Blogger Spotlight: Harvard, the Ivy and tempo-free stats with John Ezekowitz

Leave a comment

We’re going Ancient Eight in this week’s blogger spotlight. And the timing couldn’t be better with our guest and his school.

John Ezekowitz is a sophomore at Harvard, who also writes for the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective (and College Hoops Journal). Just last night, he came up with a new tempo-free stat called Free Throw +, which has already received mention in one of the web’s most-read college hoops stories of the week. (What did you do during your sophomore year? Drink stale beer and watch re-runs of ‘Seinfeld’? Yeah, me too.)

But more on that a little later. He’s also a college student who’s watching his school reach basketball heights it never dreamed of. And tonight, it plays longtime Ivy League bully Princeton. John’ll be there, cheering.

Q: This must the Golden Age of Harvard hoops. A 15-3 start after last season’s 21-8 record and national notoriety for Jeremy Lin? Surely it doesn’t get any better for a school with one NCAA tournament appearance.

A: It certainly has been a very good few years for Harvard basketball. When I first went to a Harvard home game in 2009, there were maybe 50 students in the crowd. Worse, no one knew there was a game. Now, Ivy League home games regularly sell out the student ticket allotment and the games are events on campus.

Jeremy Lin was huge for Harvard’s profile nationally, but the continued success without him this year has done wonders on Harvard’s campus.

Q: Describe this season’s squad. All anyone heard about was Lin, Lin and Lin last season. But between Keith Wright and some talented underclassmen, this is a team built to win for a while.

A: The watchword for Harvard this year has to be balance. The Crimson have six legitimate scoring options. Keith Wright is certainly the anchor in the middle, but point guards Oliver McNally and Brandyn Curry really make this team go. Sharpshooters Christian Webster and Laurent Rivard (probably the favorite for Ivy League ROY) light it up from three.

The X-factor, though, is sophomore forward Kyle Casey. Casey was the Ivy League ROY last year, but has been hampered by injuries this year. He seemed to break out last weekend however, averaging a double-double and two monstrous dunks a game in wins over Columbia and Cornell. The scary thing for the rest of the Ivies is that Harvard doesn’t have a senior on the roster. They are 297th in Division-I in experience this year (according to KenPom).

Q: How’s Tommy Amaker perceived around campus? More than just a hired gun?

A: It’s tough to disentangle the Athletic Department’s decision to commit more resources to basketball and Amaker’s role, as they go hand in hand. Tommy is definitely very well liked around campus, and is revered by his players. The student body as a whole is still really waking up to having a good basketball program, however.

Harvard has always traditionally been a football and hockey school, but under Amaker’s watch, basketball is making a push for the hearts and minds. It has certainly worked so far (and would be hugely helped by a tournament berth), but there’s always the lingering question on campus of what happens if and when Tommy decides to leave.

Q: Are you convinced Amaker will stay at Harvard for any length of time? He was mentioned as a St. John’s candidate during the summer. The better the Crimson do, the more often his name will pop up for other jobs.

A: It’s really hard for me to speculate on Amaker’s future because the Crimson are in the middle of a season that could swing the chances he leaves dramatically and because I simply don’t know. With that caveat, I’m hopeful that he will stay for some time to come. The program rebuild is by no means finished, and Amaker continues to sell recruits on the Harvard experience. He has brought in two excellent classes in a row, and has another highly ranked class lined up for next year (it must be said that he is probably helped by Harvard somewhat relaxing its stringent academic standards).

Most of all, Amaker seems to enjoy it here. The program is emerging on campus and has been buoyed by more funds from the athletic department. I think it will take a fantastic opportunity to pry him away from Harvard in the immediate future. Five years from now, who can say?

 Q: Describe what the atmosphere is at Friday night games. Is it hard to fill gyms when students are ready to blow off steam from a week of classes? Are the Saturday games more raucous?

A: One of the beauties of the Ivy League is its consistency. The rhythm of the Friday-Saturday night homestands is the same every year. For a student body like Harvard, this means that the games get more well-attended as the season goes on. It is not so much about what night it is, but rather what week of Ivy play it is.

I cannot speak to what it was like in the past, but in general I’d say the Saturday games have a different feel because of the rest of the crowd. It certainly seems like more (and louder) non-students come out for the Saturday games.

 Q: Best place to watch an Ivy game?

