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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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Saturday, December 18, 2004

I'm out like

Rick Majerus at USC.

Can anybody recall the comments made earlier today by Fowler, Phelps and Lavin about USC's imminent turnaround? ESPN's crew all but assured the Trojans would be Pac-10 champs upon Olson's retirement.

CW has Paul Westphal as the heir apparent at USC. Would Josh Pastner receive an interview at Pepperdine? How about Mike Jarvis? (Please?) Or Steve Lavin? (Irony).


at the venerable institution of academic learning that is Barton County Community College. The ghost of Ricky Clemons will forever haunt (fire!) Quin Snyder. But if this story is to have legs, then Ryan Wolf-enabled players at several other schools need to be implicated as well. More here, here, here and here.

Via reader Rob.

Game Notes

Texas should have taken the final shot with two seconds to spare, so as to enable a rebound in case of a miss...Mustafa Shakur looks like Jaleel White...Kentucky and Louisville each played but a half of quality basketball in a good, but strange, game...Chris Rodgers and Mustafa Shakur have a chemistry that Salim Stoudamire and Mustafa Shakur lack...Travis Diener is t-o-u-g-h. But he's also Marquette's only big-time scoring threat...Though I am no fan of Digger Phelps, the trio of Chris Fowler, Steve Lavin and Phelps is significantly more enjoyable to watch than was the trio of Fowler, Lavin and Majerus...Salim Stoudamire played the role of team cheerleader with class. In public, Stoudamire has significantly improved his attitude...Wake Forest's victory will put an end to the "What's wrong with Wake" discussion that has been slowly brewing in Winston-Salem...Lavin, speaking of a Wildcat senior: "He's been at Kentucky for so long, I swear he's on the GI bill"...For more than five second half minutes, Lute Olson's lineup included both Daniel Dillon and Brett Brielmaier...The pundits (e.g. Katz and Doyel) were right about Patrick Sparks...Could Olson be slowing down the go-go 'Cats? During the Preaseason NIT, ESPN's play-by-play men argued Arizona forced Wake Forest into a low-scoring affair. But today the network's commentators suggested it was Marquette that compelled Arizona to play slow-tempo basketball...Wish I could have watched both Texas-Wake Forest and Arizona-Marquette at the same time. As it was, I missed much of Texas' tough play. But I saw enough of P.J. Tucker to understand why Rick Barnes' club is finding success early...Tom Crean's expressions suggest he can be both excited/nervous and calm/detached at the same time. Weird...Hassan Adams is invaluable to Arizona, if only because he is the 'Cat most likely to draw fouls and get to the line.

Oh, Dikembe

Zach wrote:

A friend of a friend of mine was an undergraduate at Georgetown University in the late 1980s/early 1990s. She was at a party one night when Dikembe Mutombo, Georgetown's best basketball player, future international spokesman for CARE, winner of the President's Service Award, and repeat winner of The Sporting News's top 99 "Good Guys in Sports" entered the room and asked, "Who wants to sex Mutombo?"

A silly Internet rumor? Not according to Jim Rome (is Burning).

That one line speaks for itself. That's a true story about Dikembe Mutombo. I checked with my webmaster (Georgetown grad) he verified it.

I should go away more often.

I'm back from the Bahamas. A quick review suggests that both the quantity and the quality of guest-blogging was tremendous.

I should go away more often.

Thanks kindly to Chas, Chris, Dave, Jason, John and Ken for their contributions. Very much appreciated.

More to come -- including my responses to various posts -- this weekend. For now, I'm happy to have returned in time for perhaps the best day of televised non-conference match-ups this year.

