Independent Country

James Leroy Wilson's one-man magazine.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Ranking the Men's NCAA Tournament Teams


The NCAA Tournament brackets were released on Sunday, March 12.

I collected the names of the teams and ranked them regardless of their region or seeding.

The ranking combines RPI (a strength-of-schedule metric) and the net number of blowout wins minus blowout losses. 

I will fill out my bracket accordingly. 

Thus I have #1 Houston beating # 1 Alabama in the Final. Gonzaga and Purdue are my other Final Four picks (Gonzaga and UCLA are in the same region).

We'll see how this goes! 

  1. Houston

  2. Alabama

  3. Gonzaga

  4. UCLA

  5. Purdue 

  6. San Diego St

  7. Kansas 

  8. Texas

  9. Florida Atlantic 

  10. Utah St

  11. Saint Mary's

  12. Arizona

  13. Duke

  14. Marquette 

  15. Oral Roberts 

  16. Memphis 

  17. Xavier

  18. Boise St

  19. Tennessee

  20. Baylor

  21. Virginia

  22. VCU

  23. UConn

  24. Miami (FL) 

  25. Texas A&M

  26. Nevada

  27. College of Charleston

  28. Drake

  29. Kent St

  30. Arkansas

  31. Kansas State

  32. Indiana

  33. Auburn

  34. Missouri

  35. Louisiana-Lafayette 

  36. Iona

  37. NC State

  38. Creighton

  39. West Virginia

  40. Iowa St

  41. Kentucky

  42. Michigan State 

  43. USC 

  44. Maryland

  45. Penn St

  46. Kennesaw St

  47. Vermont

  48. TCU

  49. Arizona St

  50. Miss State

  51. Pitt

  52. Providence

  53. Northwestern

  54. Illinois

  55. Furman

  56. UNC-Ashville

  57. Iowa

  58. Montana State  

  59. Grand Canyon 

  60. Princeton

  61. UCSB

  62. Colgate

  63. Northern Kentucky

  64. Howard 

  65. Texas A&M - Corpus Christi 

  66. SE Missouri

  67. Texas Southern 

  68. Fairleigh-Dickinson 

James Leroy Wilson writes The MVP Chase (subscribe) and JL Cells (subscribe) and thanks you for your subscriptions and support! You may contact James for your writing, editing, and research needs:

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Will Jokic three-peat?


Photo: public domain

Before 2007, no freshmen or sophomores had won the Heisman Trophy, and almost all played for a highly-ranked team. The winner that year, Tim Tebow, was a sophomore on a 9-3 squad. I don't recall a junior or senior who's won it since. It was good to throw tradition aside. If the outstanding player was an underclassman, so be it!

To date, no player has won three consecutive NBA MVPs. Nikola Jokic, however, may be on that course. He won in 2021 and '22 and is even better now.

Would it dishonor some all-time greats if Jokic becomes the first to win the MVP Award three times in a row? I don't think so. Kareem, Jordan, and LeBron may have deserved to win three or more consecutive MVPs at some point in their career. Denying Jokic (if he deserves it) won't correct past errors but only add another one.

But does Jokic deserve it? I don't know; the season's not over.

Before I get to this season, I'll discuss two trends I've seen in MVP results over the last 20 years.

First, John Holligern's Player Efficiency Rating (PER) rankings overlap with MVP votes. In the last ten seasons of MVP voting, only 15 players in the Top 5 were not in that season's top 5 in PER.

9 of the last 10 MVPs led the league in PER. The only exception was Steph Curry in 2015, who finished third while his Warriors had the NBA's best record.

MVP voters may be consulting the PER list. They may rely on it too much and provide errant MVP results. Or, they may reject the stat even when their votes reflect it. It's like NFL MVP voters who hate the passer rating but usually give the MVP to a quarterback at or near the top of the league in that stat. 

Whether right or wrong, we can safely predict that the league's MVP will be at or near the top in PER.

Second, availability and winning matters. Six of the last ten MVPs played for the team with the best record, but it goes deeper than that. Of the ten most recent MVPs, nine played in the most victories among players who were top 5 in PER that season. The exception was in 2017, Russell Westbrook's first triple-double season. 

For instance, in 2021-22, Jokic played in 74 games, including 46 of 48 Nuggets victories. Giannis's Bucks and Embiid's 76ers each won 51 games, but both played in only 45 victories.

