Four Factors look at Friday's Sweet 16

March, 27, 2015
Mar 27

Below is a short preview of each of Friday’s Sweet 16 matchups. Included in the preview is a “factor to watch” based on Dean Oliver’s Four Factors of basketball success, which have been shown to correlate with winning: shooting, turnovers, rebounding and free throws.

11 UCLA vs. 2 Gonzaga
BPI Edge: Gonzaga 85 percent

This matchup might come down to ... if UCLA can contain Kyle Wiltjer. The transfer from Kentucky shoots 48 percent on 3-pointers, a shot that UCLA has struggled to defend. In the previous meeting between the two teams this season, Wiltjer made three 3-pointers and scored a game-high 24 points. Wiltjer has the ninth-highest player efficiency rating in the nation.

(Four) Factor to watch: Shooting: Gonzaga has the highest offensive effective field goal percentage in the nation (58.8 percent), and UCLA ranks 124th (49.9 percent). The Bruins are 17-0, including both of their tournament wins, when they have an effective field goal percentage of at least 50. They are 5-13 when their effective field goal percentage is below 50.

8 NC State vs. 4 Louisville
BPI Edge: Louisville 65 percent

This matchup might come down to ... if NC State can limit Terry Rozier ... again. Rozier has been responsible for more than 55 percent of Louisville’s points in the NCAA tournament, the highest percentage of any player remaining. In the teams' previous meeting, an NC State win, Rozier was held to seven points on 3-of-11 shooting before he fouled out with five minutes remaining.

(Four) Factor to watch: Turnovers: Louisville forces a turnover on 22 percent of its opponents' possessions this season, sixth-best among major conference teams. In NCAA tournament games, only West Virginia had a higher defensive turnover rate than the Cardinals among Sweet 16 participants. NC State is generally good at avoiding turnovers, but in a few losses this season (such as against West Virginia), the Wolfpack struggled to protect the ball.

5 Utah vs. 1 Duke
BPI Edge: Duke 62 percent

This matchup might come down to ... freshman centers Jahlil Okafor and Jakob Poeltl. Okafor is averaging 23.5 points per game in the NCAA tournament, including a tournament-high 38 points in the paint. Poeltl is 12-of-13 from the floor in the tournament and ranked tied for fourth in paint points entering Thursday's games. On the season, Duke leads major-conference teams in points per game in the paint, and Utah ranks sixth in paint points allowed.

(Four) Factor to watch: Shooting: Duke ranks third in the nation with a 57.4 effective field goal percentage. The Blue Devils are 28-1 when they post an effective field goal percentage of 50 or higher and 3-3 when they do not. Utah ranks fifth in the nation in effective field goal percentage defense and has 27 games in which its opponent shot less than 50 percent, tied for eighth most in the nation.

7 Michigan State vs. 3 Oklahoma
BPI Edge: Oklahoma 55 percent

This matchup might come down to ... which team can get out and run. Oklahoma averages 19.7 transition points per game, most among major-conference teams. Michigan State is not far behind at 16.5 transition points per game, including 18.0 in its two NCAA tournament games. Both teams score more than 23 percent of their points in transition, so it is important for each to get out and run.

(Four) Factor to watch: Free throws: Michigan State has an above-average propensity to foul, and offensively, the Spartans rarely get to the line. They score 16 percent of their points from the free throw line, the fifth-lowest percentage in the nation, and are one of the worst free throw shooting teams (63 percent). Oklahoma also rarely gets to the line, but when the Sooners get there, they are able to knock down their free throws (74 percent).

The most eye-popping stats from Kentucky's historic rout of West Virginia

March, 27, 2015
Mar 27

Here's a closer look at how top overall seed Kentucky defeated West Virginia to advance to the Elite Eight:

Kentucky took the lead with 18:33 left in the first half and never gave it up. With a 78-39 win, the Wildcats became the first team since 1940 to score twice as many points as their opponent in the NCAA tournament regional semifinals or later. The most recent instance was when Indiana defeated Springfield (Mass.) 48-24. Indiana went on to win the title.

• West Virginia's 39 points were the fewest scored in a Sweet 16 game since the tournament expanded to 32 teams in 1975. It's also a school record for fewest in an NCAA tournament game and the fewest scored by any team in this year’s tournament.

