Monday, December 26, 2016

Big Ten Season Predictions

Big Ten conference play starts tomorrow, including a couple of surprisingly important games (Northwestern at Penn State, Michigan State at Minnesota). Time to get our picks in for the record.

Before I do that, an aside. Before the season I had two bold predictions: (1) Michigan State would be a bubble team, and (2) Wisconsin would win the Big Ten by at least three games. I feel pretty good about one of those. A guy can dream for the other.

Now let's take a look at what T-Rank is saying:

Rk Team Rec
10 Purdue 14-4
12 Wisconsin 13-5
17 Indiana 12-6
29 Michigan 11-7
32 Minnesota 11-7
40 Northwestern 10-8
43 Ohio St. 9-9
55 Illinois 8-10
68 Maryland 8-10
67 Michigan St. 7-11
83 Iowa 7-11
86 Penn St. 6-12
93 Nebraska 6-12
95 Rutgers 6-12

If that came to pass, we have the top six Big Ten teams in the tournament, with Ohio State, Illinois, and Maryland on the bubble, and Michigan St. on the outside looking in. You can also see the (relative) strength of the bottom of the conference this year, with even Rutgers projected to win 6 games.

Here are the T-Rank title odds:

And here is the T-Rank WinMatrix™

Finally, my subjective predictions:
Wisconsin 14–4
Purdue 13–5
Indiana 12–6
Michigan St. 11–7
Michigan 10–8
Northwestern 10–8
Ohio St. 10–8
Minnesota 9–9
Maryland 9–9
Illinois 8–10
Iowa 7–11
Penn St. 5–13
Nebraska 4–14
Rutgers 4–14

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Questions for Big Ten Season

We are quickly approaching the Big Ten regular season, and with a good number of games in the books I think it is time to make some predictions/answer some questions.

The Big Ten hasn't had a ton of surprises so far. I think most people thought either IU, Purdue or UW would win the Big Ten and none has done much to dispel that notion. The middle of the league is not as good as in recent years, but they aren't terrible. MSU, OSU and MI all look like they will be pretty decent. IL, NW, Maryland, and Minnesota could make a run, and Iowa, Nebraska, PSU, and Rutgers will round out the bottom. Here are some questions and some answers about the league.

1) Who wins it? And what's the record?

2) Which team will be a surprise contender for the championship come March?

3) Is Minnesota for real?

4) Is there a team from the bottom that will make a run to the bubble?

5) Any of the dregs have a chance?

1) I am betting on a split title this year. UW and IU at 14-4. I think Purdue comes up a game short.

2) I'll go with OSU. I don't have much of a reason for this, just a guess. MSU has talent, but as we discussed they seem like a team that ends up on the happy side of the bubble, but not in contention. OSU has a tough 5 games to start the season, but if they make it through with 2-3 wins they are set up for a long winning streak before another tough stretch to close. OSU has only 4 games vs IU, Purdue, and UW with 3 at home, so I think the schedule sets up to give them a chance.

3) T-Rank currently has them at #33 overall, and #5 in the B1G just behind MI, with a predicted 10-8 conference record. I have seen them play parts of games a couple of times, but don't have a great feel for them. Lynch and Curry have given this team enough athletic size that they can compete. I have always liked Mason, and they have enough guards to score, but I doubt they have enough defense to stay this high for much longer. We will find out quickly in the conference season if I am wrong. They have 5 of the first 8 on the road, and home games vs MSU, OSU, and UW. A 6 or 7 win season seems more likely. That's not too bad though, considering where I thought they would be before the season started. Maybe Pitino deserves another year.

4) I think MSU, OSU, and MI will be firmly in the NCAA conversation at seasons end. They may not all make it, but they should all should all at least be on the bubble. Anyone else? NW seems to be a popular pick, but I'm not sold they are there yet. They look better than Minn, but not much better. I don't think Ill is much better either, but they only get IU, UW, Purdue, MSU and OSU once each with 3 at home. Malcolm Hill is a very good player and they have some size. I doubt Ill gets in, but they are my pick to get to .500 or better and make the committee think about it. Maryland is probably the smarter choice here, as they are 11-1, and have a similar schedule playing MSU, PU, IU, UW, and MI only once. I think this is not a very good team and probably ends up 8-10 and off the bubble. I doubt Torvik disagrees, as he is always a Maryland hater.