This season Jokic is again ranked first in PER, Embiid's second, and Giannis is fourth. As of the afternoon of March 11,  Basketball Reference data shows:

  • Jokic has played in 43 of 46 Nuggets wins.

  • Giannis has played in 39 of 48 Bucks wins.

  • Embiid has played in 35 of 44 76er wins.

(Luka Doncic, third in PER, has played in 31 of 34 Mavericks wins. Anthony Davis of the Lakers is fifth in PER, but his Lakers have won too few games for either him or LeBron to be MVP candidates.)

If the trends continue, Jokic, first in PER and first in wins among the top 5 PER leaders, will win the 2023 MVP award for the same reasons he won the last two.

Should he?

The NBA's top scorer (in total points), Jayson Tatum, does one better than Jokic, playing in 44 of 46 Celtics wins. Rebounds leader Domantas Sabonis of the Kings has played in 38 of 39 Kings wins, an even better participation rate. Julius Randle, the top player for the Knicks, has played in all 39 of their wins. He's played in as many victories as Giannis.

Should they get MVP consideration? Perhaps not. Jokic, Giannis, and Embiid are simply better.

So we can ask of the "Big Three:" how good are their teams when they play?

  • The Bucks with Giannis playing are 39-13: .750

  • The Nuggets with Jokic are 43-16: .729

  • The 76ers with Embiid are 35-18: .660

By that standard, Giannis has the nod over Jokic, and both Giannis and Embiid would have finished ahead of Jokic last year. 

This year, I just don't see Embiid in the  MVP conversation. Tatum, whose Celtics are 44-18 (.710) when he plays, may have a stronger case than Embiid, particularly if we disregard PER. 

But it behooves all players to bolster their MVP candidacies by avoiding injury, spitting in the face of "load management," and playing

It's hard to complain about losing the MVP if another player played more games and won more games.

James Leroy Wilson writes The MVP Chase (subscribe) and JL Cells (subscribe) and thanks you for your subscriptions and support! You may contact James for your writing, editing, and research needs:

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Ranking the NCAA Champion coaches of the past 50 years


Photo: public domain

Jim Boeheim has retired as head coach of the Syracuse University men's basketball team. He is second in all-time career wins in the NCAA's Division I, with one national championship and five Final Fours in 47 seasons.

It's the third year in a row that one of the biggest names in the sport has retired, following Mike Krzyzewski (2022) and Roy Williams (2021). But I never felt Boeheim was in their class.

I wondered how he stacks up among coaches in the modern era. I limited myself to coaches who have won the NCAA Tournament in the last 50 seasons, so coaches like Gonzaga's Mark Few and West Virginia's Bob Huggins aren't considered. 

I considered the coach's total number of national championships and Final Four appearances.  

Here are the totals. Asterisks indicate fewer than 500 career games won. Among coaches with the same number, I ranked those with more national championships ahead: a coach with four Final Fours and two titles ranks ahead of a coach with five Final Fours and one title. When there's still a tie, the coach with a higher career-winning percentage is ranked higher.

  1. John Wooden 22

  2. Mike Krzyzewski 18

  3. Dean Smith 13

  4. Roy Williams 12

  5. Tom Izzo 9

  6. Bob Knight 8

  7. Denny Crum 8

  8. Jim Calhoun 7

  9. Rick Pitino 7

  10. John Calipari 7

  11. Bill Self 6

  12. Billy Donovan 6

  13. Jay Wright 6

  14. Lute Olson 6

  15. Jim Boeheim 6

  16. Jerry Tarkanian 5

  17. Larry Brown 4 *

  18. Joe B. Hall 4*

  19. John Thompson 4

  20. Nolan Richardson 4

  21. Steve Fisher 4 *

  22. Al McGuire 3 *

  23. Gary Williams 3

  24. Tony Bennett 2*

  25. Jim Harrick 2*

  26. Scott Drew 2*

  27. Rollie Massimino 2

  28. Tubby Smith 2

  29. Jim Valvano 2*

  30. Kevin Ollie 2*

  31. Norm Sloan

  32. Jud Heathcoate 2*

Among the top 15, only Calipari and Izzoi join Boeheim with just one national championship, and they have more Final Fours in 17-20 fewer years of coaching. Only Wright and Calhoun have lower career-winning percentages. 

I commend Boeheim for coaching good teams for a long time. But he isn't an all-time great.

James Leroy Wilson writes The MVP Chase (subscribe) and JL Cells (subscribe) and thanks you for your subscriptions and support! You may contact James for your writing, editing, and research needs: