Saturday, March 13, 2010

Saturday (Bubble) Quickie

If I was on the Selection Committee, I would evaluate things like this on the Bubble this morning:

IN, for sure:
San Diego St
Georgia Tech
Washington/Cal loser

VA Tech (apparently, a lock)
Ole Miss (apparently, a lock)
Florida (apparently, a lock)

Rhode Island (can play itself in with a win over Temple?)
Mississippi State (apparently screwed)
Minnesota (what if they beat Purdue?)


I don't know what to do with that SEC trio on the "Maybe" list. Ole Miss and Florida were both in, heading into yesterday. Both lost. Ole Miss was probably supposed to lose (vs. Tennessee in Nashville?) But Florida-Mississippi State was really a "play-in" situation; it is very easy for the Committee to judge two Bubble teams when they play head-to-head.

It's hard for me to laud San Diego State and UNLV for winning huge, must-win games against better teams and not smack Florida for choking when it matters most. All "bracketologist" stuff suggests Florida is still in, but it wouldn't surprise me if MSU leap-frogged them. (And yet the leading bracket projection aggregator has MSU out and not even close.)

Not many Bubble teams left that can do something to help themselves go from "out" to "in" today. Rhode Island, playing Temple. Mississippi State, apparently, needs another win in the SEC. Minnesota may have to do more than just beat Purdue today.

Every other at-large spot seems accounted for.

-- D.S.

Friday, March 12, 2010

03/12 Quickie: Bracket Already Busted

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Last March, I set a new low for worst bracket performance of my life -- it was epically bad. Heading into this year, my feeling was: Well, at least things can't get worse!

I find new ways to undercut myself: This year, I have been extremely bullish on Syracuse winning it all -- partly because I can't resist avoiding taking the two big favorites, Kansas and Kentucky. And partly because I really do think Syracuse can win it all.

Then yesterday, they lose their 2nd straight -- but lost Onuaku to a knee injury that will probably not prohibit him from playing in the NCAA Tournament, but certainly combines with the losses to shake my confidence in taking Syracuse all the way. Cripes, I can't catch a break on this.

Nevertheless, I'm totally locked in to college basketball right now -- with three days until Selection Sunday, you probably are, too. Today's SN column starts with my Syracuse debacle, but then gets into some serious nitty-gritty at the periphery of the Bubble.

My favorite part of today's schedule: De facto "play-in" games, in which if a Bubble team wins, they're in, and if they don't, they're out. The classic: San Diego State. But put Illinois in there, too, along with Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

After last night, I think Florida is in (even if they lose to Mississippi State). Memphis is out (and I think St. John's should break the bank to try to lure Memphis coach Josh Pastner to NYC), as is UAB. Arizona State is probably out, too, after losing to Stanford in the godawful Pac-10. (Anyone else totally want to see UCLA run the table and win the league's auto-bid?)

Here is one other thing: I never would have believed that Northwestern could reach 20 wins in a season and not even REMOTELY be in the Bubble discussion. Not even a pity mention. The sorry part is that if they had gotten back even a single win from the four combined losses to Iowa, Indiana and Penn State (twice!), they would definitely be in the discussion.

I have a personal rooting interest today: Lafayette over Lehigh, because Lafayette starts Mike Gruner, who was the point guard on my high school's state-title winning basketball team five years ago (long after I was gone, but a huge source of pride).

I get this sense that even though I'm immersed in college hoops, the lead story of the morning probably should have been Tiger reportedly returning to golf for the Masters, which will be the most-watched tournament (and biggest s#!t show) in the history of golf.

Plus: If I get any say in the matter, can LaDainian Tomlinson come to New York?

Finally: I am actually bummed that Gilbert Arenas is changing his number from 0 to 6. "0" came to define Arenas as much as any number has ever defined a player. It was his brand. That things are so bad that he has to abandon that is sad. And even if he IS going to change his number, why change it to the number that LEBRON is changing his number to? Agent Zero: Stick with Zero.

Complete SN column here -- it will get you up to speed on everything college hoops, and more. More later.

-- D.S.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

03/11 Quickie: Bubble, Big East, Big Ben

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The early part of Championship Week is interesting -- I love the auto-bid games out of one-bid leagues, like that wild comeback by Montana over Weber State last night.

