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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday March 05, 2009 12:00 PM ET chat session with John Gasaway.

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College action on the hard court takes it up a notch, so get John Gasaway to dish on March Madness and answer all of your questions.

John Gasaway: Yo! You know the drill, right? This is the best month of the sports year by far. You're you, I'm me, last night was insane. Let's talk about it!

Adam (State College, PA): After last night's win over Purdue, is it unreasonable to get my hopes up for a Northwestern NCAA bid? I don't know what to make of this team... are they the team that wins at MSU and Purdue, or the team that loses by 30 at Wisconsin and Minnesota?

John Gasaway: Of course it’s not unreasonable. Hey, hope is all Northwestern fans have had for decades. This is the best shot at the tournament your ‘Cats have had in years. Last night’s road win pushed their RPI up to 70, still high but getting more worthy-looking.

What's this? More questions about Northwestern?....

Josh (Chicago): Ok, every time I'm ready to close the book on Northwestern, the Cats claw their way back in the Tournament discussion. They will fight for a 9-9 conference record with Ohio State this Sunday, but assuming they win that one, do they have a shot at an at-large bid, or are they strictly in "win the conference tournament" mode right now?

John Gasaway: It's going to be close. Their RPI can get better with a win at Columbus (mind you, that will be very tough to do) but it will never be their strong suit. The committee likes three things: road wins, strong finish, and good RPI. definitely has the first (Michigan State and Purdue), might have the second, won't have the third.

Dylan (NYC): Washington State @ Iowa ... Wazzou wins in a 10 possession game by how much?

John Gasaway: You know a ten-possession game is possible. You just need a ton of offensive boards. (With about three minutes to go in the game last night Northwestern started what seemed like a two-minute possession thanks to two or three offensive boards.) By the way add Wisconsin to this list of snails. They're done around 57 trips per 40. Not that there's anything wrong with that. If it works do it.

BK (MA): Should the college game adopt some sort of restricted area under the basket for charges like the NBA does? Even Van Gundy and Jackson noted this when ESPN did the announcer swap (NBA announcers covering Duke-Davidson, Dick Vitale doing an NBA game). They liked the intensity of the college game, but didn't like all the charges being called. I love college basketball, but the charges called under the basket (and how quickly refs call charges in general) is probably the part of the college game that feels most off to me right now. (and FWIW, my team takes charges very well, so I"m not a bitter fan who's been victimized by all the flopping...it just seems it could be tweaked)

John Gasaway: Yes! It should be done yesterday. By definition, a player standing under the basket who's knocked over by a guy in the act of releasing the ball is put at no disadvantage. My least favorite call by far.

Trevor (Austin Tx. ): What kind of shot does Texas A&M have to make into march madness

John Gasaway: See above on "Northwestern" because the Aggies are the anti-NU: great RPI (35) but no nice road wins. At least that was true until last night. Now suddenly A&M's win at Texas Tech looks a lot better, doesn't it?

Ryan Campbell (Chapel Hill, NC): Does Kansas' loss last night fall in the "eventual national champion, fluke, late February road loss" category like their loss to OK St. last year (and Pitt's loss to Providence or UNC's loss to Maryland this year), or was it so embarrassing that it should rule them out of the national title discussion they had just inched their way into behind Blake Griffin's back?

John Gasaway: Last night's loss at Texas Tech was worse than KU's loss last year at Oklahoma State because last night's loss was by a much larger margin (19) and also to a much worse team. OSU, which beat the Jayhawks by one in late-Feb last year, was way better than people remember. The coach got fired because the Cowboys went fishing for Self. But they were a solid team, more solid than Tech this year. Last night was a bad loss.

Garrett (Florida): Im curious why you have the Marlins finishing in last place in the NL East?

John Gasaway: Because I don't know anything about baseball.

Mark (DC): Is there any value in making interconference comparisons with your conference only efficiency margins? Kansas looks like the best team in the nation with a +.18 efficiency margin in conference play. While this margin may not be significantly better than, say, UConn or maybe North Carolina's, it seems leaps and bounds better than anyone in the PAC 10, and moderately better than anyone in the Big 10. Are they as good as their Big 12 efficiency margin indicates, i.e. arguably the best in the country? Or do they benefit from being in a conference with a weak second tier of teams?

