Saturday, April 19, 2014

We Already One

Today we have 700 channels on TV, and think if we didn't have the remote control, 
the channel changer wheel would be the size of a tractor tire. 700 channels, 
we didn't have 700 channels growing up, we had 3 channels when I was a kid, 
and if the president was on, your night was shot. 
"The president's on! He's on every channel! We're gonna miss Flipper!"

~Jeff Foxworthy

On Monday, April 21, 2014 the 118th Boston Marathon will be run.  Many Americans will take this time to relish how worthwhile their hundred dollar a month cable bill suddenly seems.  No one will blame them for wanting to change the channel from ABC/NBC/CNN/ESPN/MTV/InsertChannelYouHaveNeverHeard "BREAKING NEWS !!!^@!!!" coverage of people out for a run.  Most American's think Hopkinton was that actor from Silence of the Lambs, have no idea why the Red Sox play in the morning, and would have only heard of Dick and Rick Hoyt if anyone ever watched the ESPY's.  The marathon is big in New England (day off from school!), big amongst runners, and little more than a blip on the radar screen for everyone else.

But it's more than that.

Prior to the events of last years running, the Boston Marathon participants had raised over 20 million for charity.  Not over the lifespan of the race, but that one day last year alone, that fateful April 15th, the marathon was responsible for over $20,000,000 for causes ranging from pediatric cancer, to the New England Aquarium.  They were running for people like Drexel's own Alex Niles (who writes very well himself, follow the link) and thousands upon thousands - way too many -with stories like his. In the 26 years of the Official Charity Program for the Boston Marathon® over 140 million dollars have been raised for various causes, an epic fundraising achievement.  This year, those numbers are expected to skyrocket.  

Every single person running, or drinking heavily while spectating will know what happened last year.  The names of Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, Martin Richard, and Sean Collier will be etched in the minds of many who knew and cared for them.  ESPN won't stop reminding us and won't mind making a buck off of their memories with their ridiculous Sunday Night Baseball broadcast just prior to the next days 11am first pitch.  ESPN won't win this battle though, nor will the brothers whose names I'm unwilling to mention, no matter how badly Rolling Stone wants to make them rock stars.  The winners of this years race will be the same as they always have been: The Jimmy Fund, Massachusetts General Hospital, stroke research, and children, childrenand more children.  

The day prior to the marathon is Easter Sunday, a time that the Christian Church reminds us all of their guiding values of forgiveness and thanksgiving, of miracles that have occurred and will occur.  Sunday is a time for reflection and gratitude.  Come Monday, there is a choice, watch the coverage, talk about the bombings, do what sells newspapers and TV time.  Alternatively, you can let the people who were hurt so badly last year lead all of us to a better Boston, a better country and a better world, and realize how the good that comes from this race will always beat the evil.  Last year 2,000 runners officially ran for charity, raising 20.8 million dollars.  This year 3,000 runners will run for causes.  With those numbers - with that amount of fundraising - Easter might not be the only miracle that happens this week.  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

For What It's Worth

In the last post on the blog, we broke down Bill Coen's quote on the Dragons year in - year out shooting woes (with the highest readership the blog has ever seen for one post, and it's the offseason, so I'm blown away, thanks as always to all who read/comment).  Today we carry the spirit of that over, with some more math in fun and not very innovative forms.  First, a table!

Is is a surprise that the top four teams on this list all feature
coaches that seem to be thought of as the top tier of the league?

The chart shows two things, one of which we knew from the last post:  Drexel isn't putting its shooters in a position to win.  The second item that jumps out is Mihalich really knows what he's doing at Hofstra.  Looking at Pomeroy, he walked in and built a team from scraps this year that had a higher offensive efficiency than the Dragons did with their 5th and 6th all-time scorers in their senior year.  With a re-stocked team next year and an extra year of eligibility granted for Dion Nesmith, anyone not ranking HU in the conference top three next year is in for a rude awakening.  Put a pin in them and the Tribe at the top of the short list of contenders as we stand today, eight months from the season.

