Sunday, December 28, 2008

Effort in football and the 100 view mark

Well before I start I'd like to start my one dedicated reader for helping me get to the 100 views mark. Half are mine and the other half yours! Thanks!

Nobody can play at 110%. No one can exceed their potential.

In fact, very few people can even sustain 100% effort or intensity for very long.

Consider this: think of when you were working your hardest, focused on something to complete exclusion of everything else. That is 100%. Competing with desperation. Playing with fear, with an adrenaline rush so intense that it feels like a lion is chasing you. That would be 100%.

So most players are operating in some level between 60 and 90% effort.

100% effort looks almost insane. Its irrational. Its the exclusion of everything else from that persons life.

So maybe most people only give 95% effort at most.

The value of a "motivator" type coach: getting everyone in the organization to raise their effort level by maybe 5 or 10 percent.

And that's all it takes to win a lot of games. Is inspired effort in the weight room, in practice, in film sessions, and lastly on the field.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Bowl Games: Part 1

When analyzing this season's worth of bowl games, a few things must be remembered:

1) Some teams are playing home games, in front of huge crowds.
2) Teams traveling long distance are not likely to have big crowds with them; especially crowds going from the south to the north because of the weather difference.
3) Some teams have lost coaches/coordinators before the bowl games.
4) Some players will be suspended for the bowl game.

FAU v Central Michigan
This is a home game for the Michigan team, and I doubt FAU will have many fans making the trip.
Cold weather could be a factor in practicing and general energy levels.
Sagarin Ratings: Central Michigan is +8.18 Line: CM by seven.

Prediction: CM covers spread.

Cal vs. Miami (Emerald Bowl)
Home game for Cal.
Miami has had 5 players suspended.
Miami relies on a lot of younger players.
Miami is making a huge road trip and is unlikely to bring more than a few thousand fans.
Miami has struggled running and Cal has a great running back/running game.
Cal has a much older team.
This is the Miami coaches first bowl game.

Prediction: Cal covers spread.

Champs Sports Bowl (Wisconsin v FSU)
Florida is +8.72 in Sagarin Ratings, favored by 5
Home game for Florida state
A N/S game because they are playing Wisconsin
blah blah blah.
Speed is more emphasized in the heat.

Prediction: Florida covers

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Home Field Advantage in College Football

Just read some of JR Miller's book about beating the Pro Football Pointspread. Football is football is football, and it got me thinking about college football and its relevance to today's topic: home field advantage.

Some JR Miller quotes:
"There are actually wide differences in home field advantages from team to team for extended periods of time" (2-4).

"There is a general tendency for teams to play better on home turf" (2-4).

"For a three year period ending in the early '90s, the Washington Redskins...actually performed 3 points worse at home than on the road" (2-4).

In college football I'm sure the effect is magnified. The players are younger, more emotional, less confident, and less professional (on average) than their professional counterparts.

So how could this study be done and its effects measured?

Well one could look at the difference in average score between home and road, difference in average margin of victory or defeat, and also look at how visitors do at a certain stadium compared to the road and overall average.

The problem of course is not all college teams are made equal. Ohio State's stadium will have given up fewer points than most teams because they traditionally emphasize defense and ball control.

Over the years that will have given them a skewed measurement of how much effect their stadium has because they also have above average defenses. So one would have to look at how opponents do in a given season against common opponents.

This is actually a very tricky question because teams have certain identities over the years. One could look at the difference between consecutive years playing Ohio State on the road or at home to get an idea of the difference that stadiums and home field advantage have.

Or if teams play twice in one season, looking at the difference in scores. Unfortunately I'm dealing with something that has high variability over the course of a season(injuries) and between seasons (player turnover and graduation) and very few instances.

I could look at various statistical measures such as a t-value (for average variability around an unknown value). But that would be getting very complicated very fast.

Lastly, the effect could be measured for young teams (freshman, sophomores) versus teams that are experienced/older (juniors, seniors). Also comparing seasons started per team. I'd think that more experienced teams would perform better.

