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Chat: John Gasaway

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday March 26, 2009 12:00 PM ET chat session with John Gasaway.


The tourney swings into high gear as we move towards the regional semifinals and finals, so be sure to tune in and catch up with John Gasaway to sort out who will be in the Final Four, and why.

John Gasaway: Yo, Hoops Nation! We are now down to 16. And by that I mean we’re down to 16 returning minutes coming back for Iowa in 2009-10. Har! No, what is up with that, really? I’m sure we’ll be touching on weird things in Iowa City, weighty charges following Connecticut all the way to the Arizona desert, and why on earth articles are being written asking whether an excellent Oklahoma offense will be able to score against an average Syracuse defense. Let’s hit ‘em all! Talk to me!

Laurent (DC): John, It may not be a popular question, but was wondering why the women's tempo-free stats were not available anywhere (or are they?). Their tournament is really interesting though I have some issues, for instance the sites for the first 2 rounds (#1 Duke lost to #9 Michigan State on the Spartans floor). Tempo-free statisticians are 'avant-gardist', so why not also with women's college basketball?

John Gasaway: I have no idea why not and my ignorance there is both total and inexcusable. Note that my colleague Kevin Pelton was flashing some impressive knowledge of the women's game in Unfiltered this week. At least I think he was. He could have been making it all up and I wouldn't know.

Trevor (Austin TX): Will the Dukies be in the Final for and why. Thanks

John Gasaway: I might not be ready to go that far, but I have to tell you their chances look better to me now than when I picked Pitt. In their last three games the Panthers have: been beaten by 14 by West Virginia; struggled to defeat East Tennessee State; struggled to outscore Oklahoma State. Somebody kidnapped that entire team sometime before March 12, and Jamie Dixon would like them back.

Zennith (Iowa City): Duke and Villanova. Everyone's saying that Nova has better guard play, and I just don't see it that way. What's your take?

John Gasaway: Maybe if you consider Gerald Henderson a center. Otherwise I'd call it even. As for the game I'm on the record as fretting about the Blue Devils' ability to play D against the ‘Cats. Not that duke won't score some points themselves, of course.

luis (NYC (but my heart is in Durham)): You mention of Jon Scheyer: "Why on earth do teams foul him so often?" Two things pop to mind: one, he's unusually skilled at various fakes that trick defenders into fouling him as they fly past. Two, the team is good at getting him the ball in close end-of-game situations, which Duke seems to have had an exceedingly high number of this year. Unfortunately, I've got no stats to back those intuitions up. Do you think there is any chance we'll get good stats of that sort in the future, like NBA teams (and I assume some college coaches) apparently keep internally?

John Gasaway: In terms of good stats, the NBA has it easy with just 30 teams. Play-by-play (hereafter PBP) data's no problem. College is another ball of wax entirely. I know of at least one major-conference game this season that didn't have an official box score, or at least not one that was ever released. I'll file an FOI request. My point is the NBA will always have better info. We should see our own glass as half-full, though. People talk about college hoops much differently and, for my biased money, better than they did just three or so seasons ago.

fsumatthunter (Tallahassee): I had to go to class so I couldn't clarify last week, but when I said if Memphis lost I wouldn't use advanced metrics for my bracket again, it was not because without the stats I would have not picked them. It is that I have them going much further because of the stats.

John Gasaway: Makes sense. Anyway, the Tigers looked much more like I thought they would look against Maryland. We'll see which team shows up against Missouri.

Speaking of Memphis....

tiptonhr (Knoxville, TN): John - I realize that this question should be posed to Ken, but you are the one chatting so here goes: How did the log5 odds for Memphis to win it all go down so much between the start of the tournament and now? Ken's column mentioned that their odds took a hit on "a shaky first-round game and a strengthening field" but I wouldn't think the strengthening field would make much of a difference - all the teams alive right now were alive last week too. Did the CS-Northridge game really make that much of an impact on Memphis' chances of winning it all?

