Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Celtics as repeat champions? I think not

I'll be honest: I don't think the Celtics will repeat as champions.

There are three factors I can think of that will stop them. The first is their energy-oriented defense. The second is the loss of James Posey. And the third is the learning curve of the other NBA teams.

It is very, very tough to play with the kind of intensity and energy the celtics played with last season. And their three stars are all over thirty. I know Kevin Garnett is apparently Mr. Intensity but it only takes an injury to one of their three stars to really cut back on everyones intensity. Look for any small injury to Pierce, Garnett or Ray Allen to make them think twice about training so hard and playing so hard.

James Posey James Posey James Posey. How are they possibly going to replace him? He is like a rich man's Bruce Bowen: Bigger, stronger, and just as good at shooting threes and focused about defense. The recent NBA champions have had either Bruce Bowen, James Posey, Ben Wallace/Tayshaun Prince, or Kobe as a perimeter defender. I'm not too familiar about the championship lakers from five years ago but I'd assume they had some strong perimenter defenders.

Watching the games with James Posey he was always very strong at committing the "foul after the foul" to stop the continuation basket. He also was generally active on the perimeter and I good three point shooter. Some of his shots were only makeable because of his height, able to release the ball eight feet up and falling back slightly.

And lastly is the speed of learning for NBA coaches and players. Defensive schemes can be figured out. Tendencies set it. Players come back ready for the physicality, the intimidation.

I'm not saying the Celtics won't be good this year, but the Cavs, Pistons, Lakers, Hornets, and potentially Jazz will all be gunning for top status this year and will be gearing up for the Celtics. Thats what happens when teams win in sports. Everyone else gets ready to beat them specifically.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ohio State - Penn State

Earlier on my blog I posted I felt Penn State would beat Ohio State. I was also glad that Ohio State beat Michigan State because it would keep them high in the rankings. I was unable to find the point spread anywhere online after the game because sports bettors have amnesia, and once a game has passed it can just fade into black and be forgotten.

Anyways, Penn State did beat Ohio State. Ohio State actually doubled its score from the last time if faced a physical defense (USC) and had six points. They never really threatened to score a touchdown.

OSU had one turnover, a bit of bad luck for them, and PSU scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive to seal the deal. PSU never should have trailed for long but their all-american kicker missed a field goal.

No one should be surprised here that the real issue is that neither of those big ten teams has an offense that can score against a very physical defense.. That is important to note for later in the year in bowl games. If it is a weaker defense they play then they can score a lot of points but if it is a disciplined, organized defense, they will struggle.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The learning curve of the NFL

How fast is the NFL? Whats the speed of their learning? How quickly do they adapt to a new beast?

Conversely, how long can someone really rise above their peers at such an elite level?

I think the answer to all of those questions lies in the Patriots 2007-2008 season. Their season was the most interesting -and informative- season I've ever seen. They started out very strong and were routinely beating opponents by three or four touchdowns. Their dominance extended through nine games. It culminated in a 56-10 drubbing of the Buffalo Bills.

Interestingly, the Patriots were booed by the fans. They were "too good".

Just one game later they barely won by three points against an inferior Ravens team. Then they began an impressive winning streak until the Super Bowl, where they lost by three points. However, the second half of the season was highlighted by close calls, narrow victories, and Tom Brady's out-of-this-world play which kept them ahead of the curve.

However, the season shows that no system of players and coaches, plays and training, can peak for longer than about 11 weeks.

In World War I combat doctors realized that after 200 days of intense combat men became so melancholy from "battle fatigue" that they were no longer effective fighters. I am definitely not comparing World War I to football, but there is a common theme that humans can only endure so much sustained, superior effort before they either fall back or are caught from behind. There is only so much willpower stored in the human soul.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tampa Bay Rays and 200:1 odds

I just read an article on ESPN about the Tamp Bay Rays and how they were 200:1 longshots to win the world series at the start of the season. That means that a $100 bet on the Rays to win the World Series made back in spring training would be worth $20,000 in about a week if they win.

