Monday, March 9, 2020

A Coach of the Year Polemic

What is the Coach of the Year award for?

If you answer this question by looking at results, the answer is pretty clear: the Coach of the Year award typically goes to the coach of the team that most exceeded expectations. Another way of putting it:

I'm here to say that's the way it should be.

Just like the preseason AP poll tends to give a fairly pure view of how good knowledgeable people think a team will be—before dirty game results sully the analysis with overreactions and the like—preseason expectations for a team give us a pretty pure view of how talented people think the roster is.

There are many reason a team could perform its presumed talent. Obviously the presumptions of talent could be quite wrong. That happens all that time. It could be just luck. That no doubt happens all the time. But generally speaking when a team outperforms its presumed talent level, I think it's fair to attribute at least some of that variance to coaching—superior training, development, and game strategy.

That's a sound theoretical justification for giving the Coach of the Year award to the coach of the team that most outperforms its preseason expectations. It's not at all dumb. Let's just accept it.

There are two main objections to this regime:

1) Why shouldn't preseason favorites be eligible for coach of the year?

and, relatedly,

2) Recruiting is coaching, too, and this doesn't account for that.

Both of these objections are wrong.

First, under this regime coaches of preseason favorites are eligible to win Coach of the Year, and they do. Even favorites can wow us with their overachievement. For example, John Calipari was national Coach of the Year in 2015 despite having probably the most talented roster in the one-and-done era. Bo Ryan won B1G COY in 2015 leading a preseason top-5 juggernaut. There are many examples.

Second, and I cannot emphasize this enough, recruiting is not coaching. Coaching has a general meaning that applies to all sports: training players, developing players, and directing game strategy. Recruiting, program-building, fundraising, glad-handing, press conferences, etc.—these are all things college basketball coaches have to do, but none of those things are coaching. The Coach of the Year award need not (and should not) consider them.

Most sports have a Coach of the Year award. In professional sports, coaches don't get credit for having great players (even if they happen to also be the GM that drafted them) because it's understood that coaching and roster construction are different things, and the Coach of the Year award is for the coaching part. Just because the person called "Coach" happens to both coach and recruit doesn't mean recruiting is coaching. It isn't. It just isn't.

The existing regime for deciding Coach of the Year focuses, appropriately, on coaching: instruction, development, game strategy. That's reasonable and appropriate. There's no need to muddy the waters trying to evaluate the non-coaching duties.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

First impression- Badgers are 5 deep

Always a bad idea to jump to conclusions after one exhibition game, so here it is. 

The starting 5 looked solid. Ford and King looked healthy and more aggressive. Reuvers should be the centerpiece of this offense, but that is a bit of a misnomer as the strength of the offense is the balance. While this group doesn't have an individual defender as good as Iverson, they should be a solid team defense. There is hope that there will be some dribble penetration from this team, but I feel like I always have hope for that at this time of year, and then once they have to play against Big Ten defenses, it goes away. Even so, if this team is relegated to a mostly jump shooting team they should be OK, as they have enough shooters. The trouble is the team after these 5.

With Potter likely out until late December, there is no depth on this team, especially with the bigs. This was already going to be a small team, but without Potter, this team is one injury away from major trouble. Kind of reminds me of the team 2 years ago that I think would have been a "last in" NCAA type team if Trice and King don't get hurt and Davison doesn't play out of position with one arm. That team was weak at guard and lost their guards, while this team is small, and a Reuvers injury (God forbid) would leave them with nothing down low and probably another losing record. 

Pritzl looks like he is satisfied being the strong team player and occasional lights out shooter he was last year. That is fine, but I still can't shake my hope from his freshman year that he would be a bigger Ben Brust. Turns out he just isn't. He won't hurt UW when he comes off the bench, and he at the least allows them to maintain the same style of offense because his shooting still spaces the floor. I imagine he will have some games where he hits 4-6 threes that will tease those old hopes, but he just won't ever be a volume shooter, so his overall contributions will come in other ways. 

