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3/31 - It promises to be a busy weekend. There is the NCAA Final Four to watch. There are final baseball preparations to be made. And, of course, the NBA keeps chugging along.

Tim Duncan narrowly eked out the top spot in fantasy points last night, with 54.5 SWP and 203 EBP. But a bunch of others were right on his heels, including Penny Hardaway, Rasheed Wallace, Terrell Brandon, and Vince Carter, each who was over the 50 SWP mark.

I notice that there are zero NBA games scheduled for next Monday. I suspect that is because it is the night of the NCAA men's championship, but it is also opening day for 24 major league baseball teams. I'll be thankful to have one less thing to do on Tuesday morning.

The second set of SW baseball price changes looked pretty much like the first set. I'm still a little surprised by the downward movement of Pedro and Randy Johnson, even if it is relatively insignificant. I don't think it is a gravity effect, but who is selling these guys? Oh well, the numbers are insignficant, in any event.

I want to devote a little blurb space to some preseason Echelon baseball thoughts. The game format is similar to their recent hockey and basketball games. You start the season with a pot of $60 million, and from this, you have to pay your roster each day. Trades limited only in the sense that once you add a player, you must hold him for at least 4 days. Beyond that, the only cost of releasing a player is one extra day's market salary. Once you add a player, his daily salary is locked in until he is released. But players on the open market will experience daily price changes, based on both performance and demand. You don't need to stock a complete roster every day, and there may be times when it is tactically efficient to leave a slot or two vacant.

There are 182 days over the course of the season (this includes the All Star break, which will probably be "free" days). A simple buy and hold strategy would only allow a full roster to average about $22K per day per player. If you look at the Echelon price list, you'll discover that $22K doesn't get you much of a player. Guys in that price range include stalwarts like Craig Grebeck, Corey Koskie, and Orel Hershiser. So a buy and hold strategy with average players isn't going to get the job done. The key is to draft a lineup of players - particularly hitters - that will significantly outyield their market price cohorts. Lock them in now, and ride 'em for as long as they produce. During the season, watch for players with changing roles, and jump on the up-and-comers before their prices adjust.

If you can get a decent lineup of cheap hitters whose market prices rise significantly above their locked-in salaries, the best strategy is generally to sit tight. But for pitchers, a different approach is usually more efficient. Starting pitchers generally work every fifth day, and obviously don't produce any points in between starts. However, you are still charged every day if you have a starter sitting on your bench. So you want to avoid as many inactive pitching days as you can. The easiest way to accomplish this is to hold a starter through 2 starts, and then release him. For example, if a pitcher works on day 1 and day 6, add him for day 1, and release him after day 6. You'll pay 6 days of salary while you own him, plus one extra day's salary to release him, for a total of 7 day's costs. But he'll produce the equivalent of 10 days of points during that holding period (since each start effectively produces 5 days of points). 10 days of points on 7 days of costs works out to a point bonus of 43% (vs. an everyday player). That degree of pitching efficiency will be the key to remaining competitive with the top teams - because they'll all be managing that way, too.

One nice feature of the Echelon format is that you are on your own to establish your spending pace. There are no daily caps. But that also makes it very difficult to assess your "true" relative ranking in the early months, because a lot of teams will go for star players, accumulate big points, and then run out of cash by July. You need to figure out your strategy, stick to it, and ignore the leaderboards for awhile. If you are reasonably efficient in April-July, you'll be rocketing up through the rankings in August and September.

The Echelon game requires a different perspective from the SW game. In the SW game, you are trying to accumulate wealth in the early months so that you can afford all-star lineups during the second half of the season. In Echelon, you are always on the lookout for the everyday player who is priced like a bench warmer. Successful Echelon teams will probably never own hitters like Sosa, McGwire, or Griffey. They'll own players that produce 50% of the points of the superstars, but at 25% of the cost. Thus, players that will turn out to be the key contributors to Echelon success will often be players who aren't even on the SW radar screen. If you enjoy looking for hidden values, then the Echelon game is something you should consider.

3/30 - Something wonderful did happen to Benny Agbayani. A 2-out grand slam in the top of the 11th. The TV announcers had just commented that Benny was slated to be sent down to Norfolk next Monday. I wonder if that will still be the case. In any event, before you rush out to pick up Benny, I thought you should be aware of the potential.

I again posted the fantasy points for this morning's game at the message forum. By next Tuesday, I should have the regular page operational.

The first set of SW price changes occurred yesterday. They were pretty tame. The only real beating was the expected selloff of Mike Hampton, and even he only lost $150K. A lot of players dropped $40K, which is apparently the daily gravity impact for lightly owned players. The slight declines for Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson were somewhat surprising, but I'm sure that was just early noise that will go away quickly. If you want to look at all of the changes, you can sort on that column in my sortable stats.

No triple doubles in the NBA last night - for a change. I should mention that I mistakenly attributed one of yesterday's triple doubles to Tim Duncan. It was actually Michael Finley's. I corrected the blurb mid-afternoon, but I thought I should call attention to it as well.

Shareef Abdur-Rahim was the big kahuna last night, the only player to top either 60 SWP or 200 EBP.

On a bright note, the SW Hoops server was behaving very well this morning. If it is really fixed, I'll resume production of the SW Team rankings tomorrow.

3/29 - Spring training continues, but the season has begun!

A lot of SW teams drafted Mike Hampton. They picked the wrong starter. Jon Lieber worked 7 effective innings, and earned 100 SWP. Hampton suffered a -25 SWP outing. The top hitter was Shane Andrews, with 49 SWP. I don't have the regular "yesterday's points" page set up yet, but I did post a list of the points for the first game at the message forum.

It will take me a few days to get all of the statistical pages set up. I'm still trying to work through the active/inactive designations, which is a challenge, given the inconsistency of available information. If you notice players that I have incorrectly coded as inactive (they'll show an "x" in the sortable stats listing, and they'll be completely missing in the Assimilator), send me an email. I hope I can develop a good set of 25-man rosters by next Tuesday, since I'll need that to track "eligible games".

Hopefully, you noticed some of the SW baseball rules clarifications posted yesterday. Most noteworthy (aside from the roster freeze extension) was the note that the first weekly dole of hitter trades won't be awarded until next week (Thurs, 4/6). If you loaded up on Cubs and Mets, you'll have to live with the initial allocation of 3 until then.