Getting back to Drexel, there's an obvious followup question to last weeks post: How much of an impact did that poor shot selection have?  Here is what the team shot broken down by area of the floor:

Now as an alternative, lets see what would happen if they shot less two point jumpers.  For illustration, I will make the 2-point jumper number down to the national average, with the team attempting 29.3% of their shots from that range.  This will have them attempting 501 2-point jumpers, 137 less than they attempted this year.  I will turn all of these 137 2-point jumpers into 3-point jumpers, both because Drexel would not need to change their offense at all to do this, it should lead to no additional turnovers like trying to get the ball into the paint might, and when all else fails, for the sake of simplicity.

Voila, an extra 31 points, with no changes or added risk to the Drexel offense.  A point a game may not seem like much, until you look at the game results from this year: the Dragons went to overtime four times!  If you want to cherry pick a bit, throw out the out of conference season when the Dragons couldn't hit water from a boat from long range.  Drexel shot 33.2% from three in conference season.  Lets see what happens had the Dragons shot that still not particularly great percentage all year and taken the NCAA average percentage of mid range jumpers:

Using this 3-point percentage, stepping behind the three point line more often is worth more than two points a game.  NB:  The last five losses of the Dragons regular season all came by 2 points or less.

In addition to the shooting percentages, a fantastic piece of work from scholars out at USC, published for the Sloan Analytics Conference shows that midrange jumpers also lead to less offensive rebounds than either shots at the rim or three pointers.  So not only is Drexel dropping their shooting percentage by taking these shots, but it is also hurting their odds of retaining possession on a miss.  A 3% increase in offensive rebounding is an extra possession a game, Drexel averaged 1.04 points per possession this year so go ahead and add another point to their total points not scored.

All in, the Dragons left between 2 to 3 points a game on the floor this year based on shot selection alone.  Points that they did not need to change their offense, to risk a turnover or to get healthier to score.  All they had to do was step behind the three point stripe.  This is an average, and you can't go and add it to each games score and assume they would have won the game, life doesn't work like that, but even if it flips just three of those games down the stretch, suddenly the story going into the tournament is about momentum, maybe they have already beaten NU twice, and the feeling around the team changes going into the tournament.  Instead of being a .500 team, we're talking about a potential 20 win team.

Last week was about quotes from sources inside the game.  Today was about the math that spun-off from it.  Next week, will be the final piece of the end of season wrap.  With highlight, but without comment, the blog leaves you with this:

Drexel vs Northeastern, 3/8/14, Baltimore Arena

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Not Just in Pajamas Anymore

This year Bruiser Flint and his staff paired two of Drexel's all-time top 10 scorers with a top 10 all-time rebounder, put them in the weakest conference they have been in an over a decade and finished .500 in-conference, 16-14 in all competitions.

Not surprisingly, that outcome wasn't appreciated by all, and the expected calls for Bru and assorted staff members' heads started from the pajama brigade.  Anonymous message board posts, e-mails or - God help us - angry blogger(s) , protected by the anonymity of the internet and with no idea how hard it is to run a program, the specific difficulties that a small, private athletic department faces, or having ever played middle school basketball, threw barbs at the program.  Never before has so much been said by people in their parents' basements, except for last year and the year before that.  And the response from the Athletics Department?  The same as last year and the year before that.  Quaking in their boots about comments on the internet, they are not.

Why then is this year not like other years?  What makes this post different than other posts?

It's not just the pajama brigade this time.

Listening to the Drexel/Northeastern broadcast from Boston, Northeastern University broadcaster Alex Faust inadvertently rocked Drexel fans world.  Walking into this, one thing to note is that Bill Coen's press conferences make cardboard seem alive and interesting.  Their predictability makes the sun rising in the morning seem unpredictable.  They surprise in a way that only not winning the lottery can.  Bill Coen attempts to inform as much in his words to the press as UNC athletes want to learn in their "classes."   So when Faust quoted Bill Coen, saying "Drexel would rather take a bad shot that has a chance of going in than make the extra pass that could result in a turnover" it was a surprise.  That Bruiser Flint would unknowingly agree with Coen as he did by saying: “I’m big on taking the shots that are given to you and don’t force anything" is probably better for this blog than it is for the Dragons.  Bill Coen making this statement just before playing the Dragons twice within a one week period makes that quote stunning, and shows how strongly he believes his words.

