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Every Player In The Sweet Sixteen

Today I want to talk about all 154 players that have made some noise for the teams in the Sweet Sixteen this year. While I am ignoring a handful of players who stayed glued to the bench all year, today I will discuss everyone else, from the role players to the superstars.

Injured or kicked off the team (8): Iowa St.’s Georges Niang, Arizona’s Brandon Ashley, Michigan’s Mitch McGary, Stanford’s Aaron Bright, Tennessee’s Robert Hubbs, Florida’s Eli Carter, Louisville’s Chane Behanan and Kevin Ware.

Niang is the most recent player to get injured, but he certainly isn’t the first. Perhaps the most interesting story belongs to Kevin Ware. A year ago, he broke his leg. In the fall, he was back playing in an exhibition. But some combination of off-court issues and injuries have caused him to no longer travel with Louisville this season.

New to lineup thanks to those injuries (3): Iowa St.’s Daniel Edozie, Arizona’s Elliott Pitts and Jordin Mayes.

With Niang and Ashley going down, these players have seen their minutes tick up lately. But we still don’t know very much about how good these players can be. As much as injuries hurt, sometimes the best news is that the opposition doesn’t have a detailed scouting report on these players yet.

Cut from the rotation late in the year (15): Baylor’s Ish Wainwright, Connecticut’s Omar Calhoun and Tyler Olander, Dayton’s Devon Scott and Kyle Davis, Florida’s Devon Walker and Jacob Kurtz, Kentucky’s Dominique Hawkins, Louisville’s Tim Henderson, Michigan St.’s Alex Gauna and Russell Byrd, San Diego St.’s Dakarai Allen, Stanford’s Grant Verhoeven, Tennessee’s AJ Davis, Virginia’s Darion Atkins.

These players may play a few minutes this weekend. And one or two might even play a larger role if there is some unexpected foul trouble. But all these players have seen their minutes cut at the end of the year. The reasons are fairly straightforward. Everyone on this list either has a low ORtg or never shoots. And you can’t afford to put non-scorers on the floor in the NCAA tournament.

Never plays but you should care (1): Florida’s Chris Walker.

Walker was an elite recruit but eligibility issues prevented him from practicing with Florida for most of the year. If Florida can get a commanding lead and get to garbage time, look for him to get a monster dunk.

They started as walk-ons (2): Kentucky’s Jarrod Polson and Stanford’s Robbie Lemons.

Because both teams lack guard depth these two players will sometimes play meaningful minutes. They are mainly in to help with ball-handling.

One game wonders? (2): Virginia’s Evan Nolte and Connecticut’s Terrence Samuel

Nolte was starting to fall out of the rotation but he hit two huge threes against Coastal Carolina when the game was still in doubt. Samuel scored a career high 11 points in the NCAA tournament game against Villanova.

He’s a big body (4): Wisconsin’s Duje Dukan, Michigan St.’s Gavin Schilling, Tennesee’s Derek Reese, Arizona’s Matt Korcheck.

The rotation patterns suggest these team’s head coaches are not in love with these players. They play because big men get in foul trouble and need rest. But these players are only on the court for short stretches. Schilling is one of only two Spartans to play in every game this season.

Defensive subs (8):

Player

Team

Steal Rate

Block Rate

Justin Anderson

Virginia

1.1

4.1

Dwayne Polee

San Diego St.

3.7

3.3

Lasan Kromah

Connecticut

3.1

1.8

Aqeel Quinn

San Diego St.

2.8

0.4

Alvin Ellis III

Michigan St.

2.7

1.2

Armani Moore

Tennessee

2.3

5

Kendall Pollard

Dayton

2.3

4.2

Marcus Allen

Stanford

2.3

0.7

Defensive subs is sometimes a code word for “this guy can’t shoot.” That isn’t quite fair to everyone on this list. Dwayne Polee is actually a pretty solid spot-up shooter. But it is fair to say that none of these guys are scoring stars. They get their hands on steals, or in Justin Anderson’s case, they block a lot of shots from the wing position. And that still earns them some rotation time.