Also, a three year starter would have played at Ohio State, then hosted them his junior year, and then go back again his senior year to the horseshoe. So that would be a real advantage because he'd already have played their once and seen the kind of debacle he was walking into.

Warriors lose to Magic: Get Used to It

The Warriors recently lost to the Orlando Magic.  And last night they lost to the Heat.  And they are going to do a lot more losing.  

Everyone on the team knows what Don Nelson knows: they aren't making the playoffs.  They are making any noise.  They aren't getting hyped.  

And Don Nelson doesn't rebuild.  He doesn't energize.  He doesn't berate like Pat Riley.  He won't discipline and focus like Greg Popovich.  He simply unleashes.  

And if you unleash mediocre players, they will give you below-mediocre level of play.  Mediocre players with good, hard coaching can get you mediocre results.  Why?  Because in the NBA there are lots of good players.  And lots of great players.  Lots of 40 inch vertical leaps, enormous centers, and teams put together to win lots of games. 

And then there are the warriors.  With a collection of talent that was able to get to the playoffs one year on the last game of the season.  And thats it.  They were never even a good team.  Good enough to compete, but not good enough to win.  No fourth seeds, no home court advantage, no ten game winning streak.  Nothing.  

And Don Nelson just signed a fat contract.  So he isn't going to be pouring in effort at midnight, talking with players, figuring out the perfect inbounds play, analyzing each teams defenses for weaknesses.  He's too experienced, too old, too fat.  

The Warriors will plummet to the bottom of the NBA.  And along the way they are going to get blown out a lot.  

I think the following factors will contribute most to their defeats:

Games on the road.
Games against teams that are "rising" rather than "established".  A rising team right now would be the Orlando, Atlanta, Miami, New York, Cleveland, Portland, Houston, and New Orleans.  

A few maybe cases are Denver, Milwaukee, Utah, and of course Boston.

The younger and better the team, the more likely they are to blow us out. 

And at start of a road trip the Warriors are more likely to mail in a game.  After a bad loss or two they will try harder to try to salvage a road trip.  But at the end they are less likely to get blown out if the trip has gone badly.  If it has gone well, then they might mail in a game.  

And at the end of the season as the playoff race heats up and we are putting in a lot of "next year's" players.  

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Navy's Inherent Advantage or "economic moat"

Does the Naval Academy's football team have an inherent advantage?  I think so.

In 2000 they became an independent and have since had a serious strategic advantage over their opponents. 

Conference wins and losses are much more important than out-of-conference losses.  A team can have several out-of-conference losses and still win their conference, but more than one or two conference losses all but dooms a team from achieving their goals and any recognition outside the conference.

Navy runs an unusual offense in the form of the triple option, a running based attack and they rarely throw more than 5 or 6 passes a game.  It requires more practice and game-planning to teach linebackers and corners the new assignments and how to "stay-at-home" in a zone rather than just pursuing the ball as they usually do.  

But a loss to Navy is not nearly as bad for the opponents because they are out-of-conference.  Hence, less game planning, less emphasis in practice, and less year-to-year focus because they are less likely to repeat against opponents more than two or three games.  

Why would a coach spend more than a few practices preparing against Navy when he is more important offenses and intra-conference opponents coming up?

Well, I don't think he would.  And that's why I think Navy has an inherent advantage in college football by being an independent.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Arizona at New England: The Curse of Cold Weather

This past weekend New England hosted the Arizona Cardinals.  A summation of the conditions leading up to the game is this:

Arizona had locked up its playoff spot and could not gain a higher seed.
New England was still fighting for its playoff spot; this was a must-win game.
Arizona is a warm weather team playing in a snow storm.
Arizona is a West-coast team traveling to the East coast.  
It is also a southern team traveling to the north.  
New England is coached by Bill Belichick, one of the best game-planners in the league.
The Cardinals were being quarterbacked by Kirk Warner, a passer already game-planned against successfully in the Patriots first Super Bowl victory.  

The Patriots were favored by 4.5 points.

They lead 47-0 with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.  Final score 47-7.  

