The view from my seat in the auxiliary press area adjacent to the Minnesota Timberwolves bench at Target Center can sometimes leave a bit to be desired. But on Monday night it provided the perfect vantage point to fully appreciate what Ricky Rubio can bring to the new and unquestionably improved Timberwolves.

 

The 21-year-old Spanish wunderkind already had a handful of assists to his name and looked like he belonged on an NBA court, making his regular season debut two years after he was drafted fifth overall by Minnesota. It was the fourth quarter – a stanza which featured Rubio for its duration – and the Wolves were clawing back from what had been a 12-point third-quarter deficit to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

 

Rubio hustled the ball up the court with just under 11 minutes remaining, a gaggle of Thunder players in front of him to his left as Rubio moved from left to right from center court towards the 3-point line. Fellow rookie Derrick Williams, meanwhile, sprinted through the traffic toward the basket. The confluence came together perfectly, like an eclipse, where I was lined up directly with Rubio and shared his line of vision. For a split second I saw the tiny crease open where Rubio could squeeze a pass to Williams for a dunk. But by then it was too late, as the window closed as quickly as it had opened.

 

Fortunately for the Wolves, Rubio had the ball and I did not.

 

Rubio saw the opening before it was created, and had the ball through it with a quick, one-handed bounce pass the hit Williams perfectly in stride. The 20-year-old elevated and threw down a reverse two-handed dunk that sent the capacity Target Center crowd into a frenzy.

 

“You can see the court vision he has,” coach Rick Adelman said. “He is really good in the open court and that is why our guys have to learn they can’t walk up the court or jog, they have to run up the court every time.”

 

If there’s a cure for the morose which has plagued Minnesota fans since Kevin Garnett was traded, Rubio has his thumb on the plunger.

 

The takeaways regarding Rubio Monday night were three-fold. The first I already mentioned – the fact he belonged. Rubio was comfortable and confident. There was little he could do to slow Russell Westbrook one-on-one defensively, but Rubio’s got plenty of company there. His final line – six points, six assists, five rebounds, no turnovers – couldn’t have been scripted better, at least by a realist.

 

Takeaway number two is his willingness to take a chance. Sometimes that window Rubio saw before it opened will turn out to be painted shut. The resulting turnover will undoubtedly be ugly, but Rubio obviously doesn’t mind. He understands the reward, both short- and long-term. The immediate benefit of such risks when they work out will generally be a dunk or a layup. But the long-term profit is much greater. Without a pass to be received, the Wolves’ wings could easily become discouraged and choose to jog up court and remain on the perimeter. By taking the calculated risks, the Minnesota’s high-flyers will be encouraged and motivated to constantly run the floor, allowing the team to take advantage of its greatest assets – length and athleticism.

 

The third takeaway is Rubio’s style and pace. With Luke Ridnour running the fast break, and Jonny Flynn in previous seasons, players like Wes Johnson and Michael Beasley were unable to fully take advantage of their athleticism in the open court off the ball because of the aggressive nature of their point guards. Both Ridnour and Flynn erred on the side of pushing the ball towards the basket, with Ridnour more than willing to take the shot and Flynn often throwing bad passes because of overzealousness and poor spacing. Rubio isn’t slow, but he takes his time. Even on fast breaks, you can see Rubio waiting for plays to develop. He understands spacing and passing lanes and has the patience to let the movement play out while calculating the best response based on his intuition.

 

This court sense will only improve as he adjusts to the NBA game and his new teammates.

 

“We just have to give him a little bit of time to work his way in,” Adelman said. “It is going to be an up and down situation for him. All rookies face that. He seems to have an awful lot of hype going his way but I don’t see him buying into that. I just see him as a young man that really wants to learn, really wants to do well and he is just going to get better.”

 

You can see that, wherever you’re sitting. 

