"College basketball is facing a crisis. It’s time for an extreme makeover."
-Seth Davis, 3/2/2015
After a one-year surge in offense spurred by a sometimes-enforced focus on contact and the virtual elimination of off-ball charges, college basketball largely reverted to its old rules this year. The result: a fractional dip in scoring to new lows and sustained outcry from announcers and newspapermen alike.
Damn things like "division," full speed ahead:
Is college basketball in crisis?
Scoring is down. Pace is at an all-time low. Some teams are winning with defense, which is fine, but far too many others are surviving simply because — let's face it — they miss fewer shots.
Damn things like "bothering to look at even one stat," full speed ahead:
[Colorado head coach Tad] Boyle said several factors, including the way the game is officiated, has led to lower scoring. Teams also tend to do the same things offensively, which makes defending them easier. But for the most part Boyle boiled it down. "Better shooting, quite frankly, would really help," he said.
Seth Davis had a major SI piece decrying the decline:
The more things change, the more they ... get worse. College basketball is slower, more grinding, more physical and more, well, offensive than it has been in a long, long time. The 2014-15 season is shaping up to be the worst offensive season in modern history. Through Feb. 22, teams were averaging 67.1 points per game. That is the lowest average since 1952. The previous low for that span was set just two years ago. This more than reverses the gains that were made last season, after the rules committee made adjustments to clamp down on physical defense and make it harder to draw a charge. Thanks to lax enforcement by officials and a foolish decision to reverse the block/charge modification, scoring declined by 3.79 points per game. That is the steepest single-season drop on record.
As of late, the fretting has spread to the athletic director level, as those ADs look at their attendance figures. All of this looks at the state of the game today and shakes its head sadly at what we've lost.
And it's all nonsense.
College basketball has barely changed
The thing about college basketball is how little it's changed over the past 13 years. Kenpom has data back to 2002 showing an eerily static state of play, with a slight trend towards more efficiency.
Things that actually seem to have a trend are bolded:
|Possessions per game||64.8||67.3||67.3||69.5|
Shooting has remained shockingly static, as have all the individual components—despite the three point arc moving back slightly during this sample. Offensive efficiency has in fact increased even without the rules changes that a panicked committee instituted two years ago, implemented after a season (2013) in which offensive efficiency was a half-point worse per hundred possessions than it was in 2002.
Only a few things have actually changed: there are fewer turnovers and steals as teams take care of the ball better; there are fewer offensive rebounds as more teams adopt the Wisconsin/Michigan model of preventing transition opportunities at all costs. And there are fewer possessions.
That's it. Games are in fact getting shorter in terms of time spent doing the basketball. Free throw rates remain essentially constant as the denominator shrinks. There are fewer balls flung out of bounds, stopping the clock. Little that happens during the 40 minutes the clock is actually running has changed in 13 years. There are 7% fewer possessions. That is about it.
This holds at all levels. Major conference stats from leagues that had approximately the same membership over the course of these 13 years (ie, not the Big East) show the same broad trends, albeit with the additional jitter inherent in a much smaller sample size. The ACC has plummeted from the country's second-fastest league to #23:
|Possessions per game||63.3||67.8||70.5||74.2|
The Big Ten is less dramatic but similar:
|Possessions per game||62.3||62.3||62.8||65.1|
The Big Ten has shown some degradation of shooting as fewer fouls are called and effective field goal percentage slips, but the large decrease in turnovers has offset that.
The Big Twelve has undergone a dip in efficiency…
|Possessions per game||64.7||69.1||65.4||70.2|
…but again, we are talking about a league losing approximately one basket per game. Hardly a crisis. The Big Twelve still shows the overall slowdown and hints at the reduction in TOs and OREBs as well.
College basketball is fine when college basketball is being played
There is no college basketball scoring crisis. There is a college basketball actually-playing-basketball crisis.
