Saturday, April 29, 2017

Finally, a news explosion

WNBA team news:

Lynx training camp got more intense on day three.

Minnesota’s competitive fire hasn’t mellowed with age.

The Lynx are prepping for a one-season move to St. Paul.

Elena Delle Donne makes the Mystics contenders.

The Sun hope for a playoff return this year.

Atlanta’s defense will be better this year.

League facts to know.

Today’s transactions.

WNBA player news:

Briann January’s new coaching job with her alma mater doesn’t mean she’s done as a player.

Jewell Loyd is the Storm’s emerging star.

Kelsey Plum has signed with Nike.

Shoni Schimmel is taking time off, says Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer.

Skylar Diggins called out a reporter for failing to recognize her as Roc Nation’s highest draft pick.

Sue Bird will speak at a GeekWire sports tech summit in June.

The Wings’ large rookie class is trying to make an impact as they adjust to pro play.

Jordan Reynolds’ WNBA dream is coming true.

Former UConn stars revel in “normal” offseasons.

Elena Delle Donne puts up shots.

Former WNBA player news:

Becky Hammon’s big shot.

College player news:

Mississippi State’s Morgan William is adjusting to life after “the shot” that took down UConn.

Laken Wairau is leaving Indiana and will stay at the school as a student.

College coach news:

Texas A&M coach Gary Blair’s contract has been extended through the 2020-2021 season.

Delaware coach Tina Martin is retiring.

George Washington coach Jen Rizzotti will continue working with USA Basketball.

Kyra Elzy’s win challenge continues to honor Pat Summitt’s legacy.

Pepperdine coach Delisha Milton-Jones has hired her first assistant coach: BJ Porter.

Loyola Marymount has promoted director of basketball operations Nia Jackson to assistant coach.

High school news:

The infamous Boo Williams Tournament showcases 232 teams.

Indicators of NCAA Tournament success: a statistical analysis

The South Carolina Gamecocks celebrate after their Final Four semifinal win over Stanford on March 31. Photo by Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports.

This year’s NCAA Tournament provided not only a great deal of excitement, but an opportunity to discuss possible factors that relate to tournament success.  A WomensHoopsWorld staff writer did some quick analysis on the ratio of assists (AST) to field goals made (FGM), and came up with some initial statistics. We believed it would be interesting to examine this ratio as a possible indicator, as the AST/FGM ratio provides information on the level of team basketball being played. A low value would indicate a low number of assists per field goal made and accordingly, more isolations (one-on-one plays). Since team approaches are extremely important – particularly in women’s basketball – we decided to assess whether tournament success (number of tournament games won) correlated with this ratio.

To examine this relationship, I gathered 2016-2017 NCAA statistics (http://stats.ncaa.org/rankings/change_sport_year_div) on total field goals made, the number of assists dished throughout the season, and attempted to link them to wins during this year’s tournament.  Fig1Figure 1 reflects a strong positive correlation between FGM and assists and moderate correlations were found between these measures and tournament wins. However, no statistically significant correlation was found between the ratio of AST/FGM and tournament wins (Figure 2). (Side note: This finding even held up upon partitioning the data into pre-tournament and tournament periods).

Fig2Accordingly, no relationship was found between the ratio AST/FGM and team wins.  End of story? Well, note that there were moderate correlations between tournament wins and both field goals made and assists (Figure 1), however, during the course of the season, ten teams converted more field goals and nineteen teams dished out more assists than South Carolina, the tournament champion. Further, during the tournament, only Mississippi State scored more field goals than the Gamecocks and four teams, including the remainder of the Final Four squads, had more assists than the eventual champs. So while both FGM and AST are correlated with tournament wins, they did not ensure success.

These findings beg the question: If neither FGM, assists nor the ratio are suitable indicators of tournament victory, what
is? What is a good “predictor” of tournament success? To answer that question, it was important to focus solely on the performance of the teams prior to the tournament.

I curated pre-tournament data on FGM, assists, rebounds, rebound margin, field goal percentage (FG percentage), AST/TO, win-loss percentage (W_L percentage) and included the ATable1ST/FGM ratio for good measure. A multi-linear regression identified AST/TO, assists, FG percentage, and rebounds as statistically significant factors for modeling tournament success (Table 1). Coincidentally, a model of wins over the full season identified the same variables (less assists) as strong factors for team success (R2 = 0.64).

To explore the importance of the factors on tournament success, each variable was removed from the model one by one and the subsequent decrease in R2 was assessed (Figure 3, left side). Fig3The flip side of this approach is to incrementally add variables to the model and examine the subsequent increase in R2 (Figure 3, right side).  In order of declining p-value, the process started with AST/TO which explained 14 percent of the variability.  The R2 increased to 25 percent when FG percentage was added, only gained a small bump after including assists and nearly doubled when rebounding was added (R2=0.48).  Using both approaches, rebounding was designated as the most important variable for tournament success.  However, the model accounts for a little less than half of the variability.

