Category Archives: Basketball

The Mountain West, PAC-12 and perceptions in the NCAA tournament

No conference has more on the line in this year’s NCAA tournament than the Mountain West Conference. With a number of teams making the big show, there are grumblings that the MWC is getting seeded higher than deserved.

Much of the criticism centers on the fact that some teams in the Mountain West have scheduled games against division II teams, which does not affect their RPI’s, and thus their ranking. In the end, these teams still have to beat good teams, but their RPI boost may contribute to securing higher seeds in the tournament. What’s most intriguing is that these teams are not well covered by the national media, so it is unclear what type of respect the conference merits.

Against this backdrop, all eyes are on the MWC teams. If they don’t live up to their rankings, future selection committees may remember. The stunning losses for UNLV (5) and New Mexico (3) this week have certainly hurt the conference, but a deep run by the likes of San Diego could even things out. .

All of this talk brings up an old analysis (see: Things we already knew about the NCAA tournament) of first round winning percentages from a couple of years ago. I thought I would update that analysis to see how perception and performance differ in the tournament. First, I calculate “perceived” conference strength”, which combines the number of teams from each conference in the tournament and the seeding of each of those teams. Then, I related those weightings to first round winning percentages. As I stated last time, this is obviously a limited approach, but still fun to look at. Conferences that have elite teams that make deep runs aren’t accounted for here. So here is the data from 2010-2013.

[caption id="attachment_1450" align="alignleft" width="750"]NCAA From 2010-2013 seasons[/caption]

The PAC-12 is clearly seeded lower than their performance. This is not hard to see as many of these teams have upset higher seeds in recent years. The PAC-12 has not been highly regarded for years, and was predicted to go 0 for 5 in the tournament this year.

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Seattle close to relocating NBA team (Sacramento Kings)

Reports indicate that the Sacramento Kings are in negotiations with a group headed by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer to move the team to Seattle. Yahoo Sport’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the NBA’s relocation committee will ratify the motion to move the team to Seattle for the 2012-2013 season.

[caption id="attachment_1305" align="alignleft" width="1500"]Surveying has begun at arena site in Seattle. Can Surveying has begun at arena site in Seattle.[/caption]

Other reports also confirms that Chris Hansen has also begun purchasing additional parcels of land in the SODO district.  It is possible that plans are being made for a new parking garage to accompany the arena.

If the team does move to Seattle for the 2013-2014 season, they will play temporarily in Key Arena for two years.  Down the road, the group may eye a new NHL team to serve as co-tenants. Read also: The NHL in Seattle: Can Key Arena provide a temporary home?

[caption id="attachment_858" align="alignleft" width="1000"]Key Arena Key Arena in Seattle, Washington[/caption]




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The NHL in Seattle: Can Key Arena provide a temporary home?


Last week, the City of Seattle and King County announced that Seattle native Chris Hansen has submitted a proposal to build a new arena to host future NBA and NHL teams. Hansen will raise $290 million privately to pair with $200 million in public funds. Any additional cost overruns will be the responsibility of private investors. Public funding will be accounted for through revenue generated by the new arena, thus avoiding any new tax burden on the public. Importantly, the proposal bypasses the need for any funding at the state level and is essentially paid for by user fees in Seattle only.

The new arena is planned to be built in a region of Seattle near both CenturyLink Field (Seahawks & Sounders) and Safeco Field (Mariners). One of the main concerns about this location revolves around traffic. The arena would be near arteries that supply the Port of Seattle, so some thought must be made about methods to prevent any slowing of commerce. Parking is also an issue with garages at Safeco and CenturyLink fields providing 2000 stalls each.  By comparison, the Rogers Arena in Vancouver provides 7000 stalls within a 15 minute walk. Planning will need to minimize the overlap in events among the five teams that play in the area (see schedule below).  Avoiding NFL and MLS games should not be difficult due to the low number of home dates for these teams. The Mariners, however, will require a number of home dates that may overlap with the NBA and/or NHL. Since all three typically have night games during the week, there will surely be times when events are happening at both venues. As it stands, Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development requires teams at CenturyLink and Safeco to plan a minimum of 4 hours between the end of one event and the start of another. With the addition of two more teams, it would seem difficult to maintain compliance.

Traffic and parking aside, an important question is where exactly would a new NBA/NHL team play until a new arena is built? The most obvious choice is Key Arena (see photo). Built in 1962 for the World’s Fair, Key Arena underwent major renovations in 1994. As a basketball facility, a new NBA team should be able to play there temporarily, but NHL hockey might be a different issue. When configured for hockey, Key Arena provides only 9,000 unobstructed seats (and 58 luxury suites). I have played hockey at Key Arena and can confirm that the dressing rooms will require some renovating before they are close to suitable by NHL standards. Although two junior teams, the Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips play in buildings designed for hockey, both are on the smaller side for NHL crowds (6,500 and 8,300 respectively). The Tacoma dome can accommodate large crowds for hockey, but it is unlikely that the city of Seattle will allow a team to locate outside city limits (Everett is 30 minutes north of Seattle, Tacoma 45 minutes south). No, the Key Arena is almost certainly the venue to be chosen as the city has no major tenant for it now or in the foreseeable future (unless you count the Seattle Storm). Some voices, including Mariners transportation director Susan Ranf even suggest that the Key Arena should be redeveloped as a permanent site for any incoming NBA/NHL teams.

