Monday, March 9, 2009

Analysis with the Aces

Just getting back from the third annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference held at MIT. On the day of the Institute’s men’s basketball team’s historical run into the second round of the DIII NCAA Tournament (more on that later), there was quite a lineup to view inside the intentionally contorted design known as the Stata Center.

For a college basketball coach with an eye for education (and by the looks of the conference list, the sole head coach in attendance), the schedule was quite sensational – a highly anticipated hodgepodge of intellects and athletic aficionados. Always looking beyond basic basketball strategy to fit into personal hoops program philosophy, the panels provided content on psychological research in sport, techniques to utilize statistics that go far beyond basic box scores, and a dearth of hot discussions – many of which were astutely entertaining – from fans’ roles to front office finances to the fortunes of hockey fights.

Jeff Van Gundy mixed in noteworthy, nutty comments with invigorating insight. Marc Cuban played a subdued self, and displayed impressive statistic analytic talk. Daryl Morey paced dialogue with subtle promotion of the Rockets’ reverie. Sonny Vaccaro passionately pleaded for a new look age; specifically, a hopeful time when there is no minimum age limit for NBA players and NCAA student-athletes are able to reap rewards in the form of stipends. Dean Oliver explained, ever so slightly, that everything in basketball is measurable, albeit with enough minds and material. Armond Hill preached the importance of professional leaders and conversed of a commitment to team chemistry – characteristics that allowed the Celtics to clinch last season’s title.

From NBA reporters to ESPN writers to top executives to pro sport’s statistical gurus, this was certainly the place to be for folks searching for numbers and names that go beyond the typical terms we hear and read on a daily basis. The data only substantiated my thoughts about community involvement, competitive practices, group cohesion, creative coaching methods, and countless hours of statistical analysis based on video breakdown and play-by-play. Being crunched into one venue with all of this information and a variety of individuals was very inspiring.


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