In the NBA, there were 3 triple doubles last night: Michael Finley, Chris Webber and Bo Outlaw (go figure!). The most infuriating performance of the night was the 58 SWP game from Dikembe Mutombo, who not only produced 58 SWP, but also bettered Alonzo Mourning by 25.5 SWP. I stuck with Mutombo though countless crappy performances and price declines, finally bailing after his previous game. And this is the thanks I get.

SW Hoops server performance is still hideous. Unless and until it improves, I must suspend updates to the SW team rankings. It is virtually impossible to access any team information with the current problems. If you want to track your team performance, you'll have to figure out a way to log in to the SW Hoops site. Good luck. It ain't easy.

3/28 - The SW Hoops server problems are so severe that it makes finishing the season very unpalatable, if not impossible. After several attempts this morning, I was finally able to get as far as the first screen after logging in, only to see this infuriating message: "Small World Hoops is currently experiencing technical difficulties. We apologize for any inconvienance.[sic] No team, player, Manager's statistics or standings have been affected. All stats and standings are correct and updated for games played through Monday, 3/27/2000."

To say that no standings have been affected is a joke. The message forum is littered with stories of people who couldn't complete trades. I'd say that qualifies as "affecting the standings". And the announcement should probably finish with the tag line "We know you can't see them [the stats & standings], so you'll just have to trust us on this."

If you are still playing (and at least the CNN site still seems to be accessible), the two NBA games last night produced four 60+ SWP performances: David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, and John Stockton. Two youngsters, two old farts. Four 60+ games is unusually for a night with a full schedule. Last night, there were only 2 games.

Meanwhile, if you are trying to complete your SW baseball draft, that server has been slow, but with perseverance, I have at least been able to get things done. Good thing I don't have a "real" job, though.

If you are looking for more preseason SW baseball strategy tips, just check out the baseball area at my message forum. There have been a number of very thoughtful discussions, and while I realize a number of you don't regularly use the forum, this is one time when you might find some high-protein meat (if you can sift through the roughage).

The opening game starts in the wee hours tomorrow morning. I don't know when I'll have stats posted, but as is always the case when seasons open, I'd appreciate your patience as I get the mechanics worked out.

3/27 - I should start today's blurb by correcting a misstatement in Saturday's blurb. (Serves me right for trying to work on a Saturday.) 1980 wasn't the year that Villnova won the tourney as a #8 seed. That was in 1985. In 1980, #8 seed UCLA lost to #2 seed Louisville in the championship game.

I mentioned the recipe for beating the old record of the seed sum for the Final Four, and the four weekend games followed the recipe very well. As a result, we have a new record, with a seed sum of 22. Having only one #1 seed reach the Final Four isn't very unusual, though. That happens more than one-third of the time, including seven times in the past 12 years. But advancing two #8 seeds is unprecedented.

The race for the top short return is all sewed up, as all of the leaders have only one short - the #1 seed basket - still active. That means that my daughter Melody takes the top honors. But since she's not prize eligible (I will get her a new bike, however, so she's satisfied), second place finisher hansoal takes the $100 prize in that category. The other prizes are still up for grabs, as neither the top spot(s) nor the booby prize are yet locked up.

While the NCAA commanded center stage, three NBA players had triple doubles over the weekend: Anthony Mason, Tim Duncan, and Toni Kukoc.

And for some reason, Small World announced a Saturday morning "upgrade" to the Hoops server, and promptly destroyed its responsiveness. Remember all of the baseball server problems from early last week? Deja vu all over again, but this time for the Hoops game. If you are trying access the Hoops site, my best advice is to be patient and persistent. With frequent stops and reloads, you can usually eventually get through. But the process is usually torture. By all means, don't wait until the last moment to make a trade.

As you complete your preseason baseball drafting (I'm still assuming that the SW roster freeze occurs on Tuesday (3/28) for the 3/29 game in Japan), the question continually arises regarding the source of price changes. It is true (at least it has been) that preseason draft activity does not produce a price change. In fact, heavily drafted players are at a subsequent disadvantage, since they are more prone to be sold after the season opens. But once the clock starts ticking, all trades are included in the price change formula. There is no distinction between a "draft buy" and a "trade buy". And since a lot of teams will still be drafting over the next week (and even the next month, for that matter), draft activity will be a heavy determinant of price increases during the first repricing week. Meanwhile, selling activity will probably be light during the first week. If there are any selling themes, they will probably revolve around repositioning slots away from Mets and Cubs after the first two games. And the number of sells needed to produce a loss of $100,000 will be only a small fraction of the number of buys needed to produce a comparable gain. So while price gains will probably be spread around, losses are likely to be targeted and exaggerated. We'll start the season with 3 pitcher trades and 3 hitter trades. It is unclear whether we'll get an additional three hitter trades on Thursday, but if we do, I'd hate to have any Cubs or Mets in my hitting lineup - unless, of course, they have a highly productive couple of games in Japan.

3/25 - The next four games will most likely make or break the contest results for many of you. The Final Four bonus payments (G$10 x seed value) are going to cause some scores to violently jump in one direction or another. At least G$69 will be awarded in the Purdue-Wisconsin game (6 vs. 8). At least G$79 is up for grabs in the Tulsa-N. Carolina game (7 vs. 8). And the Michigan State-Iowa State game will ensure that only 1 team from the top 8 seeds will survive to the final four. Most of the contest entrants still have a number of basket units in play, so the scoring swings could be pretty wild over the next few days.

Since 1979, the sum of the seeds for the teams in the Final Four has averaged 10.5. That average has been drifting down in recent years, however. In the last 7 years, only once did the final four seeds sum to a double digit number. That was in 1996, when 2 #1s combined with a #4 and a #5 to produce a sum of 11. This year, the lowest possible sum is 17 (1-3-6-7), which would be the second highest since the tournament has been seeded. (The sum in 1980 was 21, with a 2-5-6-8 final four). That record would be broken this year if Wisconsin(8), Florida(5), and North Carolina(8) all survive.

