Experience and the NCAA Tournament

March 31, 2010

Sherron Collins' experience allowed him to go 4-15 with 5 turnovers in the biggest game of Kansas' season

Even for a square, pop culture-ignorant guy like me, a neat part of living in Manhattan is the occasional celebrity sighting. I ran into Bill Cosby on the corner years ago. I saw Matt Damon wheeling a stroller – with, presumably, a child in it – down my block this past winter. I’m also beginning to think the entire cast of “The Wire” lives on the Upper West Side, because I’ve seen Seth Gilliam (Carver) taking his kid to school, Wendell Pierce (Bunk) outside Lincoln Center, and John Doman (Rawls) on the 3 train. Does it make me feel cool to write all this? Yes. Yes it does.

The famous person I see more than anyone else, however, is current broadcaster and former NBA player Len Elmore. He must live in the neighborhood, because I see him everywhere. I owe my first interaction with Mr. Elmore to my father. We were walking up Amsterdam Avenue several years ago when a gigantic figure emerged from Caesar’s Palace Pizza on 84th Street. My dad, a University of Maryland fan and graduate, quickly recognized his fellow Terrapin and gushed to me “that’s Len Elmore!” Naturally, my dad introduced himself to Elmore, and the three of us continued uptown together in varying degrees of shock – dad at meeting Len Elmore, Len Elmore at being met by my dad, and me at my dad’s hidden reserves of childlike enthusiasm. It was three blocks of bliss for my dad, who reluctantly parted ways with Elmore at 87th Street.

Obviously, with the NCAA Tournament in full swing, I haven’t seen Elmore around so much in March. But since he’s returned to the broadcasting booth, I’ve noticed a tendency of Elmore’s that I had never noticed before. More than most broadcasters I can think of, and certainly more than any other college basketball analysts, Elmore talks about the importance and significance of experience in the game of basketball. With Elmore, persistent shooting slumps and steady ball handling are attributed less to a simple cold streak or superior dexterity, and more to the absence or presence of a player’s experience. He’s not a radical. He’s not one of these analysts or fans that makes judgments about a player based on their look, their swagger, or any number of other arbitrary criteria on which intellectually complacent folks rely. But he really does seem to like himself some experience in a player.

As you can well imagine, I don’t think experience matters all that much when it comes to in-game activities. I suppose it matters when it comes to mental and physical preparation, but the number of variables affecting an athlete’s play in a game is so high that it strikes me as problematic to pin a player’s success or failure on the slippery and amorphous quality of “experience.” With all other factors being equal, yes, I would prefer an experienced player over an inexperienced one. The chances of “experience” being the deciding factor in any given game, however, seem quite low to me. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pittsburgh’s Free-Throw Shooting Did Not Cost Them The Game

March 29, 2009

It’s currently halftime of the Michigan State-Louisville game, and I just wanted to make a quick counter-argument to something color-commentator Len Elmore said in the first half. Regarding last night’s epic Villanova-Pittsburgh game:

“If Pitt hits their free throws, they win that game.”

Technically, Elmore is right. The Panthers lost by two points, and shot 21 of 29 from the line. If they made all 29 of their free throws, they would have won by six points. So, yes, if Pitt hit their free throws, they would won that game.

But I think Elmore – a very bright guy and an exceptional analyst – is misinterpreting the numbers a bit here. During the regular season, Pittsburgh hit 67.6% of their free throws. Last night, they made them 72.4% of the time. The Panthers did hit their free throws. Elmore is right to be looking at free-throw shooting as a deciding factor in the game – he’s just looking at the wrong team. Villanova shot 75.3% from the line during the regular season. They hit 22 of 23 last night, good for a 95.7% success rate. That’s the noteworthy part of the free-throw shooting story. Pittsburgh’s shooting from the line didn’t cost them the game. Villanova’s success from the line won it.

By the way, does anyone have any idea if “free throws” is hyphenated or not? 1,000 fictional Fan Interference Points if you can clue me in. I will edit accordingly.