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LSU More Qualified for #3 Seed Than Kansas

In College Basketball, General LSU, Rankings Commentary on March 2, 2019 at 9:54 PM

For more background about LSU, see my blog before last week’s games.

I started seeing LSU projected as a three-seed when they beat Tennessee, but I’ve been waiting on probably the most famous prognosticator Joe Lunardi to put the Tigers there.  As of Friday, he still had not done so (I’m using archived links because these pages are updated frequently).  A ton of fans say their team should be higher and are vague about what team should move down in their stead, but I’m not.  It’s Kansas. 

LSU’s substitute point guard Javonte Smart (with ball) was fouled with about 1 second left before hitting the winning free throws against Tennessee.

Some people may say it’s Houston now that it lost to Central Florida (and that would be a convenient excuse to move LSU up without having to deal with Kansas fans), but I’m not making that argument.  Although it was in December, the Cougars beat LSU.  I know the first reaction to Central Florida is “This isn’t football,” but they are a top-30 team according to the NET (Warren Nolan’s version anyway), which I guess is the new and improved RPI (which I was never a huge fan of because it gives teams a ton of credit for the games they lose).  I’ll grant that it’s late in the year to record a loss like that, but I don’t think Houston was exposed all of a sudden.  There is no reason to believe that’s a game Kansas or LSU couldn’t have lost in past couple of weeks.

Losses by Marquette and Nevada may also help LSU going forward, but like I talked about in the last blog, new things happen in basketball all the time, and my blog process isn’t that fast. I’d also note that Jerry Palm (whom I’ll mention later) now has LSU as a #2 with KU still a 4-seed.

I don’t think Lunardi is doing this intentionally and it may well be the same subconscious bias the committee holds, but I can’t help but think Kansas is getting some “blue blood” special treatment. 

Worst Loss

Normally I wouldn’t quibble too much about the worst lost, I’d just say both lost to a bad team and leave it at that.  But in this case, Oklahoma St. is 24 spots higher than West Virginia in the NET, and we have the benefit of them being in the same conference, so it’s not like the two have had vastly different opportunities. 

I think a good example of these teams is their respective February trips to Lubbock.  Texas Tech is a similar team to LSU, so I think that makes it a particularly good point of comparison (what the teams can do when they get up for a game).  Oklahoma St. took the Red Raiders to overtime while West Virginia lost by 31.  In Kansas’s defense, they did play the Mountaineers much closer than LSU played the Cowboys; but a bad loss in November means a lot less to me than one in mid-January. 

Oklahoma St.’s Lindy Waters’ hit four threes in the final minute, including the tying shot as time expired against Texas Tech; but the Cowboys fell in overtime.

When LSU lost to Oklahoma St., they were playing their third night in a row and just off a disappointing overtime loss to Florida St.  We may see in the SEC tournament if that third night in a row is the problem, but for sure the Tigers won’t be playing the day after a loss.  Also, the most you play in the NCAA tournament is twice in a week.

I started writing this on Friday, but it so happened the Cowboys also played Kansas close, so that furthers my argument, while on Saturday LSU got a slightly more impressive road win over Alabama.  I think beating teams in the NCAA field on the road is impressive even if they end up being 11 or 12 seeds. 

Let’s talk about the second-worst loss.  LSU’s was against Arkansas.  Absent winning the SEC tournament or at least winning 4 or 5 more games, Arkansas will not be an at-large team.  However, the Razorbacks just got a pretty decent win over Ole Miss for their 6th win in conference play.  Also, if you throw Kansas a bone for only losing to West Virginia by 1, certainly it’s more understandable to lose to Arkansas by 1.

Other Losses

Kansas’s second-worst loss is slightly better, but Arizona St. just lost by 28 points to Oregon.  The Kansas-Arizona St. game was over two months ago, and Arizona St. is a higher-ranked team than Arkansas; but the disparity between Arizona St. and Arkansas is much less than that between Oklahoma St. and West Virginia. 

LSU’s other 3 losses are all against the NET top 30: (4) Houston, (23) Florida St., and (29) Florida.  Only one game in this group of losses (Florida, if you couldn’t guess) happened after December 12.

Kansas’s other losses: (5) Kentucky, (10) Texas Tech, (14) Iowa St., (28) Kansas St., and (36) Texas.  All the losses in this group have come since January 5.

Key Wins and Conclusion

According to Palm at CBS Sports, Kansas had two more “Quad 1” wins as of Friday morning.  Quad 1 wins consist of home games against the top 30, neutral games against the top 50, and road games against the top 75.  Since it was a road game, Alabama qualifies as a Quad 1 win, reducing the margin to 1.  Oklahoma St. is not in the top 75.

Although Alabama hit two late 3s, Tremont Waters (no relation to Lindy) led the Tigers to a 5-point victory in his first game back.

Kansas has the best non-conference strength of schedule in the nation, so a lot of these key wins took place before the new year, and as mentioned a lot of losses took place after.  I think analysis of the losses and when the games took place more than compensates for Kansas’s single additional Quad 1 win, and I hope Lunardi’s new projections give LSU the #3 ahead of Kansas.

Of course if LSU loses two (or more) of the next three games and Kansas wins out in the Big XII, Kansas will belong ahead; but I think it’s getting close enough to Selection Sunday that it’s a concern if you’re not giving teams proper credit for what they’ve done as of right now. 

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The Curious Case of LSU Basketball

In College Basketball, General LSU, History, Me on February 25, 2019 at 6:19 PM

Why I Generally Don’t Cover College Basketball

If you’ve been following my blog, you’re probably aware I don’t write much about college basketball.  It’s not because I’m not a fan – I actually pride myself on picking mostly correct tournament brackets over the years – but when I have free time during basketball season, a lot of times I’ll have 6 or 7 games recorded to watch and do that instead.  If I don’t watch as many teams who may be in the tournament as possible, I tend not to pick as well.

With college football, I usually watch whatever it is I’m going to watch on Saturday, leaving other days for writing, preparing, etc. I don’t concern myself as much with any kind of postseason picks. Given that only four teams are playing for anything important, the postseason in football is kind of a crap-shoot anyway. I usually finish my computer rankings before I go to bed Saturday night/Sunday morning; so other than writing and research, all of the effort I put into following football is confined to about 14 hours on one day of the week.   

