Thursday, March 10, 2022

Big Ten Tourney picks

 Chorlton, it's that time again. Time for me to embarrass you by picking the rest of the Big Ten tournament.

Yes, we forgot about Wednesday. But Wednesday is the play-in day. Those games don't count.

Here we go - get your picks in or lose by default. I've spent no time thinking about this, so I'm about to intuit the future.


Indiana over Michigan

MSU over Maryland

Iowa over Northwestern

Ohio St. over Penn St.


Indiana over Illinois

MSU over Wisconsin

Purdue over Ohio St.

Iowa over Rutgers


Iowa over Indiana

Purdue over MSU


Purdue over Iowa

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Carolina and the Quarrel with Quadrants

It's February, so bracketologizing and bubble watching are getting into high gear. (If you're keeping track, it's the fourth-most wonderful time of the year according to my seasonal analytics.)

One of the more interesting résumés at the moment is North Carolina's. For the most part, UNC looks like a team that is directly on the bubble: 

But there's a glaring goose egg sitting there: 0–7 in the almighty "Quadrant 1" games. Sure, they're 4–0 in the semi-mighty "Quadrant 2" games, but the punditry is unanimous: Carolina just can't dance without at least one Quad 1 win. 

I've got some quibbles with this Quad 1 absolutism.

First, it's really not unprecedented for a team with this type of résumé to make the tournament. It's true that no sQuad Zero has made the tourney since the invention of explicit quadrants in the 2017-18 season. But that's just three tournament selections, and for the record there were three teams invited with just one Quad 1 win in even this short period:

Nevada even got a 7-seed with just one Q1!

Yet just as three is great than two, one is greater than zero. Perhaps infinitely so. This gets me to the real meat of my Quibble 1: the quadrants existed in spirit looooong before 2018. If you were alive back then, you will remember that the selection committee focused on something different but really the same: top 50 wins and top 100 wins. I can tell you with absolute certainty that the committee used top 50 RPI wins the same way they use Quadrant 1 wins now. The only different was that our beloved quadrants flex for home and road, as they should. The quadrants were a big improvement, but were just a tweak of the familiar paradigm. For example, here's the 2015 Selection Sunday "Nitty Gritty" sheet showing the proto-quads (with a spoiler alert):

This means we can safely look back before 2018 to get actionable intelligence about the plausibility of a 0Q1 team making the tournament. What we find is that there is indeed precedent for teams making the tournament with zero top line wins:

One other thing you might notice about each of these teams is that they all had multiple bad losses (outside the RPI top 100 in those days) and still got in. Anyhow, unsurprisingly, three of these four teams show up in the default list of ten most similar résumés for North Carolina 2022 on my site:

Georgia in 2015 is almost an exact match, particularly in the categories that matter most. There you have it. It's been done. It could happen again.

On to my second, more fundamental, quarrel with Quad 1 absolutism: Quadrants are kind of dumb! Which would be okay if we needed them, but we don't!

Long, long ago, in a time before the NET, I wrote on this very blog that:

Alas, the NCAA did not do this. First, they invented the home-road affected quadrants, and then they replaced RPI with NET. Both of these changes made the selection process better. I'm a fan of NET, relatively speaking. For judging the quality of a team's wins and losses, which is what they are basically using NET and the Quadrants to do, it works pretty well. 

But what they really should do is use the NET to calculate an official NCAA version of WAB or Strength of Record. I think they shouldn't even publish the NET at all—just use it behind the scenes as the backbone for the simple calculations required to turn it into a strength of record ranking.

They should do this because there are more than four levels of opponents in NCAA Division 1 basketball. In fact, there's probably at least 100 levels. Pretending like there are only four different kinds of wins and losses might make sense if we didn't have good ways to rate teams and didn't have computers to do calculations for us. But thankfully we have those things, and lots of them. We can do this. We should do this. 

To bring this back to UNC, we know that the Tar Heels would be in much better shape under any system that more rationally quantified the impressiveness of their record. We can see that they're a lofty 26th in ESPN's Strength of Record, which is one attempt at the kind of system I'm arguing for. They're a solid 35th in my own superior T-Rank-based WAB rankings. They'd still face scrutiny because of their particularly heinous performances against the best teams they've faced, but at least they wouldn't have to face the (false, actually) argument that inviting them would be totally unprecedented.

