Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thoughts on the Upcoming MIAA-CCIW Challenge

I actually never know if this is officially referred to as a “classic” or a “challenge”. It has flipped-flopped over the years and has always depended on who’s schedule page you happened to be viewing at the moment. This season, in fact, none of the schools’ online schedule pages call it anything at all, except Wheaton, who simply calls it “CCIW Challenge”.

No one cares? No one cares. Moving on.

Why this is fun

The MIAA-CCIW Challenge isn’t fun in the same way the Big Ten-ACC Challenge* is fun – the latter being one of the best events in sports, in my opinion – but it still serves as a measuring stick (of sorts) that is so frequently missing from Calvin’s non-conference schedule. Sure the GRSHOF games on Thanksgiving weekend are always that, but it’s more difficult to compare to NAIA schools who start their schedule in late October and often have several more games under their belts.

*I’ve often wondered/fantasied about a true MIAA-CCIW challenge which would match up the eight CCIW schools with the eight MIAA schools in the same manner as the Big Ten and ACC do, but the fact of the matter is the MIAA would get destroyed. I think a Calvin or Hope could match up with a top-two CCIW school frequently enough to make that part fun, but the middle and bottom of the CCIW would feast on the middle and bottom of the MIAA. There’s just so much more conference depth over there. The hope most years would be for two or three MIAA wins.

But it’s fun because it’s back to back games against quality Division III programs who also share quite a bit in the way of institutional mindset. Carthage rarely forays into the top tier of the division, but they’ve been a Massey Top-1,000 team (all divisions, including NAIA, which generally equates to the top quarter or third of D3) in every year of his database (going back to 2003).

And it’s fun because of the back-to-back games which allow for direct comparison with a conference rival.

Why this is not fun

This is not fun because every year this weekend carries the weight of potential at-large tournament selection. “Signature wins” aren’t really a thing in the Division III selection process but “head-to-head”, “common opponents”, and “results versus regionally ranked opponents” are, and they often come into play when Wheaton and Carthage is concerned.

It’s also not fun because Calvin hasn’t had as much success the last few years as fans would like. Last year’s 27-point drubbing of Wheaton was a high point, but the loss the night before to Carthage was a result that shouldn’t have happened.

And the results have been especially poor on the other side of the lake. According to the Massey database, Calvin hasn’t beaten either Carthage or Wheaton on Lake Michigan’s western shore since the 2004-05 season when they beat Carthage in the Challenge and Wheaton in the NCAA Tournament (after losing to them in the challenge).

I don’t like to think about that.

About this year

Wheaton comes into play on Friday with a 4-2 record. The (2-point) loss to Defiance is a bit of a surprise, but the Yellow Jackets appear to be of reasonable quality themselves, and they owned the home court advantage for that game. The other loss was by four points at home to (now) #4 Washington U. That’s not a bad result at all.

On the positive side of the ledger they turned in an 11-point victory at #17 Chicago on Wednesday. Wheaton isn’t currently ranked in the current week’s Top-25 (they’re in the Others Receiving Votes category), but perhaps they would be if we were able to call for a re-rank after Wednesday.

Wheaton is a legitimate threat to go 2-0 this weekend. My personal KenPom-like efficiency ratings – which, to be clear, should be taken with a large small sample size caveat – call for likely scores of:

Wheaton 84, Calvin 79 (64% chance of a Wheaton victory)
Wheaton 88, Hope 74 (87% chance of a Wheaton victory)

The Massey Ratings call for a 73-69 win over Calvin and a 75-70 win over Hope (63% and 67% Wheaton win probabilities for those games respectively).

Carthage is having a rougher go this season; they’re 3-3 but have maybe only one positive result. They got hammered by 35 against Washington U. on a neutral site and suffered double-digit losses to St. Francis (NAIA) and UW-LaCrosse. Another negative result is also their one-point overtime win over UC-Santa Cruz (who won four games last season).

The solid-looking result is a 9-point win over a decent-to-good UW-Platteville squad.

My efficiency ratings call for scores of:

Hope 79, Carthage 78 (58% chance of a Hope win)
Calvin 83, Carthage 74 (83% chance of a Calvin win)

The Massey Ratings call for a 73-71 loss to Hope and a 72-69 loss to Calvin (44% and 39% Carthage win probabilities respectively.