Get the opening tip, then come sit on the bench (2): Connecticut’s Philip Nolan and Dayton’s Matt Kavanaugh.

Despite starting a ton of games for these two teams, these two play shockingly few minutes.

Defensive rebounding specialists (6):

Player

Team

DR%

Jon Horford

Michigan

25.6

Josh Davis

San Diego St.

24.9

Akil Mitchell

Virginia

23.7

Dustin Hogue

Iowa St.

20.5

Cory Jefferson

Baylor

20.8

Will Yeguete

Florida

18.6

There are elite defensive rebounders in the groups that will follow (Kenny Kaminsky, Rico Gathers, Branden Dawson, Kyle Anderson, Jarnell Stokes, Adreian Payne, Julius Randle), but for these six, it is their defining quality.

Two point scorers (7):

Player

Team

eFG%

Royce O’Neale

Baylor

61.6

Anthony Gill

Virginia

59.7

Kaleb Tarczewski

Arizona

57.6

Stefan Nastic

Stanford

57.4

Norman Powell

UCLA

57.3

Travis Wear

UCLA

56.1

David Wear

UCLA

55.7

These are all players with a high eFG% without taking a lot of threes. I am cheating a bit with this category, as these players do not have all that much in common. But I honestly did not know what to do with these guys. They aren’t great rebounders, they are not really their team’s primary ball-handlers, and they aren’t three point gunners. But they can all score when you get them the ball inside the arc.

O’Neale is probably the most versatile player on the list. He has solid assist numbers, makes wide open threes, and is decent on the boards. But he makes 56% of his twos and that is probably his biggest contribution at this point.

Rim Protectors (7):

Player

Team

DR%

Block%

Amida Brimah

Connecticut

11.3

15.4

Willie Cauley-Stein

Kentucky

16.0

12.2

Isaiah Austin

Baylor

13.5

11.9

Skylar Spencer

San Diego St.

11.8

11.5

Mangok Mathiang

Louisville

13.2

9.9

Matt Costello

Michigan St.

14.8

9.8

Mike Tobey

Virginia

12.3

7

I might be stretching a bit with Tobey, but these are the best shot-blockers left in the field.

No one left in this tournament is both an elite shot-blocker and defensive rebounder. These guys are all tall and explosive enough to have defensive rebounding rates above 20%, but none of them come close. Because these guys go for blocks, they tend to be out of position when fighting for defensive boards.

When you get the offensive rebound, it is easier to score (16):

Player

Team

OR%

Rico Gathers

Baylor

18.2

Dakari Johnson

Kentucky

17.5

Jeronne Maymon

Tennessee

13.9

Stephan Van Treese

Louisville

13.9

Branden Dawson

Michigan St.

13.3

Jordan Morgan

Michigan

12.8

Patric Young

Florida

12.8

Tony Parker

UCLA

12.5

Dorian Finney-Smith

Florida

12.1

Alex Poythress

Kentucky

11.6

Dyshawn Pierre

Dayton

10.6

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Arizona

10.5

Jalen Robinson

Dayton

10.5

Taurean Prince

Baylor

8.7

J.J. O`Brien

San Diego St.

8.3

Winston Shepard

San Diego St.

7.2

Most of these guys are not skilled offensive players, but by getting offensive rebounds, they tend to get high quality put-backs. Shepard is a surprisingly good passer for a rebounder of his size.

Finney-Smith is a little hard to classify, but given his shooting woes this year, his put-backs are probably his greatest contribution.

The Shooters (26):

Do not leave these players open:

Player

Team

3P%

3PM

3PA

Michael Frazier II

Florida

44%

110

248

Brady Heslip

Baylor

46%

109

235

Ben Brust

Wisconsin

39%

89

229

Jordan Sibert

Dayton

43%

79

184

Joe Harris

Virginia

40%

70

173

Luke Hancock

Louisville

34%

65

192

Naz Long

Iowa St.

