The Sports Report

A Statistical Take on Sports and Politics

The Boots (March 25, 2009)

Boot Up: Connecticut Huskies – The Connecticut Huskies came into this year’s NCAA Tournament as the least likely #1 seed to win the national championship at only 7.07%. Through two games in the tournament, the Huskies without starting junior guard Jerome Dyson and even without Coach Jim Calhoun for one game, managed to erase many of those previous doubts. In the regular season, the Huskies were clearly dominant and one of the best teams in the country, but disappointing big game losses at home against Georgetown and Pittsburgh, in Pittsburgh and in the Big East conference tournament against Syracuse gave Louisville the #1 overall seed in the tournament and in the conference overall. These disappointing affairs and the recent injury of Dyson combined to give the Huskies an only 61.48% chance of even making the Sweet 16.

What a difference a week makes, however, and with their two dominant wins over Chattanooga and Texas A&M, the Huskies are playing some of the best basketball in the nation. Their 36-point margin of victory over the #9 seeded Aggies in the second round was by far and away the biggest margin of victory on either Saturday or Sunday, with Villanova’s 20-point win over UCLA coming in second place. In addition, in their victory over the #16 seed Southern Conference champion Chattanooga Mocs, the Huskies went on a mind-blowing fourteen and a half minute, 46-5 run after a relatively slow start to the game. In post-season play, including their loss to Syracuse, they are averaging a victory of the margin of 84.67 to 64.00 per forty minutes of play.

One huge reason why Connecticut is doing so much better recently is the improved all-around play of junior forward Stanley Robinson since the loss of Dyson. Before Dyson’s injury, for the entire season the 6-9 Robinson was averaging 13.40 points and 9.16 rebounds per 40 minutes of play and received 19.63 minutes of playing time per game. In his last nine games, Robinson is now average 16.00 points and 10.71 rebounds per 40 minutes of play and received 31.11 minutes of playing time per game. The Huskies already have three potential NBA players in 7-3 junior center Hasheem Thabeet, 6-7 senior forward Jeff Adrien and 6-2 senior guard A.J. Price, and the emergence of Robinson has made them a very, very dangerous team. Their odds of winning the championship are now 10.34%, making them a more likely national champion than the much more popular picks of Pittsburgh and North Carolina.

Boot Up: Cleveland Cavaliers in the East – Do you remember Christmas Day 2008? Hard to imagine that it was already three months ago already, but this day will go down in history for a very special reason in the NBA. With a constant year and a half stranglehold on the entire NBA, the 27-2 Boston Celtics came into the Staples Center in Los Angeles to take on the 23-5 Lakers. Meanwhile in Cleveland, the 24-4 Cavaliers had the extreme pleasure of hosting their former rivals, the 4-22 Washington Wizards. As the story goes, the Lakers hold on to beat the Celtics by nine, the Cavaliers survive an incredibly ugly game to win by four, and the season continues unsuspectingly. Shockingly and pretty much without warning, the Boston Celtics began their downfall on this very day, and including this loss in Los Angeles are now an unimpressive 27-16 in their last 43 games.

Including the results on Christmas Day, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers are both 33-9 in their last 42 games. In addition, the Orlando Magic are 30-12, the San Antonio Spurs are 28-14, the Utah Jazz are 27-13, the Houston Rockets (more on them later) are 28-15, the Denver Nuggets are 27-15, and the Portland Trailblazers are 26-15. This shows how since Christmas Day, there are a total of eight teams that are ahead of or tied with the Boston Celtics, unlike their incredible and historic 27-2 start to the season. With only 12 games remaining in the season for the Cleveland Cavaliers they have virtually won the Eastern Conference regular season title and the home-court advantage that comes with it because of their current four game lead over the Celtics and five game lead over the Magic.

According to the very interesting Web site http://www.sportsclubstats.com, the Cavaliers currently have a 98.271% chance of winning the Eastern Conference title. This is a huge advantage, regardless of our current race with the Los Angeles Lakers for the overall best record, because the home team has won the previous 17 match-ups between the Boston Celtics and Cavaliers. In addition, this means that the Celtics will likely have to play the Detroit Pistons in the first round, a team that has made the Eastern Conference Finals for six consecutive seasons, and then play the upstart and very talented Magic in the second round. It finally looks like the Eastern Conference will be going through Cleveland in 2009, and as long as the Cavaliers can maintain their recent fearless style of play they will only have to protect their home-court in the tense months of May and June.

Boot Down: Tracy McGrady – When I think of the words Tracy McGrady, I normally think of these three components to his biography 1) used to play for a very bad Toronto Raptors squad, 2) came out of high school like LeBron, and 3) is still one of the best players in the NBA. These are three facts that were commonplace in the league for years, as T-Mac was without a doubt one of the premier superstars in the entire league. He has placed in the top eight of MVP voting seven times, including #8 last season, and is a seven-time member of the All-NBA first, second or third-team including a third-team finish last season. On the resourceful Web site http://www.basketball-reference.com they have a statistic measuring Hall of Fame probability and McGrady ranks tenth among active players with a 97.82% chance of eventually making the Hall of Fame. Yet, despite all of this, something very strange is going on in Houston, Texas these days.

