best counter

Your Ad Here
Just The Sports: 2006-11-19

Just The Sports

Friday, November 24, 2006

Putting The Cart Before The Horse

Allow me to not so gently burst the bubble of anyone who thinks the Golden State Warriors are anything but pretenders. Of course, that thinking is understandable since the Warriors now have a coach in Don Nelson who has actually experienced success on the NBA level, unlike his predecessor, and because of Nelson's success, the Warriors now have a point guard in Baron Davis who will actually run the plays that the head coach calls. Also, let's not forget their roster is full of athletes who can all jump out of the gym and can even manage to play real basketball every once in a while. It is a very touching formula for success, but it is one that is more illusion than substance.

Underneath the Warriors' 7-5 record is a foundation made of the flimsiest quicksand because they have played a disproportionate number of home games to start the season. In fact, at the start of the day, the nine home games, slated for the Warriors have been the most home games any other NBA team has had this year. They have gone 6-3 in those contests and 1-2 in their three away games and finally it is obvious why in fact no big deal should be made about this start.

However, if that is not enough to convince the skeptical loser, the Warriors also went 7-5 in their first twelve games of the 2005-06 season. Then they fell off the map thanks in large part to a brutal 12-game stretch between December 13-January 3 where they had to go on the road nine times, going 4-5; to their credit, the Warriors went 2-1 in the three games during that period. Since history has always been doomed to repeat itself, the Warriors will be experiencing another brutal stretch, this time eleven games between December 15-Juanuary 3 with nine requiring the Warriors to go on the road leaving only two they will be playing at home. Those eleven games will be the true test of just how good these Warriors will be because they will be forced to play well on the road.

In addition, there is nothing that suggests the 2006-07 Warriors through the first twelve games of the season are any better than the 2005-06 ones were. With Mike Montgomery at the helm, the 2005-06 Warriors, in their first twelve contests, had an offensive rating of 101.9 and a defensive rating of 99.1, giving them an overall efficiency edge of +2.8. This season, the numbers during the same time frame have been 109.9 and 107.3 with an efficiency margin of +2.6 so the Warriors are scoring more than last year, but they are also giving up more. The only thing the 2006-07 Warriors do better than the 2005-06 did in their first twelves games is assist on more baskets, with an assist rate (assists per 100 possessions) of 18.2 this season to 15.6 last season.

I just hope no one gets injured jumping off the Golden State bandwagon during the second half of December.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

An Unheralded Quarterback

When Lavell Edwards retired from head coaching duties at Brigham Young University in 2000 as sixth in all-time victories, BYU must have also ended their football program as well. At least, that is the only possible explanation for why Quarterback U.'s latest star quarterback, senior John Beck, is not getting nearly the national recognition he deserves. This is a slight I take personally because Beck's exploits have largely gone unnoticed since all of the quarterback spotlight has been taken up by the media's obsession with Brady Quinn and Troy Smith. Admittedly, this blog has been obsessed with those two as well, but still realizes there are other quarterbacks who play college football and play it well.

The first step in providing John Beck with the notoriety he deserves was made when I compared his junior and senior seasons to other notable senior college quarterbacks: Drew Stanton of Michigan State, Brady Quinn of Notre Dame, Drew Tate of Iowa, Troy Smith of Ohio State, and Chris Leak of Florida. I chose the junior and senior seasons because I believe those two seasons are the most important in deciding which quarterback will make the best NFL player. To keep this post from being needlessly tedious, I will not provide all the numbers for the quarterbacks, but I will say that John Beck compares favorably to all of these, his more heralded brethren.

Beck has thrown more completions per game, attempts per game, and passing yards per game than all of the listed quarterbacks except for Brady Quinn. He has a significantly better completion percentage over the last two years than Drew Stanton (67.1% to 64.0%, Drew Tate (67.1% to 60.8%, Chris Leak (67.1% to 63.4%), and Troy Smith (67.1% to 63.4%). Of Beck's five quarterback colleagues, there is no one who is significantly better than him in any passing category. There are better runners in the group than he, but not one better passer. The college quarterback his numbers are most like is Brady Quinn of Notre Dame since neither has a significant advantage or disadvantage in any of the statistical categories I looked at. If Brady Quinn is a top NFL prospect, then I must submit that John Beck should also be considered as a top prospect.

