Monday, March 29, 2010

Flash Facts: It's a Team Game

Flash Fact #1 Butler Is Just a Great Team As one of the most consistent teams in the NCAA I suppose is was only a matter of time before Butler finally broke through. Owner of the nation's longest winning streaks Butler shouldn't have been under the radar. They play as good team basketball (rotation on defense, making the extra pass to increase efficiency) as it gets. I think what's incredible is that this was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Butler - who had lost a lot of talent off last year's laden squad. Once it goes to show great teams can beat great individuals in college basketball.

Flash Fact #2 Bob Huggins Owns John Calipari Bob Huggins, owner of the world's largest collection of leisure suits, is now 9-1 versus Calipari. While Kentucky was more "talented" than West Virginia, the Mountaneers prevailed. While Kentucky's cold outside shooting might be the most eye catching stat, it's hard to argue Huggins didn't out coach Calipari. Huggins ever shifting defensive schemes kept Kentucky off guard and Calipari's odd refusal to use full court pressure until the waning moments were just as important in West Fuckin Virginia's first Final 4 Bid.

Next year Huggins is coaching only in real velour

Flash Fact #3 Turner v. Wall is now the debate With the tournament wrapping up soon (and most people's brackets already wrapped up) college basketball will morph into NBA Draft watching. The only player that might challenge John Wall for the top spot is Evan Turner. Wall is probably the quickest/fastest point guard I've seen in a long time (maybe ever) but his turnover tendency and questionable outside shooting add a few doubts. Turner, who played out of position this year, is more a Brandon Roy type player. I'm guessing the freak athlete freshman will win out over the self-made Junior but it'll be interesting if a New Jersey or Minnesota (which have point guards ) win the draft might go with Turner. Don't cry for tOSU over losing Turner. With the #1 recruiting class next year's Buckeye squad might be even better.

Flash Fact #4 Tom Izzo Might Be the Best Coach in College Basketball - His 6th trip to the Final 4s in the last 12 years might have been his best. Coming off a highly successful year last year nobody would have lamented a step back for Michigan State. A brutal injury to their star player and it was perfectly rational to doubt the Spartans. However yet again an Izzo squad ends up in the Final 4. No other school has matched Izzo's performance and Izzo has done so without any superstars passing through East Lansing.

Denise Milani says Chocolate Martinis are delicious. Not sure how it connects to Tom Izzo -give me a couple of days on that....

Flash Fact #5 Dookies, Not ACC, Are Good

I had a hard time watching Duke v. Baylor. On the one hand a school that really only on the map due to crony political intrigue and on the other a school built on tobacco money. One a school populated by christian fundamentalism (and that's saying something for a school in Texas) and the other a school populated by douchebags (well at least the undergrads). In the end Duke prevailed. The Dookies success though (or Butler's or Michigan State) shouldn't automatically be taken as a sign of a particular conference. Part of the problems with mid-major v. power conference false nomenclature isn't just the lack of dichotomy between the two but that the ongoing question of what a good conference means is rarely discussed or defined. Yes the Blue Devils are an elite team (cough cough easy road) but that shouldn't alter the fact that the rest of the ACC was craptastic this year.


MJ said...

I am definitely impressed with Tom Izzo taking yet another team to the Final Four and doing so without any players necessarily destined for the NBA. I don't know if Izzo (like Coach K) doesn't recruit elite talent out of fear that they'd desert the program after one year or if recruits simply don't like something about MSU that keeps them away but it really is incredible that Izzo keeps on getting the most out of his program year after year.

The biggest bummer in the Final Four is that there's a "light side of the force" bracket and a "dark side of the force" bracket. Either of Butler/MSU would make worthy, deserving, fan-friendly champions; the same cannot be said of Duke/West Virginia.

I suppose I'm rooting for Michigan State to win it all (over West Virginia) but the truth of the matter is that Butler/MSU would've made the best final.

For the record, Duke fucking sucks. How on earth they tourney committee could give them this cake-walk road to the Final Four is beyond me. Not a single argument will ever convince me that Duke didn't get the velvet glove treatment on Selection Sunday.

Gutsy Goldberg said...

you know what's interesting about Izzo? In the middle part of the decade, he was doing gangbusters on recruiting, and ended up with elite talent that left early. Obviously, Jason Richardsdon and Zach Randolph come to mind, which resulted in a 10-seed in 2002. He also lost Marcus Taylor and some guy named Erazem Lorbek (who I can't remember) shortly after that too. Maybe Izzo learned his lesson... and only goes for players just below super-elite?

