A few months ago, I wrote a piece about Harrison Barnes, right after he and Carolina flamed out in the NCAA tournament following Kendall Marshall’s injury. My article, a tongue-in-cheek bit about Barnes’ infatuation with his “brand” as well as the lack of awareness he showed by discussing this so publicly, was pretty harsh on the player whom I exclusively referred to as “The Black Falcon.” I portrayed Barnes as a business major who thought of his basketball as little more than a hobby, and although the NCAA may want fans to believe something similar, I’m sure it wasn’t an accurate illustration of his situation.
Although facetious and intended to be light-hearted, the column’s thesis wasn’t far from my true sentiments. As a Duke fan, I considered Barnes wildly overrated–but this was a product of the hype-driven college recruiting process and the media mania surrounding ACC (i.e. Duke and Carolina) basketball. Barnes, for the most part, didn’t bring about any of this hoopla onto himself*–he wasn’t the one naming himself as an NCAA Preseason All-American as a freshman. The raised expectations for Barnes were a byproduct of his prodigious talent and analysts’ overzealous projections, nothing more.
It started in the summer with the news that Leslie MacDonald, a role player from last year and the Tar Heels’ best returning 3-point shooter, would miss the year with a torn ACL. We winced, but knew this was a glancing blow. The Heels were supposed to be a juggernaut, and juggernauts don’t flinch when someone cuts off a finger. We would be fine. Students lined up for (not)Late Night With Roy at 4pm. We eagerly read along as ESPN launched a blog just for UNC on its basketball homepage. We soaked up commentary. Optimism reigned supreme.
The season began with great fanfare, highlighted by UNC’s annual pasting of Michigan State in a new, fancy venue – this time, an aircraft carrier. Even when UNC lost to UNLV and then Kentucky, we knew March was when it really mattered. As ACC play rolled around we started to get a sense of the team: they were nice kids. Off the court they loved hanging out together, communicating on Twitter so we could all feel part of their goofy lifestyle. Henson was the class clown, Barnes the businessman, Watts the elder statesman, with Kendall Marshall at the center of it all. This was, after all, the team that played outdoor pick-up against us mere mortals (sometimes spotting teams 9 points in a game to 11). On the court, they occasionally coasted on talent against inferior opponents. They won, mostly, but sometimes seemed uninspired. The Heels went through a lengthy, multi-game shooting slump where they developed a gritty defensive identity. Things started coming together.
Posted in UNC
Tagged basketball, Carolina, Dexter Strickland, Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall, Leslie Mcdonald, Nate Friedman, NCAA Tournament, Tar Heels, Tyler Zeller, UNC
I once had a forecasting class where the professor gave each one of us a bag of M&Ms. We were then supposed to count each color and report the results. Predictably some of the M&M bags had more blues, while others had more oranges. My bag in particular had one brown M&M, which was the lowest count of any color in any of the bags. The professor showed the results on a projector and asked the class to imagine each color to be a particular product and that each bag to be an individual store. She then asked what the results meant. Some people said that certain “stores” were better at selling certain “products.” My store in particular was said to be deficient in selling whatever product the brown M&M represented. There was a discussion among people in the class about reasons why certain stores had sold more of certain products. Maybe one store had better employees? Maybe one store sold more “oranges” because they were located in a college town like Syracuse?
At that time I had to raise my hand. I asked the professor if we should maybe consider that the results are random and that it would be a terrible idea to come up with a forecast based on these results. The sample size was way too small, and also we had the advantage of knowing that these results were completely random. For example I doubt that the 6th M&M bag opened in the next class would have a only one brown M&M. Generally speaking it was amazing to watch people try to assign reasons to what they knew were random events. Needless to say I didn’t understand the exercise and I don’t think I impressed my professor with my answer. I wasn’t trying to be a devil’s advocate or a jerk, but rather just start a discussion on the importance of luck in setting a forecast.
On Saturday at last year’s ACC tournament, my ride got a last-minute dinner invite, and I found myself up the creek. There was no bus from Greensboro back to Chapel Hill, and everyone I knew had already left. After the press conferences, out of sheer desperation, I approached Steve Kirschner. He’s the associate athletic director of communications at UNC, and he’s the chief PR rep for the men’s basketball team. He didn’t know me from Adam, but when I asked him if he knew where I could get a ride back to Chapel Hill, he offered without hesitation. We had a nice ride, and a nice chat, and he even refused to let me pay for a Cook-Out milkshake he bought on the way.
