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More On Kentucky's Downside

I have received a number of Twitter questions asking how to interpret the Best Case and Worst Case Scenarios in my projections. If you think of a normal bell curve, while most of the mass is in the middle, the tails can stretch out for some distance. I don’t think there is much value in trying to present the full tail for each team when projecting the season. If I reported the true outliers for every team, every team’s range would be ridiculously large. I tried to settle on cut-offs that communicate the relative riskiness of teams.

The real question is how often teams fall within my Best Case/Worst Case range. I have an idea based on past seasons, but since I used those seasons to fit the model, I’m not quite willing to make a definitive statement on that question yet. For now, let me present a couple of outliers from last year.

- What would my new simulation model have projected for Kentucky and Michigan for 2012-2013?

Kentucky 2012-13

Median Simulation : 16th

Best Case: 4th

Worst Case: 43rd

While most of us fell in love with the upside for Kentucky’s starting lineup last year, what we were not accounting for was the fact that Kentucky had very little depth. If Kentucky’s starters were injured or struggled, the downside simulations were quite weak. In fact, based on the number of available at-large bids, Kentucky’s worst case scenario was that of a borderline NCAA/NIT team last year.

And as we saw, the worst case scenario came to fruition. According to Sagarin’s margin-of-victory-based “Predictor”, Kentucky finished 38th last season. According to Ken Pomeroy’s old MOV formula, Kentucky finished 48th. And according to Ken Pomeroy’s new capped MOV formula, Kentucky finished 67th last season.

Michigan 2012-13

Median Simulation: 23rd

Best Case: 6th

Worst Case: 57th

As with Kentucky, Michigan had a relatively large range for a Top 25 team. And the reason for those large ranges is because both teams were relying a ton on freshmen last year. The performance of freshmen is extremely unpredictable. In the end, Michigan finished above my best case scenario at fourth or fifth depending on your preferred MOV system.

While these finishes were just outside my projected range, I am comfortable with both of these. That is because I believe in both cases those were true outlier seasons, far out in the tail.

Despite having what the experts labeled as the 8th-12th best recruiting class in the country, Michigan’s freshmen class was by far the most productive in the country last year. To have freshman Nik Stauskas come in and make 80 threes, to have Mitch McGary play like a superstar in the NCAA tournament, and to have players like Spike Albrecht come out of nowhere and play mistake-free basketball was incredible.

Meanwhile, for Kentucky, just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. From the injury to Nerlens Noel, to the disappointing play of a highly touted transfer PG, to John Calipari’s rare failure to get the Wildcats to buy-in on defense, everything broke the wrong way.

If these are the type of seasons that fall just outside my projected range, I feel fairly confident in the accuracy of my system.

- What does this mean for 2013-2014?

While I am not guaranteeing that Kentucky will finish in the Top 13 this year, my model is essentially saying that this is extremely likely.

Kentucky simply has too much depth for things to completely fall apart this year. As I noted last week, Julius Randle could be a massive underachiever and Will-Cauley Stein could get hurt, and Kentucky would not miss a beat. The only possible weakness on the Wildcats is the lack of depth at the guard positions.

But with a downside of 13th this year instead of 43rd last year, Kentucky fans can be confident that even if things go wrong, the team will still be relevant in March.

- Didn’t I have Michigan rated lower than 23rd in last year’s preseason projections?

Yes, absolutely. Michigan is a huge reason that I added the simulation to the model. What I wanted to be able to do was more effectively emphasize the importance of star players. It is much easier for the winner of a competition to be a role player. And because Michigan had Trey Burke (and to a lesser extent Tim Hardaway), they already had their stars last year. They only had to find role players to fill in around them. I agree that my old model was too pessimistic, and Michigan is a large reason I added a simulation to my model this year.

This also explains why Michigan’s upside remains extremely strong this year. Again, Michigan is going to be relying a lot on unproven players. But with Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson leading the way, if this year’s guards click, the upside for Michigan remains that of a Top 5 team. (The Wolverines also needs McGary to get over his lingering back issues.)

But the real importance of the simulation is the earlier note about depth. This year Maryland, Alabama, NC State, Temple and Vanderbilt have very short benches. Those teams might have competitive rotations, but the lack of scholarship players is a risk. Do not be surprised if injuries derail the season for at least one of these teams.