• The 39-point victory is tied for the largest win in Sweet 16 history. There have been four 30-point wins in the Sweet 16, three of them by Kentucky.

• This was the largest win by a John Calipari-led team in the tournament.

• The Wildcats held the Mountaineers to a 24.1 field goal percentage, the lowest ever in a Sweet 16 game. It's the worst field goal percentage by the Mountaineers in a tournament game in the past 50 years.

• In three games so far in this tournament, Kentucky has held opponents to a 28.4 field goal percentage.

• The Wildcats outscored West Virginia by 22 points in the paint Thursday. The Mountaineers had more shots in the paint blocked (seven) than they made (six). West Virginia’s 12 paint points are tied for the fewest by a team in the 2015 NCAA tournament.

• Kentucky outscored West Virginia 25-2 in transition Thursday, the largest differential of this year's tournament.

Next, Kentucky gets Notre Dame in the Elite Eight. The teams have played two other times in tournament history. In 1970, Kentucky won by 10, and in 1958, the Wildcats won by 33 en route to the title. Notre Dame is 0-4 against 1-seeds in the NCAA tournament.

Four Factors look at Thursday's Sweet 16

March, 26, 2015
Mar 26

Below is a short preview of each of Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchups. Included in the preview is a “factor to watch” based on Dean Oliver’s Four Factors of basketball success, which have been shown to correlate with winning: shooting, turnovers, rebounding and free throws.

7 Wichita State vs. 3 Notre Dame
BPI Edge: Wichita State 50.1 percent -- projected to be the closest game of the Sweet 16.

This matchup might come down to ... the backcourts. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker of Wichita State and Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson of Notre Dame are two of the best backcourts in the nation. Each duo has combined for more than 12 win shares, an estimate of the wins a player produces for his team.

Most win shares among guard duos, 2014-15 seasons
Fred VanVleet-Ron Baker, Wichita State, 13.3
Delon Wright-Brandon Taylor, Utah, 13.3
Jerian Grant-Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame 12.8
Source: CBB Reference

(Four) Factor to watch: Shooting: Notre Dame ranks second in the nation in effective field goal percentage, behind Gonzaga. Because Notre Dame ranks outside of the top 100 defensively, it is reliant on its efficient offense; the Irish’s three worst shooting performances resulted in losses. Meanwhile, Wichita State has allowed the second-lowest effective field goal percentage in the nation since the start of February.

4 North Carolina vs. 1 Wisconsin
BPI Edge: Wisconsin 76 percent

This matchup might come down to ... which team can control the tempo. Wisconsin averages 59.8 possessions per game, seventh fewest in the nation and 10 fewer than UNC, the fastest-paced team in the ACC. The Tar Heels have never been held to a pace as slow as Wisconsin’s season average for possessions this season, but of their seven lowest-possession games of the season, they lost five.

(Four) Factor to watch: Rebounding: UNC rebounds more than 40 percent of its missed shots, the fifth-highest offensive rebound percentage in the country. This leads to 14.2 second-chance points per game. Wisconsin rebounds 76 percent of its opponents’ missed shots, fourth-best in the nation.

5 West Virginia vs. 1 Kentucky
BPI Edge: Kentucky 92 percent -- projected to be the most lopsided game.

This matchup might come down to ... whether West Virginia can create offense from its turnovers. The Mountaineers force a turnover on 28 percent of their opponents’ possessions, best in the nation, which leads to a Division I-high 20.7 points per game off turnovers. In the half court, Kentucky is allowing a Division I-best 0.68 points per possession, and West Virginia ranks 258th in the nation in half-court efficiency, so the Mountaineers will have to get out and run to score with the Wildcats.

(Four) Factor to watch: Rebounding: West Virginia and Kentucky are two of seven teams that rebound at least 40 percent of their own missed shots. Each team scores about 13 points per game off offensive rebounds. One weakness for Kentucky is defensive rebounding (ranking 196th), so West Virginia might be able to score some easy points on putbacks.

6 Xavier vs. 2 Arizona
BPI Edge: Arizona 84 percent

This matchup might come down to ... which point guard can make plays. T.J. McConnell and Dee Davis have the highest and third-highest assist rates among players remaining in the NCAA tournament, according to Each player has been responsible for more than a third of his team’s points in the tournament.