The Cardinals were trailing the previous week 28-0 at half time.  This is an NFC West team that is very weak, but in charge of an even weaker division.  So they are getting blown out and should continue to do so until the merciful end of their regular season.  

This was a really golden opportunity.  Too bad I missed out.  But there will be more opportunities.  

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Mike Singletary Era: Part II

Mike Singletary, the new coach of the 49ers, has been preaching effort. He wants his team to trust their teammates, play as hard as they can, and be ferocious.

And it has paid off. Since he took over, the 49ers are 3-3. Their record prior to his taking over was 2-5. And more importantly, two of their losses have been very close games, with San Francisco hanging in there until the last minute.

Another indicator of the effect of effort can be seen in San Francisco's performance relative to the spread. The spread, or betting line, is an indication of (essentially) a consensus on whether San Francisco will win or lose, and by how many points.

Prior to Singletary's takeover, which I'd call the "poor effort" era, a team demoralized by losing and a quarterback controversy, was 2-5 against the spread. There were high expectations for the team the year before, and this year they stumbled through the season.

After Singletary's takeover, the personnel remained the same, except for a quarterback switch. The difference was how much effort he was getting from his players. He is big, black, a former linebacker ( I think) who looks tough, talks tough, and was known for his intensity while he was in the league.

The team is now 5-2 against the spread.

5-2 is quite a good winning percentage. 71% to be exact. The 49ers are having a period of sustained superior effort. They are playing hard, getting results, and believing again. They also have a staff and coach that knows there is a lot of money and prestige to be made by signing a contract extension at the end of the season. So everyone is putting in a ton of effort to make sure everyone plays their heart out.

So among the factors contributing to this new effort are a new coach known for his intensity and the uncertainty of cuts or extensions at the end of the season.

The two questions are: can this uptake be anticipated? A coach with credibility both in the league at large and with the 49ers in general, and a team perhaps underperforming?

The second is: how long will this sustained superior effort last? What are the limits on a human's ability to have sustained superior effort? There are two games left in the regular season. Can San Francisco keep it up? Especially now that their next opponent is a repeat opponent they already played and beat upon during the new era? I would think they would have trouble getting up for the Rams like last time. But Singletary is a great motivator.

Interesting questions to ponder.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Interesting article on the sports economist

The dominance of southern football (all schools in the south) could be chalked up to superior local athletes (most people) or the warmer temperature (myself).  But the sports economist thinks its because of the fact that pro football teams were all in the north during the seventies and early eighties, so all the football infrastructure in the south was built up around college teams.  

And the large college teams are benefitting from the boosters, the money, the fans, and the infrastructure.  But with the proliferation of pro teams in the south and increase of college football teams in general, it is weakening the stranglehold that the major southern schools had on recruiting.

Urban Meyer, in the book Urban's Way, emphasizes the recruiting aspect of his program and how its success is built on having the best athletes on the field and making them work the hardest.  So if Florida's football program declines, it won't be without notice.  He'll keep recruiting the best athletes he can find.

But the real issue is prestige.  Can the major schools maintain their prestige?  Because that is their "economic moat" to use a Warren Buffet term. 

Following a blog

I'm having trouble figuring out how to follow blogs that aren't part of the "blogger" network.  

Specifically, I'd like to play closer attention to "" but can't seem to get it to work.  Lame.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Detecting Failure

Success has a thousand fathers.  Failure is a bastard.  

Thats what my Father tells me, often as a joke.  But it's true.  Success catches the eye, draws attention, gets analysed.  All the sports books I read are about successes.  

Where are the books about failures?  There are just as many losers as winners in every sport.  Maybe even more losers.  

Its more important for prediction and betting to detect failure.  After all, when two teams try as hard as they can, the result can be determined by the random bounce of a football, or the millimeter difference in a shot going in or out.  

But when one team gives up?  When one team has consigned themselves to defeat and doesn't care if they lose?  Then the result is guaranteed.  

What are the predictors of failure?  The body-language of failure?  The facial expression of a person who is waiting to retire, waiting to sign with another team, a person who wants to screw over their coach no matter the personal cost?