John Gasaway: Actually who your opponent's going to be drives your probability in a pretty robust way. Anyway, I passed your question along to the K-Man. Straight from the horse's gob:

"In the initial analysis, there was a decent chance Memphis wouldn't have to face Missouri. There was a better chance than now they could avoid UConn in the elite 8, too. And the chances have gone up that they'll face a very tough team in the semifinals and finals as well."

Make sense?

Ted (Gainesville): Does this year finally kill the whole notion that second tier teams at major conferences are vastly superior to first tier teams at mid-majors? I mean, shouldn't they take a second team from the MVC before a seventh from the ACC?

John Gasaway: I think this year's tournament would have to be labeled merely "inconclusive" on that score, as mediocre major-conference teams and scrappy mid-majors alike were laid low by the Powers that Be. If there was a year that killed this particular whole notion, it was 2006.

Though of course Cleveland State will always have Wake Forest to remember. Western Kentucky beating Illinois was probably less impressive but still notable.

William S. (Chapel Hill, NC): Should I pay any attention at all to the matchup between UNC and Gonzaga in the 2006-2007 season?

John Gasaway: I doubt it. Back then Gonzaga was still very much in their Defense Optional stage. Now they D it up pretty good. Or did, until they ran into the feisty Hilltoppers from Bowling Green, KY.

Andy (Chicago): Now that we're seeing the post-March 12th Pitt, which of the following would cause their potential downfall tonight: An inability to force turnovers from Xavier's much-maligned PGs, Xavier holding its own on the boards, Xavier getting a ton of FTs (and actually making them for a change), or Blair getting into foul trouble?

John Gasaway: Taking it from the top, I vote "nein!" to inability to create turnovers. They will indeed be unable to create turnovers but that's been their style all year.

But your point about the boards is the heart of the matter. Should be a great collision. Xavier's one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country. Pitt is Pitt, Blair is Blair. You might have heard they're pretty good (and by "pretty" I mean "historically") good on the offensive glass.

As for the rest, Pitt was actually strangely hacktastic against ETSU. (Not against Okla. St.) But Dixon won't allow Blair to get in foul trouble. He'll just have him not cross half-court if need be, but the Panthers need Blair from here on out. There are no easy opponents left.

ed bauski (walnut junction): Iowa basketball seems stuck in a terminal spiral. Indiana roots seem to be fatal when plunged into Iowa City soil. Bigger question - what would be the impact of a style of play contrary to the other league members? Trying to play like all the others, constrained and pounding, doesn't seem to work.

John Gasaway: If one's attitude during a coaches' teleconference is a window to the soul, Lickliter is a good soul. The default coach demeanor on these things is usually much more Charlie Weis: I'm far more important and way busier than you, I don't want to do this, you can't possibly understand the true intricacies of basketball anyway, let me do my ten minutes and go. Lickliter, on the other hand, is happy to be there, he listens to you, and he knows his stuff.

So I'm surprised and saddened for him if indeed things are imploding in Iowa City the way it looks like they are. I also wonder sometimes about the material we peddle here at Prospectus, and whether players and recruits knowing for a measurable fact that Iowa really is the slowest-paced major-conference team in the country plays a role in their discontent. Such was not my intention when I started said peddling, but, hey, the information is what it is.

As far as zagging stylistically when the rest of your conference zigs, that can work when it's sprung as a surprise but the key variable is of course how well you play your chosen style. I am on the record as thinking more stylistic pluralism would be good for the Big Ten.

G&G (Illinois): A quote from The Fine Print in this week's SI: Billy Packer is having trouble adjusting to retirement. He spent the first round of the NCAAs criticizing the rotation of his microwave. Your reaction?

John Gasaway: I hope he's enjoying his retirement. I am. (Hi-yo!)