1980 was an interesting Final Four year on many counts. That was the only year that no #1 seeds survived. That was the only year that more than one team seeded above #4 made it - and three did so that year. And that was the year that the Villanova - a #8 seed - won it all, the highest seed ever to win. But this year's Final Four certainly has the potential to look quite similar. In fact, another 2-5-6-8 is even possible!

3/24 - I thought about swapping Kidd for Steve Francis yesterday. That would have netted 77 SWP last night. I also thought about picking up Sam Cassell, who chipped in with 53.5 SWP. But instead, I went with the "safe" choice of Terrell Brandon. We'll have to wait and see how stupid that turns out to be. Brandon has burned me before. Of course, so have Francis and Cassell, for that matter. And Jalen Rose. And Nick Van Exel. Maybe I should have just gone for Gary Payton, in spite of his moderately lighter impending schedule. That would've given him a chance to burn me, too.

But I digress...

One of the things I like about my Market Madness Contest scoring format is that volatility perists throughout the contest. Going into last night, leader Lucky Dawg had an apparently commanding lead of G$61. But after the 2 early games last night, he was looking up at engle. The later games treated him better, and he regained a slim lead. But with a troublesome Big 10 short in his arsenal, he's got serious downside exposure to Purdue, when the final four bonus points are awarded. (If I did the math right - and I may not have - a Purdue win over Wisconsin produces a G$138 swing between the top two teams!) Meanwhile, my daughter Melody had the best night among the leaders, surging into 3rd place overall, and putting more space behind her in the race for the best short. And she is long the Big 10, as well as Wisconsin and Michigan State (the alma maters of two of her uncles - which was her selection criteria for those picks.) It's looking more and more like I may have to get her that new bike!

There's a good battle being waged at the bottom of the standings as well. The top two,... er,... bottom two combatants are both RotoGuru Hall of Famers. I know that Sludge 3 was actually trying for the booby prize with this entry of his. I'm not sure whether that is the case with Scruz3 or not. But Scruz3 is also short the Big 10, which will make him a force to be reckoned with down the stretch.

The current poll hasn't done very well so far. The big favorite, UCLA, is already toast. The longest shots, Purdue and Wisconsin, will play each other in the next round, so one of them will reach the final four. So much for the wisdom of the Gurupie collective.

3/23 - The major NBA story du jour, both for real life and fantasy implications, is the season ending ankle injury to Jason Kidd. It will be interesting to see how Suns players' roles may shift as a result. With both Kidd and Guggliotta now down for the count, there are likely to be some decent lower-priced options on the Suns, unless the team totally collapses.

Market Madness resumes this evening, with four games on tap. I've been reacclimating myself to baseball thinking over the past few days, and I may have to reboot my brain to get back into NCAA Hoops mode.

On to baseball. The good news is that the SW Baseball site seems to have finally gotten untracked. Responsiveness was quite zippy when I was there yesterday, the this mornings experience has been similarly positive. The player trading interface still seems clumsier than it needs to be, but we'll all adapt to that. It's nice to know that it won't necessarily take hours just to log in and draft a roster. Knock on wood.

Looking ahead to next week, the season opens with two games between the Cubs and Mets - in Japan. The schedule shows them on Wednesday and Thursday, March 29-30. But the time zone difference results in starting times of 5am EST on Wednesday, and 5:30am EST on Thursday. Echelon has already announced that those games will not count for the Echelon game. But Smallworld apparently is including them, since the first repricing is scheduled for Wednesday, March 29. However, SW has not made any clarification about the freeze period for those games. I'm assuming that the roster freeze will be moved ahead one day, so that you'll need to have your March 29th roster locked in by the normal freeze time on March 28th. That at least seems like a safe approach, if you're planning to draft any players from those two teams.

But before you impulsively decide to load up your SW rosters with Mets and Cubs players, pause to think about the price implications. Draft activity prior to next Tuesday will not be directly factored into subsequent price changes. But once those 2 games are complete, there will be four consecutive daily repricings with no games scheduled. A lot of teams will still be drafting during that time period, and buys will be spread around. But where will most of the sells be coming from? Cubs and Mets, of course. So the immediate gratification of early points will quickly translate into price declines for many of those players. If you are consciously trying to position your draft for optimal price performance, then be very cautious about drafting players on those two teams. It sounds to me like an accident waiting to happen. Some of them will probably develop into relative bargains by the next week, however. So if you have your eye on any Mets or Cubs as longer term keepers, it may be smart to hold off until early April to buy them.

3/22 - I dropped Gary Payton from my CNN team after last Saturday's game, and I had to choose between Stephon Marbury and Terrell Brandon as his replacement. I took Marbury, and so far, it's looking like the wrong choice. In the first 2 games, Brandon has combined for 124.5 SWP, effectively lapping Marbury's 75.5. Argh.

In all, eight players topped 50 SWP last night, and four of them also exceeded 200 EBP. I'll let you look 'em up.

I updated the baseball Assimilator with the draft prices for both Smallworld and Echelon. Other than that, it is a virtual clone of last year's program. Rather than adding some of the new features that I've included in the Football and Hoops versions, I want to devote my efforts to a total reprogramming, as I noted in my 3/20 blurb.

Before you load the Assimilator, let me give a word of warning. With more than 1300 eligible players, it loads and runs quite slowly. So slow, in fact, that you'll probably think it is integrated into the Small World Baseball site. (The difference is that at least the Assimilator does run all the time, as long as your browser has enough memory!) Once the season starts and major league rosters are pared down to 25 players, I can reduce the internally stored players to 750 or so. That will make the speed a bit more tolerable, but it will still seem to crawl if you're used to the speed of the Hoops version. This is one of the main reasons that I want to reprogram it to run on the server, rather than in the browser.

By the way, if I did it correctly, the internal ID's for each player should be unchanged from last year. So if you have some watchlist rosters still saved, they should still work.

I've got a live baseball draft to participate in. Gotta run.

3/21 - After a week of neglect, I guess I should devote a little blurb-space to the NBA. Shaq and Zo battled to a statistical dead heat, and were the only two players to exceed 50 SWP last night. Over the past seven days, the top SWP producers have been Shaq at center, Kidd at guard, and Antoine Walker at forward. I'm sorry to say I didn't see the latter one coming, and it's hurt me competitively - although at least Antoine is on my ESPN team, which is making a late season surge to try to recover a shred of respectability. Some of the other top producers for the past seven days have been similar bargains, such as Jalen Rose, Steve Francis (5 games), Mourning, and Uncle Cliffy. Notably absent: Lamar Odom , who undoubtedly would have been near the top if he had played last night. But he was a last minute scratch due to a strained right calf.

