Big East Hoops

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Credit UConn, Blame Someone Else

April 5, 2011 10:08 am by Dan'l B

Should UConn and Butler somehow be blamed for the low quality of offense last night? Absolutely not. If you need to find a culprit, blame these contenders who failed days or weeks ago: Ohio State, Kansas, Duke, Pitt, ND, SDSU, UNC, Florida. UConn and Butler knocked out these teams or their vanquishers and earned the right and chance to become “champions by default” if that’s what you need to call the winner.

I’ve watched most of UConn’s last 11 games and can say this about Butler: last night’s defensive scheme against UConn was the best I’ve seen in these 11 games. Given that UConn’s only been at their best for the last month, it’s reasonable to say Butler defended them better than anyone did all year. They tended to rely on two tactics (by the way, credit Brad Stevens for successful ideas that pundits didn’t predict), (1) shut down Jeremy Lamb–Nored was featured on Lamb for large stretches, not Kemba as expected–and (2) contain Walker with other guards and plenty of double-team help. UConn was forced to score through Oriakhi and Okwandu or via jumpshots from players not named Lamb or Walker. Seems like a simple defensive plan, but the key is Butler executed it. No one else has been able to do the same. Calhoun made some adjustments, and UConn willed themselves to more points in the 2nd half, but Butler’s execution defensively did not waver much.

When you compare and contrast the 2010 and 2011 championship games, only one key difference emerges: Butler couldn’t make shots this time. Offensively, UConn and Duke were not so different. Both games were slow: 60 possessions in 2010 and 57 last night. Duke shot better; UConn rebounded better. Duke managed 1.01 points per possession to UConn’s 0.92 ppp. That difference is all of two made baskets in 40 minutes. An argument can surely be made that Butler is a year older, a year wiser, and two buckets better defensively than they were last year, even without Hayward. That’s a reduction, but the point is, last year’s “seal-of-approval” champion only scored marginally better against Butler than this year’s “worst-ever” champion.

It would be easy to reduce UConn’s postseason to this one ugly game. It’s also easy to watch the last five minutes of movies. Neither act is fulfilling. The story of UConn 2011 can only be understood from the full-season perspective. Credit a bunch of freshmen for filling big shoes and making this a complete team. Credit Kemba for willing his team to victories and his teammates to maturity. Credit Calhoun for his finest coaching in some time. If you only saw UConn’s last few games, you won’t understand.

Big Least?

March 22, 2011 10:00 am by Dan'l B

(insert general acknowledgement to whichever pundit(s) coined that pun here)

There’s some interesting arguments discussed in Will’s weekend post-mortem. Here’s a few worthy of responses:

Media bias certainly CAN affect the power rankings by overvaluing intra-conference play… If West Virginia (for example… not picking on WVA) is overrated, then the boost a team gets in the power ranking is magnified when they beat them, and the loss to them is not as damaging to the power ranking. — RTP

RTP was responding to my assertion that sagarin,, and the RPI justified the Big East’s bids. Certainly, media-driven power rankings like the polls or ESPN’s “Power 16″ have their effect on the selection process, but the ratings systems like sagarin, kenpom, and the RPI (as awful as that is) are media-agnostic. The teams could be blindly named A, B, C, etc, and the ratings systems would spit out the same rankings. What matters is (a) who you play, (b) where you play, (c) when you play, (d) if you win, and (e) how much you win by. There’s subjectivity in how or if all these parameters are used, but there’s no “Big East fudge factor” or any fudge factor in favor of certain teams.

The Big East is no better than any other conference at gaming the ratings systems. The only way to “game” them is to win–it’s not gaming at all. It’s a simple fact: on balance, the Big East achieved better results out of conference than the rest of the country, and that distinction bears out in the agnostic ratings systems. I could care less what the polls say and have long ignored them. So yes, I see justification for 11 bids in the ratings systems. The Big East’s 11th ranked teams in sagarin (St Johns, 34th) and kenpom (Georgetown, 43rd after the tournament loss, mid-30s before) were well within the at-large range.