But things get materially interesting on/around the Bubble starting today. Seton Hall seeing any NCAA hopes pop yesterday vs. Notre Dame was an appetizer. (Um: Louisville...WTF?)

In today's SN column, I lay out the other Bubble teams with something to win -- or lose -- today: Florida. Georgia Tech. San Diego State. Memphis. Arizona State and Washington, frankly.

Tomorrow, it gets even more crazy. Most at-large spots are clinched, obviously, but at the margins, teams' seasons are on the line today and tomorrow.

(The Big East quarters, meanwhile, are typically ridiculous: 7 of the 8 quarterfinalists are NCAA Tournament teams, and the 8th just happens to be playing a grudge match against its old coach.)

Today and tomorrow are good appetizers for a week from today and tomorrow -- can you believe that the First Thursday/First Friday is only a week away? Best two days of the sports year.

More you'll find in today's column:
*NFL's most offseason improved: Ravens?
*Big Ben admits to... what, exactly?
*More bad symbolism for the Celtics.
*Tebow's Wonderlic 22 (see Teblog).
*I love "floating realignment."

Complete column here. More later. Oh, and I taped the KSK podcast last night as a guest. Should be up later today over there. I don't think I said anything too ridiculous, although I made the first public pronouncement that I think Tim Tebow won't be a 1st-round pick. (I know.)

-- D.S.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Quickie: Turner, Big East, Strassy, More

My immersion into March and its obsessive focus on college basketball continues today, pegging today's SN column lead off SN giving its National POY award to Evan Turner.

Now, I had been on the John Wall bandwagon all year -- and he remains the biggest, most exhilarating talent in college basketball and an all-time freshman -- but something clicked for me when I finally recognized that Wall plays with 3 NBA Lottery picks, including another NBA point guard. If Wall didn't go to Kentucky, Eric Bledsoe, Cousins and Patterson would have been more than enough to get Kentucky into the Top 10.

Now, if Turner wasn't available for Ohio State -- as he wasn't for four weeks -- I would be surprised if the Buckeyes could make the Tournament. He lacks Wall's ultimate sizzle, but he is far more well-rounded... and valuable to his team.

All that said: Both Turner and Wall will be judged not on their sublime regular seasons, but on how they do in the NCAA Tournament. Turner needs nothing less than a Wade-like run to the Final Four. For Wall, the Final Four is a minimum; he really needs a championship if he wants to be spoken of in the same context as Carmelo, who I think is, game-for-game, the greatest college basketball player of the modern (post-ESPN, post-64-team-tourney, post-3-point-shot) era.

Anything less, and -- absolutely -- I think less of their college careers. Just look at Kevin Durant, who was amazing in college but couldn't even get out of the first weekend of his one and only NCAA Tournament. For me, that layers in huge disappointment.

There is a reason that college hoops is defined -- quite intensely, thank you -- for March, and not for November through February. Make your mark now, or don't make it at all.

More you'll find in today's SN column:

*UConn really stinks.
*Seton Hall-ND: Should be a NCAA play-in!
*Butler saves a Bubble spot.
*Stephen Strasburg will be just fine.
*Heat < Bobcats?
*Is NASCAR heading for crisis?

See the complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Sloan Sports Analytics Conference Recap

In thinking about how to put the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference this past weekend into some kind of perspective, I'm asking myself what were the deepest impressions I was left with. And the one that stuck with me most was the people.

Start with the idea that the group totaled 1,000. That's up from 400 a year ago. In fact, they had 400 people this year on the waiting list alone, who couldn't get in. With that kind of volume, you're bound to be overwhelmed.

When I walked into the main ballroom for the opening remarks -- or the keynote panel at noon, headlined by Michael Lewis, Simmons, Cuban, Polian, Kraft, Morey -- I was blown away by the fact that we filled up the whole massive hall. In the hallways between sessions, packed. The panel for Baseball Analytics wasn't just standing room only; there was a huge line out the door, necks craning to peek in (TVs outside each room helped with overflow -- obviously, that panel needs a bigger room next year).

But it was more than the sheer volume: Everyone was so nice. So friendly. So enthusiastic. It wasn't like a business conference or an affinity conference (like for Trekkies or Star Wars people or Cubs fans), but the best of both worlds. But the main thing is that everyone was really excited to be there and to be around each other.