Why I seemingly wrote that last section from the CCIW perspective

I have no clue.

What we want to see this weekend

Two wins, obviously.

More specifically: a win over Carthage almost feels like a must if there are any hopes of a Pool C (at large) bid for the tournament. A win over Wheaton isn’t as much of a must, but you’d at least like to see Calvin stay competitive. A double-digit loss would be disheartening.

2-0: Ecstatic
1-1: Probably expected, just hang with Wheaton
0-2: Soul is crushed

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reflecting on Calvin's 108-98 Victory Over Anderson

A few quick reflections on last Saturday's season-opening win over the Anderson Ravens.

Calvin's offense is, and will continue to be, very good.

I don't see any way around this.

And we mostly knew this would be the case going into the season. Jordan Brink is one of the best scorers we've seen in Maroon and Gold in (at least) the last dozen years or so. Tyler Dykstra and Jordan Daley have proven to be efficient scorers. And we saw Austin Parks shoot the three-ball with effectiveness last season.

What we didn't know is how Calvin would replace Tyler Kruis at the center position. Dan Stout, while not an offensive force, has been able to take advantage of the opportunities given to him in producing an above-average scoring efficicney for his career. He's also an adept rebounder -- particularly on the offensive end -- and has shown a remarkable ability to draw fouls and get to the line (where he shoots 70%). But depth was going to be a concern, especially with Stout on the shelf to start the year with a knee injury.

But Calvin found a weapon in 6-7 Freshman Connor VanderBrug. While probably more of a forward than a center, VanderBrug instantly showed the ability to score inside and outside, as well as rebound and handle the ball competently. He made some mistakes -- particularly on the defensive end -- and didn't end up as a terribly efficient scorer for the game, but 13 (points) and 13 (rebounds) as a starter in your first game on campus is terrific.

The lineup of Parks-Brink-Daley-Dykstra-VanderBrug is going to give teams fits with it's combination of size, speed, and shooting ability. Every one of those player can step out and drain a three, and every one of those players can get up the court on a fast break. Going 6-3, 6-7, 6-8 in the frontcourt is what we call "going small" at Calvin, but that's not a small lineup when compared to most every Division III team.

We saw a lot of these matchup problems on Saturday. Calvin's offensive efficiency rating (points per 100 possessions) was a robust 126. They found open three-point looks for the right people, they worked the ball up the court to score quickly in transition, they were effective at finding an open man cutting to the basket, and they really didn't have to force a shot all afternoon. Quality of opponent caveat applies: Anderson wasn't very good last year and probably won't be terrific this year, but offensively the Knights did exactly what they had to do.

Calvin's defense wasn't strong.

98 points is a lot to give up to a team like Anderson. Tip your cap because they made 51% of their threes, but very few of them were of the forced type. The Ravens routinely got open looks for their most deadly shooters and Calvin paid for that. Anderson finished the game with a 114 offensive efficiency rating, which isn't anywhere close to what Calvin wanted to allow.

Some of the younger players (in particular) got lost in the defensive scheme and were too slow to recognize when they needed to get back out and close out the shooter. Anderson shot 51% on 35 three-point attempts which is just not good at all. Some of that was luck, but clearly some portion was the inability to get a hand in the face of the shooter. The 51% is less concerning to me than the 35 attempts, because I think there's a lot of luck/noise in that percentage, but if you give up that many looks -- and most of them were quality looks -- you're not going to be successful very often.

The good news is that Calvin remained effective at protecting the basket. The Ravens shot under 38% on their two-point attempts, and many of the defensive mistakes (seemed to me) to stem from players concentrating too much on protecting the paint and not paying enough attention to their assignment on the wing. I think this type of error can be rectified relatively quickly. I think quite often we see the opposite in the early going of the season: players are too quick to abandon the middle and allow easy baskets inside. My eyes didn't catch that happening too often on Saturday.

