Friday, May 29, 2015

Ban Press Conferences, Not Court Stormings

When Steph Curry brought his daughter Riley to his press conference after Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, quite a few sportswriters were displeased. Brett Friedlander of the Wilmington Star News started the fun with a now-deleted tweet:

The most notable name to firmly back up Friendlander was Brian Windhorst, one of ESPN's most well-known NBA reporters. Windhorst hit all corners of the WWL to defend his point, including First Take with Skip Bayless and Zach Lowe's podcast. For some reason, Bayless and Windhorst seemed to think that everybody was mad at their viewpoint because they didn't want somebody to bash children:
No, nobody thinks you hate children. We just think press conferences are stupid. Ah, Windhorst retorts, but press conferences are crucial to learn important things about players:
And as he often does, Colin Cowherd took the stupid to its logical conclusion: If you support children at press conferences, you want to crash passenger jets:
So what is this crucial information that we learn at press conferences? What are these "very important quotes" that the players are giving to reporters? Let's look at Brian Windhorst's very next game story, which he wrote a day later, after Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. JR Smith, a streaky shooter his entire career, happened to get hot and have a big game (8-for-12 on threes and 28 total points). Windhorst's angle? Lebron James cured him. You see, JR Smith was a "high-risk move":
In reality, Smith was actually a salary throw-in. The Knicks gave up Iman Shumpert to the Cavaliers in order to dump JR Smith's salary, since they were in the process of tanking and didn't need Smith's attitude. But never mind, Smith's attitude was cured! How? Lebron James said, "I got this."
Is that really what Lebron said? Of course not. Lebron is just feeding the narrative that the sportswriters at the press conference have already decided on and is giving them the quote they want to hear. Even if Lebron did sit down with JR at some point about his attitude, plenty of people have had plenty of conversations with JR Smith about his attitude. And if Lebron managed to fix JR, how come it only came in the form of hot shooting one game? You see, in Game 2 he ended up scoring just 9 points in 32 minutes, including 1-for-3 shooting on threes. Anybody who has followed JR Smith's career knows that this is what he does. You can go back six years ago to find him scoring 24 points in a conference finals game and following it up one game later with a 1-for-10 three-point shooting performance.

Well, so Windhorst led with a dumb over-played sports media narrative. So what? Maybe he got insight from JR Smith himself!
BREAKING: JR Smith doesn't like it when he gets criticized, and he likes his mom. Earth shaking revelations. But I'm sure Windhorst closed his game piece with a really poignant or meaningful quote, and not just a coach babbling about how a player who had a good game contributed to the team:

Quick: Name the last time you got a meaningful piece of information from a postgame press conference. Name the last quote you can even remember from a press conference that wasn't Allen Iverson or Dennis Green melting down. You can't, because press conferences are stupid. The sportswriters have all decided on their postgame narrative before the press conference starts, and the players are all trained to give them the information-free fluff quotes that the media wants.

But press conferences aren't the only area where sportswriters whine. What they seem to despise isn't press conference hijinx itself, but really just fun of any kind. Football end zone celebrations? Putting yourself ahead of the team. Having fun on a baseball diamond? Sportswriters have plenty of angry adjectives for that nonsense. Daring to be seen in public while rehabbing a season-ending injury? It's time to grow up. You could be studying tape right now!

But if there's one form of fun that old, cantankerous sportswriters hate the most, it's students who rush the court after a big win in college basketball. Court storming is deadly dangerous, you see, and it has to stop. Every major journalism outlet hates court storming. The Big 12 just announced yesterday that they're taking a strong stand.

Of course, there hasn't actually been a serious injury during a court storming in college basketball in many years (if ever), so the example that will always get cited is Joe Kay, who was paralyzed during a high school basketball court storm more than a decade ago.

"Why risk it?" goes the argument. "If just one kid is seriously injured, isn't that one too many?" Sure. Joe Kay's story is horrible. But alcohol kills over 1000 college students per year. Hundreds of kids drown in pools every year. More than 700 bicyclists are killed in accidents each year. Hell, 4500 Americans are killed every year crossing the street. Shit happens.

The common retort is:
Yeah, transportation is necesssary, but backyard pools aren't. Neither are trampolines, which send around 100,000 Americans to the emergency room every year. Neither are peanuts, which kill around 100 allergic Americans every year.