5) Nope. If I was being forced to pick one, I guess it would be Iowa. They have some young players that are a couple years away from being good, but maybe with lots of early minutes they get better quickly. Jok could go off and win a game or two by himself.

What do you think Torvik?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Question of the week

Is Michigan State Fucked?

MSU has sputtered to a 5-4 start, however in many ways this is no different than past MSU seasons where they struggle early with a tough schedule. MSU has 4 losses to quality teams and none of these games were at home. They lost in the final seconds against AZ, and vs top 10 teams Kentucky, Baylor, and @Duke in games where they were ahead or competitive through half time. I'm not sure you would call any of them good losses, but they weren't embarrassing either. MSU also has some decent wins against St Johns, Wichita St, and Florida Gulf Coast (albeit in controversial fashion).

Throw in a 50 point blowout against MVST and MSU doesn't look so bad, until we get to Oral Roberts. MSU beat OR at home 80-76 in a game that was in doubt right until the end. OR is not good at 1-7. They have posted some respectable losses vs power conferences, but they also have 20+ point blowout losses to Loyola (Chi), Montana, and Oakland. Worse yet, after years of rebounding dominance, MSU was outrebounded in this game 38-37. Bridges didn't play in this game due to injury, but he will return. The same probably can't be said for Shilling or Carter, neither of  whom may play this season. Against OR, MSU's tallest starter was Goins at 6'6".

The bright side of the OR game was the other freshman who all played over 20 minutes and all had career highs in points. Ward was the go to guy and responded with career highs in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. Bridges will be back, and if these 3 can continue to play well, MSU can get a lot better. MSU is very young with 7 freshman and sophomores in the 11 man rotation so there is lots of room for growth. There's also a possibility Shilling joins the team sometime late, infusing some rebounding and toughness.

Most of the time when you look at a team's schedule for "key stretches" you are looking for a bunch of tough games together where a team can show what they are made of. In MSU's case I would argue the key stretch for them is now. They have 4 non-conference games at home followed by 5 winnable B1G games (home and home vs. Minn sandwiched around home games vs Rutgers, NW, and PSU). 9-0 and MSU can breath a bit easier. 6-3 and MSU is probably out of the tournament.

Unfortunately I think MSU gets things straightened out, but I'll be rooting against them all the way. What say you Torvik?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Don't worry about Michigan

There's an idea out there that Michigan would get into the playoffs ahead of Wisconsin even if Wisconsin beats Penn State tomorrow in the Big Ten Championship game and either Clemson or Washington loses.

I'm not going to get into the subjective debate about which team is actually better, or actually more deserving—that's a black hole. I'm going to tell you why I'm confident about what I think the committee would actually do.

First, the current rankings mean almost nothing. They exist to provide #content for a television show and to provide fodder for sports-talk radio and television. We know this is true because we were alive in 2014, when at this time of year TCU was slotted into the #3 spot in the rankings and Baylor (its fellow Big 12 co-champ, who beat TCU head-to-head) was ranked #6. Then, with both teams idle during championship week (more on that later) TCU magically dropped to #6 and Baylor moved up to #5.

Second, the committee chairman's comments mean nothing. He is just producing #content, the more Delphic the better. Take a look at what Jeff Long said when trying to justify TCU at #3 back in 2014. He said they were #3 because the committee felt "they were an improving team." Then they had a bye week and fell three spots. Apparently they had a setback during the bye week, stopped improving? Nope—you were just a sucker for watching that meaningless show and thinking it meant anything.

Third, we know that the only extent to which the current rankings matter is to provide narrative justifications for the changes they will make next week. What I'm talking about here is very specific: one of the few specific guidelines the committee is supposed to consider is conference championships. (Jeff Long in the clip above: "Championships are certainly what we are supposed to consider.") So what we've seen every year so far in the penultimate rankings is that teams in championship games have been placed behind similar teams that are idle. And in every case the idle team fell behind the team that went on to win its championship game:

Ohio State ranked #5 behind idle #3 TCU; moves past with win.
Florida St. #4 ranked also behind idle #3 TCU; moves past with win.