The second step in giving John Beck his due was to compare him to a present-day starting quarterback. I decided on Drew Brees because the two possessed similar characteristics while matriculating in college. Both came from predominantly passing offenses where the ball is kept in the air throughout the game and neither quarterback would ever be considered a giant physically among his peers, although Beck is a couple inches taller. This time, though, I compared the entirety of their college careers to each other. As it turned out, the only advantage Brees had over Beck was in the number of passes he threw per game (43.8 attempts per game to 37.0 attempts per game). Other than that, there is no true separation between the two quarterbacks. Of course, this does not necessarily indicate Beck will be a good NFL quarterback, but a lot must be said for an accurate quarterback who is used to throwing a lot of passes in college.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tom Brady Comes Clean

In a heartfelt interview with Barbara Walters, Tom Brady admitted that he had been harboring a secret for twenty-eight years, that secret being that contrary to the opinions espoused by sports analysts and commentators everywhere he does not in fact know how to win. Brady also commented on how hard it had been to reveal his secret to the rest of the world knowing how many people he was letting down by telling the truth, but said that was far better than living the rest of his life as a lie and allowing people to believe something about him that simply was not true.

When Walters asked him how he, Tom Brady, could have had so much success in his playing career and be a three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback without ever learning how to win, Brady commented, "It was just something I never picked up as a little kid playing Pop Warner. When you are as good as I was and still am at football and winning games, people just assume that you already know how to win. That just wasn't the case for me. To be honest, Peyton Manning knows more about how to win and he can't even get past the second round of the playoffs."

Later during the interview, Brady recounted how fearful he was that he would be found out for the fraud he felt like, thinking that after every practice and every game someone would come up to him and inform him his secret was no longer a secret. Tom even carried that burden with him to the University of Michigan where his lack of confidence in his knowledge of how to win almost led him to quit football altogether.

"Being at Michigan was probably the hardest period of my life," Brady stated, "because they have such a winning tradition and I felt that everyone dressed in maize and blue knew how to win but me. Then one day I had an epiphany and it was like a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I looked at Lloyd Carr, really looked at him for the first time since I met him, and saw that he didn't know how to win any more than I did. That's when I knew I could still be a successful quarterback and that's when my career really took off."

Brady has pledged to finally do what he should have done as a youngster by going back to school and learning how to win from such teachers as John Elway and Joe Montana, who may not have always put up the gaudiest numbers but were legendary for their ability to know how to just win games. Dan Marino also reached out to offer his assistance, but Brady rejected it outright saying everyone in his right mind knows Marino doesn't know how to win, either.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Coaching Carousel Report Cards

When Roy Williams departed from the University of Kansas after the 2002-03 season, he set in motion a coaching carousel that when the ride ended left Roy Williams at the University of North Carolina, Bruce Weber at the University of Illinois, and Bill Self at the University of Kansas. With each coach having had three seasons at their new universities, now is as good a time as any to do progress reports to see how the coaches have done individually and more importantly when compared to each other.

Besides the obvious connection between the coaches, there is also the matter of how the programs were before the coach got there. After taking their new jobs, none of the three found themselves walking in a program with a bare cupboard because it had been well stocked with star recruits by their predecessors. Because of this each coach had the same nucleus of stars for at least two years before losing the players to the NBA and graduation; Bruce Weber was the sole coach to have two star players (Dee Brown and James Augustine) for three seasons. To the credit of this trinity of college basketball coaches, each program improved both in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency from the first year to the second year.

Not only do Roy Williams and Bruce Weber improve their team offensively and defensively in year two of their tenures, their teams improved both record wise and NCAA Tournament-wise. Under Williams in his first year, the Tarheels won their first round game and bowed out of the 2004 NCAA tournament in the second round, losing to the Texas Longhorns and then won the 2005 NCAA Tournament championship, giving Wiliams his first ever NCAA title. Weber's Illinois teams experienced a similar like rise, going to the Sweet Sixteen before losing to the Duke in 2004 and then making it to the 2005 championship game where they lost to the aforementioned Tarheels. Self and his Kansas Jayhawks went the opposite route, his team making it to the Elite 8 in 2004 and then barely even making their presence felt in 2005, suffering a first-round defeat.

Now to the meat of this post. Which coach's teams have performed the best? Since I don't know how to do significance testing with three different sets of data, I had to pit two teams against each other in three different ways (UNC-Illinois, UNC-Kansas, Illinois-Kansas). First, the offenses and then the defenses.

Stacking up UNC and Illinois, the two teams have been very comparable during Williams's and Weber's reigns. They are basically even in offensive efficiency, floor percentage, field percentage, true shooting percentage, and assist rate. Where Illinois has had the advantage is in not turning over the ball as often as UNC (.175 TO/Poss. to .215 TO/Poss). Conversely, UNC edges out Illinois in offensive rebounding percentage (.388 to .350). Basically, it is a toss-up between these two schools.

The same can almost be said for UNC under Roy and Kansas under Bill, but not quite. While UNC is not better than Kansas in every category, the Tarheels do possess both a higher offensive rating (113.1 to 108.4) and higher offensive rebound percentage (.388 to .351).

In the spirit of redundancy, the Fighting Illini also are significantly better than the Jayhawks in offensive efficiency (115.1 to 108.4) and taking care of the ball (.175 TO/Poss. to .214 TO/Poss.)

