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yoco :: College Basketball
(a sports weblog) news and commentary on men's college basketball and the ncaa tournament

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Friday, December 10, 2004

USC: Chubby Chasers?

It's sounding more and more like Southern California is trying hard to land Rick Majerus as their new basketball coach. While Majerus is certainly an attractive (and large) target, I wonder about the timing. It was less than a year ago when he had to walk away from his team mid-season due to health problems. While I'm sure he's improved, you wouldn't know it by looking at him.

One interesting quote in the article is this one by AD Mike Garrett about current interim coach Jim Saia, "never did I say he had a chance to vie for the job." No chance to even compete for the job? That's pretty rough. I'm sure that does wonders for his and the team's morale.

It makes me think that Garrett hopes to actually bring in a new coach during the season. That doesn't give him too many options if Majerus doesn't pan out, because I doubt any active coach would leave their team mid-season.

Red Storm Rising

If things weren't already bad enough at St. John's, former player Abe Keita now says he's going to write a book exposing even more details about the corrupt program. According to Keita, all the various things we do know about are just the "tip of the iceberg."

Think about that every time you see Mike Jarvis' smarmy smile on ESPN.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Scheduling for 16

I am not sure if this is "news" or not, as I do not know the date of these decisions, but I just read an ESPN Insider article by Jay Bilas about scheduling for the new and revamped Big East in 2005-2006 and the decisions were news to me.

Here is what he has to say on the Big East Regular Season scheduling:

The Big East, with some very smart people in the conference office, couldn't figure out a way to put together a coherent schedule that would determine a true regular season champion, and cannot have a tournament that gives everyone a fair shot at the automatic bid. It's not their fault -- it's a practical impossibility in a 16-team league. Such are the downsides to expansion.

The Big East decided that each team would play 18 conference games, and play everyone once, and three teams twice in a home-and-home. The teams that will play twice will not be predetermined, but rather, decided upon annually with television as part of the decision making process. That means that the big shots will play each other twice, because that makes the best television and the most compelling big games. It is a reasonable way to go, but it is not anywhere near fair.

And then, what about the conference tourney? Here is what Bilas had to say about the tourney:

The toughest call the Big East had to make was about the conference tournament ... and the decision was absolutely awful. The conference elected to leave the tournament at 12 teams, causing four teams to be left at home with the league's automatic bid on the line. While the league may not have had a better alternative available, that decision eliminates a significant amount of excitement and, worst of all, the hopes and dreams of four teams and their fans.

Listen, the Big East is stuck on this one. It is tough to have a 16-team tournament, because every single team would have to play four games to win the title. As it stands now, four teams only have to play three games to win it all, with the other eight slugging it out on the first day.

Trying to get an arena and scheduling eight games in a single day, to be followed by four games the next day, would be a logistical nightmare, and it would be exhausting for all involved. The two finalists would be whipped before the NCAA Tournament, and the league could be hurt by that.

That being said, I just don't see how you can leave four teams out of the mix for an automatic bid, and relegate so many coaches, players and fans to some scrap heap of mediocrity.

His conclusion:

It isn't fair and it isn't right, but that's the way it is. We had better get used to it.

As a life-long Syracuse and Big East fan, I am simply no longer sure I like the direction the conference is headed. Originally, I was thrilled by the decision to get rid of three non-competitive basketball schools (Miami, VT, and BC) and to make up for that loss by adding in four top-notch basketball teams (Louisville, Cincy, Marquette, and Depaul), but now I am having second thoughts (Note: that the Big East also added Southern Florida..so its net gain was two teams).

A drastically unbalanced regular season schedule designed specifically for TV purposes seems like a nightmare. Additioanlly, it is going destroy a lot of 20 year-old rivalry games. Syracuse vs. Georgetown, Syracuse vs. Seton Hall, Syracuse vs. St.Johns…all those old rivalry games are going to suffer. Wouldn't the Big East be better off creating a modified two-division structure? Or a three-division structure? Something based on the idea that you played everyone inside your division (your rivals) twice and everyone outside of your division once? (Note: thanks to 'Old School Hoops' for pointing out that a straight up two-division structure would require a 22-regular season games.) Multiple-Division formats are always somewhat uneven, but at least they are consistent. Or, alternatively, wouldn't the Big East be better off acting like the Big Ten and randomly deciding which teams play twice...so that at least the unbalanced schedule is left to chance? I may even go so far as to suggest that at this point isn't it possible the Big East might be better off being two conferences instead of one?

