Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

NCAA tournament selection process to consider using different metrics, analytics

5 Comments

Big news today coming down from the NCAA selection committee. In a story published on NCAA.org, Dan Gavitt, the senior vice president of basketball for the NCAA announced that there would be a coming together of the minds behind some of college basketball’s best metrics.

Ken Pomeroy (KenPom), Jeff Sagarin (Sagarin ratings), Kevin Pauga (KPI) and Ben Alamar (BPI) will all be meeting in Indianapolis next Friday to discuss integrating more advanced metrics into the NCAA tournament’s selection and seeding process. Less RPI is always a good thing, and with those four gentlemen in a room together, you can bet your mortgage on that line of thinking being pushed forward.

One of the goals of this meeting is to develop some kind of a composite metric, another tool that the selection committee can use to differentiate teams and to find a fair way to get the 68 best teams in the country properly seeded into a bracket.

I love it.

I don’t want to delve too much into why the RPI is an ineffective metric, but rest assured, there’s a reason that the smart people covering – and coaching in – this sport can recite KenPom rankings.

There are, however, two things that I do hope will come out of this:

1. Can we end the over-reliance on arbitrary cut-offs points for ranking wins? There shouldn’t really be a difference between beating the No. 50 team and the No. 51 team, but there is. How often do we talk about “Team X has this many top 50 wins”? (Hint: The answer is A LOT.) And I would rant here about ensuring that the value in winning road games shows up in this metric, but I know for a fact that the guys getting invited to this meeting understand that better than I do. It will be discussed.

2. More importantly, I have a plea for the gentleman heading to Indianapolis next weekend: Make sure that, when you leave that room, there is the understanding that the actual results still have to matter.

One of the flaws in the RPI is that it doesn’t take margin of victory into account. For example, Xavier lost by two points at Colorado and by 25 points at Villanova. In the RPI, Colorado’s win has the same value as Villanova’s win. Even my 16-month old son knows that’s silly, and he throws a tantrum when I make him eat with a fork. The metrics that incorporate the difference in those two results are always going to be more accurate.

But the concern, then, is just how much of a difference there will be in, say, a one point win and a one point loss. The fact of the matter is that both of those teams essentially played each other to a standstill, right? Whether or not a shot goes in on a final possession isn’t going to change how good either team is, can be or will be. Remember this finish between Butler and Gonzaga? Remember the big to-do everyone made about Brad Stevens’ reaction on the sideline? It was one of the most exciting and memorable shots of his coaching career, and he never even unfolded his arms? He was already walking towards Mark Few when the shot went in.

“That was a really lucky play for us. Great steal by Rose, got it off in time, made a great play,” Stevens said after the game. “I don’t think it tells the whole story about how good these two teams are, and shouldn’t take anything away from Gonzaga.”

And, to a point, he’s right.

Losing a close game on a fluky buzzer-beater doesn’t make you any worse of a team.

But it should have a tangible benefit to the team that won the game. You should want it to have a tangible benefit to the team that won the game, because that’s what makes these moments so exciting. That’s why Hinkle Fieldhouse went absolutely bananas when that shot from Jones went in. That’s why we collectively lose our minds anytime someone hits a big shot. That’s why, say, the three that Malik Monk hit to give Kentucky a win over North Carolina back in December was so meaningful. It didn’t mean that the Wildcats were suddenly that much of a better team that the Tar Heels, but it did mean that they had that win on their résumé.

And that needs to matter.

Winning needs to matter.

There should be a big difference between a one point loss and a 30 point loss, but there should also be a difference between a one point loss and a one point win.

Because otherwise, if winning the game doesn’t actually matter, what the hell are we doing all of this for?

Iowa’s McCaffery says, “I’ve turned programs in” for cheating

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

There aren’t a lot of unwritten rules in basketball. One of them, though, is that if a coach breaks a real rule, other coaches don’t speak up. Coaches would seemingly rather lose out on a recruit or transfer rather than turning in one of their own for suspected malfeasance.

Not for Fran McCaffery, though.

The Iowa coach was asked Monday about the FBI investigation into corruption into college hoops, and freely volunteered that he has previously turned other programs in for violations – and that he’ll do it again, if need be.

“I’ve turned programs in and I’ll continue to do that when I know that there’s something going on,” McCaffery said at the program’s media day, according to the Des Moines Register. “But a lot of times you don’t know what’s going on. So can you police yourselves? Only if you know something’s going on. But even then it’s hard for the NCAA to do something.”

Turning in another program for violations is really one of the biggest taboos in the coaching profession. That’s why you get coaches look silly in blocking schools for transfers when tampering is suspected, rather than a coach just reporting tampering.

McCaffery’s tactic, while probably frowned upon by many of his colleagues, is probably the best weapon the NCAA has in combating cheating. If coaches make it clear they won’t tolerate cheating – or that if it occurs, it won’t go unremarked upon – that will go along way in changing a culture and system that the FBI is going to potentially uncover with its wide-ranging investigation that already has resulted in 10 people’s arrest and a Hall of Fame coach’s firing.

“Any time the game is cleaned up,” McCaffery said, “it’s better for all of us.”

Report: Louisville offered $1.5 million settlement to Pitino

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
1 Comment

When it became clear that Louisville and Rick Pitino were going to part ways, much of the discussion instantly turned to the more than $40 million left on the coach’s contract.

The school reportedly tried to avoid that whole ordeal Monday, but Pitino apparently wasn’t interested.

Louisville offered to pay $1.5 million to a charity started by Pitino in exchange for his resignation, according to WDRB-TV Louisville. Pitino did not accept and was then fired for cause by the Louisville board.

