Blogger Spotlight: Ken Pomeroy’s life as a tempo-free icon (or something like that)

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Ken Pomeroy didn’t invent tempo-free stats – that would be Dean Smith – but he’s become synonymous with them because of his site, kenpom.com, a daily requirement for any college basketball writer and most fans. If your team earns some kenpom love, it’s a good sign they’re headed for success in March. If their rating doesn’t mesh with the polls … well, you may be headed for some disappointment.

But the team ratings (along with player stats, coaching info and win projections) usually overshadow that Ken’s a blogger, too. His site’s been around in various forms since 1998; the current version is archived back to 2003. (Check out this 2002 version.) That’s where most of the reliable tempo-free data begins. That year’s also the first time he began blogging.

Guys like Rob Neyer and Aaron Gleeman were early influences, though they focused on baseball. He didn’t have much of an early audience, but knew there eventually would be others who craved an “intelligent stat-based discussion on the hoops side.” (Or at least semi-intelligent.)

The site did grow, as did his reputation. Ken’s written for various sites since then – most notably Basketball Prospectus, where he, John Gasaway and the other BP writers provide some of the best college hoops insight around – but he can always be found at kenpom.com, usually providing a hoops nugget or two that defies the general consensus.

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Q: So. You’re famous now, right? The college hoops universe adores your site, coaches depend on you and the New York Times profiled you last March. I assume Kim Kardashian is trying to call this very moment. Does life feel different than say, five years ago? Aside from you and John Gasaway not being co-workers, that is.

A: The paparazzi makes life difficult, but other than that, things don’t feel any different. While advanced stats are more widely accepted than they were five years, it’s still a niche market and I think it always will be. There are plenty of people who don’t who I am (thankfully), even committee members!

Q: Times change, and so has kenpom.com. In just the last few months, you’ve added tempo-free info on coaches, more refined players stats and a pay wall. The pay wall was inevitable, right? A site like this couldn’t be free forever. What’s the response been like?

A: The choice was either pay wall or ads. It may have been more lucrative to go with advertising, but this site is the one thing I’ve had complete control over for ten years and I’ve always tried to make it different in terms of the content presented. It seems like every place has ads of some sort, so I decided to go a different direction to preserve the uniqueness of the site. I’m comfortable with people making their own decision as to whether it’s worth $20, and if it’s not, no big deal. But I’ve been pleased with the response so far.

Q: What’s the ideal sample size before you fully endorse your ratings? I’m guessing you’d prefer people wait until January before people start putting too much stock in who’s where. Or have formula revisions become so reliable that November’s OK? It wasn’t that long ago that you didn’t do preseason ratings.

A: This is tough to answer because it’s not a binary thing. It’s not like the ratings are useless now and then on, let’s say, December 12th they become valuable. The ratings are going to miss on more teams now than they will in March, of course, but so will humans. This is just another opinion, and I would argue one worth considering, but not worth blindly following now or even in March. This is just the second season I’ve done the preseason ratings. And let’s just say December ratings are way better with the influence of the preseason ratings than without. I was really happy with their performance last season, and I’m really curious to see how the outlier teams in this year’s edition do over the next few weeks.

Qsource: Getty Images: Any obvious teams people are overlooking right now, according to your ratings? Any being overrated?

A: Now you’ve gone ahead and forced me to look at the polls. Ugh. I’d throw UNLV out there as a team to watch. Mike Moser has been a great addition for them and as a transfer he wasn’t directly included in my preseason calculations which had the Rebels in the top 20 anyway. I’ve banged on Arizona enough, but seriously, Derrick Williams was probably the most difficult player to replace in college hoops last season. If Sean Miller turns them into a top 25 team, bravo, but they are clearly not there right now.

