yardbarker
RealGM Basketball

Colonial Athletic Association ArticlesColonial Athletic Association Articles

Final Thoughts On Ranking 351 D1 Teams

In case you missed it, last Thursday I presented my upgraded projections model. Then I presented my 13-14 season projections on ESPN Insider. My projections included the median simulation, best case, and worst case for every team. I also did a Q & A session with Eamonn Brennan and another one with John Templon. I have also been answering a few questions on Twitter. You would think after all those words I would have run out of things to say, but here are a few thoughts that did not quite make the cut in those articles:

The Underrated Club

Q: Why does the simulation hate Arizona St.? Jahii Carson is one of the best players in the country.

A: Arizona St. is a team with a lot of two-star players on the roster. In fact, they have the second lowest average star rating in the entire Pac-12, ahead of only Utah. Luckily a few of those players are transfers who played well for other teams. But what this really means is that Arizona St. just doesn’t have the same upside as many of the other schools in the Pac-12. Herb Sendek’s track record on defense is also a huge concern.

Q: Why does the simulation hate Maryland? A lineup of Shaquille Cleare, Evan Smotrycz, Dez Wells, Nick Faust and Roddy Peters sounds like it could hang with anyone. And Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, and Damonte Dodd all seem like solid reserves. Why is the model so pessimistic?

A: The simulation is concerned that Maryland has only nine scholarship players on the roster. There is real downside risk with such a short bench because if a couple of players struggle or get injured, there are no alternates. Last year N.C. State entered the year with just nine scholarship players and things turned south early. Now, that doesn’t mean Maryland is destined to fail, but depth is a risk with this type of roster.

Q: Why does the simulation hate Denver? They had a great margin-of-victory numbers last year.

A: While I truly believe star ratings are important, the focus on recruiting evaluations really hurts the small conference squads in my projections. Only when a small conference team has virtually no lineup questions will that team be ranked near the top. (This year the two exceptions are North Dakota St. and Harvard. North Dakota St. brings back 95 percent of its minutes and gets a player back who was injured for much of last year. Meanwhile Harvard gets two star players back who were suspended last season.)

In Denver’s case even with several efficient players back, particularly star Chris Udofia, winning seems likely. But Denver has to replace two of the three players that played the most minutes last season. And the likely replacements will only be two-star athletes. That’s not to say that head coach Joe Scott cannot build a winner again. But it is very hard to get a Top 50 margin-of-victory in a small conference. And if Scott does it again, that should be considered a huge accomplishment. It shouldn’t be the expectation. (The real issue for Denver is finding another ball-handler to compliment Udofia. Last year Royce O’Neale and Udofia both were key distributors for the team, but with O’Neale transferring to Baylor, the remaining options are not great.)

Random Thoughts on Some Major Conference Teams

- In my Insider column, I said that the Spartans were the lowest risk team in the nation which sparked some jokes from Michigan St. fans on Twitter. I think this points out how insanely volatile college basketball can be. Even when the Spartans bring back five of their six top rotation players including three clear stars, their fanbase in nervous. Part of that is the fact that Tom Izzo’s teams notoriously struggle in November. But when a team with Top 10 talent brings nearly everyone back and their fans are nervous, you know that anything can happen in college basketball.

- Michigan’s position in 12th in my rankings is a little misleading. I honestly believe that Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson can lead this team a long way. But I am legitimately concerned about the guard rotation. John Beilein was very reluctant to play Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary together last season because they weren’t outside shooters. So I have to assume Robinson will play most of his minutes at the four-spot again this year. But then how does the guard rotation work? Does the team play Spike Albrecht, Derrick Walton, and Nick Stauskas together? What if Albrecht and Walton aren’t ready? That is why my model has such a low downside for the Wolverines. (And don’t tell me Caris LeVert is the answer. He was a low-ranked recruit and nothing he did last season leads me to believe he should be a key player on a Top 10 team.)

- When I first ran the model, I was a little surprised the downside for Kentucky was not lower. After all, a young Kentucky team lost in the first round of the NIT last season. But this is what happens when you return two efficient high potential players (in Alex Poythress and Will Cauley-Stein), and add five Top 10 recruits. With that many high potential players, even if two or three of them struggle immensely, Kentucky can still win. Kentucky could not afford for Archie Goodwin to struggle and Nerlens Noel to get injured last season. This year if Julius Randle struggles and Will Cauley-Stein gets hurt, the team can just say “Next man in.”

