Mar

20

One interesting thing occurs when a team tends to lose close games to an inordinate degree. Some sabermetricians cancel these games out saying it shouldn't count against. Others suggest that it means that the team is bad, like the Knicks who have lost more close games than any other team. It calls for a test. I used 3 out of the last 10 games, a win by less than a 1/5 of %, and 3 out of last 10 that were won by less than 1/5%. The results show that losing by a squeaker to an inordinate degree is bullish.

Michael Chuprin writes: 

I first noticed this happening in chess and have since been able to recognize it in other sports. I think this happens when the players are not playing their best but rather playing to keep up with their opponents. For example, sometimes a strong chess player will see that their opponent isn't strong, so he will not really engage in the game and then draw. Other times the chess player sees that his opponent is very strong, so he will "turn on his brain" to match his opponent and then draw. In both cases he is just playing to match his opponent and in both cases he isn't playing his best. He says to himself things like "I see my opponent is up a pawn over me, so I must get a pawn too." If he were to ignore the level of his opponent and play his best all the time, he would win more frequently. I think it is this mentality that plagues many skilled players in many different sports. 

Allen Gillespie writes: 

That's ironic. My favorite college sports team, Clemson University, which my father attended when it was a military school, was split on this question this year. In my opinion, it is unquestionably bad to loose too many close games. It precedes a collapse. Many close wins leads to Championships. Clemson won the national championship in football after struggling through but winning many close games (as detailed below). Meanwhile, the basketball team finished near the bottom of the league after loosing multiple close games and ended the season blowing a 20 point 2nd half lead at home.

From my observations, here is the difference between the two teams and coaches.

Football:

Auburn - won by 6 stopping Auburn Hail Mary at end, beat Troy by 6, recovering onside kick late. Louisville won by 6 after 5 turnovers stopping late, Louisville drive inside 20 Beat NC State in OT after NC State missed chip shot field goal, lost to Pitt on last second field goal. Beat FSU by field goal. Beat Alabama 1 second 1 Close loss where they were outplayed and outcoached. Pitt came in with a great game plan, lots of motion to neutralize Clemson's pass rush and won. Won several games in row and won 3 of 4 games before final in blow-outs.

Basketball:

UNC missed free throws to win, lost in OT by 3 Notre Dame/UVA by 5 and 4 after being tied with less than 2 to go, Virginia Tech (2x), Syracuse - lost 2x on last second three point shots by opponent, FSU/DUKE - lost by 2 missing last second shots. Finally, lost in NIT after loosing 20 point second half lead at home. Lost several in blow-outs in-between.

Dabo is constantly speaking about resilience. They make plenty of mistakes. In fact, the last two Clemson football teams have had the worst turnover margin of any national championship teams. Alabama was known for a scoring defense - at the start of the second half, Clemson turned the ball over and Hunter Renford (a small walk-on receiver) ran down the Alabama player and stopped the defining defensive score. It was something they had discussed in practice. In short, Clemson's offensive said the Alabama's defense–you will not beat us. Then the great players made plays. Clemson won with 1 second remaining. I am convinced Dabo read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.

Basketball - team of transfers, one already thinking he could make the NBA, in short all the Knicks issues with players in the bright lights. No defensive intensity. Missed shots. Lost three games by allowing the other team to run the length of the floor to get good three point looks. Went for ties instead of wins. Finally, just folded up tent on the season in the last game. Having watch a lot of sports, I am completely convinced good teams can be defined by 1. Beating bad teams early and by 2. Winning late as these are signs of mental focus and fitness. Just ask Andy Roddick about Wimbledon 2009.


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