It is not particularly surprising that athletic directors will leap at any explanation they can get their hands on to explain ever-slower games and declining attendance, even if that entails flogging a measly 7% decline in the number of shots as the end of basketball. It's not surprising because the alternative is finding the true culprits: the athletic directors themselves.
The athletic directors are the ones signing the contracts that see every timeout, and there are a million timeouts, followed by a commercial. They're the ones who implemented the ridiculous review system that stops play for minutes at a time to not give someone a flagrant foul or arbitrarily decide to overturn or not overturn an out of bounds call that was already pretty arbitrary.
They are the ones responsible for this:
Overall, the last 60 seconds of the 52 [most recent 2014 NCAA tourney] games combined have taken five hours, 44 minutes, and 51 seconds to complete. (That's including the five bonus final minutes from overtime games.) 5:44:51 is 605 percent longer than realtime; the average final minute took 5:57 to finish, with a median of 5:29.
That is insane.
Maybe people were inclined to put up with that when the alternatives were watching Hee-Haw or silently playing chess in a room with one very loud ticking clock. Not so much these days.
The problem is with the product. Fix the product. You might make less money right now, but with a better product you will be better off in the long run. Here's how you fix the product:
- Coaches must sacrifice a digit to call a timeout. The timeout signal is now a head coach handing one of his freshly snipped fingers or toes to the referee. Until such time as the coach has too few fingers to manipulate the shears, he must snip the fingers off himself. Afterwards his wife or children must.
…what? "Too extreme," you say? "This is barbaric," you say? "I will not condone this sort of behavior in our society," you say?
- Severely reduce the number of timeouts. Ideally this is one, like hockey. More realistically you need to cut them down to three. Timeouts benefit nobody except megalomaniac coaches. They drastically lessen the immediacy of frantic finishes. By allowing teams in the lead to avoid five-second calls, tie-ups, and turnovers after getting trapped they reduce the chances of a trailing team coming back.
- All remaining timeouts before the last five minutes take the place of media timeouts. The timeout-ten-seconds-of-play-timeout thing is an awful frustration in the middle of the game.
- Media timeouts are every five minutes, not four.
- If you want to shorten the shot clock to 30 seconds, okay I guess. I was previously opposed to this since it would lead to more ugly late clock shots from college basketball outfits without guys who are particularly good at isolation, but the stats over the 15 years suggest that basketball could withstand a slight dip in efficiency okay.
You'll give up some money initially, but increased competition for fewer spots will make up some of it—you're still the only live game in town these days—and increased ratings from being less positively insufferable to watch will support the rest. As a side benefit, people will be more inclined to watch your games when they consist largely of game instead of t-shirt cannon.
The game is the same. It is eerily the same. If there's a difference it's in the stuff in between the game.
Michigan did not make the 32-team field of the NIT, which was revealed in somewhat excruciating fashion over the last half-hour on ESPNU. John Beilein has already ruled out an appearance in the CBI or CIT tournaments, so this marks the end of the 2014-15 season. It will not be missed too much.
Several large bright objects have been reported in the skies above Ann Arbor this week. One is almost certainly this "Sun" the ancients were always going on about. But before we declare spring and release the frisbee people from their hibernation deep inside North Face jackets, we should rule out several other possibilities, like:
A Tiny Running Back Who Blocks and Makes the World Better
We will be in Ypsi tomorrow afternoon with Vincent Smith to benefit #EATING's Flint Garden. Corner Brewerey, 4-8pm.
A Basketball Team That Looks Like Spike Albrecht
Surely after a stretch that looked thusly:
in LSAClassof2000's seasonal four factors table, and that before losing Walton and LeVert, this season wasn't likely to end in the dance. Once those guys were out too, the step-back year because the Year of the Albrecht.
He has another left, but I think this season will go down as, metaphorically, the Spike one. They are too short, overlooked, worse offensively than they look, prone to the mistakes one makes when trying to do things outside the realm of normal basketball, and once in awhile pull something outside the realm of normal basketball:
click for Ace's gif
The artistry of Albrecht is the ridiculousness of the feint. In the above Spike takes two steps like he's about to posterize Ravote Rice. Unless they installed a trampoline in Chicago, Spike's Michael Jordan imitation will fall several feet below the rim. But Rice's brain isn't prepared for Albrecht to attempt this, because Albrechts don't attempt this, so Ravonte's body automatically does the thing it's been taught to.
