Sunday, January 14, 2018

Teamcast tip: note the Projected T-Rank variable

One of the newer features over at the T-Rank site is a tool I call "Teamcast," which lets you select the results of a team's game and shows how those results would affect the T-Ranketology forecast.

I'm not gonna lie, I think this is a pretty awesome tool and I play around with it a lot. But of course there are some pretty important caveats to keep in mind:

1) The underlying T-Ranketology algorithm is not a crystal ball. Although it performed really well last year, last year was a pretty predictable year. In retroactive investigations, T-Ranketology does "pretty good" for prior years too. But overall it's safe to say that you should consider any T-Ranketology forecast to have at least a +/- one-seed margin of error.

2) There's reason to believe that this year will be much less predictable than prior years, because the Committee will be considering new and different information (most importantly, the new quality win quadrants). We can only presume how the Committee will use the new information. My guess is that they will use it to make some ... unpredictable ... choices.

That said, the Teamcast is still a fun tool, and at the very least it should be pretty good for looking at relative changes. If it's predicting your team to be an 8-seed, and picking it to win a game moves them up 4 spots to a 7-seed, it's reasonable to say the win was worth about one seed-line—even if it was actually from a 10 to a 9, or a 6 to a 5.

One important thing that gets overlooked, I think, by people playing around with the tool is that the current T-Rank rating plays a role. First, it is obviously how predictions for future games are calculated. Second, it is an independent variable in the T-Ranketology algorithm, and a not insignificant one. (Not because I think the committee is using it, but as a good-enough proxy for other ratings like Kenpom that the committee is using.)

So particularly if you are exploring an extreme scenario, like say, "What would happen if my team won the rest of its games?" you might get a weird result if you do not change the projected T-Rank as well. Because in the scenario where your team wins out, its T-Rank is probably going to improve a lot.

Fortunately, the Teamcast tool lets you change the projected T-Rank (right at the top of the page), which fixes this problem. In fact, simply changing the projected T-Rank and doing nothing else is a pretty good way to use Teamcast earlier in the season. E.g., keep upping the projected T-Rank until your team gets in the field, and that shows how well your team will have to play the rest of the way to likely make the tournament.

If you get any funky results with the Teamcast, or have ideas for improvement, please let me know.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Time to quit the switching?

As you 2 regular readers of this blog know, I have had a long running interest on the changing way the Badgers have defended ball screens over the years. As anyone who watched yesterday's Marquette game can see (or really any game this year), the defense sucks. Much of that has to do with playing a bunch of young players who are not great individual defenders, and lack the awareness needed for good help defense. For the past 20 years the Badgers have had a core of experienced upperclassmen virtually every year that were well schooled in the team's defensive principles. That is not the case this year, and it shows.

UW has played nothing but man to man defense over that time except for a very brief flirt with the 2-3 zone under Gard which was a disaster. There have been changes within the man to man, from going over the screen and hedging, to switching all screens, to going over and sinking. Currently, I'm not exactly sure what the system is, and that is a big part of the problem. Here are a series of clips from the Marquette game showing different ways they play the ball screen.

This is classic switching. Davison runs into the screener and stays with him after the dribble hand off, and Ford goes with the ball. Then there is another dribble hand off, and Ford stays on ball while Iverson switches with the guard going to the corner. Ford then hands off the ball carrier to Davison and stays with the big that floats off to the left side of the floor. At this point Happ's man comes up from the post to set another screen, and Davison hands off the ball carrier off to Happ. Happ does not come out to take him on the switch, and he gets a wide open 3.

In this clip Davison runs into the screener, Happ switches to the guard, and Happ shows this time to take away the jumper. The guard takes a dribble to create space, and Happ steps back, then comes out again to challenge but it's a shot fake. The problem is that Davison does not switch, he goes over the screen and comes over to the guard, instead of staying with the screener. The guard passes to an open man for a dunk (notice the other 3 defenders are all standing 18 feet from the hoop where they can't help).

Here there is no switching on the ball or off. There is a bunch of off ball screening action, a dribble handoff, and finally a ball screen, but everyone stays home with their man. On the final screen, Iverson shows on the ball carrier, before retreating to his man, and Davison "fights" over the screen to get back to his man.

Here Schlundt fights over the screen, and Charlie sinks to take away the lane instead of showing on the ball carrier to take away the jumper (I actually think Charlie has no idea where he is or what he is doing, but let's just say he was sinking on this one).

Finally, one last switch clip. On this one, both Happ and Davison leave the ball carrier, and go with the screener. Notice after the guard gets the wide open 3, Happ and Davison are fighting over who was responsible for what.

