Friday, July 3, 2015

Understanding Power Conferences - some conclusions



There will always be a subjective component in what makes a power conference.  However, we can at least start with an outline of what makes a power conference a power conference.  Reading the "Frank the Tank" website gave me insight.

Basically his argument is that power conference value corresponds to a set of categories and how well the schools in the conference score in those categories as a group of schools.  Note that he excludes sports other than football or basketball.  I agree.  Your conference might have 12 National Hockey championships but no one is going to call it a "power conference".  Power conference for the most part means power football conference.

So here is a proposed metric.  How you award the points would be up to you.

Football brand value (30 points):  Clearly, this is what makes a power conference a power conference, because the revenue generated by football is massive compared to the revenue generated by other sports.  Note that in this category, we put more weight on historical record and financial backing than we put on recent success.  Even if the schools are having bad years in a power conference, those schools and the conference can still sell out their seats.

National TV value (15 points):  How much interest nationwide do these teams draw on television?  Does the conference have major deals with national networks? 

Local TV value (10 points):  How much interest do each of the power conference teams draw in their local markets?  Are their local markets large or small?

Demographics/football recruiting value (20 points):  What is the relative strength of high school football in the areas where the schools are located?  A power conference is more likely to have teams in recruiting hotbeds (Texas, Florida, California) than not.

Academics (5 to 25 points):  This really depends on the individual conference.  Some conferences like the Big Ten prize schools with good academics, others like the Big 12 less so.

Basketball value (5 to 10 points):  Basketball success might be the tipping point for a marginal conference being considered as a power conference, but basketball prowess by itself won't make a set of schools a power conference.

Geographic value (5 points):  Are the schools in the conference "fairly close" to each other?  Obviously the further west you go the more elastic you can be with distance.   The states in which the schools are located should be contiguous with very few outliers.  This should be an all-or-nothing value:  either the conference gets the full point total or it doesn't.

Upside potential/monopoly power (10 points): By monopoly power this means that the schools involved in the conference are the biggest schools in their states.  If not, are the schools flagship schools?  Are they academically elite schools?  Do they have a proven basketball fan base?  Are they making/have they made major investments in facilities?

Historic rivalries/cultural fit (0 to 5 points):  Do the schools have long lasting rivalries with each other?  Do the schools seem to be relatively "of the same type"?

Now comes the conclusions:

Clearly, the "Power Five" would score high in all of the above.  By "Power 5" we mean the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the SEC and the Pac-12 - although the ACC is geographically overstretched.

The "Big East" is not a power conference, period.  It has no football schools.  The End.

The American/AAC is not a power conference.  It doesn't have much football brand value or national TV value. Its schools are very overstretched geographically.  It has no natural rivalries (unlike the Big East) and its schools are not "of the same type".  Frankly, some of its schools, Connecticut especially, are just waiting to be poached by some other power conference looking to add members.

This concludes today's lecture on power conferences.



Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Google Ngram Viewer and women's basketball


You might wonder what the graph above represents.  This is actually the result of something called the "Google Ngram Viewer", which can be found here.  Google explains what the Ngram Viewer does thusly:

When you enter phrases into the Google Books Ngram Viewer, it displays a graph showing how those phrases have occurred in a corpus of books (e.g., "British English", "English Fiction", "French") over the selected years.

I then selected the phrase "women's basketball" and asked Google to check all English books and determine how frequently this phrase occurred in books between the years 1892 (when basketball was invented) and 2008, the maximum years allowed in searching.

So why is the graph shaped the way it is?  I suspect the big bump occurring after 1970 has a lot to do with Title IX, when women's basketball began to receive financial support. 

It's hard to tell from the distorted graph, but there's another leap between 1978 and 1980, the years of the first women's pro basketball league, the WBL.

The graph peaks in 1985, and then begins to drop between the years 1985-90 and begins to skyrocket up, peaking in 1998.  So it looks like a peak in women's basketball - or at least a peak in the popularity of the term "women's basketball" - predated the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the famous Dream team.