- I love the range for Indiana in my ESPN Insider rankings. The team has 7 top 100 recruits, and an elite season is still possible. But given all the new faces and how little most of the returning sophomores played last year, the downside risk is major.

- If you want to vote any of my model’s Top 34 teams into the Top 25, I can see arguments for all of them. But I stick by my model’s skepticism of Baylor. Pierre Jackson carried the Bears last year and I don’t see how they can be a better team without him. Their margin of victory was 26th last year (thanks to winning the NIT) and I only give them about a 20 percent chance to do better than that.

- If you have ESPN Insider, look at how painfully low Alabama’s downside is this year. After Devonta Pollard was arrested this offseason, the team is down to nine scholarship players who are eligible this year. If someone on Alabama’s squad doesn't play well, there are no alternatives. This is too bad because Anthony Grant is such a talented young coach, but off-court issues keep derailing his teams.

- Iowa St. made a great move adding Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane. But I suspect Fred Hoiberg needed to add a couple more transfers to keep his transfer winning streak going. With 64% of the lineup gone and four of Iowa St.'s six most efficient players departing (Melvin Ejim and George Niang return), expect Iowa St. to take a step back.

- My model is more optimistic about Seton Hall than what you see in some other rankings. Texas transfer Sterling Gibbs will be a huge upgrade over Tom Maayan and his 50% turnover rate. And with fewer injuries, Kevin Willard should have the defense playing better.

Random Thoughts on Some Mid-Major Conferences

- I’ve still got St. Mary’s on the NCAA bubble. Many will discount the team after Matthew Dellavedova's departure. But Beau Leveasque and Stephen Holt aren't suddenly going to forget how to shoot. Brad Wadlow isn't going to stop being a physical force on the boards and finishing over 60 percent of his shots. This team still has talent.

- The team I think most pundits have over-rated this year is Northeastern. The Huskies were extremely lucky last year. Despite the 7th best MOV in the CAA, they won a ton of close games, including a 4-1 record in OT. Their conference title is very deceiving. With the team's leading scorer and most efficient player Joel Smith gone, a repeat conference title seems unlikely.

- One team I am buying is Weber St. Weber St. had the best margin-of-victory in the Big Sky last year. They even outscored Montana by 19 points in their three meetings. But somehow they went 1-2 against the Grizzlies and that 1-2 mark gave Montana the regular season and conference tournament title. Weber St.’s aggressive and efficient inside-outside combination of Davion Berry and Kyle Tresnak is going to make sure that doesn't happen again.

- The conference champion I expect to come out of nowhere this year is Manhattan. Manhattan somehow lost 10 games to conference foes, but only one of those games was by double digits. This team was much better than last year's conference record would indicate.

- The race for the Big West title is wide open. I have five teams projected within one game of first place in that league.

- The CUSA race should also be highly entertaining. Louisiana Tech is the only team in CUSA that returns over 70 percent of its minutes from last year. (Tech brings back 85 percent of its minutes.) And Tech's losses won't hurt the offense. The team loses its least efficient player Brandon Gibson, and the extremely passive JL Lewis. With an already solid defense and an improved offense, Louisiana Tech could be headed for the NCAA tournament. But Southern Miss is just as formidable a competitor. The newest Golden Eagle, transfer Aaron Brown, shot the ball extremely well as a sophomore at Temple. His addition could give Southern Miss the CUSA title.

- Speaking of transfers, transfer Jay Harris was the PG on a Valparaiso team that won the Horizon league title in 2012. He could be the key addition that gets Wagner an NEC conference title in 2014.

- Finally, Indiana St. PG Jake Odum has to be kicking himself that RJ Mahurin transferred out in order to play his senior year with his younger brother. Mahurin was the team's only efficient big man, and the Sycamores could have been a more realistic NCAA bubble team had Mahurin returned.