Another part of a sport with so many games is whether I want to write about my team doing well or poorly, there’s always another game looming that can change that.  So if there is a game on Saturday and I don’t have time to write, edit, and post a blog about it until Tuesday, what I’ve written might be moot by then.

Brief Description of Recent LSU Basketball History

I’m writing this now because even if LSU doesn’t finish well, there are milestones and things to be proud of.  The last several years I’ve expected to be disappointed.  Since the Final Four season in 2005-06, I can’t think of one season in which we made it farther than I thought we should have.  When I’ve gotten my hopes up, I’ve just waited a few days (or maybe a couple of weeks) and with the help of the team I’ve gotten over it. 

Former LSU head coach John Brady was fired after the Tigers went 25-28 over the 53 games immediately following LSU’s last Final Four appearance. The Tigers have returned to the NCAA tournament only twice since.

With as bad as things have been for the program at times, it’s amazing that there have been three Final Fours in the last 40 years (and 4 in the last 65 years). For instance, the Tigers lost 10 games or more in all but three seasons in the 27 years between the first two Final-Four appearances. In all but one season since the last Final Four appearance (in which the Tigers entered the tournament with 8 losses), the Tigers have also suffered 10 losses or more. During that second span, LSU has only won a single NCAA tournament game.

The 26 seasons that included the second, third, and fourth Final Four teams weren’t exactly full of success either. There were only four other teams in that span who won one NCAA tournament game or more. Only two of those teams (not including any of the teams for which Shaquille O’Neal played) made the Sweet 16. Seven teams during that span, by contrast, finished with losing records.

LSU went only 2-3 in NCAA tournament games with Shaquille O’Neal on the roster.

What Makes This Team Special (So Far)

With the win over Tennessee, who for much of the year has been #1, I have to acknowledge things are a bit different from the situation to which I’d become accustomed.  It’s certainly possible that LSU or someone else could have been 16-10 and just shot really well and things fell into place for a win over a team like this.  Last year, for instance, the Tigers beat #11 Texas A&M on the road (despite ending up with a losing record in conference).

But this year, one of LSU’s expected starters (Wayde Sims) was killed in the lead up to the season.  On Saturday, arguably the top player on both sides of the ball (Tremont Waters) was sick and did not play.  The Tigers’ second-leading scorer, Naz Reid, who is normally also one of the main defenders in the post, went 0 for 9 from the field and sat for 17 minutes due to foul trouble.  In other years, this would have been an ugly blowout loss under these circumstances; and I wouldn’t have even faulted the team if it had been.

What makes the current situation stand out even more is LSU beat another then-5th-ranked team on the road 11 days before.  It had been almost 40 years since the Tigers beat a team ranked that highly on the road.  Even the 1980-1981 Final Four team, the last LSU team with this small a number of losses this far into the year, lost in Rupp Arena, one of only two regular-season losses for that team. With apologies to Billy Gillispie (who was fired after failing to win an NCAA tournament game in consecutive seasons), this was the first LSU team to win there over a ranked Kentucky team since.

The Kentucky game was another comeback win and another night where some of the top scorers (such as Waters and Skyler Mays) were held in check. 

A couple other notes from that game. Only three times in 52 years had the Tigers overcome a halftime deficit of 8 points or more, and the Kentucky win was the second time in less than a week.  It so happened that both were on the road against ranked teams (the other had been in Starkville).  Also, John Calipari only averages one home loss per season since he took over the Kentucky program in 2009.

The Tigers recorded two wins over top-5 teams, although Tremont Waters (who leads the Tigers in points, assists, steals, and free throws made per game) did not play in one of them and made only 3 of 13 field goal attempts in the other.

This team is actually unbeaten on the road in conference (the Tigers did lose to now-#6 Houston in pre-conference).  Another remarkable thing is how many close games there have been.  The last 7 consecutive games have been decided by 5 points or fewer, and LSU has won 5 of them.  The Tigers are also 4-1 in overtime in conference play.  Three of those overtime wins were on the road. 

I’m going to backtrack a little bit to when I really started to pay close attention. Although I was encouraged by the win at Ole Miss (I’d seen the Rebels beat Auburn and Mississippi St.), I was still skeptical. I wasn’t sure if that might be something like the A&M game I mentioned last year: just one game not particularly apropos of anything (and maybe like the Aggies, the Rebels just happened to peak right before the game, which was apparently the case). 

I first really got the feeling there might be something a little different about this team with the overtime win over Missouri.  Missouri isn’t a great team, don’t get me wrong; but when you end up winning after being down 14 with 2:08 to play, you’ve done something impressive. It wasn’t a Division II school in a November tournament or exhibition; it was a road game against a credible program in a major conference.

Conclusion and Why You May Not Want to Bet the Farm on LSU

Before I finish, I want to include a couple of caveats. I don’t mean to suggest that the moment you get your brackets you need to put the Tigers in the Final Four regardless of the region or seeding.

While I think LSU can beat anyone anywhere now, the team also has a tendency to play down to the opposition, which can certainly cause problems in the postseason.  The Tigers lost to Arkansas at home by 1 and beat the Razorbacks on the road in overtime.  I think Arkansas is better than its record, but there is no reason LSU should be making a team 5-9 in the SEC look better than Tennessee and Kentucky regardless.  After beating Kentucky, the Tigers only got out of Athens with a 4-point win.  Georgia is only 1-13 in conference. There likely won’t be a worse team that LSU will play in the postseason.

After Georgia (and before Tennessee), LSU lost to Florida at home.  The Tigers will have to play the Gators again and also have rematches against Texas A&M (whom the Tigers beat easily in College Station) and Alabama (whom the Tigers struggled to put away in Baton Rouge), so finishing at the top of the conference or even top two is far from guaranteed.  They’re projected to be a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament, which usually makes a team safe to enter the round of 32, but if they fall below that I’d be very concerned about a loss in the first game.

Also, some of LSU’s second halves and final stretches would be less remarkable if it didn’t tend to fall behind in the first place, often due to poor shot selection. Although the Tigers were able to claw back against Kentucky and Tennessee as well as against some lesser teams, there could be an opponent in the post-season against which they are not so lucky.

For the reasons I mentioned though, I think it’s worth noting the accomplishments so far. 