Stanford ranked #7 behind idle #6 Ohio St., moves ahead with win (despite having one more loss).
Michigan St. ranked #5 behind idle #3 Oklahoma, moves ahead with win.

Teams that win conference championships have always moved ahead of idle teams ranked directly ahead of them, and the penultimate rankings have always been engineered to allow for this move. That's all you need to know, in my opinion.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


After a bad first half, UW rallied against Minnesota to earn me the first push of the season to get to 8-3-1. UW is now 9-2-1 against the spread. They are a 2.5 point favorite against PSU and the over under is 47.5.

The Big Ten Championship has been all over the board. 2 games were decided by just 3 points, 2 games were utter blow outs, and 1 was won by a comfortable 10 point margin. The first 4 were high scoring affairs with anywhere from 58 to 101 total points scored, but last year's game was 16-13.

These 2 teams have remarkably similar resumes. UW has has a tougher strength of schedule, but PSU has the best win, over OSU. Both teams have 2 losses, but UW has 2 close losses @MI by 7 and vs OSU in overtime, while PSU lost @Pitt by 3, but got obliterated @MI 49-10. In their 6 games against common Big Ten opponents (OSU, MI, MSU, Iowa, Minn, Purdue) the point differentials are almost the same- PSU 211-146=65  UW 157-96=61. Both teams are on winning streaks with UW at 6 consecutive wins while PSU is at 8.

UW goes into this game about as healthy as they have been this year with the same O-line starters for the past few games, and Biegel, Jamerson, and Sagapolu should all play. I'm taking Bucky to cover in this one yet again.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Question of the Week

Who you got in the Big Ten-ACC challenge Torvik?

After getting whipped for a decade, the Big Ten has won 5 of the last 7 and tied the other 2. Is this the year the ACC finally breaks through and gets a win?

As in recent years the ACC seems to have an advantage in several of the top matchups, and should be heavy favorites in some others. There are more than enough games down the league to make this interesting enough to go either way, but the ACC starts out looking good.

Matchups predictions are:

Minn @ FSU- FSU
Wake Forrest @ NW- NW
Pitt @ Maryland- PITT
Georgia Tech @ PSU- PSU
Syracuse @ UW- UW
MSU @ Duke- Duke
Iowa @ ND- ND
Purdue @ Louisville- Purdue
Rutgers @ Miami- Miami
Nebraska @ Clemson- Nebraska
UNC @ Indiana- NC
Ohio St @ Virginia- Virginia

I got the ACC this year at 8-6.

Friday, November 25, 2016


2 centers, 2 point guards and a bunch of wings in between. Thad has just one senior on a team that didn't really lose anyone important from last season. That is a lot of returning minutes with a still pretty young team.

Lyle is a huge point at 6'5 and he is backed up by the smaller fellow sophomore Jackson. Lyle has the size and skills that make him a possible all Big Ten team player, but he was maddeningly inconsistent as a freshman. For example, he had 9 games in which he scored at least 18 points, but he also had 8 games in which he scored 3 points or less. He averaged a team high 4.2 assists/game, but also 3.0 turnovers/game. He shot 40% overall, and just 25% on 3s which he shot too frequently. So far this season he is taking better shots, and turning the ball over less. If that holds up as the competition gets tougher, then the Buckeyes will be in for a good season. Jackson is a JC transfer and has been more of a facilitator. He has 25 assists to just 7 turnovers, but has hit just 2 of 15 shots so far.

OSUs offense works best when they have a big man they can dump the ball to while they space the floor with 4 shooters. They have not had one since Jared Sullinger left town, but they have a nice list of highly recruited disappointments- Amir Williams, Trey McDonald, and Daniel Giddens. They currently have a 2 center rotation with junior Trevor Thompson and freshman Micah Potter. Thompson appears to be in the mold of the centers of the recent past- very big but just serviceable. Potter may develop into a post up center, but at this point in his young career he is just a space eater.