Saturday, Dec. 18

Kentucky at Louisville, ESPN, noon;
Texas at Wake Forest, ESPN, 2 p.m.;
Arizona at Marquette, ESPN2, 2 p.m.;
Regional coverage, Michigan at UCLA or Oklahoma vs. Duke, at New York, CBS, 5 p.m.;
Mississippi State at Xavier, ESPN2, 8 p.m.;
Las Vegas Showdown, Oklahoma State at UNLV, ESPN2, 10 p.m.;
Las Vegas Showdown, Gonzaga vs. Georgia Tech, ESPN, 12:30 p.m.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Big East 2005, How Did I Get Here (Part 2)

How did it come to this? The Big East will become a 16 team lumbering behemoth in basketball next year, and a 8 team weakling in football. Both seem ill-fitting. How did it get here? Where is it going? Arguably, the seeds for the present situation were sewn in the first 5 years of the Big East's existence. This is, disturbingly enough, Part 2 of something I've been thinking about for a while. Part 1 is here. It covers the time period of 1992 to now and the future.

Football and its money transcends all.

1992 saw the creation of the Bowl Coalition. The goal was to try and set things up for a true national champion without disrupting the bowl system (or conference alliances with particular bowls). The Bowl Coalition lasted 2 more seasons. It was scrapped after the 1994 season.

It was replaced by the Bowl Alliance, where 4 conferences (SEC, ACC, Big East and the Big 12 [technically, in '95 it was still the Big 8 and Southwest]), match-up the consensus #1 and #2 teams in a bowl game. The hitch was that the Big 11 and PAC-10 refused to join, preferring to stay with the Rose Bowl. The Bowl Alliance, like its forerunner, lasted 3 seasons.

This led to the formation of the Bowl Championship Series in 1998. This time all 6 conferences -- ACC, Big East, Big 11, Big 12, PAC-10 and SEC -- agreed to participate.

As for basketball, the impact of expansion for football began to be felt. For the 1995-96 season, the Big East basketball league went from 10 to 13 teams as Notre Dame, Rutgers and WVU became full members. The quality of the Big East had been suffering from the expansion. Too many teams near the bottom. Pitt, Rutgers, WVU, Miami and even ND at first were all not very good teams. You were also seeing the b-ball only schools start to drop in quality. The early to mid '90s was not a great time to watch the Big East.

The league was split into the BE 7 and BE 6 divisions in 1995. There was no logical split for the divisions. Providence and Miami were in the same division, but Pitt and WVU were not. That split was scrapped after the 1996-97 season.

Unfortunately, the divisional format was restored upon Virginia Tech's full admission into the Big East in 2000. They were not the same divisions as before, but they were still despised. The division format hurt the conference as a whole for getting teams into the NCAA Tournament. One division, invariably would be stronger than the other, and you would have them beating each other up. Less teams in the NCAA Tournament, less money for the Big East. They were scrapped after the 2002-03 season.

The Big East was still a big name in basketball, but the football money was just dwarfing everything. The BCS, for all of its faults, did what it really was supposed to do: generate lots and lots of cash for the participating conferences and schools. The #1 vs. #2 was incidental. That's what the public reason was, but really it was and is about the cash for the programs and departments. (Why else would you see such politicking and complaining by Cal and the PAC 10 about Texas getting the other at-large bid? It's not like it would affect the national championship. Follow the money.)

The money had gotten immense. So much so, that the ACC -- the conference everyone looks to when talking about all that is great about college basketball -- decided that it needed to get a bigger share of the pie. In the history of the BCS and Bowl Alliance, only 2 conferences failed to place an at-large team in one of the extra slots: the ACC and the Big East.

The ACC was looking at low TV ratings for its televised football games and reduced revenue on its next TV contract. Additionally, NCAA rules prohibit Conference Championship games without at least 12 members. The ACC, at only 9 members made a business decision. It needed to go to a 12 team football-first conference.

Miami and two other members of the Big East football conference were the logical choices. Really, they were the only choices. The other major conferences were very stable and quite lucrative in their revenue. The Big East football, though was even smaller than the ACC. Miami, of course was the linchpin. Miami had a traditional rivalry game with FSU, an ACC member, and was a geographical fit.

So the ACC, quietly, began sniffing around Miami. Trying to gauge their interest. Miami had interest, and quiet discussions ensued. Eventually, though, these things do not stay quiet. Too many people, too many institutions involved. By April 2003, the Big East Commissioner, Mike Tranghese, made it public what the ACC was up to. Unfortunately, that was about all he accomplished.