Top 25 after Week 5

In College Basketball, College Football, General LSU, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 2, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Before I begin, I know I missed the midweek blog. I had a baseball fantasy team (I won the championship of 10-team league), but that’s obviously over. I had a couple of other obligations last week as well.

I also should mention that I was sad to hear the news about LSU basketball player Wayde Sims. It’s going to hurt the team, but that’s a small consideration compared to a life cut short like that. I’ve lost a couple of other people prematurely who were important in different ways to my sports fandom in other Septembers, so I’m always glad for September for the cooler weather to commence.

Speaking of cooler weather, that’s usually when the Ole Miss game is played, but it was early this year. Here is the updated information about the LSU/Ole Miss series. I don’t have a whole lot to say about the game though. It was sloppy on both sides, but LSU just has a lot more talent. There were a couple of fumbles, but Ole Miss had a lot more penalties than LSU did (one of which negated a fumble), so it balanced out. It was nice for Burrow to do well statistically, although I’m not sure how well the land plankton compare to other SEC defenses. I plan to talk about the upcoming Florida game later this week. I heard an interesting discussion about it today that I’ll talk about as well.

LSU QB Joe Burrow accounted for 388 total yards against Ole Miss.

If you didn’t notice, I did complete my first official computer rankings of the year. I’m obviously not following them exactly in this list, but there were only two teams below whom I moved more than 4 spots. The first was Auburn, which I thought belonged one spot ahead of Washington, which it beat. The Plains Tigers just have low-value wins like Alabama St., Southern Miss, and Arkansas that makes their computer numbers look relatively bad. The second was Central Florida, who has a 17-game winning streak and lost out on potential points due to the hurricane. I will not move either team as much next week or in future weeks though.

There will probably be only a handful of deviations overall from the computer order next week. Some people have been confused about why I change the approach from week to week, but I just think people don’t realize the transition in other mediums. You start with preseason, which is only about how good you think teams will be, maybe with a little bit of consideration for how good they were in prior years. Then when it comes to bowls and the playoff, you want to exclusively base it on how well a team did this season.

You can’t make that transition and approach each week the exact same, but the polls tend to have this arrested development where they try to do that. I imagine them thinking, “I moved team A up 5 spots because they beat team B last week, and team B was in the top 10.” They’ll do that just as much in November as in September. They don’t think back and wonder if team B was only in the top 10 because of what they did this season or not, and then if team B loses to several other teams they don’t take away the extra credit they gave team A. They only reevaluate when it gets right to the end. I don’t understand what they’re waiting for.

I won’t have as much to say about my decision-making process going forward. Where I do make decisions I’m mostly just trying to provide a smooth transition from subjective to objective. It’s going to be more about why the computer formula reacts to input the way it does.

I will talk about the top teams a bit. I didn’t want to move LSU up another spot until they do something more impressive than beating Ole Miss at home. Ohio St. had a better win than Clemson did Saturday, but I’m no longer holding the closeness of the win over Texas A&M against them. The computer had the orange Tigers a good bit higher, so I followed that. Notre Dame is playing well just in time (and I believe Stanford is also better than Syracuse), so I’m now willing to look past the close final scores early on. Those are two examples of how margin of victory won’t really factor in going forward.

I’ve talked about Army and Duke in the last couple of weeks. Duke beat Army, so even though the Blue Devils lost and the Cadets won in big games last week, I decided they were close enough to put the winning team (especially with one fewer loss) ahead.

I’ll just briefly address the other new teams on this list. West Virginia held on in Lubbock to remain undefeated, which I considered in giving them an extra boost here. Florida had a good win in Starkville. I’m still skeptical of North Carolina St. and Indiana, but as I explained objective numbers are taking more of a role now. Indiana doesn’t get much credit for beating Rutgers, but it has moved up as other teams have lost or are no longer receiving extra subjective credit and did too well in the computer ratings to put lower. North Carolina St. got a numerically helpful win against Virginia and is undefeated. The Wolfpack and the Hoosiers are the only two teams to beat the Cavaliers, but we will see if that means anything soon (when Virginia plays U. Miami and Duke in the next two weeks).

Apart from Michigan, all the teams who fell out lost. The Wolverines are getting a lot of credit in other places for beating winless Nebraska (partly due to margin of victory). That doesn’t count for much here. Northwestern, the team they barely beat on Saturday, is 1-3 and lost to Akron. By the way, that’s an example of margin of victory the other direction. One reason I’m not that far away from many rankings who consider margin of victory is it tends to balance out. Anyway, I just didn’t see the logic in putting Michigan ahead of any team on this list, but they’re still close to the top 25.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Notre Dame 8
3 Clemson 7
4 LSU 4
5 Georgia 2
6 Ohio St. 3
7 Oklahoma 6
8 Kentucky 12
9 Stanford 5
10 NC State —
11 W. Virginia —
12 Auburn 10
13 Washington 21
14 Penn St. 9
15 Duke 11
16 Texas 22
17 Indiana —
18 Army —
19 S Florida —
20 Okie St. 24
21 Wisconsin 15
22 Florida —
23 U. Miami 20
24 Maryland 25
25 C. Florida 16

Out of Top 25: (13) UC-Berkeley, (14) BYU, (17) Michigan, (18) Miss. St., (19) S Carolina, (23) Texas Tech

Good News and Bad News for SEC Sports

In College Baseball, College Basketball, College Football, Other NCAA Sports, Track on June 28, 2015 at 3:06 PM

No championships, but some good performances in major men’s sports

If you missed it, this was my blog about LSU sports in particular over the 2014-15 academic year.

This section will discuss the SEC’s performance in the four traditional major men’s sports, which are football, basketball, outdoor track, and baseball in 2014-15. I made a chart dating back to the 2006-07 academic year when I wrote this blog on the same topic last year. Below is just a small version of the chart containing only this (academic) year’s results.

SPORT Title Runner-Up Semi #1* Semi #2
FOOTBALL Ohio St. Oregon Alabama Florida St.
BASKETBALL Duke Wisconsin Kentucky Mich. St.
TRACK Oregon Florida Arkansas LSU
BASEBALL Virginia Vanderbilt Florida TCU

*- For track, this is simply the #3 team. For baseball, it is the last team eliminated before the championship series. For basketball and football, it is the higher-seeded of the two semifinal losers.

I’ll start with the bad news for SEC fans and the good news for people who don’t like the SEC. This is the first academic year since 1987-88 in which the SEC did not win a championship (just assume when I say this in this section I’m talking about the major men’s sports).

