Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Carry On My Davidson

Pun City had the chance tonight to watch Appalachian State visiting Davidson in a SoCon matchup. This blog was as surprised as anyone that this game was on TV, but Dish Network picked up the SportSouth feed and Pun City was immediately entranced. *Also note that it is no coincidence a Davidson article is popping up the day after this blog got a lot of Davidson traffic.

Most neutral observers don't know about Davidson. "Knowledgable" observers probably think of a typically gaudy overall record and have a vague concept of Dell Curry's son playing for them. Alas, it is people like this that win NCAA pools over fanatic rubes like this blog.

Stephen Curry is indeed the key cog in Davidson's machine, but he is definitely not a one-man show. Even though he's in the top-10 nationally in scoring, with 25.3 points per game. Even though his range is virtually halfcourt and in. Even if, when defenses come out to defend Curry, he just backs up and makes the longer shot.

The rest of the Team, contributing to Davidson's success, includes both inside and outside resources. For starters, there is some size to complement both Curry and point guard Jason Richards' outside shooting prowess. (Richards is 2nd on the team in scoring with 12.6 ppg). Thomas Sander, Boris Meno, and Andrew Lovedale form a 3-headed frontcourt monster and all average over 5 rebounds and 6 points per game. They're also all 6'8", which allows Davidson the flexibility to matchup physically with most teams in the country.

Tough matchups would be against teams like Georgetown or Connecticut where there is a skilled 7-footer. That said, it would be unlikely the Wildcats would end up having to face either of those schools until at least the 2nd round, as ESPN's Bracketology has Davidson currently slotted at a 12 seed, with Georgetown a 3 and Connecticut a 4.

It's easy to see why they were able to compete with Duke and North Carolina, two teams that don't currently have the luxury of a 7-foot behemoth.

For the game Pun City's currently watching, Davidson is very adept at outside shooting, 6 of 13 from beyond the arc at the half. This will definitely extend a defense, so without a good combination of a tall post player and ball-hawking guards, you're going to have problems with them.

This blog is realizing that definitely the most underrated player for DC is Richards. He leads the nation in assists per game and unless you root for a SoCon team, you've never heard of him before. His senior leadership from the point guard position is almost certainly the primary reason that Davidson stands where they are now and will be a great challenge for any postseason opponent. If for some reason the Wildcats don't make the NCAA tournament, a possibility that is unfortunately still out there because they weren't able to schedule a major conference school at Belk Arena or pull off the upset on the road in non-conference play - they will win the NIT.

That said, Pun City is fully confident that they'll continue their undefeated march through the SoCon through the title game and clinch the automatic bid. It would also be hard for the selection committee to omit a team with Davidson's talent level and experience, especially after a snub in 2005, even if they lost in the SoCon tournament. (Although, based on the 2005 snub, Pun City recommends Davidson at least lose in the final if they want to be sure).

Other Davidson points to note:

-Like a lot of non-majors, they know how to handle a zone. This doesn't always apply to major conference programs because there is a prevalence of major-conference schools that refuse to play zone. Smaller conference schools usually don't have the "come-uppance" and will pull out all the stops to get a win. This means a squad like Davidson has seen zone a lot, and their undefeated conference season means they aren't fazed by it.

-Davidson is a good but not great defensive team. They tend to gamble a lot defensively. This leads to a number of steals and easy transition baskets, but they will occasionally give up an easy bucket. Playing a disciplined team like a Wisconsin or Washington State will probably not help their cause in that they'd need to outshoot the disciplined team in a low-possession game without as many transition baskets as they may now be relying on.

-Depth is not a problem for Davidson. They boast a 9-man rotation where each player averages at least 12.9 minutes per game. A team like Tennessee might have ideas for running them out of the gym, but this blog is of the opinion this would not work given the longer TV timeouts during the NCAA tournament, in addition to DC's bench essentially being interchangeable parts with their starters (Curry and Richards excluded). Keeping Curry and Richards out of foul trouble will be important, but this seems very feasible given that the duo averages 2.4 and 1.7 fouls per game, respectively.