The only way you aren't getting hurt is if you stay at home and do nothing but sleep on your couch. Actually, I take that back, you might get hit by a meteorite.

It's easy, morally, to take the "one serious injury is one serious injury too many" stance, but nobody actually believes that. If you're worried about crowds, why not ban musical concerts? Mosh pits kill far more people than court stormings. And what do sportswriters think college students are going to do if they leave the basketball game early? Drinking, sex, drugs, and crossing the street at night are all activities far more dangerous than rushing the court. Let's ban them all, too.

One serious injury is too many, right? How can you allow so many young students to die each year from crossing the street at night? WHAT KIND OF MONSTER ARE YOU?

Why allow court stormings? Because they're fun. Ask any sports-interested person what their five favorite moments in college were, and most of them will tell you that one was getting to storm a court. Ask most players their favorite college moments, and most of them will list the time their fellow students rushed the court and celebrated a big win with them. It's a lot of fun, and it's unique to college basketball.

Should we be cavalier with safety during court storms? Of course not. There are simple protocols that most schools have put in place to make court storming safe. Basically: Make it easy to get onto the court. When serious incidents happen in crowds at sporting events, it tends to be because the crowd was penned in (here and here, for example). The reason court stormings have become so safe over the last decade at major sporting events is specifically because of the lessons from past incidents.

But seriously, let kids have fun. A lot of Americans will die every year from doing unnecessary but fun activities. The answer to that isn't to ban fun, it's to simply make it safer to have that fun. Make trampolines safer, make pools safer, and make court stormings safer. But don't ban something just because it's fun. If we do that, all we'll be left with are press conferences.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Morning News: Caleb Swanigan To Purdue, New Rule Changes, Sterling Gibbs To UConn, Seton Hall Lands Derrick Gordon, And More

Purdue has some serious size and length.
Caleb Swanigan Chooses Purdue This saga was going on for a couple of weeks, made particularly confusing by some vague Dan Dakich tweets, but now the original rumors of Swanigan choosing Purdue have come to fruition. Originally a Michigan State commit, the McDonald's All-American gives Purdue a massive front line with AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas. Of course, the question becomes, how do you give all three of those guys sufficient playing time and how do you get them to play together? All three love to play in the paint. And that will be the challenge for Matt Painter.

As we saw with Texas this past season, you get diminishing returns from big men when you have too many of them, with star one-and-done recruit Myles Turner often being stuck on the bench in crunch time simply because there was no room for him in the lineup. As Texas lacked backcourt options this past season, Purdue will need to find improved backcourt play this coming season if they are really going to be in contention for a Big Ten title.

New Rule Changes The NCAA basketball rules committee has recommended a number of rule changes which are likely to be enforced next season, including a 30 second shot clock. If you missed it, I gave my thoughts on them, and their perception.

Sterling Gibbs Chooses UConn This move had appeared to be in the works for a couple of weeks. As I wrote last week, the transfer of Terrence Samuel seemed to be driven by Samuel expecting to lose a lot of playing time to the incoming Gibbs. How much does Gibbs improve this team? Well, Gibbs is a potential AAC Player of the Year, so it's a huge addition. The Top 25 hype that the Huskies are getting seems unjustified, but Gibbs should at least make them a Tournament team.

Seton Hall Lands Derrick Gordon Gordon averaged 9.8 points per game for UMass this past season, though it came with a 40.5 eFG%, meaning he was more of a volume scorer than anything. Seton Hall certainly lacks depth, but considering the number of shots that Isaiah Whitehead will be taking, I'm not sure this is an addition that is going to do a ton for Seton Hall. Still, Gordon is eligible immediately and will help a team that has a reasonable chance of ending up on the Tournament bubble. 

Indiana Boots Hanner Mosquera Perea And Devin Davis The two players were caught with marijuana in their room, though only Davis was actually charged with possession. Mosquera Perea is the more serious loss, having been the team's only rim protector this past season, though the incoming Thomas Bryant should be able to fill that role. Devin Davis did not play this past season after being hit by a car, and he was a relatively minor contributor off the bench as a freshman in 2013-14, so his loss is probably more seen as another scholarship opened. Crean had, unfortunately, already run off three players, so with these two losses he's now at two under his maximum scholarship allotment. Look for Crean to add at least one more player this summer.