(Four) Factor to watch: Rebounding: Xavier rebounded 33 percent of its missed shots in each of its first two NCAA tournament games, resulting in 25 second-chance points and contributing to its off-the-charts 63.9 effective field goal percentage. Arizona is the best defensive rebounding team in the nation, grabbing 78 percent of its opponents’ missed shots.

Spurs' passing, shooting at high level

March, 26, 2015
Mar 26

It looks like the San Antonio Spurs are back in business.

They improved to 11-3 since Feb. 27 with a 130-91 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. San Antonio’s 130 points were a season high.

The Thunder fell to 18-11 when Russell Westbrook plays and Durant doesn’t, but it’s worth noting that’s split up as 13-1 against sub-.500 teams and 5-11 versus teams with recirds of .500 or better.

The Spurs were a late Thunder 3-pointer away from matching their largest margin of victory under Gregg Popovich (the mark remains a 42-point win against the Sacramento Kings during the 1997-98 season).

San Antonio is now 15-5 when their regular starting lineup plays (Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter).

How they’re winning: Parker in the paint
The Spurs are rolling because their offense is clicking. All five of their starters shot 50 percent or better from the field on Wednesday. San Antonio shot 58 percent from the field, the second time in 11 days that they shot the ball that well and the third-best that they’ve shot from the field this season.

The Spurs are averaging 112.4 points per game during this 14-game run, 12 points better than what they averaged prior to the start of this stretch. They rank first in the league in points per game, offensive efficiency and assist-to-turnover ratio since Feb. 27.

When the Spurs made at least two passes on a possession on Wednesday, they shot 65 percent from the field and had an assist to turnover ratio of 24-to-4.

One of the keys to the Spurs' recent success was on display on Wednesday.

Tony Parker scored 10 of his game-high 21 points in the paint. He has scored at least 10 points in the paint seven times this month. He had scored 10 or more only nine times all season entering March.

Parker averaged 5.8 points and 52 percent shooting in the paint this season through the end of February. In 12 games this month, he’s averaging 9.8 points and shooting 66 percent in the paint.

Elias Sports Bureau Stat of the Night
The Spurs were the only home team to win on Wednesday. The 12-1 record by road teams is an NBA best on a single day with a minimum of 10 games played.



Unheralded golfers have ruled Texas Open

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25

The PGA Tour is about to start its “Texas Two-Step” this week, but plenty of minds will be on Augusta.

This week’s Valero Texas Open is the final chance for players to qualify for the Masters by getting into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and next week brings the Shell Houston Open. So what can we expect from the annual swing through the Lone Star State?

Surprise winners and drama
In 2010, Adam Scott made the Valero Texas Open his seventh career PGA Tour victory and rose to No. 36 in the world. Since then, the world rankings of the winners in San Antonio have been the following: 231st (Brendan Steele), 285th (Ben Curtis), 117th (Martin Laird) and 339th (Steven Bowditch).

As for the Shell Houston Open, last year’s victory by Matt Jones (90th in the world) followed that of D.A. Points (195th) in 2013.

In fact, the last time these events both were won by top-50 players was 2001, when Hal Sutton and Justin Leonard did the job.

Not only have recent winners been obscure, but they’ve also had to sweat to the finish. Beginning in 2009, these events have been decided by playoffs four times, by one shot five times and by more than one shot just three times.

Of the three who won by more than a stroke, two (Phil Mickelson and Laird) shot 65 or better on the final day to close the deal.

Hall of Fame tradition
This week’s Texas Open field features 13 of the top 30 players in the Official World Golf Ranking, but none of the world’s top five will tee it up. The most recent top-10 player to win this event was Nick Price, in 1992.

That was nine months before Jordan Spieth -- the highest-ranked player in this week’s field -- was born.

This background obscures one of the most venerable histories of any event on the tour. Not only is this the third-oldest non-major on the PGA Tour schedule (dating to 1922), but it also has hosted some of the greatest winners in golf history.

The second edition, held in 1923, was won in a playoff by Walter Hagen, who overcame a six-shot deficit on the final day. Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson dueled in a playoff in 1940 (Nelson won), and Hogan finished second three times before winning in 1946.

