Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Blast from the Past: Fixing the NCAA tournament

I wrote this back in 2009, when I regularly posted on Quinn's's forums.  For the most part it is still fairly in line with how I feel the tournament should evolve.

"I think too many deserving schools in the non-BCS and lower IAAA ranks miss out each year. I am offended that a school can go 28-4 and miss the tourney because they get knocked out in their conference tourney.

I heard a sports talk guy credit Jay Bilas with the idea of stripping all automatic berths. I think that would ultimately be a negative. I think small conferences would really get that shaft then.

I think I would push for a package of reforms.

1) All teams in the power conferences (Pac 10, SEC, Big 12, Big East, A10, and Big 10) would be capped at playing no more than 4 games against teams from other power conferences out of conference. This would reduce most power conference teams' ability their ability to run up huge RPI advantages. The teams that would try to game the system by playing good teams from lesser conferences would only strengthen the RPI of bubble teams from those conferences.

2) All conference tourneys and conference play must conclude by the first weekend in March.

3) 96 teams will be selected for the tourney: 32 regular season champs; 32 tourney champs (or regular season runner-up if the regular season champ wins the post-season tourney); and then 32 at large bids.

4) All 32 D1 conferences will get two auto bids, 1 for the regular season champ and 1 for the tourney winner (or the regular season runner up if the regular season champ wins the tourney). The remaining 32 bids (and any slots left unfilled by runner-ups or tourney winners) will be awarded to at large teams (mostly big conference teams).

5) Any team taking the runner up slot must have at least 20 wins to qualify and must be at least 2 games over 500 in conference to qualify (so 9-7 or 10-8 in conference does not qualify for the second conference bid). If the second place team does not meet the criteria, the conference can send the next highest place finisher who DOES fulfill the criteria. This will usually mean that the two best teams out of smaller conferences will make the field, unlike the current status quo where we regularly see a single dog (lousy) team who got a lucky break in the conference tourney come out of the small conferences. (If no teams fulfill the criteria, the conference gets a half share of the money for that bid, but the slot is then made an at large slot for that season.)

6) The pool of teams eligible for at-large bids would have finished above .500 in conference with over 20 wins total, with priority given to teams at least 2 games over .500 in conference. If needed at a tiebreaker, RPI would determine which teams one game over .500 in conference would get in. Total conferences bids would be limited to 40-45% of membership (ie. the 16 team BE would be capped at a maximum of 7 teams, the 14 team Big 10 at 6, the 12 team SEC and the Big 12 and 11 team Big 10 at 5, the 9 team MWC at 4, the 8 team WCC at 3.) Conferences would only be guaranteed that one team would definitely make it and if a second team met the criteria a second could make it.

7) The 64 lowest seeds must compete in a play-in round. They will play a single game to get into the field of 64 --- the tourney proper. Games will be spread out from Thursday to Sunday of the second weekend in March. The higher seed will host the game rather than creating the possibility of sending 4-8 small college teams to a remote site where they cannot fill a larger arena. This slight advantage to the power programs will additionally help squeeze teams that clearly can't hang (compete) out of the tourney.

8) The surviving 32 will have played their way into the actual 64 team bracket that fans can fill out in their office pool. The brackets would be released after the play in round.

9) All regular season champions who have won more than 2/3 of their total games would be seeded in the top 14 seeds in each region rewarding them for season long excellence by not feeding them to the top 8 teams while still allowing a lot of leeway for top play-in round survivors to take top seeds.

10) Every effort should be made to invite at least 14 teams local to the west region and 28 local to the western half of the US combined.

This proposal does a lot to try to gut the RPI argument that allows the power conferences to dominate the selection process. Flawed as it is, I have instead proposed using mostly wins vs. games played for general seeding purposes.

The RPI may be pretty good for seeding teams to avoid upsets, but it doesn't reward teams for winning most of the games on their schedule. The goal should be to reward teams that EARN a berth, not teams that have a lot of potential NBA talent but can't win.

The teams that are eliminated in the play-in round only would be eligible to play in the NIT or any other post season tourney.''

more supporting arguments from 2009:

"Bids by conference (data from wikipedia)
Bids Conference -(Schools)

7 Big East - (Pittsburgh, Villanova, Connecticut, Marquette, Louisville, West Virginia, Syracuse)
7 ACC - (Clemson, North Carolina, Boston College, Wake Forest, Maryland, Florida State, Duke)
7 Big Ten - (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan)
6 Big 12 - (Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas A&M, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Texas)
6 Pac-10 - (Arizona State, Arizona, USC, UCLA, California, Washington)
3 SEC - (Tennessee, Mississippi State, LSU)
3 Atlantic 10 - (Xavier, Dayton, Temple)
2 Mountain West (BYU, Utah)
2 Horizon (Butler, Cleveland State)
1 22 other conferences

The Big East was dynamite this year and is a 16 member conference --- no problem with them getting the 7 teams in their conference that broke 20 wins in.

The ACC is a 12 team conference I am not as OK with them getting 7 teams in although they were qualitatively great as well. I thought maryland was the most marginal of tourney teams, but I can live with it as Maryland did break 20 wins.

Can anyone defend the Big 10 getting in 7 schools? 4 or even 5 with an IMO deserving Penn State (they went 10-8 in conference, 23-11 overall, 4-3 vs. top 25 teams and 8-10 vs. top 100), I can understand, but Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin? It was a very mediocre conference with great depth so the depth of the league dragged up everyone's RPI.

This happens every year. The overreliance on RPI lets the BCS conferences dominate the BB bids.