John Gasaway: Sure there is. You just have to bring your court sense to the numbers as well. An efficiency margin in the SEC this year would be much lower if that same team were in the ACC or Big East. Also note we've seen both kinds of national champions. Florida won it all with efficiency margins of 0.10 and 0.13, if I'm remembering correctly. So last year when KU had one well over 0.20 everyone said it was just a weak Big 12 and a phenomenally weak Big 12 North. Well, it was both those things, AND the fact that KU was the best team in the country.

GBBound (Green Bay, WI): I've been looking for answers to this and have so far been unsuccessful. How does the conference committee take into account the unbalanced schedule in the Big East? Louisville, for example, may very well win the conference without having to travel to 4 of the top 5 teams in the current standings (#1 UConn, #3 Pitt, #4 Marquette, #6 Providence). That would be like North Carolina not having to play at Duke, Wake Forest, or Clemson, or MSU not having to travel to Champaign, West Lafayette, or Columbus. Odd!

John Gasaway: The committee is too busy to care about conference standings, much less unbalanced conference schedules. Many's the time a team in a given conference has received a bid while a team ahead of them in the standings in that same conference did not. Coaches wail, but as long as you don't have a true home-and-away round robin it's the complaints are weakened somewhat. That's why it will be so interesting to see what happens to New Mexico, a team with a terrible RPI but also a potential co-champion in a league with a true round robin.

Ryan Campbell (Chapel Hill, NC): I know you were excited to see the full strength edition of the Oklahoma Sooners take on a real challenge (@Mizzou last night). The Sooners never lead and Mizzou seemed to be in control all night. Does this tell us more about Mizzou or Oklahoma? And does Oklahoma now have to win the Big 12 Tournament to secure a No. 1 seed?

John Gasaway: I stand second to no one in my provisional skepticism of a one-seed for Oklahoma. (The analyst on the game last night said Oklahoma "has the best half-court defense in the Big 12." I wonder why I bother sometimes, you know?) That being said, there's no shame in losing by nine at Columbia the way Missouri's playing this year. Also keep in mind that OU's chances at a one-seed will depend in part on what Memphis, Duke, Michigan State and maybe somebody else I'm forgetting does. (I was set to mount a Kansas-for-one-seed campaign until last night.)

Dan (Chicago): So, the Big 10 has 6 teams that could all conceivably (albeit unlikely) finish at 9-9. If this were to somehow happen, how many bids does the Big 10 get, and which teams get them?

John Gasaway: If that were to happen the committee would put a blindfold on Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, give him four darts, turn him around toward a list of the six teams, and say, "Go."

If you've seen the actual selection sheets that the committee uses (posted at Basketball State, I know, and at least one other place as well), they're a real eye opener. I know I'm sounding like a broken record, but: have a good RPI, win road games, and finish strong. I'm an optimist and I believe within five years some tempo-free geegaws will make their way into that room but right now it is pure wins and losses, like a giant series of switches that are either "Off" or "On." Nothing in between. I don't blame the committee for that system. They have a tremendous amount of information to synthesize. (I just think the information could be better.)

mwhite6 (Spokane, WA): What do you think of Chalmers Johnson's job at Huron University? I think he's got the Fightin' Deer Ticks on their way!

John Gasaway: Put me on the record here: Chalmers Johnson is the single most underrated coach in the country! The only coach who comes close would be Billy Pseudonym at Southeastern North Dakota. He's done a whale of a job with the Wheat Shuckers this year.

Dexter Fishmore (NYC): Come Selection Sunday, which team will be the most overseeded, and which the most underseeded?

John Gasaway: Miami was looking like a good bet to be over-seeded until they went and lost at Georgia Tech last night. I'm seeing South Carolina as a 9 when their per-possession numbers are meh. That spectacular play they had to beat Florida in Columbia was arguably the single most consequential play of the year bracket-wise.

West Virginia will probably be underseeded. With Marquette's combination of a viciously back-loaded schedule and a Dominic James absence, the Mountaineers have officially taken over the Golden Eagles' spot as the Big East's fourth-best team behind the big three of UConn, Pitt, and Louisville.