Here's a cool article from 2007 on Izzo and MSU

MJ said...

You know what? I completely forgot about Jason Richardson and Z-Bo. Great call there, Gutsy.

I guess, yeah, Izzo got scared away from the risk/reward of high profile recruits.

Gutsy Goldberg said...

that's funny about "light side" versus "dark side." I'm also rooting for whichever "light side" can survive. I think it would be quite a tale if Butler makes the finals!

Hitman said...

I'm rooting for whomever Denise Milani is rooting for. Good gracious. Anyway...

- I love how we all know how Huggins is slimy...and then he reinforces the perception by absolutely refusing to wear a collared shirt. What a dirtbag. I can't root for WVU on that basis alone.

- I hadn't realized just how successful Izzo has been. 6 Final Fours in 12 years? That's incredible.

- No doubt, one team's success doesn't necessarily reflect the talent of the overall underlying conference. Everybody knows that at least this season, the ACC was relatively weak - and as for the Big East, well, the poor showing of most of WVU's leaguemates in this tourney indicates just how overrated the conference was. Obviously the Horizon isn't a major power, even if Butler has arguably become one. The Big 10? Better question, especially because no other conference landed three teams in the Sweet 16.

- Speaking of Butler...I find it interesting that for over a decade, Gonzaga has been the prototypical "major team from a mid-major conference". But those Bulldogs never made it this far. Granola is still a good program, but it seems they've been eclipsed.

MJ said...

"[A]s for the Big East, well, the poor showing of most of WVU's leaguemates in this tourney indicates just how overrated the conference was."

I don't agree. I don't see why one could make that claim on the baiss of a series of one-game losses? I understand that March Madness is a defacto playoff system but I wouldn't make assumptions that an entire conference is overrated because of how their tournament turned out. Poor coaching and poor player peformance don't necessarily equate to an overrated conference.

Mighty Mike said...

I don't think its a question of assumptions as much of definitions. How an entire conference is rated (let alone over/under rated) is a function of subjective and socially constructed definitions. The problem with college basketball is that there is very little agreement about success is. In college football it's fairly easy how conventional wisdom rates conference success - it's BCS Bowl wins. College basketball it's unclear. How a team does at the end of the year is weighed heavier in every other USA sport so there's every reason to think tournament performance should be not only be a criteria but a weighted one. Now this isn't to say that the regular season doesn't count but given that non-conference games happen primarily at the beginning of the year it's makes their importance/weighting difficult.

Of course tournament games are one game oddities which makes it even harder to gauge things. Should KU's season be considered more successful than Michigan States? Maybe, Maybe not. Is Butler more successful for reaching the Final 4 than Xavier with it's multiple Sweet 16 births (@Hitman agreed on Butler over Zaga)? Again Maybe, Maybe not. If it's difficult to think about at the team level comparing a behemoth like the Big East to the Big 12 becomes doubly difficult.

There's just not any clear norms of what success is in college basketball to guide us so I wouldn't be rule out any definition (take one as dogma)

MJ said...


"How a team does at the end of the year is weighed heavier in every other USA sport so there's every reason to think tournament performance should be not only be a criteria but a weighted one."

Just because this might be the case doesn't make it correct. The 2000 Yankees and 2006 Cardinals rank as two of the worst World Series Champions of all time. They BARELY qualified for the playoffs so it's hard for me to buy the argument that winning the championship made them a better team than the ones they passed along the way. That's where luck comes into play.

Similarly, I can't accept the argument that the Big East is overrated just because Butler made it to the Final Four and the rest of the Big East Conference, save for West Virginia, didn't.

I agree with you that there is no defined measure of success in college basketball. As such, Butler's season has been far more successful than they ever could've imagined whereas Georgetown or Syracuse probably feel like their seasons were relatively disappointing, all things considered. It means different things to different people based upon expectations and past history. But blanket statements like "overrated" don't fly with me on the basis of a tournament's results.

Gutsy Goldberg said...

It's true there is no solid definition of conference success... however, when a conference like the Big East has multiple teams underperform, I'm fine with saying the conference is overrated. The rest of the conferences? It's hard to say much about them, though you could make a good case for the Big Ten being underrated for getting 3 into the sweet 16 (w/ 2 teams having injury problems).

MJ said...

I don't see how a conference can be overrated based on the results of seven independent, unrelated losses in a tournament despite having the highest strength of schedule rank and second-highest RPI rank in college basketball during the course of a lot more than seven games.

Mighty Mike said...

"Just because this might be the case doesn't make it correct. The 2000 Yankees and 2006 Cardinals rank as two of the worst World Series Champions of all time."