Tranghese merely put it out in the public. He and the rest of the Big East did not act decisively. They ditheredand made proclamations. I admit, as alum and concerned first, and foremost about Pitt, this can be seen as biased to the football/basketball programs. The plain fact, though, is that there had been a split coming between football/basketball athletic programs and the basketball only programs in the Big East. Even at 14 teams in the BE there were problems and grumblings on the basketball side about the schedule, about how football was too important, how the basketball tournament kept 2 schools at home every year, and that the basketball schools were having their interests ignored.

I was blogging about this for some time when it was going down.

For those unfamiliar with everything here's the condensed Reader's Digest version from after it became public that the ACC was looking to raid the Big East:

This boxed in the football-playing BE teams. They needed Tranghese and his personal ties to other BCS conference commissioners to help keep them in the BCS with an automatic bid. The other conferences could boot the BE easily enough if they hadn't dealt with the commissioner, but not if he was one of them. A guy who helped defend their little system.

Tranghese was making one last play to protect his school (Providence) and the basketball only programs. The basketball schools had been in a down period, as the balance of basketball power had clearly shifted away from the likes of Seton Hall, St. John's, Villanova and Georgetown in the Big East. The power was with UConn, Syracuse, Pitt and even BC. At best, the basketball only schools didn't look much stronger than the Atlantic 10. The basketball schools needed to keep their association with the stronger members of the Big East.

So the only way to keep Tranghese and his connections was to remain in the BE with basketball only schools. At least for the short term. The b-ball schools weren't going to let themselves be put in an overwhelming minority position, since it was clear that sooner or later the BE football teams would split off. That is why, rather than look to replace Miami, VT and BC with Louisville, Cinci and USF; you had the Big East add 2 basketball only schools as well.

Next year, the Big East will begin playing its 16-team megaconference schedule. The Big East Tournament will still be limited to only 12 teams, so the bottom 4 do not even make it to Madison Square Garden. The system is built for pissing off the member schools.

To repeat, the whole point is to give both sides time to build up their strength, and prepare for another raid. The basketball only schools are not in the best shape. They need the new infusion of Marquette and DePaul (ND will be in this side of the sheet, since they are a football indy).

The dominance of basketball right now in the BE is on the side of the schools that also play football -- Syracuse, Pitt, UConn, and add in Louisville and Cinci.

By the end of the 2009-10 season, at the latest, the BE will officially split. You can expect the football schools to make one more run at ND (and fail) then expand to 12 with possibly Memphis, Marshall, East Carolina and/or Central Florida.

Likewise on the basketball side, you can expect them to try and keep ND and pick and choose over UMass, Temple, St. Joe's, St. Louis, Xavier and/or Charlotte.

The real battle will be over the rights to the name "Big East."

For the football schools, there is one other wrinkle that concerns their future. Expansion by another conference. The most obvious is the Big 11. They can maintain that they have no interest in expansion at this time. That they don't want a conference championship game. But sooner or later they will look for that 12th member.

Obviously they will take one more run at getting Notre Dame to join. Who knows? Perhaps by that point, Domer pride will have been hit long and hard enough that they will finally give up that cherished independence and join a conference. But I doubt it.

That would leave Pitt or Syracuse as their other choices. These are the only 2 schools in the Big East that would meet the athletic and educational standards required in the Big 11. Only Pitt and Syracuse are members of the Association of American Universities -- like all members of the Big 11 (Rutgers is also a member, but they offer nothing in athletics or tradition other than playing that first football game). Quite honestly, if either school received an offer, it would have to be taken. Conference stability alone would necessitate it. To say nothing about getting into a conference that is assured of always being involved in whatever college football post season format there is. The money would drive that decision. As it drives almost all decisions in big time college sports.

The Big East, 2005. How Did I Get Here?