Monday, February 8, 2021

2 foul auto-bench

The 2 foul auto-bench

I have frequently seen criticism of the 2 foul auto-bench strategy recently. I’m not a complete believer in the auto-bench in 100% of circumstances, but I certainly understand why a coach would do it. It feels to me like the argument against the 2 foul auto-bench has become like the argument for fouling when up 3 at the end of the game, in that people argue that it is clearly they best strategy when it’s not clear that it is. They also seem to ignore all the good reasons to bench the guy, and assume nothing bad will happen. They seem to think the player will get their normal minutes and be their normal productive selves with the 2 fouls, and even if they get a 3rd, they are still unlikely to foul out. If this were true, it would be a no brainer to leave the player in with 2 fouls, but here are some considerations as to why this is not always the case.

1)     If a player has 2 fouls, they can’t really play defense well, because they have to protect themselves. Most often the auto-bench criticism comes when a good offensive player is sat down because the team needs his scoring. This ignores the fact that the gains in offense by keeping him on the court are offset by worse defense because they can’t play the defensive scheme correctly in order to not risk the 3rd foul. This is compounded in the team defense because the other players on the court can’t count on the 2 foul player to do what the system dictates they should do, and can put every other defender on the court in bad positions.

2)      Auto-benching is a tool to teach the player and the team not to foul. Coaches don’t coach to win 4 minute segments, they coach to win games and championships. If you have a defensive system that is based on not fouling, you can’t tolerate players racking up 2 fouls each half. Fouling puts other team in the bonus and makes your other fouls hurt more. Many teams defensive scheme is based on minimizing fouls at the expense of ball pressure, creating turnovers, etc. If this is your philosophy, then you can’t tolerate players fouling 2 times in a half. A great coach once said, “Coaching is more about what you accept than what you say”.

3)      Sometimes a player committing fouls too frequently just isn’t playing all that well. If they’re not moving their feet in the first 10 minutes, why would a coach think that is going to change in the next 10. If a player is shooting poorly, is 0-5, and coach sits him to think for a bit, you don’t hear the same criticism as a coach benching with 2 fouls because a player is playing defense with his hands instead of his feet.

Here are some other short considerations that play heavy into the decision to bench the 2 foul player:

1)      Can you protect him? Can you stick him in the corner in a zone, or put him on a non-offensive threat in man to man?

2)      Does your team play pressure on the ball? If so, can you do so with this player on the court?

3)      Who are you coaching against? Are they a coach that will recognize the matchup and can use iso on the wing or on the block against them, or put the player in a pick and roll defense?

4)      Is it a player that commits a lot of fouls, or someone that is not a fouler?

5)      Are you playing a team that draws a lot of fouls?

6)      Are you up or down a significant number of points, and who is your opponent? Are they way better than you or way worse? Do you need the player on the floor to compete?

7)      Who are the refs, and are they calling tons of ticky tack fouls, or are the letting everyone play?

8)      Players that just got called for a foul are often frustrated. Frustrated players seem to be more likely to commit another foul. (just seems that way to me anyway)

I’m not an auto-bench lover myself, but I would like to hear some of these considerations talked about when the auto-bench comes up. Seems like the issue is over simplified. Too many assume that the low risk of a 3rd foul is the only possible problem when leaving them on the court, when in fact there are many other factors to consider.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Early look at Home Court Advantage in Covid Season

With some frankly disturbing exceptions, most college basketball games this year are being played in empty or near-empty arenas. This raises an obvious question: how much does this affect home court advantage (HCA)?

It's a reasonable assumption that lack of fans will reduce home court advantage, and I lowered the HCA factor in my ratings from 1.3% to 1.0% coming into the year. But I am tracking it (or at least attempting to)to see whether it needs to be further adjusted. Here's what I'm looking at so far.