I am from big 12 country, but I wouldn't have a problem taking out Texas and OSU out of the tourney. Throw them in with Kansas State, in spite of their 20+ wins. They aren't good enough to beat 2 top teams and win it all, so why are they in? Money. -----To eliminate non-BCS schools and keep the tourney money in BCS conferences' hands.

The Pac 10 had 4 legit tourney teams this year. I would argue that if you don't break 500 in your conference you shouldn't be in the tourney. (Now I'll concede USC winning the tourney allowed them to play their way in, but Arizona? No. As talented as they are, they haven't earned it.

Right there are 6 slots. Why Not UNM who finished tied for 1st in the MWC? Why not 22-9 San Diego State with Tourney proven coach Steve Fisher? Why not 27-7 Creighton who tied for first with a 14-4 conference record in the always strong MVC? Why Not 26-6 St. Mary's which went 20-2 when their star point guard Patty Mills was healthy? Why not 26-7 Davidson with Stephon Curry (who tore up the tourney in 2008)? Why not Tulsa who went 25-10, finishing second to Memphis at 12-4 in conference USA? Why not UALR who went 13-3 tying for the best record in the sunbelt while emassing a 23-8 record? Why not Vermont who 24-8 and tied for first in their conference with a 13-3 record? Why not Weber State who in spite of a modest 21-10 record, destroyed their conference going 15-1?

There were a lot of less talented teams playing better than Texas or OSU who could have legitimately knocked off a top or second tier team and made the tourney a whole lot less predictable and a lot more exciting.

Eventually the smaller conferences have to stop allowing their claims on tourney invites and tourney money to be stolen from them based on an RPI system that punishes them for being in a weaker conference.

Some want to reduce the Tourney down.  If you wanted, you could have only teams in the RPI top 40 who have played 4+ games against the top 25 and have wining records in the those games plus the 1-3 teams in the RPI top 10 that don't.  You could probably have a 16 team tourney.

Your national champion is almost always within the group. The rest of the teams are icing. The rest draw out the tourneys to create more game & TV revenue. They may eliminate a couple of the top teams who either lack depth or experience injuries or just aren't playing well.

The 5th to 8th teams out of BCS conferences are just there to keep the #1 and #2 teams from the non-BCS conferences from making money in the Tourney.  That is crap to me.

I think the non-BCS FBS schools---minus BCS lapdogs the MWC and A10 --- should go to the networks enmasse and hijack the selection process.

Davidson was good enough to legitimately merit a tourney slot. Instead of a second tourney of Stephon Curry, TV got Minnesota. That cost TV big money. I think St. Mary had a run in them and would have wanted to see Patty Mills in the dance. The small schools CREATE the excitement that drives viewership. They need to present their case to the TV networks."


how this would have played out in 2009


Regular season champs

32 regular season champs are in with autobids.  27 earn a bye from the play-in round due to total losses amounting to less than 1/3 of their total games.

"Big Ten MSU (15-3) 27-6
Southeastern LSU (13-3) 27-8
Atlantic Coast UNC (13-3) 30-4
Big East Louisville (16-2) 29-5
Big 12 Kansas (14-2) 26-7
Pacific 10 Washington (14-4) 26-9
Mountain West BYU (12-4) 25-8
Missouri Valley UNI (14-4) 23-11
Atlantic 10 Xavier (12-4) 26-7
Conference USA Memphis (16-0) 33-3
Western Athletic Utah St. (14-2) 30-5
Colonial VCU (14-4) 24-10
Horizon Butler (15-3) 26-6
Mid-American Buffalo (11-5) 21-12**
Sun Belt WKU (15-3) 25-9
West Coast Gonzaga (14-0) 28-5
Southern Davidson (18-2) 27-7
Metro Atlantic Siena (16-2) 27-7
Ohio Valley Tenn-Martin (14-4) 22-10
Big Sky Weber St (15-1) 21-10
Ivy Cornell (11-3) 21-10
Summit NDSU (16-2) 26-7
America East Binghampton (13-3) 23-9
Atlantic Sun Jacksonville (15-5) 18-14**
Mid-Eastern Morgan St. (13-3) 23-12**
Patriot American (13-1) 24-8
Big South Radford (15-3) 21-12**
Big West CS Northridge (11-5) 17-14**
Southland SFA (13-3) 24-8
Southwestern Alabama St. (16-2) 22-10
Northeast Robert Morris (15-3) 24-11
Great West/Independents Seattle (21-8)*

* Seattle is not technically a GW member as far as I know, but it just made it easier to layout.
** 5 of the 32 champions  (Buffalo, Jacksonville, Radford, Morgan St, & CS Northridge) would not qualify for the bye and top 14 seeding, due to losing more than 1/3 of their total games."

32 slots filled out of 96; 27 first round byes.


"runner ups
8 Non-regular season Champions who won their tourneys.
Big Ten Purdue (11-7) 27-9 2nd
SEC Miss St. (9-7) 23-13 6th
ACC Duke (11-5) 30-6 2nd
Big 12 Missouri (12-4) 29-6 3rd
PAC 10 USC (9-9) 22-12 6th
MWC Utah (12-4) 24-10 2nd
MAC Akron (10-6) 23-13 3rd
Big Sky PSU (11-5) 23-10

19 runnerups who satisfy the runner-up criteria.