The wings are where the fun is and OSU always seems to have lots of them. This season is no different. The only senior is Loving who was kind of disappointing as he moved into a leading role on last years team that had no seniors. Perhaps the expectations on him last year were unfair, but he has regressed even more so far this year. He is certainly lower in the pecking order than juniors Tate and Bates-Diop. Those two combine to be a high flying, high energy duo that are fun to watch. They both rebound well and play defense, but are lacking in the shooting department. Williams is the final guy in the rotation, and I know he is more of a guard, but in this offense there is really not much difference. He was once considered a combo guard, but he is a black hole shooter as evidenced by his just 1 assist in 5 games.

When OSU has a center they are final 4 quality program, but without one they are just OK. Despite going 11-7 in Big Ten play last season they missed the tournament as they only had one quality win against Iowa in Big Ten play, along with some bad losses in non-conference. This team looks better and should be back in the dance. Prediction 12-6.


Now that the Cubs have won the World Series, will Chicago's Big Ten team become the city's most lovable losers? Maybe, but then someone in Chicago would have to actually realize they had a Big Ten Team. Northwestern has finally given hope to whoever does care, that they can make it to post season play. I am on board with this team in so far as they are an improving team and program, but this is not an NCAA team. They are pretty much a 8 man rotation, and they are still an undersized group, while not as much as in the past.

This team runs a 3 man rotation in the backcourt, with juniors McIntosh and Lindsey both playing over 30 minutes a game. Promising freshman Brown comes off the bench to give them a break. Brown is a bit of a quicker guard who is 3rd on the team in FTA despite only playing 16 minutes a game. Lindsey has good size for a 2 guard and scores in a variety of ways. He is also 2nd on the team in rebounding and assists. He has taken a jump in year 3 filling the role Demps played last year. This is McIntosh's team, as it has been pretty much since he stepped on the floor as a freshman. He is a creative scorer and distributor and is a fun player to watch. If there was any doubt whose team this was it was answered against Notre Dame. With less than a minute to go NW was down one and McIntosh was a horrific 2-17 on the day. There was no doubt the shot was going to be McIntosh's and he made it. NW lost the game, but it was a solid effort against a good team, and clear to all that McIntosh is the best player on the team.

The front court looks different with the graduation of long time center Olah, and the return of Vic Law. Olah has been replaced by sophomore Pardon, who is a smaller player but more athletic. He is more of a shot blocking threat and a solid rebounder, but he does not pose the post up threat they had with Olah. Vic law is back and leads the team in scoring, which is partly driven by shooting an unsustainable 70% from 3 on 20 attempts. Even with a reversion to the mean on that, Law is an offensive force as he also leads the team in FTA. Lumpkin is the 5th starter and is a defensive player. He gives them rebounding and defense while playing undersized at the 4 spot. Skelly and Taphorn get regular minutes off the bench to rest the other 3, but neither offers much. Both are more comfortable shooting a 3 than a layup, and are there for rest, fouls, and rebounding.

Northwestern is lacking in size and athleticism which makes the disappearance of Aaron Falzon quite puzzling. He was a major contributor as a true freshman averaging 25 minutes a game, but after spending the first few games getting minimal minutes he has been a DNP in the last 3. I don't follow NW enough to know if there is an injury, or if he is just in the doghouse. If he has fallen out of the rotation based on skill it would be a bit of a setback for a program that was bragging about him as their highest rated recruit in a long time just last year. 6'8 athletes that can shoot don't fall in Northwestern's lap very often, so if he doesn't pan out it could be trouble for them.

This team has made strides and they are no longer embarrassing to lose to. They have a rough schedule this year playing IU and Purdue 2x, and against UW, MSU, and OSU on the road only. If they get one win in those 7 games it would be a victory. I think they win a lot of games vs the rest of the league and finish 8-10, same as last year.


MSU is still a team trying to figure things out, and they probably will be for quite a while. They are currently running an 11 man rotation while Izzo decides what will work. This team was going to be a very different team than last season with the loss of Valentine, Forbes, Davis, and Costello, but injuries have thrown Izzo another curveball. While he lost size from last year, he had 2 talented freshman in Bridges and Ward coming in who would fill the minutes. With Shilling, and Goins coming back and the transfer Carter, Izzo had 5 bigs to mix and match while playing a lot of 3 guard line ups too. Then Shilling and Carter got hurt, and it's hard to say if either will play anytime soon or at all this season. MSU is now very small.