This blog is aware that coming out of the SoCon with the best RPI win being over #96 Georgia Southern is a tenuous position. This blog would like to believe their willingness to take on strong opponents will "Curry" favor with the selection committee. This blog would also like to believe that Davidson will make the issue moot by storming through the SoCon Tourney. If Davidson gets an NCAA bid, at-large or otherwise, Pun City predicts a first round win. If they can avoid the UConns and Washington States of the world in the second round, Wildcat fans will enjoy a sweet March to the round of sixteen.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

NCAA Tournament Cheat Sheet - There Will Be A Test

For those of you that read last week's post, the Northern Arizona option was knocked out for Pun City, so this blog will be heading to the Los Angeles area on 3/11 instead of Flagstaff. Shucks.

Getting down to the homestretch in the college basketball season here. The first conference tournaments begin March 4th. Checking the calendar, that' Tuesday. Seven days remain until the best part of the year. That's if you aren't including right now within the best time of the year, as the BracketBusters just concluded and regular season conference champions are being determined. Phenomenal time of year.

Speaking of regular season conference champions, arguably the most important regular season title is almost locked up. Cornell leads the Ivy League by 3 games with only 4 to play. Friday night they can seal the conference's automatic NCAA tournament bid if they're able to take out Dartmouth, who currently sits at 2-8 in conference (as opposed to Cornell's 10-0).

Cornell has rattled off 11 straight wins, their last loss coming at Duke by 14 on January 6th. They haven't really beaten anyone, Siena (90th in RPI) is their biggest win this year, but they certainly could surprise in the NCAA tournament, now projected as a 13 seed in ESPN's Bracketology (that's pretty high for an Ivy League school the last few years).

Some other news from mid-major land:

- Xavier is now ranked 6th in the country in RPI. This is very remarkable and they will be a major challenge for any opponent the rest of the way. They really should have beaten eventual national runner-up Ohio State last year in the 2nd round.

-Drake is 11th. They've really come out of nowhere to get there. Predicted to finish 9th out of 10 Missouri Valley Conference teams, they have found a way to win in 22 of their 25 games. Klayton Korver is their standout 3-point shooter and the brother of Utah Jazz player Kyle Korver.

-Butler is sitting 18th. This is a team that garnered a 5 seed last year and wound up in the Sweet 16.

-BYU is 26th. Pun City is going to see them at the Mountain West Conference tournament, so a more thorough report will be coming up then.

-Kent State 29th. The Golden Flashes usually make the tournament, but this year they'll probably make some noise, maybe not as much as their Elite Eight run of 2002, but Sweet 16 is not out of the question.

-Saint Mary's is 30th. This blog is checking them out at the West Coast Conference tourney, so you can expect a report on them thereafter.

-South Alabama is 31st. USA is probably the best team from the Sun Belt since Chris Marcus was at Western Kentucky. The Jaguars most likely will end up getting an at-large bid if they don't win the Sun Belt tournament. See last post as to why the Sun Belt conference might collude to have Western Kentucky or another school win the tournament final over USA given their probable at-large status.

-UNLV 32nd. This blog will report from Las Vegas roughly March 12th on them.

-Gonzaga 33rd. Pun City to report from San Diego roughly March 9th on them.

-Dayton is 35th. Their numbers are great in the computer, but since losing starter Chris Wright, they've been pretty bad in conference. As a result, even with a healthy Wright and potentially even better numbers, they likely stand to be out of the NCAAs without at least a conference tournament championship game appearance.

-Massachusetts is 37th. The Minutemen could step into the void Dayton stands to leave. Another possible collusion recipient if Xavier makes the tournament final. For the holistic view of the Atlantic 10, it would probably help the conference a lot if Xavier lost a few games to the Daytons and huddled UMasses of the world.