Late Breaking News

- The news that Josh Smith was eligible immediately didn’t break until after I finished my rankings. With a full season of Smith you can move the Hoyas up to 27th in my projections. But as many people have noted, because of his conditioning, it still isn’t clear how much Smith will play. The downside risk for the Hoyas remains real. However, I do think that it is a major break that Smith will be around from the start of the season. The Hoya offense is a nuanced system that depends on precise cuts and passes, and integrating Smith mid-season would have been much more difficult.

- I had already assumed Joseph Young would be eligible for Oregon so their ranking is not affected by that news. It is clear that the transfer combination of Mike Moser and Young could be one of the best inside-outside combinations in the country. But I want to offer several cautionary tales. Ryan Harrow, Trey Ziegler, and Aaric Murray were three transfers that received a ton of hype last summer, and they were all such poor fits in the new environment, they have all moved on again. We’ve seen teams bring in a bunch of transfers and live up to expectations (like Iowa St.), but we have also seen teams take in a lot of transfer and disappoint (like Missouri last year.) Transfers are high risk players, and that is why my model has such a large range for the Ducks this season.

Dan Hanner vs Ken Pomeroy

Ken Pomeroy also released his preseason rankings on Saturday. While he is rather humble about his algorithm, I think it is important to note how well his system did last season. From a modeling perspective, a more complex system is not always better.

I would argue that the real advantage of my lineup-based system is not the predictive power. The advantage is that by focusing on the lineup, my model has fewer head-scratching conclusions. For example, Ken’s team level model has Miami at 62nd this year. With basically everyone in last year’s rotation gone and Angel Rodriguez electing not to apply for a transfer waiver, that’s an extremely optimistic prediction. But that prediction is based on how well Miami did last season, not any reasonable evaluation of the current roster. The same can probably be said of Minnesota at No. 35. The Gophers had strong margin-of-victory numbers last year, so Ken’s model loves them again this season. But my model sees that the Gophers made a substantial downgrade in the front-court and added an unproven coach. My model based on the current lineup has Miami at No. 102 and Minnesota at No. 63, and I think that’s much closer to what I have seen in most expert rankings.

But while Ken’s model can cause us to scratch our heads at certain results, do not overlook his predictions. The last five seasons of data are a very strong predictor in the aggregate. (If a team had a great offense before it tends to have better facilities, higher caliber recruits, and better coaches today.) And when the results of both our models agree, those are probably the strongest predictions of all. 

Initial Bracket Thoughts

Because of the fast pace of both teams, BYU versus Iona has the potential to be one of the most entertaining First Four games of all-time. Also, I am salivating at seeing Missouri’s guards and Florida’s guards potentially clashing in the round of 32. But before I start breaking down the bracket, let’s throw a few quick stats at the wall:

Which Conferences Did the Best?

One thing I like to track during the NCAA tournament is whether conferences are exceeding expectations or falling short. One way to do that is to look at how seeds have performed from 1985 to 2011 and predict an expected number of wins for each conference.

(Note: In all tables I am only counting wins in the Round of 64 and beyond.)

Seed

Expected Wins

1

3.37

2

2.43

3

1.86

4

1.47

5

1.19

6

1.19

7

0.82

8

0.69

9

0.58

10

0.65

11

0.54

12

0.52

13

0.25

14

0.17

15

0.04

16

0.00

Based on these seed expectations and the seeds received, the Big East should win the most games in the tournament, but the Big Ten is expected to win nearly as many games with three fewer teams.

Conference

Teams

EW

Big East

9

12.06

Big Ten

6

10.86

ACC

5

8.85

Big 12

6

8.64

SEC

4

5.96

MWC

4

4.11

A10

4

2.59

MVC

2

1.88

WCC

3

1.73

CUSA

2

1.27

Pac12

2

0.80

MAAC

2

0.13

Other

19

4.21

We can also use this year’s margin-of-victory numbers to form an expectation. In the next table I use Ken Pomeroy’s predicted probabilities. Here we get a slightly different picture. His model expects the Big Ten to win the most games in the tournament, with the ACC earning far fewer wins than their high seeds would indicate:

Conference

Teams

Pomeroy

Big Ten

6

12.03

Big 12

6

9.70

Big East

9

9.36

ACC

5

6.99

SEC

4

6.34

MWC

4

3.63

A10

4

2.67

MVC

2

2.30

WCC

3

1.56

CUSA

2

1.44

Pac12

2

1.13

MAAC

2

0.29

Other

19

5.55

Team-By-Team

2012 is the year of the clear favorite. It will be virtually impossible for any of the experts who follow college basketball not to pick Kentucky to win the national championship. In terms of the measured statistics like margin-of-victory, in terms of the NBA ready talent on the floor, in terms of 34 games on TV over four months, no one has come close to the Wildcats this season.