The huge group was divided into a couple of main segments: There were a ton of students -- college and MBA -- along with a slew of recent grads, which was part of the reason there was so much energy. I don't want to presume, but it felt like most weren't just interested in analytics as fans; they were hustling to try to make connections, to try to get jobs in a field they love.

And that's because of another key group there: Professionals. Team execs, league execs, media execs. If you want to work in a front office, there were a ton of folks to try to track down. If you want to write for a stats-oriented publication that has turned into a de facto development pipeline for front-office jobs, their editors were there.

In an era of the Theo Epstein executive tree (including Josh Byrnes and Jed Hoyer) and Tampa's dynamic duo of Matt Silverman and Andrew Friedman -- when "Prospectus" is an even better pedigree than "JD/MBA" -- the student-attendees and pros alike were a self-selecting group that sees where things are going and want to be part of it.

I had the really unique experience of sitting down for a while with a team executive I admire to an absurd degree (no, not Theo, who wasn't there, and not Morey) for a perfectly chummy chat, and at one point, his panel coordinator approached him and let him know that they had collected 250 resumes for him to take back with him.

I actually think that next year's conference could use a "Career" panel, featuring different pieces of advice. For example, my question is if a would-be future team exec is better off getting in the organization any way they can -- getting coffee, making copies, whatever -- and trying to impress from the inside... or gaining functional skills somewhere other than sports, then trying to move over. The answer is probably both; you ain't gonna learn investment banking analyst program modeling skills necessary to be a front-office contributor if you're working in the team p.r. office and hoping to work your way up.

Here's how I see it: If you really want to be a team front-office executive, you are better off spending your summer internship not fetching coffee for a team or leading stats-oriented Web site. Start your own and own the hell out of some segment of analysis. Post daily, post brilliantly, gently pass your stuff around to folks in media who would appreciate it. If it's good -- and if you're not good, you might as well not even try -- the teams will notice. There is no barrier (at least no publishing barrier) to becoming your own expert and putting your talent on display. THAT is the fast track.

(There is probably an executive education business to be created at MIT or elsewhere that is an intensive one-year program that combines case-study work of sports-industry management with analytical skills learned in an IB analyst program. In fact, that would be a hell of a combo for MIT Sloan and the Prospectus company.)

As always, the success stories of how to make it tend to include a whole lot of relationship management and not a small bit of luck/timing/serendipity. The latter, OK: Hard to control. The former? Well, that's a big reason everyone was there. I really appreciated the folks who I saw introduce themselves directly; panelists were, for the most part, entirely happy to be approached.

To be honest, I wish I had even more of that networking skill. There were a few folks there I really wanted to meet but couldn't figure out the context in which to introduce myself; I am, of course, an idiot and should have directly approached them, stuck out my hand and said hello. Even if everything else out of my mouth was embarrassing and idiotic -- certainly my anxiety, rational or not -- it really doesn't matter. If there was ever an easy space to meet someone, it was this one.

I mean, I wasn't going to stand in line for a half-hour after a panel to try to shake Mark Cuban's hand -- not that there's anything wrong with that if that's something you wanted to do. Then again, I was a complete moron not to say something to him when it was him and me and about two other people in the privacy of the panelists' break room, particularly given that we were both at the Hawks-Mavs game the week before, and if nothing else, I could say, "Hey, how about that crazy play with Jason Kidd and the Hawks coach?" Don't ask me why I didn't say anything. At other moments, I was Julie McCoy, cruise director. Just something to work on.

All I'm saying is: If the context is right, say hi. The worst thing someone can do is impolitely blow you off -- and that says a lot more about them than you. (If you think the worst-case scenario is that you'll sound like a dumbass, you are more likely than not simply letting your nerves get the best of you. Trust me: I'm worried I'll sound like a dumbass -- and often do -- constantly. And, in the end, oh well. At least I will have taken the at-bat.)

I thought the most interesting insight came from Simmons. When asked by Lewis what the analytics industry gets wrong, Bill said they don't make it consumer-friendly enough. Agreed completely. It's not that the stats are bad; it's that the messaging is awkward. Fans want to be able to experience their sports better -- the analytics community has to figure out how to communicate their concepts more clearly, because they DO make the game more fun to understand.