A: While Lavietes has its charms, including a fantastic kids game every halftime that is treated like the real game by the fans, its not the best Ivy League venue. Payne-Whitney at Yale is unique and ornate, and Jadwin at Princeton has the crazy geodesic moonscape ceiling. But the answer was, is, and will always be the Palestra. I’ll be there on Saturday night and I cannot wait.

 Q: Best rivalry?

A: The best Ivy League basketball rivalry was and still is Penn-Princeton. Those two schools dominated the league for the two decades before Cornell’s recent run, and the strength of the rivalry has not diminished in the last few years. The two games between the Quakers and the Tigers are the only Ivy games not played on Fridays and Saturdays: they are played mid-week in the middle of the conference season. The ability of the rivalry to break the Ivy schedule mold is a testament to its tradition and strength.

 As for Harvard, it’s a bit more complicated. The traditional rivalry with Yale doesn’t mean as much in basketball. Let’s put it this way: no school would identify Harvard as their “basketball rival.” There does appear to be a rivalry with Princeton developing right now. It will be interesting to see how that emerges.

Q: Dream scenario: Harvard makes the NCAA tournament. How far are you willing to travel to watch their first game?

A: I’d go to pretty much any of the sites. Tulsa would be the hardest sell to my family, but this is a once in a lifetime experience. And if Harvard somehow miraculously made the second week? Class would become secondary, for sure.

 Q: The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective produces some fantastic in-depth material about hoops. How did you get into blogging there?

A: Believe it or not, before I got to Harvard I was not a quantitative-heavy person. But then I took a fantastic statistics class and had several friends tell me about “this HSAC thing where you talk about sports and stats.” I figured I’d check it out, and the rest is history. For me, the best thing about HSAC is the support network of other like-minded people it provides. For instance, the Free Throw Plus post that went up yesterday was an idea I posted on the email list that turned into a long thread and discussion at our weekly meeting. It would not have come into life without the input of the other members.

Q: Your new stat – Free Throw + — already got a shout out by Luke Winn of SI and is no doubt being discussed right now in tempo-free enclaves. For the tempo-free dummies out there, explain which teams it’ll affect most during the NCAA tournament.

A: Like most new ideas, this one needs more fleshing out. But what I think it does show is that teams who do not get to the line often and do not make their free throws often when they get there can be in trouble in single-elimination situations (like the NCAA Tournament).

Three teams that come to mind here are San Diego State, Louisville, and Washington State (maybe FT+ has a slight East Coast Bias). All three of those teams have efficient offenses, but do not shoot free throws well or often. That really puts a strain on their offenses to be efficient, as they are not bailed out from the line nearly as much as other teams. One bad shooting night or turnover trouble could spell disaster.

 Q: You ever try to explain tempo-free stats to friends? Or do they look at you like you’re nuts?

A: I am a tempo-free stats evangelist, but in order to keep the peace with my friends I don’t evangelize heavily. The beauty is that tempo-free is a very intuitive concept. The idea that stats like points per game and rebounds per game are biased because they depend on how many possessions a team has is simple and easy. I’d like to think my friends who like basketball have been somewhat edified about tempo-free stats by me. They may not be quoting a team’s turnover rate, but they probably know what a turnover rate is.

Q: What’s your goal after college? Or is that too far down the road?

A: To be honest with you, I really do not know. I love the sports statistics path I’ve been on the last year or so, but I am very lucky to have many different options open to me.

Ultimately, I’d like to be able to create something tangible and attempt to grow that. If I can find a way to work sports into that, even better.

 Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

AP Poll: Baylor remains No. 1 in week with few changes at the top

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Here is the latest college basketball AP Poll.

For those interested, here is the NBC Sports Top 25.

Baylor is No. 1 for a second straight week in a college basketball AP poll that had no major changes at the top, a rare bit of stability in a wildly unpredictable season.

The Bears stayed well ahead of No. 2 Gonzaga in Monday’s poll, part of an unchanged top seven for the first time this season. In fact, the only change in the top 10 came with Villanova moving up a spot to No. 8 to swap positions with No. 9 Duke. That comes in a season that has seen seven different teams reach No. 1 this season, matching a record set during the 1982-83 season.

Baylor (17-1) hopped over Gonzaga last week to reach No. 1 for the second time in program history, then earned 44 of 64 first-place votes to keep a firm hold on the top spot after beating Oklahoma and Florida last week.

The Zags earned 19 first-place votes to remain either No. 1 or No. 2 in the poll since the middle of December, followed by Kansas, San Diego State — the last unbeaten team in Division I — and Florida State.

Louisville, Dayton, Villanova, Duke and Seton Hall rounded out the top 10.

