Monday, March 13, 2017

2017 March Madness: Top Seeds and Facts

After much speculation and anticipation, Selection Sunday has yielded the brackets for the 2017 March Madness tournament. This year, there’s a relative lack of controversy in terms of seeding, other than the underwhelming seeds given to teams like Wichita State and West Virginia state. Considering trends for 2017, Duke receiving a two-seed doesn’t stir up too much trouble among most fans either.

With the path to the championship made clear, college basketball bracketology has begun in earnest, with millions of fans chasing the perfect championship bracket. Depending on your chosen method of mathematical analysis, statisticians believe that the chances of predicting the entire tournament are as low as 1 in 9.2 quintillion, and as high as 1 in 128 billion. Considering that less than one percent of bracketologists have predicted the path to the Final Four in the past six years, it’s almost guaranteed that your bracket will be devastated before the sweet sixteen, including an upset of a couple of these top seeds.

Villanova - Approximate Odds: 15-2

One of the greatest runs to the championship in NCAA basketball history, the Villanova Wildcats earned the best point differential for a winner in March Madness history. They also enjoyed the first-ever three-point buzzer beater in championship history to secure their first win in 31 years.  The Wildcats have been awarded top seed for their continued excellence this year, as well as their incredible performance during 2016 March Madness. An instant classic, last year’s championship game was among the most exciting ever witnessed.

Josh Hart and championship shot maker Kris Jenkins are the marquee names leading the Wildcats, who thrive off of teamwork and experience. Even better, Villanova appears to be kicking it into high gear at the right time, beating most challengers through superior defense. Despite the fact that North Carolina and Duke are considered the favorites according to the odds, there’s no doubt that Villanova will represent a tough out for Duke, assuming the two schools meet in the elite eight.

Kansas - Approximate Odds: 8-1

Kansas has once again earned a top seed based on their regular season dominance of the Big 12. True to recent pattern, this top seeding hasn’t helped them make inroads during championship season, as they lost in an 85-82 shocker against TCU. Fatigue, the absence of Josh Jackson and refereeing were discussed as the scapegoats, but any top ranked team which gives up 85 points needs to consider their defensive effort first and foremost.

The Jawhawks have been one of the most underwhelming top seeds over their 13 consecutive regular season conference titles. Despite named top seed seven times and number two seed twice since 2005, Kansas has made only two Final Fours. They’ve been upset before the semifinals six times by squads ranked 7-14, and have lost against lower seeds nine times in the past 11 years. As usual, Kansas is loaded with top end prospects, but has to overcome inexperience and controversy to fulfill the promise of their talent.

North Carolina – Approximate Odds: 6-1

The internet was flooded with the tears of the “Crying Jordan” meme after the Tar Heels helplessly watched a three splash at the buzzer. Seconds earlier, it appeared that Marcus Paige had managed to salvage extra time with an incredible shot of his own, which was promptly erased by Kris Jenkins historic winner. Despite the devastation of such a close loss, North Carolina’s program has responded admirably, landing as the third seed overall, and the top seed in the east with a 31-3 record.
One of the top basketball programs on an annual basis, the Tar Heels look to build on a lengthy tradition of superb performances, including 48 tournament appearances, 19 Final Fours and five NCAA National Championships. Justin Jackson returns to the tournament as the ACC Player of the Year, and will attempt to showcase his newfound three-point range while lifting his squad to a championship.

Gonzaga - Approximate Odds: 10-1

The Bulldogs have made a giant leap into the top level of elite seeds, ranking fourth overall and leading the west as the number one seed. Last year, they were ranked 11th in the Midwest, and managed to make some noise by taking out the sixth seed Seton Hall, and the third seed Utah, before running into Syracuse, who would go on to make the final four.

This year, Gonzaga has made waves in the NCAA by earning the best record in Division I men’s basketball, winning 32 games and losing a head-scratcher to the BYU Cougars. Popular opinion about Zags tends to veer towards the Bulldogs as overachievers who haven’t dealt with a lot of adversity, which undermines the fact that this squad has hustled hard to build a reputation. Gonzaga may not have the high-end talent that other colleges boast, but their dedication to teamwork and defense readies them for a relatively easy path to the Final Four.

NCAA March Madness Top Seeds Trends

Appropriately, top seeds dominate the NCAA Men’s Division I championship tournament. With few exceptions, at least one top seed makes it to the Final Four. More often than not, two number one seeds make it to the semi-finals. On the other hand, the Final Four almost never consists of four top seeds, which means that it’s more than likely for one of 2017’s best ranked teams to end up on the wrong side of history. March Madness is famous partly because of the monumental upsets that derail even the biggest contenders, making it nearly impossible for fans and experts to fill out a perfect bracket.