How did it come to this? The Big East will become a 16 team lumbering behemoth in basketball next year, and a 8 team weakling in football. Both seem ill-fitting. How did it get here? Where is it going? Arguably, the seeds for the present situation were sewn in the first 5 years of the Big East's existence. This is, disturbingly enough, Part 1 of something I've been thinking about for a while. It covers the time period of 1979 to 1991.

The Big East was founded on 3 basic principles: self-preservation, money and basketball. Today you can still argue that the BE is maintaining the principles of self-preservation and money. Basketball is just along for the ride.

Dave Gavitt was the main force to founding the BE. He was Providence College's head basketball coach and athletic director. Gavitt deserves credit for forward thinking. He recognized several items: the money to be made in a new basketball conference, not to mention keeping Providence College relevant in college basketball, and the growing dominance of football conferences and the money involved. With assistance from Boston College and Syracuse, an East Coast basketball league was formed along with Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall and UConn. Villanova was invited to join the following year to make it an 8 team league. With the exception of BC and Syracuse, these were all schools that did not play Division 1-A football. BC and Syracuse were football "independents" along with the majority of schools in the Northeast.

Shortly after the Big East was launched the landscape of college football changed with the lawsuit filed by the Universities of Oklahoma and Georgia against the NCAA in 1981. The NCAA had controlled all college football on TV for decades. The last attempt to avoid the control of the NCAA for airing games on TV by a school was Penn, yes the University of Pennsylvania, in the early '50s. They were quickly put down for such rebelliousness. The NCAA rules limited teams to TV appearances (regional or national) to no more than 6 times in a 2 year period, and everyone received the same money. No matter whether it was Temple or Notre Dame being aired on TV.

In 1977, 62 college football programs formed the College Football Association (PDF).

The CFA included the universities who were members of the Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Western Athletic Conference, Big Eight Conference, and the Southwest Athletic Conference, as well as many independents. The group thus included Penn State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Miami, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A & M, Arkansas, Louisiana State, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, Florida State and Clemson. Because Big Ten and Pac Ten Conferences did not join, Ohio State, Michigan, Southern California, and UCLA were not in the CFA.

The CFA hoped to increase the demand for college football and to insure that the most popular programs received a larger share of the revenues. It developed an academic eligibility standard that was later adopted as the NCAA's Proposition 48 concerning playing eligibility of freshmen athletes and it produced annual graduation rate surveys. Although the CFA enjoyed some small victories in terms of a modest relaxation in appearance limitations, the NCAA's democratic voting rules frustrated the group’s efforts to divert more of the exploding football broadcast revenues to the major programs.

In 1979, the CFA had begun exploring its own TV package deals, but the NCAA maintained its control by threatening CFA members with sanctions -- not just in football, but in all sports programs. This kept the CFA in line, until 1981.

By 1981, the CFA reached its own deal with NBC for a TV contract while the NCAA had a deal signed with ABC and CBS. The NBC deal did not have the same limitations and a different fee sharing schedule. The NCAA once again threatened the CFA teams with sanctions. This time a couple of the CFA schools (Oklahoma and Georgia) filed a lawsuit against the NCAA for antitrust violations.

The case made it to the Supreme Court and in a 7-2 verdict in 1984 found for the CFA schools. What this did was allow the conferences to cut their own deals with networks and, of course, cable stations -- ESPN and what at the time were the various local sports channels that would later become Fox Sports Net. This drove prices down at first, so a contract negotiated by the CFA for all members was negotiated. The Big 10 and PAC 10, not members of the CFA, negotiated their own deals.

That's getting ahead of things a few years. The Big East was at 8 teams and decided it needed a 9th member. After the case was brought, the CFA member schools in the Big East (Syracuse and BC) began to realize they would need ties to other CFA programs in the Big East. Joe Paterno at Penn State was starting to make noise once more about a football-centric Eastern Conference. A definite threat to the Big East which did not want to lose Syracuse and BC. So Pitt was invited to join, and accepted. Pitt left the Atlantic 8 and became a member in 1982, and suddenly had money coming from the basketball program. Something they never had before.

The Big East had taken off because Gavitt was one of the first Conference commissioners to recognize the money to be made from a Conference Tournament -- both in terms of tickets and TV rights. It also allowed the league to showcase itself across the East and garner more attention and help its member institutions increase their profile and recruiting. Gavitt also recognized the potential of ESPN and made deals to get BE games on the new cable network early in its existence. The Big East quickly battled the ACC for b-ball supremacy on the East Coast.

After the Supreme Court decision, Joe Paterno really began pushing his idea for an Eastern conference where football was the focus. He wanted Pitt, Syracuse, BC, Rutgers, Temple Virginia Tech and WVU and I think Maryland and Miami in the conference. Maryland was in the ACC, of course, and really didn't have any interest in leaving. Syracuse was a power in the Big East and was doing fine as a football independent. BC was doing well in the BE (though not a power) and also fine as a football independent. Neither saw a reason to join a conference that would clearly lower the profile of the basketball programs while merely formalizing the football relationships already in place. Especially when the Big East was proving to be a financial bonanza.

Even a Pitt fan must give appropriate credit. Joe Paterno clearly saw where things were heading with regards to football and conferences, in light of the lawsuit filed against the NCAA. He recognized that without the NCAA controlling the TV access, that conferences would fill the void as a negotiating partner. With multiple schools, they could offer a better product line than individual schools. Independent programs would either suffer or join a conference. His timing for pushing the plan, though, could not have been worse.

The year the Supreme Court decided in favor of the CFA schools, 1984, was the same year that Paterno formally tried to create an Eastern Conference. Unfortunately for him, the 1984-85 season was the most successful season for the Big East. You had Villanova, Georgetown and St. John's in the Final Four. Boston College made the Sweet 16. Syracuse and Pitt both made the NCAA Tournament. For Pitt, it was their first trip in almost 20 years. Paterno and Penn State wanted Pitt, Syracuse and BC to leave the Big East? The timing could not have been worse.

That plan defeated, Paterno went to Plan B and began inquiring about joining the Big East. That plan met with defeat, as Syracuse actively campaigned against it. The Basketball schools weren't that interested in bringing Penn St. into the fold since PSU didn't bring anything to the sport they played. Pitt did nothing one way or another. Plan C, of course was finding another conference to join, which PSU did officially in 1991 by going into the Big 11.

By the time PSU announced its plans to join the Big 10 in 1990, independent football programs were sucking wind. All the money and interest was going to the conferences. At the same time, Florida State surprised people by announcing plans to join the ACC rather than the SEC. Clearly, the money from football was too great to ignore, even for the basketball-centric ACC.

This was Mike Tranghese's baptism by fire. Tranghese was Gavitt's right-hand man, and his chosen successor as Big East Commissioner when Gavitt stepped down in 1990. Hastily the Big East created their own football conference where Miami, Temple, Virginia Tech, Rutgers and WVU teamed with Pitt, Syracuse and BC. Temple chose to remain in what is now the Atlantic 10 for basketball. Miami became a full member right away. WVU and Rutgers came into the basketball portion in 1995. Virginia Tech, not until 2000. Notre Dame also joined the BE in 1995 in everything but football.

It was not a perfect solution, but it seemed to work and kept the Big East intact.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

It's morning in college basketball

There was a news conference in Madison Square Garden yesterday to announce the formation of something called the College Basketball Partnership. (More background here.) Attendees included NCAA president Myles Brand, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, and coaches Kelvin Sampson, Jim Boeheim, and Mike Krzyzewski.

"This is an effort to focus on the future of our game," Brand said. Precious little was revealed, however, regarding what exactly that effort will look like.

Blogging abhors this kind of vacuum, so here's one fan's proposed agenda:

1. Post airport security screeners at arena doors to prevent Billy Packer from entering.
2. Move the three-point line out, already.
3. Reverse, at random, half of all charging calls--about that many should not have been whistled to start with anyway.
4. Require names on backs of jerseys. (Coaches: instill your team philosophy through less fatuous means.)
5. Hire a private investigator to look into what in the world this hoops writer was thinking when he wrote this oddly earnest and too-well-researched piece on players having trouble finding clothes that fit.
6. Restore the intentional foul to its original purpose, not an automatic call on any breakaway.
7. Make Kansas play at least one game outside of Lawrence at some point this season.
8. Let Rick Majerus continue to call games and work the studio this season.
9. Require all Oklahoma State players to show proof they are under the age of 30.
10. Create an early-season "All-Acronym Classic." First-year attendees would include Texas A&M University Corpus Christi (TAMUCC) and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).

Other thoughts?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Before they were stars

ESPN's Jay Bilas dropped in on an Illinois chat room last night and say this for the man: though the occasion may have called for merely a five-question greet-and-go, Bilas really lingered and had a far-ranging discussion with the Illini fans.

But rather than bore you with Bilas's assessment of Illinois' chances to get to the Final Four or his take on Bruce Weber's motion offense, let's get right to the important stuff:

Q: Jay, what was it like working with Ken Howard during your cameo on "The White Shadow"?

Bilas: "The White Shadow" was great. I was only 16 when I was on the show, and was a guy named Larsen. I was the best player on an all white team that a guy named Reese transferred to. All of the guys on the show seemed to be my age, but all were about 30, which seemed ancient at the time. I saw Ken Howard about two months ago, and he couldn't have been nicer. A great memory for me.

I knew, of course, that Bilas appeared as "the Good Alien" in the 1990 movie, I Come in Peace (starring Dolph Lundgren). But who knew that Bilas had done a star turn on this TV favorite from the late '70s and early '80s? Having that on your resume just has to be interview ice-breaker gold.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

even more stats

First, my favorite stat of the week: this blog has finished an impressive 4th in the voting for best sports blog on the net; it's the only blog dedicated to basketball that made the list. A nice holiday present for Yoni when he returns.

On to the promised theory of individual PPP (points per possession). I'm going to throw some technical specifics in parentheses in case someone with a statistics or econometrics background is reading, but it should all make sense even if you skim or skip the math.

The Goal: Last time I talked about how any composite stat that uses the standard inputs -- points, assists, rebounds, turnovers, etc. -- has the same inherent biases as those inputs. So my basic idea to determine a player's contributions is to directly observe the PPP a team records on offense and defense when that player is on the floor, then use a statistical technique to separate his contributions from those of his teammates, relying on the fact that he plays with a variety of lineups. This is a little like a generalized plus/minus statistic, which averages out teammates' effects. One nifty feature is that we'll measure offense and defense on the same scale, which means that if this works, we could compare (or just subtract one from the other) offensive PPP and defensive PPP by player and judge both overall contribution and whether a player is relatively more valuable on O or D.

Let's start with the key assumption: every player has a unique contribution to his team's PPP on offense and defense -- let's call these stats OPPP and DPPP, with a high OPPP being good, and a high DPPP being bad. That is, regardless of who else is on the floor, a player has some true contribution to his team's chance of scoring or preventing a score. In order to calculate the expected OPPP or DPPP at any given time, we then simply add the individual stats for the 5 players in the game. So, making these numbers up, if J.J. Redick has an OPPP of +0.3 and a DPPP of +0.2, and Daniel Ewing has an OPPP of +0.2 and a DPPP of +0.1, that would mean substituting Ewing for Redick would decrease the expected points scored on each Duke possession by a tenth of a point, but would also decrease the expected points scored on each opposing possession by a tenth of a point. Later we can relax the assumption that individual PPP's are independent, which will be equivalent to testing if certain players make each other better or play well together.

Estimation: So how do we estimate OPPP and DPPP? Here's where we use the key advantage basketball has over baseball in calculating stats: basketball has frequent in-game substitution, with teams employing perhaps a dozen unique five-player combinations over the course of a game, and many more over the course of a season. This means we can observe how a player performs with a variety of teammates, and estimate his individual contribution based on the differences in PPP between those different lineups. It would be silly (because of the more individual nature of the game) and impossible (because of the relatively few in-game substitutions) to do something like this for baseball; it would entail observing how many runs per inning a team scored or allowed when a player was in the game, then indirectly estimating his contribution. But basketball's more frequent substitutions make this approach feasible, at least in theory.