I'm seeing Utah as a 7 when my reality's telling me BYU and New Mexico are a step up from the Utes. (Yes, Utah beat LSU by 30.) Random thoughts, not a hard and fast list.

ssteadman (St. Louis, MO): Thanks so much for having the chat. I've had the strange pleasure of spending my life rooting for two teams on opposite extremes of college basketball success: Northwestern (my dad's alma mater) and Georgetown (my own alma mater). Which one is having a season that is actually reflective of the direction the program is moving: Northwestern (a possible bubble team!) or Georgetown (WTF?!?! The NIT!?!?!)?

John Gasaway: Georgetown is having a blip year. I have no clue why it didn't work out, I'm on the record in the book as thinking it would. But Thompson is good and he's proven he can get the talent. Blips happen. (See UConn 2007.)

Northwestern really has to be seen to be believed. Last night against Purdue they were blocking shots (!) and getting offensive rebounds (!!). They're not UConn or anything but just the difference in appearance is staggering. And, despite my best efforts, Kevin Coble is still under-appreciated. His stats are deflated across the board by pace. (NU is currently averaging exactly 60 trips per 40 minutes in-conf.)

Metzger (Chicago): NON-bubble team questions for the prodigal wonk! First, I'm sure you will be at the game, but any chance you want to join some b-ball fans for the first two rounds of the tourney in Colubmus, OH. This will make the 8th year in a row my buddies and I have watched every single game of the first two rounds. Second, PACE! Has there been any thought to simply lowering the shot clock to 30 seconds? This small change would probably make a HUGE difference in pace for conferences like the big ten and Pac-10...while not affecting the sprint and chuck leagues (ACC and big east). I haven't crunched the numbers (lazy and have to run to a meeting), but it seems it would have to raise slow teams pace by 4-5 possessions a game. Metzger ametzger@uic.edu

John Gasaway: The prodigal has returned! Show me some calf! No, not your leg, I meant....

I will be with you in spirit! For the second consecutive year I will be live-chatting when the NCAA tournament tips off. Last year was fun because panicky Xavier fans were on here getting irate because they were losing to 14-seed Georgia, who of course had shown up only because of their improbable SEC tournament championship. Eventually the Musketeers came back and won pretty easily but here at the chat there was talk (not from me, from you all) of a new rule where no major-conference teams could be seeded below 12, etc. Fun stuff when it's happening live.

No talk of shot-clock changes. You're right, that particular change would be invisible to 75 percent of the teams.

john (ct): Who do you like in the UConn/Pitt rematch? Can UConn adjust and contol Blair by pushing him into foul trouble? Is Tabeet overmatched against the Pitt maulers? UConn, NC, who gets farther in the NCAAs?

John Gasaway: I like Pitt, of course, because they're at home. Thing is, Blair doesn't figure to get in foul trouble because the man he's guarding, Thabeet, plays such a small role in the offense. But I'm sure that Thabeet will show better than he did in the first game. He actually doesn't get into foul trouble much.

Nice mention in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, by the way, about Blair's otherworldly offensive rebounding (percentage). Maybe tempo-free is taking over the world after all.

Between Pitt and UNC it of course all depends on who they play. The most dangerous opponent for the Heels is a team with guards who love to penetrate. The most dangerous opponent for UConn is a team with a guy down low who is so unbelievably strong he wears headbands around his biceps and can flip Thabeet over his back. No, seriously, I need to look at the numbers but one would think the Huskies D got dinged at least a little when Dyson went down.

Gray (Chicago): How far could Duke ride Gerald Henderson in the tourney? No one can stop him...period. He is an NBA player in college. Assume both Henderson and Singler come back, Duke has to be on the shortlist to cut down the nets in 2010, right?

John Gasaway: Imagine me doing my best JFK/Mayor Quimby accent right here:

Ask not! Whether anyone can stop Duke. Ask whether duke can stop anyone. Over their last six games the Blue Devils have allowed ACC opponents to score 1.12 points per trip, making Coach K's D roughly equivalent over that period to what Baylor, Indiana, or NC State have done over their entire conference seasons. Watch the D.