 

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The 12-Seed Anomaly, 5.0

March 16, 2010

There are two things that every good NCAA tournament bracket-filler-outer should do immediately upon receiving their tournament layout hot off of the company copy machine each year. First, put the name of the No. 1 seeds in each region on the next line. Second, put the name of the No. 2 seeds in each region on the next line. No matter how much you like some low-level school’s mascot or team colors, it’s just not worth trying. No. 1 seeds are 100-0 all time against No. 16 seeds since the tournament increased to 64 (now 65) teams. As for No. 2 seeds, only four times in 100 games have they lost to an opponent seeded 15th – so write those in ink as well.

This brings us to step number three: the 12-versus-5 matchup. This, my friends, is where the magic happens. The spirit of the tournament lies in the upsets, the little schools outplaying the big ones, the Cinderella squads finding out that the slipper actually does fit. This pairing is always the next to consider because of its unique history.

The 12-versus-5 matchup doesn’t follow mathematical logic. Assuming all else is equal, the tournament selection committee should be able to rank and seed teams over the long run to fall in line with statistical probability. For example: a number one seed should never lose to a number 16 seed. To this point, the No. 1 seeds have won 100 percent of those games. The game between the eight and nine seeds, conversely, should for all intents and purposes be 50/50. In the history of the tournament, the record between the two sides is 54-46, in favor of the nines.

So, the winning percentage of the underdog teams (16 through nine seeds) should progress somewhat evenly from zero to 50 percent. If I’ve already lost you, it might be time to quit while you’re behind. In fact, we’d recommend calling a few of your former math teachers and clarifying how much your parents actually spent to get you through school.

The winning percentage of No. 15 seeds versus No. 2 seeds, as illustrated earlier, is 4 percent. Moving up to the 14s, they are 15-85 all time against third-seeded teams, giving them a winning percentage of 15. The 13 seeds keep the trend going, winning 21 percent of the time (21-79 overall).

Let’s skip No. 12 for now and go to 11. Against No. 6 seeds, the 11s have a winning percentage of 31 from a 31-69 overall record. And finally, the 10s beat the 7s 39 percent of the time (39-61 overall).

So, judging by those numbers the No. 12 seed should have a winning percentage around 25 percent, right? Well, the math makes sense, but reality doesn’t. With a 34-66 record all time against No. 5 seeds, the 12 seed wins 34 percent of the time – better than the No. No. 11 seeds by 3 percent.

The overall numbers have skewed in this direction in large part because of recent history – with the exception of three years ago when the No. 5 seeds went 4-0 while the No. 6 seeds split games with the 11s.

Since 1999, 12 seeds have done a better job in the first round of the tourney than 11 seeds. In the last 11 years, 12 seeds have gone 18-30 against their No. 5 counterparts, while No. 11 seeds are just 13-35 overall against the 6s. This averages to 1.6 first round victories per tournament for the 12s and 1.2 for the 11s.

Now that I’ve beaten the living daylights out of you with statistics, let’s talk strategy. Every so often its fun to throw a 13 or a 14 seed on the line to advance to the next round and see what happens. This is fine, just realize that both of those seeds average less than one victory per tournament over the last 23 years. But when it comes to those 12s, you’ve actually got to take a serious look at all four games. First, look at the trends. Find out what teams are hot heading into the tournament and what teams have struggled as of late.

The next piece of the puzzle to look at is strength of schedule – particularly late in the year. If a team has a mediocre record down the stretch, but is playing top competition, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are playing poorly. That’s where a few box scores come in handy. And just because a team is on a winning streak doesn’t mean they’ve beaten anyone of note (exhibit A this season is Butler).

Another key factor is matchups. Does one team have two quick guards that no one on the other team will be able to defend? Perhaps an opposing big man will cause some problems. Again, this is where you dig up the season schedules and look for teams similar in makeup to the upcoming opponent and see how the games went. To be quite honest, this is the way to look at any matchup. But when it comes to picking the one or two key upsets – in particular at the 12-versus-5 level – generally you can look back and find the glaring statistic after the fact that should’ve pointed you in the right direction. Finding the stats in advance is the hard part.

But don’t quit until you find at least one 12 seed you’ll put your money on the line for. The 2007 tournament marked just the second time since 1989 that at least one 12-seed did not move on to the second round. Six times in the last nine years, two or more 12 seeds have moved on to round two.