From 1960 to 1962, Arnold Palmer won five major championships, including three legs of the career grand slam. In each of those years, Palmer also won the Texas Open - still the only man to win it three years in a row.

4-Point Play: Spurs' offense surging

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25

The 4-Point Play looks at the four analytics-based storylines that will make you smarter when watching Wednesday’s game between the Oklahoma City Thunder (fifth in BPI) and the San Antonio Spurs (fourth in BPI) at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. Our BPI gives the Spurs a 64 percent chance of winning:

1. Four players are scoring more than 25 points per 36 minutes (James Harden, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook). Westbrook leads them all in assist percentage (44 percent), defensive rebounding percentage (16 percent) and usage percentage (37 percent).

2. The Thunder have the seventh-best offense and the ninth-best defense in the NBA and have a 23 percent chance of getting to the second round of the playoffs.

3. Over the past 10 games, the Spurs have averaged 115 points per 100 possessions, 10 more than their season average of 105.

4. The Spurs have the second-best chance in the West of making the NBA Finals at 21 percent (the Golden State Warriors have a 44 percent chance of making the Finals).

Bulls-Raptors preview: 4-Point Play

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25

The 4-Point Play looks at the four analytics-based storylines that will make you smarter when watching Wednesday’s game between the Chicago Bulls (12th in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index) and the Toronto Raptors (11th in BPI) at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. Our BPI gives the Raptors a 54 percent chance of winning:

1. The Bulls have a 36 percent chance of getting the No. 3 seed and a 49 percent chance of the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Raptors have a 58 percent chance of getting the No. 3 seed and a 41 percent chance of the No. 4 seed.

2. The Raptors’ most likely first-round opponent is the Milwaukee Bucks (52 percent), and the Bulls’ most likely first-round opponent is the Washington Wizards (58 percent).

3. Among rookies with at least 1,200 minutes played, the Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic is No. 1 in points per 36 minutes (18) and scoring efficiency (56 percent true shooting percentage).

4. The Raptors score five more points per 100 possessions (110 compared with 105) when they get at least 25 percent of the available offensive rebounds.

Garrett Grayson: Gruden QB camp

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25

As a two-year starter at Colorado State, Garrett Grayson helped transform the Rams into one of the top sub-division programs in college football, exemplified by a 10-3 record in 2014.

Grayson was one of four college quarterbacks to throw for 4,000 yards last season, and his Total QBR (69.6) ranked sixth among quarterbacks in the 2015 draft class.

“Monday Night Football” analyst Jon Gruden will meet with Grayson and four other quarterbacks during the sixth season of “Gruden’s QB Camp,” which debuts Tuesday, April 7, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Ahead of the show, we take a look at Grayson’s greatest strength, his main area in need of improvement in his final season and a cause for concern.

Greatest strength: Stretching the field
Grayson excelled in the vertical passing game last season, averaging 9.5 yards per pass and earning a first down on 40 percent of his throws. Only Marcus Mariota (10 yards per attempt and first downs on 42 percent of passes) stretched the field at a higher rate last season.

In 2014, 57 percent of Grayson’s completions gained 10 yards or more, the highest percentage of any quarterback in this draft class.

Not only did Grayson find success downfield, but he also converted third downs. Grayson converted on 47 percent of third-down passing plays, ranking fourth in the nation behind Blake Sims, Jameis Winston and Cody Kessler.

Biggest improvement: Mobility
Grayson took 74 sacks during his four-year career at Colorado State, including 26 in his final season. Although that total is not exceptionally high, Grayson fumbled 16 times in his two full seasons as starter (but was fortunate to have the Rams recover all but three of those fumbles).

A hamstring injury kept Grayson from the combine, but he returned in time to throw at Colorado State’s pro day on Monday.

Grayson posted an unofficial 40-yard time of 4.72 seconds, which would have ranked seventh among quarterbacks at the combine. Mariota led all quarterbacks with a 4.52 40-yard time.

Cause for concern: No more Rashard Higgins
A lot of Grayson’s production last year came throwing to consensus first-team All-American wide receiver Rashard Higgins.