I calculate and apply HCA by looking at how many more net points home teams score than my ratings project they should. For example, if two perfectly evenly matched teams play, and the home team ends up winning by 3 points in a 50 possession game, that's an HCA of 6 points per 100 possessions. Here are the actual results of that method over the last three years, plus this year so far:

Year Games HCA/100
2018 4873 5.14
2019 4934 4.93
2020 4877 5.22
2021 438 5.53

Looking at this, you might conclude that HCA is as strong as ever so far this year. But that would be wrong. Things look quite a bit different if you look at just the first 17 days of each season:

Year Games HCA/100
2018 662 6.24
2019 555 6.33
2020 666 6.42
2021 438 5.53

On this view, HCA is about 13% reduced from the average of the last three years. Basically, HCA is usually higher at the beginning of the year, probably because it is generally higher in mismatches, and mismatches are common early in the year.

In fact, if we break this down and look at only games in the first 17 days involving teams who are ranked within 100 spots of each other, there is a huuuuge drop-off this year:

Year Games HCA/100
2018 293 5.59
2019 236 5.69
2020 300 5.89
2021 215 2.18

Here, in a fairly similar number of games as previous years, HCA is down by more than half! Given that the overall number is only down about 12%, that means that HCA in uneven matchups (where the difference in team ranks is more than 100) is actually UP quite a bit:

Year Games HCA/100
2018 369 6.75
2019 319 6.8
2020 366 6.86
2021 224 8.78

What is the difference in these games? Well, one possibility is officiating. In the evenly matched games, home free throw rate is just a 1.18% advantage for the home team (versus an average advantage of 3.4% in the previous years. Meanwhile, in mismatches the home team is mostly retaining its usual advantage in getting to the line: 3.2% versus 4.3% in those kinds of games in previous years.

Where does that leave us? It's too early to make any firm conclusions. Another couple caveats I want to add: (1) this analysis is kind of down of dirty because I'm not fully backing out the effect of HCA in the first place when considering team quality (which could especially be skewing the results this year of teams that have not played road games), and (2) the results for this year are obviously hard to disentangle from errors in the preseason projections.

But a couple things I'm confident in saying: HCA still exists, even with few fans in the arena, but it is attenuated to at least some degree. Maybe a lot in real games.

Now for some speculation. Perhaps the difference that shows up between more evenly matched games and mismatches reflects that Covid-related travel and other restrictions are particularly rough on low major teams. And perhaps the vast majority of HCA that remains is more related to this kind of travel fatigue, and has largely replaced implicit officiating bias as the main driver of HCA for now.


I did some more work on this to back out HCA for team quality. The raw numbers are different (slightly less HCA overall), and make this year even closer to a normal year so far, but the basic ratios / conclusions noted above still hold. In particular, the marked split between closely matched and mismatch games still holds, although the "through day 17" split is now close enough to be reasonably considered possibly just noise.

Monday, May 25, 2020

What to make of Rick Pitino to Iona?

After a couple years in Greece, Rick Pitino is coming back to coach college basketball next year at Iona College, a member of the MAAC. This is a pretty unusual situation, obviously. Pitino is already a Hall of Fame coach, with six* Final Fours and two* NCAA championships. And when he left Louisville prior to the 2018 season, he was still putting together great teams—it wasn't like the game had passed him by and he was put out to pasture. So it's intriguing to think about what such an established coaching legend might be able to accomplish in a one-bid league.

I asked the hive-mind on Twitter for some historical analogues, and here's what we came up with, listed in approximate order of similarity (in my opinion):

Larry Brown to SMU

This is probably the closest analogue in terms of coaching ability and situation. Brown made a Final Four at UCLA and won a title at Kansas before heading off for a successful couple of decades in the NBA (where he won a title with the Pistons).

SMU was a decidedly moribund program when Brown arrived, having missed the tournament for about 20 years in a row. They struggled through one more year of mediocrity under Brown before his methods, such as they were, resulted in Madness. Brown ended up lasting only four seasons, and he left under a cloud of impropriety, but he had tournament-quality squads his last three years.

Could Pitino build a (clean) Brown-at-SMU type program? I think that's optimistic. SMU was in a multi-bid league by Brown's second year, and had considerably more resources than Iona. But I think something just a step below that is achievable. The main lesson is that even in this relatively best case scenario (basketball-wise), there was a transition year before the superior coaching (etc.) turned into more wins.