Then we have the 2 freshman. Hedstrom does not look ready to play Big Ten basketball yet. He got pushed around a bit by UW Lacrosse players and he looks like he just needs more time to gain confidence and strength. Unfortunately the lack of depth in the front court may force him to play before he is ready, and I fear it may be ugly when he is. If I had written this post after the first half I would have said much the same about Wahl. When he was in the game Lacrosse got the ball to his man and went at him. He looked like an 18 year old kid that needs weight and strength. Ideally he would get limited minutes at the 3 spot this year, get in the weight room, and then play the 4 down the road. He will most likely be forced to play major minutes at the 4 this year and he will struggle to hold up against a more developed 4. I cringe when thinking about him having to guard Xavier Tillman. The second half was much better, minus a horrible fast break turnover pass that belonged in high school. His stat line looked good at the end of the day, so hopefully he develops quickly because there aren't really any other options after him. 

Anderson is the only other guy who will play, and I thought he looked slow last year before the knee injury. He still has a big sleeve on that knee, and I'm not sure what was underneath. If he is playing major minutes it is probably not a good sign, but with all the small lineups and no one else who can play, he may end up playing a role. 

So, with only one game that doesn't even count under their belt, what almost certainly wrong conclusion should we draw about these badgers. If they stay healthy and everyone progresses, this team should be fun and have a ceiling around a top 3-4 Big Ten Finish, and a 4-6 seed in the tournament. The floor looks low however. As I said earlier, they look to be a couple big man injuries from a 14 win team. If I'm making early predictions (and I am), I think they end up as a safely in the tournament team that is dangerous since they get Potter back and play their best basketball in 2020. 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

A look at some outliers

I've been keeping track of a bunch of offseason top 25s and such, and I have a fairly good handle on what the preseason conventional wisdom. Let's take a look at a some teams where the T-Rank projections diverge from the conventional wisdom, starting with teams that the T-Rank projections are much higher on than the humans.

T-Rank: 15
Humans: 40-ish

The conventional wisdom on the Illini seems to be "intriguing, but not in the top 25." Andy Katz is more bullish, putting them at 19th in his latest "Power 36," but T-Rank's No. 15 is well above the median opinion.

I think this is driven by a few things.

First, Illinois returns some sophomores who were promising as freshmen, including a borderline one-and-done in Ayo Dosunmu. The model expects improvements out of those kinds of guys, and big improvement out of Ayo.

Second, the model still likes Brad Underwood based on his well-above-par performances at Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma St. Humans are not so sold on Underwood, and there's quite a bit of skepticism that his particular system, especially on defense, can work at the high major level.

Third, T-Rank thought Illinois was better last year than most people (and other systems like Kenpom) did. This can have an effect on the defensive projection, which uses prior performance as a baseline.

My take. This is definitely a best-case scenario projection for Illinois, and I'd be much more comfortable with them in the lower 20s even as an optimistic case. There are things to like about this team, and plausible bases to expect a significant leap, but still many question marks and things that could easily go wrong. So I'd go with the conventional wisdom on this one.

T-Rank: 13
Humans: Bubble team at best

This is definitely the biggest outlier in the projected top 40. As far as I can tell, no human is expecting anything out of this Missouri squad. Only mention I've seen is they come up 64th in Kevin Sweeney's top 100.

The case against Missouri is straightforward. They were mediocre last year (68th in Kenpom), they lose their most impactful player (Jordan Geist), and they don't have a highly touted freshman class coming in.

As with Illinois, my model's baseline for Missouri is a bit higher on Missouri's past performance; T-Rank had them 54th last year, which is higher than anyone else had them. Most importantly, it had them No. 36 in adjusted defensive efficiency, and 37th the year before. Add in the fact that Cuonzo Martin has a history as a solid defensive coach and that Missouri returns a solid core of defensive players, and I don't have a big problem with the projection for Missouri to be the 25th best defensive team next year.

Where things get a bit wacky is the projection for Missouri to have the No. 15 offense. The offensive projection is mainly player-based, and the short story here is that the model just likes these players together. Mark Smith and Jeremiah Tilmon are juniors who were highly rated recruits, which bodes well for their chance to continue improving into key, reliable offensive players. Torrence Watson, Xavier Pinson, and Javon Pickett are returning sophomores who got good experience as freshmen. And Dru Smith is a transfer from Evansville (a decent mid-major) who was very efficient there as a sophomore.