If the Big-East loses its automatic birth in the BCS and Big-East football revenues decrease significantly, I think the Big-East might soon split in two or at least see a large number of defections/relocations by its top schools.

A Golden Opportunity?

With the NHL gone without a trace, the NBA and MLB mired in near-constant controversy and college football mucking through the BCS mess, is this college basketball's big chance to grab the public's attention? The guys at the DukeBasketballReport think so.

Isn't this mentioned in Revelations as a sign of the apocalypse?

Texas A&M Corpus Christi (TAMUCC to the cognoscenti) has a higher RPI than Duke.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

stats continued

Didn't want to post this last night above the great game thread. I guess Steven Graham has joined Dickie's "special player" pantheon, huh? Anyway, to get us started, here are what I see as major areas of difficulty with basketball stats, with some examples (some of this you've probably thought of before, so if you don't feel like reading it all, you could skip to Creating a Summary Stat).:

Misguided Use of Existing Stats:
As an example, a pet peeve of mine -- I never want to see field goal percentage ever again. Adjust it for the fact that some shots count for two points, and others count for three. It's been that way for a few decades now, and combining it all into FG% is an anachronism that must die. Don't make me do the math in my head. Use Points per Field Goal Attempt (see a great study on NBA shooting using this stat here) or adjusted FG% (just PPFGA divided by 2). A little under half of Terry Dehere's career shots at Seton Hall were 3-pointers. Adjust his stats accordingly, and his career 43.8% FG% (and 38.8% 3FG%) becomes 1.05 PPFGA or a 52.3% adjusted FG%. Marcus Camby hit one 3-pointer in his three years at Umass, so his career 50.1 FG% and 1.02 PPFGA stay almost right where they are, and suddenly you can compare the two players in a meaningful way.
In baseball, there are old-school announcers and writers who still talk about batting average as if it were enough to identify a great hitter, even though on-base percentage and slugging percentage are much more significant. But in recent years I've started to see OBA and SLG show up on ballpark scoreboards and TV stat-lines, and I'd love to see PPFGA or AFG% start to replace or supplement FG% as mainstream measures of efficient shooting.

Strategy, Position, and Bias:
In baseball, every team employs a shortstop and a first baseman. On every team in the league, the shortstop will have more assists, and the first baseman will have more putouts. In college basketball, many teams play the 2-3 zone. The man in the middle of the zone will inevitably have the most opportunities for defensive rebounds, while the players up top will have the most chances for steals. But in baseball, most players stay at the same position for an entire season, and every team plays the same positions, so we can do separate evaluations for shortstop and first baseman. In basketball, every team plays different variations of the available strategies and likely employs multiple strategies within the same game; meanwhile, the success of each player is much more closely tied to the actions of his teammates. So it's far easier to isolate the defensive stats of Derek Jeter and John Olerud than it is to isolate the stats of Craig Forth and Gerry MacNamara as compared to their counterparts. I've talked about defense here, but the offensive comparison is even more stark -- strategy defines basketball offense, determining who gets to take a shot and who spends their time setting screens, while in baseball (putting the occasional ill-advised sacrifice bunt aside), every player gets an equal chance to demonstrate their value. Meanwhile, as John Hollinger has pointed out, even offensive rate stats like assist/turnover ratio are biased toward certain types of players and strategies. Howard Eisley consistently has a high A/TO, but that's because he never penetrates and thus rarely loses the ball or creates a wide-open shot for a teammate, instead picking up cheap assists because as a "point guard" he gets a lot of touches. Furthermore, the assist is roughly as biased as the RBI -- both correlate to doing something good, but are largely dependent on teammates' action. Just like not all RBI are created equal (a ground-out with a man on third vs. a solo home run), not all assists are created equal (a chest pass to an open man who drains a 3 vs. Larry Bird threading the needle for an open layup).

