best counter

Your Ad Here
Just The Sports: 2007-01-28

Just The Sports

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Vastly Improved Spartan

The NCAA, in what would surely be the only intelligent move ever made by the organization, should decree that all incoming college basketball players be made to watch game film of all of Drew Neitzel's 90 games in a Michigan State uniform. Correctly done, especially for those without NBA-ready talent as freshmen, each season should serve as a building block or stepping stone in reaching the pinnacle of one's college basketball career. From the progression of Neitzel's career, he has done this as well as anyone else.

During the course of Neitzel's freshman season, he really gave no hint of the scorer he would later become. Admittedly, a lot of the reason Neitzel showed no promise of his future scoring prowess is because he only took 3.4 field goal attempts per game and struggled to connect on those few attempts with a 45.1% effective field goal percentage. Neitzel's freshman year was not a lost cause, however, due to his masterful handling of the basketball in his 16.4 minutes per game as Michigan State's point guard. He had an assist rate of 36.0, slightly more than double his turnover rate of 17.8.

In his sophomore campaign, Neitzel accomplished a number of confidence-inspiring tasks. The first set was to take more shots per game (7.1) and at the same time, improve his effective field goal percentage to 50.4%. Even though Neitzel was shouldering more of the offensive load for the Spartans, he did not let his greater offensive-mindedness affect his ballhandling. Instead, he improved his assist rate by increasing it (36.7) and improved his turnover rate by decreasing it (12.8).

Nineteen games into this, Neitzel's junior season, he has again increased his effective field goal percentage (54.7%) while taking even more shots (13.0 per game) than he did as a sophomore. Even more important, in my opinion, is that Neitzel is finally getting to the free throw line with regularity with 4.6 attempts per game. Neitzel is much too good a free throw shooter, over 90% this year, to have shied away from the free throw line for so long.

One negative change that has taken place over Neitzel's game is most likely the result of his new role as primary scorer for Michigan State as opposed to a regression of skill. As his scoring average has increased to 18.3 points per game, his assist rate has dropped down to 20.6, the lowest such mark in his career, but something for which he can no doubt be forgiven.

Any college basketball fan should keep an eye on Drew Neitzel's career until he leaves Michigan State, if for no other reason than to see if he can make any sort of improvement in his senior season.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Correlation Not Causation

In hiring former USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to be the head coach of the Raiders, Al Davis was no doubt trying to recapture the success of other Raiders head coaches who were hired in their early to mid-thirties, including and limited to John Madden and Jon Gruden. Current Denver Broncos head coach is usually mentioned with these two coaches, but he had a less than stellar 8-20 record with the Oakland Raiders. Madden and Gruden amassed records of 112-39-7 and 40-28, respectively, so you can understand why Shanahan does not deserve inclusion into that fraternity.

Although it remains to be seen how well Kiffin will do as an NFL head coach, hiring him because he is a sort of clone for what Jon Gruden was at the time of his hiring by Al Davis shows a flawed logic at best. Attributing all of the Raiders' success to Jon Gruden is also erroneous. Jon Gruden was not a success at the Raiders helm because he had a brilliant offensive mind or the fact his youth may have allowed him to relate better to the players, but because he had a good quarterback named Rich Gannon leading the offense. In some ways, Gruden was lucky to get some of the performances he did out of Gannon.

Gannon, for his entire NFL career, completed 60.2% of his passes. During the three seasons he was the starting quarterback for Gruden's teams, which represented 75% of the seasons Gruden was the Raiders head coach, Gannon improved his regular season completion percentage every year from 59.0% to 60.0% to 65.8%. Gannon improved again in the year after Gruden left, completing 67.6% of his passes in the regular season before injury and attrition ended his usefulness as an NFL starting quarterback.

The fact the Raiders went to the Super Bowl the year after Gruden left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is proof that they did not lose anything great when Gruden stopped being the head coach. What was actually the first of many nails that would be driven into the Raiders' coffin was the loss of a quality starting quarterback. The main differences between the Raiders offense under-Gruden and post-Gruden are the completion percentages of the quarterbacks (59.9% to 57.6%) and yards per pass attempt (7.1 to 6.6). The running game has shown no ill effects since Gruden's departure.

Therefore, what the Raiders have failed to do is not replacing perceived incompetent head coaches. Instead, they have failed to replace Rich Gannon since he played his last full regular season in 2002, trying foolishly to do so with Rick Mirer, Kerry Collins, and now Aaron Brooks and Andrew Walter.

Brooks, for all of his athletic ability, is a horribly ineffective and inaccurate quarterback. Walter, though he has yet play in more than twelve games, is not the answer either, as he only completed around 55% of his passes at Arizona State. No amount of coaching, by one young or old, is likely to make him a suitable starting quarterback.

Though it is far easier to hire a new coach than it is to find a good starting quarterback, rectifying their quarterback situation should be the first order of business for the Raiders right ahead of improving the offensive line. And by rectifying their quarterback situation, I do not mean drafting JaMarcus Russell or Brady Quinn.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Another Player of the Year Candidate

When I originally listed players I felt were worthy player of the year candidates, I left out one player who deserves recognition as much as the others. Here that oversight will be rectified. In terms of helping his team achieve success on the college basketball scene, Oregon Ducks senior point guard Aaron Brooks has done as much as Alando Tucker, Nick Fazekas, or Kevin Durant.

Not only is Brooks the only senior player on Oregon's roster who averages more than twenty minutes per game, he plays the most minutes per game (36.6), scores the most points per game (19.1), and accumulates the most steals per game (1.7) of any other Duck. Brooks also has the best assist-to-turnover ratio among guards on his team.