I've started to surf around for the latest spring training info on possible sleepers for my various baseball drafts. For both the Smallworld and Echelon games, it is important to find a number of cheap starters (both pitchers and hitters) - players whose roles this year will be significantly expanded over 1999. In Smallworld, these guys will be great price gainers in the early weeks, and the emerging stats make them much easier to pick out. Plus, you need a fair number of cheapies to assemble a reasonable SW roster. (They are out there, though. You've just got to find them.) In the Echelon game, locking in some cheap starters can be the most effective way to generate efficient returns throughout the season. These players will start to appreciate right away, and you want to have a quick trigger to nab them before they start a long price ascent. So it's high time to start scouting. The message forum can help to point you in some productive directions.

I will be putting out some preseason strategy tips for both Smallworld and Echelon baseball. I'll probably start the SW tips later this week, since that game will be starting next week, The Echelon game doesn't start until April 3rd, so I'll defer that discussion until next week.

3/20 - One unfortunate shortcoming of most Market Madness contests is that much of the action is over by the end of the first weekend. Out of 63 games, 48 have been played, and 75% of the field has gone home. I've tried to construct a contest that keeps things relatively unsettled at least until the final four. We'll see whether that holds, as the aptly named entry Lucky Dawg racked up a commanding lead after a monster weekend. Take a look at his picks!

At RotoGuru World Headquarters, the excitement is over my 9-year old daughter Melody, who is currently ranked 8th, after moving up as high as #4 before the Ohio State loss and Duke win brought her back down a tad. She is also top ranked in return on shorts. Although she isn't prize eligible (since she's a family member), I did tell her I'd get her a new bike if she qualified for a prize. Which means that Lucky Dawg is also the front runner for the short prize as well. What a Lucky Dawg!

On to baseball. You may have noticed a few images in the baseball menu area to the left. I have updated the schedule grid for the 2000 season. (I also eliminated the baseball sched-O-matic, as it doesn't seem to be of as much value for baseball, as opposed to the winter sports.) And I updated the sortable stats to include the new draft prices for both Small World and Echelon. The SWP point totals are based on the new formula (applied to 1999 stats). I didn't have the game-by-game stat breakdowns, so the totals and averages for the last 7, 15, and 30 days are based on a ratio of the old formula points for those periods. (The periods refer to the end of last season, not spring training.) I will do a quick analysis of the player-specific impact of the SWP formula change in the next day or so, so you can more easily see how the relative rankings would have differed. Note also that the underlying links to some of the new items have changed from the prior links, so reset your bookmarks if you have saved any of them.

The baseball Assimilator has not yet been updated, but should be done shortly. I plan to ultimately reprogram the Assimilator to run as a server-side script, rather than a client-side JavaScript program. Particularly for baseball, the current JavaScript version will run rather sluggishly, given the number of players that need to be stored in memory. For a quick startup, I'll activate the JavaScript version, but I hope to have time to reprogram it during April. As a server-side cgi script, it will run faster, it will run in all browsers, and will be able to provide more reporting flexibility. But the conversion won't be trivial. So you'll have to bear with the JavaScript version for the start of the season.

The Small World baseball site seems to be fully operational now, but I must say that site performance so far has been disappointing and disturbing. Delays and time outs are frequent. And this is presumably in advance of the heavy drafting activity. Hopefully, the situation will improve, but if the past weekend was any indication, you don't want to wait until the last minute to start drafting your team.

3/17 - Only one upset yesterday, and not a huge one. On the opening of the CBS telecast at noon yesterday, Clark Kellogg predicted that the favorites would win every game. He was almost right. We'll soon see whether today follows suit.

Contest Standings were updated after every four games yesterday, and that pattern should hold again today. At this stage the rankings are a little misleading, because the entries with the most residual cash have the early advantage. They got that cash by shorting expensive units, and unless the underlying teams flame out quickly, early round game winnings will begin to erode those stashes of cash. By the end of Sunday, 75% of the teams will have exited the tournament, and the rankings will begin to take on greater meaning - although it probably won't be until the final four that we get a true feel for who the real contenders will be.

I put together a recap of the contest entries, breaking out the number of shorts and longs for each unit. There are 691 entries this year, which is more than double last year's total (336). A total of 541 different people entered, including 53 who submitted the maximum of 3 entries. Here are a few highlights:

  • Cincinnati was the most popular short, appearing that way on 62% of all entries. Arizona was shorted on 51%, and Conference USA was shorted by 41% of all entrants. In fact, Cincy was effectively shorted 3 times (stand alone, Conf USA basket, & #2 seed basket) on 39 entries, and they are doubly shorted on another 152. In total, 459 entries have net short exposure to Cincinnati in some format, 176 entries have no direct impact (although I didn't check their positions in Cincy opponents), and 56 have net Cincy longs. 14 entrants have a double long for Cincy, and one has them as a triple long.. If the Bearcats get to the Final Four, those entries have a huge relative advantage.

  • The most popular longs are Temple and Michigan State, each appearing as an individual long on about 45% of all entries. The most popular Conference on the long side is the Big 10. Eleven entrants have a "triple long" in Michigan State, and another 84 have them doubled. Temple is tripled up on 17 entries, and doubled on another 81.

  • Basket units were popular. 35% of all shorts were baskets, with seed baskets slightly more popular than conferences. 22% of all longs were basket units.

  • Every unit received some activity on both sides of the ledger. There are no zeroes. UNC-Wilmington had the fewest shorts (4), and Jackson State had the fewest longs (2).

Back to the NBA. Gary Payton crushed the competition last night with 70 SWP and 254 EBP. Over his 4-game week just complete, he averaged 60 SWP and 231 EBP, both numbers of monster proportions. Unfortunately, with only 2 games next week and only 8 in the next 21 days, his near-term price prognosis is pretty pathetic.