41%

63

154

Zak Irvin

Michigan

41%

58

142

Caris LeVert

Michigan

41%

57

139

Gabe York

Arizona

39%

56

144

Niels Giffey

Connecticut

52%

55

106

Anthony Brown

Stanford

45%

52

115

Zach LaVine

UCLA

38%

48

125

Josh Gasser

Wisconsin

46%

47

103

DeAndre Daniels

Connecticut

45%

46

103

Khari Price

Dayton

41%

46

113

Wayne Blackshear

Louisville

40%

45

112

Matt Thomas

Iowa St.

34%

44

130

Sam Dekker

Wisconsin

32%

39

121

Devin Oliver

Dayton

39%

37

95

Kenny Kaminski

Michigan St.

49%

37

75

Matt Shrigley

San Diego St.

35%

35

100

Josh Richardson

Tennessee

34%

33

96

John Gage

Stanford

36%

26

73

Josh Huestis

Stanford

34%

25

74

Bronson Koenig

Wisconsin

32%

19

60

A lot of these guys don't fit in just one category. Luke Hancock and Anthony Brown are very good at driving and getting fouled. Wayne Blackshear is a versatile defender. Devin Oliver and Josh Huestis are great rebounders. Sam Dekker is a very good driver for a big man. Regardless, you don't want to leave any of these guys open.

Pass-First PGs (13):

Player

Team

ORtg

A%

A/TO

T.J. McConnell

Arizona

112.5

31.1

3.1

Kasey Hill

Florida

99.0

25.5

2.0

Darius Thompson

Tennessee

104.3

25.2

2.7

Spike Albrecht

Michigan

127.0

24.8

4.6

London Perrantes

Virginia

118.3

24.3

3.6

Scoochie Smith

Dayton

88.7

20.7

1.8

Monte Morris

Iowa St.

125.2

20.5

5.0

Derrick Walton Jr.

Michigan

112.3

20.3

1.9

Gary Franklin

Baylor

105.1

19.9

1.7

Bryce Alford

UCLA

110.3

19.2

2.1

Travis Trice

Michigan St.

118.2

18.9

2.3

Terry Rozier

Louisville

116.9

17.0

3.0

Antonio Barton

Tennessee

111.1

15.8

2.2

Hill, Thompson, Smith, and Franklin are the only guys without a solid jump shot, and that hurts their ORtg overall. But Hill makes up for it by getting to the free throw line at an elite rate. Barton has not been an effective creator this year and thus the ball-handling duties have fallen more on Tennessee's Jordan McRae.

Scoring and Passing (7):

Player

Team

PPG

PctPoss

ORtg

A%

A/TO

Kenny Chery

Baylor

11.5

23.1

115.6

34

2.3

Keith Appling

Michigan St.

11.7

21.5

110.1

26.3

2.2

Traevon Jackson

Wisconsin

10.8

22.5

107

25

1.8

Andrew Harrison

Kentucky

11

21.7

104

23.1

1.4

Ryan Boatright

Connecticut

11.9

22.5

104.7

22

1.8

Chris Jones

Louisville

10.4

21.7

110.2

20.6

2.1

Vee Sanford

Dayton

9.9

25

103.4

17.5

1.2

Appling, Jackson, and Harrison live at the FT line. Appling is obviously still not 100%, and the biggest question left in this tournament is whether Appling's injury will hurt Michigan St. when they play a close game against a quality opponent.

The stats don’t tell the story (3): Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes, Michigan’s Glenn Robinson, and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon.

Aaron Gordon should be a lottery pick in the draft, but when you look at his stats, he doesn’t dominate in any statistical category. But I strongly believe the stats are missing something here. Sean Miller has taken a team to the NCAA tournament 7 times, but he’s never had a Top 10 defense in his career until this season. And I believe Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson are largely responsible for the peak defensive success. Gordon has an incredible ability to both help in the lane and close out on three point shooters. Gordon has a superstar level impact even if that isn’t reflected in the stats.