Q: How often do people ask you to do NCAA tournament projections? I can just picture you shaking your head right now …

A: Just because I love college hoops, most people think I do bracket projections. Guys like Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi already have that market cornered, and I couldn’t possibly add anything to that. Plus, as with recruiting, I’m less interested in bracketology than most fans. That said, if someone ever did a probabilistic projection of the bracket based on a “projected resume”, I would promote the hell out of it. I would get more use out of that than the season-ends-today projections everyone does now.

Q: Clearly I need to have Dave Ommen change his NCAA tournament projection methods. It’d be logical to include how a team finishes given how varied teams’ schedules are. What other niches would you like to see filled by potential blogs that you don’t have time to do?

A: Let’s get Dave on the case. Seriously, that would be groundbreaking. Dave would be propelled to a level of respect unmatched in the bracketology industry. As far as other niches, I think we’re still looking for the Spencer Hall of college hoops. Who’s providing the slapstick comedy element of our sport? No, people, Jeff Goodman doesn’t count.

Q: When you’re watching hoops – yes everyone, Ken watches basketball, he doesn’t just churn out stats – do you gravitate toward any particular conference, team or region? And have your tastes changed in what you seek out in hoops? I still crave a nice up‑tempo game (Washington usually helps me out there), but I’ve grown fond of more deliberate, precise styles. It’s hard not to marvel at systems like Bo Ryan’s.

A: It varies by the season, and it often depends on the team and players whose stats diverge most from popular opinion. Last year, I was watching Arizona a lot early and then Washington later in the season. I was watching the Florida/Ohio State game particularly closely this week to get a look at Patric Young who most are predicting to take what would be, at least based on advanced stats, a huge leap from his freshman season. Based on his performance against Jared Sullinger, he may just do that.

Q: Young’s interesting. He has the perfect opportunity to boost his production, because of Florida’s necessity and by his talent. But how good would he have to be to rank in your Top 10 of guys who improved the most from freshman to sophomore seasons? I know that’s in your database somewhere.

A: The problem with comparing Young to anybody is that his usage last season was in the depths that few people reach. The few guys who made great leaps are very obscure players. The closest thing to a name people would recognize with a somewhat similar skill set is UMass’s Tony Gaffney whose usage went from 10.6 to 17.4% between his junior and senior seasons. Kudos to the scouts if they get Young’s offensive improvement correct. It’s almost unobserved in the past 10 years.

Q: What’s the most misunderstood tempo-free stat? Do people throw it out there without really understanding what it means? Or does that apply to a lot of the stats?

source: APA: I think individual offensive rating still gets used out of context too often. It doesn’t mean anything without knowing how active a player was in a team’s offense. Jon Diebler was the most efficient player in the country last season, but that’s just a piece of trivia really. It is useless from an analytic sense without knowing his usage. One thing I’ve learned from doing preseason ratings and determining what’s important is that guys like Diebler, who are crazy efficient but have a limited role, are not nearly as difficult to replace as people might think. The Diebler-types benefit from their surroundings more than their surroundings benefit from them.

Q: What sites and writers do you seek out? Obviously I’m one of your must-reads, but who else?

A: You and Dave Ommen are 1a and 1b. If you’re reading this, you already know about guys like Gasaway, Winn, and Glockner. Obviously, the kids like Brennan and Norlander are great daily reads as well. While I never waste a chance to bash Goodman on twitter, I do appreciate the fact he gives a perspective uninfluenced by analytics. He provides some (usually) intelligent resistance to the runaway train of statistical analysis, and I will admit (reluctantly) that having that viewpoint represented is a good thing. Just don’t let it get back to Goodman.

Q: Is there ever gonna be a day when you don’t have a 9-5 job? Or do you even want that?

A: I’m really disappointed you didn’t ask a weather question, but I guess this is close. I always have a difficult time predicting my own future. I think the safest response is that I doubt I’ll ever do basketball full time. If I ditch the day job, I’ll have to find some sort of seasonal employment. I’ve always wanted to be a park ranger or a baseball stadium groundskeeper. I have no experience with either though.

You can find more of Ken’s work at his site, kenpom.com and follow him on Twitter @kenpomeroy.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.