Nov 07, 2013 3:45 PM EST
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?
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.
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.
Oct 16, 2013 3:40 PM EDT
"I think we ought to work awful hard with the NFL and the NBA to create an opportunity for those folks. We have it in baseball, we have it in golf, we have it in hockey. Why don't we have it in football, basketball? Why is it our job to be minor leagues for professional sports?"
-- Big 10 commissioner Jim Delaney
On the surface, this latest defense of the NCAA business model makes sense. If colleges don’t want to offer market salaries to the best 18-year-old football and basketball players, there’s nothing stopping the NFL and NBA from creating their own minor leagues. However, at least in the case of basketball, Delaney’s proposal is a solution in search of a problem. The last thing college basketball needs (or wants) is actual competition from the NBA.
The good news, from the perspective of people like Delaney, is that the NBA has little interest in creating the infrastructure necessary for a baseball-like system. While investing in youth basketball in the US would improve their product, the league’s owners have never shown much interest in that type of long-term thinking. For the most part, it’s cash-in, cash-out. If it impacts the annual bottom-line, it’s not happening.
If anything, the NBA would rather move the one-and-done rule the other way. All the advantages of making players wait one year after high school double with two. The more time they spend in college, the easier it is to evaluate them. Lottery teams don’t want projects who will take years to develop; they want fully-formed products that can be plugged in right away. They want as much value as possible from those cost-controlled rookie deals.
Delaney can act like the NBA’s disinterest is a burden for the NCAA, but it’s really an opportunity. There are plenty of people who want to watch the best 18-20 year old basketball players in the world. While players at that age are still years away from reaching their prime, the most talented ones are good enough to create a reasonable facsimile of the NBA. Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker -- people want to watch these guys play.
Of course, more will watch them with Kansas, Kentucky and Duke than the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Austin Toros. However, that doesn’t mean that college basketball would thrive without stars either. All you have to do is look at the relative popularity of college baseball, which has the same amount of tradition and pageantry. If the Top 50 in each high school class went pro every year, there would be less interest in March Madness.
Last season, NCAA Tournament ratings were the highest they’ve been in 18 years. Coincidentally enough, 1995 was the year Kevin Garnett declared for the NBA draft, opening up the preps-to-pros floodwave. All of a sudden, with the very best players forgoing the NCAA, the sport began to slip in the national consciousness. If Wiggins and the Jayhawks are in the Final Four this season, it’s a safe bet that the ratings will be even higher than 2013.
As someone who was a student at Texas when Kevin Durant was there, I find it hard to believe that the one-and-done rule is bad for college basketball. KD played one season with the Longhorns and had his jersey retired. That’s how much he’s beloved at Texas. Ten years later, how do Syracuse fans feel about Carmelo Anthony’s one year in school? If LeBron James had spent a year at Ohio State, that would have been a bad thing for the sport?
All the publicity LeBron would have received might have exposed some of the inherent contradictions in the NCAA’s business model, but that isn’t the end of the world. While many fans would be turned off by eliminating amateurism, most would come back, if they ever left at all. Twenty years after the Olympics allowed professional athletes to compete, they are bigger than ever. Amateurism is not why sports are popular.
In the case of the NCAA, it’s just simple math. There are nearly 300 metro areas in the US with a population of over 100,000, but only 30 NBA franchises and 32 NFL ones. Those other cities, they have sports fans too. They would like to attend sporting events and root for the home team. Look at how Fort Myers rallied around “Dunk City” last year; in what other context would that community be relevant on a national level?
In that corner of Southwest Florida, FGCU is the biggest show in town. From the point of view of the fans watching the games, it doesn’t matter if the athletes are “paid” in scholarships or cash. At this point, whose kidding whom about what’s going on? Athletic departments are businesses that relentlessly try to maximize their revenues -- see the last few rounds of conference realignment. As long as the home team is winning, it’s all good.
Paying players would not affect competitive balance all that much either. This season, John Calipari has five NBA prospects in his starting five at Kentucky ... and five NBA prospects coming off his bench. The distribution of talent is about as imbalanced as it could possibly be. At schools like Kentucky, the best players are professionals in all but name; just ask Ryan Harrow, whose attended N.C. State, Kentucky and Georgia State in the last four years.
