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NCAA tournament selection process to consider using different metrics, analytics

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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?

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.