Here's how I'd sum it up: Unlike within the analytics community itself, there's no need to show your work; just offer up some simple sense, and that's good enough. Just make me smarter as a fan and more appreciative of the nuances of the game. I judged a research paper competition run by the conference; my favorite was a paper that compared NBA offensive strategy to driving your car in traffic. I got his point. I think that for next year, they should add a new category of essay: Explaining an advanced, interesting piece of analytics so that the average fan can get it. Frankly, there's an entire book in that for the conference if they can generate enough entries.

Ironically, I didn't spend a ton of time at the panels. In the morning, I sat in the future of sports management. After that, I kind of flitted around. At lunch, I watched the keynote panel, then I was one session away from my own panel, so I just paced around, ducking into a panel on Basketball Analytics to see Cuban, then into a panel on Social Media to see Darren Rovell and Jeff Ma put on a show.

My own panel came in the last slot of the day -- I think a lot of people left after the Lewis/Simmons/Cuban panel... either that, or they just had no interest in The Future of Sports Journalism, featuring me moderating a panel that included Henry Abbott of TrueHoop, Rob King (Editor in Chief of, Howard Beck (NBA reporter for the NY Times) and Jason Fry (news industry genius). But we had a good time, and hopefully the audience enjoyed themselves.

Our panel wasn't quite "analytics"-oriented, but I think the conference is better shifting to "Future of..." rather than limiting itself to "Analytics" exclusively (although that should always be the heart of the thing). But leading edge thought is what analytics is all about, and it was fun to apply that to something I care so much about. The panel was terrific -- we all got along and brought very different perspectives. The most interesting part, to me, was a brief digression we went into about something I've been arguing for years: The scoop is dead. Or, more mildly, what's the value of the scoop anymore? I feel like we could have done an hour on that alone.

After the panel, there was a brief cocktail party in the convention center that everyone enjoyed. I was able to congratulate and compliment the extraordinary team of MIT MBA students who ran the event (under the guidance of Daryl Morey and Jessica Gelman, the conference co-founders). In particular, I want to give a shout-out to Gerry Hough, who expertly and enthusiastically organized my panel. Any readers from the sports brand-management side and have any need for a smart, personable, action-oriented, talented MBA summer intern, Gerry is your woman. Email me if I can make an introduction. But all of the student organizers were terrific, and this was as well-organized of a conference as I have ever experienced.

After the drinks, I hooked up with a slew of NBA-related folks for a dinner for around 30. I can't even list everyone who was there, although in my general vicinity were Henry Abbott and Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop, NBA editor Royce Webb, the NYT's Howard Beck, ESPN PER guru John Hollinger, super-trainer and columnist David Thorpe, Kings assistant GM Jason Levien, Draft Express founder Jonathan Givony and ESPN's Marc Stein -- who was a good sport during our panel when Rob King and I picked him out of the crowd as an example of whether scoops matter. I knew some and had never met others. I had the chance to chat with all of them, and -- again with the theme of the weekend -- all couldn't have been more friendly to talk with. (That wasn't meant to be name-droppish -- just trying to give you some color to the non-panel part of the weekend.)

In the end, like everyone at the conference, I believe in analytics. But there is a misconception that analytics is about numbers, rather than about the intersection of numbers and people.

Analytics need people both to create them and interpret them. They need passionate folks crunching them and proselytizing them. They need people advancing the cause -- and enthusiastically lining up to be and to create the future of the cause.

This was a conference about people, and sports is a much much healthier place for having the folks I saw up in Boston coming together to talk, listen, argue, mingle, solicit and connect.

-- D.S.

3/09 Quickie: UConn, Bubble, Bradford

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Now, to today's SN column:

*In praise of UConn 71!
*Boeheim: Appreciated!
*All-Americans: Guarded!
*Gonzaga: At-large!
*Big East: Insanely deep!
*Bradford: Doubted!
*Tebow: Loyal!
*McCoy: Mocks Suh!
*Mavs: Not the Lakers!
*Hawks: Not ready for the big time!
*Cardinals: NL Pennant or Bust!
*RichRod: 1 More Year!
*NASCAR: Conflicted!

It's a loaded column. Check it all out here. My MIT Sports Analytics Conference recap is coming a little later this morning. (Preview: I duck the numbers!)

-- D.S.

Monday, March 08, 2010

CBS Sports' Killer App: Madness Anywhere

I just tweeted this: "CBS Sports putting its March Madness live-video iPhone app on 3G rather than just WiFi is another huge milestone in the fan experience."