When Spike would dribble the baseline you'd have two posts watching him whiz by like "is he serious?" And yet their bodies have been taught to twitch angrily at such attacks from far more plausible people. Because Spike was a sideshow, it took a year of this before coaches finally taught the collapsing guy to go for the steal instead of challenging the front of the basket.
Spike's shtick is the basketball version of that time Gardner took an Ohio State defender off his feet with a pump fake to nobody. You take advantage of the fact that a defender is a tightly wound spring of muscle memory. But it's not sustainable. In today's game Spike feinted like he was coming off a double on Dekker, then popped back on him and forced a turnover to help Michigan claw back in it in the 2nd half.
A Meatball All Covered With Cheese
Specifically one off the bat of one Sierra Romero. She's hitting .545 with 30 RBI in 55 at bats. Meanwhile the pitchers went through the first half of the season—all spent on the road because that's life as a northern team these days—with a 1.62 ERA.
Michigan is ranked #4 in the country, with two losses to #1 Florida, and a loss to Arizona State. The home opener is a doubleheader tomorrow vs. Kent State, and some MGoCrew are trying to make it out there for Sunday afternoon.
If you're going to follow this season, you need to know about the pizza. No, this is not a Gittleson diet; it's the most charming thing in Michigan sports since that rainbow smiling Iowa safety ankle breaking dude. Via junior catcher Lauren Connell:
We began to call Lindsay Montemarano "Monte Pizza" after she went on and on about all the reasons why New York pizza is better than Midwest pizza, as she deems herself a pizza expert. Every time Monte Pizza got on base, we would "Sprinkle the cheese" in the dugout, and thus, a new Team 38 tradition was born. Soon, we were sprinkling the cheese for everybody after a nice hit. We then rediscovered our love for the greatest food item on Earth as it quickly became the topic of all jokes and Instagram captions. Throughout the course of the season, we have developed a system involving pizza for singles, doubles, triples and home runs
Single they roll out the dough. Double they sprinkle cheese. Triples they make it rain pepperonis. She who hits it out gets to come home to sprinklers, and…
she *CHOMP* eats the pizza.
Michigan has 44 pizzas this season, nine of which the work of Romero.
Most Harbaughs Since Harbaugh
|1985 quarterbacks, courtesy of John Kryk|
WD noticed that the roster this year will include more QBs (walk-ons too) than any season since 1985. It makes sense since the roster was pretty bare when Harbaugh assumed the starting job in 1984, so this was the reload. In the comments markusr2007 tracked the '84 depth issues to when Steve Smith was the apparent starter for the foreseeable future, putting a dent in recruiting behind him. I'm sure Harbaugh appreciated the situation then, and certainly appreciates the value of QB depth and competition now.
My friend is married to Kyle Anderson, who saw the post and said there weren't really that many guys competing for the job since a few of them were playing other positions that season, and he himself was on crutches. Cernak was the nominal backup to Harbaugh but he'd looked pretty overwhelmed at the end of '84. One guy not on WD's list was Mike Gillette, who was listed as "QB/P" on the official roster.
Etc. Hockey was in line to win the Big Ten and perhaps an at-large bid with a good tournament showing but bombed at Penn State: thanks Oops I Crapped My Pants. Dallas radio gave us a shoutout, got our numbers right. Passing game video. SEC recruiting isn't all dollars and sense.
Your Moment of Zen:
(by me. original image via Angelique)
[file because today was a suit day]
Your brother told us that you threw people out of practice yesterday.
That's what he said. Rick Leach too?
“No, you'd never kick Rick Leach out of a Michigan practice.”
Who won the last time-
“That was exaggerated.”
