Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Big 12 Expansion

The Big 12 has finally accepted that they need a conference championship to stay relevant in the Power 5 Conference group.  Unfortunately for them, most of the choice colleges are already locked into the other 4, so as they look to expand, they're picked over some room temperature morsels on a devoured party platter.  So who will they select?   It comes down to metropolitan area/audience (TV contract), quality of football, and potential (future TV contracts).  Here are my odds:

1.  Cincinnati (Even):  Pro - 24th largest metropolitan area in the U.S., and a decent football school with some recent success.  Could provide West Virginia with a local rival.  Basketball team would contribute to an already great basketball conference.  Con - in all reality, what you see with the University of Cincinnati is what you get.  The city isn't growing, and the university isn't suddenly going to be a threat for a national championship.

2.  BYU (4:1 odds):  Pro - probably the most significant football program left available.  National recognition and a national following.  Basketball team would fit nicely as well.  Con - metropolitan area is the 7th largest of the possible expansion schools.  Athletic teams don't play on Sunday.  Already has its own TV network.

3.  Central Florida (9:1):  Pro - located in the 24th largest metropolitan area in the U.S.  The potential for Central Florida's program is higher than any other school, in relation to its current status.  Con - for the first decade, the Big XII will be carrying Central Florida, and if the school does things right will begin to carry its weight...but it will take time.  Location - no really close to anything in the Big 12, and should the ACC/Southeastern Conference decide to expand to 16, a successful Central Florida would make for easy pickings.

4.  Memphis (12:1):  Pro - metropolitan area is decent (42nd), basketball team would be an asset.  Proximity to other schools.   Administration is pumping money into athletics in the hopes of getting picked.  Con - metropolitan area is growing slowly, football team, while great last year, has no history.

5.  Houston (12:1):  Pro - school would love to join its SWC brethren again, much like TCU did a few years back.  TCU forced the Big XII's hand by being the best football program available, and Houston is trying to do the same.  5th largest metropolitan area, largest of all the schools available.  Con - the Big 12 already dominates the TV ratings in Houston, so the only reason they would add Houston is to prevent eventual expansion by the SEC.

6.  U Conn (13:1):  Pro - its location screams NEW YORK.  Could be the premier football program in the tri-state area (sorry, Rutgers).  Desperately wants to get into the Power 5.  Fantastic basketball program.  Con - school really isn't in the New York metropolitan area (Storrs is a part of Hartford, ranked 47th).  School would likely also jump ship to the ACC once successful to renew rivalry with BC, Syracuse, Rutgers.

7.  Boise State (20:1)  Pro - has a history of being the premier outside Power 5 football school, besides TCU.  School has been pumping money into athletics.  Instant rivalry with Baylor over the recent scandals in Waco.  Con - Boise is the 2nd smallest metropolitan area available (81st), and not near any schools in the Big XII, though they could become a rival to BYU.

8.  Fresno State (25:1)  Pro - has a history of being a decent football program.  Gives the Big 12 a foothold in California.  Con - 56th largest metropolitan area in the U.S.

9.  Colorado State (25:1)  Pro - would love to join the Big 12, renew rivalry with BYU (should they join).  Decent football program.  Con - smallest metropolitan area (152nd), University of Colorado would dominate the state if they could get their act together, no matter what CSU does.

10.  San Jose State (30:1) Pro - located in the 11th largest metropolitan area of the U.S.  Gives the Big XII a foothold in California.  Con - area is dominated by Stanford/Cal, and this threat could cause the Pac-12 to come knocking on Texas' door again should they expand.  No significant athletic contribution to the Big XII.

11.  Charlotte (50:1) Pro - 22nd largest metropolitan area.  Con - middle of ACC territory, and would be up for grabs should they become successful.

12.  Hawaii (50:1) Pro - no other conference has any interest in Hawaii.  54th largest metropolitan area.  Get to visit Hawaii, imagine how much fun the conference board meetings would be! Con - travel, travel, travel.

The Smart Move:  if I were the Big XII, I would take 4 teams - BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and Memphis. I think BYU would be a great addition, Cincinnati a natural rival for WVU, Houston to protect its flank from SEC encroachment, and Memphis to balance it out.

The predicted move:  BYU and Cincinnati.  They may try and overreach to U Conn or Central Florida, but that would eventually bite them in the ass.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The NBA Finals

As much as I hate to admit, I listen to Sports Radio...or, more specifically, Mad Dog Sports Radio.  I used to love Mike and the Mad Dog, and so I followed Chris Russo to satellite radio.  The banter between he and Mike was great; on his own, he just frustrates the living heck out of me.

I understand the purpose of sports radio is to infuriate the listener, and encourage them to respond.  Sadly, it's working...but I never have a chance to call in, so I am responding to something I've heard Mad Dog repeat over and over on his radio show...then following it up with an observation I've made over the last few years.  Bear with me.

Chris Russo gives no credit to the basketball champions of this era.  He called the Golden State Warriors the greatest jump-shooting team in NBA history, but that they wouldn't hold a candle to the great champions of yesteryear.  Needless to say, he was gloating a bit when they lost to LeBron's Cavaliers.  He named a few champions that would crush them:  the 72-10 Bulls.  The 85-86 Celtics.  The Showtime Lakers.  The 82-83 76ers.  The 70-71 Bucks.  The 1960s Celtics.