The relatively low R2 speaks to the possibility that (1) other variables need to be included in the model, (2) historical data may not provide enough information to capture the potential behavior, or (3) perhaps, the answer lies in the refrain of sports commentators far and wide: The playoffs are a whole other season and you can’t model grit and determination!   Coincidentally, while looking at various basketball means and measures, I came across Dean Oliver’s “Four Factors of Basketball Success.” Maybe the answer is here? It doesn’t seem as though the approach is often used to evaluate women’s basketball; hence, this may be my next foray into the world of sports analytics. Stay tuned!

You know you want to know this

WNBA team news:

Health is already a concern for the Connecticut Sun.

Five reasons to watch the Dallas Wings this season.

Connecticut Sun media day will be streamed live tomorrow.

WNBA player news:

Tina Charles on playing overseas and being a role model.

Sugar Rodgers is taking a leadership role for the Liberty.

Breanna Stewart had an unusual offseason – it involved rest.

Dallas Wings guard Aerial Powers does not expect to be ready for the season opener.

The Dream’s Tiffany Hayes is a player to watch.

Guess who’s back at Connecticut after a two-year absence? Allison Hightower.

Lindsay Allen is working hard to make a New York Liberty spot.

Brittney Sykes training camp report.

Dallas Wings rookie Evelyn Akhator on how she spent draft night, transition to WNBA, keeping in touch with family.

Tina Charles’ Hopey’s Heart Foundation.

“Athletes United”:

Pro players have created an organization called “Athletes United” to help support survivors of sexual assault.

Elizabeth Williams and Layshia Clarendon of the Atlanta Dream are on board, and Clarendon shares her story.

College team news:

South Carolina lawmakers honored their Gamecock national champions today.

Nebraska’s AD has high expectations for the basketball program.

College player news:

Florida State’s Shakayla Thomas is ready to take charge going into her senior year.

College coach news:

Nancy Funk, 31-year coach at Johns Hopkins, will retire.

Female head women’s basketball coaches in the NCAA are on the decline.

Velaida Harris is Rhode Island’s new assistant coach.

Jessica Keller is Illinois State’s new assistant coach.

USA Basketball news:

Thirty-five athletes will compete in the U16 trials.

No. 1 prospect Samantha Brunelle, No. 1 dunker Francesca Belibi invited to USA Basketball trials.

News on all fronts

WNBA team news:

The Mystics have opened training camp with a revamped roster and elevated expectations.

Five reasons to watch the San Antonio Stars this season.

The Lynx opened training camp hungry for another title and ready to move past last year’s Finals loss.

Coach Jenny Boucek was pleased with the Storm’s first day of camp.

WNBA player news:

Breanna Stewart embraces the power of the platform that comes with a WNBA spot.

Don’t call Skylar Diggins a female athlete.

China’s Shao Ting getting acclimated to Lynx and hoping to make roster.

Samantha Prahalis is “95 percent sure” she’s retiring.

WNBA coach news:

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve says the WNBA’s popularity is about society changing its views on women. BRAVO.

WMLBA news:

The Carolina Stars will fill a pro women’s void in the state.

College team news:

The South Carolina Gamecocks will be recognized at the State House tomorrow.

After losing Destiny Slocum, Maryland has landed a four-star point guard recruit.

Ohio State’s early season schedule includes Stanford and Connecticut.

College player news:

Former Irish woman Ali Patberg has transferred to Indiana.

College coach news:

Lisa Leslie has high hopes for South Carolina coach Dawn Staley.

Longtime DePaul assistant coach Bart Brooks is the new head coach at Belmont.

Kevin Baker is UTEP’s new head coach.

USA Basketball:

USA Basketball has put their team selection committees in for 2017-2020, and the list is loaded.

Tamika Catchings has been named to the USA Basketball development committee.

And so it begins: WNBA teams open training camp for 2017 season

The Stars get ready to run sprints. Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Stars.
The Stars get ready to run sprints. Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Stars.
The Stars get ready to run sprints. Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Stars.

WNBA teams opened training camp Sunday, ten days after the draft. The 2017 season marks the 21st for the league, and two decades since the ball first tipped on June 21, 1997.

The defending champion Los Angeles Sparks have 23 players on their tryout roster including Riquna Williams, who didn’t get to suit up last year due to injury; Odyssey Sims, acquired over the winter; veteran Tiffany Jackson-Jones; and several Pac-12 rookies, including draftee Sydney Wiese from Oregon State. The Sparks returning core, Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, Essence Carson and Alana Beard, are still completing overseas play.