So, can a venue like Key Arena host an NHL team for 1 or 2 years while a modern arena is being constructed? In Quebec City, there are estimates of annual losses in the range of $20 million for a team that stays in the 15,000 seat Colisee with its lack of luxury boxes. However, many teams have made small venues work on a temporary basis. Before the Shark Tank was built, the San Jose Sharks played in the Cow Palace (1991-1993), an arena that seated just over 11,000. Likewise, the Tampa Bay Lightning played their first year (1992) in the 11,000-seat Expo Hall before moving to the much larger Thunderdome.  The Carolina Hurricanes played two years (1997-1999) at Greensboro Coliseum (23,000 seats), where they averaged just 8,637 fans. So, there does seem to be a precedent for arenas of this size, but the question depends largely on the magnitude of financial loss that the new owners are willing to absorb while a new venue is built.

As a temporary hockey venue, how does Key arena stack up? I have played hockey in  the Stampede Corral, where the Calgary Flames played before the construction of the their current home, the Saddledome. Key Arena is certainly a better venue than the Corral (capacity~6,500), but the Flames moved from Atlanta to Calgary some 30 years ago (1980), so the comparison may be of minor relevance. I’ve also played in Orleans Arena in Las Vegas (another potential expansion/relocation city), and it is not comparable to Key Arena.

And finally, there is the question of whether Seattle has enough fans to support an NHL team. There exists surprisingly little hockey culture in Seattle, especially when one considers how close to the Canadian border we are.  The two recreational leagues (Greater Seattle Hockey League and Cascade Hockey League) together include about 120 teams, though the vast majority are beginners. The Seattle Jr. Totems (“Totems” is my early pick for NHL team name) are the travel team for minor hockey players and the University of Washington has a club team. There are few arenas in Seattle and even those are found almost exclusively on the outskirts of town. Within Seattle itself, there are no hockey arenas to be found (see map).

View Larger Map

The two junior teams draw small, but respectable crowds (see table below). Canadian WHL teams draw slightly larger crowds in cities with established NHL teams. The $200 million dollar question is whether Seattle can be a hockey town. The Seattle Sounders Football Club exceeded all expectations when they began play, though it can be argued that there was more soccer tradition in the city given the mild weather year round. The Vancouver Canucks would be a natural rival to be sure, and I have noticed that many Vancouver fans come down for Giants games in Everett and Seattle, so presumably this spillover would help an NHL team as well.

      Team                                      2011-2012 Average Attendance

  • Seattle Thunderbirds         4862
  • Everett Silvertips                 4922
  • Calgary Hitmen                    6266
  • Vancouver Giants                6000
  • Edmonton Oil Kings           5007

So, a new movement is afoot to build an arena and entice NBA/NHL teams to come to Seattle. Much work on the arena, NBA and NHL fronts await, but the sad Seattle sports scene finally has some positive news. Can an NHL team make Key Arena work? Can they fill Key Arena when they get here? Will Seattle support a professional hockey team over the long term? These are all important issues to consider for a new NHL team in Seattle, but just because there’s a goalie doesn’t mean we can’t score.

Update: Developer Chris Hansen spoke in front of Seattle City Council Wednesday morning and stated,”Renovating KeyArena again is not an option, as the venue is not big enough for NHL hockey games.”


Potential arena location south of Safeco Field.

Read the related article: “Why NHL relocation looks to Seattle”

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Things we already knew about the NCAA tournament

A recent trend in the NCAA basketball tournament is the for a ton of Big East teams to be chosen and ranked highly and then to have most of those teams flame out early.  OK, we already knew that, but let’s look a little closer. The figure below shows the tournament ranking of teams by conference. A scale of perceived conference strength is based on the number of teams selected from each conference and the average ranking of those teams. The higher the number, the stronger the conference is perceived. We compare that to the winning percentage of each conference in the first round for the 2010 and 2011 tournaments. What we see is that most of the major conferences are grouped close together (Big 10, ACC, SEC, Big 12). However, a few patterns do emerge. First, the Big  East was consistently given more teams with higher ranks than the other conferences while winning their first round games at a lower rate. The ACC won more often (not surprising) even though having a mediocre rating overall, though much of this was driven by two fairly well known teams. Even so, we are only looking at first round games so there are still limits to how much the heavy hitters can raise conference performance. The PAC 10, which had few teams chosen and generally lacked high seeds, won all their first round games. This is even more striking when you consider the number of games against opponents that were seeded higher. Before taking this too far though, it should be noted that there were not very many PAC-10 teams to analyze, so this result might be a little flimsy. Understanding that, however, the data does hint at an east-coast bias.