My take. As with Illinois, I'd find this more defensible if they were in the low 20s or so, because I can sort of get where the model is coming from in liking these players. But I'm not placing or taking any bets premised on Missouri as a top-20 team that contends for an SEC title.

Penn St.
T-Rank: 19
Humans: 50-ish

Penn St. has been a pretty decent team, efficiency-wise, the last two years. Two years ago, they won the NIT and finished 19th in the Kenpom ratings. Last year they finished 43rd at Kenpom. (T-Rank had them 16th and 32nd the past two years, so even a little higher.)

But the perception of this team does not quite track those efficiency numbers. They were never seriously in consideration for an at-large berth either year, mainly because of their 6-20 record in "Quadrant 1" games. Starting 0-10 in the Big Ten last year also didn't help. There's a feeling, I think, that PSU's efficiency numbers are goosed by mopping up against lesser competition, and that Pat Chambers just doesn't have the chops to really compete at the top of the Big Ten.

So the popular opinion on Penn State, I think, is they they were mediocre with a low ceiling last year, and they'll be similar this year after losing Josh Reeves and the unexpected transfer of Rasir Bolton. Yes, they return Lamar Stevens, who puts up big counting stats but does so inefficiently. So it's easy to imagine this being the classic PSU team that features one guy who takes all the shots and that plays pretty hard enough on defense.

My take. 19 is too high, but it's worth noting that Penn State was 24th in a sneak peak of Kenpom's preseason ratings, so at least T-Rank isn't out on an island with this one. Maybe this will be the year that PSU's results more closely align with their efficiency numbers.

Notre Dame
T-Rank: 22
Humans: 50-ish

I've seen surprisingly little love for Notre Dame this offseason. The Irish struggled last year, especially after Rex Pflueger got hurt after ten games. Three top-100 freshmen (Nate Laszewski, Dane Goodwin, and Prentice Hubb) were forced into more action than they were probably ready for.

But Pflueger is back for a fifth year, along with fellow seniors TJ Gibbs and John Mooney. And those three top-100 freshmen are back, poised to make the sophomore leap.

My take. Notre Dame has been a bit snakebitten since Bonzie Colson's injury in 2018. If they stay healthy this year, I think there's a good chance that they are a top 25 team again.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

BrackAnalysis: Gonzaga

You may wondering: BrackAnalysis? Yet another branding change? NO! BubbAnalysis focuses on bubble teams. BrackAnalysis takes a wider view. Thus, today's focus: Gonzaga's case for a one seed.

As of yesterday, the Zags were widely considered a lock, maybe THE lock, for a one seed. I wasn't sure if the lock consensus was really based on "they're a one seed even if they lose" or if it was "they're a one seed because there's no way they're losing to Saint Mary's, who they've beaten by like ten thousand points in two games this year." In any case, my algorithm did not agree with the consensus. It was projecting that a loss to Saint Mary's would knock Gonzaga down to the two line. And that's where they are today.

Yesterday's consensus may well turn out to have been correct but I think it's worth looking into the sources for my algorithm's dissent. One preliminary note: none of this is intended as a subjective opinion on whether Gonzaga is good, or whether it deserves a one seed—only an attempt to analyze Gonzaga's profile the way the Committee might.

The Case Against Gonzaga as a One Seed

Gonzaga's problem is that it has only four Q1 wins and only six Q2 wins, so it is projected at 27th in the resumé metric. In my database (since 2008), the only team to get a one seed with four or fewer Q1** wins was undefeated Wichita St. in 2014. They had three Q1 (top 50) wins and eight Q2 (top 100) wins. But they were also undefeated—33 games over .500 on Selection Sunday—and had those two more Q2s. No team (since 2008) has been awarded a one-seed with ten or fewer Q1+Q2 (top 100) wins. Here are all the one seeds since 2008 with fewer than 15 Q1+Q2 wins:

So here's the case against Gonzaga in a nutshell: their volume of Q1+ Q2 wins has never before been good enough for a one seed, and their volume of Q1 wins was only good enough for an undefeated team. Given the primacy of this kind of analysis in the Committee's work, I think this is a very reasonable argument that Gonzaga may not be awarded a one seed.

