Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wisconsin Sports Person of the Year 2014

I'm excited to announce that the winner of the 2014 Bart Torvik Wisconsin Sports Person of the Year is:

BO RYAN

Congratulations to Coach Ryan! This is the 13th year in a row that he has won the award.

Reached for comment, Coach Ryan said, "It's all about the players. But I can tell you that winning the Bart Torvik Wisconsin Sports Person of the Year is an honor that truly never gets old."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A-Rank final standings

I have finally got a chance to see every Big Ten team play, and several more than once so it is time to reveal the A-Rank predictions. First, a few observations. 

The Big Ten is not as talented as it it has been in the past couple years. This is still the Big Ten so there is plenty of talent, but it is not the clear cut best conference it has been. That was to be expected with the players who were were drafted or left early to follow NBA dreams (Stauskus, Vonleh, Payne, Harris, McGary, Robinson III, Ross, and Marble) and some other very good seniors graduating (Tim Frazier, Craft, Brust, Sheehey, Appling, Craword). Other than UW I don't see a team that looks to be playing a lot better than they did last season, but I see a bunch of teams that look worse. 

There are a fixed number of wins and losses in Big Ten play, so while several teams will be worse, they may have the same record due to the addition of Rutgers who looks awful. They will lose enough games to boost the other team's records. Maryland will be a good team, but not so good they balance out all the Rutgers losses. There is a remarkable balance of decent teams in the Big Ten and I almost decided to predict UW as champ and every other team except PSU, NW and Rutgers at 9-9.  This should lead to a lot of entertaining games, and a lot of teams on the bubble in March. 

The Big Ten has a very good group of freshman. With all the players leaving last season there are plenty of opportunities for young kids to play and several have taken advantage. The future is bright for the Big Ten as most of these kids look like they will play at least 2-3 years. The point guards have been especially impressive with several already starting or playing major minutes (Trimble, Robert Johnson, Nairn Jr, Nate Mason, Shep Garner, McIntosh, Tarin Smith). The star power is at the wing with Russell and Blackmon who are the leading contenders for Freshman of the year. Kam Williams and Chatman also look like future star scorers. There are few freshman big men and most are on Purdue with Haas and Edwards looking the best. There are a lot more freshman who may not put up big numbers, but will get very important minutes and have a chance to make a jump next year. 

On to the predictions.

UW- I was torn here but finally decided to go with 15-3. I almost went 16-2 because they get NW, PSU, Iowa, Minn, and Nebraska twice, but three of the singles are road games against MI, OSU, and Maryland. 
OSU- Hard to read as they have blown out a lot of bad teams, but I still think they are the leagues 2nd best team. The schedule gives them winnable single road games @NW and @PSU, and allows them to avoid @UW, @Nebraska, and @Maryland. 13-5
MSU- This might be the worst MSU team since the Drew Neitzel era, but like those teams, Izzo just won't let them miss the tourney. 11-7
Maryland-If this team gets healthy I think they may be the surprise team in the Big Ten and challenge OSU. They have yet to play with a full deck, but everyone should be back eventually. They get Rutgers, PSU, Indiana, Nebraska, and MSU twice. If Trimble, Wells, Layman, and Smotrycz all play they have 4 scorers. 10-8. 
MI- A lot of people are off the MI bandwagon ad predicting disaster after the consecutive home losses to NJIT, and EMU. This team lost a lot the last 2 years but the cupboard is not bare. Defense will be a problem all season, but they have enough scorers to win games. 9-9
Iowa- This team is not as good as last year's team, but a weaker Big Ten allows them to hold at 9-9. 
Illinois- I like the young kids on this team to step up and give this team a 2 game improvement over last season. 9-9
Nebraska- They had a magical run to finish the season and make the NCAA last year, but they will not surprise anyone this year. 9-9.
Indiana- I have softened on IU after seeing them play with the 3 returned players who were suspended. They are still bad defensively, but not as bad as I first thought. 9-9. 
Minnesota- I really like that Mason kid, but this team doesn't look any better than last years team. 8-10. 
Purdue- I like the young players on this team to help them improve over last year's disastrous 5-13 season. I won't be shocked if this team makes a tournament run. 8-10. 
PSU- Newbill will get hot and chuck this team into an upset or 2, and they'll win some home games against the mediocre middle of the Big Ten. 6-12
Northwestern- I hope I don't see any game they play other than the UW games. In addition to being bad they play UW, MSU, Iowa, MI and IL twice, Rutgers and PSU only once. 5-13
Rutgers- Also don't want to watch this team play again. 5-13

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Good day for T-Rank

I gather there was some news on the Badger football front yesterday, but I was too busy watching college basketball to care.