-Illinois State is 41st. They probably haven't done enough to garner an at-large bid. Their best win is against #50 Southern Illinois. Collusion conspiracy theorists might be on the lookout if ISU faces Drake in the MVC final.

-Saint Joseph's is 43rd. Their best wins are their 2 against UMass, so there's a good chance they'd leapfrog UMass if they end up with the similar resumes they have now. That said, they're definitely on thin ice.

-Davidson is 45th. They're probably one of the best teams in the country, they have just had some tough losses to very competitive opponents. A combined 10 points separated them from UNC and Duke. Those games were at Duke and on a neutral court vs. North Carolina. Put either of those games on Davidson's home court, and Pun City projects a Davidson victory. The problem is that they didn't win, so they probably need to win the SoCon's automatic bid.

-Stephen F. Austin is 47th. Huh? Stephen F. Austin is out of the Southland Conference, and has a road win at #27 Oklahoma. A 47 RPI from the Southland Conference is pretty remarkable. This is the same conference that produced Northwestern State in 2006, a team that upset 3rd-seeded Iowa in the NCAAs. They aren't realistically an at-large team, but they do seem like the kind of team that could make noise in the NCAAs.

On a final note, the trip to Ohio this past weekend was great. From a basketball standpoint, the teams Pun City saw, from best to worst, were Wisconsin, Ohio State, Virginia Commonwealth, Cleveland State, Akron, and Marist. Wisconsin is really the only team Pun City could see going 2 rounds in the NCAAs, but all are capable of going on a run for the automatic bids in their conferences.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Collude For The Underdog!

Some college hoops notes:
  • The 3/11 idea of heading to Northern Arizona is looking bleak. Pun City needs Portland State to go 0-4 in conference to close out their Big Sky season, in addition to Northern Arizona going 3-0 to finish it off. PSU plays 4-8 Northern Colorado tonight in the first of these 7 games. The Flagstaff idea could hit the deck tonight, gametime is 8:05 CST.
  • The 3/11 idea of heading to Los Angeles is looking solid. A friend of the blog is around then and will be able to host. A possible return trip to Pepperdine and/or Cal State Fullerton may be on the horizon, as this blog was unable to get to their bookstores previously. Long Beach State is just a cool campus, so that might get added on also.
  • Pun City wishes UWM would be able to make the NCAA tournament, but that scenario would appear unlikely at this juncture. The Panthers almost certainly would need to get a win in Hinkle Fieldhouse against Butler, which seems unlikely at best.
  • One thing that Pun City has given some thought to recently is conferences sending a maximum number of teams to the NCAA tournament. Some say the Pac 10 could send 8, some say the Big East could send 8, you get the idea. Someone's bubble always gets burst though, when an unexpected team wins the automatic bid. This raises an interesting question: If Pun City were the conference commissioner for a conference like the Horizon League, would there be incentive to have your likely at-large bid team lose in the conference final? For instance, if UWM (with no at-large hopes this season) were facing Butler (very close to an at-large lock) in the final, would there be good reason to collude for a UWM victory, thus sending both to the NCAA tournament?

According to CNN Money, the NCAA distributes TV revenue to each conference based on the number of games teams from their conference have played in the tournament over the last 6 years. Having 2 teams in the tournament instead of 1 obviously produces more opening round games for a conference. The question to ask would be, would a team like Butler be significantly less likely to win their first round game if their seed suffered due to the loss?

Hypothetically, if a loss in the Horizon League title game would only drop Butler from a 5 to a 7 seed, and the Horizon would pick up UWM's opening game, would their expected number of games go up?

Well, yes. From 2002-2006, 5-seeds have a 10-6 record in first round games. 7 seeds have a 10-6 record also. So in either case, there's a 5/8 chance of 2 games for the at-large team in this hypothetical. Adding 1 game from the automatic bid and you have 2.63 as your expected value of games in the first 2 rounds. This is in opposition to the 1.63 if UWM loses.