However, the peak begins to fade starting in 1999.  It keeps dropping until 2006, and then it starts to rise again.  I have no theory that explains that phenomenon.  Economic contraction?  An increase in conservatism coinciding with the Iraq War?  Your guess is as good as mine.  But I am glad that the graph has started an upturn.  Unfortunately, we don't know what's going on after 2008, when the graph stops. 

Does any of this prove anything?  No. But it is interesting to look at!



Wednesday, July 1, 2015

NCAA Women's Basketball 2014-15 : How Tall, How Small



I've gathered up some statistics from wbbstate.com, which is a great site for women's basketball statistics.  Sometimes their stats might not be accurate, sometimes the data has formatting issues, sometimes a certain school doesn't supply height data (I'm looking at YOU, Grambling State) and you just have to sigh.

It's interesting looking at the height data.  Yes, we all know that in basketball, you never know anyone's real height until you're standing next to them - sure, Ivory Latta is 5-6, if she's standing on a box.  So here are some interesting facts and figures about player height in the 2014-15 season.

The shortest player is listed at 4-8:  Missouri State's Kori Farmer.  She'll be a sophomore in 2015-16 if she hangs around, assuring her the title of shortest player for at least a few more seasons.



The tallest player is listed at 6-8:  Nevada's Mimi Mungedi.  She was a senior in 2014-15 and was drafted in the third round by the Tulsa Shock.  Height will certainly get you a look in the pros.  But she was the first player cut by Tulsa.

   

We have 4,322 heights ranging over 5 positions:  Guard, Guard/Forward, Forward, Forward/Center, Center.

The average player height in Division I is 70.4 inches, or around 5-10 1/2

There are 2,350 guards listed, the most common position.  The average guard height is 68.2, or 5-8.
There are 226 guard/forwards listed.  The average guard/forward height is 71.1, or 5-11.
There are 1,306 forwards listed.  The average forward height is 72.7, or 6-0 1/2.
There are 140 forward/centers listed.  The average forward/center height is 74.2, or 6-2.
There are 300 centers listed.  The average center height is 75.0, or 6-3.

Here is how player heights break down:

4-08:  1 player
4-09:  0 players
4-10:  0 players
4-11:  1 player
5-00:  0 players
5-01:  2 players
5-02:  14 players
5-03:  41 players
5-04:  71 players
5-05:  141 players
5-06:  206 players
5-07:  366 players
5-08:  437 players
5-09:  470 players
5-10:  475 players
5-11:  343 players
6-00:  473 players
6-01:  462 players
6-02:  386 players
6-03:  250 players
6-04:  126 players
6-05:  45 players
6-06:  8 players
6-07:  3 players
6-08:  1 player

Since we know so much about player heights, what about team heights?  Is there a way to determine the tallest team in women's basketball over 2014-15, or the shortest team?

We have to be very careful here.  Just because a team has a tall player, does that make the team tall?  If all the short players get lots of minutes and the tall player barely plays, we really can't say that the team is tall?  We have to weight player heights by minutes played.  Basically, the more a player plays, the more credit her height will be given in the final calculation.

Here are the top 11 tallest teams in NCAA Divsion I last season. 

1.  Duke, 73.8 inches
2.  Oregon State, 73.1 inches
3.  Gonzaga, 72.9 inches
4.  California, 72.7 inches
5.  Utah, 72.6 inches
6.  Penn State, 72.5 inches
7.  Colorado, 72.3 inches
8.  Harvard, 72.2 inches
9.  Wisconsin, 72.2 inches
10. West Virginia, 72.2 inches
11.  Nevada, 72.1 inches

I chose 11 instead of 10 teams, because these 11 teams are the only ones with an average weighted-by-minutes-played team height that was greater than 6 feet.

Here are the 10 shortest teams in NCAA Division I last season.

1.  Lamar, 67.9 inches
2.  Northwestern State, 68.0 inches
3.  Southeastern Louisiana, 68.2 inches
4.  North Carolina-Wilmington, 68.2 inches
5.  Sacramento State, 68.2 inches
6.  Farleigh Dickinson, 68.2 inches
7.  North Carolina-Asheville, 68.3 inches
8.  Norfolk State, 68.3 inches
9.  California-Riverside, 68.3 inches
10.  Kennesaw State, 68.4 inches.