Auburn Adds Tyler Harris Bruce Pearl continues to upgrade the talent level at Auburn, now adding Tyler Harris, who averaged 9.9 points and 4.0 rebounds per game for Providence this past season. He'll be eligible immediately for his final year of eligibility. Auburn returns very little from a team that was terrible this past season, but Pearl adds Harris to a very strong and deep recruiting class. There is going to be some hype for Auburn as a bubble team, but I think the smarter projection is to see how well all of these pieces fit together before believing that Auburn can make that large of a jump in a single season.

Stanford Robinson To Rhode Island Robinson wasn't a great player off the bench for Indiana this past season, and he has to sit out the 2015-16 season due to the transfer, but this is yet another coup in the transfer market for Dan Hurley. It remains to be seen just how long Hurley is going to stick around at Rhode Island before leaving for a major conference school, but they are a serious contender for the A-10 title and an at-large bid this coming season, and should stay a contender for both of those things for the foreseeable future.

Monday, May 18, 2015

New Rule Changes Won't Stop The Whining

Jay Bilas still hates college basketball as much as he did last week.
The NCAA basketball rules committee announced some new rule recommendations on Friday which, while not officially new rules, will likely all be passed for next season. The most noticeable being the 30 second shot clock.

This gets a lot of press because the sport of college basketball is masochistic. The loudest voices in the sport love nothing more than bashing it. Jay Bilas will tell you multiple times in every game he calls, as well as every analyst panel he is on, as well as every newspaper that calls him, how the sport is unwatchable and dying and sucks in every possible way. And he's ESPN's lead college basketball announcer. Every newspaper, from the NY Times to the Washington Post writes annual articles decrying the death of the sport, all reciting the same talking points.

As I've described before, this whining about college basketball has been going on for at least 30 years now. Guys "can't shoot anymore" and "the game is too physical" and "too ugly" and the "NBA Draft is bleeding the college game of talent". Yeah, you'll read all of those phrases again next season, just like you read them in 1992. Nothing changes. It's a #narrative, so it's here to stay.

In general, there is a strong belief that casual sports fans like higher scoring sporting events than lower scoring sporting events. That's why football (both pro and college) as well as the NBA have changed rules to make it much harder to play defense and much easier to score. Yet can fans actually tell the difference?

It's easy to watch Ole Miss and BYU play a 94-90 game and be entertained while decrying Wyoming and San Diego State playing a 45-43 game, but the rule changes don't turn 45-43 games into 94-90 games. It's easy to show highlight packages making it seem like every game in 1981 was 94-90 while every game nowadays is 45-43, yet the reality is that over the last 35 years scoring has dropped in Division I college basketball from around 70-71 points per game to 66-67.

Is a drop of four or five points per game over 35 years noticeable? No. When there are thousands of games played every year, with wide fluctuations from team to team and game to game, it's simply impossible for the human brain to notice the difference. Even if scoring increases from 66 to 69 points per game next season, it's going to be so washed out by the 45-43 and 94-90 games that you won't be able to tell the difference.

The NIT, CBI and CIT experimented with a 30 second shot clock this past season, and I probably watched all or pieces of around 25-30 of those games. The most noticeable thing to me? I forgot that there was a 30 second shot clock. I never noticed it unless announcers pointed it out. I doubt you will either.

As for the other changes, such as the refs focusing on stopping physical play, the reality is that the game is probably less physical than it has ever been. The media simultaneously argues that the quality of college basketball is down due to NBA defections, that "AAU culture" means nobody knows fundamentals anymore, that nobody can shoot the ball anymore, and that defenses play more physically than ever before, yet somehow don't realize that this contradicts the fact that offensive efficiency has been steadily increasing for decades.
The fact is, college basketball is fine. Attendances are near all-time highs, and tv ratings were fantastic this past season. Jay Bilas, of course, tried to make excuses for college basketball's great tv ratings:
Bilas was then conspicuously silent when Kentucky was eliminated and the title game still hit an 18 year ratings high.

