RPI has Kansas at #1???

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Wildcats fans don’t have much to worry about with their team. They are 19-0, two games up on their nearest Southeastern Conference competition, and getting all but one first-place vote in the Associated Press poll.

OK, so some are worried about that one vote.

But they have to have something to obsess about since their team is so freaking good, and on Monday came a nice little crisis in the form of the Ratings Percentage Index standings, or RPI.

Someone made the mistake of checking to see where the Cats stand in the RPI even though we’re still seven weeks from Selection Sunday, and oh boy, it’s not pretty. Kentucky is the No. 2 team. No. 1? Kansas, whom the Wildcats defeated by 32 points back in November.

#DeathToTheRPI tweeted the folks at Lost Lettermen.

RPI loathing is not a new phenomenon in college basketball, and it only has escalated as other computer rankings have been accorded almost religious devotion. The RPI is a calculation from the NCAA based on a team’s winning percentage (25 percent of the formula), the winning percent of its opponents (50 percent) and the winning percentage of its opponents’ opponents (25 percent). Also cooked into the broth are factors based on whether the game was home, road or neutral.

It does not take into account a team’s margin of victory. As it would in a league standing, Kentucky’s enormous win over Kansas counts only as much as one that came on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

The RPI starts each season with every team at 0-0. There is no preseason ranking, unlike other popular computer rankings. In college basketball, major teams play their most difficult games (conference road games) in the second half of the season and their easiest (home guarantee games) in the beginning. So there can be some odd rankings until teams establish how proficient they truly are against the best teams they’ll play.

This analogy has been used many times: Looking at the RPI before the database is close to complete is like looking over the shoulder of a painter as he or she works on a landscape.  

Kentucky has played only six conference games. So has Kansas. Few major teams have played more than eight.

If Kentucky is as good as that 32-point victory over the Jayhawks implied, it will win the majority of its remaining games, and the value of those victories will be compounded because they will be against teams with higher ratings than some of its November and December opponents.

If Kansas is not as good, it likely will lose some Big 12 games and will slip behind Kentucky as the data set for the 2014-15 season builds.

Why is Kansas ahead of Kentucky at this point?

It has not played any teams ranked lower than 169 and has played 16 against the top 125, giving it the strongest schedule in all of college basketball. Kentucky has played six teams outside the top 125, three of which are ranked 203 or below. The penalty for playing those teams will recede if UK continues winning at the rate expected.

If it does, or if it doesn’t, what will it have mattered what the ratings looked like on Jan. 26?

The absence of margin of victory from the RPI is a constant complaint from its critics. But the decision to exclude that element is a clear statement: The RPI is not a power ranking; it is a measure of achievement.

One can argue that its formula is too heavily weighted toward schedule strength. It is hard to figure why one’s own performance is so lightly weighted, why the NCAA doesn’t opt for, say 40 percent one’s own record, 40 percent opponents’ and 20 percent their opponents’. The RPI also is not employed as a strict ranking even when its database is more fully formed. For the NCAA Tournament selection committee, it is more about the groups – top 50, top 100, bottom 150, and how a team performed against them – than an objective ranking of No. 1 over No. 2, etc.

But Monday, Kansas was No. 1 and Kentucky was No. 2.

For some, that was too much to bear.

Tom Brady vs. Richard Sherman

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Great matchups abound in this, the pinnacle of the NFL season. Super Bowl XLIX pits the New England Patriots against the Seattle Seahawks in what promises to be a closely contested affair.

At least, that’s the hope. We all thought last year’s Super Bowl would be a great game, but it was apparent from Peyton Manning’s first snap, he and the Denver Broncos were outmatched by Russell Wilson and company.

This time around, the AFC appears to be represented by a team better suited to challenge the Seahawks, a franchise teeming with confidence and ready to add the handle dynasty to its description—a term not used to describe an NFL team since Brady’s Patriots won three titles in the early 2000’s.

Here is a  key matchup sure to draw your attention on Super Bowl Sunday.

 Tom Brady vs. Richard Sherman

This is the premier matchup to watch throughout the game. With Seattle playing the way it has of late, allowing 3.6 yards per carry and only one rushing touchdown over the past eight games, it may be difficult for New England to get anything going with its stable of running backs.

Therefore, Brady vs. Sherman will be thrust into the forefront of the biggest game of the 2014 season.

The last time these two teams met, Sherman coined the now-popular phrase, “You mad, bro?” He’s not one to shy away from attention and is always looking to get under someone’s skin to gain a competitive advantage. That sentence he uttered over two years ago may still be in the back of Brady’s mind this Sunday.

