The 1984 Harvard Crimson improbably have held the season free-throw percentage record for three decades, even in the face of college basketball players collectively shooting better than ever. As we continue to see the national average in free-throw shooting hover around 70%, it seems like there should be an ever increasing number of candidates threatening the record each season.

It’s possible that 2017 could be the year that a team breaks the record, but this season will probably illustrate why that mark is so tough to reach. Since 2002, 13 teams have made it to January 16th shooting at least 80% from the free-throw line and three of those cases are this season. Most notably, Notre Dame has made 82.8% of its free-throw attempts so far, which is better than the Crimson’s season-long 82.2% back in ’84. And over the past 16 seasons, no team has been above the 82% mark on this date, so that would seem to bode well for potential free-throw shooting immortality. (more…)

On Monday, I documented the 18 teams with a realistic chance to go undefeated in conference play. Already, four of them have suffered a loss. North Carolina Central lost at home to Delaware State in a huge upset on Monday. On Wednesday, Dayton lost on the road to UMass and Bucknell dropped a home game to Lehigh. Then on Thursday, East Tennessee State dropped a home game to UNC Greensboro.

Giving equal time to the other end of perfection, there are just six seven teams remaining that currently have at least a 1% chance to go winless in conference play. We lost two yesterday when Chicago State ended a 19-game losing streak to WAC teams by winning at Utah Valley and VMI knocked off Western Carolina by one. Let’s look at the remaining holdouts.

Saint Louis (A-10) 11.4%. I discussed the Billikens’ situation in the December review so there’s no need to belabor the situation. Travis Ford is in his first season at SLU, and allegedly has some help on the way in terms of players. But that help is a year or more away. In the short term, the only thing to do is to celebrate the conference victories this season, because there won’t be that many of them.

Oregon State (Pac-12) 11.0%. The Beavers were surprisingly bad before Tres Tinkle got hurt, but without him they’ve made a strong case as the worst power-conference team in the land. OSU is coming off a 26-point loss at Washington which dropped its conference record to 0-4. The Beavers best chances for a win reside in home games against Stanford next Thursday and Arizona State on February 4, but they’ll be underdogs in every game the rest of the way. However, they did play a spirited 30 minutes in a home game against UCLA so you can see why there’s a still a great chance for them to find a conference win somewhere.

Presbyterian (Big South) 4.4%. The Blue Hose have never had a winning record in their eight seasons of Big South membership and that streak will extend to nine this season. Presbyterian is 0-5 and ranked 349th. The good news is that the Big South conveniently offers opportunities for the 349th-ranked team to get W’s. For example, the January 28th home game with Longwood is rated as a toss-up right now.

South Florida (American) 3.9%. The Bulls let go of Orlando Antigua after an 0-2 start in the American, but they haven’t let go of their losing ways under interim head coach Murry Bartow, dropping to 0-4 after a 15-point home loss to Tulane in what figured to be the most-likely win on the schedule. The general mediocrity in the conference means that six of the Bulls’ seven remaining home games are winnable. Only the game against Cincinnati is off limits.

Missouri (SEC) 3.6%. One thing I will say about Missouri is that their fan base is underrated. Among subscribers expressing a team preference, Mizzou fans rank 37th, surrounded by teams with postseason futures like West Virginia, Wake Forest, VCU and Northwestern. The basketball team ranks 184th and is headed for its third-consecutive season outside the top 150. When considering some sort of fan-interest-to-team-quality metric, Missouri surely is the best in the land. So it’s in my own self-interest to hope the team turns it around someday. But coming off a home loss to Auburn, matching the 3-15 SEC record they’ve posted the last two seasons is the most likely scenario this season.

Rutgers (Big Ten) 1.5%. Ah Rutgers, I almost forgot you. Let’s face it, when we think about bad basketball teams, we don’t think about Rutgers. OK, that’s a lie. But I think it’s safe to say there’s more optimism about Rutgers than there’s been since Mike Rice was throwing basketballs at players’ heads. The Scarlet Knights are even rated as the slightest of favorites when Nebraska comes to town next Saturday. A Nebraska team that’s listed in five brackets at bracketmatrix.com! #KnightandDay

Dartmouth (Ivy) 1.2%. The Big Green is in the midst of one of the more unusual conference scheduling quirks of the season. They opened Ivy play last Saturday with a 74-58 home loss to Harvard. They don’t play again until next Saturday, when the travel to…Harvard in what might be the best-scouted game in history. Dartmouth’s chances of a winless record are slim because they should find a way to win at least one of their six games against Cornell, Columbia, and Brown.

And that’s it. Pretty painless, really. With only a modest amount of luck, every team in the land will win a conference game this season. The last time that happened was 2007.

 

Harvard beat McGill in inconsequential D-I on non-D-I action Tuesday night. Harvard’s web site reports this as Men’s Basketball Blows by McGill, 70-45. It’s an effort worthy of a robot. However, not all releases from university athletic departments have to be so generic.