Virginia baseball got revenge over Vandy and ended the 26-year streak of at least one major men's title per academic year for the SEC.

Virginia baseball got revenge over Vandy and ended the 26-year streak of at least one major men’s title per academic year for the SEC.

When LSU won the 1989 men’s outdoor track championship to begin the streak, that was actually the first major championship for the SEC since Georgia had won in football after the 1980 season.

That had been the SEC’s first men’s outdoor title since 1974 (Tennessee). The SEC did not win in baseball for the first time until 1990 (Georgia) but has been the clear leader among conferences since then. This also overlapped with droughts in basketball from 1978 (Kentucky) to 1994 (Arkansas) and in football from 1980 to 1992 (Alabama).

Arkansas and South Carolina football did not join the SEC until the 1992-93 year, but the winter and spring sports began SEC competition in the previous academic year. This was just in time for Arkansas to win its first of 8 consecutive track championships, and it saved the SEC from going 0/4 in the 1991-92 academic year.

There was also a two-week period in June of 2000 where the SEC was not the reigning champion of any of the four sports, but then LSU won the baseball title (by a run over Stanford) that year.

LSU won the CWS with a walk-off single in 2000 to keep the streak going.

LSU won the CWS with a walk-off single in 2000 to keep the streak going.

This year, the SEC had what was expected to be the superior team that went into both the College World Series and the Final Four but just couldn’t get it done. Of course, Kentucky had its only basketball loss the season in that semifinal game. In baseball, LSU only won a single game in the CWS, but both Vanderbilt and Florida made the semifinals.

Baseball was a bit of bad luck as well. I’m not saying Virginia didn’t deserve it, but in the formats of past years, Virginia would have been out with its second loss (which took place in the first game of the championship series). Until 2003, it was impossible to lose twice in the CWS without being eliminated. The Cavaliers had lost to Florida before the championship series began. So although the SEC didn’t win the CWS, they did get two wins against the champion. Also, had the Gators won their second game against the ’Hoos (which they lost by one run), there would have been an all-SEC final.

Still, having one of the top four football teams, one of the top four basketball teams, two of the top four baseball teams, and three of the top four track teams isn’t a bad year even without a championship. That would most probably be the best if there were three major conferences, and there are five.

Also, there were two other top-8 baseball teams (LSU and Arkansas), and two other top-8 track teams (Texas A&M and Mississippi St.). Football had two additional teams (Georgia and Missouri) finish in the top 14 of the final AP poll. Basketball didn’t have any other teams of note with only two wins (one of them a “first four” game) in the whole tournament not by Kentucky.

Successful year in other sports

The SEC did have some success worth commenting on in other sports.

The LSU baseball team had a disappointing CWS, but the golf championship was some consolation.

LSU baseball had a disappointing CWS this year, but the golf championship was some consolation.

The LSU men won in golf for their first championship in the sport since 1955, but Alabama had won the previous two titles. In total, the SEC has won four titles since the “stroke and match play” format was introduced in 2009.

In women’s basketball, South Carolina lost in the Final Four, and Tennessee reached the Elite Eight. South Carolina was the first SEC team to make the Final Four since 2008, which was the last time Tennessee won. At least one SEC team had made it every year from 2002 to 2008, when both LSU and Tennessee were regular participants.

Florida celebrates its second consecutive NCAA softball championship.

Florida celebrates its second consecutive NCAA softball championship.

In softball, the SEC did extremely well. Eleven teams made the tournament, eight made the super regionals, and five made the Women’s CWS. Florida won in the championship over Michigan, but the SEC had two other semifinalists (Auburn and LSU). Three of the last four softball championships have been won by SEC teams (Florida also won last year, and Alabama won in 2012).

As in men’s outdoor track, Oregon beat out several SEC schools for #1 in women’s outdoor track. SEC teams finished second (Kentucky), third (Texas A&M), fourth (Arkansas), fifth (Georgia), and eighth (Florida). SEC teams had won in 2012 and 2014 (Texas A&M), although LSU’s 2012 title was revoked.

LSU Wraps Up 2014-2015 Well; Football Is a Question Mark

In College Baseball, College Basketball, College Football, General LSU, Other NCAA Sports, Track on June 20, 2015 at 3:37 PM

I was getting ready to write about how encouraged I was with LSU sports over the last few months, and then I read this: http://theadvocate.com/sports/lsu/12689249-123/lsu-qb-anthony-jennings-two

I’ll talk about why that’s especially upsetting when I talk about the football team later, but first I wanted to talk about sports that actually competed in intercollegiate athletics recently.

It’s only been a few months since basketball ended, so I’ll start there. It would have been nice to have had a win in the NCAA tournament, but even making it was a big step forward for the program. Without an injury, NC State may well have been an Elite Eight team, so losing to them by one point was nothing to hang our heads about.

Nothing ever went quite how it was supposed to go under Trent Johnson, but it definitely seems on track with Johnny Jones, especially given that LSU got a few big recruits to come onto the team for next season.

Ben Simmons has already shown that he looks good in purple and gold.

Ben Simmons has already shown that he looks good in purple and gold.

I’m not a big follower of women’s sports, but although track and basketball were disappointing (only because those were until recently two of LSU’s best programs of either sex), I was happy for the softball team, which made it to the semifinals at the Women’s College World Series.

LSU softball celebrates a walk-off win over Alabama

LSU softball celebrates a walk-off win over Alabama

I was very impressed by the end results of the last three major men’s programs: golf, which won the first national championship in 60 years; men’s track, which finished fourth in both the SEC and the nation; and baseball, where LSU won its first game at the college World Series since winning the whole tournament in 2009.

LSU football Head Coach Les Miles and Athletic Director Joe Alleva congratulate the LSU golf team after its first national championship since 1955 (and first SEC championship since 1987).

LSU football Head Coach Les Miles and Athletic Director Joe Alleva congratulate the LSU golf team after its first national championship since 1955 (and first SEC championship since 1987).

This was the best combined finish in a single year by the LSU baseball and softball teams. Both made their respective CWS’s in 2004, but LSU baseball did not win a game in Omaha that year.

I’ll reluctantly shift gears to football. I didn’t lose any sleep at all over John Chavis’s departure. I appreciate what he’s done at both LSU and Tennessee over the past couple of decades, but it was probably best to look toward the future anyway.