Process vs. Outcome:
On my last post, Bret had a great comment regarding the possibility of video study to identify strategic successes and errors by individual players (i.e., good plays like a successful rotation or a well-set screen that don't show up in the stat-line or on the scoreboard). Coaches at both the pro and college level do quite a bit of this, of course -- Yoni and I got to visit the Celtics' training facility a few years and meet Jim O'Brien's video man, who had gotten his start as a student manager for Pitino at Kentucky, and broke down video as a full-time job. But as observers of the game, we can't really hope to duplicate this sort of video study, as the specific knowledge required and judgment calls to be made would be overwhelming. In baseball there's been a push lately to record the process of a play, not the outcome: for instance, suppose Barry Bonds smokes a line drive on a trajectory to clear the center-field wall by a few feet, but Torii Hunter makes an absurd leaping catch. In the box score it's an out for Bonds, but process-based stats (not too hard to record in this case) would reward him just as much as if the ball cleared the fence over the head of a weaker defender. I know Pitino/O'Brien teams have tried recording more process-based stats like deflections and touches instead of steals and assists, but I don't think this sort of analysis has a great future for stats in the public domain.

Creating a Summary Stat:
As far as I can tell, the composite stats that are out there, like PER in the pros and Tendex in college (thanks, Dave) all do fairly similar things. They take the usual box-score stats (points scored, FG, FT, FGA, FTA, rebounds, assists, etc. etc.) and weight them based on an estimated contribution to a team's points from historical data to generate a single estimate of a player's value. This is certainly useful, generates some interesting numbers, and is actually pretty similar, from my understanding, to how baseball's Win Shares/Runs Contributed are calculated.

I see two problems with this approach: first, any derived stat like this can only have as much explanatory power as its constituent parts -- if measures of assists or rebounds or steals are biased toward types of players or strategies, then so will be the composite stat that uses them as inputs. Second, the choice of points as the keystone stat (though some versions of Tendex estimate points per possession) is not nearly as obvious as the choice of runs in baseball. As some commenters noted last time, the pace of the game, and thus the number of possessions on which points can be scored, is largely determined by strategy. In baseball, there are always nine innings, and almost never a disincentive to try to score as much and as soon as possible (ignoring impending rainouts); in basketball, there is often a reason to slow down and reduce the number of possessions, whether to hold a lead or to counteract the other team's strategy.

Points per possession (offensive and defensive) seem to me the best solution as a keystone stat. Note that I'm defining possession as changing on a made field goal (or terminal free throw), a defensive rebound, or a steal; an offensive rebound does not result in an additional possession. There are some very appealing features to this stat: first, it is very feasible to derive it from play-by-play data (man, I wish there were a historical Retrosheet for basketball). Second, it ought to capture all the things we've talked about above as hidden parts of the game -- only the actions that increase your likelihood to score (or prevent the other team from scoring) on a particular possession really matter. Third, it's a stat we can compare fairly between teams that play very different styles, or at very different paces. Adjusting for strength of competition is another matter, but there are already some algorithms that do this pretty well. Now here's the key difference: instead of trying to predict PPP from box-score stats, we can just measure it directly, and statistically identify players' contributions.

Next time I'll talk some more about why I like PPP, statistical methods for determining individual player contribution to PPP, and some other cool adjustments we can make.

If you've read this far, congrats and thanks. I'd appreciate any input you have.

Better than #1?

In Yoni's absence: some guest-blogging from Big Ten Wonk....

With Illinois perched atop the polls as a consensus number 1, your intrepid blogger indulges in some parlor-game speculation and poses the following scary question: would the Illini be even better today had Bill Self chosen to stay as head coach in April 2003 instead of leaving to take the Kansas job? (Or, if you like, think of it in even more O. Henry-esque terms: would Illinois be even better if North Carolina's Sean May had not injured his foot in practice in December 2002, which resulted in a catastrophic 17-15 season for the Tar Heels, which resulted in the firing of Matt Doherty, which resulted in the hiring of Roy Williams, which resulted in the vacancy that lured Self away from Illinois--the only such vacancy that could have done so, if Self is to be believed?)