Bridges is the gem of the recruiting class and is likely a one and done guy. He has great size (6'7 230lbs) and athleticism for a 18 year old kid, and can shoot and handle the ball. If not for the injuries, Izzo would have loved to play him at the 3 and move him to the 4 in 3 guard lineups. Instead he is playing the 4 next to an undersized, and inexperienced Goins. Goins gives them little on offense, but he's a solid rebounder. It's just weird to see an MSU team with no starter over 6'7. Ward gives them size and scoring off the bench. The freshman is a load inside and is very active on the offensive end. He is averaging 10 ppg in under 15 mpg, and gets to the free throw line regularly. He uses that size to rebound well, but much like Issac Haas he just can't move that size well enough to stay out of foul trouble. Izzo has also been forced to play Ahrens and Van Dyk in the front court- 2 guys that would not be playing at all if not for injuries.

If the frontcourt seems like a mess, the backcourt is worse. At least the frontcourt has 2 talented freshman that are contributing right now. The backcourt has a mix of upperclassmen who just aren't that good, and underclassmen who aren't quite ready to be major contributors. Harris is the only returning starter from last year and while he was effective as the 3rd perimeter option behind Valentine and Forbes, he has not been effective as the lead dog. Nairn Jr has reclaimed his role as starting point guard as he leads the transition offense, but he is non-existent in the half court. In 7 games he has only 22 FG attempts and 3 free throw attempts. When you already have an offensive void with Goins, it's very hard to win with a second in the starting lineup. When the other senior Ellis III was a freshman, I thought he was an athletic kid that wasn't ready to give them more than 5-6 minutes of mediocre backup minutes. As a senior he is about the same.

There is hope for the backcourt. There are 3 highly rated recruits that all look like they will be very good players. They may improve enough by the end of the year to be getting major minutes, I just don't know if Izzo has enough time to win with them this year. McQuaid is a true sophomore shooter. In limited minutes as a freshman he shot 41% from deep. This year he has taken 31 of 36 attempts from 3. His game is limited at this point, but his shooting will space the floor for Ward and Bridges inside. Winston is the PG and he can score and create, but like most young guards his shooting needs work and he turns the ball over too much. Langford is the 2 guard who should be a great scorer, but he fouls too much and needs to be better handling the ball.

So Izzo has early season injury problems, talented players that aren't meshing, and MSU is struggling against a non-conference schedule that is among the most difficult in the nation. Sound familiar? In a normal year I would say that Izzo will find a way and finish in the top 3, like MSU always does. This year, I'm not convinced. This is still a team with a probable top 10 NBA draft pick, and some other good players, so the floor is only so low with MSU, but I think this team is closer to Michigan and OSU than it is to Indiana, Purdue and UW. I think the freshman play more and more as the season goes on, and as always this team is way better in March than in November. Prediction 11-7.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Spare me the Crean Paeans

Indiana lost to Fort Wayne (formally IPFW) last night. The game was in Fort Wayne, at the War Memorial Coliseum. So not on campus, but still a regular haunt for Fort Wayne. Close enough to count as a true road game for Indiana.

Starting with Fort Wayne's coach's magnanimous comments in the post-game interview, people have been heaping praise on Tom Crean for having the guts to schedule this game. He didn't have to do this, they say. Good on him, they say, for taking this chance.

Spare me.

Before last night, Indiana had not played a non-conference road game—other than mandatory games in the B1G/ACC challenge — since playing at Evansville on November 16, 2011. That's over five years without a voluntarily scheduled road game.  Five years: zero voluntary road games.

By comparison, Wisconsin played nine voluntary road games in that span:

12/13/2011 at Milwaukee
11/14/2012 at Florida
12/8/2012 at Marquette
11/15/2013 at Green Bay
12/6/2014 at Marquette
12/10/2014 at Milwaukee
12/22/2014 at Cal
11/29/2015 at Oklahoma
11/15/2016 at Creighton

The Badgers did it three times in a single year (2014), while Crean has now scheduled four, total, in his nine-years at Indiana: Fort Wayne, Evansville, and Kentucky in 2010 and 2008.

This is not bravery. To be fair, Crean has reason to be scared: he actually hasn't won a non-conference road game since beating NC State a couple weeks after that fateful night in Evansville in 2011:

Overall, Crean is 2-7 in non-conference road games at IU, and before last night his losses had been by 25, 18, 12, 19, 17, and 20 points.

