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Chat: John Gasaway (Basketball)

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday March 20, 2008 12:00 PM ET chat session with John Gasaway (Basketball).


John Gasaway has been covering NCAA hoops all year long. Today, he stops by to chat during the first set of games in the NCAA tournament.

John Gasaway (Basketball): Yo, hoops nation! At last itís here. ďItĒ is The Tournament, driving U.S. office productivity down to borderline French levels since at least the mid-90s. Over the next couple hours Iím going to add my small mite to the unrivalled might of the Tournament and together weíll make dang sure you get absolutely no work done. Weíre here to talk hoops and itís all still in front of us. By Godfrey, I do love it so. Letís tip it off! Whatís on your mind?...

Mark C (California): Which team not named UCLA has the best chance to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament?

John Gasaway (Basketball): That would be last year's vanquished Bruin foe, Kansas.

packerfan0042001 (tampa): who's in your final four?

John Gasaway (Basketball): Why, I thought that was a matter of public record:


Tony Painyas (Detroit ): Pitt ranks 57th in defensive efficiency, which seemingly contradicts their stout defensive play in the Big East tourney. Which D will Pitt bring to the dance this week? Speaking of contradictions, which MSU Spartan team shows up - the one that turns the ball over and can't make a shot or the team that smacked Texas around and blew out Indiana by 30?

John Gasaway (Basketball): Believe that "57," Tony. Before the Big East tournament there was the conference season, where the Panthers did indeed struggle on D. They do, however, score points, especially of late with Levance Fields back in the lineup. (For one thing, they commit fewer turnovers with Fields on the floor.) As for MSU, their offense was second only to Texas A&M's in game-to-game inconsistency this season. They can beat anyone (cf. Texas) but anyone can beat them (see: at Iowa). I'm keeping one eye on the Spartans and Temple, set to tip in a few minutes here.

Or (Dallas): UTA all the way! Am I right?

John Gasaway (Basketball): Finally! Someone recognizes all the hard work and dedication of the Utah Transit Authority. You bet, I say UTA all the way! from Gallivan Plaza to the Sandy Expo Station!

Unless of course you were referring to Texas-Arlington. That's another matter.

In other news, the tournament is about to begin. I'm seeing Greg, Clark, and Seth even as I type. O, the joy.

Paul (San Francisco): I like all the efficiency stats for conference games. However, is there some calculation to take into consideration the varying quality levels of the conferences? I would think there should be some kind of adjustment, right? Thanks.

John Gasaway (Basketball): My redoubtable colleague Mr. Pomeroy has all the schedule-adjusted goodies. In addition, I like to look at the raw info--then you and I can make our own inferences. What's better? An efficiency margin of 0.24 in the Big 12 (Kansas) or a 0.17 in the Pac-10 (UCLA)?

I also like the purely reportorial function these numbers carry: that's what you actually saw this year when you watched the games. The Jayhawks really did score 1.16 points per trip and they really did give up 0.92. You can math those numbers up from there, of course, but that's what transpired between the lines. Good to know.

AllanShuldiner (Long Beach, CA): Iím confused about coaching decisions when a key player gets in foul trouble. Picking up fouls is somewhat random, as one does not know when the player will pick up their next foul. It seems that the best way to win is to maximize the key playerís time on the court, while giving him enough rest to remain effective. When the key player picks up a 2nd/3rd foul early in the game, the coach will bench him, and reinsert him later, hoping the player can go the rest of the way without fouling out. Sometimes that player does not foul out, and that player could have played additional minutes. Does the reward of guaranteeing that key player available at the end (as opposed to just potentially available) outweigh the definite drawback of having the player play fewer minutes?

John Gasaway (Basketball): Yeah, the two-foul first-half automatic benching has often struck me as one of the last remaining shreds of unreconstructed superstition in hoops. Note for instance the belief that it's somehow catastrophic if a player picks up his third foul before halftime. Foul trouble's not a good thing, don't get me wrong, but in a 40-minute game what earthly difference does it make if that third foul comes in the 19th minute of play or the 21st?

Caveat: when a player's in foul trouble the other team does tend to start jumping in to him. Still, assuming we're talking about a star here, I'd like to see more coaches just go zone and tell their player: don't charge.

Steve (North Dakota): Hey John. In the NCAA tourney previews, Kansas State is listed as having a better than expected chance of winning their region. How much of that is directly attributable to Michael Beasley?

John Gasaway (Basketball): I would say 98.43 percent. No, wait, make that 98.41. Anyway, one could make a case that no team in the country had a better month than the Wildcats did in January. That month and that player are why their numbers still look so good, even after a swoon in February and, so far, March.