But more importantly, there are no clear alternatives to the Wildcats. Again using Ken Pomeroy’s formula, here are the expected wins for each team in the tournament this year:

Team

Seed

EW

Kentucky

1

3.38

Ohio St.

2

3.38

Michigan St.

1

2.80

Kansas

2

2.74

North Carolina

1

2.56

Missouri

2

2.47

Syracuse

1

2.25

Wisconsin

4

2.09

Duke

2

1.75

Rather than showing one clear alternative, the numbers show a great deal of balance between the top seeds.

The Right Side of the Bracket (East and Midwest)

The margin-of-victory crowd is going to love Ohio St., but they might be the only ones. Despite bringing back one of the top post players in the country in Jared Sullinger, one of the top defenders in Aaron Craft, one of the most prolific two-guards in William Buford, and watching Deshaun Thomas emerge into a versatile scoring threat, Ohio St.’s offense has struggled at times this year. Ohio St. has simply not been able to replace the outside shooting of Jon Diebler. And by sharing the Big Ten title and falling to Michigan St. in the conference tournament, very few people are going to be in love with this team. Add in a potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with a Florida St. team that has two wins against Duke and two wins against North Carolina, and Ohio St. will get far less love than these numbers would suggest.

Syracuse is the more traditional favorite, but they are the worst defensive rebounding team in the field, and their offense can look stagnant when they aren’t forcing turnovers. Even a second round match-up against Kansas St. could be a nightmare for Syracuse. Kansas St.’s team is built to crash the glass, and if Angel Rodriguez can simply throw up jump shots (instead of turning the ball over at his normally high rate), Kansas St. might have a chance for an upset.

North Carolina is the choice for people who like NBA talent, but the ACC was so weak this year, the Tar Heels didn’t get their normal share of big games. And when they did play quality teams, they would usually be close. UNC would win 54-51 against Virginia or 69-67 against NC State. Certainly everyone says North Carolina has a lot of NBA ready talent on paper, but unlike Kentucky, it never felt like North Carolina was unbeatable. Ever since the big win over Michigan St. on an aircraft carrier to start the season, they rarely gave off that aura of invincibility. And with John Henson’s injury this weekend, there are additional doubts about the Tar Heels.

If you are scared away by Kentucky’s inexperience, you might like Kansas. The Jayhawks don’t have any amazing freshmen this year because the majority of their recruiting class was declared academically ineligible to start the season. That has left Kansas with a veteran lineup and Bill Self has clearly got the most out of every player on the floor. The once ridiculed Tyshawn Taylor has emerged as a polished superstar and Thomas Robinson emerged into quite possibly the best player in the country.

But when you look at this group of four teams (Syracuse, Ohio St., North Carolina, and Kansas) any honest evaluation would say that it truly is a toss-up. I would unquestionably pick these four teams for the regional finals on that half of the bracket, but I have no idea which of these teams will play in the national title game.

The Left Side of the Bracket (West)

On the other side of the bracket, it is hard not to love what Michigan St. has accomplished this year. But the Spartans got the worst possible second round draw. Memphis has been absolutely demolishing teams lately, winning their last seven games by 18 points or more. Michigan St. may be able to exploit Memphis’ lack of size in the paint better than any team in the nation, but they shouldn’t have to face such a dominant team in the second round. (Oh, and if St. Louis upsets Memphis, they have elite margin-of-victory numbers too.) So even if Michigan St. was a reasonable pick for a deep run based on their performance in the toughest conference in the country this year, the bracket makes the Spartans a very risky bet.