Let's review:

First, CBS streamed NCAA Tournament games online so you could watch them on your laptop -- meaning: at work. It was a breakthrough. No longer did you have to sneak out of work (or use vacation days) to get to the sports bar to watch games.

Next, they put it on the iPhone: This made the streaming experience portable, which was welcome -- but with a catch: You could only view it through wifi networks. Now, that's great at work or at home, but it was severely limiting if you were anywhere but those two places.

But expanding the iPhone app to any 3G connection means that I could be walking down the street, watching games. Or on a bus. Or sitting in Central Park. Or hanging out at a bar that is only showing one game. The point is that I can be anywhere.

Unfortunately, the iPad will be coming out too late to experience it as an NCAA Tournament showstopper, but I think that the bigger iteration is this 3G -- "Madness Anywhere" (that's my phrase, not CBS's).

The only caveat: It better work! Millions of other fans will join me in shelling out $9.99 for the app -- and we're counting on it working without problems.

I like that CBS Sports knows that March Madness is their killer app -- and continually expanding their platforms to take advantage of that.

-- D.S.

Quickie: March Really Starts Right Now

It's a gorgeous day in NYC today -- it feels like the perfect moment to coincide with a 4-week stretch of college basketball that starts with Championship Week (among bigger leagues), continues through Selection Sunday and the Tournament itself and finishes four weeks from today with the national title game, which -- without seeing the brackets or second-guessing myself into oblivion next Sunday night -- I'll say will be Syracuse over Kansas, in a repeat of the 2003 title-game result. But today's SN column is precisely about what a great month we're kicking off.

There's a lot more:

*John Wall: Freshman of the Year, obviously. And, I would argue, First-Team All-Time All-Freshmen. Not quite Carmelo, but more than Durant/Beasley. Yeah, I said it. (Hell, I bet there's an argument to be made that Cousins is as impactful of a freshman as Durant was.)

*Big winners in NFL Free Agency? Bears (Peppers), Giants (Rolle) and Dolphins (Dansby), obviously, but I really like the Kampmann deal for the Jags, who desperately need help with pass rush (which is ridiculous, given the high draft picks they spent on pass rushers recently).

*If you're firing umps, maybe you should consider a more robust replay system.

*Bullock/Blind Side: I think you can make the strong case that with her Oscar win (over Meryl Streep!), Sandra Bullock's character is the greatest female character in a sports movie of all time. Certainly the most-decorated, which puts her right up there with Stallone's Rocky and DeNiro's LaMotta -- both of whom earned their actors an Oscar.

Complete SN column here. More later -- still thinking about my MIT post, but there's tons out there, including a lot on TrueHoop and elsewhere.

-- D.S.

Jonah Hill Is Paul DePodesta

A little Hollywood news out of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference: As Rob Neyer breaks in his Monday link round-up, Michael Lewis told him that the "Moneyball" movie is full-speed ahead, with one major casting change: The role of Billy Beane sidekick Paul DePodesta will now be played by Jonah Hill. (Look: If Sandra Bullock can win an Emmy for Best Actress, over Meryl Streep, in a sports movie made for non-sports fans that became the highest-grossing sports movie ever, Hill can totally work as DePo.)

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Weekend Quickie: Analytics!

Just got back from the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. I'm going to try to write up my thoughts tomorrow, but it was a terrific event -- as well-organized as any conference I've ever been to, with attendees (panelists and conference-goers alike) as sincere and friendly as any you'll meet. Everyone had a great time.

In the meantime, what'd I miss?

*Congrats to Winthrop and East Tennessee State, who both won auto-bids on the road.

*Syracuse won't be No. 1; Louisville may have won its way into the Tournament. Kansas confirmed it will be the No. 1 team (and probably the No. 1 overall team of the NCAA Tournament).

*Kansas State: Ouch. That's a big "buyer beware" when you're filling out your bracket.

*Anyone buying Purdue? Anyone? 4-seed. (Speaking of which: Texas... yikes. Criminy, they are terrible.)

*Good for Duke: They needed that one, not just to put themselves in position to be a 1-seed, but absolutely humiliating UNC, capping a truly terrible season for the Heels.

*Break up the Mavs!

*Any ideas how I should handle the latest Big Ben thing?

ACK! Forgot to hit "Publish" on this yesterday!

-- D.S.