For the record, Wisconsin is 9-8 in non-conference road games in that period, including six wins in the five years since Indiana's last win:

Monday, November 21, 2016

UW Minnesota

I am now 8-3 after UW covered again last week. UW is on quite a streak having covered 9 of 11 games this season. UW is a 14 point favorite over Minnesota and the over/under is 44.

Minnesota is kind of interesting. They have 8 wins, but only one against a team that is above .500- Colorado State who is 6-5. They have lost all 3 games they have played against quality opponents, but 2 were on the road and they lost all 3 by no more than one score. So who is Minnesota? Are they the team that just barely beat Rutgers by 2 at home, or the team that lost by 3 in overtime @PSU?

Minnesota has a stout run defense giving up just 116 yards/game on the ground. The pass defense is not as good at 235 yards/game. Minnesota is 16th in the country with 33 sacks, but against Iowa, Nebraska and PSU they totaled only 2. They also lost or tied the turnover battle in all 3 of those games.

I don't think Minnesota will win this game, but can they keep it close with solid run defense like they did against Iowa and Nebraska? 14 points would be Minnesota's biggest loss of the season x2. Minnesota is the highest scoring team in the Big Ten West at 228 points in conference play, but I don't think this holds up against the UW defense.

I am going to keep riding the hot hand. UW wins and covers.

Debacle in East Lansing

Michigan State beat Florida Gulf coast by one point last night. But game was marred on the final play—a full court pass—because the clock started when (or even before) the pass was released, rather than when it was first touched on the court of play:

Watch Bo Boroski there at the bottom of the screen. You can see him tap his belt, and start the clock as the ball is released—an inexcusable fuckup.

This GIF may be somewhat deceptive in that it looks like the TV clock started even before the actual game clock (displayed behind the basket). But even so, the game clock clearly hit zero, the backboard was lit red, and the horn started to sound, even before the pass was caught:

Upon hearing the horn, the FGCU player heaved the ball at the basket, rather than take a dribble and shoot, as he was the plan and as he should have had time to do. Instead, the desperation heave got nowhere near the rim.

Everyone watching, including the announcers, all the players, and all the officials immediately knew there had been a complete fuckup. They went to the monitor, but Boroski bizarrely decided to take a stop watch and see if the FGCU player got the shot off in time (even though he missed) and to see whether any time should be put back on the clock—even though no one kept playing because the horn had sounded and the MSU player under the basket just let the ball bounce off him and go out of bounds. You can see Eron Harris with his hands in the air celebrating while the "shot" is in the air because it was obvious the horn sounded before the shots was taken:

Amazingly, the Big Ten has issued a statement saying this was the proper procedure. This cannot be right. The clock struck zero and the horn sounded before FGCU even had the ball. This is a fixable error: since the clock struck zero and there was a horn before the ball was even in play, the play never happened. Just like if the clock had started and run out while the ref still had the ball.

But Bo Boroski was ready to call it a night. I say he should go ahead and call it a career.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


OK, I have now beat last year's 2 posts. As is my tradition, I won't spend a lot of time on crappy teams. Nebraska is a crappy team. I'm not much of a Tim Miles fan. I thought what he did 3 seasons ago with Petteway, Shields, and Pitchford was a lucky season. The fact that they returned to their past cappy ball the next year with the same guys confirmed I was right. Nebraska's Big Ten win totals except for that one magical year are 6, 5, 5, and 4. Expect more of the same.

Nebraska lost its top 2 scorers from last year and now features Tai Webster as the primary scorer. Yikes. He is the lone senior on a team that has 4 sophomore starters and 3 other freshman in the 10 man rotation. That is usually not a good formula for a team that was already bad. Nebraska will struggle to score this year and should lose in some spectacular blowouts.

The 4 sophomores are Watson Jr the PG, and 3 forwards McVeigh, Jacobson, and Morrow. McVeigh is a perimeter guy who takes more shots from 3 than 2. The other 2 are both interior guys. Watson Jr continues the trend of PG at Nebraska that can't shoot. As a group, I guess they have some potential to be OK in 2 years, but there is no one that stands out as a future star.