No. 22 LSU, No. 23 Wichita State and No. 24 Penn State were the week’s new additions, re-entering the poll after appearances earlier this season. Texas Tech, Memphis and Arizona fell out of the rankings.

Here is the full college basketball AP Poll:

1. Baylor (44 first-place votes)
2. Gonzaga (19)
3. Kansas (1)
4. San Diego State
5. Florida State
6. Louisville
7. Dayton
8. Villanova
9. Duke
10. Seton Hall
11. Oregon
12. West Virginia
13. Kentucky
14. Michigan State
15. Maryland
16. Butler
17. Auburn
18. Iowa
19. Illinois
20. Colorado
21. Houston
22. LSU
23. Wichita State
24. Penn State
25. Rutgers


More AP college basketball: and


Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at

ACC fines Brey for his officiating comments

Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Leave a comment

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) The Atlantic Coast Conference has fined Notre Dame $20,000 and publicly reprimanded Fighting Irish basketball coach Mike Brey for his comments about officiating after Saturday’s loss at Florida State.

The league announced the penalties Monday, saying Brey’s comments “were in direct violation” of the league’s sportsmanship policy that states that public criticism of officiating “is not in the best interest of intercollegiate athletics.”

Brey referenced several issues after the 85-84 loss to the Seminoles, including a technical foul called on the Irish bench with 2:31 left. He also mentioned game official John Gaffney by name as he left the news conference in Tallahassee.

“We’re treated by the officials like we haven’t brought football as a full member (to the league), but yet we get a full share of the ACC Network TV, are you kidding me?” Brey said, a reference to Notre Dame’s independence in football even as it remains a member of all other league sports.

Moments later, a frustrated Brey waved both hands as he got up to leave and continued his comments as he left the room.

“You’ve got to be kidding me, man,” Brey said, raising his voice. “Come on, man. We’re in the league, too.”

The league said in a news release that the matter is closed and declined to make additional comment. The fine will go toward an ACC scholarship fund that assists athletes with pursuing graduate degrees after completing undergraduate requirements.

More AP college basketball: and

Monday Overreactions: Ayo Dosunmu, Maryland and Nick Richards’ takeoer

Getty Images
Leave a comment

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois

Ayo Dosunmu did it again.

Illinois’ sophomore star and leading scorer finished with 27 points, none of which were bigger than the final shot of the game as Dosunmu hit a foul line jumper over Zavier Simpson with 0.5 seconds left on the clock to beat Michigan in Ann Arbor:

It’s the sixth straight win for the Illini, who have climbed all the way up to No. 21 in the AP poll, and no one has been more influential in that run than Dosunmu. He’s averaging 19.0 points and 5.4 assists over the last five games, and in a conference where winning road games is notoriously difficult, the Illini have won at Wisconsin, at Purdue and at Michigan during that stretch.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Maryland Terrapins

No team in the country has elicited a louder chorus of doubters throughout the course of the season than Maryland.

The Terps were a top ten team in the preseason, and spent the entire season ranked inside the top 20 of the AP poll and currently sit at No. 10 in KenPom’s rankings. But because of some uninspiring performances early in the season, combined with the fact that the Terps had entered the week with an 0-4 record on the road, it was easy to overlook this group as nothing more than another fraudulent Mark Turgeon roster.

This week, the narrative changed. The Terps erased a 14 point deficit on the road to knock off Northwester, 77-66, in Chicago and then followed that up by going on a 7-0 run in the final two minutes to land a 77-76 win at Indiana.

Suddenly, the Terps are on a three game winning streak with back-to-back home games coming up next.



Richards has been one of the most improved players in the country this season, but Saturday was really the first time that we saw him completely take over a game.

He finished with 25 points, 14 boards and four blocks in the 76-74 overtime win at Texas Tech, scoring the game-winning points with 10 seconds left.

This is notable, because if you look at Kentucky’s biggest wins of the season to date, they all happened to be a result of one of Hagans or Maxey going absolutely nuts. Maxey had 27 in the win over Michigan State. He had 26  against Louisville. Hagans went for 21 points, seven boards and seven assists against Georgia Tech. He had 13 points, six boards and six assists at Arkansas and 15 points, nine boards and nine assists against Alabama.

Point being, this is the first time that Richards has definitively been the best player on the floor while carrying Kentucky to a win like this on the road.

I also get it: He completely overwhelmed Texas Tech’s frontline — which, frankly, is not a new occurrence, if you have seen the Red Raiders play this season. But we’ve seen Richards play against frontlines he should dominate and, well, not dominate.