No, I actually find myself watching games sometimes and musing that "Packer would have noticed X." He really really liked to talk match-ups and there were times when he was correct to do so. I just thought that someone whose personality is even less likable than Barry Bonds' was kind of a bad match for the best sporting event of the year.

Though what he and Coach Knight said about the Big Ten on Selection Sunday was kind of silly.

Jacob (Atlanta): The Pomeroy ratings think Gonzaga has a legitimate shot tomorrow night. The oddsmakers say UNC is 8.5 points better. What do the Gasaway ratings say?

John Gasaway: Actually 8.5 points sounds like a legitimate shot to me, kind of like Cleveland State had a legitimate shot against Wake. Anyway the Gasaway human agrees with the Pomeroy human, who if I was reading his prose body language correctly in his Tuesday post was warning folks about taking his rating too literally in this instance. I like Carolina, particularly if Lawson has a healthy big toe.

Tim (Tampa): Have you guys thought about doing a performance based recreation of how you thought the 65 teams should have been seeded thanks to their tournament play? I.E. Arizona was a 12 seed, but thanks to their play in the tournament, they are playing more like a 4 or 5 seed.

John Gasaway: That would be interesting, maybe even more so in a less chalky year. I'm still not sold on Arizona, though. Yes, the Wildcats are here and alive and I congratulate them. But, as I said at some point this week, to get here they beat, by my lights, the third best team in the Mountain West (whose best player picked up two fouls before the first TV timeout) and then Cleveland State.

Mark (DC): Dear Mr. Etymology, what are the origins of calling a basketball "the rock" and basketball players "cagers"? Also, Michigan State has a better road, vs. top 25, and neutral court record, and also a better record in close games. Can we infer from this that Kansas is the more likely team to wilt under the pressure of the tournament (he says hopefully)?

John Gasaway: Finally! The chat's first Ask Mr. Etymology! Thanks, Mark!

OK chat spectators, you know how this works. The question is asked and you start hunting. Me, I'm too busy chatting. Last week we tracked down "cute as a button." Now Mark needs help with "cagers," which is something 1920s Sports Guy definitely would say. ("Rock" seems like it would be much more recent.) Go to it!

I don't think Kansas will wilt--old fogeys Collins and Aldrich certainly won't--but it's entirely possible that they just don't play that well, as in their opening round game in the Big 12 tournament against Baylor. Which reminds me: how cool would it be for Izzo just to show zone on the first defensive possession? Won't happen, of course, but KU would collectively fall to the floor in the fetal position. When I'm a coach I will always be pulling junk like that.

Dexter Fishmore (NYC): Regarding the Hilltoppers, I note that last year as well, they went for over a point per possession in the tournament against a team (UCLA) with a national top-five defense. Perhaps it's something about their offensive system that catches unfamiliar opponents off-guard.

John Gasaway: I think it's their uniforms. They're quite vibrant on TV. Not quite orange yet not quite red. If they're ever the higher seeded team and have to wear their home whites, El Foldo. You heard it here first.

Zennith (Iowa CIty): If Iowa is in a downward spiral right now, do they have any current player who might lead the way out of it? Gatens?

John Gasaway: Better be Gatens. I don't know who else will be left. Tell you what, right now Lickliter is thanking his lucky stars that Gatens' dad played at Iowa and Matt was apparently sporting Hawkeye apparel from birth.

fireorlime (Baltimore, MD): Hi John, and thanks for the chat. I'm a college hoops noob with little historical knowledge of the sport, so it's always refreshing to read your work. Ken wrote this in a recent article while discussing Pitt's less-than-inspiring game against ETSU: "Close calls in the first round are historically an indicator of weakness for a one-seed." In your most recent article, you wrote of Pitt and its early-round struggles: "Keep in mind the numbers for a one-seed should actually improve during the first weekend of the tournament, as the top seed fattens up on a 16 and the winner of the 8-9 game." Pitt obviously didn't fatten up, but here are a couple of questions based on your/Ken's words: (1) Off the top of your head, what's the closest a 16 seed came to upsetting a 1? How did that affect that 1 seed that year? (2) In your mind, is Ken's statement true? What kind of precedent exists for 1 seeds stumbling after struggling against a 16?