Gill is a Louisville transfer that couldn't get minutes there, and hasn't cracked the starting lineup at Nebraska. Taylor is another transfer guard that is coming off the bench. I don't think great things can be expected of either. This is no Petteway transfer situation here. The freshman class does have size. Tshimanga is 6'11 (and bulky), Roby is 6'8, and Horne is 6'7, but they are all too young and not ready to be contributors this year. They will play because Miles doesn't have anyone else, but they will struggle.

Prediction 4-14.


Indiana was one of the few teams I wrote about last season, and I opened my final paragraph with- I like this IU team, so I just wonder how Crean will fuck it up.

Turns out he didn't fuck it up and IU won the Big Ten outright, and that was even after losing Blackmon to injury before the Big Ten Season began. I have only seen parts of 2 IU games so far, but I don't see any reason this team can't be just as successful. This will be a different team than the one that was dominated by Yogi last year, but they are very talented.

How do you replace a great player like Yogi? The cliche answer is that you don't replace him with one guy, and that everyone needs to step up. In this case, that is exactly correct. IU does not have a point guard that is ready to step into Yogi's shoes and replace his production. IU does not really have a point guard period. What they do have is 4 combo guards that can all shoot, score, and initiate the offense. IU looks to have a 10 man rotation that they can sub with regularly. We'll see if that holds up over the course of the season, but that's where they are now.

If there was any doubt who would get the ball in end game situations like Yogi did last season, it was over after game 1. Against Kansas Blackmon scored 22 of his 26 points after half-time including 7 of IU's 14 points in overtime. He is an elite level scorer and if not for 3 knee surgeries in his young life he would probably be in the NBA right now. He seems to have returned to form, and has to be a favorite for Big Ten player of the year. IU also has Johnson back from last year, transfer Newkirk, and freshman Jones who will run the team. Of the 3, Johnson is the most point guardy (I know that's not a real word) and the best player of the 3 right now. They fill out the backcourt with another freshman Green and a JC transfer McSwain. Too early to figure out how the minutes shake out.

For most teams, a backcourt headlined by Blackmon with a bunch of other good players would be the strength, but IU has an incredible front court. The known coming back is Bryant, who upset fans all over the Big Ten when he stupidly decided to stay in school instead of going pro. Now we have to watch him kick ass all year. It is really hard not to love this guys game. He posts, he runs, he passes, and he's not a black hole. He has energy and leadership on the court. He will also be in the running for Big Ten player of the year. The difference here is the growth of Anunoby from last year, when he played a backup role to Bielfeldt and Williams. He has grown more confident and aggressive both with the drive and the jumper. He is very athletic and can defend multiple spots. Morgan has also grown and should be a big contributor, just not quite as much as Anunoby. They also have a highly regarded freshman in Davis who should give them quality depth.

I don't see any reason why this team doesn't at least share the Big Ten Championship. Prediction 14-4. Unless Tom Crean fucks it up.


Going to get up as many posts about Big Ten teams and their personnel as I can. Doubtful I will get through all the teams as I have in the past. I think last year I only got to 2, so I'm going to shoot for more than 2. I haven't seen every team play yet, so I'll start with a team that looks a lot like last years team and has played some meaningful basketball. Hopefully as we get to the holiday tournaments and Big Ten-ACC challenge there will be enough games to get a better sense of some of these teams.

Michigan lost a lot of players but brings back the core of last years team. Lavert graduated but he only played in 15 games last year anyway. Lost to transfer are Chatman, Albrecht, Doyle and Dawkins, but none was a major contributor with Dawkins leading the way with 15 minutes per game. Michigan is running a 9 man rotation, and is playing bigger than in years past. They seem committed to playing 2 forwards this year when they have run a lot of 4 guard lineups in the past.