Glenn Robinson has seen his draft stock slip substantially this season, and his numbers aren’t great. But he is still an impressive player in the open floor and he has the athleticism to frustrate opposing players.

Finally, Nigel Hayes is statistically a liability for the Badgers. He is one of the least efficient players on the team. But what makes him so important is that Hayes is the Badgers only true inside big man. Hayes has a free throw rate of 94, meaning he gets 94 FTs for every 100 shots he takes. For a perimeter oriented Badger team, he provides some key balance.

They Do Everything! (5):

Player

Team

PPG

DR%

A%

Steal%

Shabazz Napier

Connecticut

17.8

15.2

30.9

3.0

Kyle Anderson

UCLA

14.7

25.4

34.3

3.0

Dwight Powell

Stanford

13.9

17.3

20.5

2.3

Malcolm Brogdon

Virginia

12.6

17.3

19.4

2.4

Denzel Valentine

Michigan St.

8.1

18.3

23.0

1.9

Napier is one of the best rebounding guards you will ever see. Brogdon is a super-versatile wing player. And Anderson and Powell are talented playmakers with the size of forwards. Valentine doesn't have the scoring of the others, but he's still a dynamic point forward. Other than Powell, all are quality three point shooters too.

The Pure Scorers (19):

These players all score a lot, but let’s break down the contributing factors. Jarnell Stokes is scoring a lot despite Tennessee’s slow tempo. Adreian Payne is scoring a lot, despite playing limited minutes.  Meanwhile Russ Smith is the highest volume scorer left in the field, and Nik Stauskas is the most efficient.

Player

Team

PPG

Tempo

PctMin

PctPoss

ORtg

Nik Stauskas

Michigan

17.4

62.7

85.4

23.7

124.5

Frank Kaminsky

Wisconsin

13.6

63.7

66.3

24.9

123.0

Jordan Adams

UCLA

17.4

70.1

72.6

25.6

121.7

Xavier Thames

San Diego St.

17.3

63.4

77.3

27.6

120.6

Montrezl Harrell

Louisville

14.0

69.1

72.9

22.1

117.6

Jarnell Stokes

Tennessee

15.2

62.8

80.3

26.0

117.4

Aaron Harrison

Kentucky

14.1

66.5

79.7

20.7

116.6

Jordan McRae

Tennessee

18.6

62.8

79.4

28.6

115.8

Casey Prather

Florida

14.1

62.8

66.8

25.2

115.4

Russ Smith

Louisville

18.1

69.1

72.9

30.8

114.5

Nick Johnson

Arizona

16.3

64.6

80.7

24.8

114.4

Gary Harris

Michigan St.

16.9

66.4

73.2

25.5

114.1

Adreian Payne

Michigan St.

16.6

66.4

55.1

27.2

114.0

Melvin Ejim

Iowa St.

18.1

71.9

74.3

25.8

113.0

Chasson Randle

Stanford

18.7

67.0

87.0

25.5

112.9

Scottie Wilbekin

Florida

13.1

62.8

72.4

21.5

112.9

Julius Randle

Kentucky

15.1

66.5

75.9

26.3

111.2

DeAndre Kane

Iowa St.

17.1

71.9

84.2

26.7

110.9

James Young

Kentucky

14.3

66.5

80.1

22.0

110.4

Harrell, Stokes, and Julius Randle are all monster offensive rebounders. Other than those three and Casey Prather, all these players are dangerous from three point range. Surprisingly, Jordan Adams has the best steal rate, though Russ Smith isn't far behind. Kane and Smith are also dynamic passers and creators for their teammates.

Notes On 2013 ACC-Big Ten Challenge

Although there wasn’t a conference crowned the champion of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge because of a tied 6-6 outcome, plenty of story lines and questions emerged from the event. We take a glance into some intriguing aspects seen in the challenge.