Who won the last time you two played golf?
“I don't know. He won the last big one.”
He said he won nine holes and then you too played two extra holes that you won.
“I don't recall.”
You had five practices. Are you getting a better feel for the personnel and what you have to work with?
“Yes, yes. You get a better feel for – you get to know people as you go. You learn a little more about someone every day.”
Can you talk a little bit about personnel at the center position? I know you've had some attrition.
“Uh huh. Yes.”
I was just wondering who's filling in.
“Glasgow's doing a real nice job. He's been a tough, steady player. We will need others at that position as well.”
Were you disappointed to see Jack [Miller] leave or did you understand it?
“Yeah, and I appreciated the honesty and I have a level of respect for what he had to say and continuing his education. There is some job opportunities that he has and he's going to pursue that, so you always appreciate the honesty.”
In terms of quarterbacks is there maybe one thing that you want a little bit more of right now? How's that all going?
“It's going good. We're making strides every day, like I said earlier. They're doing a lot of little things better and better each day and they're all really – it means a lot to them, each guy that we have. That's all you can ask for as a coach.”
[I purposely didn’t do bullets because you’re going to want to read everything after THE JUMP]
The season may very well be over, and that might be for the best. This Michigan squad squeezed every last bit of talent and effort out of an undersized, overmatched, and exceedingly young group over the last couple months, to the point that I'm not sure they have much left to prove this year. This team battled harder than anyone expected after the losses of Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, and there's little doubt they're going to be dangerous as all hell next year.
For the first 15 minutes of today's matchup against the Goliaths of Wisconsin, Michigan looked to be on their way to a stunning upset. Eventually, though, the mismatches up front caught up to the Wolverines, who started the game with Zak Irvin guarding Frank Kaminsky and Max Bielfeldt on Nigel Hayes. The Badgers closed the first half on an 18-4 run and kept Michigan at bay, though not by much, through the second half.
The Badgers won by virtue of size, talent, and experience. Aubrey Dawkins looked the part of a freshman against Sam Dekker, who led Wisconsin with 17 points and pulled down four offensive rebounds. Hayes managed nine points and three offensive boards of his own. Kaminsky talled 16 and 12 against a wave of double-teams. Fittingly, a Hayes putback after Kaminsky drew in M's interior defenders proved to be the final nail in the coffin.
But man, did Michigan fight. Irvin once again raised expectations for next year with a tremendous all-around performance. He scored 21 points on 9/18 shooting, hitting an array of NBA-level midrange shots, knocking down three of his seven triples, and finding his way to the basket. Tasked with cleaning the glass against Wisconsin's huge front line, he recorded 11 rebounds, all on defense, which was one off a career high. For good measure, he added three assists and three steals; a baseline dish to Ricky Doyle looked like it was ripped straight from Spike Albrecht's highlight reel.
Doyle, who's been quiet of late, gamely battled Kaminsky in the post, and got the better of the Big Ten Player of the Year his fair share of times: Doyle hit all six of his shots from the field to tally 12 points. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had a couple great takes to the hoop on his way to eight points on 4/7 shooting. Albrecht added ten, highlighted by a couple deep threes.
So, yes, Michigan lost, but the positive indicators for next season were everywhere: a pivoting Doyle finish against Kaminsky, Albrecht dribbling through defenders like Steph Curry before pulling up for a jumper, Dawkins throwing down an Irvin miss on the break, Rahk blowing by the defense for a layup, Kam Chatman tossing an inch-perfect entry pass to Doyle for a layup.
The Wolverines didn't have quite enough juice to overcome one of the best teams in the country. Suddenly, though, the big question for next year is this: how is John Beilein going to find playing time for all these promising young guys? After a season replete with real problems, that's one heck of a good problem.
Big Ten tourney time is always weird for content what with games on at noon.