Because some Rays fans likely make this bet every year as an act of faith for the "loveable losers" some sports books are now on the hook for a potentially large some of money. Millions of people bet on sports each year. If just a fraction of a percent of those people bet on the Rays then a sports book could have an imbalance of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This imbalance means they are forced to get more money bet on the Phillies than normal, to hopefully "cancel out" their risk. This ensures they will make a nice profit with virtually no risk. An improbable "cancellation" of the World Series being the only lame outcome.

So what does that mean? Are the Phillies over-valued? What I mean is, should one bet on the Phillies because they are being offered better than "true" odds. The sports book, when analyzing all relevant data, came up with a figure to represent how likely the Phillies were to win.

However that figure is designed to draw a fifty-percent share of all money bet. So they exaggerated it to draw greater than a fifty-percent share, hoping to cancel the money they stand to lose if the Rays win and they have to make those payouts.

To conclude, the sports books are purposely exaggerating the Phillies line to draw in more money. And shouldn't we be happy to oblige? It may not be arbitrage, but it is an interesting scenario. And if the line does correct then maybe an arbitrage case could occur?

the meaning of James Bond

I've never really liked James Bond. I still enjoy the movies, but less because of James Bond that because of the villains. Compare the two stereotypes:

James Bond: generally disrespectful to the people who spend all their time making his equipment, he typically approaches the villains empire, destroys it, steals his lover, and as the coup de grace, kills the villain.

Villain: Spends years and years building up an empire of some sort, typically in an under-developed country with low infrastructure anyways, only to run afoul of the British Empire. James Bond comes in and wrecks everything with no true perspective on it, and leaves.

Thats why I've always love the villains. I think they are cooler. Too bad they always lose.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tom Brady: The value of one man

How valuable is one man to the success of a team?  Apparently, pretty valuable.

The Patriots had a record setting offense last season, and peaked in a 52-7 win over the Redskins.  Now Tom Brady is gone and they scored only ten points in a game last week against  the San Diego Chargers.  They were losing 30-3 in the closing minutes.  

So what has changed?  They have all the receivers back.  Their QB Tom Brady is gone with a torn ACL.  And their offensive line (I think) has had injury troubles. 

This team is a perfect example of the "skill" players outside of quarterback not really effecting the outcome of the game.  Its the offensive line that matters first.  They struggled in the Super Bowl because of their offensive line, and are now basically a second or third rate team because their offense has been decimated.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Michael Jordan knows everything

Does Michael Jordan know everything? His airness, the greatest basketball player ever, must know everything about basketball. Right? How could he not?

I just read an interesting article on Truehoop about an interview with Jerry Krause. He talked about how a lot of his decisions didn't jibe with MJ. His decision to trade Charles Oakley and acquire Bill Cartwright, amongst them.

And how MJ's view tends to become everyone's view, simply because he is the best and most aggressive player we've ever seen. But there are some interesting things to note.

MJ, as a basketball player, was unparalleled. But how much does he actually know about 5winning5 games rather than simply playing as hard as he can? A measure of his personnel prowess can be seen in how he has done as a GM. This gives us a rare opportunity to measure his basketball skills against those of his peers (scoring titles, MVPs, league titles) and his personnel knowledge against other GMs (drafting Kwame Brown, Charlotte Bobcats suck, etc).

There is a simple conclusion: MJ suffers from a cognitive bias, just like all of us. He assumes because he played the best that he also perceives the best. Simply having the best athleticism, highest jump, and best shots of his peers makes him feel like he knows everthing about basketball.

But being the best GM doesn't really require any of those skills. Its an intersting thought that MJ might be totally incompetent as a GM. He disagreed with the moves that made him a champion as a player and as a GM is most notable for drafting Kwame Brown.

Case closed.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bobby Bowden: Victim of Cognitive Biases

Poor Tommy Bowden. He was recently fired from Clemson's head coaching position. I read the article about it on ESPN and couldn't help but feel sad for him and his situation. He is like a greek hero who is set up by the Gods to fail when it isn't his fault.