Last year's national champion, Connecticut?  They ranked #24 in height at 71.7 inches.

The smallest team among "Power Five" conferences?  North Carolina State, which is ranked #265 out of 348 teams with a weighted height of 69.5 inches.

Does height matter?  Of the top ten teams in height, five of them - Utah, Penn State, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Nevada - had losing records.  One, Harvard, had a .500 record.  The statistical correlation between team height and win percentage is +0.20 - at best, a weak correlation.  Having height might be nice, but it's no guarantee to win games. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Hall of Fame Projector (2014) - "Everybody Else"



Let's now look at the players who are in the "everybody else" categories.  The Projector classifies these players as

Could go either way (70-79 percent)
Dark horses (60-69 percent)
Longshots (50-59 percent)

We have two players in each of these categories.  Let's look at their careers and try to figure out where they stand.  One of these players is already in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

Katie Douglas (73 percent):  Has one ring with the Indiana Fever.  Has six "All-Star Type" selections.  Not a lot of MVP buzz around Douglas though.  Generally, the Hall of Fame belongs to those players that you could plausibly say might be the best ever in some way, and I've never heard Douglas mentioned as the "Best Ever at _______".

Not to say that Douglas wasn't a very good player.  She was never named to an Olympic team.  Her selection to the WBHOF might hinge on her college career - she did help lead Purdue to it's only NCAA women's basketball championship in 1999 and to a Final Four appearance in 2001.

Carolyn Young (71 percent):  Young only played in 131 games in the ABL and the WNBA.  She was a leading scorer in the ABL and holds several records for the league but only played a couple of seasons in the WNBA in 2001 and 2002 for Portland. When Portland folded, so did her career.  Even though she played for a couple of Final Four teams in Auburn, I don't think she'll make the WBHOF.

Adrienne Goodson (67 percent):  Goodson lost many years to playing in Brazil.  At around the age of 30 she played for the Philadelphia/Richmond Rage of the ABL and then went over to the WNBA, playing for Utah, San Antonio, Houston and Charlotte.  She is 33rd all time in the WNBA in rebounds per game at 5.1.  She won an NCAA Championship with Old Dominion way back in 1985, but I don't think anyone's clamoring to put Goodson in the WBHOF.

Penny Taylor (67 percent):  Penny Taylor has played in the WNBA since 2001 but only sporadically - she has only eight seasons out of a possible 15.  She was a three-time MVP in the Women's National Basketball League of Australia and has made several appearances for the Opals in the Olympics and FIBA World Championshps.  She's played with domestic championship women's teams in Italy, Russia and Turkey.  The Projector only considers her years in the United States, so even though she scores low she'll probably get in considering her accomplishments for Australian and for European teams.

Jennifer Gillom (55 percent):  Gillom is another one of those early players who lost time due to lack of a professional league.  It didn't seem to hurt her candidacy for the Hall of Fame - she was named to the WBHOF in 2009, probably on the strength of her college career at Mississippi from 1982-1986 and a 16 year career playing professionally in Italy, Greece and Turkey.

Cheryl Ford (51 percent): Ford, the daughter of Karl Malone of the NBA, player her college basketball at Louisiana Tech.  She was the #3 overall pick in the 2003 WNBA Draft by the Detroit Shock and played seven seasons there, averaging ad ouble-double per game and earning three rings.

When Detroit's franchise was moved to Tulsa.  Ford was cored by the new Tulsa Shock, but she had torn her ACL in 2008 and couldn't play in the 2010 season because her knees were inflamed.  She decided to remain overseason until Bill Laimbeer signed Ford to play for the Liberty in 2013, but her knees had given out on her and she was cut by the team.  Who knows what Cheryl Ford could have done with a few more healthy years?

