Every week, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag. To submit a query, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the blog. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. Per the usual, let's begin with a video question.
Two weeks ago in this space, one emailer thanked ESPN.com's college hoops desk, myself included, for our nonconference schedule breakdowns. He mentioned how helpful these were for the fantasy basketball league he played in, a league that was based around team projections. Which teams, he wondered, would be good sleeper targets -- teams with surprisingly high win totals -- for this competition?
I didn't really answer his question. Instead, I marveled at the very notion of fantasy college basketball. Wait wait wait, I thought, fantasy college hoops exists? This is something people play? Why had I not heard about this earlier? And is anyone else out there?
Turns out, you are -- quite a lot of you, in fact. My solicitation was met with a deluge of email. People promoted their homemade fantasy hoops web sites. Others explained their league's selective rules. Some just wanted to know if I was down to play.
(By the way, and I really mean this: Thank you to everyone for being so friendly and outgoing with your league invitations. That was kind of flattering, actually. That said, I must respectfully decline, because a) I probably should focus on my actual job as much as possible between now and the first week of April and b) you would probably embarrass me. My ego is fragile, guys.)
The only conclusion? A lot of people play fantasy college hoops. This fascinates me. So I decided to dedicate a portion of today's mailbag entirely to the topic, featuring respondents that provided particularly interesting sets of rules or ways of thinking about the game. Most of these guys (and sorry, ladies, but they were all guys) still run their sites the good old-fashioned way: with Excel spreadsheets and box scores.
If you're interested in starting your own league -- playing for nothing more than pride or jelly beans, of course -- then there are some really interesting formats in the mix.
Gentlemen, the floor is yours.
(Oh, and don't worry: If fantasy hoops means nothing to you, I did answer a couple of random questions in the video above. And I'll be back next week with a whole mess of non-fantasy stuff, promise.)
Dan writes: We've never managed to do regular season college basketball, but we do have NCAA tournament individual player draft. It is points only, so it's a mix of expected points per game as well as advancing to maximize your games. When we've done fantasy college football, we've had to limit it to only BCS conferences. By allowing for wacky less talented conferences you get too much variance.
Brennan: See, I've actually heard of that before. That's an interesting one, but I'm looking for something more comprehensive.
Tyler Tatman writes: You mentioned that you didn’t know anyone playing college fantasy. I will be kicking off the seventh season of a 12-team league in a couple months. I have migrated to the west coast (Portland, Oregon) and participate with a few buddies from work. We started out using Excel and pulling stats from ESPN, but that become a huge pain, so now a portion of our entry fee goes to a guy who manages a manually-updated website to run the scoring and schedules. We have a custom set of rules from the other leagues managed through the same website. Our rules:
Keeper league – you can keep any player that returns to school; they continue to consume the round in which they were drafted (or acquired via trade). This element extends the fun all the way through the last day to withdraw your name from the NBA Draft.
Rosters – fourteen players in any position mix you choose
Weekly starters: two guards, two forwards, a center, a freshman, and one wildcard player of your choosing. Centers are at a premium, as most guys want to consider themselves a swing player. We use the ESPN rosters as the *official* ruling on a player’s position. (and yes, guys in my league had petitioned ESPN to change the position they have assigned to a player). If a player is listed as a G/F or F/C, you can play them at either position (making them very valuable). Adding the requirement to start a freshman is fantastic.
Draft – standard snake draft, based on the prior year’s final standings. Champion goes last. Worst team goes first. Tanking at the end of the season is absolutely a factor. We typically hold our draft in the first few days of December, which allows us to get a feel for who is stepping up and which freshman are getting minutes.
Add/Drop periods – happens twice during the regular season; snake draft based on worst-to-first at that point of the season. Max of two Add/Drops per cycle. Unlimited trades allowed. You can put a guy on IR. He is buried there for the rest of the season, but can be a ‘keeper’ the following year
Trades are allowed; you must accept the player(s) in the same round as the player(s) you send. This leads to a lot of two-player trades to land a ‘keeper’ in the later rounds.Trades are also allowed pre-draft, but you must then ‘keep’ that player through the draft (so guys can’t move a player just to free up a high draft spot)
Format – head to head matches against two other fantasy teams each week. so you can get a 2-0, 1-1, or 0-2 each week. College bball has a very unbalanced schedule – especially prior to the start of the conference season. During the holidays and finals, it can be tough to even field a full roster. Player schedules are a big part of draft strategy. Playoff spots go to the four division winners (3-team divisions) and two wildcards based on total points accumulated.
Positive points: Total points scored + total rebounds + Offensive rebounds + assists + blocks + steals + 3pts made
Negative points: missed FG + missed FT + turnovers
(i.e. offensive boards and 3PM count for an extra point… so a rebound put-back nets you +4, and a made tre nets you +4)
So … a guy who scores a lot but shoots 40% and doesn’t fill the stat sheet elsewhere isn’t great. A big guy who misses 8 FTs a game isn’t great either.