(Math: An 8-man rotation allows for 56 possible combinations, a 9-man for 126, and a 10-man for 252. Obviously, most possible combinations will never be employed, like playing two centers and three forwards. But if even a quarter of the combinations play together, that suggests roughly somewhere between 15 and 60 unique lineups over the course of a season, depending on the coach's strategy. To statistically identify contributions from some number of players, a rule of thumb is that we'll need data on twice as many unique lineups to get good estimates. Also, we're in trouble if some pair of players are always on the floor at the same time.)

Data Needed and Methods: The data we need are, for each 5-man lineup employed by a team: 1) the number of minutes that lineup plays together 2) OPPP for that lineup 3) DPPP for that lineup. And that's it. Using a regression, we can calculate the "best-fit" individual PPP statistics on offense and defense, i.e., the individual PPP's that best explain all of the different lineup PPP's. We would use a method that emphasizes getting the right number for lineups that play more together, and thus for players who play more minutes -- we care more about getting a precise estimate for Redick than for Lee Melchionni.

(Math: What I'm talking about here is a weighted least squares regression. The equation would have OPPP or DPPP as the dependent variable, and an indicator variable for each player as explanatory variables, with no intercept term for now -- including one would give us a sort of PPP above replacement player. For any lineup, five player-indicators will be 1, and the rest will be 0. The coefficients on these indicators are our estimates of PPP. In fitting the data, we weight the error terms by the minutes played for each lineup, so that more importance is placed on matching observed PPP for the starting lineup than the garbage-time team.)

Extensions: Above I mention the possibility of testing whether players' PPP is truly independent from one another. We can pretty easily test this for a pair of players (Math: This fits right in to our setup: just include an interaction term -- the product of the indicators -- for a pair of players, and test if it is significantly different from 0). We couldn't test every pair of players, because that's too many variables to identify, but we could test specific pairs, e.g., Joey and Steven Graham, if we suspected they had an effect on each other. Also, we could make some effort to adjust for the strength of the opponents on the floor, adjusting for average opposing team's PPP in our data.

Wrapup: This idea requires a lot of observed data to get good estimates, and is definitely the sort of thing that would be applied to an entire season, rather than a single game. The more data, the more precise estimates we get. Calculating career PPP would be especially effective, as over the course of a multi-year careera player would play with hundreds of lineups. But all the play-by-play data we'd need from each game to calculate lineup and individual PPP is
1) Substitution: who replaces whom, and when
2) Points: for and against, and when they are scored
3) Possession: defensive rebounds, made field goals (or terminal free throws), and turnovers to determine the number of possessions for each team, and when they occur

This is just an idea right now, and I'd be curious to hear whether it appeals to you as a different way to estimate individual player value, what problems or benefits you see that I missed, or whether it makes sense at all.

EDIT: A friend with whom I'd been discussing this topic just found this link, which implements something very similar on NBA stats. On the one hand, it's cool to know that something similar to what I came up with independently is doable and gives meaningful results; on the other hand, it's a little sad to find out that it's not original (the setup is actually somewhat more advanced, which makes this feel a little bit like thinking you invented the wheel, only to see someone drive past you in a car), though I don't think it's been done on college stats, nor is there a test for whether particular players play well together. The funny thing is I actually corresponded briefly with the author when I was thinking of writing my senior thesis on the game theory of the NBA luxury tax, but I somehow hadn't seen this study before.

Myth Buster

Ken Pomeroy is on the warpath again. He loves correcting incorrect but popular notions. One of his favorite targets is the myth that free throw shooting is a lost art.

The latest article that Ken attacks is by Rice head coach Willis Wilson.

Wilson claims that "percentages from the charity stripe have declined in recent years," but Ken points out that that's just not true and all it would take is a minute to look it up.