From the moment I heard about it, I wanted us to find a way to bring in Ed Orgeron, which we managed to do. Orgeron isn’t the defensive coordinator, but I have confidence Steele will do a good job. Anyone with a bigger name may not have felt comfortable being potentially overshadowed by an assistant.

Some criticize LSU for taking Alabama’s leftovers (Steele was demoted from DC at Alabama when Saban decided to call the plays himself), but I couldn’t find much fault with any of the defensive performances in Steele’s tenure. Alabama’s problem in 2007 had been offense, not defense. They did have a little bit of trouble in an early win over Arkansas (giving up 38 points), but Arkansas’s offense was pretty good that year. LSU also put up big numbers against the Tide that year (41 points), but that so happened to be the last LSU team that won a national championship. Steele was also an assistant under Saban at LSU in 2004, also coaching alongside Will Muschamp, Auburn’s new (and old) Defensive Coordinator.

Speaking of unsuccessful head coaches, Steele never won more than three games as Baylor Head Coach, and Orgeron never won more than four games as Ole Miss Head Coach, but I think they both learned a thing or two about recruiting.

DC Kevin Steele (left) and Ed Orgeron are possibly the best combination of defensive coaches in college football.

DC Kevin Steele (left) and Ed Orgeron are possibly the best combination of defensive coaches in college football.

Steele had also served as Clemson’s defensive coordinator for four seasons. After being in the top 20 in total defense in 2009 and 2010, he had some problems in his third season there and the beginning of his fourth; but Clemson only allowed 3 of its last 7 opponents in 2012 (one of them LSU) to score 21 points or more and only 1 of those 7 scored 28 or more.

So why was that article I posted at the beginning so upsetting? What LSU has been missing for many years under Les Miles has been a reliable quarterback. Ryan Perrilloux should have been one, but that didn’t happen. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee never seemed to reach their potentials. Zach Mettenberger had some success (as a transfer) in 2012 and 2013, but then Anthony Jennings had some hiccups last season.

One of the things I was encouraged with was Anthony Jennings. One of the things I was NOT impressed with was Brandon Harris, who mostly looked about as effective during the spring game as he had during the season.

Harris ran well in the spring game, but he only looked proficient as a passer when he was with the white (primarily first-string) team. That was mostly because of good plays by receivers and openings in the secondary you could drive a tank through.

(l to r) Brandon Harris, Anthony Jennings, and Brad Kragthorpe practice in the LSU indoor facility.

(l to r) Brandon Harris, Anthony Jennings, and Brad Kragthorpe practice in the LSU indoor facility.

I did not see the whole game, so I don’t know if last year’s third-string QB Brad Kragthorpe (who scored the apparent touchdown that was denied against Notre Dame) even played. LSU successfully recruited three-star QB Justin McMillan, but I would be surprised if he’s ready to lead the offense anytime soon either.

I do think the white defense was good and even parts of the purple offense looked good, I will be worried about the defensive secondary late in games though since the depth doesn’t seem to be there.

I expect LSU can have among the best rushing games, run defenses, and pass rushes in the country, but having a quarterback you can count on (which certainly makes running the ball easier) and having depth in the secondary (which can make the line and linebackers irrelevant) are two important areas.

I’m not saying Jennings is the answer to LSU’s problems or that he would have been had he not been arrested, but he certainly looked like the best hope at the position for next season. It won’t require greatness, but it will require some accuracy and good decision-making. Obviously the latter needs to take place off the field too.

Vanderbilt CWS win caps great academic year for SEC

In College Baseball, College Basketball, College Football, Track on June 27, 2014 at 3:52 PM

I know it’s been a while, but often in the summer I’m too busy watching sports to blog much about them. College football is just the perfect sport for me to blog about since you have all your games finishing up on Saturday night, and (even with the national semifinal system) each game is much more important than an NFL game. Then, aside from the mostly irrelevant early-week games, there are a good few days at least to ponder the results and the upcoming week with no new results coming in.

Anyway, what I’ve mostly been doing lately in my spare time is watching the World Cup and the College World Series (I’m about to replace the latter with Wimbledon). I’ll probably have something to say about the World Cup when it’s over, but for now I just want to sort of sum up the academic sports year, which ended with Vanderbilt winning its first ever national title in a men’s sport, and (surprise surprise) talk about the SEC.

In some respects, you could consider the year a disappointment for the SEC. Obviously, the SEC’s streak of BCS titles came to an end at 7 after Auburn’s loss to Florida St. in January. When Oregon won the men’s outdoor track title a couple of weeks ago, it marked the fourth consecutive major men’s sports title (I’ll just call them the four sports from now on) NOT won by the SEC. Had Virginia won the CWS, this would have matched the drought from January 2004 (LSU’s first BCS title) to June 2005 (when Arkansas last won the national title in track).

On the other hand, going into the CWS final, the SEC had been reigning runners-up in all four of those sports (that’s not really “reigning”, but you get the idea). In three of those four sports, the SEC had at least one additional team in the top four. Also, I mentioned the BCS title streak that came to an end, but it’s still 8 years in a row that the SEC had a team play in the championship game. In baseball, it’s now 7 years in a row than an SEC team has been in the championship series (4-3). The SEC only had two finalist in the seven prior seasons. Both lost.

This is actually kind of incredible, but this academic year, the SEC had 10 different programs finish in the top four of the major sports: Auburn football, Alabama football (I’ll explain), Kentucky basketball, Florida basketball, Florida track, Texas A&M track, LSU track, South Carolina track, Vanderbilt baseball, and Ole Miss baseball. I would be very surprised if any conference had ever done that before in those sports.

I know most have said good riddance to the BCS already, but there is an important thing to clarify in the way it worked. In short, the number 3 and 4 teams in the final BCS standings are the closest approximation to semifinalists. I’ll elaborate in the next paragraph, but feel free to skip it if you understand.