Instead many people will be drawn to the sentimental favorite Missouri. Don’t pick against the Tigers because of their lack of depth. They’ve played smart and avoided foul trouble all year. Don’t pick against the Tigers because of their lack of size. They’ve played bigger teams all year, and they’ve actually struggled more against smaller quicker teams. In fact, I would argue that picking against Missouri is the most unpleasant thing you could possibly do this year. With only 7 scholarship players, this group has developed a type of offensive chemistry that will help you rediscover a love for basketball.

I think part of what made the Missouri offense so good this year was the change of pace. Normally when a player goes to the NBA they realize that the game is much faster. But eventually the game slows down. Well, Missouri is having a slow-down moment. While Missouri still plays at an exceedingly fast-pace relative to most teams, it is much slower than what they played under Mike Anderson. Somehow the game is very calm and controlled for them, while remaining at a fever pitch for opponents.

Ricardo Ratliffe is the perfect example. Teams know that he shoots nearly 70% in the paint so they cannot afford to let him get paint touches, but somehow the Missouri guards are always cutting and using screens and finding a way to get him the ball in scoring position. And Ratliffe probably has the quickest release of any post player in college today. He rarely holds the ball and lets the defense react. He catches the ball and gets it up on the backboard immediately

Having said all that, I’m not in love with Missouri’s draw. Let me get to that:

First, I really like Florida over Virginia. A number of the experts say that Virginia likes to play a pack-line defense and force teams to shoot over the top. Well, Florida is not afraid to shoot over the top. But I actually think that is a little over-rated. Virginia has played the pack-line defense, but still been quick enough to get out on shooters. What concerns me more than anything is how poorly Virginia has played since Assane Sene has gone down. The defense just hasn’t been the same without the 7 footer in the middle, and he is not going to be back for the tournament.

And if Florida advances to face Missouri, that’s a dream match-up on paper. While Missouri has succeeded by playing four guards around Ricardo Ratliffe, that will allow Florida to play four guards around Patric Young. And while Kentucky has almost single-handedly convinced the country that Florida isn’t very good, realistically Florida is almost the mirror-image of Missouri. Missouri might be the favorite, but that game would be very close to a toss-up.

And if Missouri faces Marquette in the Sweet Sixteen, Marquette is another team that has the quickness to stay with Missouri. Plus Buzz Williams clearly takes his scouting to another level in the NCAA tournament. Facing his team after a four day break would be a nightmare.

The Left Side of the Bracket (South)

Duke drew the short straw getting placed in the same region as Kentucky. And the Blue Devils were also clearly the least dominant of the 1 and 2 seeds during the regular season. Give Mike Krzyzewski credit for putting together the right non-conference schedule that got Duke the quality wins they need to be a 2-seed, but even the usually Duke-loving Dick Vitale has said that this is not a vintage Duke team. When Vitale says the Blue Devils might lose in the second round of the tournament, you know they have flaws. Now is probably a good time for me to show another Expected Win chart:

Team

Seed

EW

Baylor

3

1.73

Wichita St.

5

1.61

Marquette

3

1.51

Indiana

4

1.48

Georgetown

3

1.36

New Mexico

5

1.34

Michigan

4

1.33

Louisville

4

1.24

Florida St.

3

1.19

Vanderbilt

5

1.17

Baylor will be the clear pick to upset Duke for some people based on the large amount of NBA talent on their roster. But as an NBA-centered team, they remind me a lot of recent Texas teams under Rick Barnes. Somehow showing off their game for NBA scouts is more important than winning. Baylor proved some skeptics wrong by beating Kansas in the Big 12 tournament, but if Missouri will make you love college basketball, cheering for Baylor will absolutely drive you nuts. You almost have to beg for Perry Jones III to get a post touch, and while Brady Heslip is a great sharp-shooter, he doesn’t seem to have any feel for when to take threes and when to work the offense.

Dark Horses

- I’ve already written at length about how Wisconsin’s numbers are inflated based on crushing a bunch of small teams early in the season. But I do believe the Badgers are dangerous. My main concern with picking them is that at their slow pace, they open up the door to losing any game. Montana is clearly not in Wisconsin’s league, but in a 58 possession game, against a solid Montana defense, the game will probably be close.