(* * *)

There is also a list of players not considered because they simply haven't played enough games yet to make the Hall of Fame Projector.  Maya Moore has 136 games as of the end of 2014 and will undoubtedly qualify at the end of this season, and she'll probably have a 100 percent score.

 Next behind her is Elena Delle Donne.  Elena Delle Donne is only at 32 percent, due to not having a lot of games, or rings, or MVP votes or All-Star selections.  Something tells me that by the time she does have enough games to qualify, none of those other factors will be a problem.

How can the WNBA break out of the "niche" category?


The New York Times recently posted an article called "Women's Teams Still Struggle for Fans".  The focus was on women's basketball, and its the kind of article where a 95 percent male sports department sticks its collective finger it its nose, says, "Gee, why don't people watch women's sports?" and goes back to devoting 95 percent of its coverage to men's sports.  (In Atlanta, it's 98 percent of the coverage.)

I thought about what I had read, and I began looking on line.  I found an article from The Atlantic written in 2012, written about a different sport, lacrosse.  The question was "Will Lacrosse Ever Go Mainstream?" 

The questions asked in that article are very pertinent to women's basketball.  The writer, Kevin Craft, identifies what he thinks a sport needs to break out of the niche and into popular culture.

1) Is there a crystallizing event that can help the sport get a toehold in the market?  For women's basketball, that event was the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta.  The USA women's basketball team got great ratings.  The ratings were enough of an impetus to start the American Basketball League in 1996 (co-founded by US Olympian Jennifer Azzi) and the WNBA one year later.

2) Are there sports appropriate venues?  In order for a sport to get buzz, it has to look like its games are well-attended. 

Here is where the WNBA has a problem - its venues really don't work well for it.  Its venues are NBA pro stadiums, which are sized for NBA crowds, crowds that took fifty years to grow.  And this problem can't be solved as long as either a) NBA owners put WNBA teams in their NBA arena or b) independent WNBA owners rent NBA arenas. 

There are only three arenas in the WNBA that don't serve as NBA arenas. One, Key Arena, is an ex-NBA arena.  The other two are Allstate Arena in Rosemont and the Mohegan Sun Arena.  The crowds show up very well on screen during a Mohegan Sun game.  If a core of committed fans can be depended to show up, they can fill small arenas at first, and then larger arenas later.

3) Do the characteristics of the sport mesh with long-term social trends?  The "basketball" part of women's basketball is a plus.  Sports where movement is constant should become more popular as the culture moves more quickly.  As for the "women's" part of women's basketball, women's liberation is still a work in progress and the sport still has to fight the typical male chauvinism.

4) Will parents pass on the love of the sport to their children?  This is the big one.  Women's basketball needs some heavy evangelization.  There needs to be an emphasis at the grass roots level, and I don't mean high school basketball - I mean at the elementary/middle school level.  This is hard, since there is a lot of social pressure on young girls to be "girly" as opposed to "sporty".  There is still some work to do here. 

If I were running the WNBA, my efforts would be focused on the grassroots and attempting to move the games into cozier venues.  Yes, I know that people think that a pro venue adds legitimacy for some strange reason.  I disagree - playing in an empty cavern doesn't do anyone any good.  If financial reality means that WNBA teams are wed to NBA arenas, then the seating/television angles have to be changed in order to provide a real crowd experience that not only shows well on TV but electrifies the arena.

As for the grassroots, I don't know how that piece of the puzzle is solved.  It's one thing to make an occasional appearance at an elementary school, but it's another to grow a culture where girls can succeed as basketball all the way up from elementary school to high school to college.  Philadelphia had that kind of culture with its Catholic Leagues.  Transplanting that culture will be the big challenge.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Hall of Fame Projector (2014) - The "Strong Candidates"


The next list of five players scored between 80 to 89 percent on the Hall of Fame Projector.  The people over at basketball-reference.com would call these players "Strong Candidates" for a future Hall of Fame membership.  One of these players is already in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame but it might take some consideration for the other ones.

Deanna Nolan (88 percent) : Nolan is an odd case.  She's 30th all time in Win Shares with 31.3, she has three WNBA championship titles.  She falls a little short in MVP votes and All-Star (or Olympic/FIBA) selections, but there's a reason for that.