The Minnesota Lynx – last year’s runner up for the title – had a spirited practice that featured most of their longtime veterans, as well as several newcomers. Coach Cheryl Reeve said she liked what she saw.

The Lynx run a shooting drill. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Lynx.
The Lynx run a shooting drill. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Lynx.

“We talked early on about a lot of intangibles that make us great,” she said. “We shared with them what we are interested in accomplishing. The energy was really good.”

The Dallas Wings, which had three picks in the draft’s first round, began their second year of training camp with an open practice. Fans cheered on the rookies and veterans as they moved through the two-hour session. The Wings face the San Antonio Stars Saturday in the league’s first preseason game, and Dallas coach Fred Williams was keeping that in mind Sunday.

“I think we’ve got a good balance of players,” he said. “My goal this week is to give everyone some minutes to make a good evaluation. The main thing for us is to have that team chemistry and to continue to build on it.”

Fred Williams explains a drill in the Dallas Wings' first day of training camp Sunday. Photo courtesy of Dallas Wings.
Fred Williams explains a drill in the Dallas Wings’ first day of training camp Sunday. Photo courtesy of Dallas Wings.

The Stars featured video of No. 1 draft pick Kelsey Plum and No. 5 pick Nia Coffey on their social media feed. They have 22 on their training camp roster and will have many cuts to make before the first game of the WNBA season May 13.

The Seattle Storm finished their 2016 campaign with a winning streak and a playoff appearance, and they began this season with all but two players in camp. That included back-to-back rookie of the year duo Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart, who accounted for almost 48 percent of team scoring and 41 percent of the rebounding last year. Stewart said the team is thrilled to be back.

The Seattle Storm huddle up after the completion of the first day of training camp. Photo courtesy of Seattle Storm.
The Seattle Storm huddle up after the completion of the first day of training camp. Photo courtesy of Seattle Storm.

“Last year it seemed like we were just thrown into things and getting used to each other,” she said. “And now this year, we couldn’t wait to be back and playing with each other knowing what we did last year and how we’re going to improve so much this year.”

The only downer for Seattle was not having point guard Sue Bird on the court. The 16-year-veteran had a knee procedure done earlier this month and is still rehabilitating.

Indiana Fever coach Pokey Chatman pauses during the first day of training camp. Photo courtesy of Indiana Fever.
Indiana Fever coach Pokey Chatman pauses during the first day of training camp. Photo courtesy of Indiana Fever.

The first training camp to open was Indiana’s, which began first thing in the morning. The teams that didn’t have an inaugural run Sunday were the Phoenix Mercury, the Connecticut Sun and the Washington Mystics. They each begin camp Monday.

Game Changers: the unsung heroines of sports history

Today I went to the LA Times Festival of Books – my favorite of all festivals. Not only are there many great books for sale, but there are awesome author interviews. And you never know who you might meet.

I stopped by the LA84 booth and started talking to filmmaker Molly Schiot about her book “Game Changers: the unsung heroines of sports history” as I leafed through it. The book features women who were pioneers in all sports over the last 100 years or so: a summary and a picture, and sometimes interviews. It was captivating.

Schiot directed an episode of “30 for 30” for ESPN. She pitched numerous ideas for features on female athletes, and they rejected every one. So she set about to do some research herself. She began at the Los Angeles Public Library and eventually advanced to the LA84 library. She kept going, until she’d compiled enough to make the above beautiful 285-page book.

Basketball greats featured are: Pat Summitt, Kay Yow, the All-American Red Heads, Cathy Rush/Immaculata College, Violet Palmer, the 1984 Cuban National Women’s Basketball Team (pictured with Fidel Castro), Molly Bolin Kazmer, Sheryl Swoopes and the Wayland Baptist Flying Queens.

Among other athletes featured are tennis greats Alice Marble, Andrea Jaeger and Althea Gibson, rowing giant Anita DeFrantz, track legend Wilma Rudolph, race car driver Shirley Muldowney, the first female sports journalist, Melissa Ludtke, and many more, including numerous ground-breaking African-American athletes and the first female athletic director of a college (1904). Seeing these women – sometimes in black and white photos – in each decade of the last century inspires wonder, awe and then gratitude. There are well-known names, and obscure ones. Schiot had to come to grips with their anonymity in the sports world, too.

“I don’t think I quite understood the absence of women in sports history when I was a kid,” she wrote in the introduction. “It’s not until I started this project that I, a proud feminist, came to the uncomfortable realization that these names have always been there, but we haven’t recognized them; it baffles me that the Wake-Robin Club is less known than the fictional Bad News Bears. With this book, I hope to change that, even if just a little.”

Schiot’s Instagram.

The stories in the book are just as fascinating as the pictures. Go get it. You’ll be glad you did.

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