John Gasaway: It's true that the one-seeds who suffered the most notorious close calls against 16s did not go on to make the Final Four. Those close calls, however, are now rather old and dusty: Georgetown beat Princeton by one in 1989, Michigan State was taken to OT by Murray State. (Georgetown did at least make the Elite Eight. MSU lost by one to Georgia Tech in the Sweet 16.) Then again the best counter-example is Illinois in 1989 (something about those two years, I'm telling you). The Illini beat McNeese State by just six but then got it together and made it to the Final Four.

dianagramr (NYC): Ther term 'cagers' comes from the early days of professional basketball leagues when the games were played within a wire or rope cage to separate the crowd from the court and to speed up action by always keeping the ball in bounds.

John Gasaway: Makes intuitive sense; do we have confirmation? And by "confirmation" I of course mean: someone sometime typed it on the internet, therefore it must be true.

Dexter Fishmore (NYC): I hate to puncture your elegant theory about WKU in their away "reds," but they actually wore home whites in the second round last year (vs. San Diego) and did just fine.

John Gasaway: I will not have my elegant theory doubted! The theory is sound! It works for me!

Call me true empiricist.

Greg (Mount Vernon): If Duke makes it to the elite eight, who would they rather face, Xavier or Pitt? Before the tournament I would certainly have said Xavier, but right now I'm not so sure. Duke's beaten Xavier already this year, but that doesn't mean much to me, they beat Michigan before being beat by them as well.

John Gasaway: Wow, you're the bizarro me, Greg! Before the tournament I certainly would have said "Pitt." The way the Panthers have played in their last three games, however, has given me pause, as I say somewhere up near the top of this very chat. Yes, you're right. Having beaten a team before doesn't mean much. Unless of course you're Michigan State in 2000 about to play Wisconsin yet again.

Mark (Milwaukee): I recently heard an interview with Buzz Williams and was amazed at how much statistical info he both had and was willing to share. Things like Team A shoots X% in the first 15 seconds of the shot clock, X% in the middle ten and X% in the final 10 or when they run a play to the left they score on X% of their possesions. Is this kind of stuff common and just not shared or is Buzz doing things differently?

John Gasaway: Funny you should ask. Just this week I got a note from the gentleman who moderated the post-game press conferences in Boise last weekend and he said the exact same thing with regard to Williams, who reportedly was spouting efficiencies and possessions like a regular Basketball Prospectus devotee. Apparently the first-year coach is indeed doing things differently. Go Buzz!

As younger coaches cycle into bigger jobs, I would expect we will see more sound bites like this. Note however that it's not just when you were born. One of the most dogged major-conference holdouts against any information that's not gathered by simply watching a game is a mere 30-something.

dianagramr (NYC): Well ... SOMEONE must have typed this ... for some reason. :-) http://www.capitalcentury.com/1900.html The downtown Masonic Temple hosted the historic event by converting its third-floor banquet hall into a home court. By this time, the peach baskets used by Naismith's first basketballers had given way to portable hoops with cloth netting. But the balls themselves were lumpy, leathery, pumpkin-sized spheres. And the nets had no hole at the bottom — so after every score, an official had to poke the ball out of the net with a long pole. The court was also ringed by something new to basketball — a 12-foot, chain-link "cage" separating players from fans. "The Trentons had conceived the idea that a cage would make the game faster by stopping all out-of-bounds delays," wrote Marvin Riley, the referee at that historic game. "That cage was an object of both interest and sarcasm for a long time. It was called 'Trenton's monkey cage.'" By the 1920s, the cage had been phased out of the game. Still, headline writers fell in love with the word as a synonym for basketball, and players are sometimes still called "cagers." When introduced, the cage made pro basketball a rough sport as players engaged in hockey-style body checks against the wire. Frenzied fans would stick hatpins and lit cigars through the cage and into opposing player's flesh.