Higgins was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award as well as on the watch list for the Walter Camp Award after leading the nation in receiving yards last season.

Grayson’s passing numbers dropped significantly last year when targeting receivers not named Higgins. When targeting Higgins, Grayson had a 16-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a Total QBR of 96. Throwing to all others, Grayson had a 16-6 ratio and an 83 Total QBR.

Earlier profiles:
Brett Hundley, UCLA Bruins
Marcus Mariota, Oregon Ducks
Bryce Petty, Baylor Bears

Stats to know: Warriors clinch Pacific title

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25

Warriors Last Title ESPNThe Warriors' division title was a long time coming.

The last time the Golden State Warriors won a division title, Stephen Curry’s father was 11 years old.

The younger Curry led his team to its first division title in 39 years with a win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night. The Warriors are 58-13, 4 games ahead of the Hawks for the best record in the NBA and eight games up on the Grizzlies for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Their record is nearly the inverse of that of the team that Warriors coach Steve Kerr could have coached this season, the 14-57 Knicks.

The 58 wins are one shy of the franchise record for wins in a season, set by those last division champs, the 1975-76 team that in defense of its title from the previous season lost to the Suns in the Western Conference finals.

The 2014-15 team started well (by winning 21 of 23, including 16 in a row) and looks to be finishing well, with Tuesday’s win extending its current winning streak to seven games. The Warriors snapped the NBA's longest drought without a division title.

How have these Warriors pulled it off?

Curry and Thompson have been amazing
Stephen Curry’s scoring average (23.5 points per game) is nearly equal to what it was last season (24.0), but he’s been slightly more efficient (his PER has gone up every season he's been in the league). He leads the NBA in 3-pointers, free-throw percentage and steals.

Klay Thompson is on pace for career-best shooting percentages from both 2-point range and 3-point range. He’s averaging three fewer minutes per game this season, but he’s doing more in them, scoring three more points per game.

But it’s not just them
The players surrounding Curry and Thompson have not just filled their roles, they’ve excelled in them.

Chief among those is Draymond Green, who filled the box score on Tuesday night with 14 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and three blocked shots. Green is closing in on the first 100-block, 100 3-pointers season in Warriors history and should be the only NBA player to hit both of those benchmarks this season.

This is arguably the best defensive team the Warriors have had relative to the rest of the NBA. They lead the NBA in defensive efficiency while playing at the fastest pace in the league.

Opponents are shooting 42.3 percent from the field against the Warriors, the lowest opponents’ field-goal percentage in the NBA this season.

If the Warriors can maintain that, it would be the lowest opponents’ field goal percentage they’ve ever allowed in a non-shortened season.

Most memorable win: Thompson’s amazing game
The Warriors’ most memorable win might have been the most memorable performance of the NBA season. Thompson scored a career-high 52 points against the Kings, including an NBA single-quarter record 37 points in the third quarter.

Thompson was 13-of-13 from the field and 9-of-9 from 3-point range. The nine 3-pointers set a record for a quarter. The 13 field goals tied the NBA mark. It was a true one-man show. Thompson’s teammates were a combined 1-of-7 from the field for four points in the quarter.

Looking ahead
The Warriors have won eight division titles as a franchise. Five of the previous seven resulted in appearances in the NBA Finals, with the Warriors winning two and losing three.



Comparing Harvick's streak to Petty's 11

March, 24, 2015
Mar 24

Kevin Harvick finished second Sunday at Fontana, California, extending his run of top-two finishes to eight consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup races. Only one other driver in Cup Series history has a longer streak: Richard Petty.

Petty’s series record is 11 consecutive top-two finishes in 1975. He also has several others longer than Harvick's, whose streak dates to the 2014 season. David Pearson (1968) also has a streak of eight top-two finishes.

Comparing Harvick’s streak to Petty’s run of 11
Depending on one’s viewpoint, Harvick’s streak could be considered more impressive than Petty’s 11 in a row.

Petty paced the field for 33 percent of his laps during that streak, whereas Harvick has been leading for more than 37 percent of the laps during his past eight starts.

Moreover, the competition at the top of the field is possibly tighter. During Petty’s run, an average of 2.3 cars finished on the lead lap each start. During Harvick’s streak, that average is 25.5 cars on the lead lap.