It’s little surprise to see Pitino reject such an offer with so many more millions on the table should he (almost certainly) begin legal proceedings trying to recoup the cash that Louisville says it doesn’t owe him by firing for cause.

I vehemently reject (the school’s) right to do so ‘for cause,’” Pitino said in an affidavit sent to the school. “I have given no ’cause’ for termination of my contract.”

The firing came on the heels of the latest controversy  to hit Louisville under Pitino’s watch. First came the escort scandal that rocked the program, but now the school is part of the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball. Ten people were arrested as part of the probe, including an adidas executive who is alleged to have orchestrated getting $100,000 to the family of a recruit in order to facilitate his commitment to the Cardinals program.

Pitino may be out at Louisville, but with more than $40 million at stake, the school surely hasn’t seen the last of him.

Louisville officially fires Rick Pitino

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Louisville’s Athletic Association has officially fired head coach Rick Pitino nearly three weeks after an FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball linked the Hall of Fame head coach and his program to a $100,000 payment from Adidas to a recruit that enrolled at Louisville.

The association, made up of trustees, faculty, student and administrators, oversees Louisville athletics. They voted unanimously to fire Pitino.

Pitino has $44 million in salary remaining on his contract, which extends through the 2026 season. He was with Louisville for 16 seasons.

Pitino had been ‘effectively fired‘ by the university on September 27th, the day after the scandal first broke.

Earlier this summer, Louisville had received their sanctions from the NCAA in a different scandal that enveloped Pitino’s program. In October of 2015, a book was published by an escort named Katina Powell who alleged that a member of Pitino’s staff had paid for strippers and prostitutes for recruits and members of the Louisville team, some of whom were underage. The NCAA’s sanctions, which included vacating the 2012 Final Four and 2013 National Title in addition to Louisville’s self-imposed 2016 postseason ban, were handed down in June, two weeks after a Louisville coach had allegedly helped facilitate a $100,000 payment from Adidas to Brian Bowen’s family and six weeks before another coach would allegedly attempt to do the same for a 2019 prospect.

Kansas’ Self: Adidas case a “dark cloud on our profession’

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
3 Comments

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas coach Bill Self had come to know James Gatto well over the years, along with just about everyone else involved with the college basketball side of the athletic apparel giant Adidas.

It comes with the territory as one of the company’s flagship schools.

But when Self first heard that Gatto had been swept up in a wide-ranging FBI investigation, centered on Louisville but uncovering corruption elsewhere in college basketball, the Jayhawks’ coach admitted being “very disappointed and disheartened” and likened it to a “dark cloud for our profession.”

Prosecutors have accused the 47-year-old Gatto of conspiring with coaches and others to funnel payments to top prospects and their families to win commitments to play at schools sponsored by Adidas. The idea was that their relationship with Adidas would continue whenever they reached the professional level.

The family of one prospect was allegedly paid $100,000 to commit, according to court documents, and the school was later revealed to be Louisville. The school has since placed coach Rick Pitino on administrative leave while the federal investigation is being resolved. Nine others, including former Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans, have been charged in the case.

Self said during a lengthy interview Friday that the cash payments from Adidas surprised him, but “what is not surprising is third parties’ involvement in recruiting. Everyone should know that.”

“That’s prevalent everywhere,” he said. “There’s nothing illegal about agents talking to kids and their families in ninth and 10th grade. There’s nothing illegal about shoe companies funding AAU programs. That is what’s been encouraged and done, so it shouldn’t be a surprise you could have influence from third parties.”

Kansas officials insist they have not been contacted by the FBI, and the school is not under any sort of investigation. It

Kansas recently reached a 12-year contract extension with Adidas that will ultimately provide the school with $191 million in sponsorship money and apparel. Self suggested the affiliation is being used by rivals on the recruiting trail.

“Whenever in recruiting there is something out there that has been reported, whether it’s reliable or unreliable, total myth, whatever, there’s usually competitors that make sure that information gets to people. Unfortunately, that’s how it works,” Self said. “You can say that’s negative recruiting … but a lot of times the things that are reported are so inaccurate it puts you on the defense.”

The Jayhawks already have commitments from two top-100 prospects in 6-foot-9 forward Silvio de Sousa from Florida’s IMG Academy and 6-10 center David McCormack from Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy.

They are also in the mix for several more top-50 prospects in what could be a crucial class for them.

“I’d be lying,” Self said, “if I told you we hadn’t discussed these issues with kids. And has it hurt us to date? I don’t think it has. But it’s not signing day, either.”

Attorney makes case for Louisville to retain Pitino as coach

AP Photo
2 Comments

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Rick Pitino’s attorney has told the Louisville Athletic Association that it should not fire the coach of the men’s basketball program because his client “could not have known” about activities alleged in a national federal investigation of the sport.

Steve Pence made his case Monday while the ULAA was meeting to discuss whether to fire Pitino nearly three weeks after the school acknowledged the program’s involvement in the investigation. The association board is still meeting and has not announced its decision.

Association, a separate body that oversees Louisville’s sports programs and comprised of trustees, faculty, students and administrators, on Oct. 2 authorized university interim President Greg Postel to begin the process of firing Pitino for cause after Postel placed him on unpaid administrative leave Sept. 27.

Pitino, 65, is not named in court complaints in the federal probe but Postel said in a disciplinary letter that the allegations violated his contract.

Pence has contended that Louisville rushed to judgment and made his case before the board for 45 minutes on Monday.

He said Pitino should be retained and noted, “The coach did not engage in any of this activity, he didn’t know about the activity. I think we made a very compelling case to the board, I think they listened attentively and we’ll just have to wait and see what they say.”

Pitino has coached 16 years with the program, a run that included winning the 2013 NCAA championship but was tarnished by several embarrassing off-court incidents.