Those would be more valuable than focusing on when players are motivated.  Motivation is easy to see but relatively worthless if you follow winners.  After all, nearly all winners are motivated so there is no real advantage.  Its more important to find teams that have quit even though the season is half way done.  Players who are just ready to graduate and leave football for good.  

The strength of the Patriots

I've read several books now about the Patriots and the gist of their success has been that they don't splurge on high-profile athletes so that they can strengthen the middle and bottom parts of their line-up.  

Bill Belichick even commented that players from their practice squad are better than people on other team's rosters.   

The Patriots essentially try to recruit tough, savvy veterans who are smart and can handle their coach.  An interesting point was whether the people they were drafting/signing could "handle their coach", i.e. handle the way he coaches.  

Thats very interesting as I read about lots of player/coach conflicts, which obviously hurt morale, team unity, player focus, etc.  The Patriots put an emphasis on making sure that everything works smoothly so they can focus on working football games.  

The so-called "80/20" rule, where coaches spend eighty percent of their time worry about twenty percent of their players, doesn't really apply to the Patriots because they put effort into making sure all the players can "handle" their coach and don't cause the problems that become distractions.  

Words of Wisdom from Phil Jackson/ Don Nelson

Phil Jackson has been a coach a long time and has some (hopefully) well thought out opinions about basketball.  Two gems from a recent article:

1) The Suns recently complete a trade, shipping out a large portion of their core players to the Charlotte Bobcats in exchange for some role players.  The day they played the Lakers, because of the logistics of the trade, they were short-handed, suiting up only nine players.  The game was very close and the Lakers narrowly won; however, PJ said that he knew it would be a very close game because teams that are short-handed like the Suns always play with extra intensity, and thats what happened.

This ties in to what I read in a book by RJ Miller, where he said that teams of professionals can usually step up their game when they are short-handed, because everyone knows the game will be that much harder.  

The second-level projection would be finding out when teams that are short-handed then have a drop-off in intensity.  Essentially, when do they let down their guard?  I think that would happen very consistenly amongst "effort-sports", such as hockey, basketball, and football.  

I think that all people can maintain a sense of urgency and "extra" intensity for a set amount of time before they drop off to a level below normal levels as a result of the burned energy called forth during the time of crisis.

2)  Coach Jackson said that no team from the West Coast would ever win 72 games because of the time-zone difference.  Teams travelling from the West to East suffer because they lose two or three hours of sleep/travel time, whereas teams going from East to West get extra time to sleep and prepare.  

The Bulls are from Chicago, which I think is in the Central Time Zone, (GMT -6).  

3) An interesting thing I read from Don Nelson in a news article during the 07-08 season.  He essentially said that the Warriors knew they would lose to the Pistons and said they conceded the game, throwing in the subs in the third quarter.  Obviously, it would be great to know when the Coach and team "know" they will lose a game.

Also, it is interesting to note how easily he mentioned it and it sparked no real outrage or commentary, as far as I can tell.  

Monday, December 15, 2008

Is there really parity in the NFL?

I was pondering the question about parity in the NFL.  Since I really started following pro football, i have not seen nearly as much parity as one would think.  The salary cap is set up so that no team can dominate.  It rewards bad teams with high draft picks and an easier schedule.

But think about this: rich owners (and they are all rich) can no longer get fed up with losing and purchase a bunch of good players.  They are a group of multi-millionaires and billionaires who are used to buying and demanding their own way.  

And while they have strong buisness acumen, they rarely have the combination of skills that makes a succesfull general manger.  

Unfortunately, since they are making the payments, and are used to calling the shots, they usually do more harm than good.

So since the salary cap prevents quick fixes and prevents angry owners from addressing needs quickly and making up for years of bad mistakes, the NFL is becoming less even.  Consider that the Patriots, Steelers, and Colts have dominated the AFC for the last decade.  

Consider that ownership can sometimes be such a handicap that they are unable to win.  Some owners inherited the team or inherited the money to buy the team; they have to go up those few organizations that have been investing and focusing on improving their teams for years and year.