Yes to the second question.

mwhite6 (Spokane, WA): I'm befuddled by the Big Ten's apparent parity sans Michigan State. Who's likely to get at-large births out of the conference? Is the Gophers vs. Michigan a must win? Should Carmody be conference coach of the year with a pair of quality road wins? Can Purdue or Illinois do anything in the tourney? Could I possibly ask anymore questions?

John Gasaway: (And keep in mind even the Spartans lost at home to Northwestern and Penn State.)

It's actually Michigan vs. Gophers in the sense that Minnesota is at home, which means it's kind of a one-way must win. A Michigan win would be enormous for the Wolverines and catastrophic for the Gophers. A Minnesota win, on the other hand, might have the effect of just pushing the whole matter further into March.

Purdue has a better offense than Illinois. Again, I revert to my split-personality. The Basketball Prospectus writer in me sees the Illini failing to score a point per trip and forecasts cloudy bracket skies. The Illinois grad in me says forget that Prospectus weenie! Illini all the way, bay-bee! Cutting the nets down in Motown! (Reigning as the new Supremes! Bruce "Smokey" Weber and the Miracles! OK, I'll stop now.) Woo!

That actually wasn't that many questions.

Big Ten (Midwest): We always suck...when will the media stop hyping us before...every...single...season?

John Gasaway: Wow, Big Ten! You seem like quite the gloomy guss, I must say. Why the frown? Your mid-section's better than it's been in years!

The conference gets the pub because we Big Ten grads form this giant somewhat overweight but really polite diaspora that spreads out over the entire continent and follows our schools religiously.

Mike (Spokane, WA): Did the faults exposed by Memphis' crushing defeat of Gonzaga prove to you the Zags won't go past the round of 32, or do they have a shot in hoop heaven of another Sweet Sixteen?

John Gasaway: The thing about the Zags is that they're getting some pretty nice seeds in the mocks (like 6). I had thought they might be in some danger of seeing an 8 or a 9 as their first opponent and then, of course, a 1 as their second. But at 6 they might live to fight another weekend, faults and all.

Justin (Athens, GA): We know that UNC, Pitt, and UConn are all safe picks to make the Final 4. Who do you think has the best chance to occupy that 4th spot?

John Gasaway: That will be the recurring question the next two weeks. Right now, and this can change, I would give the inside track to Memphis. Joe Lunardi's Bracketology update that he posts tomorrow will be a closely watched bellwether.

Jerry ((A2)): John, your numbers (and their record, of course) suggest West Virginia is just another above-average Big East team. Your esteemed colleague Mr. Pomeroy says the 'Eers are one of the 10 best teams in the nation. What's telling the truth? (p.s. might want to get a link to the chat up on the BBProspectus homepage)

John Gasaway: Yo, the link's up in my Unfiltered post from this morning, it's just that last night was so wacky I had to bury that post with two more on top of it. Anyway, we're not lacking for questions here: I'm going as fast as I can.

Yeah, Ken and I will probably have a thumb-war over West Virginia, but keep in mind even my numbers are showing them as underappreciated. The Mountaineers are weird in that so many of their wins are by double-digits. They very rarely eke out the W. (Actually Georgetown is kind of like that too, just with, obviously, fewer wins.)

Matt (De Pere, WI): What do you think is the biggest obstacle that is preventing the NCAA committee from using tempo free stats in their analysis?

John Gasaway: I need to come up with an item that looks like the selection sheet that they already use but that presents information on per-possession performance instead of merely the fact that Rochestie made an incredible three so Arizona State did not get the nice road win.

Obstacle might be too strong. Let's see the glass as half-full. I'm citing Wall Street Journal articles that use tempo-free goodies correctly, people are emailing me saying they saw tempo-free stats on ESPNU's coverage of BC vs. NC State last night...all in all we've come a long way. Yay.

alskor (Rhode Island): ARod out until Mid-May: Super Secret Jordan Style Steroids Suspension? (SSJSSS??) ...or just Steroids related tumor, Giambi style...?

John Gasaway: ARod? Giambi? Are these fake coach names? What is this strange patois? Somebody help me.

Jacob (Atlanta): Don't lose faith now, UCLA is going to be underseeded. They're better than a 5. And even if they end up as a 2, Oklahoma's not that good (except for their brilliant half court defense, obviously).