Whenever Kentucky goes to a rival campus this season, they will be the biggest show in town. Imagine what would happen if they still had Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Now take it a step further and imagine a team of Calipari-coached millionaires losing in the Sweet 16 to a mid-major school that can only afford to pay players the cost of attendance. It would be the biggest sports story in the US!
The NCAA is being paid $11 billion dollars over 14 years to put on a basketball tournament every March. Like any other business, they would benefit from paying their employees a market wage. Give players even a fraction of that TV money and they would stay in school longer, which would increase ratings. The NBA wouldn’t care; they would rather draft 21-year-olds anyway. All the NCAA has to do is quit fronting for two seconds and do the right thing.
Apr 04, 2013 11:08 PM EDT
Here are some random thoughts I had while watching the 2013 event:
-I thought when Aaron Gordon said he was going to commit at the event, he meant the game. But since the McDonald’s All-American showcase last four days with the practices, hospital visit, dunk contest, and game, Gordon snuck in his announcement on Tuesday. He chose Arizona.
-Early on we saw Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison feed Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison on an alley-oop dunk. I have a feeling these two will be assisting on each other’s baskets a lot next year. There’s nothing like the chemistry two twins can build with one another. It is particularly amusing to see such highly ranked twin guards. Many of the recent twins in basketball have been forwards or centers. (See Brook and Robin Lopez in the NBA and David and Travis Wear at UCLA.)
-I don’t dislike Jalen Rose or Jay Williams, but they were a terrible choice to announce this game. They talked about Mike Rice Jr. They compared LeBron James to Michael Jordan. They talked about the one-and-done rule. They talked about whether players should be paid. And they barely talked at all about the players on the court. Look, I’m not saying they have to be diagraming plays here. This is an all-star game. This is pretty much mindless entertainment. But the main audience of this game is fans of the various schools. Don’t you think the Indiana fans would like you to point out when Noah Vonleh actually got in the game. And what about telling some nice anecdotes about these players. No one knows anything about these guys right now.
-I found this particularly irritating when combined with the new jerseys the players were wearing. These were the jerseys with the dark on dark numbers. Sometimes you could see the numbers clearly, but often you couldn’t. So basically you have players that the viewers are not familiar with, the announcers are not calling their names out, and you cannot identify them by their jerseys. Nice.
-At 10:37 in the first half, one of the players took a brutal off-balance three pointer from way beyond the NBA line. I laughed and wondered who it was, but couldn’t figure it out. But if there was any question about my sanity, I can tell you from reading the play-by-play data the next day, that it was Aaron Harrison.
-The announcers do finally give us a factoid. They note that Kansas commit Wayne Selden wins by dominating other guards physically, but that he needs to work on his jump shot. Ouch, that comment hurts. But I do see it. With 3:42 left in the second half, he is left unguarded, stands for three seconds, before finally taking an NBA three. It doesn’t even hit the rim.
-At 6:49 of the first half, Aaron Gordon blows an under-the-leg dunk, then gets the ball back and puts in a floater. Later Jalen Rose praises Gordon for even trying that crazy dunk. Gordon will go on to get 8-9 dunks in the game and win the MVP. Amazingly, it seemed like just about all of Gordon’s points came on plays where he was unguarded. It wasn’t that he had great dribble-drives or post-moves. Gordon simply hustled more than anyone else on the floor. He was always the first one down the court. He was usually the first one back on defense. He was often the only won fighting for the offensive rebound. And as the announcers noted, he even asked for more practice time before the game so he could practice his free throws. Gordon might not be the best athlete in this game. But he might be the hardest working player, and that will be huge for Sean Miller at Arizona.
-Now it is time to talk about the major uncommitted recruit, Andrew Wiggins. It seems like he might go to Florida St. because both his parents went there. But they also say that Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky are in the running. While there is some scary part of me that wants to see him go to Kentucky just to see what happens when you have seven super recruits on the same team, I have to admit that they look overloaded at this point. And North Carolina has too many wings and off-guards too. I just don’t see how he fits in with the Tar Heels.
-With 12 seconds left in the first half we get my absolute favorite play of the game. Kentucky’s Julius Randle pulls off a ridiculous alley-oop reverse dunk in traffic. That play was worth the price of admission.
-I love Jay Williams. When asked who impressed him at half-time he said, “No one.” Look, you didn’t bother to call any of the action. How could you have possibly been excited by what any player was doing?