Tracy McGrady, now 29 years old and in his twelfth year in the NBA, is out for the season after only playing 35 games for the Rockets this year. He underwent micro-fracture knee surgery back in February and will be out for 6-12 months, possibly ending his five-year stay with the Houston Rockets franchise entirely. Surprising to many since McGrady played his final game on February 9, the Rockets are 16-5 and have caught up to San Antonio in the race for second place in the Western Conference. Without any further ado, here is a look at Tracy McGrady’s career statistics:

Tracy McGrady's Career Statistics

Tracy McGrady's Career Statistics

When analyzing these numbers, it is first most important to point out the obvious facts: Tracy McGrady is not the same player he was during his time in Orlando. During those years, in between the time he was 21 and 24, he was clearly one of the top players in the NBA as noticed by his insane 34.254 points per 48 minutes over that four-year period. McGrady also averaged 39.42 minutes per game played during his time in Orlando, and in 2007-2008 LeBron James and Kobe Bryant were the only two players in the entire league to put up such high scoring numbers in at least 34 minutes per game.

In the last three years in Houston, however, McGrady’s numbers are on the steep decline. While his entire repertoire as an NBA player used to focus on his incredible scoring abilities, he is currently nowhere near the scorer he once was. His efficiency field goal percentage is down 10% since his time in Orlando this season, meaning that he is getting 10 less points for every 100 shots taken. His non-point production has not changed significantly over the last several years, but the scoring ability that used to make McGrady such an elite performer is now almost entirely long. Not surprisingly then, the Rockets are 27-11 without McGrady and the lineup compared to 20-15 with him playing. In addition, they average about 3.55 more points per game without him in the lineup, a big reason why they average a +5.71 margin without him and a +1.63 with him. McGrady has hurt the Rockets this season, and it will only be a matter of time before he finds himself on another team in the league hoping to regain his old scoring touch.

Boot Down: East/South Region – Now focusing back on the NCAA Tournament, I want to break down some of my initial thoughts after crunching the numbers on Tuesday with the Sweet 16 intact. Connecticut, as I mentioned above, has surpassed some of the other #1 seeds with their recent play, making the West region by far the most difficult in the entire tournament. #2 Memphis remains the favorite in the entire tournament by the numbers, mostly because of their 33-3 overall record and top ranked defensive efficiency at 81.9 points per 100 possessions according to http://www.kenpom.com. In addition, when looking at #3 seed Missouri, they are the best of the four remaining three seeds mostly because of their high ratings according to the Pomeroy formula. All of this points to the relative success of the entire West Region along with #5 Purdue, a trend continued when looking at the Midwest Region of #1 Louisville, #2 Michigan State, #3 Kansas and #12 Arizona.

Although the West and Midwest Regions feature the only two non 1-4 seeds remaining in the entire tournament, they oddly have three of the four and six out of the eleven best teams. The main thing that separates these two regions from the pack, as mentioned above, is the superior defense displayed by the majority of these teams. Memphis, Louisville and Connecticut are 1-2-3 in terms of defensive efficiency in the entire nation, and all together, these two regions feature seven of the top twelve best defensive teams in the nation while defensive team in the East or South is East #4 Xavier who is ranked fourteenth in the country.

All great college basketball teams have the ability to score points on pretty much everyone, but this year it certainly looks like defensive capabilities will win the championship. Here is a look at my remaining probabilities for the match-ups this weekend. Keep in mind that only six of the fourteen times when all #1 seeds advanced to the Sweet 16 did they also all advance to the Elite 8, and that last year was the first time all #1 seeds advanced to the Final 4:

East Region in Boston, MA

Sweet 16 Games
#1 Pittsburgh 62.8% chance of winning versus #4 Xavier
#2 Duke 57.0% chance of winning versus #3 Villanova
Projected Elite 8 Game

#1 Pittsburgh 52.7% chance of winning versus #2 Duke

#2 Duke leads all NCAA teams with their 20 wins against the RPI top 100, but it will be very hard to match up with offensive rebounding machine DeJaun Blair and the Pittsburgh Panthers in the next round.

South Region in Memphis, TN

Sweet 16 Games
#1 North Carolina 54.1% chance of winning versus #4 Gonzaga
#2 Oklahoma 51.5% chance of winning versus #3 Syracuse
Projected Elite 8 Game

#1 North Carolina 57.8% chance of winning versus #2 Oklahoma

Interestingly, although the four seed in this region, Gonzaga is the second best team and is a big reason why #1 seed North Carolina only has a 31.64% chance of making it to the Final 4. This is the only Sweet 16 game featuring two of the top five offenses in the country.

Midwest Region in Indianapolis, IN

Sweet 16 Games
#1 Louisville 70.9% chance of winning versus #12 Arizona
#3 Kansas 51.5% chance of winning versus #2 Michigan State
Projected Elite 8 Game

#1 Louisville 56.3% chance of winning versus #3 Kansas

Big East Champion #1 Louisville has the easiest path to the Final 4 in this region and leads all teams with a current 40.4% chance of making it to the national semifinals in Detroit, MI.

West Region in Glendale, AZ

Sweet 16 Games
#1 Connecticut 63.3% chance of winning versus #5 Purdue
#2 Memphis 58.6% chance of winning versus #3 Missouri
Projected Elite 8 Game

#2 Memphis 52.2% chance of winning versus #1 Connecticut

Although West #1 Connecticut is third with their 10.34% chance of winning the national championship, they are actually the underdog against Memphis, and only have a 32.47% chance of making it to Detroit.

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March 25, 2009 - Posted by | The Boots | , , , , ,

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