John Gasaway: Well, I'd be petrified to be the 4 that has to play them, put it that way. The Bruins' shooting from the field has been insane and if you had to choose one feature on either side of the ball for your team to have, you'd choose that one. They've just struggled on D. People around the country can't bring themselves to believe that about a Ben Howland team, just like they can't believe said team would have an elite offense on the same level as Pitt or UNC. But both statements are true.

jbuofm (Peoria): If Michigan can beat Minnesota on the road Saturday and win one Big Ten Conference Tournament game, is that enough to get them in?

John Gasaway: It would be tremendously huge but by itself, of course, not enough. The sheer number of bids available will play an equally large role in determining the Wolverines' fate. Also a catastrophic first-game loss at the Big Ten tournament could still maybe be catastrophic, depending on the opponent.

Jerry ((A2)): John, what 13, 14, or 15-seed mid-major could you see pulling a shocker in the NCAA's first round?

John Gasaway: Wow, a 15? Really? Don't know. But as for 13s or 14s, totally depends on which overseeded 4 or 3 they get in their bracket. If Creighton should somehow be a 13-seed (which I don't see happening but dream with me) the 4 they play would (i.e., should, if they have a clue) be totally irate.

James Martin Cole (Boston): Best month in sports? Has Dane Cook and that kid who might also be the kid from the Cubs installment of those "You know that place where X meets X" Citibank commercial taught us nothing? There's only one October.

John Gasaway: Oh, please. The only time I see your sport on TV some implausibly proportioned gastropod is getting all teary-eyed during yet another "I didn't know what was in that stuff" confessional on 60 Minutes or before Congress or on QVC.

lbihced (medford,N.J.): John as you look at your brackets today, do you see ant teams say seeded 12 or higher wining a few games in the tournament? Thanks.

John Gasaway: Referencing up a couple questions, Creighton actually could be a 12. With Booker Woodfox and P'Allen Stinnett, they have two scorers that Bruce Weber, for one, would kill to have. Also note that if underappreciated New Mexico gets in it might be with a seed around this neighborhood and my info's telling me that in calendar 09 they've been as good as LSU was up until the Tigers dinged their shins against Vanderbilt last night.

James Martin Cole (Boston): West Virginia's in, right? Can they put together a credible run and get into, say, the Sweet Sixteen. They messed up a lot of people's brackets last year.

John Gasaway: If they're not in I will climb up a tree outside NCAA HQ and live there, Berkeley-style. I mean it.

Yes, they absolutely can make the second weekend. I praise them effusively somewhere further up in this very chat.

mwhite6 (Spokane, WA): Sorry to be harassing you again, but do you think that the College Basketball Invitational will actually challenge the NIT or just be a two or three-year blip of meaninglessness? I've always thought the NIT ought to shorten its slate to a one-two week tourney on the Big Dance's off days to keep people interested and not dragging on until just before the Final Four.

John Gasaway: You know as shallow as this sounds I think that one thing that would really help the CBI would have been if Tulsa, last year's champion, had made a little more noise this year. If the Hurricanes could have made the NCAA tournament this year, you'd just be hearing "CBI" a lot more. And if they could have made the Sweet 16 that would have been outstanding marketing.

I agree about the length of the NIT. Then again, teams say yes so apparently they are able to fill that many slots, necessitating that many rounds.

jbuofm (Peoria): Does Creighton have to go to the MVC title game to get an at-large bid? Is there anyone else in the Valley that could win a tourney game right now?

John Gasaway: You know, my experience with those fine distinctions in conference tournaments (have to make the championship game versus making the semi's) is that we talk like that but when we actually sit down in front of the TV that Sunday night, you don't know. It's all about what the rest of the nation is doing to expand or contract the number of available bids.

Ben Allaire (Raleigh, NC): Why isn't Ty Lawson widely considered the best player on the UNC team? The stats certainly seem to indicate it.

John Gasaway: He is having an absolutely unbelievable year. I gave him as much love as I could Monday. Pro-Lawson national firestorm starts....now!

BL (Bozone): How do you see the Mountain West faring in late March?