The 3rd round is where the stats come back. 5 seeds are 10-4 in the 2nd round against either 4 seeds or 13 seeds (between 2002 and 2006). Conversely, 7 seeds are 6-9. So the expected value of the 3rd round would be 0.71 for 5 seeds that make it there (0.44 combining odds from 1st and 2nd round). Expected 3rd round value for 7 seeds that make it would be 0.4, with a combined odds of 0.25.

4th through 6th rounds of the NCAA tournament provide expected values of 0.125 for 7s and 0.21 for 5s.

Overall expected value for 5 seeds is 1.285 rounds, overall expected value for 7 seeds is 1.0 rounds. Over 6 years, allowing the "at-large" (Butler) team to win the game is going to net an extra 1.71 games for that team. Over one year, allowing the "auto bid" team (UWM) to win is going to net 1 sure extra game for the conference and 0.285 less games for the at-large. A net of +0.715 games every year, plus any bonus games the "auto-bid" team would pick up (13 seeds expect 0.224 extra games, essentially giving the conference 0.937 extra games every year).

So, Pun City isn't one to encourage collusion, but Conference USA, The Horizon League, the Missouri Valley Conference and maybe even the West Coast Conference would probably average about an extra 0.937 games' worth of revenue each year if they allowed a low-rated team to defeat their likely at-large team in the conference championship game each year.

Based on the CNN Money report, one game's worth of revenue translates to $6.25 million. Collusion has its benefits.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Pun City To Stroll Into The Wild Wild West

Been too long here, struggling to find a good balance of posting / watching hoops / planning the upcoming madness / hanging out with friends.

But Pun City digresses. The last couple weeks had multiple major developments in determining the trip for this year. First off, Marquette’s ticket office, while still mostly useless, did forward this blog on to the Blue and Gold Fund. (That’s their booster club). It turns out the Blue and Gold club is really the group in charge of divvying out the seats. Once Pun City was able to speak with them, the ball started rolling.

The initial conversation determined a few relevant nuggets of information.
1. Marquette was allotted 500 tickets by the Big East.
2. Between 600 and 650 people applied for these tickets.
3. The club doesn’t use a pure priority-point-based system to determine the ticket recipients, it evaluates each individual donor’s giving history.
4. The Blue and Gold dude was cool with calling Pun City if it “won” and not billing this blog if it decided against taking the ticket.

As you can imagine, this was a big boost and gave Pun City an opportunity to piece together a decision, now that it had the option of passing on the Big East.

Looking into the two options, it boiled down to 1 awesome conference vs. 2 good conferences; 11 games vs. 15 games, 5 days vs. 8 days; and cold vs. warm. While a tough decision, Pun City eventually chose the western trip (West Coast Conference in San Diego and Mountain West Conference in Las Vegas).

Other big factors included that the west trip might be able to get the elusive Big Sky Conference included if Northern Arizona ended up winning the regular season title, and Pun City was unexpectedly able to procure West Coast Conference tickets without having to scalp them. As it turns out, it’s now looking somewhat improbable that Northern Arizona will actually win the Big Sky, but they are only 1.5 games back, and winning their game today that would bring them within a game of leader Portland State.

In any event, here’s likely what the trip is going to look like this year:

3/7, 6:10 AM. Flying out of Milwaukee. This will suck. Part of the reasoning behind this is that Pun City had to plan the trip pretty late, most likely limiting the number of available flights. Another reason is Pun City isn’t trying to customize its exact flight time and paying through the roof for it.

3/7, 8:25 AM. Connecting flight out of Denver. This is Mountain Standard Time, so will feel like 9:25 AM in Pun City.