If you remember back in the offseason, Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall had an epic meltdown during a game at McGill on the Shockers’ Canadian tour. This is when I was introduced to the amazing work of Earl Zukerman. While most releases from the host school would feature a vanilla description of the proceedings with a more vanilla headline, the headline from McGill’s story was spectacular. Wichita coach ejected as swashbuckling Shockers rally past Redmen in spicy NCAA-CIS hoops confrontation. If everyone took pride in headline writing like Mr. Zukerman does, reading about lopsided college basketball games would be a lot more fun. (more…)

The dream of an unbeaten season is really just a dream. Unachievable except in the 813 section of your municipal library. But going unbeaten in conference play is done every year (if you don’t count 2011 as a “year”), sometimes by a team that doesn’t seem all that remarkable. As of this moment there are 18 teams that are showing at least a 1% chance of going unbeaten in conference play. Let’s get to know them better.

1.  Kentucky (SEC) 15.2%. The Wildcats have won their first three conference games by margins of 23, 42, and 26. Not only will they be favored in their remaining 15 SEC games, but they may be a double-digit favorite in all but one game (at Florida on February 4). Kentucky is also currently my pick to be the Selection Sunday favorite to win the NCAA tournament.

2. Gonzaga (WCC) 12.4%. That 12.4% is also the chance the Zags enter the WCC tournament with an unblemished record. They still have to play Saint Mary’s twice and the road game will be roughly a toss-up. Besides those two games, a road game at BYU is the only contest where they will not be a double-digit favorite. (more…)

Last Saturday, the two presumed favorites in the ACC, Duke and North Carolina, lost their respective conference openers. The teams that beat them, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, proceeded to perform incredibly poorly in their next game. That might make one wonder if the basketball hangover exists. In other words, does a team typically have a letdown after it plays Duke (or some other high-profile team)?

To figure that out with some accuracy, one will need to control for many variables. But that can be time consuming and not something your humble correspondent can accomplish on a Friday morning. For now, let’s see how far we can get. (more…)

There were 1,121 games between Division-I teams in December. Here are the wildest things that happened during the month:

Biggest Upsets

3. December 31: #154 Georgia Tech 75, #4 North Carolina 63 (6.8%) It’s rare that you get a home upset in this section, but the Yellow Jackets were pretty large underdogs against UNC even while enjoying whatever home-court advantage currently exists in college hoops. The Tar Heels scored just 0.81 points per possession, which was easily their worst output of the season, and their most pathetic performance over their last 63 games against Division-I teams. We should acknowledge Josh Pastner’s ability to coach up a defense. Tech ranks 49th in adjusted defensive efficiency at the moment, continuing a trend for Pastner where his teams are solid on the defensive end regardless of talent level.

2. December 11: #345 Savannah St. 93, #174 Oregon St. 90 (OT) (3.9%) We’ll never know if Savannah State would have been better if they were still playing Horace Broadnax’s defense-heavy possession-sparse basketball. But for one night, it all came together. True, the Tigers knocked off the worst power-conference team playing without its star player, and they did by playing at a conventional pace. The 74 possessions were the fewest in a Tigers’ game this season, even with the extra five minutes of action. (more…)

When an upset happens in the first week or two of the season, it’s usually the result of one or both participating teams being misunderstood in some way. Before Arkansas State won at Georgetown the first week of the season, it was with the thought that the Red Wolves were a below-average Sun Belt team and that the Hoyas were an above-average Big East team.

Based on how each team has played since then, it’s clear our information prior to that game was wrong. Entering Sun Belt play, Arkansas is in a virtual tie in the ratings as the second-best Sun Belt team while Georgetown is coming off a double-digit loss in its conference opener to Marquette and projected to have a losing record in the Big East.

To me, it doesn’t make the outcome of that game any less of an upset. Based on what we knew – or thought we knew – at the time, the result was very unexpected. The upsets in the first week or two of the season are usually due to misinformation while upsets later in the season are more due to pure fluke than an incorrect world view. (more…)

In the absence of an imminent court-rushing, coaches not shaking hands at the end of a game is a serious breach of post-game etiquette. Fran McCaffery’s refusal to follow decades of hoops tradition and not offer parting pleasantries to Brian Jones Tuesday night was caused by another breach of etiquette – when the winning team has the ball and the shot clock is off in a lopsided game, the time to play basketball has ended.

When North Dakota’s Corey Baldwin stole the ball from Nicholas Baer with a few seconds left, he violated one of the unwritten rules of the game. McCaffery overreacted by a few orders of magnitude, but in most cases the coach of the offending team would feel obligated to apologize to the opposing coach in the handshake line for such actions by his players. (more…)

If you watched one game on Saturday, I’m guessing it was Kentucky’s 103-100 win over North Carolina. But if you watched other games you probably saw a lot of points being scored in those contests as well. Looking at all days since the 2000 season where at least 50 games were played, Saturday featured more scoring than any of them.

Highest scoring average by day (min 50 games, since 2000 season)

1 12/17/16 75.43
2 11/16/15 75.33
3 11/12/13 74.05
4 11/17/00 74.04
5 11/19/16 73.99

(more…)

Comps are back

I have a love/hate relationship with player comps. There are clearly some good things about them but some of the utility in identifying a player’s group of comparables is removed by the human tendency to first match players based on things like race, ethnicity, or even hair style. While I haven’t studied it, I expect that even comparables among African-Americans are influenced by skin color. (more…)