I grew up watching college basketball games explained by Billy Packer. The game can certainly be enjoyed as a competition between your favorite team and your hated rival, or merely as a display of athleticism, sort of like gymnastics but with a visible scoreboard instead of inscrutable and biased judges. But, if you are a junkie, you want to know what is really transpiring on the court and Billy Packer communicated that insight.
After Billy stepped away from the sidelines, the TV personalities took over—guys like Al McGuire, Bill Raftery and Dick Vitale. These guys were fun, but the insight was superficial. Now we’re back to the nitty-gritty of the game communicated, in particular, by Dan Dakich and Jay Bilas. If you’re a junkie, you want to soak up every word these guys utter into their mics. They’ve gone beyond the detail Billy once gave us. Now you can smell the sweat, sense the fear, anticipate the coaching moves, and appreciate the heroism of the stars who win the games. They are to college basketball what Tony Romo has instantly become to pro football. Maybe it’s a trend in televised sports.
Dan and Jay are truthsayers and truthsayers always cause problems. Many fans don’t want to hear the truth about their favorite teams or favorite players. Many fans don’t want to hear nice things said about their rivals. Many fans only want to hear politically correct color commentary. So, we hear on social media that Dan is biased toward Indiana (where he played) and improbably toward Purdue (simply because it is in the same state or conference?). And, we hear that Jay is an ACC homer (simply because he played in the conference?).
My advice is to think of Jay and Dan as doctors, and your favorite teams as their patients. Patients don’t always want to hear what the doctor has to say—lose weight, exercise, reduce the salt and sugar—but the advice is always factual, and intended to help you (help you understand the game in Dan’s and Jay’s cases).
My one quibble with the “doctors” is that they continue to use obsolete statistics to describe basketball games. Modern doctors use metrics like A1C and Body Mass Index, terms that weren’t known one hundred years ago, and our basketball doctors should use modern metrics as well.
For example, the venerable shooting percentage is miscalculated as shots made divided by shots attempted. This statistic falsely rewards teams for making a lot of layups and dunks at a high percentage while penalizing teams that make a lower percentage of three-pointers, even though the team with lower percentage scored more points from the floor. The team that scored the most points from the floor should have the better field goal percentage and it would if three-pointers were counted as one and a half two-pointers (which is their value). If we divide points scored from the floor by two and use that number as shots made, the resulting percentage—which I call Effective Shooting Percentage—accurately reflects the effectiveness of a team’s shooting from the field.
Rebounds are also misrepresented on a regular basis. The total rebound statistic rewards teams for allowing a lot of shots on their goal—and consequently grabbing a lot of defensive rebounds—which allows the opponent to shoot a lower percentage and yet score more points. The correctly calculated rebound statistic is the combined percentage of available rebounds grabbed under each basket. For instance, Team B misses 33 shots at Team A’s basket and grabs 7 offensive rebounds, leaving Team A with 26 defensive rebounds. Under that basket, Team A has grabbed 78.8% of the available rebounds. On the other end of the floor, Team B limits shot attempts and Team A misses only 24 times. Team A grabs 4 offensive rebounds and Team B grabs 20 defensive rebounds, a percentage of 83.3%. The traditional rebounding statistic would claim that Team A had outrebounded Team B 30 -27. However, Team B grabbed 83.3% of the misses under its own basket and 21.2% of the misses under Team A’s basket for a total of 104.5% of available rebounds. Team A has claimed 78.8% under its own basket and 16.7% of the rebounds available under Team B’s basket for a total of 95.%. Team B actually outrebounded Team A and this will happen when the team that gives up the most shots also gives up more offensive rebounds than it snares under the other basket. This simple principle should be communicated by the “doctors” to the junkies who are concerned about the “patients.”
These metrics and many other interesting factoids about college basketball and the NCAA Tourney are explained in my new book, 128 Billion to 1, and on my Website, www.nemosnumbers.com. This week’s rankings, based upon correctly calculated statistics, can also be found on the Website. This week Duke is still #1, Virginia and Oklahoma are still overrated, and North Carolina and Cincinnati are still underrated by the voting polls.