Mike Lantry, 1972
anecdotal comparison demonstrates that the best basketball player ever, Michael Jordan, was considerably better than the best baseball player ever, a chimpanzee named Carl who led the 1883-1884 Erie Mudjacks with a .546 batting average.
Question about randomness in sports that evolved into a very long answer with rants about how to fix hockey.
Hey MGoBlog team,
I'm of the opinion that individual games in any sport are decided by a combination of four things: player athleticism, player skill, player/coaching strategy, and chance. If you want you could also pull refereeing out of the chance bucket to make a fifth. Do you think this is a valid and relatively complete model and if not how would you change it? A related question is which of the five major sports (football, baseball, basketball, soccer, and hockey) relies most on chance to decide the outcome of a single game? How does that affect the fan experience?
My answer is basketball and hockey as the most reliant on chance, which I think negatively impacts my ability to get too caught up in the outcome of those games. That could be because I'm relatively ignorant of the strategy and skill elements in those games though, which is why I seek your most esteemed opinions.
Those four things cover just about everything, though athleticism and skill are sometimes difficult to parse out from each other.
As far as randomnesss goes, basketball in fact seems like the sport least impacted by chance, especially at the NBA level. The best NBA teams win something like 80% of their games, and teams that good generally plow through four rounds of playoffs without issue. A whopping 14 of the 20* teams with the best regular season win percentage in NBA history went on to win the championship. Two that didn't (the 96-97 Utah Jazz and 1995-96 Seattle Supersonics) lost in the finals to teams ahead of them on the list.
Meanwhile, no baseball team in a much longer history has touched an 80% win rate and only five of the 14 teams that Wikipedia references made it through much shorter playoff structures. Also, eight of them played before WWI. Baseball is the king of randomness. They've done studies and everything.
And when you think about it, it makes sense. Basketball is structured as 60-90 random trials worth 0-3 points for each team. That's a lot of trials. Baseball has nine. Football has 10-12, though that's a bit different because those trials are a lot less independent of previous ones. Hockey defies this sort of categorization. But just think about the MAXIMUM THUNDERBOLT LEVEL possible in any particular sport as a proxy for randomness:
- A man makes a three pointer and is fouled for four points out of 100.
- A goal is scored!
- A grand slam!!
- 105 YARD INTERCEPTION RETURN TOUCHDOWN!!!
Despite the high thunderbolt rating of the top football plays, the sport as a whole is less random than hockey and baseball, primarily because each play has an impact on the one that follows it in a way that doesn't happen in sports with less memory. You can load the bases in baseball and come away with nothing; ripping off a 30-yard run in football is always worth something.
Soccer also defies this analysis, as goals rank high on the thunderbolt scale but soccer Cinderellas are exceedingly rare. When Cypriot club APOEL made the final 16 of the Champions League a couple years back there was a veritable tizzy; they were immediately bashed out by Real Madrid 8-2.
And that makes sense, too. The structure of the game is such that good teams always have the ball and bad teams give up on the idea of competing on equal footing, instead preferring to pack everyone in front of their goal in hopes of a tie or a fluke goal. Outmatched teams regularly get outshot 10-1, compared to 2-1 in hockey. Hell, when Barca comes to town even teams backed by Russian plutocrats have a tendency to park the bus and hope for fortune.
Your randomness rankings, then, from least to most random:
It's a wonder they bother to play baseball instead of just guessing what color the ump is thinking about.
College basketball is quite a bit more random than the NBA, primarily because the game is shorter, possessions longer, and three pointers more readily available. Michigan just lost a 55 possession game in which the opponent went 8 of 13 from three primarily because one guy was unconscious. If that was an NBA game it would be the middle of the third quarter and they would have a chance to right the ship.
But overall, college basketball still spits out the "right" team enough that it's satisfying to me. The playoff structure very rarely sees top teams not reach the Sweet 16 and even more rarely puts a true interloper into the Final Four. Meanwhile, the single elimination nature of it makes any team vulnerable. March Madness straddles the line between unsatisfyingly random (baseball) and boringly rote (the NBA) almost perfectly.