Get that three point percentage down from 51% to 37%, and we'd have said the defense was just fine. If Calvin can tune-up that defense in the coming weeks (and I didn't see anything that looked like a long-term problem), it could be a very fun year.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

MIAA Coaches Pick Calvin to Win League, Coach Vande Streek Addresses Injury Situation

The annual MIAA pre-season coaches poll was released today with your Calvin Knights sweeping the vote, picking up all seven possible first place votes. Coaches don't include their own team in the vote, so Coach Vande Streek cast his ballot in favor of Hope (who was the unanimous second-place votee).

Michael Applegate of the Holland Sentinel has recorded the vote totals, so check it out there because they'll probably soon disappear from the altogether awful MIAA website*.

*It's a sad state of affairs when one reasonably (and necessarily) directs readers away from your own website and to the Sentinel. Take note MIAA.

But more interesting than the poll -- which offers entertainment value but relatively little in the way of hard-hitting analysis -- is the quote that Applegate gets in his writeup from Vande Streek regarding his perception of the state of the team.

Depsite the vote of confidence, Vande Streek said on a league-wide conference call after the poll was released that his team is struggling with injuries in the preseason.

Daniel Stout, a 6-foot-9 center, is hurt as is guard T.J. Huizenga. Both are seniors.

"I look at our squad and I see a lot of holes," said Vande Streek, in his 19th season at Calvin. "That’s a far cry from a good basketball team at this point."

My understanding via (multiple) second-hand reports is that Dan Stout's injury is considered to be relatively minor. He may be limited early in the season (and miss the exhibition game), but until I hear otherwise, I'm betting on him seeing action in the season opener against Anderson. But injuries -- even those that are ostensibly minor -- are never fun and can have lingering effects, so we'll have to wait and see how it all plays out.

Calvin will certainly need him to come around eventually because the biggest hole on the squad is in the frontcourt where they lost Tyler Kruis, Mickey DeVries, and B.J. Van Loo from last year's team. Until such a time as Stout is 100% (and possibly beyond), we will likely be seeing some of Tyler Dykstra -- who started at the nominal small forward position last year -- at center.

This is the first I've heard of an injury to T.J. Huizenga. That's not great news. But, assuming it's not something that will keep him out for the year (or a chunk of the year), the Knights can weather that storm. If there's one spot on the floor where they're deep, it's the at the 2/3 wing. Jordan Daley, Jordan Brink, and Brad Visser could swallow 70-75 of the 80 available minutes at those spots. That might create a bigger hole behind Austin Parks at the point guard position (if Brink or Daley were to be used at all in that capacity), but they have some options there in sophomores Danny Leach and Nick Kronemeyer as well as freshman Tony Canonie.

UPDATE: The above quote -- or at least a similar one -- is framed a bit differently in a since-posted MLive piece.

"We have a versatile group of players this year," said Vande Streek.  "I think the biggest challenge will be mixing our newcomers in with our veterans because some of our newcomers will be a part of our rotation. That type of mix usually takes some time to jell. We've got a few holes to fill right now so it may take some time for us to become the team we would like to be."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Calvin Ranked #6 in Preseason Poll

Wow, is all I'm thinking right now.

I fully expected the Calvin Knights to begin the season ranked. If I had to guess I would have picked a number right around the #15 spot where they finished last year. They have a no fewer question marks than anyone else (and maybe more) -- there's a starting front court to replace (complete with league MVP) and the fact that seven of fourteen varsity spots are being filled by players with nothing more than mop-up experience -- but everyone has question marks so you figure you pretty much start off where you finished.

But then you see something like this preseason poll and the only response is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Preseason polls are preseason polls which means they are not to be taken very seriously. It's basically people -- educated people, albeit -- guessing with only a tiny bit of information. Not to say Calvin can't end up as a Top 10 team it's just that I didn't expect this. I think they'll probably win 20 games, have a 50-50 shot of winning the league, and hopefully make the tournament, but this takes reasonable expectations and blows them out of the water.

Definitely not to take anything away from or their associated pollsters -- it's the best D3 poll out there -- it's just that we should remember this is a preseason poll and preseason polls are hard to do because no one knows anything yet.

The #6 ranking marks the Knights' highest position in the Top 25 poll (I believe) since they finished the 2004-05 season in the #2 spot. Calvin finished as high as #7 two years ago after advancing to the Sweet Sixteen and losing to (then) top-ranked St. Thomas by 1 on the Tommies' home floor.