I emailed to thank him the next day, and he told me that he hadn’t known I was a Duke blogger, and that if I ever wanted to come in for an on-the-record interview, I could. I took him up on it last August, and now that basketball season is in full swing, I felt this would be a good time to run it. It was a fascinating hour-long chat, and we covered everything from the relationship between media and athletes to the the similarities between Psycho T and Harrison Barnes to the odyssey of keeping the major players around this year to Roy Williams’ method of dealing with the media to the changing nature of fan behavior. It’s long, but interesting enough, at least to me, to run in its entirety. I’ve split it into four loose segments if you want to skip around- the media, the players, the fans, and Psycho T. Enjoy. Continue reading
Before getting to the first +/- table of the season, some words of caution: single-game +/- figures are so “noisy” (i.e., influenced by randomness) that they’re rendered practically useless. Even with a complete season’s worth of data, the +/- metric (especially in this– its unadjusted– form) suffers from this noisiness. Still, when taken in conjunction with the defensive box score, traditional box score, and old-fashioned “eye test,” the single-game +/- can be a part of the total evaluation process. It also serves as a good summary of Roy Williams’s substitution patterns/rotation.
Pts-Pts All.: the points scored and points allowed by the team during a given player’s minutes
Off Eff: the points scored per 100 possessions with a given player on the court
Def Eff: the points allowed per 100 possessions with a given player on the court
Net Eff: the scoring margin per 100 possessions with a given player on the court
+/- Stats vs. Michigan State
|+/- by Backcourt
|+/- by Frontcourt
When Bullock and Hairston were paired together on the wings, I called Hairston the 2 and Bullock the 3. Continue reading
Posted in UNC
Tagged Desmond Hubert, Dexter Strickland, Harrison Barnes, James Michael McAdoo, John Henson, Justin Watts, Kendall Marshall, Men's Basketball, Michigan State, P.J. Hairston, Reggie Bullock, Stillman White, Tyler Zeller
New readers –
This is launch week on Tobacco Road Blues, the new site dedicated to Duke and UNC sports. This afternoon's post comes from Adrian Atkinson, a contributing writer. He'll be covering UNC sports, and basketball in particular. If you're interested in writing for TRB, follow the contact link to the right. Enjoy.
A Quantitative Look at Defensive Development in the Carolina System
Conventional wisdom declares that experience matters in college basketball, especially on the defensive end of the court. While effective defense is a function of myriad physical traits—lateral quickness, length/wingspan, and strength, to name three—it is also heavily dependent on a player’s mental attributes. The ability to communicate with teammates, to make crisp and timely help rotations, and to execute the nuances of a complicated defensive scheme are all things that can be mastered irrespective of a player’s level of athleticism. But they can rarely be mastered without a healthy dose of experience. Shared court time with teammates—both on the practice floor and in game situations—is essential for developing the type of defensive IQ and chemistry that all championship-caliber teams have.
Moreover, there is an interaction effect between a player’s experience and his physical traits. By reacting instinctively rather than thinking, a defender can gain a half-step of quickness that might be the difference between a successful help rotation and an unsuccessful one. On the other hand, a player who is not yet acclimated with a defensive scheme can often look paralyzed with indecision on the court. This lack of experience and defensive understanding can erroneously manifest itself as a lack of quickness or effort.
New readers –
This is launch week on Tobacco Road Blues, the new site dedicated to Duke and UNC sports. All week, we’re going to be running two of the ‘greatest hits’ from Seth Curry Saves Duke!, our previous blog, every day. The new content begins on Monday the 15th.
Today’s morning post is actually a compilation of all the “graphic illustrations” produced in the last year. I put that term in quotes because using it without them would probably insult anyone who did actual graphic illustrations. A great professor named Bart Wojdynski taught me how to use Adobe Illustrator at some point in February, probably thinking I would use the knowledge for something educational or morally uplifting. Didn’t happen. Everything that follows is crude, and the bias level is high in a way that will be less typical of TRB. Enjoy.
My first effort, the “Choose Your ACC Team” flowchart, done in early January
Posted in Duke, Miscellaneous, UNC
Tagged boner, Coach K, flop, gthc, Harrison Barnes, Humor, illustration, Kendall Marshall, Nolan Smith, Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry, Tyler Zeller, White Raven