In Petty’s streak he had six victories. Harvick has four among his last eight races.

Why Harvick might stretch it to nine
Harvick’s statistics in the past eight races make a convincing case. He has four wins (second-best is two wins). He has led 836 laps (second-best is 367 laps led). The next-most consistent finisher in these eight races has an average finish of 6.8 compared with Harvick’s average finish of 1.5.

Harvick has accomplished this on a variety of tracks, ranging from intermediates (from 1 to 2 miles) to Daytona (2 miles).

Harvick has run 301 fastest laps in five starts this season, 201 more than anyone else. That’s good for 27.7 percent of the laps run under green this year.

Why the streak might end
The next stop on the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour is Sunday in Martinsville. Harvick was involved in a wreck there in the fall and finished 33rd – the race preceding the start of his streak.

Last fall’s Martinsville race was the most recent event Harvick has run on a short track. He has won at the track once, but he has finished out of the top five in 24 of 27 starts there.

His average finish in at Martinsville is 16.4. He has paced the field for one lap in his past five starts there.

Bryce Petty: Gruden QB camp

March, 24, 2015
Mar 24

Bryce Petty spent two seasons at the helm of one of the most efficient offenses in college football. The Baylor Bears finished the 2013 and 2014 seasons in the top two in offensive efficiency, according to ESPN’s rankings.

With Petty as the starting quarterback, Baylor had 49 touchdown drives of one minute or less -- 13 more than any other FBS team.

"Monday Night Football" analyst Jon Gruden will meet with Petty and four other quarterbacks during the sixth season of "Gruden's QB Camp," which debuts April 7 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

To prepare you for the show, we break down Petty's greatest strength, his main area of improvement in his final season and a cause for concern.

Greatest strength: Arm strength
Petty led the FBS last season with 20 touchdowns on passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield, including 13 thrown at least 30 yards downfield. Only four other FBS quarterbacks had more than 13 completions -- much less touchdown completions -- at least 30 yards downfield all season.

Since the 2011 season, Petty is the only Power 5 quarterback to have a career completion percentage of at least 60 percent while having an average throw distance of at least 10 yards downfield in multiple seasons (minimum 100 passes per season).

He leads Power 5 quarterbacks in touchdowns on throws at least 20 yards downfield since 2011 with 39, two more than Tajh Boyd.

Biggest improvement: Accuracy downfield
Unlike Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley, other QB Camp stars and members of the 2015 NFL draft class, Petty has two years (instead of three) as a starting college quarterback.

In his first season as a starter, Petty completed 62 percent of his passes, and his average throw downfield was a Big 12-high 10.9 yards. Petty continued to impress in 2014, increasing his average air yards and his completion percentage.

He was one of three quarterbacks to average at least four passes of 30 or more yards downfield per game (along with Trevone Boykin and Daxx Garman), and Petty was the only one to complete more than 30 percent of them.

Petty missed (meaning he overthrew or underthrew) on 45 percent of his throws at least 30 yards downfield in 2013, but he reduced that number to 34 percent in 2014 -- and he completed a higher percentage of his deep attempts. Petty had 13 touchdowns and no interceptions on passes 30 or more yards downfield last season.

Cause for concern: System quarterback
Petty played 48 snaps (five of which resulted in him throwing a pass) from under center last season. The fewest passes from under center by an NFL quarterback in one season in the past five years (minimum 12 games played) is 24 (Nick Foles, 2013).

NFL quarterbacks drafted since 2010 average 374 snaps and 92 passes from under center in a season. It may not be a staple of Petty’s offense, but he'll likely need to show he can perform from under center to compete for a starting position in the NFL.

The Chargers (27) threw the fewest passes last season from under center, and the Eagles were next with 35.

Earlier profiles:
Brett Hundley, UCLA Bruins
Marcus Mariota, Oregon Ducks

Harden dominating ... at the free throw line

March, 23, 2015
Mar 23

Let's put James Harden's free throw shooting exploits this season into perspective.

Harden went 21-of-22 in Monday's win over the Indiana Pacers.

Harden has had two games with at least 20 made free throws in the past five days. The rest of the NBA has yet to have one such game all season.