Nevertheless, a number one seed has won 19 championships out of 30 finals appearances, compared to second seeds, which have won five championships in 12 appearances since 1985. In terms of Final Fours, top ranked teams have made it 52 times while second seeded teams have made 28 tournament semi-finals. For the 2017 tournament, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and Arizona stand out as significant challengers on the way to the Final Four. You shouldn’t expect a 16th seed to beat a 1st seed to start the bracket, but just about anything else is possible in a one-and-done tournament format.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Closer Look at the Kyle Korver to Cleveland Cavaliers Trade

Kyle Korver is likely headed from the Atlanta Hawks to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a trade that make an already dangerous Cavs team even more lethal. While Korver doesn't take many shots from inside the arc, he is a career 42.9 percent shooter from three-point range. Combined with Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith, Cleveland now has the firepower to go shot-for-shot with Golden State.

What This Trade Means for Cleveland

For now, it looks like Korver is going to replace Mike Dunleavy in the rotation while also stepping in while J.R. Smith is out with a thumb injury. The best part for the Cavs is that they aren't giving up a whole lot to get one of the top players on a playoff team. Reports say that Cleveland is sending a future first-round pick, Mike Dunleavy and some spare parts for Korver.

What This Trade Means for Atlanta

Atlanta is currently fourth in the Eastern Conference. However, the Hawks trading away on one of their top scorers could indicate that they don't feel good about staying there. It is thought that Paul Millsap could be next on the trading block, but it isn't currently clear if there is a suitor for him at the moment. While there is some speculation that Toronto may trade for him, there likely wouldn't enough room to pay both him and DeMar DeRozan next year.

What This Trade Means for the Rest of the NBA

Golden State is surely going to be interested in any move that the Cavaliers make. It is possible that they will try to make a move to match them whether they go out to get another scorer or try to get another defensive specialist to shut Korver down. However, it may be tough for the Warriors to make a move because they lack salary cap space.

In the immediate future, a fall by the Hawks could be good news for teams such as the Wizards or Knicks who are on the fringes on the playoff race. If the Hawks fall, they could be there to take their spot. In the event that Toronto does get Paul Millsap from Atlanta, they may be able to pose a significant challenge to the Cavs this spring.

With the acquisition of Kyle Korver, the rich get richer in the NBA. While it certainly isn't as big of a move as the Warriors picking up Kevin Durant, Cleveland got one of the best players on the market. In addition to improving their own roster, they have set in motion a series of events that could shake-up the NBA landscape this year and for years to come.


Article written by Adam Hayes

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Kevin Durant to the Warriors: A Case in Loyalty, Hypocrisy, Failure & Success

What would your reaction be if an NBA MVP and scoring champion elected to join your team via free agency? As any Warriors’ fan, my first reaction was pure ecstasy on July 4 when I received my barrage of texts about the signing. The oft-cited Bill Simmons expose dissects thoroughly how Warriors fans have been tumultuously thrown around over the course of recent decades. We've all been witness to that roller coaster veering sharply upward in recent years. Now that team represents the league’s Goliath. The 2016-17 Golden State Warriors will be one of the league’s most intimidating super-teams. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson…it is undoubtedly a powerhouse team unlike any in NBA history.

It feels ironic that the team from Silicon Valley rose just as meteorically as its tech industry. Apple, Google, Facebook, and Snapchat…and now the local Warriors. The David Lee pick-up set the stage for the Andre Iguodala acquisition which eventually led to this??!!

After reading 100s (probably thousands) of tweets, watching too many rants by “experts,” and reading all the hate on reddit and my own Facebook feed, some guilt started to creep in. We earned our championship and our regular season record through the draft, and small but smart moves started to naturally add up. Is Kevin Durant crossing the line of too much? How did Golden State end up ripping the thunder out of Oklahoma City? And where does loyalty fit into the greater picture of the NBA?

Assessing "The Decision"

Three questions here that are repeated again and again: should the Warriors feel guilty for hoarding a disproportionate amount of the league’s elite talent? Do we blame the Thunder ownership for failing to make re-signing Durant’s best option? Do we blame Durant himself for a) leaving OKC and/or b) joining the team that beat him in the Western Conference Finals? I think this all fits into a more complex picture that casual NBA fans prefer to neglect for the simplified one. As Daniel Kahneman wrote in Thinking Fast and Slow, we often elect to substitute our answer to an important target question (how should the movement of elite NBA talent be regulated by the league?) with the heuristic question (should Durant have left OKC to join the Warriors?). And the result of this substitution, as I will discuss later, is a tremendous amount of hypocrisy. Resentment from other teams and fan bases would be quite different if they were a part of the Warriors fans or organization. As Jim Rome said, “[the Warriors are] playing the same game as everyone else. They’re just playing it a helluva lot better.”