To which I say:  Mad Dog, you're full of it.

Let's start with the 1960s NBA.

1.  Tommy Heinsohn was a fantastic player for the Celtics - he won the 1956-7 Rookie of the Year, was a 6-time All-Star, and was voted to the NBA 2nd Team four years.

He also smoked a couple of packs of cigarettes a day.

Think about that for a second - what level of quality basketball was being played in the 1960s where a 2 pack a day player can be one of the top 10 players in the league?  Would a player with a habit like that even make a roster in today's NBA?  Hell, if LeBron started a habit of Chesterfields today, I'm not sure he could dominate the 35 and over league I play in these days.

2.  How was Heinsohn able to run up and down the court with half a lung working?  Based on the statistics I found on, I reckon it's because it's because no one other than Bill Russell played defense in the 60s.  Here's a chart, comparing a few seasons up to the present:

FG %

A few things of note:

* The differences in shooting percentages between 1961-2 and 1984-5 work out to about 6.5 per game, leaving the 1960s teams still shooting 13 more times a game. 

* Jordan in 1988-89 averaged 32.5/8.0/8.0 (Pts/Reb/Ast).  If there were as many attempts that season as there were in the early 60s, he would've averaged 39.3/9.7/9.7.  Oscar Robertson averaged 31.4/12.5/11.4 in his triple double season.  

* I included the 1984-5 season because I remember it well - my team (the Denver Nuggets) traded away Kiki Vandeweghe before the season to the Portland Trailblazers for Calvin Natt, Fat Lever and Wayne Cooper, all of which started for the Nuggets.  They finished with the #2 seed in the playoffs, and I thought they might give the Lakers a run in the Western Conference finals...only Fat Lever went down with an injury in the semifinals against the Jazz...and that was it.  

* The difference in shooting attempts between last season and the early 60s (subtracting shooting percentage) is over 20 a game.  The only explanation that is reasonable is that there wasn't much defense being played.

* To a certain extent, this trend lasted until the mid to late 1980s.  I remember a ton of offensive-minded forwards in the Western Conference back then who wouldn't know a defensive rebound if it landed in front of them.  Vandeweghe, for instance, never averaged more than 5.6 rebounds a game, and never topped 3.3 after age 26.  

* I hated the Bad Boy Pistons of the late 1980s, and I'm sure many fans (like myself) viewed that team as a "dirty" team...but looking back, I think one reason why there were detested is because they played defense at every position, on every possession, something most players in the league weren't used to.  

* It is no wonder why the NBA had to radically change the rules - shot attempts bottomed out in the early 2000s at around 78 per game.  

3.  Combine this usage of tobacco with the drug culture in the NBA/ABA in the 1970s and 80s, it is hard to accept that the quality and level of playing was equal to what we see today.  

4.  Mad Dog regularly refers to the 1970-71 Bucks, which might be his favorite team.  He constantly says that team could've destroyed the season win record had they cared about it, and would've destroyed the Warrior team of 2015-6.  

He's wrong, and not just because a couple of guys per team were enjoying a win with a Marlboro and a line of cocaine.  The NBA last year was able to draw from a much larger population than in 1970, yet only had 2 more teams (plus a larger roster).

* In 1970, the NBA expanded to 17 teams.

*  The ABA had 11 teams, which meant there were 28 professional basketball teams in 1970, versus 30 last year. 

*  Rosters were 12 players in 1970-71, 15 in there were 450 NBA-level players last year, 336 in 1970-1.  

*  100 players were foreign-born last year.  In 1970, one 1 was:  Tom Meschery, who was born to Russian parents in China, but lived in the United States from age 8 on.  As a result, there were only 350 American basketball players in the NBA last year.

*  The United States had 205.1 million people in 1970, and 320.1 million people in 2015, which means the United States was 36% smaller.  

*  If all things were equal (training, medical, etc.), the United States would have produced 224 NBA caliber talented players in 1970...and yet, an extra 112 earned paychecks in the NBA/ABA.  That in itself suggests the level of talent was lower. 

*  Milwaukee was lucky - they were able to assemble 2 Hall of Famers (including 2 of the top 15 players in history), as well as a couple of other solid regulars.  In a diluted field, it is no wonder they went 66-16.

*  Milwaukee also started the season 26-7, so I really doubt the Bucks were tuned into breaking the record at that time (68-13).  

5.  All of this leads me to believe a couple of things.  If one were to pick a "greatest team", they would need to do the following:

  • Pick a team that played after 1985.
  • Decide how important the salary cap has played in assembling talent.
  • Decide which rules to play under.
I have no doubt the 1985-6 Celtics were a great team, as well as the 1995-6 Bulls...but if there were playing the Warriors using the rules of 2015-6, I'd have to believe the Warriors would win.  Conversely, the Warriors would never survive a 7 game series against either team if they were transported back in time.

But against the 1970-1 Bucks, or the 1962-3 Celtics?  

Warriors in 4.