NCAA Tournament Day 2

As I stuck on truTV on Friday night and soaked up the replays of Florida Gulf Coast’s Chase Fieler taking alley-oop dunks from Brett Comer, I was reminded that it isn’t just the great basketball that makes the NCAA tournament special. It is the other moments as well. It is the sight of Florida Gulf Coast senior Sherwood Brown reveling in the moment. When he started at the school, they weren’t even eligible for the tournament. But with his career reaching his fourth year, he was going to make sure he sucked up every moment. He shook hands with the announcers. He went into the cheerleaders and grabbed a group hug. And in the locker-room, his team celebrated as a family.

Meanwhile, the dejection on Georgetown head coach John Thompson III’s face was equally dramatic. I thought his words were so appropriate. “I told these guys, no matter what people write about you, no matter what happens, I am proud of you.” And he is exactly right. People are going to act like Georgetown failed because the big name brand school with all the resources lost to the small school just joining D1. But this was still a tremendous season. This group of players with no seniors and losing a key starter to academic eligibility still made tremendous strides this season. I was still proud to watch them play this season, even if they were the Goliath knocked off the mountain-top.

And that is truly the beauty of the NCAA tournament. All these teams, win or lose have had tremendous seasons. The X’s and O’s are great. The bracket busters are great. The buzzer beaters are great. But ultimately, the window is short. The moment of opportunity is fleeting. And win or lose, the drama of it all coming to an end is always great theater.

Reckless Abandon

Ole Miss used great strategy against Wisconsin. They used full court pressure, not to cause turnovers, but to make the Badgers waste clock. And while that may seem counter-intuitive, (why slow down a slow team even further?), it worked. The Badgers didn’t have their normal time to probe for good shots. And with Mississippi also switching between man-to-man defense and zone defense to confuse the Badgers even further, Wisconsin had to settle for more bad shots than usual. The Badgers ended the season with a horrific shooting performance. Jared Berggren was 2 of 10, Ryan Evans was 2 of 8, Ben Brust was 2 of 9, Traevon Jackson was 2 of 10. And that was easily enough for a hot Ole Miss team to advance.

In the locker-room, the interview with Ben Brust said it all. In near tears the sophomore noted that this wasn’t the way it was supposed to end for his 5 senior teammates. They were his brothers. They were the only team to beat Michigan and Indiana twice. They had put in too much work, and too much effort to see the team lose without putting up a fight.

Meanwhile, despite Mississippi’s Marshall Henderson’s horrific 1 for 11 start, his coach never chided him. He simply said, “This is your half, take advantage of the moment.” And Henderson responded with 5 of 10 second half shooting.

Indeed this was probably another take-away from Friday. The unbridled teams win in the tournament. Florida Gulf Coast played without fear and Marshall Henderson wins by playing with reckless abandon.

On Friday Illinois played with reckless abandon as well. Freed from the dreaded Big Ten defensive teams that deny fast-break points at all costs, the Illini played like the aggressive team John Groce tried to build early in the year. (I.e. when the team started 12-0 and took three point shots without fear.) I heard a lot of criticism of Illinois taking 31 threes in the game because it opened the door for Colorado to come back, but I completely disagree. Illinois isn’t a great half-court team. They don’t have big guys who can score around the basket. And they aren’t a great passing team. The truth is, they are never going to get a better look than an open three in transition. And on Friday, those threes proved that more often than not in the NCAA tournament, ruthless aggression wins. (Of course those transition threes would not have been possible with great half-court defense. Illinois’s first half steals showed it most dramatically, but when Illinois’ DJ Richardson drew a 5-second closely guarded call in the second half, that might have been the biggest defensive possession of the game.)

The Day's Shocker

Style clashes were everywhere. We had bruising Villanova, going up against the 4-guard lineup of North Carolina. Wait, is that right? Had these teams actually flipped their rolls? Was it true that Villanova actually dominated the points in the paint 38-16 in this one? And yet North Carolina still won.