Atlantic Sun E. Tenn St. (14-6) 23-11 2nd
Atlantic 10 Temple (11-5) 22-12 4th
Horizon Cleveland St. (12-6) 26-10 3rd
Southern Chattanooga (11-9) 18-17 5th
Ohio Valley Moorehead St. (12-6) 20-16 4th
MVC Creighton (14-4) 27-7 2nd
CUSA Tulsa (12-4) 25-11 2nd
Sun Belt UALR (15-3) 23-8 2nd
Metro Atlantic Niagra (14-4) 26-9 2nd
Big East UCONN (15-3) 29-4 2nd
Western Athletic Nevada (11-5) 21-13 2nd
Colonial George Mason (13-5) 22-11 2nd
West Coast St. Mary's (10-4) 27-6 2nd
Summit Oakland (13-5) 23-12 3rd
America East Vermont (13-3) 24-8 2nd
Big South VMI (13-5) 24-8 2nd
Big West Pacific (10-6) 20-12 2nd
Southland Nicholls St (12-4) 20-11 2nd
Great West/Ind South Dakota (20-9)*

* Technically USD had the best record in the GW, but as I lumped seattle in with the GW, they get the runnerup slot.

5 conferences would get an added half share, but would not have had a second team meet the criteria to qualify.

Mid-Eastern none
Patriot none
Southwestern none
Northeast none
Ivy none"

59 slots filled out of 96; 27 first round byes.


Preferred at large bids

"31 teams satisfied the "preferred" criteria for at large bids.

Pitt (15-3) 29-4
OU (13-3) 29-5
Wake Forest (11-5) 24-7
FSU (10-6) 25-10
UCLA (13-5) 26-9
Auburn (10-6) 24-11
Dayton (11-5) 27-7 2nd
UNM (12-4) 22-12
SDSU (11-5) 25-9
Illinois (11-7) 24-10
ASU (11-7) 25-9
Charleston (15-5) 27-8
Green Bay (13-5) 22-11
Illinois St. (11-7) 24-10
Rhode Island (11-5) 23-11
UAB (11-5) 22-12
ODU (12-6) 22-10
Belmont (14-6) 20-12
UNT (11-7) 20-12
Liberty (12-6) 23-11)
Villanova (13-5) 28-7
Cal (11-7) 22-11
Wright St. (12-6) 20-13
Citadel (15-5) 20-13
Marquette (12-6) 25-9
Hofstra (11-7) 21-11
Syracuse (11-7) 27-9
S. Carolina (10-6) 21-10
Tenn (10-6) 21-13
Houston (10-6) 21-12
UTEP (10-6) 21-12)"

90 slots filled out of 96; 27 first round byes.


6 slots for bubble teams

"That still leaves 6 extra bids = the 5 runner-up slots that could not be filled and one designated at- large slot.

14 teams finished with more than 20 wins and 1 game over 500 in conference.

 Here they are sorted by record.

TAMU (9-7) 24-10
Penn St. (10-8) 24-11
Clemson (9-7) 23-9
WV (10-8) 23-12
OSU (9-7) 23-11
Ohio St. (10-8) 22-11
x- Florida (9-7) 25-10
x-UT (9-7) 23-12
x-KSU (9-7) 22-12
x-BC (9-7) 22-12
x-UNLV (9-7) 21-11
Duquesne (9-7) 21-13
x-Wisc (10-8) 20-12
USA (10-8) 20-13

Conference participation limits would knock Florida, Texas, Kansas St, Boston College, UNLV, and Wisconsin out. (ie. the Big 12 already would have Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri with TAMU and OSU having the better records overall to complete the conference's max allotment of 5 teams.) Dusquesne and USA would simply fail to get in due to lesser overall records."

That would be your field, giving the vast majority of the country's 20 win teams legit shot at winning a national title.


Play in round

This part admittedly looks complex on paper, but in reality it is pretty simple and would effectively be transparent to fans.  These schools would have to win a head to head matchup to "make the bracket of 64".  The results would yield the nice clean bracket we are used to.

"The play in round would be seeded out by win percentage (although RPI would work too)

1 Pitt (15-3) 29-4
2 UCONN (15-3) 29-4 2nd
3 OU (13-3) 29-5
4 Duke (11-5) 30-6 2nd
5 Missouri (12-4) 29-6 3rd
6 St. Mary's (10-4) 27-6 2nd
7 Villanova (13-5) 28-7
8 Dayton (11-5) 27-7 2nd
9 Creighton (14-4) 27-7 2nd
10 Wake Forest (11-5) 24-7
11 Charleston (15-5) 27-8
12 Syracuse (11-7) 27-9
13 Vermont (13-3) 24-8 2nd
14 VMI (13-5) 24-8 2nd
15 Purdue (11-7) 27-9 2nd
16 UCLA (13-5) 26-9
17 Niagra (14-4) 26-9 2nd
18 UALR (15-3) 23-8 2nd
19 SDSU (11-5) 25-9
20 ASU (11-7) 25-9
21 Marquette (12-6) 25-9
22 Cleveland St. (12-6) 26-10 3rd
23 Clemson (9-7) 23-9
24 FSU (10-6) 25-10
25 Illinois (11-7) 24-10
26 Illinois St. (11-7) 24-10
27 TAMU (9-7) 24-10
28 Utah (12-4) 24-10 2nd
29 PSU (11-5) 23-10
30 Tulsa (12-4) 25-11 2nd
31 South Dakota (20-9)*
32 ODU (12-6) 22-10
33 Auburn (10-6) 24-11
34 Penn St. (10-8) 24-11
35 S. Carolina (10-6) 21-10
36 Rhode Island (11-5) 23-11
37 Liberty (12-6) 23-11)
38 OSU (9-7) 23-11
39 E. Tenn St. (14-6) 23-11 2nd
40 Green Bay (13-5) 22-11
41 Cal (11-7) 22-11
42 Ohio St. (10-8) 22-11
43 George Mason (13-5) 22-11 2nd
44 WV (10-8) 23-12
45 Oakland (13-5) 23-12 3rd
46 Hofstra (11-7) 21-11
47 UNM (12-4) 22-12
48 UAB (11-5) 22-12
49 USC (9-9) 22-12 6th
50 Temple (11-5) 22-12 4th
51 Nicholls St (12-4) 20-11 2nd
52 Miss St. (9-7) 23-13 6th
53 Akron (10-6) 23-13 3rd
54 Houston (10-6) 21-12
55 UTEP (10-6) 21-12)
56 Belmont (14-6) 20-12
57 UNT (11-7) 20-12
58 Pacific (10-6) 20-12 2nd
59 Tenn (10-6) 21-13
60 Nevada (11-5) 21-13 2nd
61 Wright St. (12-6) 20-13
62 Citadel (15-5) 20-13
63 Moorehead St. (12-6) 20-16 4th
64 Chattanooga (11-9) 18-17 5th"
"Yeilding the following matchups scattered from thursday to saturday of the first/play in week