Do the new rule changes make the game worse? Probably not. I don't think any of the changes will be noticeable. And the game certainly could use a reduction in the number of timeouts (fans won't notice the 30 second shot clock, but they'll certainly notice the next time one of their games has seven tv commercials in the final sixty seconds). But as a whole, the game is healthier than ever, and better than ever. But if you believe that these rule changes will cause the media's opinion that the game is unwatchable and dying to change one iota, you'll quickly see the error in your ways.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Morning News: Rasheed Sulaimon To Maryland, Michael White To Florida, Anton Grady To Wichita State, Caleb Swanigan Decommit, And More

Rasheed Sulaimon could lock up #1 in the preseason polls for Maryland
Rasheed Sulaimon To Maryland Sulaimon averaged 11.6 points per game as a freshman at Duke in 2012-13, though he plateaud after that and was actually down to 7.5 points per game as a junior before being booted off the team for (allegedly) an alleged sexual assault (Sulaimon denies that the sexual assault allegation is the reason why he was booted, but he hasn't given an alternative reason). That said, he's still a significant addition for Maryland and will be eligible right away. The media hype for Maryland was already nearing a fever pitch, and this addition might lock them up as the media preseason #1:
That said, as I've been warning for months now, Maryland's luck in close games this past season (12-1 in games decided by six points or fewer) is wildly unsustainable and means that they are certain to be overrated preseason. And there were even more signs of "luck" in Maryland's success last season than their record in close games, such as leading the Big Ten in FT% defense in conference play. So is this a Top Ten team preseason? I think so. Sulaimon helps provide the two-way wing player that they lost in Dez Wells, though it remains to be seen if he's actually an upgrade over Jared Nickens, who is a better scorer than Sulaimon. It's not impossible to think that Sulaimon will come off the bench next season. That said, having a player as good as Sulaimon potentially come off the bench is a sign of a team with a ton of depth. Maryland will, at the very least, be very much in the Big Ten title hunt.

Florida Hires Michael White Michael White was a logical choice, and one of the names initially suggested as Billy Donovan's replacement. He has a lot of SEC experience, having played at Ole Miss and then being an assistant there for seven seasons, and he's had a successful run as head coach of Louisiana Tech. The criticism of him for not making the NCAA Tournament are a bit silly since he's won at least a share of the Conference USA title in each of the past three seasons. I've talked about this many times before, but one-and-done tournaments are crapshoots. You don't judge a coach based on a few lucky tournament wins, you judge a coach on season long success, like regular season titles. And White had Louisiana Tech so good these past couple of seasons that they've actually been on the edge of the tourney bubble out of a bad league.

That said, White is still an unproven head coach at the major conference level. So it's not like Florida just landed Bill Self, or even Rick Barnes. There's risk, as there always is with a coach moving from a mid-major to a major. But the first task for White is to hang onto Florida's recruiting class and to try to find some summer additions to get his team back to the NCAA Tournament.

Antony Grady To Wichita State Wichita State has perhaps the best backcourt in the country in Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet. And while they have a lot of good young front court prospects, they didn't have a single front court player with significant proven Division I success. That changes with the addition of Anton Grady, an all-around tremendous player for Cleveland State this past season. He will plug right into Wichita State's starting lineup and, barring any offseason injuries or transfers, will make Wichita State a certain Top 25 team preseason. They could even sneak into the Top Ten.

Caleb Swanigan Decommits From Michigan State Less than a month ago, the addition of Caleb Swanigan made Michigan State a potential preseason #1 team in the nation. He was the second McDonald's All-American in their 2015 recruiting class. But now he's gone, and while the rumors of him going to Purdue are so far unverified, the real story here is that Swanigan never signed his letter of intent, which would have locked him into Michigan State and kept him from playing for another team this coming season. Players "committing" but not formally signing their letter of intent is an increasingly popular strategy by top commits, and it's easy to understand why. It gives them the flexibility to change their mind, knowing that the door will always be open for them wherever they want to play.

Marcquise Reed To Clemson Reed scored 15.1 points per game for Robert Morris this past season, earning NEC Freshman of the Year. He has to sit out next season, but he will have three years left and will provide Clemson with something that they have lacked for almost the entirety of the Brad Brownell era: an efficient scorer. He can create his own shot and get to the hoop while also hitting 41% on threes, while the best shooter in the Clemson regular rotation this past season was at 34%.