Syracuse Backcourt is Special

There was a big void to fill at Syracuse with the departures of Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche, but freshman point guard Tyler Ennis and junior shooting guard Trevor Cooney showed in a 69-52 win over Indiana that they are more than capable of taking over the backcourt.

Ennis impressed in an all-around display with 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting to go with eight assists, seven rebounds, and only one turnover in 38 minutes of action. He’s a mature, pass-first floor general who makes an impact in all areas of the game.

Cooney adds a lights-out shooter next to Ennis. In the win over Indiana, Cooney had a game-high 21 points on 6-of-12 shooting with a 5-for-9 showing from three-point range. With his ability to stretch the floor, Cooney opens up driving lanes and leaves a risky decision for defenders who leave him to play help defense. With the new backcourt leading Syracuse, the Orange are a legitimate championship contender.

"They played well. They really have the whole Hawaii trip," Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said of Ennis and Cooney in an article by Brent Axe of Syracuse.com.

"Those two kids have really played well. One is a first-year player and the other guy didn't play a lot last year. I don't think you could ask them to play on a higher level than what they played. It's really amazing the level they have played. They have really picked up the whole team. I don't think you can say enough about the way they played this year."

Cook Shows Potential

Duke may have two future lottery picks in Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, but it was sophomore point guard Quinn Cook who led the Blue Devils to their biggest win of the early season.

Cook did it all, with 24 points, nine assists, four rebounds, and two steals in the victory. Despite Jabari Parker’s lowest scoring outcome of the season, Duke was never panicked because of the stellar play from its point guard.

“Quinn was magnificent,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski told Steve Wiseman of The Herald Sun. “Even though he didn’t score in the first half he managed the team well. We told him to be very aggressive in the second half.”

If Cook can remain a consistent scoring option for Duke then the Blue Devils will be tough to defeat. Another scoring option would certainly help relieve Parker and Hood, who are combining for 48% of Duke’s total scoring.

Rice Playing Inspired

Despite a 67-64 loss to Georgia Tech, Rayvonte Rice of Illinois showed that he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder this season.

The hometown native of Champaign wasn’t offered a scholarship to Illinois out of high school and signed with Drake, where he averaged 13.8 points per game during his freshman season and 16.8 in his sophomore year. When Bruce Weber was fired and John Groce replaced him, Rice saw an opportunity to transfer to his dream school and Groce was more than accepting of a new addition. "I don't know if I've seen a guy who's sitting out on a transfer make the number of strides that Ray did," Groce told Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune. "It's hard for guys … to understand that there's a light at the end of the tunnel and they have to grind every day to get to that light. He grinded."

After sitting out last season due to transfer rules, Rice is averaging 18 points and 5.9 rebounds per game this year. He had 24 points against Georgia Tech on 8-for-15 shooting.

Charles Odum from the AP added, “Rice, a junior transfer from Drake, is the first player to score in double figures in his first eight games at Illinois since Kiwane Garris opened his career with 10 straight games of 10 or more points in the 1993-94 season.”

With the loss of Brandon Paul, Illinois needed the talent that Rice has provided.

Michigan Misses Burke

It’s surprising that a team who returned three potential first round picks is 5-3 early on with losses to Iowa State and Charlotte, but Michigan is off to a slow start which was highlighted in a 79-69 defeat to Duke. It wasn’t a game the Wolverines were expected to win, but the ten-point margin seemed much closer than the game actually looked.

Michigan has gotten decent play at the point guard position from freshman Derrick Walton, but there are big shoes to fill when replacing the National Player of the Year. Burke simply took this team to another level that this year’s team lacks. Walton is averaging less than half the amount of points (8.6) and assists (3.0) that Burke did last season (18.6 and 6.7). Again, it’s a very tough position for the freshman to be thrown in, but it shows exactly how big Burke was to the lineup.

“I think I just need to keep remaining confident in myself, and the inconsistency will go out the window,” Walton told Adam Renuart of isportsweb.com.

