Ever want to relive the 2002 season? Now you can, as tempo-free data for the 2002 season has been posted. Thanks a bunch to Josh Steele for filling in the holes of my data set to make this possible. Here are five interesting things I noticed about that season, but I’m sure you can find more!
5) It was not that long ago, but it was a different game. The average game in ‘02 contained 69.5 possessions for each team. That figure would put a team around 50th in adjusted tempo in 2014. Kansas, for one, played just one game that had fewer than 70 possessions. The average ACC game had 74.2 possessions. This season, it had 61.8, which represents an 18 percent decline. There was also just more going on in college basketball back then. More offensive rebounds and turnovers, especially. Perhaps this is bordering on “the game was better in my day” talk. I’m not saying the game was better, but it was more fun. The data backs this up. (Except for blocked shots. There are more blocked shots now.)
4) The SEC was the best conference in America. This wasn’t the last time it would be rated as the top conference by my system – it’s happened as recently as 2006 – but I suspect the ACC got more notoriety by having two one-seeds. However, the bottom of the ACC was clearly worse than the bottom of the SEC. It was the season UNC lost 20 games and Florida State and Clemson were equally bad. The SEC on the other hand put all 12 of its teams in the top 100. That balanced hindered the top teams from putting up a great record and only one SEC team lost fewer than six conference games.
3) Kent State is the mid-major that time forgot. The Golden Flashes came along before the Final Four runs of George Mason, VCU, and Wichita State. And this was three years after Gonzaga’s famous run to the Elite Eight. But it’s not blasphemous to say that Kent State was better than all of those teams. They made it to the Elite Eight, too, and were a small underdog to Indiana, which is another way of saying that if they had beaten the Hoosiers it wouldn’t have been that big of an upset. But they lost convincingly, and Antonio Gates’ dominant performance over Pitt in the Sweet Sixteen is left to the dustbin of history.
2) Duke had one of the most dominant seasons of this century. People sometimes ask me who’s the best team in my ratings database. For a variety of reasons it’s problematic to compare ratings across seasons. But 2002 Duke is the only team in “recorded history” to finish the season with both the best offense and best defense in the same season. The Blue Devils are not likely to end up on any slideshows of great teams because they lost in the Sweet Sixteen, and furthermore blew a huge lead in doing so. And on top of that, missed a key free throw in the final seconds. Rightly or wrongly, those are not the traits that are associated with great teams. Wrongly, in my opinion since that’s putting an awful lot of weight on 20 minutes of a team’s season. Duke lost three games by a combined five points that season, and its other loss was to eventual national champion Maryland. The Blue Devils won 31 games, 28 by double digits, and each of their top six players eventually started a game in the NBA.
1) It was the best season of Gary Williams’ career, and the worst season for his career. Maryland beat Indiana 64-52 in a mostly unremarkable national title game. The outcome was the best thing for Gary Williams in that it was an amazing accomplishment to take his alma mater from the dregs of probation to the top of college hoops in 13 seasons. It was the worst in that it proved it was possible to win a national title at Maryland, something that Williams wasn’t able to come all that close to duplicating in his next nine seasons at the school. In the pro game, coaches are basically evaluated on their team’s performance and performance relative to expectation. In the college game, it’s all about the latter (in the absence of some sort of scandal). And expectation is often set by what is shown to be absolutely possible. For the top five to ten programs in the country, it’s very difficult to win a national title, and if you’re not one of those programs, it’s next to impossible. But not completely impossible, as Maryland showed in 2002. It was a standard that Williams could never live up to.