[caption id="attachment_163" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="First round result of NCAA tournaments in 2010 and 2011"]NCAA[/caption]

Are the Big East teams being ranked higher for some reason or are those teams underperforming in the tournament? It’s difficult to say, but the teams play in big games all season, so they should be prepared as any for the circus that awaits them in March. Perhaps travel is something that Big East teams don’t have to deal with as much as their PAC 10 counterparts? On the other had, Pac 10 teams don’t make it very deep into March. With no higher seeds, the Pac 10 has not had a team advance past the sweet sixteen in the last two years. Perhaps conferences that have 1-2 elite teams have some sort of inertia that extends to the ranking of their lower seeds? Difficult to speculate what’s behind this pattern, but fans can always enjoy the argument.

[caption id="attachment_170" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="NCAA tournament 2011"][/caption]
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The NC double “eh” tournament

So, here we are with an expanded NCAA tournament and 68 hopeful teams. Those extra teams have little to no chance of winning the championship, but hopefully they will widen the fan base for the tournament. With more teams, the risk is that the the overall quality of play will suffer. Will having two 16 seeds playing against each other really provide good entertainment value? Only time will tell, but this year the play-in games were generally disappointing.

VCwho? VCU finished fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association, losing 11 times along the way. Other bubble teams included 11-loss UAB, who were the Conference USA regular season champions and Clemson, with no wins against top-50 teams. The results of the first four games were underwhelming and got me thinking about something. Something crazy. Watching a team like UNC Asheville, a school with a student population of 4000 made me wonder about  ways of tweaking the bottom of the bracket. If we’re opening up the bracket to more teams, and realistically the NCAA needs to open it up even more to have the bracket more symmetrical/logical,  why not open one of the bottom seeds to a Canadian team? Yes, I said crazy!

There is basketball in Canada, but it isn’t on a comparable level with any NCAA Division I team. However, the expanded tournament format dilutes the pool and means that the gap is shrinking. This year, Simon Fraser University from Vancouver started play in NCAA Div. II. Who knows how much improvement SFU can undergo in the next 10 years, but is it unreasonable to expect that they can get themselves to a level of NIT participant or bottom of the NCAA tournament? Did you see UAB play?

Air Force vs. SFU in 2007

The key here is the vast potential of Canadian universities to improve their teams. UNC Asheville is in basketball country to be sure, but with 4000 student, they’re potential to grow is limited. SFU, on the other hand, already boasts nearly 30,000 students and schools like the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto have student populations in the 60,000s. Give them the carrot of an NCAA tournament seed and how fast do you think these schools could mobilize a competitive team?

This argument works best for basketball because teams can focus on recruiting just a handful of players. This isn’t the case in football where you need to recruit 20-30 players to even get off the ground. As for home-grown talent, this year there are 20 Canadians in the NCAA tournament, with most coming from Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal  (see table below). If UofT (Toronto) had held on to local players Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, both of whom enrolled at the other UofT (Texas), they would be well on their way to being competitive.


ROBERT SACRE JR Gonzaga N. Vancouver, BC
KELLY OLYNYK SO Gonzaga Kamloops, BC
MANGISTO AROP SO Gonzaga Edmonton, AB
JON HOUSE SR Belmont Guelph, ON
KYLE JOHNSON SR Long Island Ajax, ON
ARNOLD MAYORGA JR Long Island London, ON
TROY JOSEPH FR Long Island Ajax, ON
ERIC KIBI JR Arkansas-Little Rock Quebec, QC
TRAMAR SUTHERLAND JR Arkansas-Little Rock Toronto, ON
DWAYNE HARVEY FR Alabama State Hamilton, ON
KRIS JOSEPH JR Syracuse Montreal, QC
JUEVOL MYLES SO Kansas State Ajax, ON
JUNIOR CADOUGAN SO Marquette Toronto, ON
KADEEM GREEN FR Missouri Toronto, ON
JEAN SELUS JR Illinois Montreal, QC

*Bold – NCAA schools that won respective conference title

Unfortunately, for now we are limited to exhibition games between teams from Canada and the US. Each pre-season there are a handful a these cross-border games with the US teams winning the bulk of the games (see the list of 2008 games below). Maybe one day there will be a play-in tournament in Canada with the winner moving on to the big show.

Queen’s 102 University of South Alabama  94

University of Kansas 72 McGill University 67

Penn State 83 University of Waterloo 52

Tulsa 81 Trinity Western 75

Cal State Fullerton 81 Simon Fraser 78

Kansas 84 Carleton University 83

Southern Illinois University 82 University of Windsor 69

North Carolina State 81 York University 60

University of Virginia  85 Concordia University  70

South Alabama 72 University of Ottawa 70

Western Ontario 85 Morgan State  78

East Tennessee State 88 University of Guelph 60

University of Tulsa 76 UBC 65

2011-2012 Season
La Salle University 66 Carleton 64
University of Central Florida 93 Carleton 84
Illinois State University 80 Carleton 90
University of Akron 80 Carleton 76
University at Albany 91 Carleton 81
Saint Louis University 56 Carleton 80
Saint Louis University 73 Carleton 78
Niagara University 55 Carleton 85
UC Santa Barbara 61 Carleton 71
Carleton 56 La Salle University 74
Carleton 72 Penn 74
Humboldt State University 102 SFU 87
San Francisco State 69 SFU 81
Western Washington (Div. II) 81 UVic 68

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