The concern for K-State is outside Mr. Beasley's area of responsibility: the men from Manhattan comprised the Big 12's worst perimeter defense in conference play.

In other news, Xavier 5, Georgia 2.

tycobb (ga): how many points does georgia win by?

John Gasaway (Basketball): Cool. The first question where real-time events are of some use. I need to look into this a little more deeply (i.e., for the first time) but my memory is that big underdogs who've gone on magical runs in their conference tourneys don't do real well in the NCAAs. Certainly that was the case with Syracuse in '06 and Iowa in '01. That being said, Xavier has to be thinking: this is what we get for a 14-seed?

Xavier 8, Georgia 4.

Jacob (Montreal): Who are your favorite and least favorite broadcasters? (I know you don't like Packer, so you can name someone else if you want)

John Gasaway (Basketball): I like the Sean McDonough, Bill Raftery, Jay Bilas team a lot. Rick Majerus as an announcer wasn't everyone's cup of tea but I really liked him--I'd even watch games I wouldn't otherwise choose just because he was announcing.

The thing with Packer is that it's impossible to view him apart from the incredible J. Edgar Hoover-length hammerlock he's had on the most coveted announcing gig in college hoops. I find that when I run across him doing ACC games on Jefferson Pilot, I don't find him nearly as maddening.

jphan44 (nyc): john what are your thoughts on arizona, i think with everyone healthy they have the talent to make a deep run but they didn't play well down the stretch

John Gasaway (Basketball): Absolutely they have talent and Bayless is amazing. But it's striking how lifeless both the teams suffering from coaching drama--AZ and Indiana--have looked the past couple weeks. Yes, Michigan in 1989 is always cited here as the counter-example. Then again that was almost 20 years ago.

Owen (NJ): Should St. Joe's survive Oklahoma, what's the blueprint for how they'd beat Louisville?

John Gasaway (Basketball): Make your threes and make the Cards miss theirs. (Louisville does shoot a lot of threes but they made less than 34 percent in-conf.) Also note that a zone shouldn't hurt you too much against the 'Ville on your defensive glass, since the Cardinals don't really go for offensive boards anyway.

Pitino's team is so tough on D, I just can't see St. Joe's winning this game inside the arc. Then again I said the same thing about George Mason against UConn in '06.

TGisriel (Baltimore): Do you have any favorite nuggets of information for each of the #1 seeds?

John Gasaway (Basketball): Hmm, "nuggets of information." Let's see....

Kansas: scarily balanced. Outstanding on both offense and defense and pretty much everyone contributes something to both.

North Carolina: Talented and fast but disciplined. Williams put those qualitites together at Kansas and he's done it in Chapel Hill.

Memphis: I love what Calipari does with Dorsey within the DDM offense: Joey, just worry about offensive boards. So simple yet so innovative.

UCLA: They've chosen to attack the offensive glass this year (something of a heresy for a good defensive team). And it's worked.

B Stevens (Indy): Your ratings, applied to a bracket, come out pretty chalk. Is there anything in your statistics, such as a mismatch in tempo, that helps predict when your ratings are going to be upset?

John Gasaway (Basketball): Yo, yo, Indy neighbor. Just common sense, I guess. To return to Kansas State for a second, they look beautiful on paper largely because of their January. Well, it ain't January anymore. For my part, I use things like efficiency margins as supplements and not subsitutes for my eyes.

jphan44 (nyc): tennesse or north carolina? that was the hardest game to pick for me in the bracket

John Gasaway (Basketball): Oy, that would be fun to watch. You know, it could be like the game Ohio State played in Chapel Hill in November of '06, a game where neither team's afraid to get out and go.

The thing that would concern me as a Volunteer fan would be Tennessee's excellent perimeter D and mediocre defensive rebounding. Because UNC doesn't shoot threes and they are outstanding on the offensive glass.

Mark (Milwaukee): Can Marquette get to next weekend? The twin towers at Stanford concern me (if MU is even able to beat Kentucky).

John Gasaway (Basketball): Yeah, when I first saw the bracket I thought it was kind of brutal to Tom Crean. One would think that outscoring Big East opponents by 0.08 points a trip would net you a better reward in the second-round than 14 feet of the Lopez family.

Then again, Stanford fans, at least the ones that email me, tend to be leery of small quick teams. Teams like Marquette. First things first, though. Get that far.

Sick Guy (Madison): John, there seems to be a lot of love amongst the talking heads about USC... talk some sense, man, UW is gonna be in the sweet 16, right? Right??

John Gasaway (Basketball): Yeah, the piece I did on the "Amy Winehouse factor" had SC front and center. Basically, no other major-conference team was so erratic on both sides of the ball. The Trojans' offense and their defense both showed mad wacky variation from game to game. Meaning you can understand the love amongst the talking heads--they're remembering the peaks (e.g., winning at UCLA). There have also been valleys, however. Can a team that's so inconsistent really win three or more tournament games? Guess we'll see.

