Gonzaga plays at Saint Mary’s tomorrow in what is easily its toughest test on the WCC schedule. The Zags are chasing quasi-history, attempting blow away recent bests for conference scoring margin. Here’s how their current run stacks up to the best seasons since 1999.

   Gonzaga           17 WCC  13-0 27.3
 1 Duke              99 ACC  16-0 24.3
 2 Stephen F. Austin 16 Slnd 18-0 23.2
 3 Belmont           11 ASun 19-1 20.9
 4 Vermont           14 AE   15-1 20.9
 5 Saint Joseph's    04 A10  16-0 20.7
 6 Memphis           08 CUSA 16-0 20.3
 7 Gonzaga           08 WCC  13-1 20.1
 8 Utah              99 WAC  14-0 20.1
 9 Temple            00 A10  14-2 20.1
10 Gonzaga           09 WCC  14-0 19.7
11 Gonzaga           13 WCC  16-0 19.4

(more…)

Fun stats have their place. They can perk you up when the world’s got you down. I’m not above wheeling and dealing some fun factoids from time to time. For instance, I bet you didn’t know that the team that has gone the longest without playing an overtime is North Florida. The Ospreys have played 97 consecutive games without going beyond regulation. That is some fun, right there.

Where fun stats become a dangerous tool of the establishment is when they are used to support narratives. That totally takes the fun out of them. I hope nobody would suggest that North Florida is going to play another 97 games without an overtime. We can marvel at the improbability of a team going 97 games without an overtime like we marvel at the moon entering the Waxing Gibbous phase. One can appreciate both of those things and at the same time accept that each has no meaning with respect to the future overtime chances of North Florida. (more…)

There were 1,421 games between Division-I teams in January. Here are the wildest things that happened during the month:

Biggest Upsets

3. January 18: #74 Oklahoma 89, #2 West Virginia 87  (OT) (6.8%) The Mountaineers have lost three Big 12 games, two in overtime and the other by four points. Losing to the Sooners at home, though, is how you forfeit your chance to win a conference regular season title. Obviously, West Virginia still has a chance, but they can probably only afford one more loss, and with road games against Baylor and Kansas among its nine remaining contests, I hope you can see how that will be unlikely.

2. January 13: #312 Detroit 93, #74 Oakland 88 (3.4%) A week before this game, Oakland went to Valparaiso and won convincingly, improving to 4-0 in league play and positioning themselves as the favorite to win the Horizon League in a major early-season surprise. But things have changed a lot since then. It started with this debacle in which starting point guard Stevie Clark ended up in the doghouse in the first half, played just seven minutes, and Oakland blew a double-digit lead at home to a team that was previously 2-14. The Grizzlies enter February at 6-4 in the Horizon and their chances at a regular-season title are remote. (more…)

Discussion of sports can often fall into an irrational abyss. But even the most levelheaded people lose their ability for rational conversation when it comes to officiating. In a rational world we’d hold the officials to the same standard as the players.

Playing basketball at the highest level requires among other things quick decision-making. We recognize that not every player can be Markelle Fultz or Malik Monk. Most of the players coming off the bench for a Big South team are working hard to be their best, too. For a variety of reasons beyond their control, they just just aren’t as good as the players you see on ESPN promos.

Likewise, officiating basketball also requires quick judgments. Because of that, there will be a lot of mistakes made over the course of a game. And accordingly, there is a range of ability across the hundreds of people that officiate college basketball. Being a top official takes a lot of work and experience, and surely, talent. The great officials are working big games in power conferences. The not-so-great ones are subbing in the occasional Big South game. (more…)

Hey, a bunch of us got together at the NCAA office last Friday to discuss how to incorporate modern rating systems into the basketball committee’s selection process.

That the meeting happened at all is a big step. The NCAA is a large organization with diverse membership and the fact that it is even this far down the path to changing the data used in the selection process should be applauded. Especially considering that basis for the existing process has been locked in for over three decades.

Change isn’t worth it when the cost of change outweighs the benefits of it. But in this case, basketball people at the administrative level and on the sport’s front lines increasingly believe that the benefits of modernizing the tools of the selection process will offset the cost of redesigning the technical workings that support it. And we shouldn’t take that for granted.  (more…)

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…)