I think that is too much of a handicap for some owners to overcome and therefore, some entire franchises.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Book Review: Urban's Way Part 1

Urban's Way is a very interesting book about Urban Meyer, the coach of the Florida Gator's football team.  He has been there four seasons and already won a national championship and will soon be competing for another one.  

Not suprisingly for someone as educated and successful as him, he is disciplined and has a very well considered approach to the game.  It includes breaking up the season into portions with individual goals, bowl preparation into segments, and counting down the number of days in the season.  A hundred and seven days is the offical count.  

Here is a summary of part one of the book:  Urban Meyer considers himself "one part football coach and one part Father Flanagan, the priest of Boys Town" (p 22.)

The four staples of Urbans program are:
1) Play great defense
2) Turnovers (all coaches are requried to teach ball security the same way)
3) Score in the red zone
4) Win the kicking game

They constantly preach the phrase "four to six seconds of relentless effort"

The core values of the Gator team are:
1) Honesty
2) Respect of Women
3) No stealing
4) No drugs
5) No weapons

"Four and five-star recruits are the lifeblood for the 'culture of winning' " (p 46). 

"he followed [John Wooden's] advice that players shouldn't be treated equally, but rather rewarded for how they contributed to the team" (p 94).  They have the Champions Club to reinforce that those who contribute and invest in the team are rewarded with privileges.  

He also uses "battlefield promotions" by awarding scholarships to people who excel in practice on the spot.  Essentially, a really bad ass play can earn you a scholarship.  

Friday, December 12, 2008

Book review: Patriot Reign

Patriot Reign by Michael Holey.  I read this book in about a day and a half.  It essentially details their first Superbowl campaign and a surface look at Belichick's management philosophy.  I can't say I was impressed with the depth of it but I think I was hoping for more X's and O's, more terminology.  Half the book is spent just detailing what happened, which I already knew all about.  

Nevertheless it had a lot of good points and illustrated his methods.  After being in the Navy I am surprised that Belichicks method is considered unique in the NFL because it seems very straigtforward and logical.  But then again, it is an illogical world we live in.

Bill Belichick is all buisness.  He felt Parcells was unfocused and disrespectful to the team by searching for a new job the night before the Super Bowl in 1996.

They felt Pete Carroll was a good teacher but not a good manager of people.  That has translated well for him to USC, where he has had a lot of succcess.  But as I've said before, not as much as be could have.  

The old Patriots system had a culture of entitlement and preferential treatment.  The new Patriots are much more of a meritocracy.  Constantly searching for who can play the best now, not who played the best a year ago, and factoring in the price of the player.  

Belichick on the Bledsoe-Brady controversy "You don't take a player who hasn't played in two months and then just stick him back in there like nothing had happened".

Great quote "Now there's not one person in this room- not one- who can't improve.  And it starts wit me.  I'll sit down with any of you and show you where you can improve.  Any of you.  Okay?  So all of us can be better and need to be better.  There's not oging to be any toleration for 'I'm doing my job, someone else can do their's better' " (p. 99).

Some things can't be corrected until the off season.  Attitude and communication can be fixed at any time.

Lastly, Bill Belichick wanted to work for an owner with whom he could communicate, and not someone who was easily swayed by the outside opinin of the day. (p 191)

The 13th man in basketball?

The 13th man in basketball represents the synergy of all the players and how well they play together in close, pressure situations.

Three examples:

1) Mavericks vs Heat in the 2006 basketball finals
Dwayne and Shaq.  Shaq was the focus in the first quarter, Dwayne in the the 4th.  But Wade had trouble with taking over because he was young and Shaq had three championships.  They struggled in the finals until Wade got very aggressive with attacking the basket and creating.  

Conversely the Mavs go-to guy was Nowitzki, who couldn't force the issue against really aggressive defense because his strength is shooting rather than bulling into the lane and forcing the issue.  