Just Add Water

College coaches are always looking for upperclassmen leadership. Unfortunately, with transfers and early exits to the NBA, those older players can be hard to find. Hello junior college transfers!

Gregg Doyel points out that there are a surprising number of juco transfers doing quite well this year.

Monday, December 13, 2004

On Bias

I really expected to be blogging more. I feel like I'm not holding up my end of things. Unfortunately, Pitt let its football coach walk to cause some distractions. So, I haven't even come close to the posting I have percolating. I'm going to throw something else out there in the meantime.

A friend gave me a call during the Pitt-Memphis game to talk about what we were seeing. He works under the insane impression I have a lot of knowledge about basketball. Personally, I feel like I can hold my own at a times, but then I look at what Ken posted regarding stats in basketball. (Great stuff, by the way. Much like in football, schemes and strategy make a more varied use of personnel. So that it becomes difficult to compare a point guard from one team with another, unless they are running similar offenses or defenses.) Not to mention the stuff from the Big Ten Wonk, and I know where my limits are.

The point is, as we were talking I got a brief glimpse at my own biases about basketball. What I mean is the kind of game I like. I didn't play HS basketball, never mind anything more advance than some intramural/rec-league stuff in college and beyond. I'm short (not to mention bald) and not much of a shooter. What game I have is on the defensive end. I can take a charge, pester, get guys annoyed, actually force guys out of position inside and I'm willing to dive for balls.

And that's the kind of basketball team I like. The teams that stress defense first. (Very convenient, since that has been Pitt's approach in the last 5 years.) I'm not talking thug basketball like what Riley and the Knicks did in the 90s. I'm talking about sound, fundamental game where you make the other team work to find a good shot.

I always attributed it to watching a lot more Big East teams than ACC (not to mention because Vitale is almost always calling an ACC game on ESPN), Big 11, Big XII, SEC and other conferences when I can.

I appreciate and can enjoy a wide-open, up and down game, but I find myself noticing how out of position, the mistakes on defense and the things that led to the easy buckets.

So I'm curious. What kind of game do/did you play? Do those biases still influence what teams/players/styles you like to watch? To what extent? How aware are you of these biases?

Viewing the Wooden Finalists through a narrow (but interesting) lens

Last week's guest-post on stats by Ken got this guest-blogger thinking about the stat known as points per field goal attempt (PPFGA), a figure which, as detailed here, can actually belie its name and take in FTA's as well.

Below are the top 10 and the bottom 10 from this year's Wooden Award finalists, ranked according to PPFGA.

Wooden Award Finalists--Top Ten PPFGA's
1. Ike Diogu, Arizona State (1.54)
2. Jarrett Jack, Georgia Tech (1.53)
3. Dee Brown, Illinois (1.51)
4. Nate Robinson, Washington (1.39)
5. Kevin Bookout, Oklahoma (1.39)
6. Rashad McCants, North Carolina (1.39)
7. Ronny Turiaf, Gonzaga (1.37)
8. Joey Graham, Oklahoma State (1.35)
9. Andrew Bogut, Utah (1.33)
10. Travis Diener, Marquette (1.32)

Wooden Award Finalists--Bottom Ten PPFGA's
1. Chris Thomas, Notre Dame (0.94)
2. Charlie Villanueva, Connecticut (0.95)
3. Lawrence Roberts, Mississippi State (0.97)
4. Channing Frye, Arizona (0.99)
5. Sean Banks, Memphis (1.00)
6. Daniel Horton, Michigan (1.01)
7. Chris Paul, Wake Forest (1.07)
8. Bracey Wright, Indiana (1.08)
9. Curtis Withers, Charlotte (1.08)
10. Torin Francis, Notre Dame (1.09)

What it means. Give Ike Diogu 12 FGA's and six FTA's and he'll score 23 points. Give those same shots to Chris Thomas and he'll score 14.

Disclaimers. The stat known as PPFGA is not for everyone. Side-effects include too much cognitive emphasis on offense, drastic over-simplification of a player's real contributions, and a false sense of having quantified the qualitative. Ask your hoops blogger if PPFGA is right for you.