That was shocking. But it was not nearly as shocking as the news that UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad might actually be 20 years old. That’s right, Muhammad might have pulled a Danny Almonte and faked his age in order to look extra dominant against his competition, and improve his NBA draft stock. Muhammad will still certainly be a top lottery pick in this year’s draft (since it is one of the weakest drafts in recent memory), but I have to think teams will think twice about drafting someone who would lie about something like that for all these years.

And we also learned that sometimes depth does matter in the NCAA tournament. I thought that with all the TV timeouts that teams couldn’t get tired out. But with UCLA’s Travis Wear and Tony Parker each picking up 3 first half fouls, UCLA was forced to keep its five other rotation players in the game at all times. And you could tell at the end of each half that UCLA simply had no energy defensively. They started the game playing lock down defense against the Gophers. But at the end of the first half, the Gophers got whatever they wanted dumping the ball into the paint. Low scoring back-up centers like Elliot Eliason and Maurice Walker dominated. And in the second half, Andre Hollins could pretty much take an exhausted Larry Drew at will. Minnesota caught almost no breaks this season playing in a rugged Big Ten. But UCLA was indeed the perfect first round draw as many experts expected.

Hot and Cold

The real story of the day was the back-and-forth scoring runs. 2013 has been the year when no team has handled success well. Whenever a team looks dominant, it tends to follow that up with its worst performance of the season. And thus perhaps it was not surprising that Friday was the day of hot and cold play.

-Temple led NC State 38-22 at halftime, only to see NC State cut the lead to 74-72 with 2 seconds left. Temple held on for the victory.

-La Salle led 44-26 at halftime, only to see Kansas St. take a 60-58 lead with 6 minutes left in the second half. Again, La Salle put the game away in the final minutes.

-Illinois led Colorado 37-21 at halftime, only to see Colorado take a 44-39 lead in the second half. Illinois then ended with a run of its own to win 57-49.

Finally, Georgetown took an 18-11 lead on Florida Gulf Coast. But FGCU went on a 41-15 run to take 52-33 lead. Then Georgetown had a run to cut the lead to 72-68 before FGCU sealed the game with free throws at the end.

Coaching Questions

After a day like Friday, we could start to question the pedigree of a number of coaches. We could ask how Bo Ryan can post such great margin-of-victory numbers during the regular season each year, but never follow that up with a Final Four run. We can ask what the string of losses to teams seeded 10+ in the tournament really mean for John Thompson III. But in both cases, I think we need to cut these coaches some slack. Bo Ryan never had a true point-guard this season, so for his team to go out with an offensive swoon, shouldn’t really be criticized. His team over-achieved this year. Similarly, John Thompson III’s teams massively over-achieved. It has been clear since November that the offensive weaknesses would likely cause the Hoyas to bow out in the NCAA tournament at some point. There is a reason JT3 won the Big East coach of the year award, and it is because this 15 over 2 match-up was not nearly the mismatch it looked like on paper.

No, the coach that most concerned me on Friday was NC State’s Mark Gottfried. His inability to get his team to buy in on the defensive end is a huge concern. NC State is rarely going to have as much offensive talent as they had this season. And in the newer, stronger ACC, it may never be the preseason pick to win the league again. But without some commitment to teach defensive fundamentals, NC State will never match its fanbase’s rabid expectations.

And perhaps that is why I should end where I began. A day like Friday is as much about ending as it is about winning moments. It is hard for me to believe that NC State senior Richard Howell’s career is over. The hardworking rebounder didn’t earn playing time until later in the career because he was often over-shadowed by more skilled players. But his hustle and grit, made NC State an incredibly fun team to watch the last two seasons. Scott Wood was one of the all-time great three point shooters in the ACC. And in a league with the ACC’s history, that is quite a compliment. And in a blink of an eye, their college basketball careers are over. To see NC State go down in the first round, without a single NCAA tournament win has to go down as one of this season’s biggest disappointments.

Expected Wins in the Field of 64

Once again, I’m tracking the expected wins in the field of 64 using the Pomeroy Rankings. San Diego St. increased its expected wins by 0.61 by knocking off Oklahoma. (See Own Game.) And its odds increased another 0.54 because Georgetown lost and because San Diego St.’s 15 point win increased their Pomeroy Ranking slightly. (See Other.)