Truthfully, at that time, I thought he was just coming up to say ‘good game.’ That’s all I thought it was. It was loud after that game, so I didn’t really hear anything. Then I went into the locker room after the game and … he said he was talking trash to me. That was all a bit of a surprise to me.

Whether he’s being truthful about hearing Sherman or not we’ll never know. But the stats say Brady targeted Sherman seven times, completing just two passes for 32 yards and a pick in that 2012 matchup, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Advantage Sherman.

UW Men 14-4 on the Season

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Andrew Andrews connected on a straightaway jumper with one second remaining, lifting the Washington Huskies past short-handed Colorado 52-50 on Thursday night for their third win in a row.

Nigel Williams-Goss had 16 points to lead Washington (14-4, 3-3 Pac-12), which won at Colorado for the first time in its last five games here. Andrews finished with 12 points on 3 of 12 shooting from the floor, connecting on his last and most important attempt.

Colorado (9-9, 2-4) was without two of its best players. Josh Scott remained sidelined with a back injury and Xavier Johnson sat out to serve a one-game suspension for violating a team rule.

Jaron Hopkins had 11 points. Wesley Gordon added 10 points for Colorado, which lost its fourth in a row.

After a Colorado turnover with 34 seconds left the Huskies worked the clock until Andrews got a decent look from just beyond the foul line and knocked down the decisive jumper.

Patriots Caught Playing with Dirty Balls????

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The New England Patriots, coach Bill Belichick and the NFL are really going to have some questions to answer in the run-up to Super Bowl XLIX now.

ESPN reported late Tuesday night the Patriots had 11 of their 12 allotted game footballs underinflated by 2 pounds per square inch for Sunday’s AFC championship game rout of the Indianapolis Colts, citing “league sources either involved or familiar with the investigation.”

NFL spokesman Michael Signora said in an email the league is “not commenting on the matter at this time.”

Patriots spokesman Stacey James issued a statement reiterating the Patriots “have been in complete cooperation with the league and will continue to do so.”

The Patriots are scheduled to arrive in Arizona on Monday for the Feb. 1 title tilt against the Seattle Seahawks.

The issue is whether the Patriots used footballs deflated below league requirements to get better grip in the rain during their 45-7 romp Sunday night.

Belichick said Monday the team would “cooperate fully with whatever the league wants us to; whatever questions they have for us, whatever they want us to do.” He declined to comment Tuesday in a media teleconference when asked whether the NFL had contacted him.

A finding that the Patriots intentionally broke the rules could yield a strong response from the NFL, especially given the league has disciplined the team in the past.

In 2007, the league fined Belichick $500,000 and took away the team’s first-round draft pick the following year after it was found the Patriots illegally videotaped the New York Jets’ signals in what became known as the “Spygate” scandal.

NFL rules stipulate the ball must be inflated to 12½ to 13½ pounds. The referee – on Sunday, it was veteran Walt Anderson – “shall be the sole judge as to whether all balls offered for play comply with these specifications,” the rules say.

“A pump is to be furnished by the home club, and the balls shall remain under the supervision of the Referee until they are delivered to the ball attendant just prior to the start of the game.”

Each team makes 12 primary balls available for testing 2 hours, 15 minutes before the game. The home team also makes available 12 backup balls.

NBA Team Values

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The Los Angeles Lakers unseated the New York Knicks as the NBA’s most valuable team, worth $2.6 billion, according to a Forbes poll released on Wednesday that showed the average team value rose 74 percent from last year.

The average NBA team’s value rose to $1.1 billion from $634 million last year, a jump Forbes said was driven primarily by the NBA signing expanded national media deals with broadcast partners Walt Disney Co and Time Warner Inc.

There are now 11 NBA teams worth at least $1 billion, up from three a year ago, Forbes said in a statement.

The colossal rise in average team value is the biggest one-year gain since Forbes began tracking team valuations in the four major U.S. sports leagues in 1998.

Last October, the National Basketball Association agreed on a more than $20 billion multi-year contract with Disney and Time Warner that dwarfed the previous deal.

The Lakers’ value shot up 93 percent from last year while the Knicks, who topped the list the last two years, were second with a value of $2.5 billion, up 79 percent from last year.

The Los Angeles Clippers, who were purchased for $2 billion last year by former Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, were valued at $1.6 billion, putting them fifth on the list behind the third-place Chicago Bulls ($2 billion) and fourth-place Boston Celtics ($1.7 billion)

The reigning NBA champion San Antonio Spurs were ranked 11th out of the league’s 30 teams with a 51.5 percent jump in value to $1 billion.