Chattanooga (11-9) 18-17 5th @ Pitt (15-3) 29-4
Moorehead St. (12-6) 20-16 4th @ UCONN (15-3) 29-4 2nd
Citadel (15-5) 20-13 @ OU (13-3) 29-5
Wright St. (12-6) 20-13 @ Duke (11-5) 30-6 2nd
Nevada (11-5) 21-13 2nd @ Missouri (12-4) 29-6 3rd
Tenn (10-6) 21-13 @ St. Mary's (10-4) 27-6 2nd
Pacific (10-6) 20-12 2nd @ Villanova (13-5) 28-7
UNT (11-7) 20-12 @ Dayton (11-5) 27-7 2nd
Belmont (14-6) 20-12 @ Creighton (14-4) 27-7 2nd
UTEP (10-6) 21-12) @ Wake Forest (11-5) 24-7
Houston (10-6) 21-12 @ Charleston (15-5) 27-8
Akron (10-6) 23-13 3rd @ Syracuse (11-7) 27-9
Miss St. (9-7) 23-13 6th @ Vermont (13-3) 24-8 2nd
Nicholls St (12-4) 20-11 2nd @ VMI (13-5) 24-8 2nd
Temple (11-5) 22-12 4th @ Purdue (11-7) 27-9 2nd
USC (9-9) 22-12 6th @ UCLA (13-5) 26-9
UAB (11-5) 22-12 @ Niagra (14-4) 26-9 2nd
UNM (12-4) 22-12 @ UALR (15-3) 23-8 2nd
Hofstra (11-7) 21-11 @ SDSU (11-5) 25-9
Oakland (13-5) 23-12 3rd @ ASU (11-7) 25-9
WV (10-8) 23-12 @ Marquette (12-6) 25-9
George Mason (13-5) 22-11 2nd @ Cleveland St. (12-6) 26-10 3rd
Ohio St. (10-8) 22-11 @ Clemson (9-7) 23-9
Cal (11-7) 22-11 @ FSU (10-6) 25-10
Green Bay (13-5) 22-11 @ Illinois (11-7) 24-10
E. Tenn St. (14-6) 23-11 2nd @ Illinois St. (11-7) 24-10
OSU (9-7) 23-11 @ TAMU (9-7) 24-10
Liberty (12-6) 23-11) @ Utah (12-4) 24-10 2nd
Rhode Island (11-5) 23-11 @ PSU (11-5) 23-10
S. Carolina (10-6) 21-10 @ Tulsa (12-4) 25-11 2nd
Penn St. (10-8) 24-11 @ South Dakota (20-9)*
Auburn (10-6) 24-11 @ ODU (12-6) 22-10"

"Now to show how this might play out, let's guess some play in winners.

1 Pitt (15-3) 29-4
2 UCONN (15-3) 29-4 2nd
3 OU (13-3) 29-5
4 Duke (11-5) 30-6 2nd
5 Missouri (12-4) 29-6 3rd
6 St. Mary's (10-4) 27-6 2nd
7 Villanova (13-5) 28-7
8 Dayton (11-5) 27-7 2nd
9 Creighton (14-4) 27-7 2nd
55 UTEP (10-6) 21-12)
54 Houston (10-6) 21-12
12 Syracuse (11-7) 27-9
52 Miss St. (9-7) 23-13 6th
14 VMI (13-5) 24-8 2nd
15 Purdue (11-7) 27-9 2nd
16 UCLA (13-5) 26-9
17 Niagra (14-4) 26-9 2nd
47 UNM (12-4) 22-12
19 SDSU (11-5) 25-9
20 ASU (11-7) 25-9
21 Marquette (12-6) 25-9
22 Cleveland St. (12-6) 26-10 3rd
42 Ohio St. (10-8) 22-11
24 FSU (10-6) 25-10
40 Green Bay (13-5) 22-11
26 Illinois St. (11-7) 24-10
27 TAMU (9-7) 24-10
28 Utah (12-4) 24-10 2nd
36 Rhode Island (11-5) 23-11
30 Tulsa (12-4) 25-11 2nd
34 Penn St. (10-8) 24-11
33 Auburn (10-6) 24-11

There were a lot of names that were not worthy of getting into the tourney (IMO) and would have likely been eliminated in a play-in round. "


The nice neat field of 64

Published for fans on sunday with brackets due on Thursday.  Fans will have some idea how deserving a mid-major may be from the play-in round games.  End result?  A much more fan friendly bracket and better representation from the smaller conferences.