I am with you on hockey, though. I find myself increasingly discontent with 2-1 games in which goals are mostly a matter of which plinko ball makes it all the way through the mass of bodies. Watching MSU and Michigan play in the GLI was illuminating, as Mickey Redmond took some time to compare MSU's defensive strategy of packing all six players in or near the crease to the current NHL vogue, then complain about how the game was better when people were checking guys on the points. The game has shifted such that save percentages added in with the number of shots that don't get to the goalie means that maybe 1 of 50 point shots does anything useful.
Meanwhile, the single elimination format that works so well in less-random basketball is a complete disaster in college hockey. Hell, the addition of the shootout and the loser point in the NHL has made even the 82 game regular season(!) way less predictive than you'd think. This then bleeds into the playoffs, where 8 seeds beating 1 seeds is commonplace. While it's somewhat controversial, these days statisticians struggle to find meaningful differences between most NHL goalies.
As a result I'm in favor of rather radical changes that would help teams who dominate in shots and attack time win more games, starting with expanding the net by approximately as much as goalies have improved in the last 20 years. Nine of the top ten save percentage marks in NHL history have been posted in the last five years. The only guy in the top 35 to post his mark before 2000 was Dominik Hasek, who owns five seasons in that range. There isn't a season older than 1993 in the entire top 250. This kind of goalie dominance makes hockey unsatisfyingly random.
I prefer a world were everything that goes off the post now is a goal. This gets goalie save percentages back down to a place were .900 is pretty good, differentiates the goalie pool, and makes standing around waiting for a hail of rubber a worse idea. Then gradually introduce Olympic ice in new buildings, do something to fix the wreck that is the offsides rule**, and maybe futz with goalie pads so they're more like they were back in the day—heavier, harder to cover your five-hole with, more cumbersome.
Death to plinko hockey.
*[I'm setting aside the 1946-47 Washington Capitols from Wikipedia's list since that season was considerably shorter than a regular NBA season, and it wasn't even the NBA yet.]
**[Current position: allow play to continue as long as the offsides player immediately moves to tag up at the blue line. Any other action by the player brings a whistle. There's no reason for rushes to get broken up because a guy is one foot offsides.]
With Dileo departing, an overlooked change that will take place next year is at holder. Who do you think will assume this role? My preference would be Norfleet or Peppers since I could see them executing some razzle dazzle that would lead to me dumping marinara sauce on my head in joy.
I have bad news, Mike: it's almost certainly going to be Kenny Allen, the backup punter, with an outside shot of one of the backup quarterbacks.
Dileo was uniquely qualified to be the holder because he secretes a sticky substance from his fingers that gives him super catching powers. Peppers and Norfleet are unlikely to be in Dileo's class in that department, so Michigan will replace him with someone who takes a ton of snaps as part of his daily routine. This is the way of the world.
Yeah, that change will limit Michigan's ability to fake field goals. Michigan will probably just go for it instead, which is fine.
Was wondering if you could project who you think the starting CB will be next season. I may be in a minority but I was really impressed with Jourdan Lewis.
It's going to be tough for Lewis to fight his way past either incumbent starter, especially with Jabrill Peppers arriving on a cascade of hype, torrent of praise, and all other water-related-muchness of thing.
First, the incumbent starters. I know both Raymon Taylor and Blake Countess had issues with Tyler Lockett. This puts them in good company, as everyone who played a healthy Lockett this year got shredded. Overall Michigan finished 47th in yards per attempt and in a big pile at 23rd in interceptions despite having a mediocre-at-best pass rush. Countess and Taylor acquired ten of the seventeen interceptions, nearly all of them great plays instead of fortunate deflections. The eyeball test was pretty kind to both when in non-Lockett situations. (Also non-Indiana-tempo'd situations, which are a problem but one of a different sort than not being able to cover dudes.)
Meanwhile, the freshmen behind the starters were game but did give up a ton of yards in big chunks, whether it was because they phased out of reality or irritated the wrong gypsy. I don't think either starter is getting passed.
Then: Peppers. Historically, guys like Peppers have a breaking-in period of about half a season before emerging into a starting job late in their freshman year. Woodson, Hall, Countess, Jackson: all followed this path. With Michigan short on boundary corner types that seems like the most likely path for Peppers as well, starting the year as the third corner and gradually displacing Taylor as the season plugs along.
