Before I get into the e-mails, how about some love for the Missouri State Bears? One of the more underrated teams last season, they are at it again. I mean, Wisconsin would be the #1 team in the land right now were it not for MSU’s win over them in November. And consider the Bears’ three losses – in OT to Oklahoma State on a neutral floor, at Saint Louis on a controversial buzzer beater, and the late-game collapse at Creighton.

Missouri State has been ripping opposing MVC defenses with regularity. Here are their points scored/possessions splits in conference games: 80/69, 74/65, 86/78, 95/71, 106/68. That last figure against Evansville was the most efficient game against a D-I foe by anyone all season. These guys are good.

In light of my Special Report last Sunday, I thought it would be fun to predict some more “turning points” for teams this week. I put the words in quotes, because under my scenario these teams won’t be playing any differently, but schedule and normal luck will change their season. Then in a couple months, a columnist will write a story trying to finding the poignant reason for the turning point, when there will probably be none except for schedule and luck.

I’m using my ratings projections as the basis for these predictions. Let’s get started…

Tennessee. Before the Vandy loss: 13-2. Finish: 8-9. I don’t like Tennessee’s style for producing much more than a fringe top-25 team. Quality teams beat presses and make them pay at the other end too frequently. But the made-up reason for the turning point will be that “Chris Lofton isn’t a vocal leader”.

Gonzaga. After the UVa loss: 9-6. Finish: 14-2. They may really lose 3 or 4, but then again, running the table isn’t a crazy thought. At which point we will find out that “Derek Raivio punched a hole in a wall after the Virginia game, and everybody rallied around him.”

Oklahoma State. Before the Kansas loss: 15-1. Finish: 8-9. Oh yeah, we will hear that “the lack of depth caught up with them,” and that the kids hit the metaphorical wall in Lawrence.

Clemson. Now: 17-0. Finish: 8-5. Actually 8-5 would be a nice finish. But 6-7 or 7-6 wouldn’t be out of the question with some bad bounces. In which case we’ll get my favorite – “they didn’t play well with a target on their back.”

Arkansas. Now: 12-4. Finish: 10-4. OK, not much difference there. I just wanted to get an Arkansas mention in. For those of you whose only impression of them was the humiliating loss at Missouri, that was easily their worst performance to date. This could be a big year for them.

Boston College. Now: 11-4. Finish: 6-8. Obviously, their rating is a little depressed due to a few injuries, but their schedule the rest of the way is brutal. I don’t know, something about the ghost of Craig Smith (I know he’s not dead) haunting Conte Forum might come up in March.

Now to the e-mails…


Occam’s Razor is a theory that when given two equally valid explanations for a phenomenon, one should embrace the less complicated formulation.  Since I think that sort of applies to the zone that Joe employs, I have decided that the name of the defense is “O’Brien’s Razor”  I think it works…..thoughts?

Frank Mercogliano
Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
Idaho State University

Yeah! Cerebral, yet subtly violent. Plus, I only received two entries in my “Name the Idaho State Defense” contest. The only potential drawback here is the occasional play on words involving “point shaving.”

I neglected to mention the Big Sky in my mid-season conference previews, but my system had ISU as the conference favorite, despite a 4-8 pre-conference record against D-I teams, and being picked for next-to-last in the pre-season media poll. Then they went ahead and won their first two conference games on the road and knocked off Eastern Washington in Pocatello last night. They are who we thought they were!

Their system will naturally be prone to a couple of double-digit losses. But I take great pleasure in reading the box score and seeing three point stats for the opponents of 8-30, 9-32, and 6-29 in their three conference games.

If there’s any justice in the world, this will culminate with a run through the Big Sky tourney and a matchup against a 2 or 3 seed that is a little too dependent on its bigs, with Kyle Whelliston buying drinks afterwards at the Green T, and me hocking “Razor” T-shirts. (Yup, I get all royalties from this baby, in case I didn’t mention it.)

subject: Amazingly bad article

The narrative of your analysis was so weak that I’m laughing at your inability to identify the most intriguing piece of the overall story, Greg Oden. It’s funny, do they not have an editor working at or do they like writing articles about college basketball without talking about the most dominant big man in not just the game, but in the last 15 years? You should care more about narrative than stats.

That is the single most important piece of advice you will get in your career. Don’t forget it.


I appreciate that advice. That’s why next week’s column will be titled “Greg Oden is a very good basketball player – and tall!”

I’ve already done some research on it, and get this – this is the first season that the NBA banned high school kids from applying for the draft. I talked to some scouts, and they said that had that ban not been in place, Greg Oden may well have been the first pick in the draft! Crazy! He must be really good! I bet I can write lots and lots of words about that.

Hello Ken

I read your interesting article in ESPN. I am in the Board of a Turkish League team, and the availability of such statistics in the NCAA amazes me.

Coming back to the defense/block related stats, I thought it would be a practical and important stat to keep track of the Field Goal Percentage of the defended players, for the shots the defender attempts to block. Many of the stats you mention in your article indirectly take this into account, but nevertheless, this could be a good indicator.


Ilhan, meet Paul.


If Virginia Tech somehow beats UNC on Saturday, don’t they have to be considered the favorite to take second place in the ACC?


I mean, I know I should recuse myself from such talk, but yeah, I think if people are honest with themselves that would be the logical conclusion. While UNC will be a sizeable favorite in the game, they won’t be a prohibitive favorite. And there’s nothing in the Game Plan of either team to suggest it’s not a winnable game for the Hokies if UNC happens to lay an egg. Tech would probably have the easiest road the rest of the way compared to the other 5 potentially legitimate contenders (Duke, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Maryland, and BC), and a 3-0 record. Hey, I’m just saying.

In looking at your new Game Plan feature to analyze tonight’s game between Pitt and DePaul, I notice that DePaul’s offensive efficiency improves dramatically (correlation = +0.80), while Pitt’s offensive efficiency declines significantly (correlation = -0.35), in a higher paced game.  The pace has little effect on the defensive efficiency of either team (correlation = -0.05 for Pitt, -0.06 for DePaul).  This would seem to bode well for the Panthers in a game that should be played at a pretty slow pace (Pitt ranks 298, DePaul 291 in Adj Tempo).  Also, the single biggest factor in Pitt’s defensive efficiency, even more so than Opp FG%, is Opp OR% (correlation = +0.86).  This would seem to give Pitt an advantage because the Blue Demons are rather ordinary in OR% (32.2%, ranked 154).

Have I discovered a hidden edge for my beloved Panthers tonight or am I looking for something that isn’t there?  Thanks.


I received some good e-mails on the Game Plan feature. This one worked out pretty well as Pitt easily beat DePaul, although who knows if it was coincidence or not. But it certainly appears that it pays to make DePaul play a half-court game, which isn’t terribly hard to do against a Jerry Wainwright coached team. They will bear watching the rest of the way.

We do have to be careful about how schedule strength can corrupt these relationships. It doesn’t appear to be the case with DePaul necessarily. But for instance, it looks like Butler‘s offense is much better in slower-paced games. However, it just so happens that their faster-paced games have been against better opponents. They may not have been any more efficient in a slower game against those quality teams.