At the end of the 2009 season, the Detroit Shock franchise was transferred to Tulsa.  Nolan had played nine years with the Shock.  She stated that she didn't see herself personally willing to relocate and start with a rebuilding squad, and decided to not return to the WNBA.

From this article:

"I don't think I will return to the WNBA," Nolan said. "Of course, I would love to play in America, but there's no way any player can live off of a WNBA salary. The NBA players make millions of dollars and the top WNBA player probably makes $100,000 to $105,000 before taxes."

Nolan currently plays with UMMC Ekaterinburg and is still active overseas.  But we've seen the last of Nolan in the WNBA, barring her being released from UMMC and needing a job.  I don't think Hall of Fame voters will be prejudiced against her; the question is if they'll have her in mind at all now that she's been playing outside the US for the last six years.

Swin Cash (88 percent):  Cash also has three rings with Detroit.  But was she the best player on Detroit's squad?  In 2003 and 2004 she was, after that she never had years with any team as good as those years.  Having two national championships with Connecticut will definitely have pull on the Hall of Fame voters.

Janeth Arcain (87 percent):  Arcain gets the bonus for having a career that ended before 2005, but that didn't seem to hurt her too much.  She won four rings with the Houston Comets.  She's already in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

Andrea Stinson (82 percent):  Who is Andrea Stinson?  She played nine years in the league, eight of them with the now defunct Charlotte Sting.  She had her number retired by the Sting, but after the Sting folded her number has come down from the rafters (and no one in Charlotte seems to know what happened to it).  As the Sting haven't been around for almost a decade, is there anyone who really remembers Stinson?  She played one year for Detroit in 2005 before retiring.

Taj McWilliams (80 percent):  I used to joke that when the sun died and the Earth was reduced to a crusty cinder, the only life forms left on the planet would be Katie Smith and Taj McWilliams playing with the last basketball. Grandmama had 538 games spread across two leagues. She played for the Richmond/Philadelphia Rage in the ABL, then with the Orlando Miracle in the WNBA, then moved with the Miracle to Connecticut, then to Los Angeles.  Then a year split between Washington and Detroit, a full year in Detroit (which was the team's last), then New York, and finally Minnesota.  In her final year in 2012 with the Lynx she started in every game she played.

She's the all time WNBA leader in offensive rebounds with 1,062, and she "lost" a couple of years to the ABL.  But the press never really thought of her as a MVP player.  For her first three years in the WNBA she was the best player on the Miracle.  She should get in on the strength of longevity and offensive rebounding alone.







Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Hall of Fame Projector (2014) - The "Virtually In" Class


My previous post on the Hall of Fame Projector (see here) listed those players that scored 100 percent - those that would be lead pipe cinches to make a pro basketball hall of fame based on traditional stats, MVP voting, rings, and All-Star appearances.  We're only considering players who have played at least 160 combined games in the ABL and WNBA.  For those players whose careers ended before 2005, we give them credit for the missing years of their pro career.

There are seven players who scored between 90 and 99 percent, the ones that the HOF Projector method considers "virtually in".  Three of these players are active players, so with a few MVP votes or a couple of All-Star selections, they'll probably join the 14 other players listed previously.

Teresa Edwards (99 percent):  she was already past 30 when she played for the Atlanta Glory of the ABL and was selected by the Lynx in the second round of the 2003 draft even though she was 38 years old.  She has five Olympic medals (four gold) stretching back to 1992.  And even with this horribly scant modern pro career she almost makes it in.  Edwards is one of those players like Nera White or Nancy Lieberman or Cheryl Miller that you could argue is the best player of all time.

Edwards is already in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

Katie Smith (99 percent):  there were some complaints about the previous post - why didn't Smith make the list of Lead Pipe Cinches that got 100 percent in the projector?  Most likely, it's the relative lack of MVP votes and a fairly low points per game - the only players above her with fewer points per game are Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen, and their assists totals make up for it.