This doesn't leave much room for Lewis or Stribling this year. Michigan's corner depth is such that 247 is reporting that redshirt freshman Ross Douglas has been flipped to tailback despite being 5'10" and 180—the opposite of the rough and tumble brawler Michigan seems to want. While I expect both sophomores to get spot duty, a breakthrough is unlikely this time out.
FORMATION NOTES: On passing downs Michigan sometimes went with this 3-3-5-ish look with the line in a wide three-man front and the SAM hanging out next to one of the ends;
They also went with a weird wide even line against Ace, once:
M rolled down Gordon in their under early:
And occasionally split their nickel package, leaving just one LB. I called this 5-1.
Oh and on the final drive MSU pulled out an unbalanced formation with two inline TEs to the same side of the line.
Deliberately trolling Borges's unbalanced lines? Probably not, but I hope so.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Taylor, Countess, and Gordon went the whole way. When Michigan went to a nickel it was always Jourdan Lewis; Michigan also brought in Avery from time to time to spot Wilson, with iffy success.
Linebacker was the usual, except Brennen Beyer was moved to SDE, leaving SAM mostly Ryan with Cam Gordon backing; the three-man ILB rotation was still in place. Gedeon was sent to the bench again.
On the line Michigan did some weird stuff. Black(!) played nose tackle to open the game and would end up there periodically. Henry flipped between nose and three-tech; when it was Washington and Henry Michigan seemed to regard them as interchangeable. Clark went almost the whole way at WDE; very little Ojemudia. At SDE it was Beyer and some Wormley; no or very little Heitzman. Glasgow made a cameo or two.
[After THE JUMP: I mean, what did you expect?]
Watch the birdie.
In my day freshmen appeared on the scene knocking down Bobby Hoying passes, shutting down Terry Glenn, and cleaving Eddie George. Then they'd switch to offense and fold Mike Vrabel in twain. What's the matter with kids today? The cast today:
- Ann-Margret as Brian Cook
- Dick Van Dyke as Seth Fisher
- Bobby Rydell as Ace Anbender
- Jesse Pearson as Brandon "Birdie" Brown
|Of the young linebackers, we've seen a lot of Bolden but not much from him. [Upchurch]|
It's an expectation (or a conceit) at Michigan that recruits follow a "track" of progression that should see them all-conference and worth drafting after four years in the program. Of the 2012 class and the few '13 guys who've seen action, who do you see as ahead of schedule, or worryingly behind?
Ace: I'm not even going to bother with the 2013 class because it's beyond too early to discuss their progression versus expectations; frankly, that's the case for the 2012 class as well, but they at least have a handful of guys who have broken through and seen extensive time.
Three players who are clearly ahead of schedule are Devin Funchess, James Ross, and Willie Henry. Funchess has gone from dangerous-but-terrible-at-blocking tight end to dangerous-and-oh-god-so-dangerous wide receiver, and he's got an NFL future even if his blocking never develops as much as we'd hope. Ross has had an up-and-down year but still has a stranglehold on the weakside LB starting job; he's a future all-conference player once he adds a little more weight to take on blocks—his instincts are already there. Henry's initial expectations weren't as high as the other two, nor has he played at their level consistently, but he's easily exceeded expectations for a late three-star pickup just by seeing the field and holding his own.
[Jump like a Funchess]
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan spent every snap in their nickel. This was fairly typical.
That also shows what I called "shotgun triangle" for IU. Wynn is lined up in the backfield behind the QB, but it's shotgun depth, not pistol. Wynn would always motion out after a hand-wave from the QB; this was always a decoy.
Michigan did show a few okie packages. This is Okie two; I designate them by the number of safeties.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Boatloads. Avery went back to safety and spotted Gordon and Wilson from time to time. This led to a lot of Stribling and Lewis, as Michigan played every snap in their nickel. Countess and Taylor did not leave the field, IIRC.
At linebacker the usual Ross/Morgan/Bolden rotation saw Ben Gedeon join. The line was the usual profusion of bodies. Clark or Ojemudia was usually one end with one of Beyer/Ryan/CGordon the other. On the interior, Washington, Black, Wormley, Henry and Heitzman seemed to split snaps almost evenly. Glasgow also got in some.
[After THE JUMP: go go go go go go go go go go]
10/19/2013 – Michigan 63, Indiana 47 – 6-1, 2-1 Big Ten
Jake Butt's block gets Devin Funchess cupcake dog eyes. [Eric Upchurch]
Chris Tucker! Jackie Chan!