Would Illinois be even better? The arguments on either side might run like this:

No. First of all there is nothing better than number 1. Second, the precise qualities for which the Illini are being praised--selfless (har!) ball movement on offense and hustling help defense--were somewhat or even greatly diminished under Self, whether because of the different system (Self ran a high-post offense with lots of high-low action; Bruce Weber runs a motion offense wherein the 5 can be and often is out by the arc setting screens) or merely the different developmental stages of the players (today's starting five all played under Self and they all--most strikingly Luther Head--play much better defense today than two years ago).

Yes. For one thing Connecticut's Charlie Villanueva would be wearing an Illinois jersey. He'd committed to Illinois and when Self took the Kansas job Villanueva looked long and hard at Kansas before choosing the Huskies. His play is often listless, it's true, but it's at least the listless play of a 6'11" former McDonald's All-American. And who's to say that Self would not have landed Missouri's Kalen Grimes? Or that--before bolting to the NBA, which he doubtless would have done in any event--Peoria product and current LA Clipper Shaun Livingston would not have at least declared for Illinois, as he did for Duke, giving the Illini the resulting prestige and in-state recruiting hegemony? Lastly, the Illini almost certainly would not have suffered as they did last December and January. Without struggling to learn a new system and adapt to a new coach, Illinois would have suffered fewer losses, secured a higher seeding in the tournament, and gone further, thus resulting in an even stronger program going into this season.

No one really knows the right answer, of course. But I'll close with the following words on behalf of both coaches.

In defense of Self: though not putting up the gaudy assist-to-field-goal percentages that are currently the talk of the national hoops commentariat, Illinois teams under Self did lead the Big Ten in assists. As for defense, the 2002-03 team was young and young teams, generally, don't play defense well. But Self's other two (older) Illinois teams did defend well--just ask Kansas, completely shut down in the 2001 regional semi's, despite starting three future NBA players: Drew Gooden, Kirk Hinrich, and Nick Collison. (I still remember what Frank Williams did on defense to Hinrich in that game, with Bill Walton doing the commentary and raving in Walton-esque hyperbole all the while, and wonder how Williams can't find a starting spot in the NBA.)

In defense of Weber: Villanueva is no loss--better to have him jogging up the court, missing three's and getting into foul trouble in Storrs than in Champaign. And Self was able to land recruits like Dee Brown and Deron Williams in large part because they saw, rightly, opportunities for playing time. (Conversely, with Brown and Williams established in the program and projected for minutes far into the future, legendary recruiter Self lost Brown's high school teammate and in-state prospect Shannon Brown to Tom Izzo and Michigan State.) The test for Weber is who he can land now that those minutes are once again becoming available in the near future.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Tonight at MSG

How about open comments for the double-header at Madison Square Garden tonight?

Pitt-Memphis at 7pm.

Syracuse-Oklahoma St. sometime around 9.

Extra topic: most annoying/stupid/inane/"say what?" thing Dick Vitale says tonight. I expect a lot of nominees.

Opinions Wanted

Not being a West Coaster and not having kept good tabs on USC, I don't have much to say about Henry Bibby's firing. However, in a slow week of college basketball (there is only one matchup between two top 25 teams this week), this seems worthy of some discussion. So I open the floor to comments:

Did Bibby deserve to go?

Why the pecuiliar timing? Can you remember a coach ever being fired only four games into the season before?

Who should be hired as his replacement?

What will the effect be on USC basketball?

Gregg Doyel chirps in with his two cents here.

USA Today states that USC is looking towards Rick Majerus as the coach for next year
here. Is Majreus healthy enough for the job? Will the LA life-style clash with him?

My personal thoughts...Mike Garrett (USC Athletic Director), if you were planning to be so quick on the trigger, you should have just taken care of it in the off-season.

(And, yes, I know that in my last post I said I would try to avoid mainstream subject matter like this...what can I say? I am relatively new to blogging).

Illinois' Big Leap

As a guest blogger for Yoni's site I have been struggling to try to come up with something, beyond basic punditry, to blog about. Several newsworthy events occurred today, but anyone reading ESPN would know Henry Bibby got terminated @ USC, a new AP Poll came out, and Virginia was upset by Iowa State. So what was I to blog about?

