We're now about 1.5 weeks past the end of the season, and yet I don't feel like writing a full retrospective of the season. I don't think I'll be ready until we get some news - specifically, a Cuonzo Martin extension and draft decisions from Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown. Those unresolved items will color any look back at the 2015-16 season.
Another quick thought on the RPI
There's a fascinating article up right now on the Pac-12 official website, detailing how Pac-12 women's basketball coaches have worked together to improve the conference's RPI by scheduling smarter:
Neighbors made a case among his new colleagues for balanced scheduling and for the value of non-conference wins.
"He came in with this huge packet, with color-coded graphs. The message was, ‘Everybody needs to get eight or nine wins (in the non-conference) and you need to play the best teams you can beat'," Close said. "Everyone was brainstorming. Everybody understood this has to be bigger than just your team. We have to help each other."
The reason the article is interesting isn't that it shows that conference coaches are trying to 'game' the RPI. I'm fascinated that the article was written and put on the official Pac-12 website. This almost feels like something the coaches should be doing without explicitly talking about it.
The article doesn't mention men's basketball, but I'm sure that most Pac-12 men's coaches are doing the same thing, either in isolation or working together for the benefit of the conference. There's a reason that nearly every team in the Pac-12 had an RPI rating superior to its efficiency profile. As a consequence, every Pac-12 team received a seed higher than their computer profiles, which . . . certainly didn't help anybody win games, although Oregon may have survived a bit longer than they otherwise might have due to their 1 seed.
My reaction to the Pac-12's successful scheduling practices?
1) Hooray, we appear to have mostly smart coaches in the conference, which is a very nice change from the bad old days when Craig Robinson and Ken Bone murdered collective strength of schedule. Let's hope this continues
2) I'm curious at what point the NCAA decides to modify the RPI - and if so, how?
Based on the current RPI formula, it's a bad idea to schedule any team that's likely to have an RPI lower than, say, 250. This year, East Carolina had an RPI of 218, while Coppin State had an RPI of 326. A power conference team like Cal is very, very likely to beat both teams without any real trouble. But one team has a negligible impact on strength of schedule, while the other actively hurts you, even with a win.
Everybody around the nation is gradually realizing that it's a bad idea to EVER schedule a team from conferences like the SWAC, MEAC, or the Southland because even if you win by 60, your RPI will be 5 or 10 slots lower than if you played a randomly average team . . . or didn't play the game at all. While the Pac-12 article above didn't explicitly mention RPI maximizing rules like that, you can be damned well sure that every single Pac-12 coach knows them, and that might be a problem.
Will the NCAA buckle and actually start to consider margin of victory? While I love Kenpom and other similar metrics, they are designed to be predictive and aren't necessarily the best way to establish which team has accomplished the most - even the most dedicated stat heads recognize that winning games is the point of the exercise.
On the Pac-12 MBB wipeout
You know what's great about college basketball? Consensus opinions and talking head blather don't mean anything. If Cal isn't going to get nice things, I sure as hell won't be rooting for other Pac-12 teams to have nice things either, because I'm a petty man and their success has very little positive impact on Cal.
I mean, I guess it's good to get more post-season money into the Pac-12 coffers, but from a purely basketball perspective, watching USC/Colorado/Utah/Arizona/OSU collectively flame out means that those teams don't get the recruiting benefit of an extended tournament run. And next year, Cal will be judged on their 2016-17 resume by the selection committee, who has a very strong track record of consistency of using their flawed, manipulable metric to build a tournament bracket. I root for the Pac-12 in November and December because it benefits Cal. I root against them in March because it has no tangible positive impact on Cal, and why exactly would I want Arizona fans to be happy? Evil: it's the way to be!
A belated WBB season retrospective
For two months, Cal women's basketball played like a clear NCAA tournament team. Then, for two months, the Bears played just barely better than two Pac-12 programs that fired their coaches. Then, for one weekend, the Bears again played like a clear NCAA tournament team.
Good lord did we all need that last week. And I us 'we' intentionally, because the fans and the program both needed it.
The problem, before the Pac-12 tournament, was that Cal hadn't beaten a decent team since December. For two months, a collection of highly rated recruits who haven't experienced a ton of losing in their athletic careers were suddenly faced with a season that, at least from a win/loss perspective, spiraled down the drain in a matter of weeks.
True, their were obvious mitigating factors. Eight total healthy, eligible players (unless it was 7), including just three true guards (unless it was two). Players playing out of position, playing way more minutes than would be ideal. But ultimately, having a truly valid excuse doesn't change the on-court reality. When it comes to program buy-in, talent development, recruiting . . . well, nobody is going to feel sorry for a team that's been dealt a rough hand.