Biggest Winners

EW Start Friday

Own Game

Other

EW End Friday

Mississippi

0.49

1.24

0.14

1.86

San Diego St.

0.89

0.61

0.54

2.05

Florida Gulf Coast

0.13

1.10

-0.01

1.22

La Salle

0.58

0.81

0.16

1.55

Iowa St.

0.69

0.79

-0.06

1.43

Temple

0.43

0.75

-0.02

1.16

Illinois

0.83

0.77

-0.09

1.51

North Carolina

0.84

0.64

0.01

1.49

Creighton

1.06

0.61

-0.05

1.61

Minnesota

0.82

0.54

0.01

1.36

Ohio St.

2.46

0.29

0.08

2.83

Miami FL

2.08

0.26

0.07

2.42

Florida

3.36

0.13

0.18

3.67

Indiana

3.22

0.11

0.08

3.41

Gonzaga

2.77

0.00

0.12

2.89

Overall the large number of upsets today meant that most teams gained from the other results. But when Miami advanced in the East that lowered expectations slightly for Marquette. And when Duke advanced that lowered the odds slightly for Louisville.

Biggest Losers

EW Start Friday

Own Game

Other

EW End Friday

Louisville

3.56

0.00

-0.08

3.48

Marquette

2.00

0.00

-0.08

1.91

Iona

0.14

-0.14

0.00

0.00

Pacific

0.14

-0.14

0.00

0.00

UCLA

0.49

-0.49

0.00

0.00

Cincinnati

0.51

-0.51

0.00

0.00

Oklahoma

0.56

-0.56

0.00

0.00

Villanova

0.60

-0.60

0.00

0.00

Colorado

0.76

-0.76

0.00

0.00

Notre Dame

0.82

-0.82

0.00

0.00

North Carolina St.

0.83

-0.83

0.00

0.00

Kansas St.

0.88

-0.88

0.00

0.00

Wisconsin

1.72

-1.72

0.00

0.00

Georgetown

1.92

-1.92

0.00

0.00

Europe Interview: Josh Powell Of Olympiacos

Josh Powell has been fortunate throughout his career to be in a winning situation wherever he goes and has been a part of two NBA title teams. The same happened this season as Powell joined the reigning Euroleague champion Olympiacos Piraeus and is back playing in Europe for the first time since 2005. 

In 16 games with Olympiacos, Powell is averaging 7.9 points and 3.6 rebounds in 16 minutes of action, while the reds are fighting through their way to the Euroleague Top 8 stage. 

RealGM caught up with Josh Powell in Greece for a one-on-one interview to discuss his new team Olympiacos, Euroleague, his career in the NBA, Lakers and much more.

RealGM: You have already spent almost three months with your newest team, Olympiacos, do you feel that you are the member of the current Euroleague champion team?

Powell: Honestly, since I have been here, everything has been a learning process for me. I'm the only new guy coming to the team as most have been established since last year. Guys know each other very well. I'm just trying to come in and fit in, do the best I can do and find my role. Whatever my needs are going to be that is going to help us be as successful as it is possible. 

RealGM: You have played in Europe before, but it’s your first season playing in the Euroleague. Is there anything specific about playing in likely the second best league in the world?

Powell: It’s fun. It is a great experience as you can go to all those different countries and places in Europe. See different cultures and whatever is going on in these individual cities. Of course, the level of competition is very good. I have been having fun and enjoying it since I’ve got here. 

RealGM: How did it feel to be playing against your former teammates Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic, with whom you won back-to-back NBA championships as members of the Lakers? 

Powell: It was fun and it was great to see those guys. It feels like I haven't seen them for such long time, even as we were playing for different teams in the NBA. It was great to see those guys and be able to catch up and see how everybody is doing.

RealGM: You have played against a couple of Final Four contenders such as FC Barcelona Regal, Zalgiris or Caja Laboral. Who made the best impression for you? 

Powell: I would say Caja Laboral. We played them in the first round and second too. I think their chemistry and togetherness is showing right now. I think that makes the biggest difference on the style they play. 

RealGM: Do you see Olympiacos repeating its success this year? 