I am feeling very good about who I have coming back this year: Thomas Robinson, Renardo Sidney, Josh Smith, Maalik Wayns, CJ Leslie, Christian Watford, Kris Joseph, Rodney McGruder, Andre Roberson, Patric Young and Tyler Zeller. I also own the #4 pick from a competitor, acquired in a late season trade as I was tanking for draft position. My third league title is five months away.
Brennan: How's that for comprehensive? And I have to agree, Tyler: Your returning squad is rather loaded.
Keep in mind, everyone: This email was one of many.
Dustin Resnick (of SB Nation Houston fame) writes: I actually just launched a first-time "team" fantasy college football league this year, the same group of sports nerds who played along with that one are interested in doing a similar idea for basketball, so I've been ironing out the concept. Here's how it looks:
Eight competitors, each competitor gets one team per conference. (I'm throwing Great West and Independents together to include everybody, and give each "conference" at least eight teams.) Draft the top eight (by RPI) conferences first. Snaking draft order, on your turn you can draft any team from the top eight conferences, but only one per conference, until everybody has eight teams. Take the next eight conferences, rinse, lather, repeat. (Prevents overload from trying to pick from 32 conferences at once.)
Take the results of your 32 teams, compare aggregate 1) wins, 2) conference record, 3) NCAA tournament teams, and rank in each category. Add your ranks, lowest overall score wins. So if you finish 4th out of 8 in total wins, have the 2nd best conference record and 3rd most tourney teams, you'd have 9 points. Each Final Four team wins their owner a -1 point bonus.
In the event of a tiebreaker, competitor who had the team that went furthest in the NCAA tournament wins.
Brennan: If you're interested in a complicated but seemingly enjoyable team-based fantasy format, I believe Dustin has you covered.
Todd Merchen in Champaign, Ill. writes: In your recent 'Bag you asked for input and specifics on fantasy college basketball leagues. I am about to begin my second year in a league, so I thought I'd tell you about it.
We're all in Champaign, Illinois, and of course big Illini fans. We limited ourselves to a Big Ten league, because as you said, there are just so many players out there it would be tough to choose from them all; also, we're all most familiar with Big Ten basketball and its players. We only count stats for Big Ten games, so teams that play cupcake nonconference schedules don't have any advantage. Instead of playing players at specific positions, our rule on rosters is that each team has to have two players at least 6'9" at all times. They don't have to play those players each week, or even at all, but they must be on the roster.
There's eight of us in the league, and each team drafts 9 players; this way we don't have to choose/use the players who only play a few minutes a game or not at all. Before each Monday's games begin, we set our lineups for the week. Again, positions don't matter, we play seven players each week. Most teams play two league games each week; sometimes teams only have one game, and on the rare occasion, teams play three. The scoring is much like fantasy NBA: we total up points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, turnovers, three pointers, and we average the players' field goal and free throw percentages. If I can take a minute to brag about myself, I won our inaugural season with my team's studs being Jajuan Johnson (Purdue), Blake Hoffarbar and Trevor Mbakwe (Minnesota).
Brennan: This is another idea I heard a lot about, the conference-specific fantasy format. I like this for two reasons.
One: It alleviates the concern about 3,000-ish players in the available draft pool. Two: It helps foster a communal identity around a college basketball conference. That seems weird to write, what with all this realignment fun drowning out the countdown to another college basketball season, but I do vaguely remember a time when people (outside of SEC fans, that is) actually identified with their conference as well as their team. Hooray for nostalgia!
Here's another example of how to structure it:
Andrew Simmerman from Bloomington, Ind. writes: Hi Mr. Brennan! My name is Andrew Simmerman, and I'm a sophomore at IU. Ours is kind of a specialized league - since we are from the heart of Big Ten country, the rosters consist only of Big Ten players, and the only games which count are conference games. The draft therefore occurs just before Christmas, allowing us enough time to do some scouting but also finalizing our rosters before players' true characters are revealed during Big Ten play. The rules are as follows:
Prior to the start of the season, each "coach" drafts a team of eight Big Ten players. Each player also drafts one defense. All players and defenses are part of the same draft and can be picked by anyone, at any time. The order of the first round is random -- subsequent rounds go as follows:
- Round 2 - Opposite order of round 1
- Round 3 - Opposite order of round 1
- Round 4 - Same order as round 1
- Round 5 - Same
- Round 6 - Opposite
- Round 7 - Opposite
- Round 8 - Same
- Round 9 - Same
Individual scores are tallied as follows:
- Points: 1 fantasy point each
- Rebounds: 1.5 fantasy points
- Assists: 2.5
- Blocks: 2
- Steals: 2
- Turnovers: -2
- Disqualification/fouling out : - 5
Defense scores are tallied as follows:
- Each turnover over 15 forced: 1.5
- Each block over 5: 2
- Each steal over 10: 2
- Each point opponent under 75 to which an opponent is held: 0.5
Each week's lineup consists of five starting players (no more than three guards or forwards, no more than one center), one defense, and one "key reserve" (a master list of players not eligible for this title, i.e. starters, will be kept and modified at the beginning of each week). Only one key reserve can be chosen each week; this player takes the place of a starter if his total score is higher. Throughout the season, a "coach" may shuffle his lineup at the beginning of each week. Trades are allowed between teams; obviously, each coach must agree to the trade.