It's St. Patrick's Day! I wonder which Irish player will take the point honors tonight? I suppose the odds-on favorite is Shaq O'Neal, although strong consideration could be given to Lamar O'dom. I guess Tracy McGrady is another contender, too. Longshots include Bo O'utlaw, Michael O'lowokandi, Charles O'akley, Greg O'stertag, and Billy O'wens. And in the NCAA Tournament, watch out for O'hio State, O'klahoma State, and O'regon.

3/16 - Coming down to the wire! As of 9am EST this morning, 883 different people have registered for the contest. Of those 883, 484 have saved at least one set of picks. So almost half of all registrants have still failed to make their selections. I'm sure some will do so this morning, and some have decided to fade due to the complexity of the scoring rules, and some just won't get around to it. I just hope that everyone who thinks they saved a set of picks actually did save them. The selection page allowed you to "tally" your picks as you went along, checking for validity. But until you clicked the "Store" button for a valid set of picks, nothing was stored. I'm sure most people did it properly, but there may have been a few who neglected to do the final save. If you want to double check, enter the contest site and click on either "Make Picks" or "My Score". Your stored picks will be listed. If nothing lists, then you didn't store anything. You still have until the first game tipoff today, however, which is at 12:20pm EST.

After the first game results are in, I'll have a new link along the left menu for standings, both here and at the contest site. Standings will be updated throughout the day, so you can keep checking on your progress. Half of the tournament games are held on the first two days, so this is the most hectic scorekeeping period. You'll also be able to drill down on any entry to see the underlying picks. If you want to see all entries, or just the top (or bottom) 50, you can use the link here. If you want to track your Division standings, you'll need to check-in at the Contest site.

In tomorrow's blurb, I'll provide some summary stats on the entry selections.

With all of the Market Madness programming, I haven't paid much attention to the NBA or to baseball this week. I do plan to get working on baseball price lists and season schedules shortly. I won't promise a delivery date, but it should be before the beginning of next week if all goes well. There will be plenty of college hoops to occupy your time this weekend. Baseball can wait until the lull next week.

3/15 - The ides of March!

The NCAA tournament is one of the greatest spectacles in sports, and provides one of the best opportunities for "pick 'em" contests. It's too bad that all the entering has to take place over a 3-day period. There are a number of interesting formats available, and I'd like to explore and enter a number of them, but I'm going to have to scramble just to put together an entry for my own contest. I think I'll devote today's blurb to the contest again. Only 24 hours to go....

One "cheat sheet" that can be very helpful in assessing the return potential of teams is the table which shows the best potential return by survival round for each seed. For example, consider UConn, a #5 seed. If they lose in the second round, the best they can provide is G$5. Since they are priced at G$6, they need to survive to at least the Sweet 16 to provide a net positive return. But if they do make it to the 3rd round before losing, they could win as much as G$18, and surviving to the Elite 8 provides a potential payoff of G$34. (These potential payoffs assume that the team faces the best possible seed at each game along the path, so the likelihood is that actual payoffs by round will be slightly lower - or more than slightly lower, if an unexpected upset occurs in the losing round.) If UConn does survive to the Elite 8 before losing, a G$34 payoff (which would be a net return of G$28) looks pretty attractive. Last year, the 10th best net return was only G$20. So, if you think UConn can survive that long, they are probably an excellent choice to go long. Conversely, if you expect them to get knocked off by Utah State, the net return of -G$17 (which would be +G$17 as a short) makes them fairly attractive as a short candidate.

The objective is not to pick the winners and losers. The key is to pick the greatest over- and underachievers. Last year, the best team unit to be long was Ohio State, even though they lost in the semi-finals. As a #4 seed, they lasted 2 rounds deeper than their seed expectation, and also earned a hefty bonus for making the final four. Gonzaga, a #10 seed that lasted into the Elite 8, was also a great pick. If they had gotten past UConn, they'd have had the best return by far.

Similarly, the best returns on the short side are the teams which suffer the biggest upsets. No one expects Lamar to beat Duke. So there is no meaningful reward for shorting Lamar. If they lose as expected, you'd receive a total of G$1. Period. However, if Lamar beats Duke, a Duke short will pay a huge return, since Duke would be charged G$16 for that loss. A long position in Duke would cost G$20, and then lose an addition G$16, for a net loss of G$36. A short seller receives the opposite return, so a Duke short would return +G$36 in this event.

I mention this because as of this morning, out of 350 saved entries, Lamar has been shorted 17 times. It's not even attractive to short the #16 seed basket, since the maximum net return (albeit the most probable return) is only +G$4. You don't get big rewards for betting against underdogs. But the #16 seed basket has been shorted 25 times so far.

One final note on prizes. Assuming that no one does well enough to win one of the contingent grand prizes, the prize pool is guaranteed to be no less than $1000. If RotoGuru advertising revenues are high enough during March, the prize pool could be increased. Based upon site traffic through yesterday, the prize pool currently stands at $437. Projecting linearly to the end of the month (with adjustments for normal differences in weekend vs. weekday traffic), this projects out to a full month total of about $980. With only a little growth during the second half of the month, the prize pool can certainly get over that $1000 mark. And the pool is based on revenue from all corners of the RotoGuru site - blurbs, stats, message forum, and of course the Market Madness Contest site. Keep on clickin'! Thanks.

3/14 - I'm going to devote today's entire blurb to the Market Madness Contest. The rules are confusing to many, and I hope a little pregame analysis will help some of you to formulate better selections.

As of 10am this morning, 186 entrants had saved a set of picks. Obviously, these can be changed in the next 48 hours - and some of them clearly should be changed. Let me first highlight some of the popular picks.

Not surprisingly, the most popular short so far is Cincinnati, even at a discounted #2 seed price of G$8. So far, more than half of all entries have Cincy as a short. The only other teams which have been shorted more than one-third of the time are Arizona, Syracuse, and Illinois, and all three are just above that 33% threshold. The most popular conference for short sellers is Conference USA, and the most shorted seed basket is the #4 seed basket, although seed basket short activity is very evenly spread around at this point.

On the long side of the ledger, the early favorite is Michigan State, showing up as a long on about 45% of all entries. Other popular longs are Temple, Ohio State, and St. Johns. The most heavily bought conference is the Big 10, and the #2 seed basket leads the longs for the seed basket category (although again, seed basket dispersion is the real story).

The most balanced units (heavily traded with longs and shorts nearly offsetting) are Iowa State and Stanford. Both teams appear as a short on more than 20% of all entries, and as a long on more than 20% of all entries.