2)  Celtics 07-08
They struggled against the Hawks (3 losses) and the Cavs (3 losses), al lin very close games.  By the time they played the Lakers they had decided who their clutch player was, who their playmaker was.  He could fire away at any time.  Essentially the Celtics hadn't been tested, didn't know what to do in close games and it cost them a lot.  KG wanted to defer to PP, PP wanted to defer to KG.  KG knew PP was the better offensive player, but KG was older, more experienced, and former league MVP. 

3) USA Olympic Team 2008
KB24 was the senior citizen and a lot of "the peers" were tentative late in the gold medal game.  Kobe took over and kept up the aggressiveness.  Close games but no losses.  

The "take over" player has to be a slasher with aggressive moves to consistently win close games.  Look at why LeBron has done so well in the playoffs with a crappy team.  They play good defense and he can always, always force the issue by getting to the rim.  

The "takeover" player has to be fast, strong, and good at the rim.  

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why can't Nowitzki dominate?

Nowitzki can't dominate, and no basketball player can, whose moves are based on shooting.  The best players in the game, such Kobe, Dwayne, and LeBron can all force the issue by beating their defender off dribble penetration.  Strong physical moves to the basket always trump good shooting.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Final thoughts on the game

I listened to the announcers dissect various plays and coverage schemes and was very impressed with the depth and complexity of thought that goes into the Florida plays. They have motions that are designed to get mismatches between their receivers and the defense's players. Receivers vs. safetys. Corners versus running backs.

Very interesting to think of all the things that can happen out there and either Florida's coaches are phenomenal or Tebow really understands the purpose and goal of all the motion and movement and is able to manipulate it to get what he wants. Probably the latter.

Alabama-Florida game

Well the Alabama-Florida SEC championship game was quite a game. It featured two of the best teams in football and two of the best coaches in the college game right now.

In fact, I'd list the top three coaches in college right now, in no particular order: Jim Tressell, Urban Meyer, and Nick Saban.

Of course, I don't even know all the coaches in college football so this is definitely not a complete list. I like these coaches because they seem to embody professionalism, focus, attention to detail, and passion. A lot of coaches have some of these qualities but I think these three coaches have them all.

The Gators eventually covered the spread, which surprised me. I think they were fortunate to do that, but the game was hard fought on both sides. It looked like Alabama was going to pull it out after a dominant third quarter. Finally Florida was driving when Alabama had a three point lead and they were stopped on third down; unfortunately a facemask call was called on an Alabama linebacker. Fifteen yards and a first down.

Watching the replay it didn't look like he actually grabbed his facemask, rather his collar and the runner naturally jerked his head towards the shoulder he was being pulled from.

Alabama did stop the Gators run game though, and held Tebow in check. The x-factor was the Gators passing, and whenever they were forced with third down and long Tebow was able to pull out a great throw to a receiver and get the big gain. Very impressive.

Really the difference in the game was Tebow's clutch passing.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer

This Saturday two of the top coaches in the league will bring their teams to meet in the SEC championship game. Alabama (11-0) versus Florida (10-1??).

Florida is a ten point favorite.  And honestly, I think that is far too high. The logic behind the game is that Florida has a super-speedy offense with lots of tricks that will allow it to run rampant during the game. Their special teams is very good and they should have good field position to start. And their defense is also very strong.

Alabama has a very physical defense and a monster of a Nose Tackle. Their offense is solid, with a great wide receiver in Julie Jones. The rest of their team is good but generally unremarkable.

So who will win? I honestly haven't watched enough games to have a valid opinion.

But I DO know that a good defense will beat a good offense. The only question is whether Alabama's offense is good enough to put up points against Florida's defense. Also, I know that Alabama's nose tackle, who has a Kingly body, will clog up the middle and certainly make it challenging for Florida to have success running the ball. Tim Tebow likes to run straight up the middle. But I doubt he will have much success running against an NFL caliber nose tackle.

The game is always won and lost at the line of scrimmage. It doesn't matter how fast your running backs are if there is a three hundred man bursting through the line of scrimmage every damn play.

So I wouldn't expect them to have a lot of success running the ball. It should be a low scoring affair.

My guess is that Alabama will cover the spread. Who will win will come down to the bounce of the football.