John Gasaway: I know I've used this link from the New York Times a million times already, but Ken set up a mock exercise where Team X plays every team in a conference home and away. Basically he found that this year the Mountain West is slightly better than the SEC. Without Air Force they'd be better than the NBA. Hi-yo! No, just kidding. The Mountain has a very, very good upper tier with Utah, BYU, New Mexico, UNLV, and San Diego State, though the Aztecs have faded a bit of late.

How they fare will depend on how long they can avoid UConn, Pitt, and UNC. A team like BYU or New Mexico (assuming the committee sees the light on the Lobos) can beat a very healthy percentage of tournament teams outside that big three.

Chance (Bloomington, IN): Given the similarities between this season and 2006 (no team with Pythag. winning % above .980; 9 to 11 teams with % above .950), what factors do you think need to be taken into account this year when picking winners in March that may not be relevant in more typical seasons?

John Gasaway: Well, Florida emerged that year (they were a 5-seed) and made me slap my head afterward. I couldn't believe I missed a team this good on paper. So the parallels to UCLA this year are pretty insistent: likely 5-seed, incredible shooting, meh defense, outscoring conference opponents by about 0.10 points per trip. Mind you I'm not climbing on that bandwagon at the moment. (For one thing, Florida in 2006 was a young team finding its true ability. UCLA in 2009 is a mix of graybeards and pups.) Just saying, there is some Lincoln-Kennedy stuff going on there if you're so inclined.

john (CT): What's with the Buckeyes? Two years ago it looked as if a dynasty was getting set with great recruits (beyond Oden et al. I've been away from Columbus for two years and must have missed a bunch of flops

John Gasaway: This year they are not playing defense. The magnitude of the lost opportunity is yet to be grasped by, well, anyone I think. Put it this way: their offense is as good as Michigan State's.

OK, we're pushing two hours here. Couple more questions then I'm going to soak my fingers in some Palmolive. If you have a query send it in now!

mwhite6 (Spokane, WA): With every power conference, bubble team fan worried over unlikely conference winners, do you see any underdog teams in conferences like the MWC, MVC, or any other mid-major and power conferences with a good shot at running the table and knocking out some fringe bubble teams, ala San Diego magically winning the WCC tourney last year?

John Gasaway: You know, I hadn't thought about that but I'll say Evansville in the MVC. They finished way, way better than they started. I'm on the record as thinking Marty Simmons is wrong to never ever shoot threes; I think it makes scouting about 100 times easier for the opponent. But I have to admit the Aces did improve as the year went along.

Tracy Smith (Raleigh, NC): John, it took a while for Sidney Lowe to realize he needed me in the starting lineup, but in the ten conference games NC State has played since I became a starter, the Pack has averaged 1.1 pts per trip. I think we might be the best candidate among major-conference teams to pull a Georgia '08--win the conference tourney and steal an NCAA bid from a bubble team. What do you say?

John Gasaway: I say that over those same ten games you've allowed 1.12. Play some D! Then let's talk about pulling a Georgia.

strupp (Madison): Marquette gets the benefit of the doubt in seeding with James out, right? Or do they drop to a 5, getting the dreaded 5-12 matchup?

John Gasaway: No, they get seeded where they really are on Selection Sunday. It's called the Kenyon Martin paradigm.

jbuofm (Peoria): Thanks for taking my questions, I've been reading you ever since Brian at Mgoblog referenced Big Ten Wonk. Love your work!

John Gasaway: Tell Brian it's March. No one cares about this "football," whatever that is, much less this "hockey."

Thanks for the kudo.

OK, probably just one more here.....Unless you've got something really cool that can roll in at the last second.

kiloman (Rockville MD): Can Maryland get in by winning at Virginia and then winning a game in the ACC tourney, or do they need to do more?

John Gasaway: Yeah, you know playing at Virginia's rather a thankless task, isn't it? If the Terps win everyone will shrug. If they lose it's end-of-the-world. I would think they'd need more than a win in Charlottesville and one in Atlanta.

(Atlanta? Didn't they hear what happened to the SEC last year?)

John Gasaway: And on that weather-related note I bring this chat to a close, one that set new records for duration and number of questions fielded. To those I didn't get to, sorry. I believe I'll be here same day, same time next week but I'll keep you posted in Unfiltered. Til then, savor March.


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