The Warriors should be praised rather than vilified for acquiring Durant. Golden State drafted the vast majority of its core. Stephen Curry (drafted 2009), Klay Thompson (2011), Draymond Green (2012), Harrison Barnes (2012), Festus Ezeli (2012) were all homegrown products. Not unlike Oklahoma City, who drafted three MVP candidates (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden) in three consecutive years, 2007-2009, both teams relied on strong drafts to make themselves competitive. Isn’t this exactly what teams like the Boston Celtics do? Stack assets, become competitive, and hope to acquire a superstar?

The glaring difference between the two teams (GSW and OKC) was their respective desires to retain talent. OKC couldn’t make up a $4 million difference to keep James Harden. They instead opted to take Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and three draft picks. Harden wanted a $60 million contract; the Thunder stayed firm at $55.5 million (per ESPN). Perhaps it was fitting that, as reported by Royce Young, OKC majority owner Clay Bennett (net worth around $400 million) spent his final weekend courting Durant from a Holiday Inn Express. Warriors majority owner Joe Lacob, by contrast, doled out in 2012 what was at the time a risky $44 million contract to Steph Curry. He took the heat (and boos) for trading away fan favorite Monta Ellis that same year. He paid Klay Thompson and Draymond Green when the time came to do so. The front office hired a general manager with no GM experience (Bob Myers) and paid a coach who had zero coaching experience (Steve Kerr). Both have gone on to win NBA awards at their respective positions.

OKC general manager Sam Presti failed to do (among other things) what I recognized and have said since this site’s inception over four years ago: trade Westbrook. Now, in the twisted irony, Westbrook will, in all likelihood, be the last piece of their core to be traded. Presti could never quite get the right surrounding pieces to calm KD and Westbrook in their love-hate relationship. As we have already seen, the hate in that relationship will be highlighted in weeks to come. 

Despite all of OKC’s success, a cloud of unease always lingered over Chesapeake Arena. Coaching and managerial decisions in OKC's isolation offense made shots a competitive asset. In Golden State's fluid, assist-heavy offense they aren't. One more win in their 2016 season may have relieved that tension enough to sign the pair of superstars to contract extensions, but that win didn’t happen. Where OKC failed, Golden State succeeded. And Durant, after struggling for nine years, wanted a taste of true success. Wouldn’t you?

I think it can be universally agreed upon that Kevin Durant had every right to leave Oklahoma City. Even Stephen A. Smith agreed to that. (More on Screamin’ A. later.) The corollary to OKC’s front office failures is that KD had every right to leave.

Losing hurts a player’s image, and if one’s image is hurt, so is their brand. The Jordan brand still looms large over the NBA, and there is no doubt that the tech-centric Bay Area would have appeal for Durant, a Nike-sponsored and brand-conscious athlete. I wrote in 2013 that, in part because of the area, Golden State would soon be better than OKC. Who would’ve known that on July 4, 2016, the Bay Area would poach OKC’s once-in-a-generation superstar? This brings us to good old random chance.

Injuries happen. Suspensions happen. OKC has had more than their fair share of injury history with Durant and Westbrook over recent years. Golden State never knew if Curry’s ankles would last. The Warriors dealt with both injuries and suspensions in 2016 and didn’t use either as an excuse for losing the NBA Finals. Whether it was Curry going down against the Blazer, Draymond being suspended for Game 5, or Bogut exiting with injury in the Finals, injuries and the unexpected happened. To what degree did it impact the outcome? Who cares. All the theoretical simulations in the world may have ended in a Warriors repeat instead of a Cavs upset, but none of that occurred in the actual 2016 NBA playoffs. There are enough “what ifs?” in NBA history to prove that random chance is ubiquitous.

Loyalty and Hypocrisy

Cleveland Cavaliers fans were just as quick to jump on the excuse train when they lost the 2015 NBA Finals as they were to burn LeBron James’ jersey in 2010. Yet somehow LeBron forgave the city. The city loved LeBron once again. Most impressively, LeBron forgave Cavs owner Dan Gilbert who bashed LeBron as narcissistic, selfish, disloyal, cowardly along with the empty and ultimately false claim that he would bring Cleveland a championship before LeBron earned his first. How many people can say that they willing went back in to work for a boss who publicly shamed them? And the team bounced back in 2016.