While digesting the Coen quote, the first thing that to do is prove its authenticity.  The quote is both quickly and easily confirmed by looking at tempo-free stats from the last decade.  The stats show Drexel in the top half of college basketball at avoiding turnovers in nine of the last ten years.  The stats also show the Dragons in the bottom half of effective field goal percentage in eight of those ten seasons.  Making Coen's quote more interesting is that over that same time frame, Drexel has always run one of the slowest tempo offenses in all of college basketball: running the shot clock down time after time, playing in CAA rockfight after rockfight.

If Drexel is using the whole shot clock, but not making the pass that creates a good shot attempt, what exactly are they doing?  

It seems that Bill Coen is not saying that Drexel doesn't pass enough, since they are passing until the shot clock is running down, but rather that Drexel is making the wrong passes.  Perhaps his intent was not to be critical, but in layman's terms, the second-longest tenured CAA Coach is saying that Bru is running bad offense.  And he`s saying it right before going out and ending the Dragons season, beating them in back-to-back games.

Knowing that Coen is correct, one should turn to see what why the offense is suffering.  The worst shot in basketball is the mid-range jumper says just about everyone, including the Wall Street Journal.  This year Drexel took two-point jump shots on 37.3% of their shot attempts.  According to the national average for teams this year was 29.3%.  Bill Coen's Huskies took two-point jumpers only 23.2% of the time, possibly why he feels OK commenting on the Dragons' offense while almost never commenting on anything else.

Re-affirming Coach Coen's beliefs is Bruiser Flint:

“[Canady] played good today, he played good. I told him after the game, I said, '
It’s easy when you make it easy.' ... I told him, 'My man, you’re never going to 
be guarded.' I told him that.   So just be ready to step up and shoot your pull-up jump shot.
Just how overwhelming is the data against this idea?  Here's what happens when you punch in "mid range jumper" to Google:

This is the shot that Drexel coaches have told Frank Elegar, Samme Givens, Major Canady and many others to work on.  This is a shot that they are happy with.  It is the worst shot in basketball.

Leading the way with the mid-range jumper for Flint's squad are Major Canady and Tavon Allen, both of whom took two-point jumpers on 52% of their shot attempts this season, hitting them at an ugly 37% and 39% clip respectively.  Even though Tavon seems to enjoy seeing how off balance he can be when taking these shots, he never gets pulled off the floor like guys like Chris Fouch, Dominic Mejia and Scott Rodgers did when they were young.  And this gets to another complication with the staff.  I've spoken to people who tell me that there was a perception in the locker room, starting 2-3 years ago, that Bru has begun to play favorites.  There was a feeling from inside the room that Coach Flint, once someone who pulled guys like Fouch when they were defensive liabilities, is no longer sticking by his guns in that regard, and that some players can get away with playing bad defense if they are favorites of the head coach.  Much like Coach Coen's comments on the Dragons offense, this player's comments on the defense can be backed up with statistics.  For seven straight years Drexel had a top 100 defense nationally under Coach Flint.  This ended two years ago with a 153 ranking last season and a 106 ranking this season.  In a related story, the Dragons went a combined 29-32 in those seasons.

Much like a player or coach yelling about a foul that needs to be called, none of these issues matter unless the guy in charge sees it.  Unlike a referee though, Dr. Eric Zilmer doesn't need to make an instantaneous call.  He can digest 13 seasons worth of information and do as he sees fit, he has no need to explain his results to the general public.  So it raises an eyebrow when immediately after the Dragons loss to Northeastern in the CAA Tournament, Zilmer parted ways with Drexel University President John Fry, walked over to Drexel boosters and proclaimed loud enough for those nearby to hear "I'm beginning to wonder if it's Bruiser."  Plenty of people have said those words over the last decade plus of the coach's tenure at Drexel, but none of those people sign Bru's paycheck.  That Dr. Zilmer would say this publicly raises more questions than it answers, but it's certainly not a vote of confidence for his highest paid direct report.

A peer, a player, and a supervisor, all commenting on a coach whose teams have vastly under-performed the last two seasons, a coach who is oh for thirteen in achieving his annual goals at the University.  This is a conversation that is no longer being typed by an anonymous individual behind a keyboard, instead elevated to open conversation among groups of people that matter.  The argument can no longer be buried with "they don't know what they're talking about" but must be confronted.  Eric Zilmer knows that the conference season does not need to end with a loss each year, and it doesn't need to end with Bruiser Flint either.  Someone needs to step up.