Oregon Picks Up Dylan Ennis While they're not yet quite Iowa State, Oregon has been very aggressive in the transfer market under Dana Altman, and Villanova transfer Dylan Ennis is just the latest. Ennis, who averaged 9.9 points per game this past season, is a graduate transfer eligible to play immediately. Ennis will provide Oregon with something that they lacked this past season, a true point guard, and give the Ducks a proven backcourt scorer as well. Oregon was already a likely Tournament next season, but this addition puts them in a good position to be Top 25 preseason.

Terrence Samuel Leaves UConn Terrence Samuel was a regular contributor off the bench for UConn this past season, but his transfer might be good news for UConn fans if it's a sign that Sterling Gibbs is going to choose the Huskies as his transfer destination. If Gibbs does come, it would've meant a significant decrease in playtime for Samuel, who isn't anywhere near the player that Gibbs is. So stay tuned.

Horizon League Adds Northern Kentucky The Horizon League was looking for a tenth team, and they got it in Northern Kentucky, just that latest team to bolt from the Atlantic Sun. Northern Kentucky began the transition from Division II to Division I in 2012, and this coming season will be their last where they are ineligible for the NCAA Tournament. This move won't matter much for postseason implications for a while, as Northern Kentucky is a long way as a program away from contending for a Horizon League title, but it could presage additional Horizon League expansion down the road.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Morning News: Jaylen Brown To Cal, Billy Donovan To The NBA, Terry Larrier Leaves VCU, And Nigel Williams-Goss To Gonzaga

Jaylen Brown has got California fans excited

California Lands Jaylen Brown Cuonzo Martin (and his assistant Yanni Hufnagel) have been doing work on the recruiting trail, landing not one but two McDonald's All-Americans. Brown, a 6'7" wing, will complement 6'11" Ivan Rabb, as well as returning guards Tyrone Wallace and Jordan Mathews. The team will be significantly improved. That said, the media has a tendency to overreact to big signings like this:
Personally, I'd recommend holding back on that a little bit. The reality is that California was not even a KenPom Top 100 team this past season and they lose two of their top six players. I know that Tyrone Wallace was "considering" the NBA Draft, but he wouldn't have been drafted if he had gone. He scored 17 points per game because he took 14.8 shots per game, not because he was particularly efficient. And while Rabb and Brown are both big time recruits, it's asking a lot for both to become top tier Pac-12 players as true freshmen. So California likely has a Tournament team right now, but I still can't fathom how they can be projected as a better team than Arizona.

Billy Donovan To Oklahoma City This was coming down the pipe for a while, so it's not a big surprise, but it's still big news. And with so many players leaving Florida this past offseason, you have to wonder if the players had some inkling that Donovan was looking to finally make that move to the NBA even before Scott Brooks was fired. Florida doesn't seem to be in a rush to hire a new head coach, as they appear to be worrying more about the bigger picture than their 2015 recruiting class. But that means it might be wise not to expect too much from the Gators in 2015-16. Even if the new coach can hold their entire 2015 recruiting class together, just making the NCAA Tournament will be an uphill battle.

Terry Larrier Leaves VCU The roster churn continues at VCU as Terry Larrier will look for somewhere else to use his final three years of eligibility. Larrier didn't do a whole lot off the bench as a true freshman in 2014-15, but he was a big time recruit with a lot of potential. Look for him to be highly sought after. As for VCU, Will Wade continues to add new pieces even as so many of Shaka's players leave. But he's going to need to add at least one or two more pieces this summer to realistically get VCU back to the NCAA Tournament. By my count they have three scholarships still available for this coming season, so they can be aggressive.

Nigel Williams-Goss Chooses Gonzaga Williams-Goss will have to sit out the 2015-16 season, and he will join a crowded backcourt, but this is still a major addition for Gonzaga. Williams-Goss averaged 15.6 points, 5.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore this past season for Washington. Assuming Josh Perkins comes back good as new, and with Silas Melson and Jesse Wade as prospects, the Zags should finally have a rebuilt backcourt for 2016-17. The question for them that season will be a front court that will be loaded in 2015-16 but then will lose Kyle Wiltjer and Przemek Karnowski, along with likely losing Domantas Sabonis to the NBA Draft. So Mark Few now has to work toward landing multiple quality big men in his 2016 recruiting class.