Super Bowl XLIX Storylines

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With almost two weeks of what will be non-stop Super Bowl coverage around the football world, there will come a time when the same story is recycled and then recycled again. It’s one of the drawbacks of actually having a week off between the conference championship games and Super Bowl Sunday.

It’s inevitable.

It’s also only magnified by the fact that this particular Super Bowl between Tom Brady’s New England Patriots and Russell Wilson’s Seattle Seahawks has a whole bunch of storylines surrounding it.

On that note, here’s a brief look at the top storylines for Super Bowl XLIX set to take place February 1st in Arizona. We will provide you our in-depth look and normal weekly piece a few days prior to the big game itself.

Pete Carroll Against His Old Team

At some point, every football-related newspaper or website will cover this back story between now and the Super Bowl itself. It’s a story that pits Carroll’s previous struggles in the NFL against his current success at the same level. Carroll coached the New England Patriots for all of three seasons (1997-1999). It came at a time in his career after he was promoted to a head coaching role following a two-year stint as the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator. Okay, that’s a storyline in and of itself.

While not disastrous by any stretch of the imagination, Carroll’s three year stint in New England wasn’t anything to write home about. He finished .500 or better in all three seasons, earning playoff spots in 1997 and 1998. However, following an eight-win 1999 season, Carroll was fired. He was then replaced by Bill Belichick, who is leading the Patriots to their sixth Super Bowl in his 15 seasons as the team’s head coach. Did we mention that prior to his gig in San Francisco, Carroll was the head coach of the New York Jets? Good thing we did, because it’s a stint that lasted about 364 days longer than Belichick’s tenure as the Jets head coach.

Tom Brady’s Third Attempt at Matching Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw

It’s probably a good thing that Mr. Brady isn’t taking on a certain NFC East team this upcoming February in his sixth Super Bowl appearance. After hoisting the Lombardi in his first three tries, Brady has lost his last two attempts to match Montana and Bradshaw with four Super Bowl titles. Both losses have come against Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

If you look at Brady’s overall performance in these FIVE Super Bowls, not much has changed from his early-career success. After throwing a combined six touchdowns compared to one interception in wins against St. Louis, Carolina and Philadelphia, Brady compiled three touchdowns and one interception in his two losses to the Giants. The difference between success and failure for the Patriots can be summed up by the following statistic. Their defense forced a total of one turnover in the team’s two losses compared to eight in the three Super Bowl victories. Overall, New England’s five Super Bowl appearances with Brady at the helm have been decided by a total of two points.

A Dying Dynasty vs A New Dynasty

No matter how much success New England has over the next couple seasons, its Tom Brady-led dynasty is surely going to come to an end at some point in the not-so-distant future. At 37 years old and with 237 NFL starts under his belt, Brady simply isn’t gong to be able to cleat up forever. In fact, this might be his last chance of earning that elusive fourth Lombardi Trophy.

At 62 years old and with 40-plus years of NFL coaching experience, Bill Belichick’s future is a bit less certain. Unlike actually suiting up on the field, coaches can (health permitting) man the sideline into their golden years. The oldest coach in the NFL today is New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin at 68 years old. So, Belichick’s window is likely closing as well.

Interestingly enough, Seahawks head man Pete Carroll is the second-oldest head coach in the league at 63. Though, it’s safe to assume that he’s a more youthful individual than Belichick. At least, that’s the conclusion we can draw by looking at the two on the sideline. The biggest comparison to draw here is between the quarterbacks. Russell Wilson (26) was 11 years old when Brady attempted his first NFL pass back in 2000. As a whole, Seattle was the seventh-youngest team heading into the season at an average age of nearly 26 years old. Even when Carroll retires, Seattle will boast the youth on the roster with potential replacements within the coaching staff to succeed for some time.

Rob Gronkowski vs Earl Thomas

This is a matchup that will be the central focus of film sessions for both teams heading into the Super Bowl. The best all-around tight end in the NFL going up against one of the best defensive players of the modern era. A player in Gronkowski that makes opposing linebackers and defensive backs look like road kill the vast majority of the time going up against a safety in Earl Thomas that eats pass catchers alive with the widest coverage net of any safety in the league.

Tom Brady put up 14 touchdowns compared to five interceptions for a 109.7 rating when targeting Gronkowski during the regular season. Meanwhile, Thomas allowed just two interceptions with a 85.6 rating when he was targeted. It truly is strength versus strength in this one.

In reality, whoever wins this matchup will likely be hoisting the Lombardi when all is said and done in Arizona next month.