Hoops “Rudy” is quantifying hustle with computers

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The NCAA likes to remind you that most of their athletes go pro in “something else”.

This is the story of one of those guys.

Vasu Kulkarni grew up hoops-mad in India. When he was accepted as a student at Penn, he thought he’d carry that love over to a college career – his version of the American Dream.

“I didn’t realize that at 5’9″ and 135 pounds that wasn’t about to happen,” Kulkarni told CBSPhilly.  “I was in for a rude awakening when I showed up at the Palestra.”

In true Rudy fashion, Kulkarni didn’t give up. He busted his butt trying to get better and earned a walk-on spot as a senior. He got to put on the uniform, and see some court time with the JV team. Since a hoops career clearly wasn’t on the horizon, Kulkarni took the two things he knows best – hustle and smarts – and built a tech company called Krossover that helps measure hoops intangibles.

“A lot of coaches that go by this gut feel, they like to talk about hustle. Sometimes that’s their answer to statistics, is ‘oh well you can’t really measure the intangibles. And that’s what I look at when I’m talking about my team.’ And we try to look at some of those things as well. So we measure deflections. Deflections are a good measure of how active your hands are, and how active your team is as a whole on defense. So if you can measure deflections, winning 50/50 balls on the floor, steals and rebounds, now you have possibly to put some sort of weighted average on these things and come up with a metric around hustle, which is one of those intangibles that coaches really like to see.”

Kulkarni has also found a novel way to measure basketball IQ – another of those arcane concepts we pundits like to go on and on about. He made a sort of video game out of it. The program, called sIQ, shows a basketball play developing, then freezes the action. It tells the player the result of the play, and he must guess how the result came about. The game measures not only right and wrong answers, but how fast the player arrives at the answer.

Kulkarni has compared his own performance to that of NBA execs and players. “More often than not, I’m probably right. But it probably takes me four or five seconds to answer a question. Whereas an elite athlete, their response time is under one second and they’re getting most of these questions right.”

Kulkarni doesn’t claim his program replaces human intuition, more that it gives data-based evidence for what our intuition might notice in a player. He does believe, however, that his programs will streamline the process, and possibly eliminate some confirmation bias.

“You know, I’m not saying that we’re going to give you a better decision than your coaches are going to make. But I’m saying when it comes to data collection, when it comes to putting all of this together in a form that is easily digestible, it’s much better to use a computer program. At least it’s more efficient and cheaper to use a computer program, than it is to use humans.”

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games

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We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring.
The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.

The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.

It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.

Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance  – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.

The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

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South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday:

UNC academic case finally reaches NCAA infractions hearing

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It has taken more than two years for North Carolina to appear before an NCAA infractions committee panel since initially being charged with five top-level violations amid its long-running academic scandal.

The two-day hearing begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel will ultimately determine whether the school faces penalties that could include fines, probation or vacated wins and championships, making this a major step toward resolution in an oft-delayed case filled with starts, stops and twice-rewritten charges.

“The hearing stage, no matter what size of a case, it’s a big deal to any university,” said Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has worked on infractions cases. “I’ve been a part of what you’d consider small cases, I’ve been a part of one of the largest cases. And trust me: The client feels the same anxiousness and apprehension no matter what size of a case it is.

“But I can definitely imagine with North Carolina, this is definitely a momentous occasion.”

The charges include lack of institutional control in a case tied to irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The case is an offshoot of a 2010 football probe, with the NCAA reopening an investigation in summer 2014, filing charges in May 2015, revising them in April 2016 and then again in December.

The panel, which would typically issue a ruling weeks to months later, is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC’s representatives were seen arriving for the closed-door hearing at a Nashville hotel Wednesday morning. The contingent included athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Jan Boxill and Deborah Crowder, two former UNC employees charged individually in the case, were also seen with their attorneys.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in a broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor providing improper assistance on assignments.

Fedora wasn’t working at UNC during the time in question.

“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” Fedora said last week. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important — not only for the NCAA but the university — that it shows compliance is important to me and our program.”

The focus is independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades. In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Keorneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority. In a May filing , the school stated it “fundamentally believes that the matters at issue here were of an academic nature” and don’t involve NCAA bylaws.

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

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Duke officially adds Marvin Bagley III

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Duke made one of the biggest recruiting moves of the year official Tuesday.

The Blue Devils announced that Marvin Bagley has formally reclassified from 2018 to 2017 and will join Duke for the upcoming season.

“Marvin is a special basketball talent and a tremendous young man,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “He is completely dedicated to his improvement as both a player and student and, given his family’s deep history in this area, he is fully aware of what it means to be part of Duke University. We’re thrilled to add Marvin to our program.”

Bagley’s history in the area comes from his father, who is a Durham native and played football collegiately at North Carolina A&T.

Duke’s official announcement comes just a day after Bagley committed to the Blue Devils and said he planned to enroll in the fall semester.

Bagley, who was the top-ranked player in 2018 and is considered by many now the top 2017 prospect and potential No. 1 NBA draft pick next summer,  makes Duke the presumptive No. 1 preseason team as he joins a highly-touted recruiting class for Coach K that was previously headlined by Wendell Carter, Jr., Trevon Duval and Gary Trent, Jr.

The 6-foot-11 Bagley averaged 25.8 points, 14.9 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game while playing in the EYBL this summer.