Last night set up an unusual situation for T-Rank: it picked against Vegas in the top two TTQ games on the schedule: Kansas at Georgetown (-2) and Utah at BYU (-2.5). Contrary to those Vegas lines, T-Rank picked both road underdogs to win, Kansas by 1 and Utah by 3. And they did (by 5 and 4, respectively). So that was nice.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A-rank Northwestern

Northwestern is my last team to watch play as it took a while to get some TV games. They won't be on TV much anymore for good reason. This team will compete with Rutgers to be the worst team in the Big Ten. They have 6 guys that get regular minutes, and then it gets crazy. In their last 2 games that were both close losses they went 11 and 12 players deep. A lot of the guys getting run are freshman, so this may benefit them down the road to get these guys some meaningful experience. I would normally say playing that many guys is stupid, but maybe Collins is just trying to find anyone that can play as the regulars are pretty bad.

Olah is the leading scorer and has been the best player so far. The junior is big but not very mobile, and can't help much on defense. He uses his size against smaller players inside, but won't be able to do so against better players. He does have an outside game as well and is shooting 47%FG. He is a capable rebounder on the defensive end with his size. Sophomore Lumpkin and is playing out of position for necessity. He would be better off at the 3 but NW needs to get his athleticism and their best guys on the court. He rebounds OK despite his smaller size, but will struggle there once Big Ten play starts. He is the only NW regular shooting over 50%. NW has 3 backup front court players in sophomore Taphorn, freshman Skelly, and senior Kreisberg that are all just minute eaters.

NW has played 3 players at the point but freshman McIntosh is the key guy. He started at the point until @Butler before coming off the bench in that game, but still played most of the game and leads the team in minutes. He is averaging 5apg, but also 2.5 TO/game, and is 2nd in FGA while shooting just 35%. That seems like a lot of usage for a player that isn't very productive until you look at how awful the rest of the guards are. Senior Sobolewski plays limited backup minutes although he got a start @Butler and played 15 minutes. He is shooting 33%FG which is actually better than the 26% he shot last year. Vasser has played very limited backup minutes and probably won't play much the rest of the year.

NW has 2 upperclassmen guards in Demps and Cobb who they need to score to win consistently. Neither is able to do that which is why NW continues to lose. Junior Demps came off the bench until @Butler but plays starter minutes. He is only shooting 34%FG, so NW might hope he can't keep shooting that poorly, except that he shot just 38% his first 2 seasons so it is probably a career long problem. Senior Cobb is even worse shooting just 29%FG and is just a 41% career shooter. Freshman Law is the 6th regular and is larger at 6'7" but very slight. He helps out the front court and is 2nd in rebounding, but is also not shooting very well at 38%FG. Freshman Lindsey has got some backup minutes and may get more as the season goes on if the veterans continue to struggle.

This team was terrible offensively last year and should be no better this year. They are currently shooting 40%FG as a team which is 290th in the country against poor competition. They will slow down the pace to limit possessions and will win a few games when they get lucky and hit some shots. NW seems to have some sort of weird magic as they always seem to pull off a road game upset despite not being very good. I don't think they win as many games as last season without Crawford to help the offense.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

T-Rank Note

In case you care, I've rejiggered the T-Rank algorithm a little. The changes:

1) Originally preseason ratings had an influence through 10 games. I've upped that to 13 games (or so - because, as I explain below, some games don't count as a full game now, preseason ratings will probably still have an influence till the 15th game or so for most teams).

2) I've rigged it so blowouts and mismatch are counted less than games between well-matched teams. I noticed that the Pythag of the upper teams was getting out of hand. For example, T-Rank was projecting Kentucky as likely to go 30-1 and 18-0 in conference. Those just didn't seem right to me, and de-emphasizing mismatches make the predictions look better to me.

3) This hasn't kicked in yet, but eventually more recent games will count more than old games. (Games within the last 40 days all count fully; games between 40 and 80 days ago drop down 1% per day; games 80 days and older are counted as .6 of a game.