Despite being held without a field goal against Duke, Nik Stauskas has shown his scoring ability by scoring 20 points or more in five of the seven games he’s played in this season. He was also returning from an ankle injury, which may have limited his impact. Caris LeVert has also shown progress, but this team is far from where they want to be.

However, we must remember that it’s still early in the season and the youngsters will adjust. Head coach John Beilein added, “They are 19 year old kids trying to figure things out, and the coaches don’t have all the answers either. It’s a game.”

We Still Don’t Know UNC

With wins over Michigan State and Louisville, the Tar Heels could be considered a top ten team. But, then again, with losses to Belmont and UAB, North Carolina may just be the most unpredictable group in the country.

Part of the equation may revolve around sophomore point guard Marcus Paige. When Paige scores over 20 points, UNC is 3-0, but when he scores under the 20 point mark, the Tar Heels are 2-2. With such a reliance on Paige’s scoring, North Carolina must get points from Paige each game. He’s also the only threat from behind the arc, as Paige has taken 66 percent of North Carolina’s attempts from three point range. Even more shockingly, he’s made 86 percent of the team’s three pointers.

There’s also the uncertainty of a backup scoring option. Brice Johnson, James Michael McAdoo, and J.P. Tokoto have shown flashes of supporting this role, but there’s a lack of consistency in the scoring department.

North Carolina has been the most unpredictable team this season, but the win over Michigan State will be a quality victory on the resume during the selection process.

"You can't tell in college basketball what's going to happen," North Carolina head coach Williams said to CBS Sports. Safe to say, this will be a long, fun season.

From The Champions Classic To Cupcake Week, Part 1

Inside Marquette’s 35 Point Game

College basketball scores in the 30s are not completely rare. But when a team rated in the preseason Top 20 scores only 35 points at home, when a team picked to win the Big East scores only 0.54 points per possession, that does raise a few eyebrows. And that is exactly what we saw as Marquette lost at home to Ohio St. on Saturday.

Marquette’s 20 turnovers were egregious, but the stat that stuck out to me was that Marquette made only 19% of its FGs (10 of 53) in the game. Since I accidentally heard that outcome before watching the game on my DVR, I decided to track exactly how Marquette missed those 43 shots. Was this simply a case of Marquette’s players missing open looks? Or was this a case of strong defense denying clean shots?

According to my informal tally, Marquette missed only 6 easy inside baskets. The most egregious came with 9:30 left in the second half when Todd Mayo stole the ball and completely whiffed on the wide-open lay-up in transition. Another egregious error came on a gorgeous give-and-go passing play which resulted in a missed lay-up with 6:45 left in the game. Marquette also missed 6 wide-open threes, and 2 wide-open jumpers. Thus I would argue that only 14 of Marquette’s 43 missed shots were good shots.

I also counted Marquette as taking 5 threes with a defender closing out late. One involved an off-balance pick, and most involved pull-up jumpers off no action, the kind of three an offensive player can get at any point in the shot-clock. There was also 1 missed half-court heave before halftime. Thus if you feel particularly generous, you might say that Marquette got 20 clean looks.

But according to my tally the other 23 shots Marquette took were extremely low percentage shots. There were clean blocks, partial blocks, underhand lay-up attempts from so far out they had no chance, contested jumpers from the free throw line, threes that players had no business taking, and a multitude of shots in the lane when surrounded by two or three defenders.

When we talk about how match-ups matter in sports, this game might just be the poster-child for that. Marquette’s offense is not based on jump-shooting. The Golden Eagles made just 30% of their threes last year, which was 323rd in the nation. Instead Marquette relies on spreading the floor and using different players to drive and attack.

But Ohio St. might just be the best team in the nation at defending penetration. Certainly Aaron Craft has a lot to do with that, but now that Ohio St. no longer has to cover up for DeShaun Thomas on defense, the Buckeyes can put a lineup of five athletic defenders on the floor at once. And that combination of speed and quickness forced Marquette to settle for some of the worst looking shots they will take all year.