The Big East has good teams, very good coaches, and rabid fans but not a lot of great players, NBA type players. When you play teams w/ better athletes and better players, you get shown the door.

Does anybody believe that Arizona would still be dancing if Derrick Williams was just a solid 1st team All Pac 10 PF and not a NBA lottery pick? UK, Arizona, Ohio St., KU, UNC, SDSU, BYU, FSU, Richmond, Duke, Wisconsin, and Florida all have pro prospects that project higher than anyone in the Big East except Kemba Walker. Lo and behold, UConn is still dancing. Villanova and Mouphtaou Yarou may be the one anomaly.

VCU and Butler, also anomalies in my argument, have more heart and desire than most of the field and that worked for them. But I doubt either gets out of the Sweet 16. — Don Stone

Here’s a less tactful response: perhaps all these NBA prospects from other conferences (and I acknowledge that there is better individual talents in general this year from other conferences) are very NBA ready: they don’t try very hard unless it REALLY counts. The Big East’s top half beat those teams and players more often than not during the season.

The better response: it’s reasonable to say that these teams with more NBA-ready talent are probably younger and probably improved more during the season. By tournament time, they’ve caught up to older teams that achieved so well all season. UConn is again the exception for the Big East: they are the youngest team still alive (3 Fr, 1 So, 1 Jr starting). The other candidates for that distinction are Kentucky (3 Fr, 2 Jr) and UNC (2 Fr, 2 So, 1 Jr).

Don’t forget that pundits generally described the Big East as upper-middle heavy throughout the season: tons of very good teams bound for middling at-large seedings, but maybe one title contender in Pitt. There was media acknowledgement that the Big East lacked top-shelf talent. Despite that, they overachieved out of conference all year; doing so cast the Big East as better than they were in general. Middling teams got higher seeds than their talent should have justified, and the Big East’s mediocre teams (Marquette, Villanova, Cincy, Georgetown, St Johns) got into the tournament instead of other power conferences’ mediocre teams.

The “problem” for other power conferences was an inability to go out and beat the Big East enough during the season. If Duke had beaten (or even come close to) St Johns, perhaps the trickle-down effect gets Virginia Tech a bid. If Texas had beaten UConn or Pitt, perhaps Colorado gets in. If Kentucky had beaten UConn, perhaps Alabama gets in.

Losing in the NCAA tournament tarnished some great seasons for the Big East, but it doesn’t erase the whole season.

…your conference tournament is just all wrong. It’s a 16 team league. No need for any byes. Why reward anyone for league play when it is unneccessary! The reward is in the seeding for regular season. That’s plain and simple, but the Big East has that wrong as well. — GurualaKing

Here’s the steps to explaining the Big East Tournament:

  1. With 16 teams and no byes, there’d be eight first-round games. That necessitates playing over two nights, which gives half of the teams the advantage of a day’s rest, or splitting the round into two concurrent sets of four games at two sites, which moves 1/4 of the games away from MSG. Neither option is acceptable. The Big East tournament’s purpose is to showcase each team two at a time in MSG.
  2. The next option is to cut the number of tournament teams to 12 and have four byes like most major conferences. That denies four teams a chance to play their way in. That’s not acceptable.
  3. Next, how about starting with the 12-team tournament with four byes, but add the other four teams in: have the bottom eight teams play for the final four spots in the tournament. Ding! Ding! Ding! That’s exactly what the format is.

You can view the Big East tournament as a 12-team, 4-bye tournament formatted like everyone else’s tournaments, except there’s four play-in games to earn the final four tourney spots.

Getting physical

March 21, 2010 10:26 am by Dan'l B

Kansas State gave me flashbacks to Georgetown circa John Thompson. Man they’re bruisers. Syracuse, should they meet them, might struggle with these guys because of their relatively thin frontline. Onuaku’s health will be very important.

The other obvious comparison is Pitt, and K-State is now waiting for them in Salt Lake. Could be ugly.