I'm done tinkering with it for the year.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A-Rank Illinois

Illinois being toward the end of the A-Rank was partially due to the lack of TV games for me to DVR, but also because they are tough to figure. They have 5 returning freshman who played to varying degrees last year, and 2 transfers. In addition, one of the known quantities Senior guard Abrams got hurt and removed a player who surely would have been a starter. After several games it is becoming more clear which of these guys will play, but I'm still a bit uncertain about how good this team is.

Illinois has a 3 player rotation at center. Senior Egwu has filled out some, but is still not very physical. He does not have an interior game but has a good mid range jumper and has extended his range to the 3 point line. He blocks some shots but is not a great rebounder for his size. First off the bench is one of the 5 sophomores Morgan. He has played limited minutes in every game and didn't contribute much. Against Baylor he just didn't look like kid that is ready to play at this level yet. Last year and this year he has been a hacker. In his last 2 games against Indiana St and Baylor he has played 15 minutes and committed 8 fouls. Sophomore Colbert is the 3rd center and looks even less ready to play than Morgan. He did not get as many minutes as Morgan last year and will not be much of a contributor. He has similar issues with fouling, 6 games, 52 total minutes, 16 fouls.

On the other end of the spectrum IL has 2 point guards that split the minutes. Starks is a senior transfer who is short at 5'9" and very aggressive on the offensive end. He shoots the 3 well but does not shoot well overall. This was also the case at Oregon St where he shot 37% and 40% from 3, but just 40% and 39% overall in his 2 seasons there. He has been an efficient passer with 3.5 apg to 0.5 TO/game. His backup sophomore Tate is a very different player. Tate is a big point at 6'3" and is a much better defender. He is more of a true point and also passes well 3.3apg to 1.0 TO/game, but he is an atrocious shooter. He shot 26% from the floor last year and has somehow been worse this year shooting just 21%. He is 1-3 from 3 this year after shooting .043 last year (that's 1-23) ouch.

The middle is much better for IL. They start and play much of the game with 4 guards and they don't turn the ball over much. Senior Rice was an instant impact player last year after transferring from Drake, scoring the ball and rebounding well for his size. He is not an efficient scorer though, shooting about 43%FG in his career and less than 30% from 3 while taking about 4 3FGA/game. Sophomore Hill appears to have made the biggest jump of the 5, and is the only one in the starting lineup. He is much more confident and aggressive shooting the ball and getting to the FT line. I worry he will be limited because he is playing out of position. Against teams like Indiana it won't matter, but there will be a lot of teams that will guard him with a much bigger player and force him to guard one too. Transfer junior Cosby is the last starter and is just a shooter. He doesn't give you much else. Sophomore Nunn comes off the bench to provide some scoring. He is a better shooter than Hill, but is not as physical. He does not get to the line at all, and does not rebound much. Freshman Black has looked pretty good early in the season scoring and rebounding. He gives IL some size at 6'7" but has been foul prone.

IL has been a high volume team and is currently 5th in the country in scoring. Against Miami, IL has been doing what they do, jacking up shots and not turning the ball over. I don't think this works against good teams as they will wear IL down with size. IL doesn't get easy points in the lane or at the FT line, and that is not a recipe for consistent offensive success. I think this team looks like a lot of other Big Ten teams I have seen this year in that they are an OK team, but one that will probably be on the bubble come selection Sunday.

T-Rank versus Vegas 12.2

Since T-Rank predicts the score of every D1-D1 college basketball game, you might be wondering whether you should take T-Rank to Vegas and try to beat the house.

I frankly don't have the time to figure this out -- managing T-Rank eats up all my hobby time, and I am not a gambler. But I did look at the results over last weekend. There were 100 non-pushed games where T-Rank differed from the consensus Vegas line by at least a half point, and T-Rank's suggested pick covered in 52 of them. So that's 52% over a small sample size, and it tells us basically nothing.

I will tell you that my intuition is that T-Rank is useless for gambling, because the people who set the lines probably have something similar to but better than T-Rank, and they can adjust it to account for news like injuries, momentum, etc.

Of course when T-Rank and Vegas disagree by a point or so, I'd expect the results to be essentially random (particularly because T-Rank predicts scores in whole numbers).