I do think Marquette head coach Buzz Williams needs to do some soul searching at this point. It is inexcusable to have Marquette’s best offensive player, Davante Gardner, coming off the bench when the offense does not have many proven scorers. And it is inexcusable not to design more plays to get Gardner the ball. But this is also a case where we should give Ohio St. a lot of credit for what happened. To force an elite team into 20 turnovers and 23 terrible shots on its home floor is truly dominant.

Michigan’s Levert Falls Back to Earth in Loss to Iowa St.

Michigan’s team is extremely young and John Beilein’s teams typically get better as the year progresses. Mitch McGary was rusty on Sunday and Glenn Robinson was limping late in the game against Iowa St. There is no reason the Wolverines cannot be a Top 10 team by the end of the year.

But if you want to look for a long-term hole for the Wolverines, Michigan’s loss on Sunday still exposed one. Heading into the season I feared Michigan’s limited guard depth. And even though many people were raving about Caris Levert this summer, I remained skeptical. ESPN had Levert ranked as the 69th best SG in the country in 2012. And he had an eFG% of just 39% last year. But Levert did score 17 and 24 points to open the season. So I was fascinated to see how he would do against real competition.

Sadly, Levert did not pass the test. Despite playing 37 minutes, Levert notched just 2 assists and 5 points on 2 of 9 shooting. And if the number of wide open threes Iowa St. got are any indication, Levert’s defense was not perfect either. It was only one game, but with Levert’s good games coming against cupcakes, the jury is still out on Michigan’s guard depth.

Cupcake Week

ESPN likes to name the various weeks of basketball, “Championship Week”, “Rivalry Week”, “Feast Week”. I feel like we should just go ahead and label this week as “Cupcake Week”. With a small number of exceptions, the time between the Champions Classic and the Holiday Tournaments is some of the least watchable college basketball on the calendar.

I hate these games because I feel like you never get a real feel for any of the teams. Small conference schools play too much zone defense; coaches experiment with unrealistic lineups; players who should never take threes take them with reckless abandon; the games are just ugly.

Can you ignore these games? The short answer is yes. I don’t have an advanced model of predicting NCAA performance. But I have been playing around with a toy model. And I have found that if you just count games against quality competition, you learn almost everything you can learn. Including the margin-of-victory in games against cupcakes only improve the fit of my toy model by about 3%.

In fact, cupcake performances are sometimes completely misleading. To take one extreme example, in 2009-10 Oregon beat Winston-Salem 94-43, UC Davis 95-64, Montana St. 89-66, Mississippi Valley St. 79-51, and Arkansas Pine Bluff 73-53. Those games made it seem like Oregon had a Pythagorean winning percentage over 0.900. But it was fools’ gold. Oregon lost to all sorts of quality mid-major squads (like Portland, Montana, and St. Mary’s), finished 10-16 against quality opponents, finished 7-11 in the Pac-10, and Ernie Kent was fired.

Now this is an extreme example. Someone with a better modeling approach may be able to learn more from these cupcake games. But I don’t think saying that cupcake games have less information is that controversial. By weighting recent games more heavily and capping margin-of-victory, Ken Pomeroy essentially lowers the value of these games in his ranking system. And almost every major ranking system makes similar adjustments.

The only reason I can see to care about cupcake games is that right now we don’t know much of anything. Cupcake games might be weak signals of quality, but they are all we have right now. And there is at least some correlation between cupcake games and how teams will do against quality opponents later. The figures in the next section are designed to show that.

From Cupcakes to Quality Opponents

In the following charts, I am only looking at power conference teams. I define a cupcake game as a game against a team with a Pythagorean rating below .500. I break power conference squads into 5 buckets based on how they perform against cupcakes. Then I show how the teams in each bucket fare against quality opponents.