"The remaining 64 teams would be loosely seeded by overall win/lost record. Just break them up by fours. Selection committee members would be able to tweak a bit say up to +/- 3 seeds to ease fan travel and reflect RPI when it is especially glaring. Additionally, as TV would run the show, in terms of top seeds, all things being more or less equal with the elite teams, the teams with the better star talents or more exciting brand of game might get the #1 seeds and teams that are good due to a good team effort would get #2 or possibly even #3 seeds. (ie. Memphis would be a #1 seeds. Duke and Pitt #2 seeds. Unfair? Sure, but TV would be driving the show.)

Sorted by pre-NCAA Tourney winning percentage, that would give you:

overall rank- team- records- finish in conference
1 Memphis (16-0) 33-3
2 UNC (13-3) 30-4
3 Pitt (15-3) 29-4
4 UCONN (15-3) 29-4 2nd

5 Utah St. (14-2) 30-5
6 Louisville (16-2) 29-5
7 OU (13-3) 29-5
8 Gonzaga (14-0) 28-5

9 Duke (11-5) 30-6 2nd
10 Missouri (12-4) 29-6 3rd
11 MSU (15-3) 27-6
12 St. Mary's (10-4) 27-6 2nd

13 Butler (15-3) 26-6
14 Villanova (13-5) 28-7
15 Davidson (18-2) 27-7
16 Siena (16-2) 27-7

17 Dayton (11-5) 27-7 2nd
18 Creighton (14-4) 27-7 2nd
19 Kansas (14-2) 26-7
20 Xavier (12-4) 26-7

21 NDSU (16-2) 26-7
22 Wake Forest (11-5) 24-7
23 LSU (13-3) 27-8
24 Charleston (15-5) 27-8

25 BYU (12-4) 25-8
26 American (13-1) 24-8
27 SFA (13-3) 24-8
28 Syracuse (11-7) 27-9

29 Vermont (13-3) 24-8 2nd
30 VMI (13-5) 24-8 2nd
31 Purdue (11-7) 27-9 2nd
32 Washington (14-4) 26-9

33 UCLA (13-5) 26-9
34 Niagra (14-4) 26-9 2nd
35 UALR (15-3) 23-8 2nd
36 WKU (15-3) 25-9

37 SDSU (11-5) 25-9
38 ASU (11-7) 25-9
39 Marquette (12-6) 25-9
40 Seattle (21-8)*

41 Cleveland St. (12-6) 26-10 3rd
42 Binghampton (13-3) 23-9
43 Clemson (9-7) 23-9
44 FSU (10-6) 25-10

45 VCU (14-4) 24-10
46 Illinois (11-7) 24-10
47 Illinois St. (11-7) 24-10
48 TAMU (9-7) 24-10

49 Utah (12-4) 24-10 2nd
50 PSU (11-5) 23-10
51 Tulsa (12-4) 25-11 2nd
52 South Dakota (20-9)*

53 Tenn-Martin (14-4) 22-10
54 Alabama St. (16-2) 22-10
55 ODU (12-6) 22-10
56 Robert Morris (15-3) 24-11

57 Weber St (15-1) 21-10
58 Cornell (11-3) 21-10
59 UNI (14-4) 23-11
60 Morgan St. (13-3) 23-12

61 Buffalo (11-5) 21-12
62 Radford (15-3) 21-12
63 Jacksonville (15-5) 18-14
64 CS Northridge (11-5) 17-14"

Given the desires of TV and the leeway I assigned to the selection committee to protect regional play, something like this may have resulted.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Rick Carlisle is not an elite coach and is in the process of alienating Rajon Rondo

I think anyone who takes their blind off for a second can see this team has grossly underperformed it's talent level.  You never say that about a  team coached by the true elites ---Gregg Popovich, Larry Brown, Phil Jackson --- and frankly you rarely say it about the other active coaches with better winning percentages than him.

Erick Spoelstra, Tom Thibideau, Stan Van Gundy, Scott Brooks, Frank Voegel, David Joerger, George Karl --- they have all proven to be capable of regularly coaching a depleted roster to wins.

I have only seen Carlisle do that once --- the championship playoff run that turned his reputation from that of a coach that was considered pretty good to one considered elite by Dallas media.

Really I think there is not a huge difference qualitatively between Carlisle and the guys slightly below him on the winning percentage list --- Jeff Hornacek, Doc Rivers, Kevin McHale, Flip Saunders, and even (gulp) Jason Kidd.  Carlisle has a huge arrogance blind spot that totally caps his ceiling as a coach.

My ears bled the other day when the local Mav announcers weighed in on Carlisle claiming the blame for this team's recent woes and proclaimed him utterly without blame and one of the two best coaches in the league.


Did you see the starter's +/- vs. Cleveland?  -27. That has nothing to do with coaching?  What?  Are coaches not supposed to know their teams and what they need?

Is he a good coach, absolutely.  He is rare in that he cares about defense while having a mind well tuned to make minor offensive adjustments that pay dividends.

I think that leads people to overrate him vs. coaches like Spoelstra and Thibideau who are one track defensive drum beaters.

The trouble is he can only get along with about half the talented players Donnie Nelson brings in.  If they don't figuratively lap at Carlisle's feet, he alienates them, they play poorly, and he forces them out.  The latest example?  Rajon Rondo.  That intransience is costing Dirk the last years of his career.

Carlisle wants Rondo to be Jason Kidd.  It isn't going to happen.  He has to give a little to get what he wants out of Rondo.  I've seen this play out over and over in Dallas under Carlisle.  Carlisle getting his head straight is an unlikely situation.  A much more likely scenario is that Rondo bolts Dallas as a free agent to get away from Carlisle, costing the Mavs their investment and closing the door on Dirk's window.