3/7, 9:49 AM. Land in San Diego. Pacific Standard Time, feels like 10:49 in Pun City. After grabbing luggage and the rental car, Pun City has some time to kill. This blog could think of a much worse place to have to kill time than San Diego. One likely destination in this interval is the spot that this blog’ll be staying, one of the Inspirational Website’s friends’ place. A little unusual staying with someone this blog has never met, but should be cool as any friend of the Inspirational Website is a friend of Pun City’s. Additionally, grabbing lunch and possibly dinner will be a good option in here. San Diego does have Jack-In-The-Box, which is huge, in addition to either a Rally’s or a Checkers.

3/7, 6:00 PM. Now feels like 8:00 PM. Game is 5th seed vs. 8th seed. If the season ended today, that would be Portland vs. Pepperdine. Given the choice, Pun City would have a preference of Pepperdine for that one since they have a sweet campus and this blog was able to visit earlier this year.

3/7, Approximately 8:30 PM. Now feels like 10:30 PM. Game will continue to 10:30 PM Pacific, meaning it will feel like 12:30 PM after presumably waking up at about 4:00 AM. This will be the toughest game to get through. It’s the 6 vs. 7 game, and if the season ended today, that would be San Francisco vs. Loyola Marymount. Pun City will be wearing the Loyola Marymount shirt it got on campus for whatever game the Lions play in. This blog is hopeful its host will be okay with this blog cruising in so late.

3/8, 6:00 PM. After a day of possibly catching up on sleep and soaking up some sun, this blog heads back to the Jenny Craig Pavilion and shows up for the quarterfinals. This game is going to have the 4 seed against the 5-8 winner. For today, the 4 seed would be Santa Clara, Steve Nash’s alma mater.

3/8, 8:30 PM. The 3 seed takes on the 6-7 winner. Host San Diego would be the 3 if the season ended today. Chances are that Pun City will have checked out their campus and bookstore by this time and most likely will be rooting for them. That is, of course, unless Loyola has advanced to this point and Pun City can still rock their colors.

3/9, 12:30 PM. Petco Park offers tours at this time. Pun City is likely to attend one of these while in town, not sure exactly when, but this might be a good time. This blog actually has a few Padres hats so it’d be cool to have that on when visiting.

3/9, 6:30 PM. The 1 seed finally plays. The WCC gives their top 2 seeds byes into the semifinals. So, for this game, the 1 is taking on the 4-5-8 survivor. As of today, the 1 would be Saint Mary’s. Pun City is a fan since they’ve used Australians to power their way to the top.

3/9, 9:00 PM. And the deuce. Gonzaga as of today. Playing the 3-6-7 survivor. Pun City has a Gonzaga visor, so this will almost certainly be worn, if only because the Loyola shirt would be a little “overworn” at this point if they’d gotten through 2 rounds unscathed.

3/10, 6:00 PM. Championship game. This will pit the 1-4-5-8 survivor vs. the 2-3-6-7 survivor. So, you can imagine the drama there. Talk about arch-rivals. Haha, well hopefully it is Saint Mary’s vs. Gonzaga, that would be the best game. But any surprises would be cool, and an auto-bid coming from outside of that pair would actually be the most beneficial for the WCC as far as getting the highest number of NCAA tournament teams. This blog is hoping that at some point while in San Diego it also would have had a chance to visit San Diego State also. Given the large amount of time seemingly available prior to the first game each day, this blog thinks this possibility is imminent. Anything other than the games, USD and SDSU campus visits, and a Petco Park tour would be gravy.

3/11. Pun City has no idea what it will be doing this day. If by some miracle Flagstaff hosts the Big Sky tournament, this blog will definitely head out there. It’s a 7.25 hour drive, but that’s not too bad. Main problem with this idea is that Flagstaff is not likely to actually host the tournament, so there’s little chance this is actually what Pun City ends up doing. Another possibility would be visiting a friend in Los Angeles, but as of now, this blog hasn’t heard back from him and there’s no guarantee he’ll be in the area or free that day. Beyond this, Pun City could (maybe) stay in San Diego if this blog hasn’t overstayed its welcome, or head out to Vegas early (there is a women’s 8-9 game this blog has tickets to at 6:00). One supposes it could even go to Phoenix or Tucson and spend a day there. Definitely a lot to be determined about this day.