It did not narrow down the field to two teams after the bowl games. So in basketball, for instance, you got eliminated from title contention when games were played and you lost to the title team. But you got eliminated from BCS title contention after championship week and before the bowl games. If Florida and Wisconsin went and lost some kind of exhibition after the basketball season, that would not alter their status as basketball semifinalists. For BCS purposes, the bowl games were exhibitions for all the other teams. I know the AP title was theoretically still in play, but the BCS was the only championship system. You don’t have to remind me USC won the AP trophy after the 2003 season, but in the bowl game they were playing a team (Michigan) which was not vying for any kind of championship, so that’s not really a system where you must beat other teams that are trying to be champions. A team like Alabama last year made a really good run at the title and understandably only one team separated them from a berth in the championship game when it came time to decide who was to play in that game.

So while the SEC ONLY had one national championship in the four sports this year, the first time it hasn’t had multiple championships since 2007-08, having ten programs that high is an impressive feat, arguably even more impressive than 2011-12 when the SEC had 3 national titles, 3 runners-up and a seventh top-four team. As mentioned, three of the relevant programs were also runners-up this academic year.

Below is the chart of all these top fours beginning with the 2006-07 academic year, the beginning of the BCS-championship streak. 2005-06 was a good year for LSU (Final Four in basketball [won by Florida] and national runner-up in track), but I had to cut it off somewhere. If someone wants to compile results for other conferences, feel free. The only reason a fifth track team is included for this year is there was a tie in points for fourth, which obviously isn’t really possible for the other sports. The BCS has too many decimal places to tie, and in basketball and baseball, you’re only going to get four semifinalists no matter what you do. From now on, I will use the same format for football and just consider the losing semifinalists as tied for third.

SEC 2006 to present

Realignment Revisited (Again)

In College Basketball, College Football, Realignment on August 31, 2013 at 4:44 PM

I’ve written about this a few times, but as the college football landscape keeps changing, that will change what realignment solutions make sense. Some of the conference additions and subtractions do make a bit of sense, and there is no reason to cause new problems unnecessarily.

One of the more noticeable things about the alignment going into next season is the number of new independents. Before BYU left the Mountain West to become independent, there were only three independent programs: Army, Navy, and Notre Dame.

The independents swell to 7 programs this season. Idaho and New Mexico St. were left without conferences when the WAC folded and no one picked them up, and Old Dominion joined the FBS as a transitional team. (Fewer than half of its games this season will take place against other FBS teams.)

Old Dominion is scheduled to join Conference USA (and I believe this is the move that makes the most sense anyway), but the CUSA will have an uneven number of teams next season as it awaits the development of UNC-Charlotte’s football team.

I mentioned last year that the absence of the WAC left a bit of a vacuum out West, and I believe this is still true despite SMU and Houston joining the former Big East (now AAC) and despite Mountain West expansion.

The only change I would make to the Mountain West is I would replace New Mexico with Idaho. New Mexico is admittedly a more traditional team to be playing Air Force and Colorado St., but I don’t think that’s the natural place for them. Idaho is a better fit with the rest of the Mountain division: Boise St., Utah St., and Wyoming. New Mexico also fits a lot better into my proposed Big West/Sunbelt/WAC conference:
Rice (currently CUSA)
Texas El Paso (currently CUSA)
Texas San Antonio (currently CUSA)
Texas St.
New Mexico
New Mexico St.
Louisiana Lafayette
Louisiana Monroe
Louisiana Tech (currently CUSA)

So that’s 4 Texas schools, 2 New Mexico schools (one of which is about 20 minutes’ drive from Texas), and 3 Louisiana schools. That’s why it’s so much more fitting for New Mexico than it is for Idaho. Also, it would be much more conceivable for New Mexico to finish with a winning record.

This is what Conference USA would look like in 2015:

Eastern Division Western Division
Florida Atlantic Alabama Birmingham
Florida International South Alabama*
Georgia St.* Troy*
Marshall Southern Mississippi
Middle Tennessee Arkansas St.*
NC-Charlotte North Texas
Old Dominion Western Kentucky**

*currently Sun Belt
**Western Kentucky is playing in its last season in the Sun Belt and will already join CUSA next season.

If you think I missed a few Sun Belt teams, North Texas, Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, and Florida International are all playing their first respective seasons in the CUSA right now. UT-San Antonio and Louisiana Tech are also playing their first respective seasons in the CUSA, but I think the give and take might work out if it’s something like what I presented. I know the conference big wigs aren’t going to read this and change everything tomorrow, but moving toward something like this would be a viable long-term plan for the respective schools and conferences. I’m not sure how all the legalities work, but whatever the new conference is called could conceivably be a successor to the Sun Belt.

The major conferences may be fairly set for right now, as moves have been made to secure programs’ television rights even if they join new conferences in the future, but I think there may be some changes where two conferences can simply work it out and the TV requirements could be waived for the right price. Maybe there will be some trades like what I’m suggesting above for the more minor conferences.

Apart from SEC scheduling, the main thing that doesn’t make sense to me in the major conferences right now is we still have a 10-team Big XII and not too far from Morgantown, West Virginia, (which is not anywhere near other Big XII campuses) there are two schools you may have heard of called Cincinnati and Louisville. Cincinnati may be relatively easy to recruit since it’s in the AAC (the former Big East) rather than in the process of joining the ACC like Louisville is. But it would seem to me that Connecticut (another AAC school) would be a better fit in the ACC anyway. They’re a natural rival with Boston College and Syracuse and at least a historical rival with Pittsburgh (if you’re out of the loop, Syracuse and Pitt are also joining the ACC). I would also hope the ACC would consider a more logical approach to their divisional alignment.

I know Louisville won the national championship in basketball, but I can’t imagine that Connecticut wouldn’t be just as good of a long-term possibility in that sport (with multiple championships in recent years). Connecticut only recently started having a major football team, but that program could be just as good as Louisville’s also. There is also the matter of Connecticut possibly driving TV revenue in the New York area. I can’t imagine that the ACC would require too much money in order to go along with something of this nature.

My take on the NCAA Selection Committee

In College Basketball on March 17, 2011 at 2:43 PM

In giving itself a chance to beat West Virginia, Clemson confirmed again (as they did initially in the UNC game and again in the UAB game…I will discuss some of the other controversial inclusions and exclusions below) that they do have skills necessary to win games in this tournament, but my feeling is if you don’t beat an RPI top-50 team before the tournament, you don’t belong in the tournament as an at-large.