As it stands, he’s now the leading scorer and rebounder for the Wildcats. He’s probably the leader in the clubhouse for SEC Player of the Year, and very much in the mix for an all-american team.


I’m not sure people realize just how little there is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (83) at home. They won at Kansas State (89). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-200 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) next week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

As it stands, the Red Raiders are the very last team in the most recent NBC Sports bracket projection.


The biggest reason that I believe this is the lack of elite point guard play. I’ve made this point roughly 18,000 times by now, but in the last decade, the only team that won the national title without having two lead guards playing together was the 2012 Kentucky team that had the top two picks playing together.

And the thing about this year’s Big Ten is that the lead guard play is not great. Cassius Winston, when he’s right, is the best in the country. Ayo Dosunmu, the way he’s been playing for the last month, is right there with him. Anthony Cowan is, in theory, on that list. Zavier Simpson? Maybe. Marcus Carr? At times.

I think that’s it.

So that’s a concern.

As is the fact that every team in the Big Ten is built around their frontcourt play.

I was struck over the weekend as I watch Michigan and Illinois down the stretch play with four centers on the floor — Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili for the Illini and Jon Teske and Austin Davis for the Wolverines. Iowa is at their best when they play with Luka Garza and Ryan Kriener. Tom Izzo loves to play Xavier Tillman with another big man. I could keep going if I had the time.

That is the only league in the country where that happens, and I think it is fair to wonder how well that will hold up in March.


More than anyone else in college basketball, the Wildcats are the team that appear to be the darling of the predictive metrics this season.

(I would say Ohio State, but they spent the first half of the season absolutely bludgeoning really good teams and still don’t have a loss to a team outside the top 40.)

They have one win against a top 30 team and just two wins against top 55 opponents. Their best win away from home is against Wake Forest, yet the Wildcats, at 13-6 overall, find themselves sitting at 10th in KenPom and 12th in the NET. This is what happens when you find a way to lose games close. Five fo their six losses came by five points or less, and it hasn’t always been the same formula. Arizona erased leads to land backdoor covers against Baylor, Gonzaga and Saint John’s. They blew leads on the road in league play in losses to Oregon and Arizona State. They completely collapsed in the second half against Oregon State.

So I’m not sure there is a clear-cut answer to what ails the Wildcats right now.

But I do know that with the talent on their roster, they are not as far away from being an actual top ten team as the average Arizona fan on twitter will have you believe.


Someone has to be the fourth-best team in the ACC, and as far as league standings go, the Orange currently qualify. They are 6-3 in the conference, having won their last five games, and they have fully embraced the idea that this roster needs to fire up as many threes as possible to have a chance to win.

That said, they still haven’t beaten anyone. Their best win came at Virginia in overtime, but Virginia may not be a tournament team this season. The trouble is that the Orange only get the other top teams in the conference — Duke, N.C. State, Florida State and Louisville — once each.

They probably need to win at least two of those games to have a real shot at a tournament bid.

Bracketology: Baylor strengthens its grip on the No. 1 overall seed

AP Photo
Leave a comment

Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

Baylor continues to strengthen its grip on the No. 1 overall seed.  The Bears won their fifth true road game (5-0 in opportunities) of the season at Florida on Saturday.  They are No. 1 in the NCAA’s NET ratings, 6-1 in Quadrant 1 games and 10-1 against Quadrant 1 and 2 opponents combined.  Baylor hasn’t lost since November 8, a nearly two-month stretch of perfection.

Elsewhere, the top line remains in tact.  There’s room for debate across lines two through four. It’ll be interesting to see how the Selection Committee views the profiles of teams like Florida State, Louisville and Duke in the weeks ahead.  Unless something changes, there will be fewer Quad 1 opportunities in this year’s Atlantic Coast Conference.

Tracking the Bubble is going to keep you busy.  It’s several lines deep into the bracket today.  The margins between a nine seed and an 11-seeded play-in team are minimal.  And that’s not factoring in the next 8-12 teams knocking on the door.