YET MORE EXPLOSIONS!
EVERY ATOM IS RAPIDLY RECEDING FROM EVERY OTHER ATOM WITH FLAAAAAMES!
Someone mentions that 67-65 Illinois game!
And he gets thwacked!
This is Michigan!
I have confirmed this with people who do not care about Michigan football that much: that was not a collective fever dream brought on by the stress of the Penn State game. It happened, because Indiana is #1 in Big Ten offense and #546th in total defense. A team that put up 42 on them last week waddled towards their first and only offensive touchdown halfway through the fourth quarter of a game against Purdue. They gave up 35 to Indiana State while torching those guys for 70 points. They walloped Penn State by 20. Adam Jacobi has taken to calling the Hoosiers #CHAOSTEAM because at any moment they will break you or be broken themselves, leaving seven points and a flaming wagon wheel in their wake.
Pick literally any stat about offense you want and laugh. Indiana first downs: 28! Michigan's average gain: 9.0 yards! Indiana time of possession in a third quarter in which they scored 23 points: six minutes! Devin Gardner YPA: 17.3! Number of Indiana receivers with catches of at least 20 yards: 5!
This purports to be the same sport that Michigan played against Minnesota. I say it is not. I say it was a test pilot for TV executives from a dystopian future looking for something that will distract the masses from their slave-like drudgery in the fur mines. It was wildly successful. I barely remember anything about my day to day life in the fur mines.
In the aftermath, no one knows if anything means anything. Our ears are still ringing, shrapnel still falling, ham fragments scattered in the front yard. One of the children is walking with a limp and tilting his head funny in a way that seems worryingly permanent. The oil derrick is on fire.
In these situations it's hard to tease out judgments, especially when last week your offense was a few deep balls to Funchess and pain and your defense seemed rather good. A week later, Michigan's setting program records for total offense and getting eviscerated on the other side of the ball.
We had this debate last week about Raymon Taylor and now it's writ large: can any part of this team decide whether it sucks or it is awesome? Lewan and Gallon excepted, it seems like everything Michigan does is prone to insane swings. On the player level, hey look it's Devin Gardner, who explodes in all directions. Or Taylor, who was repeatedly roasted one game after having an awesome interception and was the primary hand in shutting down Allen Robinson for 3.99 quarters. Or Dennis Norfleet, who had an electric juke-you-out-of-your jock kickoff return and an electric reverse-field-twice-and-get-tackled-at-the-nine kickoff return. Even previously consistent Brendan Gibbons is now two for his last five with two line-drive blocks.
On the unit level, the defense waxes between perforated against Akron to crushing against UConn and Minnesota and most of the Penn State game. The offense nukes Notre Dame, nukes itself against Akron and UConn, reconfigures itself into a dump truck to out-dump-truck Minnesota, is bombs and turnovers and pain against Penn State, and then rewrites the record book this weekend. On a team level… well, you saw the Akron and UConn games. Michigan's quite a CHAOSTEAM itself.
Meanwhile, the opponent. In the second half, Michigan's game plan seemed to be max-protect pass after max-protect pass on which Funchess and Gallon would wander out in different variations of deep routes. Indiana would cover Funchess; Gallon would engage his cloaking device to become improbably open, then catch a ball and run for many yards. At some point in the second half, Gallon had already broken the Big Ten all-time receiving mark and one of these two man routes found him open by literally twenty yards.
Jeremy Gallon has three hundred receiving yards and the defense is blowing a coverage on him.
Blow a coverage on everybody else! Penn State intentionally blew a coverage and got an interception out of it! Are you recent immigrants from Malaysia? Do you think this is… Malaysiaball? I need Michigan to score a touchdown here and I am still slightly angry at you, Indiana. Incompetence so vast is a thing to behold, but how are you supposed to take this performance and extrapolate anything from it? It exists in a different world from football; it is for dystopian future distractions.
I probably shouldn't be looking for life lessons after that in any case. It's my natural inclination to search for What It Means For The Future after playing Indiana, since for my entire life as a Michigan fan Indiana games have been speed bumps on route to games Michigan might actually lose. This is a bad instinct after a game that will be That Indiana Game for the rest of time.