Powell: I believe in our team. For us, I just think we need to stay healthy and get over this hump. I know we've been having a couple tough games. If we get that chemistry back on when I first got here, I think that the sky is the limit for us. Talent wise, I definitely believe that we're one of the best teams and it is just a matter of putting everything together.

RealGM: You have played in world's largest countries such China, Russia and the United States, and had a chance to taste different cultures as well. What would you distinguish from all this experience? What did surprise you the most?

Powell: Everything is really different in all aspects. How the fans are about the game, how they are with eating, different holidays. Basically everything is very different in its own sense. Here in Greece, they have name days and they celebrate people's names. Chinese New Year was a big two-week thing. They shut down everything and they blow fireworks every night. It's been an exciting experience all-around. Most important is that it helped me to grow and mature as a man first, and as a basketball player second. 

RealGM: During your NBA career, you have never been known as a big man that can shoot from long range, and you also haven't taken a single three-point shot in the Euroleague yet. But last season in Puerto Rico you made four three pointers out of four attempts and finished the game with 34 points and 14 rebounds. So can actually Powell shoot threes or not?

Powell: There is so much in my game that I can do. Whenever I go to a team, I have to find a role and fit in to something that would fit the best for the team. When I played in Puerto Rico, there was a different situation because I was getting a lot of touches and the ball was coming to me. I was in pick-and-roll situation. I just had a chance to show my all-around game. And here is different. Game is different and my role on the team is totally different. I can shoot threes, I even shot threes in the NBA. There is a lot I can do because there's so much that I worked on. But it is important to be able to find where I am going to help this team. Coming here, they already had established with the players and who are going to get touches. I understand that and I just want to try to do whatever it is that I can do to help us be successful. 

RealGM: Moving on to the NBA, do you still catch yourself thinking about those two years you spent with the Lakers?

Powell: That is a part of my life. It's probably one of the best memories I have ever had. It's great being a part of the city and a tradition. Just the whole history behind that team, along with the players and the coaches. It was just a fun time. I was able to experience a lot of things out there. Of course, I started my first year in the L.A. when I was with the Clippers. L.A. was just a great and fun time and a good situation. I enjoyed it and I appreciate everything I went through over there.

RealGM: I believe you still follow your former team. Do you see Lakers getting back on winning track this season? 

Powell: It's crazy because even if you don't follow or don't want to follow it, you can do nothing but hear about it. Everything that has been going on out there is unfortunate. With all the injuries, hiring and firing coaches. So many different things that they've been dealing with. I think they have way too much talent. You still have another half of the season to play and they still have a chance to make some noise and get it together. I wouldn't count them out just yet, but they have to sort it out pretty soon. 

RealGM: You were playing alongside one of the best European playmakers of the past decade, Sarunas Jasikevicius, for some time. How did it feel to be playing together with Saras and why do you think his career in the NBA wasn't as spectacular as in Europe? 

Powell: The thing about him, like anywhere else, you have to be in a position where you are able to play and show what you can do. The year when I was there, I don't think he got too much playing time to be able to show what he can do. He's still a very good player and we actually played against him three weeks ago and he had a really great game. He's a good player, but it's just different. When you go the NBA, hopefully you get to the good team and good situation, where you are going to be able to showcase your talent. There are so many guys that have been on one team for one great year, they go somewhere else and they don't do any good. Or vice versa. There are a lot of factors that play into. It's just a tough thing.  

RealGM: Throughout your NBA career, you played together with many stars. Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Stephen Jackson, Joe Johnson and many others. Who had the most influence on your personal development and your development as a basketball player? With whom did you have the strongest connection?

Powell: Honestly, I was able to take something from everybody. I would probably say Kobe just from a standpoint that the Lakers were the team that I played the longest with. When I was in Dallas, I had just a year to get an eye on Dirk and I kept going from team to team. You just going to pick up and learn as you can as you're going. I had been fortune to be able to start great relationships with a lot of those guys. And a lot of them may not be superstars, guys like Marquis Daniels, Josh Howard. I'm blessed to know them. 

RealGM: Except the 2007-08 season with the Clippers, you never received much playing time, but you still managed to remain in the NBA for such long time. What was your key of success on staying in the league? 