Keep in mind, however, the magic generally ends there. Of the 56 No. 12 seeds to play in the tournament since 1995, only eight have advanced past the second round into the sweet 16. Just one of those eight teams has made the elite eight. In all, 16 No. 12 seeds have made the Sweet 16 in the 25 years of a 64-team bracket (or 65), making for roughly one No. 12 in the final 16 every two years. But as stated, more recent history dictates even fewer appearances, as eight of those 15 No. 12 seeds made the Sweet 16 from 1985 through 1994 – leaving eight for the last 15 years.

Three No. 12 seeds advancing in 2009 skewed the numbers even more in the direction of the No. 12 seeds as statistical anomalies. And keep in mind, 25 tournaments isn’t a gigantic sample size. In the next 50 years, the numbers are likely to fall along a normal curve – meaning 12 seeds would have to start losing at a higher rate. But as the numbers above indicated, the 12 seeds have been the exception to the rule the last 20 years, so until they prove otherwise, there is something special about the 12 vs. 5 matchup. Be sure to take note before turning in your bracket.

Want even more tourney seed stats? Check out my other post: https://puntingbaxter.wordpress.com/2010/03/16/more-bracket-busting-fun/

Buckeyes 64, Gophers 59

February 15, 2010

That’s right, I was back in the saddle on Valentine’s Day for a little Gophers womens hoops action. The Gophs actually made a decent game of it after getting housed by OSU in Columbus a few weeks back.

http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/womens-basketball/recap?gid=201002140363

Bobcats 93, Wolves 92

February 11, 2010

It’s been awhile since my last post, but I’ve been busy with other things. Like what, you ask? Well…hey, what’s that over there!

Anyway, the Wolves and Bobcats gave me plenty to worry about last night on my first writing assignment in awhile, while fighting off a brutal head cold no less. Fortunately only one of my errors (and way late in the story) made it by the editors…

http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/recap?gid=2010021016

Lynx 75, Shock 72

September 10, 2009

The Lynx kept their playoff hopes alive with a victory on Wednesday night.

http://sports.espn.go.com/wnba/recap?gameId=290909008

Stay tuned for fantasy football updates, including the defensive fantasy points allowed weekly chart I did last season starting after Week 1.

Sparks 76, Lynx 70

July 29, 2009

It’s been awhile, but I finally got back on the writing horse last night. The Lynx have been inexplicably bad at home recently, and Candice Wiggins now has knee trouble flaring up. Meanwhile, the Sparks are improving and still will get Lisa Leslie back. Here’s the link to last night’s game story.

 

http://sports.yahoo.com/wnba/recap;_ylt=AtaQIdBj4Xvr3Zn0lIw3jgF2vrYF?gid=20090728011

Monarchs 74, Lynx 68

July 3, 2009

The worst team in the Western Conference beat the best team in the Western Conference on its home floor on Thursday. Seimone Augustus scored 30 points the first time these teams met this season in a Lynx win, so her absence combined with a 22-4 clobbering in second chance points and 13-for-21 from the line did in Minnesota.

 

http://sports.yahoo.com/wnba/recap;_ylt=Au8ZNHnVQfaT8XgOle_5YCB2vrYF?gid=20090702011

Lynx 69, Liberty 57

June 24, 2009

Yep, got to cover the Lynx last night. No Seimone Augustus, but Minnesota still won. Candice Wiggins is a nice player. Her and a healthy Seimone would be a formidable 1-2 punch. That’s enough commentary for me.

 

http://sports.espn.go.com/wnba/recap?gameId=290623008

I went back through the brackets all the way to 1985 – the first year the NCAA men’s tournament went to 64 teams – and found some more info that you may or may not find useful when filling out your brackets. Here are some of the highlights by seed:

 

         No 16 seed has ever beaten a 1 seed.

         15 seeds have won just four times over 2 seeds, but are currently on a seven-year drought – the longest since failing to win in six straight years from 1985 to 1990.

         No. 14 seeds have a 15.6 winning percentage in first round games, but have won only 5.5% of the time in the last nine years. At least one 14 seed won for seven straight years from 1986 to 1992, but only seven have won since with the latest coming in 2006.