Hidden inside this week's AP Poll, I found my answer. In the new poll was Illinois' Big Leap, all the way from from 5th to 1st. Illinois jumped over three previously undefeated teams and took home #1. How many times in NCAA History has a team made a leap that big to the top spot? Thinking back I simply could not recall a jump of this magnitude. I figured I had found a statistical anomaly and quickly started doing some research.

To answer my own question, according to my count, exactly 10 times in the history of the AP rankings (created in 1949) has a team previously jumped from 5th to 1st. And, more impressively, only once in the past 14 years has a jump of this magnitude occurred. The jumps I unearthed are:

- January 17th,1950: Holy Cross jumped from 5th to 1st
- December 30th, 1952: Kansas State jumped from 5th to 1st
- December 24th, 1957: West Virginia jumped from 8th to 1st
- December 14th, 1965: Duke jumped from 6th to 1st
- December 28th, 1982: Indiana jumped from 5th to 1st
- January 18th, 1983: UCLA jumped from 5th to 1st
- February 9th, 1988: Temple jumped from 5th to 1st
- February 14th, 1989: Oklahoma, jumped from 5th to 1st
- March 6th, 1990: Oklahoma jumped from 5th to 1st
- November 25th, 2003: Kansas, jumped from 6th to 1st

You may ask, "What does all of this mean and why should I care?" In my opinion, the answer to that question is simple: Illinois' dismantling of Wake Forest this past weekend was more than just impressive, it was historic. The victory was so decisive that its impact on the AP rankings has rarely been matched in the annals of college basketball.

To view past AP rankings, check out this link:

Monday, December 06, 2004

statistically insignificant

Plenty of serious baseball fans spend more time reading Prospectus and planning their roto teams than they do watching actual games. Football fanatics now have Football Outsiders, and fantasy football is a multi-million dollar business. But hoops fans, especially college hoops fans, tend to spend their time watching games; media coverage tends to be either reporting or punditry, with very little quantitative analysis beyond the usual box score stats. (Semi-notable exception: John Hollinger's Pro Basketball Prospectus. More on this later.)

So should we care? After all, if there's nothing you'd rather do than watch games, why waste your time with stat-heads? Well, I'd say that at their best, statistics enhance my experience as a fan (Disclosure: When I'm not guest-blogging, which is most of the time, I work as an economic consultant and spend my days running regressions and financial models, so maybe my interest for stats is a little higher than most). To paraphrase Moneyball, a great stat acquires "the power of language" -- it can confirm what we think we know, teach us things we didn't know, and provide context for historical debate. Ideally, composite stats should let us test propositions like "Duhon is overrated" or "Okafor makes the biggest defensive impact" -- let us confirm or reject ideas that commentators spout every day without justification. A great stat can allow us to identify undervalued skills and predict players' and teams' futures. Baseball has Bill James' Win Shares and Prospectus' VORP, which estimate an individual player's impact on his team's wins and runs, respectively; Prospectus' PECOTA forecasts are a highlight of the baseball offseason. Pro basketball has only Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating (though I wonder what kind of models Mark Cuban is using for his new sports gambling hedge fund), and the college game, to my knowledge, has nothing.

Tomorrow I'll write about some obvious and not-so-obvious problems I perceive with the current use of stats in college basketball and the development of better stats, and after that I'll write about some preliminary ideas for solutions. A lot of what I write will be as analogy to baseball, with its better-developed stats. I don't pretend to be totally original in looking at this topic, and I'm sure some efforts have been made along these lines that I don't know about. Your input and ideas will be extremely welcome.

Tis better ...

not to give than to receive. So says Ken Pomeroy who did some analysis and found that forcing turnovers isn't nearly as important as not turning it over yourself.

The ACC - SEC Challenge

In what was a fantastic coincidence (I think) of the schedule, the ACC and SEC met and played six times this past weekend. Virginia met Auburn on Friday night (in one of those pseudo-neutral courts like they've done so often in the ACC - Big Ten Challenge). On Saturday, North Carolina played Kentucky, Clemson played South Carolina, Florida State traveled to Mississippi and Miami clashed with rival Florida. Finally, on Sunday night old rivals Georgia and Georgia Tech wrapped things up.

Six games. Six wins for the ACC.

(yes, I'm guest blogging for Yoni and then linking to my own site. I'm sneaky like that.)