The only ranked team on Calvin's schedule is #18 Wheaton (Ill.)

Expectations: we has them.

Follow @FFTMAG on Twitter.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Calvin Releases 2014-15 Men's Basketball Roster


Calvin’s Men’s Basketball roster was released on the school’s official athletic website today, giving us our first glimpse of the 2014-15 Knights.

Regarding the Roster, Who is Not on It

It comes as no surprise – but it is still perhaps worth spending a few words here – that the three players from last year’s roster who had exhausted their NCAA eligibility are not found on this year’s version of said roster. These players are, of course, Tyler Kruis, Mickey DeVries, and Jordan Mast.

The type of hard-hitting analysis that can only be found on the electronic pages of Forever Faithful suggests that replacing Kruis and DeVries will be a difficult endeavor. Kruis was a very deserving MVP last year and DeVries only missed All-MIAA status due to what must be deemed massive oversight on the part of the league’s coaches.

DeVries didn’t shoot a lot – he took less than 20% of the team’s shots while on the floor – but he was super-efficient when he did try to score, racking up 1.22 points per weighted shot which put him behind only Jordan Brink among players receiving double-digit minutes per game (Kruis was right behind at 1.20 PPWS while shouldering the largest shooting load of any Calvin player). Also, rebounding.

Jordan Mast – perhaps the most efficient shooter we’ve seen – will also be missed. Not because he contributed something irreplaceable to last year’s squad, but because he represented incredible team depth. He was a known quantity with a competent set of skills – a rotation-quality player for a league championship team. That he was pushed aside for playing time was less to do with a particular deficiency in his game and more to do with the wealth of talent on the roster.

The only unexpected omission is Junior forward B.J. Van Loo. Some sleuthing (thanks to a hot internet tip) reveals that he has transferred back to Grace Bible College. Van Loo was almost surely going to be a rotation player, so, while he wasn’t a particularly efficient scorer or above-average defender, he was a known quantity with a reliable set of skills – a roughly average MIAA player – which makes him a valuable asset that will be missed. Average never gets enough credit.

Regarding the Roster, Who is on It

It’s tough to lose a league MVP, but for this year’s Calvin team that might be made easier by the presence of Jordan Brink, who’s likely the odds-on favorite to win the award this year. Having the best player in the league is a good thing. Again, that’s the hard-hitting analysis that you can only find here.

Brink is the rare player who can shoulder a tremendous shooting load and still hit a high percentage of shots. How efficient is he? If Caleb Veldhouse made field goals and free throws at the same rate as Brink, he would have added 278 points to his career total (or about 2.5 points per game). And he was a guy who already scored nearly 15 points per game.

Joining Brink in the starting backcourt will likely be Austin Parks. Parks spent much of the year coming off the bench, though he did start in the MIAA Championship Game (in place of Tyler Dykstra) as Calvin attempted (and succeeded) in matching up with Hope’s smaller, quicker lineup. He’s an exciting player who acquitted himself well in his first year of real action.

Jordan Daley should also return to the starting lineup, but I’m betting on him to shift to more of a 2/3 wing role. Like the aforementioned MIAA Championship contest, he’ll likely start at the nominal small forward position. Daley was a real treat to watch last year as a Sophomore; he blossomed into a rather efficient scorer and was a lockdown defender by season’s end. The Washington U. broadcasters could not stop raving about his defense in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

Tyler Dykstra will mark his third year as a member of Calvin’s starting lineup. He’s a player we’re going to miss sorely after this season because he’s easy to take for granted. He’s not flashy unless he’s blocking a shot, and Calvin doesn’t run the offense through him, but at the end of the day he’s filled up the stat sheet and contributed in every facet of the game.  With Kruis out of the middle (where he was very effective), it’s possible we see more room open up for Dykstra to operate offensively.

Dan Stout should slide into the starting spot to replace Kruis. He’s been a solid role player for three seasons now, and his job this year is to take advantage of the opportunities that come. Calvin’s offense is going to be based on the perimeter, so Dan’s going to have the opportunity to do what he’s done so well off the bench: rebound, draw fouls, and knock down his shots from the line.