As for the Badgers read on....

(At the half: Michigan St. 35, Temple 26.)

Edgedevan (Toronto): What's your opinion of Wisconsin? Ken Pomeroy chose them for his national champion, and they are ranked very highly by the tempo-independent measures. I wonder if they have enough depth to make a long run, something that might not have hurt them in the Big Ten as much. Do you think they have what it takes?

John Gasaway (Basketball): My opinion of Wisconsin is two-fold:

1. They are consistently and systematically underrated by our eyes. A lot of their defense comes from defensive rebounding and a lack of foul calls. A lot of their offense comes from a lack of turnovers. None of the above make one go, "Wow, great play!" when you see it in real time.

2. They have been less successful against quick teams. The win at Texas is the spectacular exception to this rule. Past that there was the loss at Duke, the loss at home to Marquette, and two losses to Purdue.

As for Ken choosing the Badgers to win it all, I was there when he made his choice. Don't tell him you got this from me but he threw a dart at a bracket, blindfolded. He almost had Cal State-Fullerton going all the way.

Brian H (Toledo): To what would you attribute Michigan State's schizophrenia (on again, off again) -- or perhaps its failure to consolidate as the season went on after beating Texas and coming so close with UCLA? It's easy to point out turnovers, etc., but they're schizo on that, too.

John Gasaway (Basketball): Truly, that is the 64 dollar question. If I knew how to make any team non-schizo I would be in high demand. (I know Tim Floyd would want my services.)

You're right that it's not just turnovers. Their shooting's been highly inconsistent too. Tell you what, how 'bout I turn this question into a tease for the book? (The 2008-09 College Basketball Prospectus, by Ken and John. In stores October 28!). Inconsistency is something I've been planning to take a closer look at.

MarinerDan (san francisco): Are people making a mistake by assuming that Davidson is going to beat Gonzaga? Fear Heytvelt!

John Gasaway (Basketball): If people are making a mistake there it's because the country has a "Gonzaga" in its brain that doesn't necessarily jibe with current reality. The Zags play some D now. Austin Daye's an excellent dual threat on D: he blocks shots and he gets defensive boards. Pretty fair on offense, too--when he stays away from turnovers and out of foul trouble.

OK, 15-minute warning. Get those questions in now, folks!

Jason (Columbus): Watching this X-Georgia game is unreal. Georgia is playing legitimately outstanding ball in all facets of the game. How uncommon is it for a BCS school (or any team, I suppose) to get what for lack of a better term I shall call a bug up their ass and play at a level so far above what we're accustomed to seeing?

John Gasaway (Basketball): This chat has now lasted long enough for me to have been proven wrong. Not that that takes a long time.

Yup, the Bulldogs are up 10 with 15 to play. It is very uncommon, Jason. The crippling deficiency with Brown-less, Mercer-less pre-March 13 UGA was that they couldn't score. Then they go out and drop 97 on Ole Miss in the SEC tourney to get this whole roll started. They won by two and haven't looked back. Incredible.

X-Men (X-World): We're in a whole heap of trouble!

John Gasaway (Basketball): I don't know, it's getting tighter. (UGA 46, Xavier 40, 12 to go.) Here's the Bill James impregnable lead calculator:


I'll be using this throughout the tournament.

fireorlime (Baltimore, MD): I have Mississippi State beating Memphis in the second round. Am I crazy?

John Gasaway (Basketball): Not at all. That could be a great game of strength on strength. The Tigers make their twos but Jarvis Varnado is a pretty good counter there.

Steve (North Dakota): Tell me you're just going to sit on your computer and chat all day. please.

John Gasaway (Basketball): Wouldn't it be nice.

Nope. Gotta scoot in just a few minutes here. Couple more questions then we're done.

MarinerDan (san francisco): Can Washington State's Low/Weaver/Rochestie guard trio put a scare into North Carolina?

John Gasaway (Basketball): Speaking of strength on strength. The Cougars are the slowest-paced major conference tournament team in the brackets. They will make Carolina play half-court. I don't think that will freak out the Heels, necessarily, but it will definitely give them their opportunity to win slow, should the game come to pass.

If it does come to pass, watch for lots of references in advance of that game to UNC's Elite Eight loss last year to slow-paced Georgetown. I'm not sure I'll buy the comparisons. The Hoyas were slow but they were also very large.

John Gasaway (Basketball): That'll do it for me, on this the best day of the sports year. Georgia's lead is down to four. Kansas is cruising. Michigan State is up by 18 on Temple. Off to take it all in. Happy brackets to all!

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