On the way to averaging his 19.1 points per game, Brooks has compiled a 62.1% true shooting percentage, which places him above both Tucker and Durant, but behind Fazekas. As expected due to the fact he is the only point guard in the bunch, Brooks's assist rate is tops amongst these four players. If he had been the best rebounder, that would have been something to take carefully detailed note of. Since Brooks's advantage lies in his ability to dish out assists, he should get no more credit for that achievement than a father should get for taking care of his children.

Brooks does struggle with consistency, though. Although he has played well of late, his points scored standard deviation for the entire season is second-highest after Durant. Unlike some players whose wide range of point totals is the direct result of taking an inconsistent number of shots per game, the reason for Brooks's standard deviation is that he has been an inconsistent shooter from the field. His true shooting percentage standard deviation of .150 is higher than Fazekas's, Durant's, and Tucker's, which casts a storm cloud over his excellent play for the season.

Brooks's place in the pantheon of great college basketball players is secure; however, unless he puts on an amazing display over the last few games, the national player of the year honor may be just out of his reach.


BCS Championship (2002-06) Revisited

When Ohio State defeated Miami, 31-24 in double overtime, the floodgates were opened for #2 ranked teams in BCS Championship games. Since that controversial victory, #2 ranked teams have won three of the past four college football national titles. Throwing the Ohio State win into the mix pushes that record to an impressive 4-1 record for the teams deemed by the BCS formula to be the second-best in the nation among Divsion I-A college football teams. This prompted me to ask: were the victories by the perceived lesser teams a result of them doing something extraordinary in the championship game or were these victories more the result of the #1 ranked teams having an off day?

To answer this question, I compiled the season box scores of the ten teams that found their way into the title match, separating them into two categories based on their ranks entering the game (#1 or #2). After that was done, I calculated both the averages and standard deviations for the following statistics of the individual teams: pass attempts, pass completions, passing yards, rush attempts, rush yards, points, yards per catch, yards per pass attempt, yards per rush, and completion percentage. Then I took the numbers each team put up in the national championship game and figured out how many standard deviations they were away from the corresponding season averages and then averaged them among the two sets of five teams. While I looked at ten statistics, I was mainly concerned with how the teams performed in the last five.

On offense, the five #1 teams failed to reach their season averages in points, yards per catch, yards per pass attempt, yards per rush, and completion percentage; so, too, did the five #2 teams. However, these teams did not underperform by the same amount. The #1 teams underperformed worse than their averages in points, yards per rush, and completion percentage while the #2 achieved that distinction in yards per catch and yards per pass attempt. Basically, this leads me to conclude that offense was not the answer to explaining why #2 teams have been able to win so consistently.

Defense, though, does provide that answer. Before I get to the results, I should remind the reader that the defensive stats have to be read in a different manner than the offensive ones. Whereas with offense, it was a bad thing for the teams to underperform their averages, with defense what I was looking at was how the teams' opponents performed against them. Therefore, the more the standard deviation was below the average, the better the defense performed. That being said, #2 teams put on very dominant defensive performances in the national championship game relative to the eggs the #1 teams laid. In the aforementioned five most important statistics to me, the average standard deviations for the #2 teams' defensive statistics were all lower than the average standard deviation for the #1 teams' defensive statistics.

Again, what I was looking at were the average standard deviations of the five #1 teams and five #2 teams and comparing those to each other. As a result of what those average standard deviations told me, the offenses of the #1 teams should feel no hesitation in placing the majority of the blame on the respective defenses. Well, except for Ohio State.


Monday, January 29, 2007

Media Influence

With Barbaro's recent euthanization, Americans are waiting with bated breath for the national news media to inform them the indentity of the next terminal animate being they should ceaselessly and mindlessly care about, enduring update after update before the subject's inevitable timely demise.

The upcoming revelation is causing suspense among American news watchers on par with the feelings usually associated with Christmas and New Year's. Some citizens, like Margaret Hart from Peoria, Illinois, are planning parties to commemorate the next person or animal the media will cram down the throats of the public.

"I really hope it's a person this time," Hart remarked. "Not that I have anything against horses; some of my best friends are horses, My Little Ponies, to be exact. But it's a lot easier to drum up sympathy for someone I can at least point to and say that that person would be attractive-ish if he wasn't in a persistent vegetative state with his limbs curling back on him. What would be really awesome is if it were a celebrity. I have no problem at all being forcefed the details of celebrities' lives."

Boston, Massachusetts resident Lauren Fletcher, for one, just wishes the national media would go ahead and pick the next imminent victim for the Grim Reaper. After learning of Barbaro's death, Fletcher was unable to perform her receptionist duties for a full five minutes, allowing all incoming calls to go straight to voicemail. "I just can't take it anymore," Fletcher stated, admitting that she wrote numerous get-well cards to Barbaro and almost got angry at him for not answering them before remembering he could not read. "Worrying about the rollercoaster health of Barbaro took a lot out of me. Every couple weeks, I read about him getting better only for a report to come out a few days later that he was on the verge of death again. The quicker I know the next person whose health I should follow religiously, the quicker I can forget about all the grieving and sadness Barbaro caused me."

When asked if she was going to manifest the same grieving behavior for every single race horse that suffered a catastrophic injury, Fletcher responded: "No and if they want me to, they should have the decency to get injured on national network television, shouldn't they?"

Spokespersons for national media outlets, including ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and FOX, report that the American public will not be forced to think for themselves for too much longer as they have already begun trolling hospices and hoping for national disasters in order to uncover the next mortal being for the nation to throw all its support behind.