- Wichita St. is the most dominant MVC team since Ken Pomeroy began tracking stats, and they have the kind of 7-foot center in Garrett Stutz that a lot of mid-major teams do not. That is why Seth Davis was professing his love for this team on CBS.

- Vanderbilt absolutely has the talent at every position to beat any team in the country. And they should long savor their win over Kentucky in the SEC final. But the main complaint is that the Commodores have failed to play well against weaker teams. With basically the same lineup they’ve lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament in previous years, and they had many games this season where they struggled with weaker opponents. Sure, I’ll believe you if you say they can beat Syracuse. But can they even get to that game?

- Finally, Florida St. is the team that a lot of people are going to be picking based on the ACC tournament title. But again, they have a potential nightmare match-up if they face Cincinnati. The Bearcats are one of the best teams in the country at forcing steals and Florida St.’s biggest weakness is holding on to the ball. Sure, they might be able to beat Ohio St. But can they even get to that game?

Here are more expected wins in the round of 64 and beyond:

Team

Seed

EW

Kansas St.

8

1.14

UNLV

6

1.11

Memphis

8

1.09

Florida

7

0.95

Purdue

10

0.94

Murray St.

6

0.92

Notre Dame

7

0.90

Texas

11

0.90

Temple

5

0.84

Alabama

9

0.84

Belmont

14

0.81

Cincinnati

6

0.79

NC State

11

0.78

Gonzaga

7

0.75

Iowa St.

8

0.71

Virginia

10

0.71

Creighton

8

0.69

Xavier

10

0.67

California

12

0.67

St. Louis

9

0.66

San Diego St.

6

0.64

Connecticut

9

0.56

West Virginia

10

0.55

Colorado St.

11

0.54

St. Mary's

7

0.53

Long Beach St.

12

0.52

St. Bonaventure

14

0.50

Colorado

11

0.46

Harvard

12

0.46

South Dakota St.

14

0.44

Ohio

13

0.44

Davidson

13

0.39

Southern Miss

9

0.35

- In case it wasn’t clear how terrible the draw is for Memphis and St. Louis. Memphis has the 9th best Pomeroy ranking, but is 22nd in expected wins. St. Louis had the 15th best Pomeroy ranking, but is 39th in expected wins.

- Southern Miss has some of the worst margin-of-victory stats in the field. Don’t pick them to upset Kansas St.

And here is the last of the list:

Team

Seed

EW

Lehigh

15

0.34

VCU

12

0.32

New Mexico St.

13

0.29

BYU

14

0.28

Iona

14

0.23

South Florida

12

0.21

Montana

13

0.17

NC Asheville

16

0.12

Detroit

15

0.11

Lamar

16

0.09

Loyola MD

15

0.06

Vermont

16

0.05

Norfolk St.

15

0.04

Long Island

16

0.04

Western Kentucky

16

0.02

Miss. Valley St.

16

0.00

Parting Thoughts

- Seth Davis said it well at the end of the selection special, the NCAA committee sent a message that non-conference strength-of-schedule matters. That’s why Iona got in ahead of Drexel. And that’s why Missouri was not a #1 seed. A lot of people will argue with that message. What does non-conference strength-of-schedule have to do with evaluating the quality of a team? Isn’t the goal to pick the best teams? But I’ve been watching this show for 20 years, and the committee has always had this emphasis. They want to incentivize teams to play big games early in the season, and whether it is an explicit criteria or not, it is a criteria.

- I still can’t believe Kevin Harlan weaved in a comment about Peyton Manning during the Arizona vs Colorado Pac-12 final. (Yes, Manning probably won’t be choosing between Denver and Arizona based on the outcome of that game.)

- Finally, only Bob Knight could manage to eat an ice cream cone while calling a college basketball game.

The Many Facets & Unpredictability Of March Madness

The older I get, the more I see that one of the things I love most about sports is the variety of it, the diversity of it and the CHARACTERS. Men’s tennis is at its best in many years because, for the first time in a long time, the top three or four players all have wildly different styles. The Tim Tebow story was fun on so many levels, but one of those levels was that he was just SO DIFFERENT in how he played — I’d say we are entering a great time for quarterbacks, because Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning and Drew Brees and Michael Vick and Cam Newton and Tebow and others are not really alike at all.