Durand Johnson To St. John's Chris Mullin continues to add players at St. John's. Durand Johnson, a 6'6" wing, averaged 8.8 points per game for Pitt in 2013-14 but is coming back from a torn ACL. He'll be able to play immediately, though, and at the very least will add depth to a roster that now finally seems to have a seven or eight man rotation in place. Whether Chris Mullin will be able to coach and develop these guys remain to be seen, but it's certainly been a successful first month of recruiting for him.

Pittsburgh Adds Rafael Maia It's not all bad news for Pitt, who have now added a second significant graduate transfer. A week ago it was Sterling Smith from Coppin State, and now it is Brown's Rafael Maia. Maia led the Ivy League in rebounding the past three seasons, including 8.7 per game in 2014-15. Perhaps Pitt's biggest problem this past season was front court defense and rebuilding, so Maia should be a significant addition in that area. And while Pitt is still likely to be a bubble team, at this point I am leaning toward projecting them as an at-large team in my next bracket.

Jernard Jarreau Chooses Oklahoma State Jarreau, who left Washington via transfer, will be eligible to play immediately at Oklahoma State. The 6'10" Jarreau doesn't have any real offensive game yet, but he's a significant force on the defensive end, both as an individual defender and as a defensive rebounder. Oklahoma State is in need of players all over the court after heavy graduation losses, but they are particularly thin on the interior (front court depth has always been a problem during Travis Ford's tenure, honestly). This addition doesn't make the Cowboys a likely Tournament team, but it gets them closer.

UNLV Adds Ike Nwamu UNLV has grabbed a graduate transfer in Ike Nwamu, who led Mercer with 15.1 points per game this past season. Nwamu will likely fill in for the position vacated by Rashad Vaughn, who left for the NBA Draft. With stud recruit Stephen Zimmerman also coming in to replace Christian Wood, Dave Rice has done a nice job coming up with one-for-one replacements for his NBA defections. If Jerome Seagears, the Rutgers transfer, is able to fill in ably at point guard, then UNLV has an excellent chance to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

UTEP Takes A Gamble On Dominic Artis After being booted out of Oregon for a sexual assault, Dominic Artis will get a second chance at UTEP. With Vince Hunter off to the NBA Draft, Tim Floyd was going to need a big addition to have a realistic chance of getting to the NCAA Tournament. Artis, a blue chip recruit when he originally signed with Oregon, is just that type of raw talent.

Stony Brook Gets Ahmad Walker Back Ahmad Walker started 31 games for Stony Brook in 2013-14 as a freshman, averaging 7.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. But after spending 2014-15 at a junior college, he's back. I talked in my America East preview about the incredibly snake bitten Stony Brook program, and how this coming season might be their best chance to finally get over the hump and get to the NCAA Tournament. I projected them as the favorite this coming season, and Walker's return just makes them appear even stronger.

Anton Gill Will Play For Nebraska Anton Gill has not been particularly effective in two seasons off the bench for Louisville, but he was a highly touted recruit out of high school, so he has the potential to develop at Nebraska. He'll take the 2015-16 season off because of the transfer and then will have two years of eligibility remaining. Tim Miles has so far proven to be more effective developing players defensively than offensively, but it will be interesting to see what he can do with Gill down the road.

Illinois State Adds Quintin Brewer It's not just power conference teams adding graduate transfers from smaller schools. Illinois State, a likely bubble team this coming season, has added Brewer, who averaged 9.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game this past season for Bethune Cookman. Illinois State already has monster shot blocker Reggie Lynch and Dontae Hawkins, but Brewer will be a significant addition next season. If the Redbirds don't make the Big Dance next season, the reason will likely be the backcourt, particularly in the realm of perimeter shooting. Paris Lee is their only proven returner, and they don't have any highly touted incoming perimeter players.

Nebraska's Tarin Smith Chooses Duquesne Tarin Smith will have to sit out this coming season, but averaged 4.5 points per game as a freshman at Nebraska, so he should be a significant contributor at Duquesne when he does become eligible. Jim Ferry is far from having a roster capable of contending near the top of the Atlantic Ten, but this move certainly makes them stronger.