The sixth man right now looks like Sophomore Brad Visser. He was an exciting scorer who took on an ever expanding role as the season went on. Brad didn’t appear to lack for confidence as a freshman – he wasn’t afraid to hoist a shot – and that wasn’t a bad thing because he made a lot of them. He’ll probably need to be a bit more discerning with his selection, but he’s a guy who should always have the green light to launch an open three.

Also in the rotation will likely be Senior guard/forward T.J. Huizenga. Huizenga isn’t going to be a scorer, but he’s going to defend, rebound, hustle, and avoid mistakes. He’s a benchmark player. You’re not afraid to put him in the game, but if others are pushing him for playing time, it means you have a good team.

This is the exact point in the process where the thinking shifts from “dang, this is a pretty solid team” to “dang, who else is going to play?” Every player with notable varsity playing time has been named, and we’ve only named seven of the 14 players. This is concerning because of the unknown factor, but it’s also exciting because of the youth factor. Eight of the 14 players on the roster are underclassmen which isn’t a problem if they’re good.

Guard Danny Leach and big Michael Welch both split time between Varsity and JV last year and played in mop-up minutes with the big club. Of the two Welch is the more likely one to see a significant role increase (due to the experience mix between bigs and smalls on the roster), but both have upside and promise.

Joining them in the Sophomore ranks are Nick Kronemeyer and Seth Van Engen, both up from the JV squad. I must admit to knowing almost nothing about either one, except that they both also played football in high school.

Also in the ranks of the unknown are three freshmen: Connor VanderBrug, Tony Canonie, and Nick Goeglein. Of the three I’ve only received second hand reports on VanderBrug, but excitement surrounding him is exceedingly high.

Depth Chart

Depth chart by class looks like (with positions loosely assigned):

GJordan BrinkAustin ParksNick Kronemeyer
Danny LeachTony Canonie
G/F TJ HuizengaJordan DaleyBrad Visser
FTyler DykstraSeth VanEngenConnor VanderBrug
CDaniel StoutMichael WelchNick Goeglein

Guessing at the playing rotation is difficult right now with so many new faces so I can guess nothing better than:

GAustin ParksDanny LeachNick Kronemeyer
GJordan BrinkBrad VisserTony Canonie
G/FJordan DaleyTJ Huizenga
FTyler DykstraConnor VanderBrugSeth VanEngen
CDan StoutMichael WelchNick Goeglein

Uninformative, I know. I hate projecting freshmen into rotation roles, but I've read enough good things about VanderBrug to know that's not out of the question. But even with him I have eight rotation spots penciled in which means at least one of the remaining six should see major minutes, if not two more.

If it comes down to it, Parks, Brink, Daley, Visser, and Huizenga could lock down the 1-3 positions (though there's room for another player or two if they force their way in), but the Knights will certainly be in need of another 4/5 in the mix. I'll always give the nod to the guy who's been around (which is Welch), but that's nothing more than a guess.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

And So Graduates The Most Efficient Shooter Of The Generation

Jordan Mast
Image probably used without permission.
One thing I haven’t done with much regularity over the past few years is update my Facebook status. One thing I have done is maintain an excel-based statistical record of Calvin basketball on my computer. I have seasonal data – at some level – for every year through 1998 which now makes 17 seasons.

One thing I do with the data is compile career totals for players.

It’s fun to look back and remember just how crazy-efficient Andy Draayer was as a shooter due to the high (1) quantity and (2) quality (in a percentage sense) of three point shots he took as a player. Draayer’s .611 career effective field goal percentage is crazy-good (especially considering the frequency with which he shot the ball), but it’s not the best.

The best mark, among the 66 players who hoisted at least 100 career field goal attempts* over this time span, is the .617 eFG% that Jordan Mast compiled over the last three seasons.

*The best mark without any sort of threshold applied is Michael Fabiyi’s 1.000 career eFG% (earned in 2011 by going 1-1 from the field).

Mast wasn’t like Draayer who could take over a game by knocking down extremely deep or contested three pointers, but he did have a role which he filled admirably. By netting the team more points per field goal attempt than any other player who donned the Maroon and Gold over the last 17 years.