Allow me to present the unfortunate details of his demise:

1) A hungry fan base that has decided this is his time to win the ACC
2) A returning QB, two 2,000 yard rushers, and a 2,000 yard receiver.
3) A decimated offensive line

It is too bad that Clemson is clearly in a rebuilding year because of their offensive line but no one at Clemson seems to realize this.

Especially opening against a physical SEC team. What chance did they have against a Nick Saban-coached team and defense with a young and inexperienced offensive line.

There are countless examples of a crappy or new offensive line letting down skilled and veteran position players. And countless examples of a skilled offensive line opening up holes for a young back to scamper through. The 2007 Vikings and Adrian Peterson. More prominently, The 2005 Super Bowl Champ Steelers had a talented line with a very young QB (second season) and a rookie running back WHO DIDN"T EVEN PLAY IN COLLEGE. And they won the Super Bowl.

I hope OSU beats Michigan State

I really hope Ohio State beats Michigan State this week. It will solidify their position as a top team. This in turn will have them as rated closer to Penn State, which will make the point spread closer.

Which will make it easier for Penn State to cover the point spread against OSU. Which they should do. Easily. Make no mistake: Penn State is the best team in the Big Ten by a big margin. Simply look at the scores they have been putting up. That is what a top team does. And OSU, Michigan, etc., don't have the offense to keep up with them.

Compared to the OU-Texas game, OU put up 35 points on a good Texas team, but once their linebacker when out with an ACL injury they couldn't hold Texas, which scored 45.

But who in the Big Ten will challenge Penn State? No one that I can see. They beat a good Illinois team which has played a very tough schedule.

Anyways my hope is that Ohio State wins to set up an easy pick for Penn State. Don't forget OSU's quarterback was playing highschoolers a year ago.

Cognitive Biases: Thinking Ohio State is a top team despite their narrow wins and pathetic scores.

Why was Ohio State ranked #1?

The college football season is halfway over. Predictions have proven worthless. Upsets have occurred. We are gaining clarity about the relative strength of teams.

And the question is: why are we so bad at pre-season rankings? Why are we so bad at determining the strength of a team without seeing them at least a half dozen teams.

The first reason is the method of rankings. Lose one game and the team drops about eight spots. Lose badly and you drop about double the spots. Its an elaborate dance done by the coaches and voters determined to provide stability and a small measure of job stability.

But why was Ohio State the pre-season #1? They had just been blown out the second consecutive time by a physical SEC team. That has proven definitely that a top-tier Big-Ten team will not have the physicality to compete with a top-tier SEC team.

Nearly all their starters were returning. Which is not necessarily a good thing. A fourth-year junior will not suddenly leap as a fifth-year Senior into a dominant player. They are essentially a known quality by the time they are twenty-two.

So this Ohio State team we saw was a known quantity: well coached, disciplined, veteran, knowledgeable. Not overly physical. So it shouldn't have been a suprise when they lost to USC. USC was fast and slippery on offense, physical and well coached on offense. They only time Ohio State looked good was with Terrelle Pryor in the game because he was fast enough to stretch USC's defense.

And as we saw in the Rose Bowl (Texas) and against the Ducks last season, USC struggles against running quarterbacks. Meaning Pete Carroll struggles against running quarterbacks.

To conclude, Ohio State will get pounded the next time they play a really physical team. And it will happen all season. Might Penn State put a hurtin' on OSU?

Three cognitive biases are seen here:

1) Tendency to assume that players who return will be better than they were last season. They will be more knowledgeable about the schemes but likely won't make a jump in physicality. This helps returning starters for complex offenses (Urban Meyer 2005) or coaches with undisciplined teams with tons of physicality (Mark Richt this season).

2) Ranking system that works incrementally. To use a systems engineering term, college football needs to pump up the gain. Their system simply works to slow. It is accurate but must work faster. This can be exploited in sports betting, when a weak or strong team will take weeks to get the valuation it deserves.

3) Can't remember the third.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Kobe Bryant and the Olympics

I remember reading an article about who amongst the star-studded Olympic team would take the last shot. With so many alpha-males on the team, would there be fighting and confusion over who would have the ball in their hands as the game wound down.