This was off an Irvin assist [Patrick Barron]
The light is on. Midseason complaining that Zak Irvin hadn't added very much to his game between his freshman and sophomore years was justified. Irvin was a bit more willing to get to the basket but he was a black hole that generated shots only for himself and the predictability of his game—Beilein once mentioned that he really needed to shot fake like, ever—was beginning to catch up to him now that the league had a scouting report on him.
Then Irvin had the light go on. Alex tweeted this out yesterday and it amply demonstrates Irvin's expanding game:
He's developed pick and roll options other than meh pullup jumpers. (He's good at them; they're still way less efficient than, say, asking Aubrey Dawkins to do his best GRIII impression on an alley-oop.) He's generating shots for his teammates, which will eventually make the shots he does take better.
This is necessary if Michigan's going to return to the outrageous offensive efficiency that drove their Final Four/Big Ten Champions outfits. I've grumbled about Michigan's unusually low assist numbers for big chunks of the year. Led by Irvin, Michigan acquired 15 against the Illini.
The king of yesterday's assists. I cocked an eyebrow with about 11 minutes left when Michigan executed a beautiful team sequence that got Doyle a bunny. All five Michigan players touched it after Spike dumped it to Irvin in the corner:
- Irvin drove baseline, drawing help D and kicking to
- MAAR, who passed it to
- Chatman standing in the short corner, who drew recovering attention. At this point
- Spike, who had zero players looking at him or checking him because of the ball movement, cut to the elbow, again drawing a double team from an unprepared on-ball defender and Egwu; Spike drove, whereupon
- Doyle was the recipient of an easy bucket at the rim.
It was a brief flashback to the last couple years, when Michigan would regularly delight with gorgeous basketball. It's coming back you guys.
Next year man. Caris offered some quotes about his upcoming NBA decision that sounded genuinely torn. Judge for yourself:
"It will probably be right up to the last day," LeVert said Thursday, following U-M's 73-55 win over Illinois in the Big Ten tournament.
As for his thoughts on returning to school or entering the draft, LeVert remains undecided.
"Coming back next year would be very fun for me and very beneficial for me and the team as well," LeVert said. "Going to the NBA would also be fun. That's a lifetime dream. It's definitely going to be a tough decision."
That sounds different than the Robinson/Stauskas decisions. As of a couple weeks ago, Sam Webb thought that LeVert was leaning towards returning. So that would be nice.
With or without him, though, Michigan should be very deep and reasonably experienced. An approximate depth chart:
PG: Walton, Albrecht
SG: LeVert, MAAR
SF: Dawkins, Robinson
PF: Irvin, Chatman, Wagner(?)
C: Doyle, Donnal, Wilson
Swap the 2-4 spots to your desire. It's hard to find enough minutes for everyone if LeVert comes back: if Walton, Irvin, and LeVert all get 30 minutes and Spike gets 20—estimates that seem conservative—then MAAR, Dawkins, Robinson, and Chatman are all fighting over 50 minutes a game. Even the scenario with LeVert gone those guys can comfortably split 80.
If Michigan stays healthy, I predict autobench complaining plummets.
MAAR will go at you. Nanna Egwu is not exactly a complete basketball player—I'll miss him getting outrebounded by his entire team—but he is very long and contests shots well. Abdur-Rahkman doesn't care about that. He will drive on anyone and get a reasonable shot up; if it doesn't go in he's set the team up for a Kobe assist. Another year of development and he's definitely a guy who can fill in the point guard minutes Spike will evacuate.
FWIW. Michigan did offer Wagner, as you would expect for a guy who flew in from Germany. Rivals's Eric Bossi gives a ballpark estimate of where he'd be if he was ranked:
His shot looks good and he's very good in pick and pop situations between 12 and 17 feet, he has good skill level, though he's perhaps a bit mechanical in his movements at this time, and he's a good high post passer who competes on both ends but needs strength.
"He's on the NBA radar but not as an early entry guy just yet," Bossi said. "He's more on radar as somebody to monitor when he makes it to a college program."
If he were a part of the 2015 class (and he would come in this fall), he'd be a top 20 to 40 type prospect as an American prep.