Cautionary Group Think Lesson

March 19, 2010 10:44 am by Dan'l B

There are roughly 5 million brackets filled out for the ESPN challenge this year. It should be easy to guess how many brackets are perfect through 16 games as of this morning.

What should be the case if brackets were filled out blindly? If we ignore all information such as seed and resume, we’d have to flip an unweighted coin to decide each match. Given 5 million brackets filled out by coin flip, we’d get the perfect combination about 70 times.

But there’s plenty of information that should help us make better decisions. Most glaringly, A #1 seed has never lost.  What if we advance them in every bracket and flip a coin for the rest. With only 14 unweighted coin tosses, the number of perfect brackets jumps to 300. That’s impressive, but we know things about all of the teams and should be able to make more educated decisions than that.

Sagarin, Pomeroy, and others provide all sorts of tempo-free and margin-adjusted ratings to inform our decisions, so what happens when we apply that knowledge? Strictly taking their favorites isn’t very good–that would net precisely 0 clean sheets so far. Instead, let’s use coins weighted by probabilities for each team generated from the ratings systems. If we use weighted coin flips based on Ken Pomeroy’s ratings (see the series of articles on Tuesday, 3/16, here: and look at the first round odds) or similar systems such as Sagarin’s PREDICTOR, there would be about 700 perfect brackets right now. If the #1 seeds were automatically advanced and the other 14 games were chosen by unweighted coin flip on all brackets, there would be roughly 300 perfect brackets this morning. If every game of every bracket was filled out by unweighted coin flip–including the 1v16 games–there would be roughly 70 perfect brackets right now. There are 56 perfect brackets left.” target=”_blank”> and look at the first round odds) or similar systems such as Sagarin’s PREDICTOR, there should be about 700 perfect brackets generated out of 5 million. This approach gives our most unbiased, informed result: a 1/7000 chance of a perfect bracket this morning.

Alas, there aren’t a couple million bracketologists filling out those five million brackets, so we shouldn’t expect that best-case result. Logically, the results should fall somewhere between 70 and 700, our predictions for a completely blind crowd and a fully informed one. Odd then, that there are only 56 perfect brackets left. Ouch. I suspect a few million too many people listed to the pundits way too much–enough to make them collectively less wise than a penny. That’s my two cents at least.

Bracket Breakdown (Big East Edition)

March 26, 2009 10:18 am by Dan'l B

Borrowing heavily from Ken Pomeroy’s breakdown on Basketball Prospectus (in other words, copy and paste), here’s a primer for the rest of the tournament with a Big East perspective. First, odds by round for each remaining squad (check out Ken’s article for perspective on how this compares to the rest):

Seed             Elite8 Final4 Final  Champ
1W   UConn        72.8   37.4   24.5   15.4
1MW  Louisville   77.5   47.6   26.0   12.4
1E   Pitt         68.3   40.1   17.0    9.1
3S   Syracuse     52.2   20.8    9.7    3.7
3E   Villanova    40.8   17.2    5.1    2.0

These results should resemble those I posted at the beginning of the week. Ken used updated ratings to generate these probabilities whereas I had used the pre-tournament numbers. UConn’s huge wins greatly improved their numbers, but Pitt and Louisville each lost ground thanks to their closer calls. Nova and Cuse also both improved relative to the remaining competition.

Combining all these probabilities, I generated the net probability of various events occurring. Here you go:

Sweet Sixteen Results:
5-0    8.2%
4-1   28.7%   4+    36.9%
3-2   36.2%   3+    73.1%
2-3   20.8%   2+    93.9%
1-4    5.5%   1+    99.5%
0-5     .5%

Elite Eight wins:
4      2.1%
3     15.5%   3+    17.7%
2     36.7%   2+    54.4%
1     34.5%   1+    88.9%
0     11.1%

Final Four wins:
2     16.1%
1     50.2%   1+    83.9%
0     33.8%

Champ 42.6%

We should see 3 or 4 wins tonight and tomorrow. Anything else would be a shocker, akin to the lill shocker that Wichita State administered to Tennessee in the 2006 tournament.