I have Katie Smith has having played 568 games in her career across the ABL and WNBA.  The player behind her is Taj McWilliams at 538.  Smith's longevity alone should be a voting factor, and I can't see her not making it into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

Angel McCoughtry (98 percent):  Despite not winning any titles, McCoughtry makes it to the list on the strength of her scoring.  How many players other than Maya Moore or Elena Delle Donne (neither yet eligibile for the list yet) could carry an entire team on her back like McCoughtry? I see her being named to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame someday, even though she doesn't have a reputation for being so angelic.

Becky Hammon (98 percent):  I think Hammon's lack of height gives her a boost - never has a player done so much with so little (so to speak).  Her overall assist averages don't compare to Bird's or Whalen's or even Cappie Pondexter.  But she was an amazing force in women's basketball and I see her as a Hall of Fame Player.

Seimone Augustus (97 percent):  A great mid-range shooter, but her problem is that she really don't have many MVP votes.  Having two rings really helps her make her case, but I wonder if future Hall of Fame voters are going to recognize her value.

Chamique Holdsclaw (92 percent):  She was at one time considered to be the Michael Jordan of women's basketball.  Unfortunately, I think most people think "what might have been" when they think of Holdsclaw.  She had really great moves with the ball, but her emotional problems might have eclipsed her game.  If you take her college career into account, however, she really belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Sylvia Fowles (91 percent):  I think Fowles's candidacy is hurt by the fact that she was the best player on a bad team for an awfully long time.  Idiot WNBA voters said, "We can't vote her for MVP if she's not on a winning team!"  If she had been on a good team, she might have one or two MVP titles already.  Maybe this is why she's decided to sit out a year; she figures that if she plays for the Lynx people might finally figure out how good she is.




Saturday, June 27, 2015

Last Night's Game: Washington @ Atlanta


Thoughts on last night's Mystics-Dream game

* I had the chance to sit courtside last night, and let me tell you, it is worth it.  If you ever get a chance to get courtside seats, or even have to pay for courtside seats, do not pass it up.  You will not regret it.  Hearing all the little conversations, hearing the coaches yelling, the players talking, adds a new dimension to the game.

* I got to shake hands with WNBA referee Eric Brewton.  He must have thought I was someone important.

* About the Dream's woes.  One of the people (not a coach or a player, by the way) I spoke with thought that the Dream's problems stemmed from their lack of 3-point shooting.  The theory goes that the only player on the roster who can beat anyone off the dribble is Angel McCoughtry, and in order for McCoughtry to get rolling opponent defenses have to be spread.  But without anyone shooting threes, defenses can just pack the lane and kill any momentum that McCoughtry might get in a drive to the basket.

* I believe McCoughtry has four technical fouls now.  Shades of Taurasi a couple of years ago?

* Only seven players played last night for the Dream, and Burdick was among them.  The current roster looks like:

McCoughtry *
Lyttle *
de Souza *
Hodges *
Ajavon *
Wheeler *
Burdick *


Carter
Colhado
Logic
Milton-Jones
Schimmel

Tiffany Hayes and Aneika Henry will return to the roster.  So who goes?

Hodges will stay since she's a vet and was a significant free agent signing.
Ajavon will stay since she's healthy this season.
Wheeler will stay because a) Coach Cooper seems to like Wheeler, and b) she's from Rutgers, which gives Ajavon someone to chat with.
Burdick will stay because a) Coach Cooper wanted to draft Burdick, but she wasn't available, and b) according to Cooper, Burdick gives him the opportunity to try different things on the court.  He's played Burdick a lot, he likes her, and the fans like her.

So that leaves the bottom five players listed as targets for cuts.

My personal theory is that Carter is gone.  But who is the other player?

Colhado?
  Nope.  Colhado can back up de Souza when Atlanta needs size.
Schimmel?  Nope, not unless we get something for her in a big trade.

That leaves Milton-Jones, who has been in the league since what, 1999, or Logic, a player who was probably in diapers when Milton-Jones was graduating high school.  Use your common sense.  Who do you think is going to go?