Once Durant announced he was leaving, the jersey burning insanity reappeared. No loyalty, some fans cried. Nine years apparently means nothing. All of the community work means nothing. The MVP and Finals appearances mean nothing.

Loyalty in sports is rare and it is a two-way street. And let’s take a minute to remember a few moments just in the past decade that put loyalty to the side:
  • Kobe Bryant asked to be traded from the Los Angeles Lakers more than a handful of times. In the end, Phil Jackson and Shaquille O’Neal were ousted. Kobe is still praised for loyalty to LA.
  • Derrick Rose was born and raised in Chicago. This off-season, Chicago dealt him away to the New York Knicks.
  • Dwyane Wade is the Heat. He is Miami. Few athletes are the face of their city more than Wade is to Miami. Pat Riley and the Miami mafia were supposed to take care of him. He is now a Chicago Bull on a near-$50 million contract.
  •  LeBron James famously departed Cleveland for South Beach. We all know what happened from there.
As a San Francisco Giants fan, I also watched All-Star second baseman Jeff Kent leave SF and eventually play for the rival Los Angeles Dodgers. Closer Brian Wilson signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers after being an instrumental part of our 2010 World Series run, the first championship San Francisco baseball had ever seen. What about guys who like Johnny Damon, Roger Clemens, and even Babe Ruth who jumped from one side to the other side of arguably sports most historic rivalry?

Let’s revisit the (lack of) loyalty that Oklahoma City showed its own guys. James Harden. Serge Ibaka. Scott Brooks. What about the “original sin” when ownership decided to rip the franchise from Seattle? If a team can’t show loyalty to a city…is there even such a thing as loyalty in sports?

Now for the most ridiculous hypocrisy that I’ve seen. Stephen A. Smith had a tantrum over Durant’s decision to bolt David to join Goliath. Yet, like Sporting News wrote, didn’t Smith himself leave a small newspaper to join the “biggest name in sports news”? Charles Barkley also chimed in. (After all, his favorite pastime is ripping anything to do with the Warriors.) Did amnesia kick in when he said Durant is “cheating” to win a title? He demanded a trade from the Suns and ended up with two future Hall of Famers in his own career. Smith and Barkley, in particular, are prone to oversimplification and negligence of facts. They give nice soundbites, yes, but a ten-year-old with a keyboard could write 140-character tweets with the same superficial opinions.

Carmelo Anthony gets criticized for taking too much money and not prioritizing winning. Miami will likely be criticized for failing to give a past-his-prime Dwyane Wade his money. LeBron has gone from loved to hated somehow back to loved again by most NBA fans. And unlike Durant, LeBron had a televised decision and a party where he proclaimed “not one, not two, not three…” Somehow, opinion re: the Warriors have gone from “73-9 means nothing because they didn’t win a championship!” to “how is a 73-9 team getting Kevin Durant???” Maybe in light of the lack of consistency in response to stars moving around the NBA, none of this is all that surprising.

One of the 2011 NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement's goal was to help small market teams. It backfired when the new TV deal ballooned the salary cap for all 30 teams. If anyone deserves criticism, it’s Adam Silver, NBA owners, and the NBA Players Association for all agreeing to a system that tries to spread talent across the league. Losing the player max contracts could be one way to fix "a broken system." This would force teams to either spend a huge amount on one superstar player or spread the wealth among lower-tier stars.

People are going to find something wrong when they are on the losing side of a trade or acquisition. Did OKC fail to put themselves in position to keep Durant? Yes. Period. Did the Warriors put themselves in the best position to acquire him? No doubt about it. Was there luck involved? There always is. But to blame Durant and the Warriors for using the system to their advantage is to blame Sam Hinkie for tanking in Philadelphia. It is misplaced blame. Look to those who set the rules of the game to question the “fairness” of the rules; you might be surprised to find that those who agreed to the rules are the same ones complaining about them. Don’t blame the Golden State Warriors who played by the rules and successfully optimized their ultimate goal of winning. Especially when it is a group of guys with character and class.

Former NBA commissioner David Stern made a highly scrutinized decision when he vetoed the Chris Paul to the Lakers trade (a trade that I thought should’ve gone through despite having a vested fan-interest in it being vetoed). Conveniently, a Laker fan recently wrote to me that the Kevin Durant to the Warriors trade should have been vetoed just like that Chris Paul trade.

I’d be willing to bet he would’ve been just fine if the Lakers had acquired the future Hall of Fame point guard.