Roughly 70% of the shorts are single teams, with basket units being shorted 30% of the time. The split on the long side is 80/20 in favor of single teams. The most surprising aspect to me is that basket units aren't being more heavily shorted. For last year's tourney, 9 of the top 10 shorts were basket units. Since 75% of all teams are dead after 2 games, it makes sense that basket units would typically lead the list of short performers. The trick is obviously figuring out which baskets to short. But if you're hoping to chase the top prize, you'd better concentrate on basket units for the short side of your ledger.

Just as curious is the breakdown of single team activity by seed. Almost 15% of all shorts are single teams seeded in the range of #9-16. If you analyze the scoring potential by seed, you discover that a team seeded #9-16 can never produce a net negative return for games. If they lose their first round game, they get a zero. And if they win, the winnings will always exceed any potential losses in later rounds. So the best possible result for a short seeded #9-16 is that they immediately lose, and you get to pocket the selling price. A #9 seed is priced at G$6, and the prices grade down from that point. So none of these teams can net you more than G$6 as a short. Even a #9 seed basket cannot net you more than $24, and that return wouldn't have quite made the list of the best 10 shorts last year (although it would have been close).

So my general shorting advice is this: Concentrate on basket units for the short side of the ledger. And don't short any single teams seeded #9-16.

On the long side, single teams do make sense. Most of the winnings will belong to a minority of the teams, and the key is to pick the right ones. Chances are that a few basket units will also appear in the top ten (last year, 6 of the top ten longs were teams, and 4 were baskets). The best collection will probably include double (or triple) exposure to the top teams. For example, last year's top performing team was Ohio State, a #4 seed which returned G$72. The top 10 longs also included the #4 seed basket, and the Big 10 conference basket. So the Buckeyes were effectively represented 3 times. But the top longs also included some "longshots" (pun intended) like double-digit seeds Gonzaga, SW Missouri State, and Oklahoma.

So my advice for the long side? Figure out your top team, and consider adding it in its basket format(s) as well. And pick a few long shots.

Hope this helps. And for more commentary, be sure to follow the message forum. The scoring format produces some unusual effects, and sometimes the obvious comparisons aren't valid. Once the tournament begins, it'll be too late to make changes.

3/13 - The brackets are set, the pricing is complete, and the analysis begins. You have until the first tipoff on Thursday to make your picks for the Market Madness Contest. If you have questions, or want to hear what others may be thinking, be sure to visit my Market Madness message forum. I also posted an easy-to-print (or easy-to-copy-and-paste, if that's your preference) listing of all unit prices at the forum.

I spent some time over the weekend fiddling with baseball prices for both the Smallworld and Echelon games. As long as Market Madness doesn't consume too much time, I should have the prices (and SWP totals using the new formula) loaded in the sortable stats later this week.

Oh yeah, NBA action...

Shaq and Kobe combined for 135.5 SWP yesterday. That is the best same-team single-game point tandem that I can ever recall. Gary Payton had a triple double, and only ranked 7th in SWP and 5th in EBP for the day.

3/10 - Kevin Garnett and Larry Hughes were the top players last night, in what turned out to be an otherwise pretty uninspiring night of performances.

The message forum has been successfully transferred to the new server, and by now, everyone should be able to access it at the standard address. Thanks for your patience yesterday during the transition period.

As noted above, the Market Madness contest site is now up and running. You can register, and also sign up for a division. And if you're trying to figure out how the picking and scoring work, you can practice using last year's teams and prices. I coded up last year's brackets as an aid in developing the new programs, and figured I'd just leave them up for now. So, you can not only practice your selection mechanics, but once you save your picks, you can immediately see how that portfolio would have performed last year. As of 10:30am EST today, more than 100 entrants have already registered.

Once the new tournament brackets are announced and priced, I'll wipe the slate clean, and you can all start picking for real. You will be able to make and change your picks anytime until the first tipoff next Thursday, which I expect will be around noon EST. At that point, all selections will be locked, and the madness can begin.

Although I still have some remaining work to get ready for Market Madness, I started tinkering with the Smallworld baseball prices last night. What a mess! They certainly made it difficult to get a complete listing of players. With some ingenuity, I think I've found most - perhaps all - of the hitters now, but I'm sure I'm missing a fair number of the $500,000 pitchers. If I can, I'll try to have some preliminary sortable stats set up by early next week, for both SW and Echelon. I also need to get a schedule grid put together. Another project for next week.

3/9 - Only one name dominates this morning's point list. Antoine Walker put up a huge triple-double, with 30 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assistseses, good for a "Shaq-like" 80 SWP and 281 EBP. Unfortunately, reviewing his recent SW and CNN price changes, it looks like very few teams benefited from the explosion. Boston's schedule is pretty strong over the next 2-1/2 weeks, though, so I imagine we'll see some Walker chasing, especially given his $7+ million pricetag.

Small World seemed to get order restored yesterday, with servers functioning and stats corrected. I updated the RotoGuru team rankings last night.

By popular request, I added a new thread to the Forum Keepers, which suggests a possible cause of Small World's recent technological difficulties. This was lifted from the Hockey Forum (mine, not Small World's). My comment? "No comment."

Speaking of the forum, it is scheduled to be moved to a new server this morning, and will be down for a short period during the transition. The move is scheduled for some time between 8am and noon CST. After the relocation, the IP address will have changed, and it may take a few hours for your ISP to find the new address. I'll post a direct IP link here when I get it. Meanwhile, if you're starved for conversation and the forum is down, you can still use the old forum. (The move will affect all applications which reside at "the Deuce" - - which also include the 1999 baseball stats and Football Pickoff.)

I expect to have the March Madness Contest site up and running later today. While you obviously can't make any picks until the brackets are announced and prices are posted - which will be next Monday morning - you will be able to register, and sign up for a division (if you wish). I'll also have the selection form loaded with last year's teams and prices, so if you want to tinker with the process, feel free. I wouldn't mind a little pre-game site shakedown. I'll post the URL when it's operational.

3/8 - Scoring honors were shared by Dikembe Mutombo and Derrick Coleman, each with 60 SWP, though Mutombo had a slight advantage in EBP. In fact, Ruben Patterson finished second in EBP, with 207. He was one of five players to score in the 50's in SWP.