         Last year was just the third time since 1985 that two 13 seeds won in the first round. No. 13s have averaged one first-round victory per tournament during the last 11 years, but have won just one second-round game since 1999.

         No. 12 seeds have won in the first round at a higher clip than No. 11 seeds (32.3% to 31.3%) overall, but those numbers have been skewed towards the 12s even more the last 10 years – 37.5% to 30%.

         No. 11 seeds have won just one second-round game in the last six years and just four times in the last 17 years.

         After winning just four second-round games from 1985 to 1996, 10 seeds have won 14 in the last 12 tournaments – but just one in the last three years.

         No. 9 seeds defeat No. 8 seeds 54.2% of the time, but have defeated No. 1 seeds in the second round only three times – just once in the last 14 years (2004).

         Although No. 8 seeds lose slightly more first round games then they win, they have won three times as many second-round games against No. 1 seeds than No. 9 seeds. The 8s have four of their nine wins over No. 1s in the last nine years.

         Of the six No. 7 seeds to make the Elite 8, none has ever advanced to the Final Four. Three of those six No. 7s got to the Elite 8 in the last six years.

         Only one 6 seed has advanced past the Sweet 16 in the last six years and no 6th-seeded team has advanced to the Final Four since 1992. The only No. 6 seed to win the national championship was Kansas in 1988.

         Despite averaging 1.5 teams in the Sweet 16 since 1985, No. 5 seeds have advanced to the Elite 8 just five times – just once in the last six years. But of those five teams, four advanced to the Final Four and two to the championship game. Five seeds are the highest to never have won a national title.

         Even though No. 4 seeds that win in the first round are always favorites in the second round regardless of opponent, only seven have advanced to the Sweet 16 the last six years. Only three 4th-seeded teams have advanced beyond the Sweet 16 the last nine years. The only No. 4 seed to ever win the NCAA tournament was Arizona in 1997.

         No. 3 seeds average one Final Four appearance every other year, but have made it to the last weekend of the tournament just once the last four years. However, of the three No. 3 seeds to win national championships, two have come in the last six years. No. 3 seeds are also the only ones besides No. 1s to ever account for both representatives of a national championship game (1989).

         Only three times since 1985 have all No. 2 seeds reached the Sweet 16, with the last time being in 1996. No. 2 seeds have averaged just TWO Sweet 16 appearances per season since 1999. No. 2 seeds have won just four national titles, and only two in the last 17 years.

         All No. 1 seeds have advanced past the Sweet 16 just six times, with four of those coming in the last eight years. More than two No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Elite 8 just four times, and last season was the first time that all four No. 1s reached the Final Four. Since 1975, No. 1 seeds have averaged 1.75 Final Four berths per season.

The 12-seed Anomaly, 4.0

March 17, 2009

There are two things that every good NCAA tournament bracket-filler-outer should do immediately upon receiving their tournament layout hot off of the company copy machine each year. First, put the name of the No. 1 seeds in each region on the next line. Second, put the name of the No. 2 seeds in each region on the next line. No matter how much you like some low-level school’s mascot or team colors, it’s just not worth trying. No. 1 seeds are 96-0 all time against No. 16 seeds since the tournament increased to 64 (now 65) teams. As for No. 2 seeds, only four times in 96 games have they lost to an opponent seeded 15th – so write those in ink as well.

This brings us to step number three: the 12-versus-5 matchup. This, my friends, is where the magic happens. The spirit of the tournament lies in the upsets, the little schools outplaying the big ones, the Cinderella squads finding out that the slipper actually does fit. This pairing is always the next to consider because of its unique history.

The 12-versus-5 matchup doesn’t follow mathematical logic. Assuming all else is equal, the tournament selection committee should be able to rank and seed teams over the long run to fall in line with statistical probability. For example: a number one seed should never lose to a number 16 seed. To this point, the No. 1 seeds have won 100 percent of those games. The game between the eight and nine seeds, conversely, should for all intents and purposes be 50/50. In the history of the tournament, the record between the two sides is 52-44, in favor of the nines.

