very good team, and they have two truly great college players in Oladipo and Zeller. They have the talent to win a national title. But do they have the grit to win a Big Ten title? We may have to wait until their final game—at Michigan—to find out. Remaining schedule: @Ill., @OSU, Neb., Pur., @MSU, @MN, Iowa, OSU, @Mich. They are lucky they don't have to come to Madison this year.

Michigan. Chorlton did a good job of breaking down how scary this team is on offense, and their defense isn't half-bad either (4th best defensive efficiency in conference play). Trey Burke has been amazing, and then they've got all these fantastic freshmen. It's pretty unfair. But they have five tough games remaining: both games against MSU, a game in Madison, and the rematches with Ohio State and Indiana. Remaining schedule: OSU, @UW, @MSU, PSU, Ill., @PSU, MSU, @Purdue, IU.

Michigan State. The Spartans aren't blowing anyone out, but they are always in a position to win. Though they usually lose one bad game on the road in the Big Ten (attention, Purdue, on Feb. 9th), they have the second best win in the conference so far, their win at Wisconsin. The only thing I see holding MSU back is injuries. Both Thrice and Harris are banged up. If neither plays against Minnesota on Wednesday, that could be a difference maker. But, in the end, I expect MSU to be right there, playing in a regional final, and probably winning it.

Bubble Teams: Iowa, Illinois, and Northwestern

Iowa, Illinois, and Northwestern are technically on the bubble. But it's hard to see either Northwestern or Illinois finishing better than 7-11 (and definitely not both of them, as they play each other). At this point they are both very likely headed to the NIT.

That leaves Iowa. Iowa has been so close to a breakout season. They blew late leads against Michigan State, at Purdue, and at Minnesota. If they win just one of those games, they would be looking very good for a tournament spot. But those three losses actually expose a big Iowa weakness: they just aren't very good on offense, particularly in the half-court. When things get tight, they fail to execute and they cannot score. So I will not be surprised if they blow a couple more games. Here's their remaining schedule: @UW, NW, @PSU, MN, @Neb, Purdue, @IU, Ill., Neb.  There are seven clearly winnable games, and they need six to get to 9-9. Will they? I've got my eye on their Valentine's Day game at Penn State: I think may be a lot of broken hearts in Iowa City that night.

The Rest: Purdue, Nebraska, Penn State

Each of these teams, especially Purdue, has some pluck. But it's unlikely any of them has the firepower to pull off an upset over any of the top six teams. Purdue seems to be getting better, but their non-conference was so terrible that they likely won't qualify for the NIT.

Revised Prediction

When I look at the schedules, I see Indiana, Michigan, and Michigan State all coming in right around 14-4. A three-way tie is a real possibility, and that's what I'm going with for now. It should be really fun to watch. In response to any accusations of copping out, please note that I listed the top six teams above in "worst-to-first" order so that's my opinion of the top three teams' relative merit. That said, whichever of them wins the title I will retain the right to say I predicted it.

MSU - 14-4 (+1 from pre-season prediction)
Mich. - 14-4
IU - 14-4
UW - 12-6
OSU - 12 6
Minn. - 11-7 (-1)
Iowa - 8-10 (-1)
NW - 7-11 (+3)
Ill. - 6-12 (-2)
Purdue - 6-12
Nebraska - 3-15 (+2)
PSU - 1-17 (-1)