Dave Bliss Emerges At Georgia?

You'd think that good folks at the University of Georgia would have learned their lesson after dealing with the unctuous Harrick clan. So why on earth would they bring in Dave Bliss, the sleazy former Baylor coach who may be the only recent coach with fewer scruples than the Harricks?

What's that you say? This isn't the same Dave Bliss? This guy is a freshman player? And he's not even a son of the ignorant Bliss? Oh. Well, nevermind then.

Game of the year. Maybe.

In Yoni's absence: some guest-blogging from Big Ten Wonk....

Last week's Wake Forest-Illinois game drew an almost Final Four-esque plurality of the national hoops commentariat. When Jay Bilas, Bill Raftery, Mike DeCourcy, Andy Katz, and Luke Winn are all under one roof, something is afoot.

What was not afoot, alas, was a good game. But there's a little get-together tomorrow night that, for my money, has all the promise of last week's game, if not more. I can't wait for Syracuse-Oklahoma State, the nightcap at the Jimmy V. Classic in the Garden.

A non-Big-East type such as your intrepid blogger turns his gaze upon this year's Orangemen and discovers with a start that they still have the same 4 and 5, Hakim Warrick and Craig Forth, that created such match-up problems for an extremely talented Kansas team in a national title game that seems like ten years ago now. Warrick and Forth were to 'Melo what Ortiz is to Ramirez: the talent that surrounds you alters how the opponent plays you. Forth may seem like a 7-foot water heater but he is 7 feet: in the aforementioned national title game he was guarded by the equally tectonic Jeff Graves. Nick Collison drew Warrick, which left a certain 3 for the Orangemen being guarded by Keith Langford, giving up four inches and claiming no advantage in quickness. The Jayhawks, knowing their man needed help, swarmed to Anthony with multiple defenders whenever he touched the ball. So Anthony dished assists and the 'Cuse got big games from Gerry McNamara, Billy Edelin, et. al. With the exception of a certain Denver Nugget, every name in the paragraph is still there. The Orangemen are clearly one of the top six teams in the nation.

So are the Cowboys and, I swear, I felt that way before they beat a major-conference foe by the score of 81-29. The hosannas currently raining down on Illinois--their execution on offense, their patience, their efficiency that outstrips their personnel on paper--have been, or should have been, directed to Stillwater, Oklahoma, for longer than the past ten days. This is a team, after all, that led the nation in field goal percentage last year. And that's just on offense. Having watched his Washington State team score just 29 points against OSU, Cougars coach Dick Bennett (no slouch he when it comes to D) said simply: "I have not run into, in my 40 years, that kind of defensive intensity for as long as they played it."

Should be a great game.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

(Big) East Coast Bias

There's a truism about not defecating where you consume meals. The fact that Yoni chose to trust me not to do so in his playground, speaks to his trust or his naivete. I guess we'll see how it goes for the next couple of weeks. Working in his favor is the fact that the last time I saw live match-up of Arizona vs. Pitt, Pitt won 100-92. Granted that was back in January 1990, when I was still in school. And sure a couple years later they crushed Pitt by 20, but I didn't see that game, so it's hard to be that upset at this point.

I'm Chas, and I've been blogging on anything that I feel like here for a couple years and in the last year plus with some friends regarding Pitt. I expect that most of my posts will be regarding the Big East in the present and with an eye to the future. This is obviously a strange time for any fan of a BE school. Things are in upheaval and stability has never been t a word to be associated with this conference. At least that remains the same. Here's how I predict the Big East in 2004-05.

I'm curious and excited to read what other guest bloggers post here. Cross-pollination of ideas is one of the reasons I was juiced to take part. It is way too easy to get stuck in an echo chamber when you focus on one team or conference.

writing on basketball

Hi folks, Ken here. I'm an old friend of Yoni's who can vouch that he did predict Arizona's 1997 championship before the season (though, come to think of it, he also predicted rings for the 'Cats in 1996, 1995, and every year before that). Yoni's asked me to chip in while he's on vacation, so I'll do my best to keep you entertained. Thanks for reading.