I admit I bought into the confusion; however the answer should have been easy to figure out. Kobe Bryant was taking the last shot, hands down. No question about it. No confusion.

The rhetorical device used by the article was to simply compare each player on a one-item basis. The author judged each player on their single best merit and came up with a predictable tie. Kobe was a gunner. LeBron was the most athletic and dynamic player. Dwayne Wade was finals MVP. Carmelo was probably the best outside shooter. Dwight Howard was a dominating inside presence. And Coach K was a wayward college coach without the clout to force the other players to agree on who would take the last shot.

But compare the players by their own standards as to whom was the best player:
Lebron James: one finals appearance, one all-star game MVP
Carmelo Anthony: no finals appearances, three time all-star appearances
Dwayne Wade: one Finals MVP, one championship,
Kobe Bryant: 5 finals appearances, three championships, one season MVP, 2 time All-star game MVP, two time scoring champ, 10 time all-star starter, 8 time all-defensive selection, and an 81-point game.
Not to mention Kobe hit the game winner in their Blue-Red scrimmage in Las Vegas last summer, then stopped LeBron on the other end.

So it should have been no surprise to see the ball in Kobe's hands at the end of the game, driving and dishing, hitting a four-point play, and generally being aggressive and attacking when everyone else was focused but not willing to assume the mantle (and risk) of having the ball .

I think an underrated aspect of being on that team was that whoever was taking the last shot had a lot of risk. He would have to justify taking it over everyone else on the team. Considered that way, how could anyone justify shooting when Kobe, a more experienced and accomplished veteran, was on the court?

Summary: The author of the original article use a poor rhetorical device in just looking at the single most impressive accomplishment of each player (which is commonly done) and not looking at their body of work and comparing who had the most status amongst those players.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Whats the deal with the Trojans?

I watched the Trojans beat down Virginia and Ohio State this season. They look great. A dominant defense, electrifying offense, a smart coach, good QB, etc. They had all the tools and every picked them to cruise to the national championship game.

And what happened? They completely chocked the next game in a classic "trap" game. I read the Pete Carroll even saw the game in Oregon as a trap game months ahead of time and still couldn't prevent it from happening. This has happened each of the last two years, when USC lost to UCLA and Stanford, each time keeping them from the national championship game.

They basically have one game (at least) a season where they just don't show up offensively. They lost 13-9 to UCLA, 28-27 to Stanford (4 picks by Booty), and didn't score in the first half of this recent debacle.

So whats the deal? Why can't they win? I think the reason lies in Pete Carroll. I don't think he has the manic desire to win that is requried to stay at the top of the mountain. I remember reading that the thing he liked about college football was that if he lost, nobody cared. If they didn't win the national championship the attitude was "oh well, maybe next year".

This is related to what I think it takes to win consistently at the very top of the class, to beat all challengers again and again: an unhealthy, irrational, manic desire to win above all else. It is so extreme it is almost a character flaw.

Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart and a multi-billionaire, was so obsessed with his company that even on his deathbed he was busy working on prices and figuring out a way to better his company and make more money.

The book I read applauded him for this. But really, doesn't that seem irrational? To be worrying about the price of deodorant in one's store while family members are crowded around you, seems insane to me. And thats why Pete Carroll likely won't win another national championship, unless he does so by accident. He's not insane. He is human.

Monday, October 6, 2008

No Country For Old Men

My goal is to make one blog post a day. This one is concerning the movie No Country For Old Men. I was trying to figure out what is so disturbing about the film. Why does it seem so dark and cynical despite many more movies have more blood, guts, death, etc. The reason is because the extras in every scene are so helpful.
For example, the desk lady at the first store couldn't understand why the main character wanted two hotel rooms when it was just one person. She asked if he was sure he wanted two bedrooms, because she was worried about him. I constantly noticed the auxiliary characters showing lots of concern for other people, which contrasted nicely with the antagonist, who showed no regard for other people.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Test Post

This is a test post