As far as defense goes, again it is more of the same. No team has an overwhelming edge over any of the other teams. UNC and Illinois are deadlocked defensively. Kansas is much better than UNC and Illinois in getting opponents to miss shots (48.4 TS% against to 51.7 TS% against and 50.6 TS%, respectively), but not much better at any of the other statistical categories.

At the end of the day, each program is just as well if not better off with their new coaches, although none of the programs can be said to be significantly better under one coach over the other two. Whatever grade you want to give one coach you had better be prepared to give the other coaches the same grade even if one has a national championship ring and the others do not.


Monday, November 20, 2006

The Impossible

University of Louisville offensive coordinator Paul Petrino has finally done what many had planned to do, but no one had actually accomplished. That is, until today. Petrino has come up with a legitimate play for 3rd and 27. The idea to formulate a play for such an unusual down and yardage situation came after Petrino heard a commentator say for the 4,758th time on record that a no one has a play for 3rd and 27.

"I would love to say I developed this play to help out my team, but nothing could be farther from the truth," Petrino stated. "To be honest, I made it up to shut up the commentators who don't add anything to the game they are supposed to analyze and instead recycle tired, mindless cliches. Now, the next time the Louisville Cardinals needs a large amount of yardage in order to get a first down, no one will be able to say we don't have a play for it. Because we most certainly do."

While Petrino would not go into specifics about the play, he did reveal that it is a five-receiver set out of the shotgun formation. He also assured everyone that against the Cardinals' defense, the play worked "every single time" and there was no reason to think it would not work against every team in the country. Following the success of this addition to the Cardinals playbook, Petrino said he is already hard at work on plays for both 1st and 32 and 2nd and 24.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Ohio State-Michigan Breakdown

Meager 3-point victory margin aside, Ohio State dominated Michigan from the start of the game until the clock ran down to 0:00. The only reason why the final score was even as close as it is was because Ohio State basically gift-wrapped 17 points for the Wolverines through a combination of turnovers and prevent defense. Take that away and this was another disappointing performance by a Lloyd Carr-coached Michigan squad, which is what I am setting out to prove in this post. To do this, I broke down the game down by down (excluding fourth downs) and then separated it into run and pass categories to see which team won the down battles. Of the six different combinations, Ohio State won four of them and Michigan won two, but as I will point out a bit later one of the Michigan wins is really by default.

First downs were a clean sweep for the Ohio State Buckeyes, both running the ball and passing it. Ohio State was successful on 53.3% (8 of 15)of their runs and gained 5.3 yards per first down run when to get a first down they needed an average of 10 yards. Michigan's numbers are quite lacking when put up against Ohio State's as the Wolverines only had successful first down runs on 38.5% (5 of 13) of the plays and gained an average of 3 yards a run when the average first down marker was 8.6 yards away. Neither quarterback was spectacular passing on first down, but Troy Smith was more efficient gaining a successful amount of yardage 53.3% (8 of 15) of the time, averagining 4.9 yards per pass when an average of 9.9 yards was needed to keep the chains moving. Henne's important numbers were 28.6% success rate, 1 yard per pass, and 10.4 yards needed for a first down.

On second down, the victory is split two ways, mostly because Michigan had their most success on this down. Still, the Buckeyes bested the Wolverines with their overall running totals despite having a lower success rate (50% to 77.7%). Ohio State can thank the two rushing touchdowns of 52 and 56 yards for helping win this combination battle. Unlike when they passed on first down, both Chad Henne and Troy Smith were very adept with their passes on second down with Henne slightly edging out Smith. Henne had a higher success rate (73.3% to 66.7%) and he averaged 12.5 yards per pass attempt to Troy's 10.3 yards per pass attempt. To get first downs, the quarterbacks needed to have averaged 9.5 yards and 7.4 yards, respectively, per pass attempt so the average attempt gained a first down for their teams.

As I alluded to earlier, Michigan won one of the down combinations by default and it was on third down runs. Michigan ran the ball twice on third down, getting two first downs for their rushing efforts and one 32-yard scamper by Mike Hart. The only time Ohio State even ran the ball on third down was on the last play of the game where Antonio Pittman gained 6 yards to run out the clock. Another play classified in the play-by-play data as a run was really a fumble caused by a botched center-quarterback exchange.

Passing on third down is what really separated Ohio State from the chaff that is Michigan. Henne stepped back to pass on ten third-down plays and only converted two of these into first downs. Conversely, Smith converted five of nine such opportunities into first downs gaining an average of 5.6 yards per play when he needed an average of 8 yards for a first down. Had Henne been better on third downs, perhaps the Michigan Wolverines would have won.

No, wait. Scratch that. Lloyd Carr is still the coach.