The Case For Gonzaga as a One Seed

Nonetheless, there are still good reasons to think that the Committee will bestow a one seed on Gonzaga:
  • The eye test. Gonzaga passes it. Mainly because ...
  • They beat Duke. Full strength Duke. In Maui, in a game everybody watched. And for much of the game, they dominated. 
  • They are really, really good. Gonzaga is second in Kenpom and most other similar ratings. They are certainly worthy of a top seed.
  • Lock in effect. The Committee was already in session, as of Monday (I believe). I think one of the first things they do is consider one seeds. So it's possible, even likely, that there was a provisional one line, and Gonzaga was sitting on top of it. Once things like that get started, the analysis become less about looking at the whole resumé, and more about "how much should this one result affect what we already thought?" Cognitive biases being what they are, new results tend not to affect what people think as much as results that went into the original opinion.
  • No one else fits in the West. All of the other potential one seeds are well east of the Rockies, most east of the Mississippi. If there's a close call between Gonzaga and an eastern team, Gonzaga may get a logistical bonus. This is especially true if the 4/5 on the s-curve comes down to Zags versus Duke because ...
  • They beat Duke. Did I mention that?
These are all good reasons, so it will be interesting to see how this shakes out.

**Prior to last year, Q1 = top 50 and Q2 = top 100, with no adjustment for venue (because that's how the Committee used to do it).

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

BubbAnalysis: NC State

Welcome to the latest edition of BubbAnalysis, formerly known as Bubble Breakdown, formerly known as Bubble Banter.

Right now I want focus on NC State. In the latest bracketmatrix, NC State is an 11. Yet my algorithm currently projects them on the 9-line, and unlikely to fall out even with a loss. What gives?

It inescapably comes down to non-conference strength of schedule. Because they played so many of the worst teams in DI, their "NCSOS" is dead last—at least based on the primary measure of NCSOS highlighted on the NCAA's Nitty Gritty report and Team Sheets, which is simply opponent's winning percentage (i.e. RPI Factor 2). This primitive measure is not an input to the T-Ranketology algorithm. In fact, my algorithm gives no separate weight to strength of schedule as a standalone input (though it is certainly incorporated into the algorithms inputs).

Most bracket projectors, I gather, do separately consider SOS and especially the NCSOS, and I understand why they do. First, it's a number on the official documents. Second, there have been a few high profile cases where a bad NCSOS was specifically mentioned as a reason that a team was excluded. A couple of Seth Greenberg's Virginia Tech teams come to mind here.

I did not include SOS or NCSOS in the algorithm for a few reasons:

  • In prior years, the committee used RPI, which was highly correlated to SOS because it was 75% composed of schedule metrics. Indeed, the current "SOS" numbers on the official NCAA documents are just what used to be called RPI Factor 2, which was 50% of the RPI formula. So it was possible to simply use RPI and get good enough results with the algorithm. For example, the 2010 Virginia Tech team that was snubbed supposedly because of its terrible NCSOS also had an RPI rank of 59—not a disqualifying rank, but definitely in the area where a team is not likely to be selected. (My current algorithm would have had them the last team in the field—close enough!)
  • It's a very very noisy signal. There are many examples of teams with terrible schedules getting in, and getting good seeds. Just as an example, last year Michigan had a bad NCSOS and got a three-seed. And there are many examples of teams with very good schedule metrics who nonetheless were left out or down-seeded. So it's hard to figure out how to put this into an algorithm because in the vast majority of cases it clearly has no impact whatsoever (at least independent of its effect on RPI).
  • Strength of schedule is accounted for in Kenpom, BPI, Sagarin, KPI, and SOR — the other metrics on the official docs. People seem to resist this, but it's clear that Kenpom has long had some effect on selection decisions, and that was formalized last year with its inclusion, along with those other metrics, on the team sheets, etc. Teams that play terrible schedules will typically be punished in those systems unless they actually perform very well against those opponents.