Smallworld's server woes continued for most of yesterday. This morning, the site seems to be back online, but the scoring problems are still uncorrected. It looks like yesterday's price change was skipped (although it did get processed at CNN/SI). I don't know what to expect for today's price change. Will it cover 2 days of trading, or will yesterday's trades just be forgotten for repricing purposes? Either way, I expect Shaq and Kobe will be spared some price loss, as their schedule related selling will be collapsed into one price change, rather than two. If you planned to sell them but got stuck, at least the pain probably won't be as severe.

I haven't updated the SW team rankings since last Friday. I'm not going to bother until the posted standings regain some semblance of credibility.

As you know, I'm not a hockey fan, and I don't participate in fantasy hockey, but I understand that the SW server problems extended onto the ice as well. If you're a music or poetry fan, check out items 23 and 34 in this thread at the hockey message forum. #23 can be sung to the tune "American Pie", and #34 is to "Downtown". Classics.

I'm getting close to completing the March Madness Contest site. The site that will accept registrations, record picks, and report scoring. The look and feel will be similar to the Football Pickoff game site, and will allow you set up Divisions, just as the Pickoff game did. Although the prices and selection pages won't be available until next Monday morning, I'll open the site later this week to begin accepting registrations, and to let you practice the entry process with last year's prices and teams. This will also provide a good shakedown period. Since all picks will have to be recorded by the first tipoff on Thursday, it's important that everything be working properly by next Monday morning.

3/7 - Most of the top SW Hoops teams are currently carrying the "2-headed monster" at center of Shaq and Mutombo. That tandem combined for 101 SWP last night. Shaq contributed 83 of that total, though, with his 61 point, 23 rebound effort. Of course, if your primary competition has the same players that you do, then it doesn't really matter how they perform. And for the time being, at least, Shaq and Dikembe are pretty much neutralized for me. However, that may change over the next few days, as Shaq plays only once in the next five days, and I expect some managers to shuffle his slot during that time frame. For the record, however, I'm sitting tight with Shaq. To trade out of him and back requires 2 trades, and I don't see any opportunities with enough point potential to be worth using 2 trades. I can live with the interim price volatility.

Here's a statistcal oddity for last night: Chris Webber had a triple double, with 22 points, 11 assists, 10 boards. I can't ever remember a time when a player had a triple-double and finished behind the daily fantasy point leader by 28 SWP and 108 EBP! On the other hand, Webber's game no doubt had a much bigger impact on the standings, since he is not nearly as universally owned as Shaq.

The recent SW site problems, both technical and statistical, recalled today's quote, which was originally sent to me during a similarly difficult period late in the SW baseball season. SW must work their servers too hard during the first part of the season, because they always seem to break down as the season wears on. The CNN/SI game site has avoided the most recent difficulties, but for the time being, waiting until the last minute to do your trades leaves you very vulnerable. The site has been up intermittently during the past 24 hours, but I'm sure there are many who are not going to get their desired moves made. If nothing else, that will probably dampen Shaq and Kobe's price declines at the SW site. It will also undoubtedly dampen the enthusiasm of the managers who were shut out.

On to March Madness. One of the new features of this year's contest is the introduction of "basket units". Baskets allow you to lever up the number of teams that you are exposed to, in either direction. They should also significantly increase the potential range of scores.

  • Seed baskets offer the opportunity to own (or short) all four similarly seeded teams in one bundled unit. I added some historical statistical analysis for seed baskets.
  • I also updated the 1999 return analysis to include both seed and conference baskets. Using only the 64 single team units last year, the best possible score for the contest was G$429. By including basket units and increasing the number of units (from 8 to 10), the best possible score for 1999 jumps up to G$916, more than double. The best 10 units to own included 4 baskets (seed baskets for #1, #4, and #10, plus the Big-10 conference basket). But 9 of the best shorts were basket units. As you may recall, last year's tournament featured a lot of upsets, and that produced an average team score that was negative. Thus, many of the baskets included teams that were mostly negative. Still, the basket with the most teams included was the Big-10 basket, and it was the top performer, so looking solely at the number of teams is a risky way to pick. I expect that basket units will continue to dominate the "best shorts" listing - but the trick will be picking the correct ones.

3/6 - March is truly the "maddest" month of the year at RotoGuru World Headquarters. After reading through today's blurb, you'll see why.

First, NBA Hoops continues in full swing. Gary Payton was the only player to exceed either 50 SWP or 200 EBP, and he took no prisoners in doing so, with 63 SWP and 241 EBP.

But maintaining normal hoops coverage is almost an afterthought at this time of year. Hopefully, I won't drop the ball in managing any of my own teams.

Today marks the introduction of my 3rd Annual March Madness Contest. The rules are very similar to last year's contest, and I have highlighted the changes at the top of this year's rules page. Historical stats have been updated to include the results of last year's tournament, and I also plan to add some historical analysis of "basket units" within the next day or so. I've also added a new March Madness Forum topic area, which should be a great help for those of you who are trying to figure out the format. Without question, it is one of the more complicated contest formats, but those who competed last year often described it as the best March Madness format on the 'net. And this year, I'm able to offer some meaningful prize money. In particular, note that the prize pool could be even greater than the listed minimums if March advertising revenue for grows sufficiently. I'll spend more blurb-space this week discussing the Contest, but for today, let me suggest you begin with a basic rules refresher.

And if that isn't enough, baseball continues to March along. Smallworld Baseball was launched with a minimal "teaser" site. New scoring and trade rules are announced, some stats and prices are posted, and you can register a team. You can't start drafting players yet, but you can at least begin to think about the implications of this year's changes. I'll load up the new stats and prices in my baseball sortable stats tables, but probably not until some time next week. March Madness programming has to be my first priority this week.

And by the way, I also added a new forum topic area for Aussie Rules, which was requested by a number of Gurupies. If you want to learn more, check it out.

Back to the salt mines...

3/3 - Elton Brand is running away with the current rookie poll. I'll bet if I had done that poll 6 weeks ago, he'd have been in third place.

Kevin Garnett led the point producers last night, with Webber, Kemp, and Andre Miller close behind. Miller continues to make the most of his recent opportunity for playing time. If Brevin Knight had been out all year, Miller might have given Brand, Francis, and Odom a challenge for rookie honors.

