CBT Exam Week Essays: How useful are advanced statistics?

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For college students and college basketball fans, Exam Week is the worst week on the schedule. For students, this week is the culmination of three months worth of procrastination, cliff notes and Wikipedia. For college basketball fans, it’s the lightest week of hoops action we will see all season.

With so very little going on this week in terms of action, the staff at College Basketball Talk is going back to school. Over the next five days, the CBT Staff will be responsible for answering an essay question in one of five different subjects.

Monday’s exam covered sociology. Tuesday’s exam was on psychology.

Today we have the dreaded math exam.

The use of tempo-free and advanced statistics has become more commonplace in recent years thanks to the work of guys like Ken Pomeroy and Dan Hanner. What is your opinion on the use of advanced statistics as analysis aids. What value do these metrics add to post-game evaluation in your opinion. Please use at least one example of accurate or misleading statistics in your response.

By Rob Dauster

The advent of advanced statistics in college basketball is incredibly useful.

Between Kenpom’s efficiency profiles, the in-depth player and team breakdowns available on Synergy and all of the other sites doing yeoman’s work to try to enlighten us about and dispel myths about our favorite teams, there’s no shortage of data available for a college hoops junky to get their fix.

The key, however, is understanding how to use that information in concert with what actually happens on a basketball court.

Advanced statistics have really taken off over the last decade in all sports, not just basketball. The most famous case is that of Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics GM that was the subject of the ‘Moneyball’. He used sabermetric principles to find value in players that others had cast aside, and as a result was able to build the A’s into one of the best teams in baseball despite having one of the lowest payrolls in the league.

But focusing on stats works much better in baseball than it does in hoops because baseball is a game made up of a series of events involving individuals. A pitcher throws a pitch, the hitter swings and puts the ball in play. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Basketball is a much more free-flowing, one that requires five players to work together both offensively and defensively. So much of what happens on the court — Who can execute offense effectively? How well does a team communicate defensively? Is a player a good rebounder because he’s simply bigger and more athletic, or does he understand how to box out? Who is a team’s leader? — doesn’t show up on a stat sheet or a Kenpom page.

The perfect example is the argument involving Marcus Smart.

Smart, a freshman, is Oklahoma State’s starting point guard, a top ten recruit and, thus far, the difference maker for the Cowboys. He’s averaging 13.0 points, 7.4 boards and 5.0 assists for the Pokes, but what he’s done setting a tone defensively and in the locker room is why Travis Ford’s club currently owns wins over Tennessee and NC State. He’s played like an all-american, and was called the best player in the country through the first month of the season by Mike DeCourcy.

DeCourcy doesn’t believe in advanced analytics, however, which is why he’s probably unaware that Smart has an effective field goal percentage of 39.7% — he’s shooting 20.6% from three and 43.9% from two — and an offensive rating of 99.3 (he averages 0.993 points per possession used, which isn’t very good) despite using 28.0% of Oklahoma State’s possessions when he’s on the floor, a very high number. Those ugly numbers are why John Gasaway, one of college basketball’s leading ‘stat nerds’, has Smart ranked as the 14th-best freshman thus far this season.

And, as I wrote yesterday, neither of these gentlemen are right, because you simply cannot ignore a) the effect that Smart’s presence on the floor has had for Oklahoma State this year, or b) just how inefficient Smart has been with the ball in his hands. He may be a great leader, a great defender and a better-than-we-thought creator, but that doesn’t change the fact that he hasn’t shot the ball well at all and he’s turned the ball over far too often.

Advanced statistics are most effective when they are used to help quantify trends that your eyes tell you exist or as a way to determine what to watch for when a certain team takes the floor.

It’s inarguable that understanding efficiency breakdowns and possession-based logs, like Synergy’s database, make you smarter about basketball and what a specific team or player is doing on the court.

But it’s also impossible to use those number correctly without being able to watch a game and understand what is happening and why it happens that way.

The two schools of thought are not mutually exclusive. But if they aren’t used correctly, they are misleading and unnecessary.

Professor’s Notes: I really wanted to give you a bad grade. The rise of #DausterMath gave me little reason to believe that you would be able to handle this question. But you nailed it. Kudos for the use of words like “advent”, “yeoman”, and the ‘Moneyball’ reference was sublime. You were on pace for an A+, but points are being docked for starting a sentence with “And”.

GRADE: A

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.