And then, for one weekend, the Bears offered a reminder that they do indeed have top 15 level talent. They beat a feisty Utah team that swept them in the regular season. They beat a top 10 ASU squad that is earned a 2 seed. And they came within seconds of upsetting Sweet 16 UCLA for a 2nd time and setting up an utterly improbable Pac-12 title game matchup with Oregon State.
Falling in overtime to the Bruins after losing a 3 point lead in the final 10 seconds of regulation was certainly painful, but did nothing to detract from the larger message of the weekend: This is a team with talent, certainly, but more than that, this is a team with energy, a team with belief and fire and passion, and when we put it all together you had best watch out. That type of message has been a consistent part of Lindsay Gottlieb's coaching philosophy since she arrived in Berkeley, but it had been lost in conference play.
How wonderful and important it was to see that philosophical soul of the program in evidence on the court again. Prior to March, it wouldn't have been off-base to wonder whether or not the roster had bought into that philosophy. But then you see 45 minutes of effort to keep the season alive against Utah, followed by another 40 minutes against a rested, deep, disciplined Arizona State, followed by another 45 minutes against UCLA, interspersed with dancing and clapping and hugs, and you saw the type of Cal basketball we fans have gotten used to (and spoiled by) over the years.
It's also worth noting that this was clearly the best, deepest season of Pac-12 basketball in a long, long time. The Pac-12 is collectively 13-3 in the NCAA tournament, and one of those losses came when Washington beat Stanford. Oregon and Utah are collectively 6-1, with Utah losing to the Ducks. Cal had the misfortune of having their youngest, shallowest, most injury-ridden team facing the high water mark of Pac-12 basketball in the new millennium.
There's still plenty of concern. The program is on uneven ground relative to most every other recent season. Three strong performances don't erase all of the problems that prevented Cal from doing better than four regular season conference wins. It will take a whole ton of hard work to get this program back to where they expect to be. But I'm guessing it's much easier to put forth that type of effort when everybody gets a nice reminder of the kinds of reward that work can reap in March.
For the coaching staff, it means polishing off the 2016 recruiting class that already has some exciting players but could badly, badly use another true guard to fill the gaps left by Mercedes Jefflo and Breanna Cavanaugh. Maybe that means another elite freshman recruit. Maybe that means a transfer. The empty class is finally 'graduating' and that means this is the year when the coaches can finally achieve class balance. Roster management will be critical.
It's going to be a long, important off-season Thankfully, the Bears enter that off-season with a little bit of optimism and momentum. After a trying season, I'll take it.
Let's say hello to Jerod Haase
The obvious storyline here is that Mr. Haase actually played for Cal, before transferring and having a ton of success. Hooray for him. But all of that predates my general consciousness as a Cal fan, so I'm going to safely ignore it!
What I actually care about is whether or not Haase can turn Stanford into something scary. It's possible, but I'll say this much: Nothing about his resume at University of Alabama Birmingham impresses me.
Haase spent 4 years at UAB, following the firing of Mike Davis after the 2011-12 season. Here are the Kenpom rankings of UAB over the last 8 years:
The bolded years were coached by Haase. Pretty mediocre looking, no? Why is it that Mike Davis was fired and picked up by a SWAC school while Haase is now a major conference coach, when one had much stronger results than the other?
The key here is understanding the evolution of Conference USA. During Davis' tenure, Conference USA was one of the better mid-major conferences, with a couple teams regularly in the conversation for at-large tournament selections. Memphis carried the conference's reputation. But the conference has been losing teams (most prominently Memphis) and replacing them with weaker teams. Jerod Haase has been winning lots of games in a conference that is much weaker than it used to be.
Sure, UAB looks good with their 26-7 overall record this year. It came against a sub-300 non-conference schedule strength and a weak conference. UAB then suffered a painful conference tournament upset, then got blown out in the first round of the NIT.
Haase's resume at the moment is essentially one big upset win in last year's NCAA tournament over Iowa State, 60-59. UAB promptly got blown out by a mediocre UCLA team in the next round.
Stylistically, it's tough to say what it is he prefers as a coach. His teams have been all over the map. One year, they're running and gunning and forcing a ton of turnovers. The next year they're slowing down, and blocking a ton of shots. Generally speaking, his teams have been turnover prone. Beyond that, it's wild fluctuation in almost every major statistical category. An optimist would say that he tailors his strategy to what his players can do. A pessimist would say that he hasn't shown any ability to put his own stamp on a team.
Haase is very young and early in his coaching career and could very easily improve. Stanford is probably fine taking that risk, as anything would be better than the sub-zero level of excitement of the Dawkins era. But as of right now, there's not a ton of objective evidence to suggest that Stanford has found an amazing head coach.