Jerry Tarkanian to Fresno State

Tarkanian built an indisputable mid-major powerhouse at UNLV, where he went to three Final Fours and won a title. Like Larry Brown, he is legendary for his run-ins with the NCAA, which led to his departure from UNLV just a year after winning that title. After a brief stint in the NBA and a few years in the wilderness (litigating against the NCAA), he returned to coach his alma mater, Fresno State.

He was immediately successful, going 22-11 in his first year—the most wins for Fresno in over ten years. He continued to win 20+ games every year and built the program into an at-large quality team, eventually earning back-to-back 9-seeds in 2000 and 2001. The 2000 team lost, of course, to the Final Four bound Wisconsin Badgers. Unfortunately, these later teams were subsequently the subject of NCAA sanctions.

This is certainly a favorable comparison for Pitino (other than the sanctions stuff). Tark immediately built a contender in the WAC—and this is back when New Mexico, UNLV, and Utah were in the WAC, and the conference regularly sent 3 or 4 teams to the tournament. Like Iona, it was a program with some pedigree (Tiny Grant took them to the Elite Eight in 1982) but nothing like the powerhouse that Tarkanian was coming from. Ultimately, I'd say this is an example in favor of expecting bigger things out of Iona this year.

Rollie Massimino to Cleveland State

It seems fitting to follow Tarkanian with Massimino, who replaced him at UNLV. Massimino had a legendary 19-year run at Villanova, capped by a miraculous run to the 1985 title as an 8-seed.

The UNLV interlude is problematic for our purposes. First, he left Villanova for UNLV after four straight years with at least 15 losses (though he did go to the tourney in two of those years). So his career was already on a downward arc. Second, he had an undistinguished two-year tenure at UNLV that, according to Wikipedia, ended with him being "forced out when it was revealed that he and UNLV president Robert Maxson had cut a side deal to lift Massimino's salary above the figure being reported to the state of Nevada and the state commission ruled that this had violated both state ethics laws, as well as UNLV rules." 

So when he took the job at Cleveland State a few years later, it was less of a giant stooping down than a natural step in a parabolic career arc.

He did okay at Cleveland State. They were coming off a 5-win season, and Massimino won 9 games his first year. Then 12, then 14, then 15, then 19 ... But he never took them over the hump or got to the tournament. Inconclusive at best.

Bobby Knight to Texas Tech

Knight was proposed to me somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but the more I think about it the more analogous it seems.

Bobby Knight's bona fides as a coaching legend are beyond dispute and need no recounting. Sure, he was not at his apex when Indiana fired him for finally going too far with the "I'm a total psycho" stuff off the court, but he had still taken IU to fifteen fucking tournaments in a row.

The tongue-in-cheek part is really about Texas Tech, in that it was not and is not a mid-major in any real sense. But it was a team that had missed 13 out of those 15 NCAA tourney that Bobby Knight had just taken Indiana to. As far as major-conference programs go, that's bottom of the barrel. (And, by contrast, Iona has been to 6 of the last 8 NCAA tournaments under Tim Cluess, so ...)

Knight was immediately successful at Texas Tech, winning 23 games his first year and going to the NCAA tourney. The next three seasons were also successful (by Texas Tech standards of the time) culminating in a run to the Sweet 16 in his fourth year. Then things turned toward mediocrity, especially by Knight's standards.

Knight certainly turned Tech around in a hurry, showing how important the head coach is in college basketball. Although the program comparison between 2000-ish Texas Tech and current Iona is not really on point, it was certainly a big step down for Knight. So this is an encouraging example for Pitino.

Lefty Driesell to James Madison

I had to be talked into this one, because although Driesell did eventually make it to the college basketball Hall of Fame, I don't think he had that status when he left Maryland. It was really what he did afterwards, at James Madison and Georgia State, that cemented his legacy as "the greatest program builder in the history of college basketball."

This is not to imply that he was unsuccessful at Maryland, where he coached from 1969 to 1986 and went to three Sweet 16s and two Elite Eights. But he never got to the Final Four (much less won a title), which certainly puts him on a different level from Rick Pitino and the coaches already mentioned.