Now, with the NET this year things are up in the air. If we were still using RPI, there is zero doubt that NC State would be disqualified from consideration for an at-large. (Their RPI rank would be 100+, far beyond the realm of consideration, certainly in my algorithm.) And the reason their RPI would be so bad is because their NCSOS kills it. But their NET is in the low 30s, their power ratings are in the 30s, and they have 8 Q1+Q2 wins. Only one team with that profile has been left out since 2008: last year's USC team, which was widely considered an at-large shoo-in. (By the way, their NCSOS rank was a perfectly respectable 62.)

That leaves the question: will the Committee rely on RPI Factor 2 to downgrade NC State, despite having a profile that otherwise matches dozens of at-larges and just one snub? It might! And if it does, I'll probably tweak my algorithm to incorporate some kind of special punishment for having an extremely bad RPI Factor 2 in non-conference games. The easiest way to do this would be simply to put RPI itself back into the mix somehow.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Happ down the stretch

It has seemed to me that Happ has not been shooting all that well recently. He looks like he is rushing shots and his accuracy just isn't there. It's not as though he is awful, just not as good as he has been for the past 3 1/2 years. Numbers bear it out. 

Over the first 16 games vs major conference opponents (I know that not all are equal, but it's an easy way to filter out the crap opponents) he shot 142/251=56.6%. This is in line with his career FG average 54.6%. Over the last 10 games he is shooting 66/141=46.8. Over those first 16 he shot better than 50% in 9 games, but in the last 10 he has only been better than 50% in 1 game. 

Guys that play on the perimeter are especially prone to ups and downs, but Happ never shoots anything but hooks and layups. I don't think this is just a random shooting slump. For a while I thought he was altering his shot so he could get it up and not get fouled, because he was so terrible at the line. I'm not sure that is the case, but it could be something in  the back of his mind. He definitely seems to be shooting faster though. The moves where he fakes in 3 different directions, gets his opponent off balance, then lays it in don't seem to come very often. Maybe that is because teams have figured out not to go for them, but then why didn't they figure that out in the past 3 years. 

Not sure I have any sort of good explanation for this. Just thought I would throw it out there since I have neglected this blog so much and felt it needed some love. 

B1G Tourney picks

Here they are, I'm getting wacky this year. Let's see your picks Torvik!

Wednesday Winners:

Thursday Winners:
Penn State

Friday Winners:
Penn State

Saturday Winners:

Sunday Winner:

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Bubble Breakdown March 02

Note: After consultation with marketing and legal,  I'm rebranding Bubble Banter as Bubble Breakdown™.

Here's a look at the bubble through the robotic yet strangely beautiful eyes of TourneyCast:

The nice thing about this view, as opposed to the current T-Ranketology bracket, is that this includes simulations of conference tournaments. So a team like UNC Greensboro, which might reasonably considered on the bubble as of today, fades to extreme long-shot as an at-large when you factor in a loss in the conference tournament. It also is the best way to look at bubble teams who are projected auto-bids in the same view as bubble teams who are not.

Let's do this.

Probably safe: Ohio State, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Washington, TCU

These teams generally just need about one more win, at least according to my algorithm. The big mark against several of these teams is poor conference record. Oklahoma and TCU are both currently projected to go 7-11 in Big 12 play, and Oklahoma would be projected to be fine even at 6-12. It's certainly possible that the committee will balk at those figures, as it's pretty much unprecedented for teams with those kinds of records to have tourney credentials otherwise.

Getting sketchy: St. John's, UCF, Clemson, VCU, Belmont, Texas

St. John's has 6 Q1 wins (though FWIW I'm projecting Georgetown will fall below the Q1 cutline eventually) but also has home losses to the likes of DePaul, Providence, and Xavier. Now they have two road games left: at Xavier and at DePaul that T-Rank sees as tossups. If they win at least one of those, they'll probably be okay heading into the Big East tourney in their backyard (note that home-court gives them a 1 in 5 chances of getting the auto-bid). But losing both those games is a real possibility, in which case they'd be squarely on the bubble.