What would need to happen to right the ship

I don't know if Rondo can be saved without firing Carlisle after the season, but I was a fan of this team when Cuban owned  I don't want to see Dirk's last days wasted.  This is my suggestion to right the team this year and do what can be done to fix the Rondo/Carlisle schism.

You need to have a private talk with Carlisle and tell him he has to surrender some control to Rondo and stop micromanaging him.  Give him a ton of rope.  Let him be one of the team's closers.

It is plainly apparent that Dirk and Ellis function better without Rondo.  Both play better with Barea or Harris at the point.  Well, that isn't an issue today as they both look injured and are not capable of hitting open shots presently.  Both of them need to sit a few games.  As does Tyson Chandler for the same reason.  All three could use a week to 10 days of pool time and training.  Dirk and Ellis need to also spend the non-contact time recovering their jump shots.

Mav fans and media's heads explode at the suggestion.   "We only have 4 fewer losses than New Orleans and Oklahoma City and both are playing much better than us!"  That is all true.

But consider this plan.  You give Dirk, Ellis, and Chandler the next 11 days off.   That leaves the team with a 5 game span without them --- Clippers, Thunder, Magic, Grizzlies, Suns.

Dallas will lose to the Clips, Grizzlies, and either the Thunder or the Suns.  With or without their stars that looks like a 2-3 run, so why not rest them?

It is fairly likely that New Orleans and OKC will go 3-2 or 4-1 in that time period.  That means if you take care of business the Mavs will have a healthy roster and at worst 2 less losses to start the end of season push.

If you truly believe this team has the talent to compete, then a minor lead for the 8th spot is not an issue.  A healthy Mavs team will finish out their last games with a winning percentage in the 65% range. If you believe in the talent, then pull the trigger.

How to sculpt the 11 day roster to compete and how to heal the Rondo rift

Carlisle has to communicate much better with Rondo and show him that he respects his resume.  Right now Carlisle treats Rondo like he is a replaceable cog of the same quality as Berea and Harris.  Barea was run off his last team's roster and Ellis was dropped from several team's plans.  While both fit what Dallas does quite well, it doesn't change the fact these guys are a notch above CBA caliber and if Dallas was not in the league, they may not be either.

Carlisle has to understand what an insult that is for an all-star.   Carlisle is pissed that Rondo makes needless turnovers.  To a degree, that is Rondo.  With Rondo feeling disrespected, that is going to be slow to change.

Carlisle needs to meet privately with Rondo and call a truce for the rest of the season and the playoffs for the benefit of Dirk and Chandler.  Call for a fresh start.  Leave the past in the past.

Carlisle will agree to play Rondo 35-40 minutes a night and will never take him off the floor in crunch time.   He will restructure the second team offense totally around Rondo's skillset and tweak the starter's offense a bit to help Rondo as well.  He will stop micro managing Rondo.    In return Rondo will try to make the simple passes, will own every minute with the second team, and will listen to Carlisle in the last 5 minutes of games.

The reality is that maximizing your talent is what top coaches do.  They put their players in a position to succeed.  Rather than pounding on Rondo for not fitting into the existing offense, Carlisle should have been cutting Dirk and Ellis's minutes to get them healthy and working the rest of the team around Rondo's skillset.

In the 12-18 minutes a game where Dirk and Ellis sit, Rondo can very much create open shots for the rest of the roster.  He can make those minutes a lot more productive.

While 3 of the big four sit, I'd recommend this:

5- James (30), Stoudemire (15), Smith (3 of mugging duty to prepare him for a playoff role)
4- Aminu (30), Villanueva (18)
3- Parsons (35), Jefferson (13)
2- Berea (35),  Harris (13)
1- Rondo (40), Harris (8)

Rondo will be tasked with setting up Parsons and Berea with shot opportunities.  Both will be strongly encouraged to take any decent shot they get. 

Rondo, Aminu, and James should have the team playing defense at a moderate level and Rondo should be able to manufacture some layups for the young bigs to offset their offensive weaknesses.   Your three oldies on the front line would not be overworked picking up a few more minutes on the second team.  They can score a little.

Now obviously this won't beat a playoff team, but it can take down a non-playoff team.

Come the San Antonio game, you add the injured trio back in and the offense naturally transitions with Rondo staying your minute leader.  Rondo would play about 18 minutes with the backups continuing what chemistry the team built in the 5 games, and would have about 20 minutes where he would have to conform slightly to what Dirk and Ellis are comfortable with.  In the 10 minutes he is out, Dirk and Ellis would be expected to score almost every point.  Compromise!

5- Chandler (28), Stoudemire (15), James (5)
4- Dirk (30), Aminu (13), Villanueva (5)
3- Parsons (35), Jefferson (13)
2- Ellis (35), Berea (5),  Harris (8)
1- Rondo (38), Harris (5), Berea (5)

It is the perfect plan?  No, but when injuries hit no recovery plan is perfect.  A good coach should figure out some kind of injury management plan rather than appearing to be a deer stuck in headlights. 

It should be good enough to go 2-3 in the next 5 games and give the trio 11 days of recovery time.

Who will Dallas take in the first round?

I hear two names that don't thrill me but sound about right.

Mississippi MLB/OLB Benardrick McKinney & Indiana RB Tevin Coleman.

McKinney sound eerily like what the Cowboys hoped to land in LB Ryan Shazier --- a 4-3 OLB who can also function as a strong edge rusher.   That my friends is a unicorn and Dallas's leadership appears deadset on capturing one alive.

McKinney also is praised for his mad "position-flex"  something that makes Jason Garrett foam at the mouth.

Dallas could also see this guy as a replacement for the unstable Rolando McClain at MLB.