If Harden had another game with 20 makes this season, he'd be the third player with three such games in a season in the past 50 seasons. The only two players currently on that list are Jerry West (1965-66) and Kobe Bryant (2005-06).

He's the fourth player to have at least two such games in the past 20 seasons, along with Bryant, Kevin Durant (2012-13) and Dwyane Wade (2006-07).

Harden has now made 606 free throws this season. Only one other player has more than 400 makes (Russell Westbrook, 448).

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Harden can now say, "I've had the NBA's past three regular-season games in which a player made 20 or more free throws."

He's the only player in NBA history who can say that.

The 6-foot-5 Harden will become the fifth player 6-5 or shorter to lead the NBA in free throws made since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976. The other four are Allen Iverson (6-0), World B. Free (6-2), Adrian Dantley (6-5) and Pete Maravich (6-5).

Harden is shooting nearly 87 percent from the free throw line. The average NBA player entered the day shooting 75 percent. That equates to Harden making about 80 more free throws than the average player would have on the same number of shots.

Lastly, how hard is it to shoot that many free throws that well in a game?

Harden is the second player to take at least 22 attempts and shoot 95 percent or better in the past eight seasons. The other was Dirk Nowitzki, who was 24-of-24 from the free throw line against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.



Kentucky's title chances unchanged

March, 23, 2015
Mar 23


Kentucky started the NCAA Tournament with a 49 percent chance of winning, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, and, after the Wildcats won their first two games, BPI projects their chances of finishing 40-0 and winning the title at … 49 percent.

Kentucky’s chances of winning remained the same in part because the Wildcats were expected to win their first two games. Also, for the most part, the higher seeds on their side of bracket advanced.

Gonzaga, because of its favorable Sweet 16 matchup against UCLA (the lowest-rated team remaining), now has the second-best chance to make the Final Four. BPI gives the Bulldogs an 85 percent chance to beat the Bruins, making it the second-most lopsided projected Sweet 16 game, behind Kentucky-West Virginia (93 percent).

The closest region is the West, where Arizona and Wisconsin are in a dead heat for the Final Four. Despite Wisconsin ranking higher in BPI, the Badgers have a tougher Sweet 16 matchup (against North Carolina, 12th in BPI) than Arizona (Xavier, 26th in BPI).

The most open region is the East, where Oklahoma and Louisville are co-favorites to reach the Final Four at 32 percent each, with Michigan State (24 percent) not far behind.

Virginia and Villanova entered the tournament with the fourth- and fifth-best chances to reach the Final Four, so after they were knocked out, Oklahoma and Louisville were the biggest movers the last few days.

Teams most helped by opening weekend

The four teams advancing in the East region – Oklahoma, Louisville, Michigan State and North Carolina State – were the biggest beneficiaries of the opening weekend.

Not only did they all advance, but they also knocked off the two favorites in the region, resulting in their chances of making the Final Four skyrocketing.

NC State: Defying the odds
UCLA is the lowest-seeded team in the Sweet 16, but the most unlikely participant is North Carolina State. At the start of the tournament, BPI gave the Wolfpack an 8.4 percent chance to reach the Sweet 16 because of their low chance to beat Villanova in the Round of 32.

Among teams still alive, the next-lowest pre-tournament chances to make the Sweet 16 belonged to UCLA (12.8 percent), Michigan State (13.8 percent) and Xavier (25.3 percent).

In the last four NCAA Tournaments, NC State is the third-most unlikely Sweet 16 participant, based on BPI’s pre-tournament projections. The previous three teams to make the Sweet 16 with less than a 10 percent pre-tournament chance did not advance further.

BPI chance by conference

The ACC has five teams in the Sweet 16, tying the record for most by a conference (Big East in 2009). There is about a 67 percent chance that the ACC will have at least one of those five teams make the Final Four, with Louisville (32 percent) the most likely participant.

Sweet 16 projections
Most lopsided game: Kentucky vs. West Virginia, Kentucky 93 percent chance to win
Closest game: Notre Dame vs. Wichita State, Notre Dame 50.3 percent chance to win
Most unlikely game (based on pre-tournament projections): NC State vs. Louisville, 4 percent chance of occurring

Projections favor Johnson over Harvick

March, 22, 2015
Mar 22

Here are the projections for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at California. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, prerace on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a 2-mile D-shaped oval) and time of year.