3/12, 11:00 AM. Mountain West Conference “play-in” game pitting 8 vs. 9 in Las Vegas. Today this would be a matchup of Wyoming vs. Colorado State. Both are pretty cool schools, Pun City would probably root for the Rams because their school newsletter is the Rampage and head coach Tim Miles used to have former Wisconsin assistant Saul Phillips on his staff at North Dakota State. After this matchup Pun City has some decisions to make. Tickets to all the women’s games were included in the package, so Pun City could see as much as 4 women’s games in sessions going from 1:30 to 6:00 and 7:30 to midnight. Realistically that seems like more women’s basketball than Pun City would be able to handle. But, sparse women’s crowds do often afford the opportunity of catching free stuff being thrown into the stands.

3/13, 12:00 PM. 1 seed taking on the 8-9 winner. Projected 1 seed would be BYU. This is kinda awesome since Pun City will be sitting in the BYU section. Despite not having any relevant apparel for the Cougars, Pun City chose to sit there because their ticket office is the class of the Mountain West. This blog has called them on several occasions over the last couple years and they have been nothing but helpful and courteous. Mad props, BYU.

3/13, 2:30 PM. 4 seed vs. 5 seed. Today this would be New Mexico vs. Utah. Pun City has a shirt from when Utah played in the NCAA tournament in Milwaukee, so that would be worn for the Utes’ games.

3/13, 6:00 PM. After an intermission that would probably involve a trip to the strip for dinner, the 2 seed takes on the 7. This projects to be UNLV vs. Air Force. That’s a really tough call for Pun City since this blog has hats for both schools. Hopefully they end up playing different teams.

3/13, 8:30 PM. The last game of the 4-game day is possibly going to be 3rd seed San Diego State against 6th seed TCU. The Aztecs will almost certainly be favored by Pun City because this blog would have visited their campus and Pun City doesn’t know much about the Horned Frogs.

3/14, 6:30 PM. 1-8-9 survivor vs. 4-5 winner. This could be BYU vs. Utah in an intra-state rivalry (surprisingly taking place extra-state). This is following 2 women’s games that Pun City has the option of taking in. Not sure how likely that possibility would be, but another option would be heading to a sports book to watch some other games. Pun City has received a recommendation of Mandalay Bay for this idea.

3/14, 9:00 PM. 2-7 winner vs. 3-6 winner. Should be a cool game, possibly ending up with hosts UNLV taking on San Diego State. A coaching matchup of former Big Ten coaches Lon Kruger and Steve Fisher.

3/15, 1:00 PM. Women’s title game. Pun City’s gotta check this one out, it’s just cool to see any team get an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, even if it is the less followed women’s tournament.

3/15, 4:00 PM. Men’s title game. The only certain bid that will come out of the Mountain West is going to be determined here. BYU and UNLV both have work to do according to ESPN’s Bubble Watch, and while it’s possible they could each get in even without winning the Mountain West tournament, they won’t be taking any chances with this tournament. On one hand, Pun City hopes they meet in the final here in that it would be a great basketball game. On the other hand, it would be a cooler story if Colorado State or some other dark horse comes out of nowhere and earns a stunning tournament bid.

3/15, Postgame. Pun City’s looking at a 6:20 AM flight the next morning, so the initial plan is to drive to San Diego and sleep at the airport. Maybe hanging out in Vegas a little more after the game ends (around 6:00 PM) is another good idea. This blog will find out. As with much of this trip, Pun City is going to play this segment by ear.

If anyone has any San Diego or Las Vegas suggestions or stories, feel free to chime in. Until then, Pun City is out.

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