Career Top 5 (1998-2014)

Career FGA
Career eFG%
Jordan Mast
Andy Draayer
Brian Roelofs
Derek Griffin
Danny Rodts

Active Career Top 5 (no minimum)

Career FGA
Career eFG%
Jordan Brink
Brad Visser
Tyler Dykstra
Jordan Daley
T.J. Huizenga


Career FGA
Career eFG%
Jordan Mast
Mickey DeVries
Tyler Kruis

(For context, Calvin's average eFG% since 1998 is .511)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Calvin Flips the Bell Curve on Hope

Jordan Brink thanks the Hope Athletic Department for the free net.

I went to the Wednesday, February 5 Calvin-Hope game at the DeVos Fieldhouse with a couple of friends. The refrain from the two of them (and a few others in our section) throughout the game was “Hope’s just faster and better than Calvin is”. I kept trying to say “but they’re not this good”.

It turned out that Hope was that good – on that night – but I tried to assure these friends of mine that what we just witnessed was something like a 2nd percentile result*. They only could chuckle at me – apparently I’ve developed something of a reputation for being overly-statistical in my discussion of the sport – but I truly believed it.

*Upon further investigation it appears that the 18-point Hope win was more like a 4th percentile result.

Hope turned out to be much better than I thought they might be early in the year, but I refused to believe that they were really any better than Calvin. The preponderance of evidence* suggested, to me, that they were not better than even strength with the Knights.

*Calvin outscored the rest of the MIAA by an average of 19.5 points per game; Hope outscored them by 15.5 points per game. Calvin outscored the quartet of Aquinas, Cornerstone, Carthage, and Wheaton by a total of 22 points; Hope was a -1 against these four (HFA probably doesn’t quite make up the difference).

And then Saturday came.

I was fully expecting a close game – one that Hope might win by virtue of home court advantage – but I rarely expect either side to pull away in this rivalry.

And then it was 13-2.

Nate VanArendonk slammed home a basket and suddenly we were all watching some terrible rerun of How I Met Your Mother (except no one would actually watch that show on purpose). It was the same dang thing all over again.

Alex Eidson was floating and hanging and hitting everything, Grant Neil was D-ing up everybody, Cody Stuive was just knocking home three-balls, VanArendonk was getting free for easy buckets, and Calvin was shooting like 7% from the floor as a team.

But then our old friend Regression To The Mean showed up, and Calvin started getting buckets. And then our even better friend (in this particular case) Regression Way Past The Mean came and took his place and stayed for the rest of the game. Calvin continued to attack Hope and ended up out-scoring the Dutchmen 76-40 over the final 34+ minutes of the game.

How did they do it? I really don’t know.

A lot of good luck, that’s for sure, but the three-guard approach (Austin Parks started instead of Tyler Dykstra) also seemed to reverse some of the matchup problems Hope caused for Calvin in the earlier meetings. And Calvin’s defense rarely allowed Hope’s offense to settle into comfortable offensive sets.

Calvin made terrific adjustments, had an excellent game plan, and executed the snot out of their assignments. That, mixed with a good amount of random variation, led us to a 98th percentile result (these according to Massey). It was completely the other side of the Bell Curve from the earlier meeting at the DeVos Fieldhouse.

I think it was a testament to the fact that, despite what the doom-and-gloomers say, Coach Vande Streek and the Knights can make the proper adjustments, and, despite what the doom-and-gloomers say, the bad results in the first two meetings with Hope had a good amount of bad luck mixed in.

Onward and upward.

Jordan Brink and the newly minted MIAA MVP Tyler Kruis have showed that they can both score (1) efficiently and (2) in bulk. I’m a little bit nervous about what would happen if a tournament opponent really did shut these two down, but Calvin has enough offensive weapons that they might still be able to make it work out. I haven’t adjusted the numbers for strength-of-schedule, but this year’s Calvin offense ranks as the most efficient (116.8 points per 100 possessions) of the last 12 years (as far back as the detailed numbers go online).

The defense isn’t as stifling as it was last year, but they’re still good (and slightly better than the average Calvin defense of the last 12 years).

The Washington U.-Wilmington-Wittenberg-Calvin pod isn’t going to be easy for the Knights, but I can assure you that none of the other three teams are tickled with the prospect of an early-round matchup with Calvin.