That said, his coaching tenure at Maryland did end "unnaturally" in that he was forced out for non-basketball reasons. And he certainly had some success at James Madison and then Georgia State. At JMU he went through the typical transition year and then won at least a share of the CAA regular season title for the next five seasons. After a few down years at JMU, he had immediate success at Georgia State, culminating in a heartbreaking (to me) victory over Mark Vershaw and the Badgers in the first round of the 2001 tourney.

Driesell was not as old as Pitino, and not as great a coach, but his mid-major success is an example for Pitino to follow.

Bobby Cremins to College of Charleston

Bobby Cremins is no Rick Pitino, but he had a long and distinguished run at Georgia Tech, including a trip to the Final Four in 1990. He retired in 2000, but was lured out of retirement by Charleston for the 2007 season.

Iona and Charleston are pretty good analogues in that they were both consistent contenders in their conferences before landing their late-career coaching legend. Tim Herrion, Cremins's immediate successor, averaged over 20 wins in his four seasons but never went to the tourney. But Herrion's predecessor, John Kresse, had fantastic success and dominated the TAAC/Southern in the 90s.

Cremins kept alive this record of decent mid-major success, but never really broke through or returned Charleston to the tournament.

Honorable Mentions with brief summary:

Jim Harrick to Rhode Island

Won a title at UCLA, and had instant success at Rhode Island. Dogged by scandal everywhere, though. Overall, Harrick not on Pitino's level, and Rhode Island clearly above Iona on the pecking order.

Steve Fischer to San Diego State

Steve Fischer was only 52 when he was fired by Michigan as part of the Ed Martin scandal. So even though he had tremendous success at Michigan (including an out-of-nowhere run to the 1989 NCAA title when he replaced Bill Frieder right before the tournament, and two Final Four runs with the Fab Five), his status as a coaching great was not really established until he built San Diego State into a west coast powerhouse.

Also, San Diego State is a clear step or two above above Iona on its own terms and in terms of conference affiliation.

Tubby Smith to High Point

Another coach with an NCAA title on his resumé, but by the time Tubby went to High Point, the shine on his star was long gone.

Mike Dunleavy to Tulane

Dunleavy never had any success in college, but he did have a long and sort of decent career in the NBA. So you might have thought he would do well at Tulane. He did not.

Jim Calhoun to St. Joseph (D-III)

Calhoun certainly is on Pitino's level as a coaching legend. But it's hard to really compare starting up a D-III program to taking over at Iona. For what it's worth, Calhoun is off to a good start.

Monday, March 9, 2020

A Coach of the Year Polemic

What is the Coach of the Year award for?

If you answer this question by looking at results, the answer is pretty clear: the Coach of the Year award typically goes to the coach of the team that most exceeded expectations. Another way of putting it:

I'm here to say that's the way it should be.

Just like the preseason AP poll tends to give a fairly pure view of how good knowledgeable people think a team will be—before dirty game results sully the analysis with overreactions and the like—preseason expectations for a team give us a pretty pure view of how talented people think the roster is.

There are many reason a team could outperform its presumed talent. Obviously the presumptions of talent could be quite wrong. That happens all that time. It could be just luck. That no doubt happens all the time. But generally speaking when a team outperforms its presumed talent level, I think it's fair to attribute at least some of that variance to coaching—superior training, development, and game strategy.

That's a sound theoretical justification for giving the Coach of the Year award to the coach of the team that most outperforms its preseason expectations. It's not at all dumb. Let's just accept it.

There are two main objections to this regime:

1) Why shouldn't preseason favorites be eligible for coach of the year?

and, relatedly,

2) Recruiting is coaching, too, and this doesn't account for that.

Both of these objections are wrong.

First, under this regime, coaches of preseason favorites are eligible to win Coach of the Year, and they do. Even favorites can wow us with their overachievement. For example, John Calipari was national Coach of the Year in 2015 despite having probably the most talented roster in the one-and-done era. Bo Ryan won B1G COY in 2015 leading a preseason top-5 juggernaut. There are many examples.