UCF isn't worth discussing too much because their resumé remains largely to be written: three Q1 games still left in the regular season. Sweep those, and they might be wearing home jerseys in their first game of the tourney. Get swept and say sayonara. Anything in between and they'll be on the bubble.

Clemson is a team my algorithm likes more than most bracketographers. They lack the top-line wins (just projected to have one Quad 1) but have a good NET, good power ratings, no bad losses, SOS is fine. Their profile comps are all in, though never by much:

Obviously a win today over UNC will seal the deal. But if they just win the games they're supposed to, my algorithm will likely continue to favor them. I'd generally trust the conventional wisdom over my algorithm, but this could end up being an interesting test.

VCU and Belmont are both mids with a decent enough shot to get in even if they're knocked out in their conference tourney, as at least one of them likely will be (both projected at about 50% to win). All bubble teams should be rooting for them.

Texas is here, as I mentioned last week, because it is projected to be 16-15 at the end of the regular season. My algorithm starts punishing a team once its projected record is less than five games above .500. The punishment is pretty severe at a one game over .500, so it's pretty remarkable that Texas is still being projected on the right side of the cutline. If Texas gets two more wins, they will vault out of the bubble zone, but this is another sort of unprecedented case brewing, so it's hard to really say what would happen if Texas finishes at, say, 16-16 with five Quad 1 wins.

The Genuine Bubble: 

Minnesota needed two wins last week to feel safe, but they got one. They remain on the bubble with two Quad 1-A games remaining. One upset would likely do it for them. If not, they'll need two Big Ten tourney wins to be safe, I think.

Utah St. I still think Utah State needs to beat Nevada once, and that's basically where this 50% chance of an at-large comes from: they've got a tossup against the Wolfpack tonight. Win it, and they're in. (By the way, my algorithm's early projection of Utah State as an at-large contender, when no one else was even considering them, is why it is a cool thing.)

Alabama, like UCF, has three big Q1 games left in the regular season, so their profile is incomplete. All three are projected by T-Rank as tossups. Tune in next week, but in all likelihood they'll be on the bubble heading into their conference tournament.

Why does everyone hate Saint Mary's? This has vexed me for a while, and Ken Pomeroy mentioned it on a recent podcast. Even people who tend to root for mid majors root against Saint Mary's for some reason. I don't get it at all. People hate Saint Mary's resumé because they ain't beat nobody. I like Saint Mary's because they are, objectively, a good basketball team. They also have a great player in Jordan Ford. If they beat Gonzaga tonight, their profile will look good enough. If they don't, it won't.

Seton Hall is a team that projects in the field as of today, but they have three tough games upcoming (at Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova), and could very easily lose their first game in the conference tourney. They can definitely win their way into the field, but T-Rank foresees losses.

Furman and Lipscomb are alive. Technically. Better not to chance it though.

Temple is a team that I think many have been overrating, in terms of tourney chances. They have just one Q1 win, and only one more regular season opportunity: a Bracket Buster game against UCF on the last day of the regular season. The loser of that game could be in trouble, especially if it's Temple. That said, Temple's profile comps are 9/10 in the tourney:

Lastly, Arizona State. Bracket Matrix contributors refuse to budge on this team, despite their 28-point loss to Oregon the other night. Yes, they have a few Q1 wins (though many are giving them credit for a win over Washington that doesn't currently qualify as Q1). But they have, in the Committee's parlance, a fuckton of bad losses. And they are bad (67th at Kenpom). And their NET sucks 68th. And they'll be underdogs in their last two games, Oregon State and Arizona, both on the road. Only one team in my database has made the tourney with a sub-60 NET/RPI and a sub-60 Kenpom/Power ranking: Boston College in 2009. (That team had wins over Duke and at (eventual champ) North Carolina. Put it all together, and the profile comps are not pretty:

Now, to be fair, the comps for last year's teams were just as bleak, and the Committee decided to let that team in. As far as I can tell, that selection was based exclusively on the win at Kansas. Will a win over Kansas at home be enough this year? Maybe, but it shouldn't be—unless ASU wins a couple more games.

Bye for now!