For the record, I began writing this when Clemson was ahead by 9 points, and it was partly written in my head before the game started. I just haven’t had time earlier this week to either watch the tournament reaction or write a blog, especially since I filled out around 30 brackets (I have two ESPN accounts, and I filled out all the ones I came across, as many as I could. It’s partly to cover my bases from not having watched enough games this year, but it’s also because I’m much better at individual match-ups than I am at, “This team is going to win this region”…of course most people who show confidence at the latter effort are frequently wrong.)

As for Clemson and its athleticism, I don’t care if they look like Bill Russell’s Celtics if they don’t beat anyone of note. There are few phrases more annoying in the football context where less than 2% of the teams can play for the BCS title at the end of the year, but in basketball, the “eye test” is arguably appropriate as an argument when it’s a close call for #40-something. But not when you can plainly rule out a team based on a lack of accomplishments. Being unable to keep a convincing lead against North Carolina was repeated against West Virginia. So maybe that game was a cause for concern as much as it was a credit to Clemson. (Roy Williams isn’t a particularly good conference-tournament coach anyway. Even his national-championship teams lost in the second game of their respective conference tournaments.)

I know the RPI is flawed, but come on. I wouldn’t require beating a top-25 or top-30 RPI team, but I think counting #50 and above gives enough leeway to factor in the RPI’s weaknesses.

Even Alabama, who had an RPI of 80, beat a top-50 team, Georgia, twice in a row right at the end. I have no reservations about leaving Alabama out, by the way. They didn’t beat anyone worth much out of conference, and they played in the SEC West, so I don’t care if they did beat Georgia twice, their 12-4 SEC record isn’t really better than Georgia’s 9-7 without even looking out of conference.

Speaking of 9-7, that’s how Clemson finished in the ACC, and given their givens, I think they had to distinguish themselves better than that. I’m definitely more impressed with Harvard (especially considering their out-of-conference accomplishments) tying Princeton for the Ivy League crown than I am with 9-7 in the ACC this year.

The other “first four” at-large winner, VCU, is a team I wanted to see in this tournament. They had three wins over top-50 teams going in. People talk about recent losses in criticism of VCU’s selection. They had 6 losses since January 3, including one to George Mason and two to Old Dominion. During that time, they also beat Old Dominion and George Mason. The win over Old Dominion was on the road.

Maybe this doesn’t make up for losses to Northeastern, Drexel, and James Madison, but that’s a different argument. It’s still true that they finished the seaon on an overall upswing despite the losses.

I would also give them credit for playing the non-conference schedule they played. That probably contributed to making them the team they are now, even though again there were some losses to non-tournament teams. Winthrop and Wake Forest have had better years (one neutral-court win, one road win), but it was clear they were not dodging competition. These are the other non-conference highlights: loss to Tennessee (neutral), win over UCLA (neutral), loss to South Florida (road), win over VMI (home), loss to UAB (road). The loss to Tennessee was by 5, the loss to South Florida was by 1 in overtime, and the loss to UAB was by 3.

I heard it said in watching the ODU game that VCU would not get an automatic bid (I had not been following “Bracketology,” which I think is silly until the last week), and although I normally am for ODU, I said aloud, “That’s a shame” that VCU lost because I felt that the tournament would be missing something without them.

Just to be clear, I am not saying that because they looked really good in this game, that they deserved an at-large bid. I’m not discussing them to the exclusion of any contender who did not make the field. I’m not here to argue that they belonged ahead of Colorado, Virginia Tech, and St. Mary’s. Certainly had those three made it and VCU went to the NIT along with UAB and Clemson, VCU would not have had a right to complain. As a side note, from the two St. Mary’s games I’ve seen recently, VCU looked better even in the loss to ODU than the Gaels did during the WCC tournament. My objection is to the statements made on ESPN (by Jay Bilas for example) that VCU doesn’t pass the laugh test. I think dismissal of VCU to that extreme is a continuation of the bias against mid-majors. I don’t know how many Butlers or George Masons or Bradleys these people need. Incidentally, VCU’s profile is not a whole lot different from that of the George Mason team that went to the Final Four. Granted, that team making the Final Four was a bit of a fluke, but George Mason could have easily been excluded from the tournament that year, and few would have been outraged or even moderately annoyed.

It is not an aberrant event for a team to look like a tough out in losing a conference title game and having that team end up in the tournament. About 7 years ago, Utah St. barely lost in the final and surprised most (including Lunardi, if I remember correctly) by making the field. The defense from the committee (which used to take more questions, by the way) was the type of game they played, and obviously some consideration was given for the quality of the WAC and the narrow loss of an automatic opportunity. The committee did seem to move away from that in recent years (Mississippi St.’s snub after the 1-point overtime loss to Kentucky in the SEC tournament final last year, for instance), but I don’t believe they should have. In the case of VCU, I think it’s worthwhile to consider that losing in a rubber match to a clear tournament team (ODU is seeded 9th, and you could easily argue they should be higher) by five points is a good showing even though obviously it does not result in an automatic bid.

I think UAB’s inclusion was a somewhat misguided show of respect for winning (in the regular season of course) a Conference USA that has highly respectable programs including UTEP and Memphis, and a recognition of the type of program at UAB in recent years. However as far as this season, there is no way one top-50 win goes ahead of the six that Colorado had. I don’t care if Colorado played no non-conference games or if they were the ugliest six games since the shot clock was implemented, that’s still more impressive. So I think I’m with the UAB critics, but the people outraged about VCU (especially if they’re not also complaining about Clemson) didn’t give this a fair hearing, they just over-reacted due to having assumed VCU was not on the committee’s menu. The committee got this one wrong, but I think I understand where their impression of UAB came from at least.

More Conference Changes? + My Bowl Projections

In College Basketball, College Football, Realignment on November 29, 2010 at 6:19 PM

Surprise, surprise, TCU is changing conferences again.

The Horned Frogs will join their fourth conference since the dissolution of the SWC in 1996. First, it joined the WAC superconference. Shortly after the MWC teams left the WAC, it moved to the CUSA. Then it jumped to the MWC. Now it will be in the Big East, starting in 2012.

I understand that football teams must start in a new conference by 2012 in order for its statistics to count in the new conference for BCS purposes. The current evaluation period is between 2008 and 2011.

It has driven me crazy that a team in Fort Worth, TX, belonged to the Mountain West Conference since they joined, but they’re moving to a conference that, at least as compared to the current MWC, makes even less sense geographically.