Nonetheless based on the arbitrary rules of weighting wins at the end of the year baseball deemed the Cardinals and Yankees the World Series Champions or in vernacular the best team of that year. Your right that they (or any champion) may or may not have been the best team that gets defined as the best team. But it's ALWAYS going to be arbitrary. If you played a thousand game season you still would be left with the subjective choice does each game count equally. In the Premier League yes every game counts equally and therefore whoever wins the most games is deemed the best.

In America we subjectively weight games winning at the end of the year more (we call this the playoffs) and given the far more limited number of games probabilities (or what you term luck) plays a greater role in determining "the best team". However that doesn't change the fact that winning at the end counts more and this subjective weighting certainly isn't unique issue for college basketball.

The Big East overall showing the tournament relative to the rankings bestowed on them by Tournament certainly was under-performance. Which leads back to the question of so what. But that so what applies to all sports....

MJ said...

"baseball deemed the Cardinals and Yankees the World Series Champions or in vernacular the best team of that year."

No. Baseball deemed them the World Champions but no one said they were the best team of the year. I don't know a single person that said that, neither colloquially nor officially in mainstream media. Those that do are simply wrong.

The playoffs do not deliver the "best" team in all cases, they merely crown a champion. It's certainly possible for the best team to win the championship (2009 Yankees) but the 2007 Giants were never confused with the best team in football (18-1 Patriots were clearly that), even if the Giants won the Super Bowl.

I reiterate that this is a clear distinction and I think you're blurring the lines and assuming that everyone else does too.

As to the Big East having a disappointing tournament, certainly. They underperformed. But underperformance doesn't automatically equate to over-ratedness. A straight-A student can get a bad test score from time to time without being an overrated member of the National Honor Society, even if that student underperforms from time to time.

Mighty Mike said...

I guess I'm not following what your methodology is for determining a teams true status and why it's superior to any other method.

You might not agree with the methodology for selecting the first place among competitors (whether you want to call it champion or best or what have you) but there are institutionalized methods and rules for arriving at. The Patriots weren't the best team based on the rules of the NFL which randomly decided on a series of one game playoffs to figure it out. If you (or any one) doesn't recognize that method for arriving at it that's fine...there's nothing wrong with that. But I fundamentally disagree that there's some abstract/theory of form "best team" that exists that be divined from the ether that everyone recognizes. And as such it's a subjective matter on whether a team/conference underperformed or was over-rated.

MJ said...

1) "Champion" and "the best" don't mean the same thing. We have enough data from sports with regular seasons to determine who "the best" team was, even if that team didn't win the championship in its sport.

Given that the United States places an emphasis on some form of tournament or playoff system, yes, you're absolutely right in saying that the winner of the championship takes first place among its competitors. All I'm saying is that you're conflating "champion" and "best" in a way that I don't think has bled into the mainstream in the way you believe it has. I don't know a single person that has called the 2007 Giants "the best" team in the NFL that season. If you happen to think that the 2007 Giants were "the best" team in football that year, that's certainly your right but I don't see how one could make the claim that the Giants were better than the Patriots (or even the Packers or Cowboys or anyone else I might be forgetting) that year. They were the champions of the league that year, that much isn't in dispute, and as a result, they are first in our minds when we think of that season.

2) How can over-ratedness be entirely subjective? The 1996 Chicago Bulls were overrated because I say so? I'm not following.

Personal preference and subjective impressions can play a role -- I hate the Red Sox, therefore I might sometimes discout them irrationally -- but why would one make grandiose claims in an authoritative way about something without consulting all the data?

Underperforming and being overrated are not the same thing. Should every occurence of underperformance result in a claim of over-ratedness? Is the opposite true? Every time one overperforms expectations, they were actually under-rated? Aren't there such things as "blips" in performance from a true level of talent?

Gutsy Goldberg said...

underperformance may or may not result in someone being deemed over-rated. in the bizarreness of the college basketball season... i'm fine with saying the big east was over-rated this year. it wasn't just one result, it was many losses for that conference in that tournament.

Mighty Mike said...

I'm still not sure how you are determining a team's status . Wins? Point/Run differential? Adjusted by schedule? Adjusted by where the games occurred? Head to Head? A lead over other teams of one standard deviation? What is your methodology for determining a team's status ?

As long as the team's true status is unclear a team that is over-rated or under-performs given limited data exhibit the same symptoms. Their performance in the tournament (or in other small samples) would be indistinguishable. It's not that they are the same thing in theory but separating the two forms given limited data is difficult at best.