So, the winning percentage of the underdog teams (16 through nine seeds) should progress somewhat evenly from zero to 50 percent. If I’ve already lost you, it might be time to quit while you’re behind. In fact, we’d recommend calling a few of your former math teachers and clarifying how much your parents actually spent to get you through school.

Ok, moving on. The winning percentage of No. 15 seeds versus No. 2 seeds, as illustrated earlier, is 4.2 percent. Moving up to the 14s, they are 15-81 all time against third-seeded teams, giving them a winning percentage of 15.6. The 13 seeds keep the trend going, winning 20.8 percent of the time (20-76 overall).

Let’s skip No. 12 for now and go to 11. Against No. 6 seeds, the 11s have a 31.3 winning percentage from a 30-66 overall record. And finally, the 10s beat the 7s 37.5 percent of the time (36-60 overall).

So, judging by those numbers the No. 12 seed should have a winning percentage around 24 or 25 percent, right? Well, the math is right, but reality isn’t. With a 31-65 record all time against No. 5 seeds, the 12 seed wins 32.3 percent of the time – better than the No. No. 11 seeds.

The overall numbers have skewed in this direction in large part because of recent history – with the exception of two years ago when the No. 5 seeds went 4-0 while the No. 6 seeds split games with the 11s.

Since 1999, 12 seeds have done a better job in the first round of the tourney than 11 seeds. In the last 10 years, 12 seeds have gone 15-25 against their No. 5 counterparts, while No. 11 seeds are just 12-28 overall against the 6s. This averages to 1.5 first round victories per tournament for the 12s and 1.2 for the 11s.

Now that I’ve beaten the living daylights out of you with statistics, let’s talk strategy. Every so often its fun to throw a 13 or a 14 seed on the line to advance to the next round and see what happens. This is fine, just realize that both of those seeds average less than one victory per tournament over the last 22 years. But when it comes to those 12s, you’ve actually got to take a serious look at all four games. First, look at the trends. Find out what teams are hot heading into the tournament and what teams have struggled as of late.

The next piece of the puzzle to look at is strength of schedule – particularly late in the year. If a team has a mediocre record down the stretch, but is playing top competition, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are playing poorly. That’s where a few box scores come in handy. And just because a team is on a winning streak doesn’t mean they’ve beaten anyone of note.

Another key factor is matchups. Does one team have two quick guards that no one on the other team will be able to defend? Perhaps an opposing big man will cause some problems. Again, this is where you dig up the season schedules and look for teams similar in makeup to the upcoming opponent and see how the games went. To be quite honest, this is the way to look at any matchup. But when it comes to picking the one or two key upsets – in particular at the 12-versus-5 level – generally you can look back and find the glaring statistic after the fact that should’ve pointed you in the right direction. Finding the stats in advance is the hard part.

But don’t quit until you find at least one 12 seed you’ll put your money on the line for. The 2007 tournament marked just the second time since 1989 that at least one 12-seed did not move on to the second round. Five times in the last eight years, two or more 12 seeds have moved on to round two.

Keep in mind, however, the magic generally ends there. Of the 52 No. 12 seeds to play in the tournament since 1995, only seven have advanced past the second round into the sweet 16 – two of those coming last season. Just one of those seven teams has made the elite eight. In all, 15 No. 12 seeds have made the Sweet 16 in the 24 years of a 64-team bracket (or 65), making for roughly one No. 12 in the final 16 every two years. But as stated, more recent history dictates even fewer appearances, as eight of those 15 No. 12 seeds made the Sweet 16 from 1985 through 1994 – leaving seven for the last 14 years.

Two No. 12 seeds advancing in 2008 skewed the numbers even more in the direction of the No. 12 seeds as statistical anomalies, following a 2007 tournament that saw no No. 12s advance. And keep in mind, 24 tournaments isn’t a gigantic sample size. In the next 50 years, the numbers are likely to fall along a normal curve – meaning 12 seeds would have to start losing at a higher rate. But as the numbers above indicated, the 12 seeds have been the exception to the rule the last 19 years, so until they prove otherwise, there is something special about the 12 vs. 5 matchup. Be sure to take note before turning in your bracket.