-I have an answer. My new favorite player is Washington commit Nigel Williams-Goss. At 17:45 left in the second half, Williams-Goss dove on the floor to take a loose ball from the other side. Who dives on the floor in an all-star game? Then with 15:30 left in the second half he blocked a shot on the perimeter. You only do that by paying attention defensively. You might block a shot by the basket based on athleticism, but you block shots on the perimeter by caring about defense. Then with 2:30 left in the game he was called for a hard foul on Wayne Selden, trying to prevent a lay-up. Nigel Williams-Goss is a competitor. He also led all players with 6 assists in the game. Williams-Goss has a 4.0 GPA too. Lorenzo Romar should be very excited.
-Just after the 15 minute mark in the second half, #1 recruit Andrew Wiggins busts out a beautiful spin move and banked floater to beat #2 recruit Jabari Parker. (Parker is committed to Duke by the way.) Finally Jay Williams has some real praise. He notes that Wiggins doesn’t have a lot of wasted motion. What makes him special is that he doesn’t dribble around for 30 seconds. To paraphrase, “At the higher levels of basketball, you have to make quick moves and quick decisions. Wiggins does that.”
-At the 13 minute mark, Kentucky’s Julius Randle goes coast-to-coast for a dunk. The other side tries to beat him back by cherry-picking a full-court basket. The strategy works. But notably, Randle is the only player to run from end to end to try to contest the shot. Nice hustle. Ignoring the obvious skill of Kentucky’s Harrison Twins, I was very impressed with the skill level of both Randle and James Young in this game. Both seemed to have fantastic body-control. If Kentucky gets the fast-break going this year, this team is going to be ridiculously scary.
-And with 2:30 to go we get the hard foul by Williams-Goss. Wayne Selden sells it with a few extra barrel rolls on the floor, to give us one more laugh on the evening.
Apr 02, 2013
With a few exceptions (Anthony Bennett, Marcus Smart) last year’s class didn’t quite live up to typical McDonald’s All-American game standards. But with Andrew Wiggins headling, we are confident that this year’s class will be different.
Mar 16, 2013
Bill Walton quotes, the fate of early college enrollees, is Ryan Harrow a curse, angry coaches, and the end of the Georgetown vs Syracuse rivalry.
Dec 22, 2012
If Nerlens Noel can continue to progress in his understanding of basketball and improve his skillset along the way, he could actualize his potential and become a top player from the 2013 draft class. He does have a long way to go before he can make an impact in the NBA though.
Dec 21, 2012
Archie Goodwin projects as an athletic slasher with arguably the highest upside in the 2013 draft. He must continue to learn how to play without the ball in his hands, as he struggles using screens effectively.
Nov 13, 2012
If you want your team to have a great season, it isn’t enough to simply get better. You have to get better at a faster rate than your rivals. One thing I have said in the past is that teams that play a lot of freshmen have the potential to improve the most.
Sep 11, 2012
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?
Aug 13, 2012
The Jazz and Thunder have had the most Gold Medalists since the USA began bringing NBA players in 1992, while Duke leads amongst colleges. How do the other 29 NBA teams rank?
Apr 16, 2012
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.
Apr 03, 2012
College sports programs belong to their fans while professional sports organizations belong to their owners. There a lot of things seriously wrong with the NCAA and its underlying business model, but the situation in the NBA is far, far worse.
Apr 03, 2012
A few final thoughts on the championship game.
Apr 01, 2012
Sarcasm, Triumph, and Heartbreak from a fantastic Saturday at the Final Four.
Mar 24, 2012
What does every coach in the Sweet Sixteen have in common? A great efficiency margin over the last 5 years.
Mar 19, 2012
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.
Mar 12, 2012
Kentucky and North Carolina played a thriller on Dec. 2nd and are setup to meet again in a national championship game filled with future NBA players if there are no stumbles along the way.
Mar 08, 2012
Kentucky was as dominant statistically in SEC play as they were when watching five minutes of any of their 16 wins.
Feb 16, 2012
When you evaluate breakout players, don’t just look at the per-game totals. Look at why the players improved. And when they are more efficient and more aggressive, give them the extra praise they deserve.
Feb 09, 2012
Breaking down Duke/North Carolina, Syracuse/Georgetown, Kansas/Baylor and Florida/Kentucky, along with which conferences are improving with the new round of shuffling.
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