To take the first chart as an example, I show teams with a Pyth. winning percentage over .950 against cupcakes. I show that these teams have a 2% chance of finishing with a Pyth. rating between .700 and .800, a 17% chance of finishing with a Pyth. rating between .800 and .900, and a 81% chance of finishing with a Pyth. rating above .900.

The first chart shows teams like Wisconsin, Duke, and Indiana last year. These are teams that completely obliterated their cupcake opponents. If you do that, there is over an 80% chance your team will end up with a Pyth. rating  above .900 at the end of the year, which would roughly correspond to a Top 15 squad.

Last year’s Kentucky team fell in the dreaded 2%. They crushed several cupcakes early in the year, fell apart as the season progressed, and finished with a Pyth. rating below .800.

0

 

The next figure shows where teams finish if they have a Pyth. rating between 0.900 and 0.950 against cupcakes. The Oregon 2010 squad I listed above falls in this category.

 

The next figure shows where teams finish if they have a Pyth. rating between .800 and .900 against cupcakes. Last year’s Marquette squad falls in this category. While they beat UMBC by 33, they also had some close games such as their 9 point win over NC Central and their 11 point win over SE Louisiana. Around 28% of these teams are going to finish below .800 and miss the tournament.

The next figure shows where teams finish if they have a Pyth. rating between .700 and .800 against cupcakes. Last year’s Providence squad fell in this category. 

 

Finally, the last figure shows teams with Pyth. ratings below .700 against cupcakes. These are the teams that look very shaky, often with multiple losses to bad teams.

Fortunately, even when teams look shaky against cupcakes, their season doesn’t have to be over. 15% of the power conference teams that look very shaky against cupcakes will finish above .800 which is the cutoff for a typical at-large tournament team.

Last year Illinois beat Hawaii and Gardner Webb by 1 point each and yet made the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. Illinois is an example of a team on the right hand side of this chart.

Bottom Line: Cupcake games have some predictive power, but your eyes are not deceiving you. There is only so much you can learn from these games.

Click Here for Part 2

More On Kentucky's Downside

After receiving a ton of questions about how to interpret Best Case and Worse Case Scenarios in the projections, we run models on Kentucky and Michigan from last season as both were outliers.

2013 Holiday Tournaments (Part 1)

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Unconventional Thinking On Michigan, Duke

In beta-testing a new predictions model, we look at whether Michigan is still a top 25 team and if Duke should be considered the favorite of the ACC.

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.

2012 Big Ten Power Rankings

The Big Ten was incredibly close at the top, with a three-way tie in the standings and also in our statistical rankings.

The Big Ten Title Picture

The Spartans have clinched a share of the title no matter what happens the rest of the week, but Ohio State and Michigan still have a shot at becoming co-champions.

Big Ten Power Rankings (Jan. 9th)

With teams having played either three or four conference games, it is an opportune time for a Big Ten power rankings.

Freshmen Bring Hope

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Ranking The Big Ten Recruiting Classes For 2012

Mitch McGary and Gary Harris are two of the most highly prized recruits to pick Big Ten schools in recent years.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Dec. 12

Syracuse has yet to leave New York and have played a relatively soft schedule, with their only impressive wins coming against Florida and Stanford, but they are 10-0 and now No. 1 in RealGMís weekly poll.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Nov. 28th

Kentucky at No. 1, North Carolina drops to No. 4, while Saint Louis, Harvard, San Diego State and Creighton enter RealGM's rankings.

All Michigan Eyes On Hardaway Jr.

Tim Hardaway Jr. improved at an incredible rate throughout his freshman season. With Darius Morris gone to the NBA, Michigan will go only as far as Hardaway can take them.

On The NCAA Tournament (Day 2)

Kyrie Irving's return, Gus Johnson's Mom, why Georgetown was Friday's biggest loser, plus Texas' expectations remain relatively stagnant.

Important NCAA Injury Splits

Michigan State, Pitt, Villanova, North Carolina and Seton Hall are just a few teams impacted with specific players either in or out of the lineup.

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