-- Joe Posnanski

As a basketball fan, I’ve never understood the division that exists between fans of the NBA and the NCAA. While the NBA has the best basketball players in the world, March Madness is compelling in its own right and as entertaining as anything that happens on the professional level.

In the NBA, the owners of the 30 franchises consider turning a profit and getting an equal shot at the top players a right, regardless of how well (or how poorly) they run their organization and the respective size of their fan-bases. Since every losing team is a few ping pong balls from the rights to a LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Dwight Howard, personnel determines scheme in the NBA.

In contrast, the vast majority of the 344 Division I programs in college basketball have little chance of ever receiving a commitment from a McDonald’s All-American. But instead of petulantly trying to sabotage the sport in a misguided effort to legislate fairness, schools try many creative ways of leveraging the talents of the players they can recruit. As a result, scheme determines personnel in the NCAA.

At Syracuse, Jim Boeheim has made a Hall of Fame career out of running a contrarian scheme, in his case an aggressive 2-3 zone. The Orange traditionally have rosters full of “1.5’s”, 6’3+ combo guards lacking the quickness to defend elite PG’s and the size to defend SG’s, and “3.5’s”, 6’8+ combo forwards lacking the quickness to defend elite SF’s and the size to defend PF’s. However, because Syracuse never plays man defense, the athletic deficiencies of their players are minimized.

So while nearly every NBA team runs a fairly similar system of isolations, pick-and-rolls and man defense, an incredibly diverse array of styles can be found in the college game. On one end of the spectrum, teams like Missouri play four guards and pressure the ball 94 feet for 48 minutes, on the other, teams like Wisconsin run a deliberate motion offense, trying to minimize the number of possessions and shoot at the very end of the shot-clock.

In the NBA, the players are too good for the “40 Minutes of Hell” system (which Mike Anderson has brought to Missouri and Arkansas in the last few years) to be successful. Like Mike Leach’s bizarre pass-happy offense in college football, Anderson’s system, which he learned as a member of Nolan Richardson’s staff in Arkansas in the 1990’s, has philosophical holes that professional athletes can exploit. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make them any less entertaining on the collegiate level.

And with 68 teams set to compete in the NCAA Tournament, there are a lot more surprises in the college game. Even programs ranked in the top-15 like Murray State have barely been on national TV this season.

We have a pretty good idea of how teams like the Pacers and the 76ers match up with the top of the Eastern Conference but not whether an undersized Murray State squad can handle the size of an elite team from a Power Six conference. It’s an open question how Isaiah Canaan’s speed and athleticism translates outside of the Ohio Valley Conference. Non-conference play in college basketball generally ends in late December, so it’s almost impossible to gauge how younger teams like Texas, Washington and Tennessee who have found their groove in the last two months will fare in March.

In the NBA, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Chicago, Miami and Oklahoma City aren’t three of the final four teams left in the playoffs. In the NCAA, as many as two dozen teams have a legitimate shot at making a run at the Final Four.

Of course, in terms of entertainment, none of this makes the NCAA necessarily better or worse than the NBA, just different. But, as Posnanski writes, there’s something to be said for the concept of “different” in the modern sports world. Basketball fans of all stripes should enjoy March Madness; the NBA will still be here in a few weeks.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead To Tournament Week

Examining the final regular season weekend of the Big Ten, ACC and SEC, along with everything you really need to know to enjoy Tournament Week.

YABC Column For Feb. 27th (POY Races, Improbabilities & More)

As Draymond Green locked up the Big Ten POY award and Kansas battled Missouri for a likely No. 1 seed, Saturday afternoon encapsulated everything that is great about the NCAA regular season.

SEC And CAA Notes

While Vanderbilt returns so many of the 'right' players, Kentucky's incoming class is loaded with talent and there are several reasons to be bullish on Alabama.

Yet Another College Basketball Column (March 6th)

Printable conference tournament brackets, Nitty Gritty stats, Senior Day, and what UNC's win over Duke really means.
 

Basketball Wiretap Headlines

    NBA Wiretap Headlines

      NCAA Wiretap Headlines

        MLB Wiretap Headlines

          NFL Wiretap Headlines

            NHL Wiretap Headlines

              Soccer Wiretap Headlines