Coleman is a guy I don't want to knock too much --- gaining big yards at a marginal program in a big conference is a good sign --- but I would vastly prefer a RT to keep Romo upright  for the night where Doug Free suddenly jumps the shark. 

But if Demarco Murray jumps ship --- especially to Philly --- I can see Jerry insisting on drafting a RB in the first round.  Jerry loves to have a set of triplets to sell and first round RB is an easy sell.

I would be very, very disappointed to see Coleman picked by Dallas in the late first while Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley was still on the board, but I could totally see the Cowboys wanting to outsmart everyone else.  If this organization has management tragic flaws, being too smart by half in a desire to differentiate itself from other organizations is one and practicing groupthink is another.

Forget what you hear...Chip Kelly is brilliant.

Eagle fans don't get him, but there is a clear logic behind what Chip Kelly does.

I have often lamented that when the Run and Shoot came to the NFL, it was never utilized to it's ultimate extent --- as cap control.  The run and shoot potentially allowed teams to sign an average line, a decent but accurate QB (Colt McCoy?), a decent chain moving RB (think Mark Ingram), two quick slot receivers (Cole Beasley and Danny Amendola) and two marginally talented but very fast deep threats (Darius Heyward-Bey and Mike Wallace, for example) to populate your offense.  Then you could pump like 70% of your cap into defensive players.  The run and shoot regardless of personnel would get you 3 TDs a game because few NFL teams have 4 decent corners.  ("But Heyward-Bey sucks!" Do you really want your 4th CB covering him on deep routes all game?)  Your all-star defense should hold opponents well below that.

Chip Kelly gets it.  He has an offensive approach that is likewise 20-40% more explosive?/productive? than most NFL team's approach.  He got frustrated because chowderheads like DeShawn Jackson and LaShawn McCoy rode that offense to inflated stats that delivered big contracts, limiting Kelly's ability to build a championship level defense.

His moves fix that.

You can see the inflation of stats by looking at Jackson and McCoy.

In Philly in 2013, Jackson caught 82 passes for 1332 yards.  Those numbers suggest an elite receiver.  In Washington, out of the eagles system, those numbers dropped to 56 passes for 1169.  He became effectively just a deep threat.

The trade of star RB LaSean McCoy for a linebacker coming off an injury (Kiko Alonzo) lights Eagles fans on fire, but you have to realize that it works out to LaSean McCoy for Alonzo, CB Byron Maxwell, and RB Ryan Mathews.  That's a hell of a good return for a RB who isn't a physical runner.

Chip Kelly's offense works best when it can pick up short yardage and move the chains. McCoy for all of his explosiveness isn't the kind of reliable chain mover Kelly wanted.

I would not be at all surprised along those lines to see Kelly land Cowboys RB Demarco Murray as well.  A Murray/Matthews rushing attack would be very strong in Philly.

The Buffalo deal is the perfect example of a win-win.  Buffalo got essentially a healthy version of CJ Spiller for a guy who wasn't part of a very good defense last season.

Even the Nick Foles for Sam Bradford deal looks a lot better under scrutiny than it did when the deal was announced.  It again looks like a win-win.

I have observed for the last 18 months that Kelly was not jazzed by Foles.  Foles did fall to the third round for a reason. One would think that it was due to him being raw, but maybe there was another reason every team in the NFL passed on him twice in that draft.

I think the bottom line was that Kelly really liked what was in former 1st round pick Mark Sanchez a lot better than what was in Nick Foles.  Once he was resigned, it opened the door to move Foles.

I think given that he paid a premium for Bradford, it smells of an upcoming trade, as does his comment that a team immediately offered the eagles a 1st for Bradford.  That to me is Kelly establishing a value for Bradford.

There was a report a few months ago that teams at the top of this draft aren't sold on either QB and would prefer Sam Bradford

It is easy to understand why.  Jameis Winston is everything you'd want on the field and a total disaster off the field.  He is charismatic on the field and exudes confidence.  He is just as likely to be a pro bowl QB in 4 years or the next Ryan Leaf or JaMarcus Russell.

Mariota could easily fall to 6 or even further down if the Jets don't pick him.  He is a modest guy by all accounts that almost sounds like he has some zen to him that scouts and teams don't know how to take.   It sounds like teams aren't buying into him as a leader.  As well as he performed at the combine, there is a sense that he is simply a fantastic athlete who happens to be a system QB.   In the average NFL scheme, he may be a more committed Andre Ware and nothing more.

Bradford has been solid in the NFL and played well early in his NFL career despite a team in St. Louis that was not talented offensively.  Do not forget that Jets coach Todd Bowles faced Bradford in division at Arizona and his mentor there also traded for a "marginal starter" and milked better play out of him.  Defensive coordinators turned head coaches like sure things, even if they are only bus drivers.  They don't like gambles.  There is a lot that fits here.

Kelly also said he wouldn't trade away the farm for Marcus Mariota.

Why would he say that?  Because Washington is expressing an interest in drafting Mariota. Are they really Mariota fans?  It is very doubtful.  Their owner still loves RG3. If you draft Mariota, that RG3 investment is totally wasted.  Frankly Mariota is like a more modest version of RG 3 and even more of a "system QB".  It is far more likely Washington may be trying to get Philly to give them 3 #1's for their pick to recoup their RG3 investment.

Kelly knows Mariota is perfect for his QB friendly system.  My take is Kelly is desperate for Mariota, but would rather trade two firsts and an equivilant (Bradford) that cost them a second to a receptive team like the Jets than give Washington three firsts.