Kevin Harvick is on a run like NASCAR hasn’t seen since 1975, with seven straight top-two finishes dating to last year. In NASCAR Cup Series history, two other drivers - Hall of Famers Richard Petty and David Pearson - have had at least seven straight top-two finishes (Petty and Pearson rank 1-2 in series history in wins).

The only other time in NASCAR’s modern era we have seen a streak such as this was during Petty’s 1975 season, when he won 13 of 30 races and posted an average finish of 6.6. Harvick has led a higher percentage of laps during his run than Petty did.

Jimmie Johnson entered the season as the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook’s favorite to win the Sprint Cup Series Championship (5-1 odds) but has since been passed by Harvick (9-2). Johnson, however, has been a force at Auto Club Speedway as he ranks first all-time in wins (five), top-fives (12), laps led (955), average start (9.2) and average finish (6.6)

Johnson is projected to win Sunday's race, with Harvick projected to finish second. The rest of the top five are Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth.

Nash's career highlighted by record offense

March, 22, 2015
Mar 22

Steve NashBrett Davis/USA TODAY SportsSteve Nash orchestrated the most efficient offenses of the 2000s.

When Steve Nash was selected 15th overall by the Suns in a loaded 1996 NBA Draft that included Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson, few envisioned a Hall-of-Fame career for the Canadian point guard out of Santa Clara.

Yet Nash went on to produce one of the best statistical careers by a point guard in NBA history before announcing his retirement on Saturday. Here are the numbers Nash will be remembered by.

Nash in the history books

Nash finished his career ranked third on the NBA's all-time assist leaderboard with 10,335 assists. Only John Stockton and Jason Kidd have more. Nash also ended his career just one assist ahead of Mark Jackson after leading the NBA in assists six times.

Nash won back-to-back MVP awards in 2004-05 and 2005-06 with the Suns, something only LeBron James has achieved since (twice). Nash is one of 10 players to win consecutive MVP awards and the only player in NBA history under 6-foot-6 to win multiple MVPs.

There have been 11 seasons in NBA history in which a player who qualified for the field-goal percentage leaderboard shot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent on free throws. Nash has four of them and Larry Bird is the only other player with multiple 50-40-90 seasons.

In fact, Nash came one free throw away from having five straight 50-40-90 seasons between 2005-10 as he shot 89.9 percent from the free-throw line in 2006-07 when one fewer miss would have allowed him to reach the achievement. Nash still nearly averaged a 50-40-90 for his career, as he's the only player in NBA history to finish his career in the 49-40-90 club.

Nash also will retire as the NBA's all-time leader in free-throw percentage at 90.43 percent, just ahead of Mark Price, and he is the Suns' all-time leader in assists, 3-point field goals, 3-point field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and assist percentage.

The one thing missing

Perhaps the biggest knock on Nash's career is that despite all of the incredible offensive numbers he put up, he never led his team to the Finals. In fact, Derrick Rose is the only player in NBA history to win an MVP award without reaching an NBA Finals although it is perhaps unfair to compare him to Nash in that regard since he's only 26.

Karl Malone is the only player to win multiple MVPs without winning a title, and Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Kevin Durant and Rose join Nash on the list of MVPs without a title, although of course Rose and Durant still have time to play their way off this list.

Nash propelled teams to offensive greatness

Still, Nash's teams enjoyed plenty of team success as he reached four Western Conference Finals with the Suns and Mavericks while leading the most dynamic offenses of his time. During the nine seasons between 2001-02 and 2009-10, Nash's team led the league in offensive efficiency each year.

Since Nash signed with the Suns before the 2004-05 season, the NBA's five best single-season offensive efficiencies belong to a Nash-led Suns team. This includes every year between 2004-10 except 2005-06, a season in which Amar'e Stoudemire played just three games.

Nash's best offense was the 2009-10 Suns team that scored 112.7 points per 100 possessions, which is more than any team has scored in the last 30 seasons.

Nash's offenses with the Mavericks and Suns during the 2000's always put on a show, so perhaps it is fitting that the day after he announces his retirement those two teams will meet in Phoenix on Sunday night.