Here we should set those things aside and align ourselves in repose. Whatever just happened has no bearing on the future. Lay back, let your feet flop open, and breathe. Our neck muscles and inner ears could use the rest.
I'M FINISHED [Upchurch]
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. That Jeremy Gallon's epic, Michigan and Big Ten record-setting performance has the whisper of a challenge here is testament to the ridiculousness of this game. Even though Devin Gardner set some Michigan records of his own, Gallon's the guy.
Honorable mention: Gardner, obviously. Thomas Gordon's interception was the biggest defensive play of the day, by some distance. The line kept Gardner clean for long stretches.
Epic Double Point Standings.
2.0: Jeremy Gallon (ND, Indiana)
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota), Frank Clark(PSU)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. After a couple weeks during which it was a stretch to pick anything, here the problem is paring it down form an explosion symphony to a quartet. Or singlet. Whatever. Music things!
But there is a pretty obvious item: Thomas Gordon undercutting a badly-thrown deep ball to intercept moments after Devin Gardner had fumbled a snap on the two yard line. Indiana got to the line instantly, caught Raymon Taylor off guard, seemingly had burned him for yet another immense touchdown, and Sudfeld left it short. A catch and return later, Michigan was once again in position to regain possession of the two-possession lead that was the only thing between Michigan fans and mass chaos. More mass chaos, anyway.
Honorable mention: Gallon catches ball, Gallon catches ball, Gallon catches ball, Gallon catches ball. Etc. Gardner scrambles, gets flipped into the endzone. Funchess leaps damn near out of the stadium to near the endzone in the second half.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt.
9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
9/14/2013: Michigan does not lose to Akron. Thanks, Thomas Gordon.
9/21/2013: Desmond Morgan's leaping one-handed spear INT saves Michigan's bacon against UConn.
10/5/2013: Fitzgerald Toussaint runs for ten yards, gets touchdown rather easily.
10/12/2013: Devin Funchess shoots up the middle of the field to catch a 40 yard touchdown, staking Michigan to a ten-point lead they wouldn't relinquish. (Right?)
10/19/2013: Thomas Gordon picks off an Indiana pass to end the Hoosiers' last drive that could have taken the lead.
[After THE JUMP: Gallon catches ball, Gallon catches ball, Gallon catches ball.]
So I kind of misunderstood a direction by Brian when I said I wanted to address special teams—he wanted stats on dinosaur punting and I thought he meant UFR all the things he doesn't.
What sparked my interest was coffin corner kicking. NCAA moved the kickoff spot to the 35 and made touchbacks start on the 25 as in incentive to cut down on kickoff return (and ensuing concussions). Inadvertently (or maybe not) they took away the advantage gained by teams with big-legged touchback machines. To regain that advantage, schools that can recruit kickers are teaching them to put the ball higher and in a spot where returners have to field it but are likely to be swallowed short of the 25 after they do.
Against CMU I noticed Wile seemed particularly good at placing balls right in that deep left corner, the same thing I've done on every football videogame ever once I mastered the timing of the kickoff bar. This seems very hard to do in real life: you need to put the ball high enough to let your coverage get there but not deep enough that they let it go through the end zone, and far enough from the sideline that it won't go out of bounds, but far enough inside of the hash that you can use the sideline as a force defender. Do it well consistently and that's perhaps 50 yards of field position a game.
It's my first time UFR'ing these so gonna have to set some ground rules:
Points: Number of points given out reflects where the play ended up, figuring 1 point roughly equals 5 yards of field position, baseline: 25 yard line.
Glossary: The "From" column is where the kick originated, given as yard line then horizontal position ("L"=left hash, etc.). "Rtn" (return) is how far the returner ran it, "Rlt" (result) is where the ball's placed. "Tchbk" (touchback) means it's on the 25. "Corner L" means they kicked it from the left hash and try to have it come down near the goal line and relatively near the sideline; "Deep L" means they just kicked it deep along the hash mark. "Center" means they kick it toward the middle and come down the same.
Things: Note that Michigan typically kicks off from the left hash despite their right-footed kicker.
Okay, got a UFR macro reverse-engineered in Xcel. Got some torrents. Got a…oh, bolded, chart-demanding subconscious, you there?
Okay let's do this.
[After the jump]