As I am known to say on occasion at Badger games, "What the hell are they doing"? Some of this is on the players as they are obviously getting torched routinely. More has to go on the coaches. They are playing a bunch of young players who are still learning how to play defense, and I think they are overloading them with too much responsibility. They should get rid of the switching. Switching requires a lot of communication, and a lot of feel for when to switch, when to switch back, and none of the young players are good enough for this.

When Bo started at UW, the defensive rules were simple. The on ball defender goes over the screen and stays on ball. The screening defender hedges every time and recovers to his man afterwards . All 3 other guys sink in when that happens to take away the lane. Everyone has a job, and everyone knew what the other's job was. If you did not do your job then you go to the bench.

Simplicity is a great thing. The Badgers need more of it on defense.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

FPI is annoying

Before I get into this post, I want to make clear that I don't have any animus toward Espn or their analytics people. I like them! I've defended them! (Though they've gone backwards a bit since I wrote that "In defense of BPI, etc." post.)

With that throat-clearing out of the way...

Espn has a predictive metric for college football called FPI. It is relatively good* at predicting the results of college football games. So if you want to lose a little (instead of a lot) of money, use FPI to pick games against the spread. Or you could just toss a coin and do slightly better.

For the most part, the analytics people at Espn are admirably clear that FPI is a predictive tool. But lately they've been doing two things with FPI that annoy me: First, they've been touting it as an accurate and objective arbiter of team quality. Second, they've been openly clamoring for an FPI-based metric—Strength of Record—to be used in selecting the teams for the college football playoffs.

Here's why I'm annoyed.

FPI is not an accurate measure of team quality.

I said above that FPI is relatively good at predicting the results of games. I say relatively good because college football is a crazy sport where crazy things happen on the regular. People say "Vegas knows, man" but Vegas don't know much about college football: the mean absolute error for closing betting lines in college football is about 12.2 points (and FPI is at 12.4). In the NFL, the mean error is 10.5 points—significantly better.

Why is this? It's because there is just not enough good data in a college football season to produce a highly accurate measure of team quality. Each team plays just 12 games, and only 8-10 of those are games that we can extract much useful information. (The other 2-4 games are mismatches that are likely to be all but useless for discerning differences among quality teams.)

So this is not a knock on FPI in particular. There simply does not exist a highly accurate measure of team quality in college football. What annoys me is that Espn pretends that there does, and that it is FPI.

We can see this hubris in an article today where they purport to show that the playoff selection committee is not selecting the "best" teams because it is not selecting the teams rated highest in the FPI and is considering teams rated poorly by the FPI (poster boy: Wisconsin). In other words, FPI is the arbiter of "best." Bullshit! If the question is: "Who are the best teams?" the only intellectually honest answer is:

"We don't know."

FPI-based "Strength of Record" should not and cannot be used in playoff selection 

As I mentioned above, there is not enough good data in a single college football season to construct an accurate enough measure of team quality to reliably discern between the best teams. To help make up for this, Espn incorporates its preseason prior — which is based on things like historical performance and recruiting ranks — into the FPI all year long. It never goes away. And while they refuse to say how much it still, at this point, influences the ratings, it is pretty clear that is still doing a lot of work. There is no other explanation for how Florida State (preseason No. 3, but 5-6 with bad losses) is still ranked 21st.

There is nothing wrong with keeping the preseason prior part of the formula. Espn's guys say that using the prior makes the predictions more accurate, and that's what the FPI is supposed to be maximizing. Fine!

But keeping the preseason prior means that FPI cannot be used in any way for selection to the playoffs. No one would argue that selection should be based on recruiting ranks or last year's performance. But if you rely on a strength of record measure based on FPI, that's what you'd be doing. You're giving Alabama extra credit for beating a bad Florida State team because FSU has five-star recruits and used to be good. Completely unacceptable.

Who benefits?

Obviously, a system that maintains a significant prior based on program strength and recruiting ranks will boost teams like Ohio State and Alabama. It makes sense if you are trying to predict games to give those teams a boost, because even in the middle of a down season they probably still have a lot of good football players could put it together at any time.

And obviously it hurts Wisconsin, which has not ever had a recruiting class better than 30th in the country. Which is why it is particularly annoying to see Espn touting Wisconsin's low FPI as a reason that it can't truly be considered among the best teams. It's crazy-making.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

WI is better than MI

Quick revisit of one of my favorite Blog posts of all time.