But it might be fun to track the biggest outliers, where T-Rank disagrees with Vegas by a large margin. In those scenarios either the conventional wisdom is missing something or T-Rank is missing something. Usually it's going to be T-Rank, but it's also possible that T-Rank could be on to something for a given team. That's the only way I could see T-Rank being helpful to a gambler: if a certain team is consistently under- or over-performing, and T-Rank predicts it, that might be a sign that T-Rank sees something eludes human eyes. Unlikely, but possible. (And you can bet that the window of any such advantage would close very fast.)

So here are the top five games with the biggest "delta" between T-Rank and the Vegas line. Conveniently, three of them are B1G-ACC challenge games - and in each of those, T-Rank is pulling for the ACC. #bias


Matchup T-Rank Prediction Vegas Line T-Rank Suggests Delta
269 UT Arlington @ 7 Texas Texas, 90-58 (99%) Texas -23.5 Texas -23.5 8.5
125 Central Michigan @ 234 Bradley Central Michigan, 66-63 (64%)  Bradley -3.5 CMU + 3.5 6.5
14 Syracuse @ 29 Michigan Syracuse, 61-60 (51%)  Michigan -4.5 Syracuse + 4.5 5.5
47 Pittsburgh @ 80 Indiana Pittsburgh, 72-71 (51%)  Indiana -2.5 Pitt + 2.5 3.5
52 Minnesota @ 99 Wake Forest Minnesota, 65-64 (54%)  Minnesota -4.5 Wake + 4.5 3.5

Subjectively, I do not like Syracuse over Michigan (though a close game is by no means out of the question), and Wake has been so horrible this year that I'd hesitate to bet on them even at home without more points. Texas has an injured player, which might be effecting that line, and the top of T-Rank has frankly gotten a bit out of whack (next year I will probably adjust the system so that preseason ratings maintain more influence longer into the season to avoid this). The reversal of the CMU - Bradley line is intriguing, though.

Anyhow, I'll be following these games to see whether T-Rank looks like an idiot or a genius.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A-Rank Iowa

Remember 2 seasons ago, when a sophomore class of Aaron White, Oglesby, and Olesani combined with energetic freshman Gesell, Woodbury and Clemmons to make Iowa credible again. With Marble and UW transfer Uthoff, Iowa was suppose to make the jump to the contenders of the Big Ten last season but it didn't happen. They collapsed down the stretch losing 7 of their last 8 games including the first round games of the Big Ten and NCAA tourney. Iowa struggled against the best teams going 2-6 vs. UW, MSU, OSU, and MI. They also went 0-3 vs. the other good non-conference teams they played, Tennessee, Villanova, and Iowa St. This year's team doesn't look to be any better.

Iowa's strength is their size in the front court and senior Aaron White who is a fun player to watch. White is leading the team in scoring, shooting 59%FG and 85%FT while averaging 7FTA/game. He grabs 7.6 rebounds/game and is 3rd in assists. Iowa splits the center minutes between junior Woodbury and senior Olaseni. Both are steady and productive rebounding the ball and shooting a good percentage but neither have developed much offensively. Junior Uthoff is a good shooter and all around player but like this entire Iowa team, he is a bit soft. Freshman Uhl has got some minutes but has not shown anything to make one think he will be a contributor this season.

The back court has been absolutely terrible so far this year. If Iowa has any hope, it is that they cannot possibly continue to be this bad. Gesell is the rare player whose best season was his freshman year. It is really quite shocking. Each season he has had a decrease from the season before in minutes, FGA, FTA, 3FGA, rebounds, FG%, FT%, 3FG% and of couse, points/game. Clemmons is Iowa's answer for how to replace Marble. This is the same Clemmons who was benched at the end of last season, and was so bad he couldn't get back on the court during their collapse. Oglesby is a poor defensive player who gets on the court due to his ability to shoot the 3. His freshman and junior years he shot 37% and 40% 3FG, but his sophomore year he was 27%. He is shooting 27% so far again this year. Off the bench Iowa has sophomore Jok and JC transfer sophomore Dickerson who both play limited minutes. They don't bring any relief to the shooting woes as they are shooting 29% and 31% respectively.

I liked Iowa last year, but I am officially off the Iowa bandwagon. They recently gave McCaffrey a contract extension which is fine by me, as I don't think he is a very good coach. They have the look of a team destined for the NIT for the foreseeable future. I don't expect them to improve over last year and I think they will be on the outside of the bubble looking in this year.