Plus, TCU has a basketball team, so that will be 17 members of the Big East. That’s beyond ridiculous. I think they should make it two separate conferences for the purposes of other sports. Will there now be a play-in game to reach the 1st round of the basketball tournament, where the four winners then get a chance TO PLAY FOR a spot in the quarterfinals?

The travel times listed below are based on Google Maps driving directions.

TCU will leave a conference whose closest rival was 10 hours, 19 minutes away to join one whose closest rival will be 13 hours, 48 minutes away. (South Florida, in Tampa, may be closer in the air than Louisville, but I’m not sure.)

The longest trip will be 28 hours away (it doesn’t give minutes when you go over 24 hours). In the MWC as currently constituted, the longest trip (San Diego St.) was 21 hours, 19 minutes.

But to be fair, it could have gotten worse had TCU stayed. Boise will be 26 hours away, but Hawaii (if they choose to join the MWC) would have been even farther away, about 2900 miles, almost 1200 more than the distance to Connecticut. There is of course no driving time to Hawaii. Confirmed new additions to the MWC, Nevada and Fresno St., would have also been farther away than any current MWC team.

Obviously, there are other reasons, but it’s interesting that three teams have now left the MWC since it was announced that Boise St. was joining. No one wants to play them, unless it’s another team that wants to go out its way to prove itself (I’m sure Fresno St., for instance, was happy to follow them to the MWC).

As I referenced in the second paragraph, I also read that apparently these moves are all about jockeying for automatic qualifier status. TCU’s BCS appearance last year will count toward the Big East, Boise’s will count toward the Mountain West, and Utah’s in the 2008 season will count toward the Pac-10.

Hawaii’s BCS appearnce in the 2007 season apparently doesn’t matter, so the WAC could really be deprived even if Hawaii stays. The WAC might be the new Sun Belt when all is said and done. Idaho, Utah St., and New Mexico St. were all Sun Belt teams at one point, incidentally. San Jose St. isn’t much better. Louisiana Tech (another severely out-of-place team) actually won the WAC in their first season in the conference, but it’s been pretty much downhill since then. Those five teams are the only ones left if Hawaii also leaves. Maybe they’ll add some California FCS teams, but I think the last thing we need is more FBS teams. The Sun Belt is getting bloated, maybe a some of them will go out West (there are two Louisiana teams and one Texas team who might go well with Louisiana Tech).

The Sun Belt is currently scheduled to have 10 football teams with the addition of South Alabama in 2013. I don’t know if Denver plans to field a football team, but they are moving to the WAC, where BYU will also play in sports other than football.

The Big East is also considering adding Central Florida and Villanova, should the latter choose to move up to FBS. Central Florida would increase the number of basketball teams to 18.

I don’t know if there is any interest in bringing Temple back to the Big East, but that would be a more logical fit than the MAC, especially since the Owls have been improved in the last couple of years. It would also be a good basketball program to add, though its previous membership in the Big East was football-only. Temple would also of course be a natural rival with Villanova. The teams have already played each other multiple times in recent years and have an intense basketball rivalry.

Bowl projections

National championship:
Oregon vs. Auburn

I don’t think either team will have it easy this week, but I expect both to come out on top. I just don’t think the opposition is good enough. On the other hand, just ask Bobby Bowden how tough it is to face a rematch with Steve Spurrier.

A Pac-10 or Big Ten national-championship-game team would automatically send TCU to the Rose Bowl. It’s not right for Stanford, but that’s the breaks. So the Rose Bowl doesn’t really get to pick a team.

So there is the second match-up: Wisconsin (projected Big Ten champion based on BCS standings) vs. TCU.

This would probably leave an automatic #4, probably Stanford, Oklahoma or Nebraska as the Big XII champions, Virginia Tech or Florida St. as the ACC champions, and probably either Connecticut or West Virginia (Pitt would only make it if both lose) as the Big East champions. This leaves open the possibility of two non-automatic at-large teams.

The Sugar Bowl gets the first two real picks, the replacement for Auburn and the regular first pick. I think they’d definitely pick Arkansas (leaving only one other non-automatic slot). They might like to pick the Big XII champion, but they’re contractually obligated to the Fiesta Bowl, so my guess is they knock out that last non-automatic spot and pick Ohio St. The Buckeyes were in a New Orleans bowl game in 2007 (the national championship game), but I still think the team and fan base are the most attractive option. I don’t think there is enough of a gap between Stanford and Ohio St. to ignore all the other positives for Ohio St.

So there is our third match-up: Ohio St. vs. Arkansas

The Orange Bowl will have the ACC champion automatically, and they’ll get to pick a second team. Especially if it’s Connecticut, I don’t think they’d want the Big East team instead, so my guess here would be they’d take Stanford. Even if WVU wins the Big East, I don’t know if you pick a team that’s 20 spots worse because their fans are better.

So the fourth match-up: ACC vs. Stanford

The Fiesta Bowl will automatically get the Big XII champion, and they’d be stuck with the Big East Champion, assuming no one else selects that team.

Fifth match-up: Big XII vs. Big East

Select other bowl projections:
CapitalOne: LSU vs. Michigan St.
Cotton: Oklahoma St. vs. Alabama
Outback: South Carolina vs. Penn St.
Peach: Virginia Tech vs. Florida or Florida St. vs. Mississippi St.
Gator: Florida or Mississippi St. vs. Illinois or Iowa (The Ron Zook Bowl sounds interesting, but if it’s Mississippi St., they might go with Iowa instead)
Alamo: Texas A&M vs. Arizona
Insight Bowl: Nebraska vs. Michigan
Texas Bowl: Baylor vs. Illinois or Iowa
Holiday Bowl: Missouri vs. Washington
Champs Sports Bowl: Notre Dame vs. U. Miami (I don’t know why they’d pass that game up, I don’t care how bad Miami looked against South Florida)

I also think it would be interesting if maybe the Sun Bowl (which used to be somewhat important) matched Notre Dame and Boise St., since there aren’t enough Pac-10 teams and Notre Dame can go to the Big East bowls, but Notre Dame would probably prefer not to play Boise St. anyway. It would be a shame for Boise St. to have to play a team that’s even worse than that. Boise St./Utah would be a good out-west game (the Las Vegas Bowl would be a possibility, since that’s another open Pac-10 spot), but Boise might be possessive and the Broncos could be stuck on the blue field for the Humanitarian Bowl.