With the win today. UW clinches another year in which MI will not win more games than the Badgers. The last time MI won more games was in 2003.

2003 was a long time ago. For some reference I'm sure one MI fan will appreciate:

In 2003 the show "Friends" was still on the air with new episodes.

Friday, November 17, 2017


6-10 after splitting the double bet last week. I'm doubling down again.
UW is a 7 point favorite, and the over under is 41.

I'm taking UW to cover, and the under.

UW wins. 23-14.

Friday, November 10, 2017

On board with Van Vliet, but....

OK, that was a decent game for Van Vliet. I'm on board with him in this rotation, but there are concerns. Hard to argue with the line. 18 points on 7-11 FG, 4-5 3FG, 8 boards, 2 blocks and just one turnover. Any player puts up those numbers and you have to be a bit crazy not to be encouraged. I can already hear people starting to compare this with Kaminsky's break out junior year. A bit premature? Yes. Will he put up those numbers all year long? No way, but he doesn't have to to be an effective part of this rotation.

Here are the concerns. Chuckers are great when the shots are falling, but can be a cancer when they aren't. Remember those games when Vitto would jack 10 long 2 point jumpers and only hit 2or 3 of them. Van Vliet won't hit 80% of his 3s in many, if any more games this year. The concern is as much the types of shots, as the volume. At least 3 of the 3 pointers were attempted very early in the shot clock, (I was at the game so I'll have to check the tape, could be more) and came from a pass from the top of the key instead of from a post feed. He needs to let the offense roll a bit and they can get a better shot.

He also had 3 fouls in 22 minutes against competition that was not imposing on the inside. SCS hardly even tried to get it inside in the first half, as they shot jumper after jumper. Badgers only had 9 team fouls all night, he had a third of them. Defense is still not his thing. Finally, with about 6 minutes left in the 2nd half, Van Vliet looked like he was about to fall over. He was subbed out with 5 to go, and to be fair he had played a stretch of about 7 straight minutes. However he only played 9 total minutes in the 2nd half, and 22 overall. Conditioning is not his thing yet either.

Maybe that last part is OK. If he only gets 20 minutes a game, that may be for the best. Gard can roll with him when he's hot, and bench him when he's not. Having a guy with no conscious isn't always bad. When Vitto was hitting shots it totally changed the team. Van Vliet is certainly a better shooter than Vitto, so he should hit more often.

So, I'm much more encouraged about Van Vliet than I was before, but not as encouraged as all the people I will talk to tomorrow at the bar, who will probably be calling him the 2nd coming of Kaminsky already.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

UW Iowa

4-8 after another 0-2 week. Haven't got a single win since that meaningless FG Torvik likes to make fun of me for. Badgers are a 12.5 point favorite, and o/u is 46.

In honor of Torvik, I am changing up the rules. When everything is going wrong and you can't buy a win, what do you do? Double the bets! All picks count double from now on.

I'm taking Iowa and the points and the over this week.

Is Illikainen out?

I saw today Reuvers is still considering taking a redshirt year. After watching him in the exhibition I can see why. He needs body development and practice in the system, but I would like to see him play this year. We'll see what happens, but it got me to thinking about Illikainen.

Reuvers is behind Happ, Thomas, and Van Vliet at this point, and maybe Ford too. It's not clear that he is behind Illikainen. Illikainen did not show anything special in the video I saw of the Australia trip. I didn't hear anything about him against Missouri, and while I didn't see the N Iowa game, his line was telling. In a game the Badgers dominated, he was 1-2 for 3 points and had  2 rebounds in 8 minutes, with 3 fouls and 3 turnovers. He wasn't any better against UW-Stout with 0 points, 2 rebounds, 1 foul and 2 turnovers in 6 minutes.

Last year I floated the idea that a sophomore Badger big man should redshirt. That didn't happen, and now it looks more likely that Illikainen would transfer than redshirt as a junior. Thomas seems destined to be the physical presence we need when Happ is on the bench. Van Vliet may be a chucker, but at least he has some confidence, unlike Illikainen who looks scared every time he is on the floor. Not many minutes left for the remaining 3 guys, and at this point Ford looks to be the first guy up to get a crack at those minutes.

It's really too bad. Maybe he turns it around and gets in the rotation, but it doesn't look good. In his first 10 games as true freshman he showed tons of promise. Then his confidence went somewhere and it has yet to return. I know they haven't even played a real game yet, so there is plenty of time to turn things around, and an injury could open an opportunity at any time. Here's hoping he does better tomorrow night,  but if he continues to sit I'd be surprised if he wasn't gone by season's end.