Powell: Honestly, throughout all these years, the Clippers were the best as far as being able to showcase my talent. We deal with so many injuries and when guys went down, I was a starter for around the last two and a half months. I was able to show my game, put up numbers like double doubles. I had couple of games when I had 20-10. Like I said, it just depends on your situation. When I was with the Lakers, I had to find a role. When I was with Dallas and Indiana, I had to find my role and find my niche. But I think the main reason I was able to stick around for so long is just hard work, my mentality and dedication to the game. I loved this game, though blood and tears. I worked my ass off everyday. I probably worked too much, but I loved the game and I just wanted to make sure give it a proper respect. This is the gift that God gave it to me and I want to make sure I do everything while I'm playing it. 

RealGM: You just turned 30, but you have already played for 14 different teams and seen many different players. Would be able to distinguish one guy, who in your opinion, was the hardest working guy you have ever seen? 

Powell: Honestly, on my list I would put myself first. Honestly, I think nobody put in what I put in. Outside of that, I was able to watch Dirk [Nowitzki]. His worth ethic is crazy. It's amazing to see him putting the work he puts in. I was able to workout with Dwight [Howard]. His worth ethic is crazy as well, same as Kobe [Bryant's]. Joe Johnson, for his size being able to be two-guard... He's extremely skilled, very good played and he has a great work ethic as we'll. Those are guys I was able to see and participate in a workouts with them.

RealGM: As you played for so many different teams, I believe you will have plenty of stories to tell to your children. 

Powell: There are many stories, but some of them wouldn't be appropriate to share (laughing). On a good note, seriously, one of the stories that I will not be able to forget is my first NBA game. Just coming to the locker room, getting past the pre-season. I had a chance to get four or five minutes. I think I had like four points and two rebounds or something like that. It just takes your breath away because you're sitting in the arena, watching the game at the moment and thinking “wow, finally, I made it”. Coming from where I came from, everybody was telling what I couldn’t do and I'm not going to make it. I dealt with so many things and so much adversity. It was just a blessing moment that I will never forget. I think we were playing against the Nuggets. It was truly blessing, I had a stats sheet and everything.

Of course, another moment is winning a championship. Nothing is going to be able to top that. Being a part of the championship team. I remember like yesterday, my son was couple months old and we won the second championship when we were in LA. I was able to have him on stage with me. One of the most priceless moments in my life is to be able to show that moment to him. It’s such a great accomplishment to have him and win a championship at the same time. I was fortunate because I was able to go to the finals three times. The winning bug has followed me throughout my career and at least that is the one good thing that I can say when I look back on my career. I have never been a part in anything loosing. Maybe one time. Most of the time, everything was positive.

Comparing The Conferences

The Pac-12 has been suffering through a long dark period. The Big Ten has been dominant (at least in the pre-conference schedule) for the last few years. Should we expect a change this year? Is the Pac-12’s slump over? Is the Big Ten’s boom about to come to an end?

Notes On The 2012 Jordan Brand Classic

Anthony Davis wanted to wear Michael Jordan’s number in this game last year. This year no one chose to wear #23. Maybe people are right when they say this year’s class of high school seniors is missing a larger than life star.

Sweet Sixteen Day 2

What does every coach in the Sweet Sixteen have in common? A great efficiency margin over the last 5 years.

NCAA Tournament Day 4

Twelve of the 16 teams in the Sweet Sixteen were in the preseason AP Top 25, and Michigan St. was among the first teams in the “others receiving votes” category. But Indiana, Ohio, and NC State have all exceeded expectations this season by making it this far.

Major Conference Tournaments Day 4

Baylor broke through, Michigan and Tennessee had huge game tying 3's, but the true action on Friday took place in the A10.

Freshmen Bring Hope

Teams that play a lot of freshmen are the most likely to improve as the season goes on, while those with a lot of experience are more likely to plateau. In this piece, we examine freshmen minutes for every major school in the country.

Surprises And Flops, Part 2

Examining the surprises and flops this season in the Big East, ACC, Big 12 and Atlantic-10.

College Coaches On The Hot Seat

Is there an empirical model to predict when a coach will get fired? The short answer is no, but there is data to suggest who deserves scrutiny.

 

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