Monday, November 28, 2022

Fickell and Chryst

I don’t remember the last time I blogged about football, but with the Fickell hire it seemed like a good idea to post some thoughts. If for no other reason than so that Torvik can throw it back in my face in 10 years when I’m wrong. 

First, I didn’t like how Chryst went out. I don’t know (and I don’t think anyone else does either) what went down between Chryst and McIntosh, but it doesn’t sit well. He averaged 9 wins a year and should have had a chance to turn the season around. Good guy, good coach, got a raw deal at the end. It’s entirely possible the criticism of Chryst is valid, and the program was going downhill. The recruiting department took some hits, the offense was bad again, Chryst seemed to struggle with diving into NIL and the dirty business this will entail for college programs here on out. Still, he had a formula that worked at UW and I think he would have continued rolling out 9 wins a year for the next decade given the chance. We’ll never know what that universe would have looked like, nor the one where Jimmy Leonard took over the program, nor the one where Chryst was fired last year and replaced with Leonard like many wanted. So what are we looking at. I’ll draw up 3 possibilities and what I think of each.

 1) Fickell takes WI to the next level and makes them a perineal power, B1G title and National Championship contender. This seems like the most unlikely scenario, but also the expectation that McIntosh and the majority of the fan base are putting on him. He caught lightning in a bottle with mostly 3 star guys at Cincy and went to the playoff, so why not here? Just rinse and repeat in Cardinal and White, right? So with this we are basically banking on the fact Fickell is another Barry or Bo. A genius who can take middling players (athletically) and turn them into champions through training, scheme, etc. I guess it’s possible, but I’m not hopeful. Chance of this scenario- less than 5%.

2)  Fickell takes WI straight into the tank. This is the horror scenario, and I think we narrowly avoided this already when Gary Anderson left us (thank God). If you think this can’t happen just look at what happened to MI between Carr and Harbaugh, or look at Nebraska today (one of the most storied programs in college football with rabid fans, great facilities, and solid recruiting). That could be us. Fickell could be our RichRod changing the scheme, changing the recruiting, and losing an already fickle and quick to bail fan base. If it goes this way it may never come back. Barry was a great but also lucky hire. Other than Fickell, no other hot coach in demand has wanted this job despite 2 recent openings when Anderson and Chryst were hired. If the program tanks, it will take another Barry to resurrect it, and those guys are hard to come by. Chance of this scenario less than 20%. 

3)  Fickell spends the next 6-9 years at UW and wins about 9 games a year. He has a couple years where we overperform and make it into an expanded playoff with 11-12 wins, and a few years we underperform and barely make a bowl game. Sound familiar? It should because this is what we are. We won’t get to the next level because of recruiting. Fickell said in his press conference we will recruit “within the 300 mile radius”. That’s because almost all kids stay within that range of home when picking a school. We just don’t have enough 4 and 5 star kids within 300 miles to compete with schools in Ohio, Florida, Texas, etc. that have 10 times what we have right next to home. We will bring in 3 star kids, we will develop them, we will get some special kids here and there that take us to double digit wins. That won’t sustain a championship level program though year in and year out, you just need more 4 and 5 star kids that live nearby, and we just don’t have that. Chance of this scenario- greater than 75%.  

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Random thoughts on the Eau Claire exhibition game

In no special order, here are some things I thought about during the Badgers Exhibition game against Eau Claire today.

No huge red flags. Barring injuries this team should be fine. There were not constant defensive lapses like in Davison's first year where the team was clearly lost. Outside of Essegian, the shooting was bad. Probably not bad enough to tank the season, but bad enough to hold them back. 

Essegian's first three point shot attempt was a nervous miss, but his last attempt was a thing of beauty. Clearly he had some nerves being on the floor at first, but was working hard and hustling. There was not a ton of confidence in the first shot. On his last 3 point attempt he caught, set, and shot in one super quick motion that showed why he will be in the rotation this year. 

It was super quiet when the badgers were on defense. After 5 years of Davison constantly yelling out screens and defensive calls very loudly, the silence on the defensive side of the court was very noticeable. There were still screen calls and the defense didn't seem to have any major problems with communication, it was just very different after so many years of hearing Davison call out everything. 

Backup point guard- McGee got first crack at it, and if needed he could give Chucky a rest for 4 minutes a half. He got yanked early in the second half when he made a terrible full court pass into traffic that got intercepted. The other option they used was Klesmit at point with Wahl and Gilmore for support. Klesmit is not natural there so I'm not sure this was a better option, but Wahl has run point as a forward before and could do this again if McGee isn't doing enough to earn minutes. 

Wahl was the best player on the court. He was aggressive offensively both getting his own shot and getting others theirs including pushing the ball to get into transition (although not often, it is the badgers). I expect Wahl to lead this team in scoring. He has developed an almost Happ like touch around the basket, and if he can get anything on the perimeter he will be a a very tough cover. 

The Badgers continued switching most screens but went over on some too. Once they play a better opponent it will be interesting to see if this changes, but seems like mostly switching is the defense going forward. On a few occasions they did bring help down or toward the top of the key from the weak side of the floor perimeter defender. This gave help but left that player open from three. I don't remember the badgers doing this much before, and maybe it was just because that player did not need to be guarded from 3. It's a different way to help, but we'll see if they do it at all going forward. 

The starting 5 looked fine outside of Chucky's shooting woes. This could be the starting 5 all year or not, but I think it's safe to say these 5 will be part of the 7-8 guys getting significant minutes this year. The other 2-3 guys are not as clear. Below is what I saw from others trying to get into that group. 

Essegian seems likely to be in that group. His shooting is just too valuable on a team where that is a weakness. He'll get yanked a lot and have stretches where he struggles but we just don't have anyone else like him. 

I was a Carter Gilmore hater last year. Hopefully I will not be one at the end of this year, as he looks to be in that group of significant contributors. He was fine today but still is very hesitant to shoot on offense, and he needs to be willing to do that. With no other big man depth, he will probably be asked to do more than you want to put on him. 

Will there be an 8th guy or just a bunch of people rotating in? Neath seems like the most likely option to get a bunch of minutes of what is left. He was not good today and picked up a couple fouls being way too aggressive. He also jacked up a long mid range 2 off the dribble, that looked like a selfish "I haven't got any shots up today so I'm jacking this no matter what" type of play. Still, his size and defensive versatility give him the ability to guard 4 spots, so he is probably the 8th guy. 

Mcgee- See above about PG. I think his ceiling is he plays 4 minutes a half to get Chucky a rest, but it's also possible they let others play point and he only gets spot duty. 

Hodges- I had hoped (based on nothing) that he would be able to play since there is no frontcourt depth. I think he was the 11th guy off the bench in the first half, and was still on the court with the walkons to close out the game, so that is not promising. When he was in, he did some good things, but it seems likely he does not play much unless fouls/injuries require it. 

Ilver- He does have some smoothness to him but I can't help but think Van Vliet. Totally unfair to him, but it keeps popping in my head. He also did some nice things when on the floor, but was also out there with the walkons at the end of the game. 

Lindsey- Never know, but I doubt he gets of the bench except garbage time. 

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 greater 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 difference 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.