Second, and I cannot emphasize this enough, recruiting is not coaching. Coaching has a general meaning that applies to all sports: training players, developing players, and directing game strategy. Recruiting, program-building, fundraising, glad-handing, press conferences, etc.—these are all things college basketball coaches have to do, but none of those things are coaching. The Coach of the Year award need not (and should not) consider them.

Most sports have a Coach of the Year award. In professional sports, coaches don't get credit for having great players (even if they happen to also be the GM that drafted them) because it's understood that coaching and roster construction are different things, and the Coach of the Year award is for the coaching part. Just because the person called "Coach" happens to both coach and recruit doesn't mean recruiting is coaching. It isn't. It just isn't.

The existing regime for deciding Coach of the Year focuses, appropriately, on coaching: instruction, development, game strategy. That's reasonable and appropriate. There's no need to muddy the waters trying to evaluate the non-coaching duties.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

First impression- Badgers are 5 deep

Always a bad idea to jump to conclusions after one exhibition game, so here it is. 

The starting 5 looked solid. Ford and King looked healthy and more aggressive. Reuvers should be the centerpiece of this offense, but that is a bit of a misnomer as the strength of the offense is the balance. While this group doesn't have an individual defender as good as Iverson, they should be a solid team defense. There is hope that there will be some dribble penetration from this team, but I feel like I always have hope for that at this time of year, and then once they have to play against Big Ten defenses, it goes away. Even so, if this team is relegated to a mostly jump shooting team they should be OK, as they have enough shooters. The trouble is the team after these 5.

With Potter likely out until late December, there is no depth on this team, especially with the bigs. This was already going to be a small team, but without Potter, this team is one injury away from major trouble. Kind of reminds me of the team 2 years ago that I think would have been a "last in" NCAA type team if Trice and King don't get hurt and Davison doesn't play out of position with one arm. That team was weak at guard and lost their guards, while this team is small, and a Reuvers injury (God forbid) would leave them with nothing down low and probably another losing record. 

Pritzl looks like he is satisfied being the strong team player and occasional lights out shooter he was last year. That is fine, but I still can't shake my hope from his freshman year that he would be a bigger Ben Brust. Turns out he just isn't. He won't hurt UW when he comes off the bench, and he at the least allows them to maintain the same style of offense because his shooting still spaces the floor. I imagine he will have some games where he hits 4-6 threes that will tease those old hopes, but he just won't ever be a volume shooter, so his overall contributions will come in other ways. 

Then we have the 2 freshman. Hedstrom does not look ready to play Big Ten basketball yet. He got pushed around a bit by UW Lacrosse players and he looks like he just needs more time to gain confidence and strength. Unfortunately the lack of depth in the front court may force him to play before he is ready, and I fear it may be ugly when he is. If I had written this post after the first half I would have said much the same about Wahl. When he was in the game Lacrosse got the ball to his man and went at him. He looked like an 18 year old kid that needs weight and strength. Ideally he would get limited minutes at the 3 spot this year, get in the weight room, and then play the 4 down the road. He will most likely be forced to play major minutes at the 4 this year and he will struggle to hold up against a more developed 4. I cringe when thinking about him having to guard Xavier Tillman. The second half was much better, minus a horrible fast break turnover pass that belonged in high school. His stat line looked good at the end of the day, so hopefully he develops quickly because there aren't really any other options after him. 

Anderson is the only other guy who will play, and I thought he looked slow last year before the knee injury. He still has a big sleeve on that knee, and I'm not sure what was underneath. If he is playing major minutes it is probably not a good sign, but with all the small lineups and no one else who can play, he may end up playing a role. 

So, with only one game that doesn't even count under their belt, what almost certainly wrong conclusion should we draw about these badgers. If they stay healthy and everyone progresses, this team should be fun and have a ceiling around a top 3-4 Big Ten Finish, and a 4-6 seed in the tournament. The floor looks low however. As I said earlier, they look to be a couple big man injuries from a 14 win team. If I'm making early predictions (and I am), I think they end up as a safely in the tournament team that is dangerous since they get Potter back and play their best basketball in 2020.