A-Rank Maryland

Maryland is difficult to figure as they have yet to have a full team due to injuries. They have experience with 4 seniors, but also have 4 freshman in the rotation. After missing the first month of the season with an injured foot, Smotrycz made his debut off the bench, but will take some time to get his conditioning back. The game before Smotrycz came back, leading scorer Wells hurt his hand and will now miss about 4 weeks. The youngsters are getting an opportunity with the seniors out. Both should be ready by the start of Big Ten season and I think this team will be petty good.

Maryland has some size with 5 players in the front court. At center they have been rotating sophomore Dodd, and freshman Cekovsky. Dodd is a big physical rebounder and rim protector, but doesn't give much on the other end except offensive rebounding. Cekovsky is an international who appears to have a mid range game but is not confident enough to be very good this year. Smotrycz is a stretch 4 who hits the 3 at a good percentage. Junior Layman also has good perimeter skills and can play the 3 or 4. Senior Graham is a space eater and rebounder but offers little but fouls to use.

The back court will be  pretty strong once senior Wells returns. He has scored in double digits every year since transferring from Xavier and shoots a good percentage. He is not much of a 3 point shooter but was showing improvement in this area before his injury, albeit in a small sample size. He is joined in the back court by freshman Trimble who is on the short list for Big Ten freshman of the year. He takes most of his shots from 3 and shoots a good percentage, but has also been successful in getting to the line. Pack is a senior transfer who has started at the 2 and has not played well. I can't see him continuing to get as many minutes if he doesn't improve. Both freshman Nickens and Wiley look good and will provide depth at the 2+3. They will be solid players in years to come.

Maryland should be OK in their first season in the Big Ten, once they get healthy. They have 4 legit scorers in Wells, Trimble, Layman and Smotrycz. They like to play up tempo and will have chances to do so against many Big Ten teams. They have plenty of size to bang with the bigger teams, although there aren't a ton of teams with quality size in the Big Ten this year anyway. They look like a team that can make the NCAA, although they may be on the bubble.

A-Rank PSU

PSU looks a lot like the other PSU teams of recent years. They have a very good perimeter scorer, but no one else who can score. They have some unskilled bigs to give them size, but they often don't play them in favor of smaller more skilled forwards who suffer by playing out of position. The defense is not very good even when they leave in the bigs, and the offense is ugly because they have a ball stopper as the only scorer. This team is not as unskilled or ugly as Rutgers, but I don't see how they will be any better than last years team.

PSU has a 3 headed center rotation, but they also go small sometimes and play 2 forwards and 3 guards. It's a tough spot because they get bullied without one of the centers on the floor, but all 3 are liabilities on the offensive end. Junior Jack gets the start and plays about half the game. He is not very big, strong or skilled. His primary role is to let Travis and Taylor play the 3+4 instead of the 4+5. PSU brings junior Dickerson off the bench and he has legit size at 7' and 240lbs. Like many 7 footers his only talent is his size. The 3rd center is the freshman Moore who may be an effective player in a couple of years but will not be very useful this year.

PSU has 2 versatile forwards if they are able to play them at forward. Travis is a senior and is the more physical inside player of the 2. Taylor is the junior and has more perimeter skills but is also a good rebounder. Neither one offers much in terms of post up offense, and as a result neither gets to the free throw line very much. I feel like PSU would be better offensively if they got these 2 more involved, but their attempts are limited by Newbill and the other guards.

Newbill is the best scorer and shoots the ball a ton, but he also can play point. It's hard to argue with him hogging the ball so much as his production is pretty good (25ppg, 3.1apg, 49%FG, 82%FT 50%3FG). PSU starts a freshman Garner at the point who looks like he could be the next PSU scoring guard. His opportunity to play as a point is limited because Newbill controls the ball so much. Senior Johnson is a back up guard and is a mediocre shooter/player. Sophomore Thorpe has improved from his freshman year and should provide some depth at guard. He does not appear to be anything special but should give them some backup minutes.

PSU will live and die with Newbill as is the case when one player so completely dominates the offense. He has already had a game in which he attempted 33 shots, and has taken 50 more shots than any other player on the year. That's an average of 7 more attempts/game then the next guy, and he takes about 30% of the total team FGA. Newbill will have hot games and PSU will win some of those, but they just can't win consistently playing that way. This team will be fortunate to make the NIT, but should make a lesser post season tournament.