John Gasaway: Woo! Dianagramr, you rule!

Roger (Boston): Has any research been conducted about the factors that contribute to home court advantage? I've talked with several people who complained about Duke, UNC and Villanova advancing after playing games close to their campuses, but I have trouble understanding why playing in unfamiliar arenas (not completely unfamiliar in Nova's case) is considered a huge advantage.

John Gasaway: The Wall Street Journal, whose sports section has quickly become must reading (and no I'm not just saying that because they invite me to contribute on occasion--but that doesn't hurt), had a killer piece a couple weeks back pointing out that men's college basketball has the highest home winning percentage of any sport. And I do mean any sport, because they looked at sports in other countries.

That being said, I think the atmosphere for a tournament game at an arena that is close to the campus of the favored team is nowhere near the atmosphere in that team's home arena. The Wachovia Center didn't seem particularly loud or wild to me. The one possible exception that comes to mind is Allstate Arena in Chicago for Illinois in the 2005 Elite Eight. That was a near-home atmosphere and Arizona suffered the consequences.

Ted (California): John, Are we seeing the demise of West Coast or Pac-10 basketball? What I mean is: with lack of TV coverage of west coast games and lack of major media markets - out of sight, out of mind, basically - does left coast basketball have a chance to catch up to the east coast teams? It seems like they're falling further and further behind. Ted

John Gasaway: No, left coast basketball is fine. My goodness, the NBA lottery last June was practically a Pac-10 freshman and sophomore reunion. UCLA dipped this year and no one in the Pac-10 was ready to fill that void, but long term the state of California alone will continue to pump out enough talent to stock that league and several others.

That being said, I do think being restricted to merely the occasional cameo on ESPN does the Pac-10's teams no favors in terms of perception and, more crucially, seeding come March. The key test will be if there's a non-UCLA team that becomes good suddenly--will they get the pub?

Tim (Chicago): I am coming a bit late to this party but I wanted to touch on the differences between your log5 method and the line set in Vegas. Several games, Gonzaga vs. UNC, and MSU vs. KU in particular there is a difference of 5+ points between the line and log5. No disrespect to log5 but it is hard for me to believe that Vegas is off by that much. So what kinds of tests have you done to see how accurate log5 is? It is more accurate that Sagarin's pure points? What kind of tweaks could be added to log5 to improve it in the future?

John Gasaway: We here in these parts would sooner ask what improvements can be made to Vegas to bring it in line with basketball reality. Truthfully, those two entities are merging with notable speed. Soon there will be no such discrepancies.

OK, two-minute warning. Get those questions in now! (Abbreviated version of my usual marathon chat today. Have to get my ducks in a row for four consecutive days of watching, analyzing, and posting. It's what you readers have come to expect!)

Greg (Mount Vernon): I have to clarify. I mistyped, I meant to say that before the tournament I'd have much rather faced xavier and not wanted to play pitt. Just sayin.

John Gasaway: Got it. Thanks.

Colin (Chicago): Suicide pool question - who would you take if you had to choose a winner each day (can't pick the same team twice) the rest of tourney? Thanks.

John Gasaway: The morning after the national championship game I'm going to climb a tree outside NCAA headquarters and live there Berkeley-style until the charge semi-circle is added to the college floor. Of course you wouldn't think you'd need something so contrived. We should simply be able to tell refs: don't call a foul as idiotic as a charge that takes place directly under the basket. But apparently the painted line is needed.

Colin in Chicago: email me. Click on the contact link at the bottom of any of my pieces on the main page.

John Gasaway: That's going to do it for me, fellow cagers. Four great games tonight, four more tomorrow. Not a bad time of year. Enjoy and come back next week with me and talk it over. Bye.

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