The coming NBA week includes two rescheduled games. The Bulls-Hornets game on 3/5 is a make-up of the first Bobby Phills postponement, and the Knicks-Wizards game on March 8 is a rescheduled snow-out. My schedules have been updated for awhile, but I suspect there are some published schedules around at other sites which do not reflect these games. Be alert!

I need to turn my attention to getting the new March Madness Contest ready. I hope to have the new rules posted by Monday (there will only be a few changes from last year), and then I'll need to devote next week to getting the game registration and entry programs up and running. I'll also set up a separate March Madness message forum topic area, since the basketball forum is already quite cluttered with NBA talk. Stop by on Monday for a first look at the updated rules and prizes.

I remember a week last March (or perhaps it was early April) when I experienced my first week with more than 100,000 pages served. That occurred when the NBA season was in full swing, and baseball was just about to start up. Growth stalled after that, however, as basketball wound down, and baseball-related attrition also resulted in some leakage. The message forum was introduced in the late spring, but since I was just using someone else's free forum, that was a non-revenue producing venture at the time.

So far this century, though, growth has been explosive. Some of this is attributable to new users, due to additional name exposure at the SW and CNN Hoops sites. But the introduction of my own message forum has provided the major boost. And I just completed my first month with more than 1 million Rotoguru pages served. In fact, the total for February, including blurbs, stats, and message forum, was about 1.3 million! With March Madness and baseball fast approaching, March will probably be an even busier month. Here's hoping all of my various servers hold up under the additional strain. Thanks for all of your continued support. And keep those ad clicks coming.

3/2 - Shaq led all players in fantasy points last night, with 65.5 SWP and 235 EBP. Karl Malone was a distant but respectable runner-up, with 56.5 and 198. No one else topped the 50 SWP mark, although Tracy McGrady fell short by only one missed FG.

How much roster value is enough? The most expensive SW team you could currently assemble costs a bit over $117 million. ($120m using CNN/SI prices.) Yet, over the past 15 days, the static roster which accumulated the most points has a current pricetag of $101 million ($103 CNN), and includes such bargains as Donyell Marshall, Michael Dickerson, and Mike Bibby. Granted, Bibby and Dickerson were aided by high game counts, but that's part of the issue. And you don't sacrifice many points if you come up $10 million short, as there are other bargains like McGrady, Brand, & Stackhouse who can save significant $ vs. the top guns without much giveup in points.

Of course, picking the top roster in advance is by no means a layup, although schedule intensity is certainly an important factor which is predictable. But it just doesn't feel like a $10 million advantage in roster value is necessarily leading to better point production right now. Which suggests to me that if you are in that $90+ million range, it probably makes sense to be striving to maximize points from here on, rather than sacrificing expected points in the search for extra dollars.

Let's consider an example. Clearly, the best bargain since the All Star break has been Donyell Marshall. In 9 games since the break, he's topped 50 SWP on four separate occasions, including one 78 SWP monster. At the message forum, he's being widely touted as a "gotta have" and a "no brainer". Those adjectives are worrisome enough in themselves. When he rose by more than $100K yesterday (with 2 off days still to come), one person even questioned whether he should drop Garnett in advance of tonight's Timberwolf game just to avoid missing a potential big gain for Marshall today. While I'll admit that every circumstance can be different, it's hard for me to conjure up a scenario in which that tactic makes any sense. If you expect Marshall to continue to average north of 40 SWP per game, he'll still be cheap tomorrow. It's hard to fathom that any single day gains could be used to generate more than the value of a Garnett game. And while Marshall will certainly see some nice gains in the next few days, he'll also be highly susceptible to losses in the event of injury or disappointing productivity.

By the way, I don't plan to add Marshall tomorrow, either. Maybe I'm the victim of a brain cramp. But with forwards of Garnett, Carter, Malone, and Brand, I don't see how adding him on Friday improves my point outlook for the next week. Maybe I'll swap into him next Thursday, when Brand or Carter lose their relative schedule advantage. Or maybe I'll have an injury-related "opportunity" to add him sooner. But at this point, I don't think his attractive price outlook compels me to burn a trade with no likelihood of a material point advantage over the next week.

Of course, if Marshall averages 50 SWP next week, then I'll be wrong. But more often than not, it seems that chasing the hottest player leads to short term price gratification but longer term disillusionment. We'll see.

3/1 - Grant Hill took the top scoring honors in SWP last night, while Chris Webber led in EBP. No big surprises there. The top guards were more unusual, with Doug Christie and Mark Jackson tied with 51.5 SWP. And, as expected, the top center came from the Lakers-Portland game. But unexpectedly, it wasn't Shaq, who had only 38 SWP. Nope, it was Arvydas Sabonis, with 45.5 SWP. But the Lakers won anyway. Go figure.

Derrick Coleman took a DNP last night. If you still own him, it's probably a good time to duck. Tuesdays-Thursdays are bad days for price drops, as general trading is lighter, and focused selling activity produces exaggerated results. Coleman's recent price history suggests he's never been a heavy buy, but at this time of the week I wouldn't take much comfort in that.

Today I welcome a new sponsor of the month, CBS Sportsline Fantasy Baseball. You can show your support for by visiting the sites of advertising sponsors. Speaking of which, it appears that SW Hoops has disabled the "click for $$$" feature. (It is still enabled at the SW Hockey site - at least for now.) No explanations given. I hope you weren't counting on that last $10 grand to be able to make today's Hoops trade!

Click here for prior daily blurbs, by month:

2000: February . . . . . January

Click here for prior daily blurbs, by month:

1999: December . . . . . November . . . . . October . . . . . September . . . . . August . . . . . July . . . . . June . . . . . May . . . . . April . . . . . March . . . . . February . . . . . January

1998: December . . . . . November . . . . . October . . . . . September . . . . August . . . . . July . . . . . June . . . . . May . . . . . April . . . . . March

RotoGuru is produced by Dave Hall (a.k.a. the Guru), an avid fantasy sports player. He is neither employed by nor compensated by any of the fantasy sports games discussed within this site, and all opinions expressed are solely his own. Questions or comments are welcome, and should be emailed to Guru<>.

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