This afternoon, I found myself watching the 1999 Lamont Long/Kenny Thomas New Mexico Lobos upset a Jason Terry/AJ Bramlett Arizona team on ESPN Classic (as an aside, I really wish that the ability to identify the year of a hoops game on the Classic in under five seconds were a marketable skill). Now, I'm a big Red Sox and Patriots fan, but I would never spend my time on a random baseball or football game from five years ago, nor do I even watch many regular-season games not involving my teams of choice. But with basketball, I'm a fan of the sport. I just flat-out love to watch it, no matter who's playing. Yet on my bookshelf, there are dozens of great books on baseball, from Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract to The Glory of Their Times, and exactly two basketball books, David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game and Larry Bird's Drive (with Bob Ryan, one of the better writers on the basketball beat).

Maybe I just haven't been looking in the right places, but it seems to me that the amount of quality writing out there on baseball simply dwarfs what's been written on hoops. Baseball's made careers for writers like Roger Angell and W.P. Kinsella, who have treated the sport as a literary subject. Basketball has inspired precious few great books -- Halberstam's account of a dysfunctional Trail Blazers team (I guess not much has changed) might be the best of the lot, and John Feinstein's The Last Amateurs might be the best on the college game. And even Halberstam has written more, better books on baseball than he has on basketball.

So I'm asking you -- what's your favorite roundball book? Author? And why does it seem there are so few good ones?

In a few days I'll try to write on another area where basketball lags behind baseball -- statistical performance evaluation and the sabrmetrics revolution.

overtime: the company you keep

Thank you to all those who have voted (and will continue to vote once a day through voting's close on December 12th) this site the "Best Sports Blog" in the 2004 Weblog Awards. When I got in the race, I never expected to win. The baseball blogosphere is much too large (and much too good) for a college basketball blogger to triumph in a largely parochial contest.

And that was before the Giambi-Bonds(-Jones) steroids story broke, sending baseball blog readership through the roof.

But I'm very thankful (and very proud) of this site's strong showing to date. I've provided "fierce competition" for the Baseball Crank, a former associate of the Sports Guy (yes, that Sports Guy). And run nearly even with Athletics Nation, whose best of the blogosphere technology comes from none other than the Daily Kos (the 'net's most popular liberal blog). This site is also doing well against Fanblogs, a group blog with many, many writers, Baseball Musings, a blog authored by a former ESPN lead researcher and Aaron's Baseball, a site that predates the Internet (or might as well). Finally, a shout-out to Brendan Loy. When I was a blog newbie, the "Irish Trojan" linked readers my way -- the first time I noticed a surge in interest. The traffic Brendan inspired provided the motivation (in part) for me to continue writing.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


Before I go, I should apologize for several commitments I was unable to keep prior to my departure.

First, I wrote Gregg Doyel that I would critique one of his recent pieces. Oh well. I'll be doubly as harsh upon my return.

Second, I promised Boi From Troy I would author a post on his USC Trojans. Maybe after Henry Bibby quits at season's end.

Third, a number of people have emailed requesting that I add links to their site. I'm always glad to oblige. Sorry for the delay.

That's it. In less than two hours, I'm leaving on a jetplane. Enjoy the guest-blogging.

A Warm Welcome

I'm off to a tropical destination and will return the evening of the 17th. My long awaited and much-need vacation will certainly include some of this and may include some of that. But it will not include Internet access. (Think "Cast Away," but with a larger cast).

In my absence, I've recruited a team of guest-bloggers - a "sensational six," if you will - to keep the site active. Several are noted bloggers. Others are notable friends. But all are fine basketball minds and passionate hoops fans. (None, however, aspire to follow in the footsteps of Michael McCann, the original guest blogger, who parlayed his post on this very site into a semi-regular gig at the Sports Law Blog).

Without further ado, I urge you to enjoy the next 12 days, courtesy of Chas, Chris, Dave, Jason, John and Ken. (Ladies? All the ladies? Louder now! Help me out! The next time I'm away, I hope to lessen the gender imbalance. Email me if interested).

I am indebted to each of the guest-bloggers for their support, as I hope you will be for their work. Thanks to all six in advance.

Finally, I should add that I'm quite interested to see which guest-blogger accumulates the most comments on a single post and who among 'em collects the most total comments during the next twelve days.