At the end of the week, the points earned for every game played by each defense and each member of the lineup will be added up, then divided by the number of games played (yielding a "fantasy points" average for the week for every player/defense). The sum of these points represents the team's overall score for the week.
Each week of the season (weeks are defined as Saturday-Friday to maximize game equality between teams), a player will be paired with a different opponent. Whichever of the two opponents has the higher team score that week will be crowned the winner. After nine weeks of play, the four teams with the best win-loss percentage go head-to-head in a final four. The championship game thus occurs in week 11, the final weekend of the real-life regular season (in which each conference team plays once, an especially climactic ending). Keep up the great work!
Brennan: I love the incorporation of team defense, similar to most fantasy football leagues. There are so many considerations you can make there, and if you understand the benefits of adjusted efficiency you can target teams that may not be all that great on defense on a per-possession basis but play so slow they rarely allow opponents to score 75 points. Lots of different ways to strategize that. I'm a fan.
Chris Nordenssen in Tucson, Az. writes: Funny -- I came across your Hoopsbag no more than a week after thinking up the very same thing. My buddies wanted a fantasy league to replace the NBA this season, so we tossed around the idea of doing the traditional player-based fantasy format but with college players before deciding that it was too large of a talent pool with too many inconsistencies in SOS to make players' fantasy value relatively close to their true value.
So we decided to do a league with 10 owners drafting 10 college teams. The scoring is derived only from team results and covers the course of the entire season, from tip-off to "One Shining Moment." It's a mix between fantasy sports and a bracket pool. The Ultimate Bracket Challenge, so to speak. Regular season wins, conference championships, conference tourney wins, seeding value, NCAA tourney performance... it all comes into play. Since this is the first year we are doing this, there are probably unforeseen issues with the scoring setup but that will be corrected in the future.
I think it's odd that there aren't more team fantasy sports. The only place they show up is in the NFL on the defensive side. This team approach to college basketball could be fun. It's reflective of what college sports stands for, or at least agrees with perception. It would also probably please NCAA administrators more, leaving individual naming rights out of the equation and only potentially benefiting the schools and NCAA themselves. If you're interested in joining the league, cool. But it will cost you a puff piece about the great -- but underrated and seemingly forgotten -- Lute Olson.
Brennan: See, this is why I can't get involved in fantasy college hoops leagues. I can't be doling out puff pieces every time I lose a weekly head-to-head matchup. I'm not that kind of girl.
Anyway, Chris's rationale on team leagues is interesting. The NCAA has obvious reasons for not allowing player likenesses to be used for fantasy college sports; it's the same reason EA Sports can only use each player's number and position when building out the rosters for its NCAA Football 12 franchise. (And the NCAA has its fair share of EA Sports-related headaches to worry about.) There's simply no chance the NCAA would ever come close to even considering or thinking about ever possibly allowing the sanction of individual college fantasy sports. Like, ever. No chance.
But teams? I'm not sure there's a good reason why that can't happen. Perhaps the NCAA or universities find the distant relationship fantasy sports has to out-and-out gambling to be a little bit unsavory, but hey, so is ditching your conference after decades of membership. There's an untapped profit stream in here somewhere.
Of course, fans find a way. There are noble NCAA Football 12 gamers who create and upload an entire year's roster of players -- every player for every team -- within days of the game's actual release. That is a ton of work, but people do it anyway. Fantasy hoops are the same thing: Gamers may have to scour box scores, build Excel spreadsheets, or hope their buddy the computer engineering major can build them a reasonably decent automated site. But whatever the methods, they find a way.
And then there are the lifers: One email I received (which didn't have much detail but a few attachments, so I'll just summarize) came from an executive in Chicago who has been in the same fantasy college hoops league since the 1983-84 season. The league began out of a bar down the street from my house in the city, and it continues to this day. No Internet, no Excel, no box scores on the tips of your fingers. That is dedication.
Fear not, college fantasy nerds. There are more of you out there than you think. Pretty cool, right?