The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: January 27, 2020

MIDWEST REGION NC State vs. Arizona State

SOUTH Houston WEST – Los Angeles                         
Omaha Spokane
8) Wichita State 8) USC
9) Saint Mary’s 9) Oklahoma 
Sacramento Tampa
5) Penn State 5) LSU
12) YALE 12) AKRON
4) Kentucky 4) West Virginia
Cleveland Albany
6) Marquette 6) Colorado
11) VCU / Texas Tech 11) BYU
3) MICHIGAN STATE 3) Villanova
Tampa Spokane
7) Indiana 7) Wisconsin
10) Saint John’s 10) Memphis
2) Florida State 2) OREGON
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Sacramento Omaha
1) SAN DIEGO STATE 1) Kansas
8) Ohio State 8) HOUSTON
9) Florida 9) Arkansas
Greensboro St. Louis
5) Butler 5) Creighton
4) Maryland 4) Iowa
Greensboro Cleveland
6) Auburn 6) Illinois
11) DePaul 11) NC State / Arizona St
3) Duke 3) DAYTON
Albany St. Louis
7) Rutgers 7) Arizona
10) Stanford 10) Michigan

Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Michigan Arizona State Rhode Island Purdue
BYU NC State Virginia Tech Tennessee
Saint John’s VCU Richmond Xavier
DePaul Texas Tech Minnesota Georgetown

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (10)
Big East (7)
Pac 12 (6)
SEC (5)
Big 12 (5)

ACC (4)
American (3)

West Coast (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (1)

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Baylor, Gonzaga lead the way

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A new college basketball top 25 is now live.

I sat down at my laptop to write out a column about why I ranked certain teams in certain spots and, to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t find a way to give a damn.

As I’m sure you all know, Kobe Bryant died today. He was in a helicopter along with eight other people, including his daughter, Gianna, and her teammate, Alyssa Altobelli along with her mom, Keri, and dad, John. They were on the way to play in a travel team game. At least two, and certainly more, families were gutted, and while we are going to be talking about Kobe for the most part, I do think that should be emphasized.

Nine people died on that helicopter. Nine.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about why so many folks — like myself — spent Sunday completely torn up about the death of a person that we never met, a person that may or may not be deserving of the outpouring of love and adoration coming his way. What I came up with is this: The true heartbreak in this story is that Kobe was on the plane with one of his four daughters, the one he has spent the last couple of years proudly and publicly developing into a full-blown middle-aged sports dad with. It was awesome to see. This was not how their story was supposed to end.

Kobe and his wife also have three other daughters: a 17-year old along with a three year old and a newborn that is just seven months old. The Altobellis left a family behind, too, and what that family is going through is crushing as well, but I can’t stop thinking about what Vanessa, his wife, is going to be forced to deal with. She’s post-partum, with one daughter that will never know her father, and now has to cope with the loss of her husband and the loss of a child while trying to keep that 17-year old sane and explain to a three-year old why daddy and her big sister are never coming home.

That’s unfathomable to me.

But the reason I think this hit me so hard is that I keep putting myself in that helicopter. As a parent, the only goal in your life is keep your kids safe and happy. At any cost. It’s that simple. How do you deal with being on a helicopter with your child — and, for the Altobellis, with your spouse — knowing that something has gone wrong? Knowing what’s going to happen? Knowing the inevitability of your situation? Knowing that there’s nothing you can do to stop it, to keep your baby safe?

I don’t think that I’m alone there.

So I spent as much time as I could today playing with my kids, because arguing about ranking college basketball top 25 teams has never seemed dumber.

We can yell at each other next week.

Anyway, here is the rest of the NBC Sports college basketball top 25.

1. BAYLOR (17-1, Last Week: 1)
2. GONZAGA (21-1, 2)
3. KANSAS (16-3, 3)
4. FLORIDA STATE (17-2, 4)
5. LOUISVILLE (17-3, 5)
6. SETON HALL (15-4, 6)
7. DUKE (17-3, 7)
8. SAN DIEGO STATE (21-0, 8)
9. DAYTON (18-2, 9)
10. OREGON (17-4, 13)
11. KENTUCKY (16-5, 14)
12. WEST VIRGINIA (16-3, 15)
13. VILLANOVA (16-3, 17)
14. ILLINOIS (15-5, 24)
15. AUBURN (17-2, 12)
16. MICHIGAN STATE (16-3, 10)
17. IOWA (14-5, 18)
18. MARYLAND (16-4, 23)
19. HOUSTON (16-4, 20)
20. BUTLER (16-4, 11)
21. CREIGHTON (16-5, 25)
22. COLORADO (16-4, NR)
23. PENN STATE (14-5, NR)
24. RUTGERS (15-5, NR)
25. ARIZONA (13-6, 19)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 22 Colorado, No. 23 Penn State, No. 24 Rutgers
DROPPED OUT: No. 16 Texas Tech, No. 21 Memphis, No. 22 Michigan