Finally there is the question of injuries.  Philly is piling up a lot of players with injury histories.  Kelly believes that he trains his players in a way that will make injuries less common.  Maybe he is right, maybe he isn't.

This offseason lays out how Kelly is going to handle things.  Players are replaceable assets.  Jeremy Macklin was an injury plagued player.  Kelly still handed him the #1 receiver role and then let him walk when he played himself into an unacceptable price.

Kelly is not Jerry Jones --- desperate for marketable long term fixtures.  He is very much along the lines of Bill Belichick --- hunting for the next cog at the right price. 

I believe the only "luxury" he will ever afford himself is Mariota.  And he will get him this year unless the Redskins pick him.  (If that happens I think Kelly is smart enough to wait 2-3 years for the Redskins to give up on Mariota and drop the price dramatically.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Free agents Dallas should be targeting today.

Dallas has already resigned 32 year old RT Doug Free to a 3 year deal.  They signed Buffalo OLB Keith Rivers.   They also resigned slot receiver cole Beasley for 4 years and have franchised Dez Bryant.  Their actions suggest that is more or less where they draw the line on irreplaceable Dallas free agents (although I think Rolando McClain will be taken care of soon.)

They have lost starting SOLB Justin Durant and backup swing tackle Jeremey Parnell.

I would resign "marginal prospects" CB Sterling Moore,  OLB Bruce Carter, DE Anthony Spencer, and DE George Selvie.

I think all of these guys would provide great, quality depth at worst and can be acceptable starters if push came to shove.  I'd resign them if the price is not too high so I can draft real need areas (like RT) --- instead of letting them go... a situation that would create more need areas.

I would also sign Phildelphia Eagles RB Chris Polk, former Lions RB Mikel Leshoure, and former Dolphin RB Daniel Thomas to compete with our holdovers to replace DeMarco Murray. All of those guys have feature back size, some ability to block, and were not in good situations to succeed. 

Polk has done well in Philly, but was buried behind LaShawn McCoy. Not getting drafted appears to have grounded him. Leshoure had his moments in Detroit, but was lost behind Reggie Bush's brief resurgence and then churned in the coaching change.  Thomas was trapped on a Miami team with a god awful offensive line and a ton of running backs. You cannot fairly evaluate a pro RB behind a crap offensive line.

I would also take a hard look at Miami Dolphins RB LaMichael James to compete with Lance Dunbar if for no other reason than to ensure he doesn't end up in Philly as a scary return specialist.

I would strongly look into Washington 3rd string QB Colt McCoy or Miami backup QB Matt Moore.  Both are very effective players when on the field.  Unlike current backup Branden Weeden, both can handle an opposing defense that spent a week preparing for them without melting down  (See the Jacksonville tape).

Both are more than capable of delivering wins when Romo misses 2-3 games in a row each year.  Both are too brittle to be season long starters but play at a quality starter level.  Both would likely welcome an offer. 

McCoy grew up a Cowboys fan and is effectively more of a curiosity in Washington than anything else.  Moore signed with the Cowboys as a rookie free agent and one would suspect that making the team would do a lot to erase some demons for him.  He has had a Steve DeBerg-like career playing fairly well but getting replaced by top talents Cam Newton and Ryan Tannehill.  

Both would get the job done in Dallas, be popular with the fans, and not be a threat to unnerve Romo or create a QB controversy.   I think signing one of the two and dumping Weeden would be a fairly minimal outlay.

Finally as a somewhat high dollar acquisition, I would look at 49er WR Michael Crabtree.  Crabtree is a poor #1/ exceptional #2  with sure hands and good size who's pricetag is currently artificially low.  He is still a weapon at the goal line and in short yardage.  His value is in the dirt now.  He is seen as a "me guy" who has lost explosion.  He is considered valued in about the $5 M range now.  I think a 4 year $24 M deal would land him and provide exceptional value when Dez goes down with an injury.  I would have to be sure that Crabtree is mostly "the right kind of guy" who just lost his way in SF though.  I would also structure the deal where I could cut bait at any time if he turns out to be a defeatist, mopey ass or his quickness is permanently gone.

While I think very highly of Terrance Williams' attributes, he seems to be a guy who isn't the "reliable-type" at WR that QBs like Romo throw the ball to.  A friend of a friend who covers the Cowboys advised that Williams does a lot of that desperate cry for attention acting up in the locker room as the media interview the longtime stars.  As a result the media avoids him even after big games.  I was shocked to hear that, but I can't recall the media EVER reaching out to Terrance Williams and it does make sense of what I see.  I can buy it.  It frankly sounds like a guy with some maturity issues that are holding his great talent back. 

QBs do not like throwing to players who are not at the right spot and may create interception opportunities.   Williams's only plays seem to be on broken plays where he is undeniably absolutely dynamite. You might yield a much better net passing game with a more reliable #2 and Williams coming in on 4 receiver downs where he has an easier corner to beat.

I would finance this by a "renegotiate or get cut" come to jesus talk with CB Brandon Carr.  While he is clearly getting better as the ill-conceived implementation of Monte Kiffin's cover two moves further and further from his memory, he is playing at a decent #2 CB level only.  He seems like a down to earth guy who works, but he just isn't what Dallas thought they were getting. 

With Dallas' success driving up salaries, you can't pay him like a near elite corner anymore without really hurting your depth.  If you cut him, he won't ever recoup the total money ($27.1 M over 3 years) still owed on his Cowboy deal. 

I would offer him a deal along the lines of that signed by Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald in that it would be a price cut, but it would guarantee a lot of the money.  To my way of thinking Dallas would be able to spread most of his total salary (say $20M) over 5 years instead, with the first 4 years guaranteed, making for a tolerable price.