The backcourt is solid and familiar. Returning are 3 upperclassman guards that all played more than 28 minutes a game last year. Walton Jr, Irvin, and Abdur-Rahkman will lead this team in scoring in some order. Irvin and Walton dominate the ball and Abdur-Rahkman plays off the ball more. It's the final run for Walton Jr and Irvin and they will be in the conversation for 3rd team all-Big Ten at the end of the year. 2 freshman back them up in highly ranked PG Simpson, and Watson, a bigger SG. Neither looks like an instant superstar but they won't need to be with 3 veteran guards in front of them. In the Marquette game Walton Jr sat for most of the first half with 2 fouls, leaving Simpson to play his most minutes. However Abdur-Rahkman brought the ball upcourt most of the half, and Irvin dominated the ball in the halfcourt. In 18 minutes Simpson had 2 assists and 2 turnovers with only 1 shot attempt. The freshman should improve as the season goes on, but they just need to give the other 3 a rest at this point.

The frontcourt is the biggest change for this years MI team as they are actually playing more than one big guy. DJ Wilson has emerged as a major contributor playing the 4. He gives them an athletic forward unlike anyone they have had recently. As a sophomore he played in just 24 games averaging less than 7 minutes per, but he is averaging 30 minutes a game this year and has moved into the starting lineup. He is also off to a great start on the defensive end, averaging 9.5 rpg and 2.5 blocks. The other starter is sophomore Wagner, but he plays fewer minutes than senior Donnal. Wagner is a big space eater, but is not very mobile. The fourth frontcourt player is Robinson, who still plays more like a guard, taking most of his shots from 3 and not giving them much in defense or rebounding. Donnal and Robinson look like the same players they were last year- offense first guys who will extend a defense to the 3 point line.

Playing bigger usually leads to better defense. Big guys rebound and their presence clogs up the driving lanes, so just having them often helps the defense. MI may be better on defense this year but not drastically so, as Wilson is the only one of the 4 forwards that is a good defensive player. Last year MI was 10-8 in the Big Ten and barely made the tournament. They struggled against bigger teams and didn't have a lot of quality wins, but they beat up the bottom of the league. They went 8-0 vs bad teams, and snuck out a couple wins against Maryland and Purdue. The key this year is an 8 game stretch that starts in Mid Jan and includes 3 home and homes vs UW, MSU, and Indiana with a game vs OSU too. I expect this team to be about the same as last years team, prediction 10-8.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

New T-Rank Stat

I added a new stat to the schedule section of each team's "T-Page," which I'm just calling "Team +/-" in lieu of something else occurring to me.  This is a basketball version of a football stat, as far as I know invented / popularized by Chase Stuart at, where they call the stat "Game Script." Noted Badger fan Nuclear Badger suggested the idea of bringing this stat to basketball, and we got it done.

In a nutshell, the stat is a team's average lead or deficit over the course of a game. For example, the Badgers' loss to Creighton the other day was a back-and-forth affair for much of the game, so even though the final score was Creighton by 12, the Badgers' average deficit over the course of the game was actually just 1.7 points.

On the other hand, Marquette lost to Pitt yesterday despite having a significant lead for most of the game. So, even though they lost by 3 in the end, their Team +/- for the game was actually significantly positive, at 2.6.

So this is kind of a cool "game control" stat that sheds some more light on the result than just the final score.

Perhaps as importantly, doing this stat has made me finally get around to start harvesting play-by-play information, which should open up the possibility to do some other interesting stuff as well. The only problem with play-by-play is that it is somewhat unreliable and it isn't available for every game. (For example, note that I currently don't have PBP for the Michigan / Marquette game above. But still, it'll be nice to have.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Badgers vs. Creighton in gifs

After fighting back from and 8-0 deficit and taking a 26-20 lead last night, the Badgers went very cold from the field, missing 11 straight threes. It started with Trice missing an open three after a great find from Iverson:

At least that play ended with an offensive rebound that was eventually converted into a layup by Happ. The Badgers led 28-20. It would be their biggest lead.

The Badgers continued to play patient, frankly beautiful offense against an overly aggressive and shaky looking Creighton defense. Here, Creighton aggressively doubles Charlie Thomas in the post, and a second later Nigel Hayes gets a wide open three thanks to a clever Showalter screen:

Again, a ludicrous doubling of Charlie Thomas leads to crisp ball movement and an open three for Alex Illikainen:

Showalter breaks down the D off the dribble and drops it back to Illikainen for another wide open three:

Now things get a little nutty, with Charlie Thomas hanging out on the perimeter. But still, an open three for a capable shooter after an ineffective double team in the post:

Koenig breaks down the D off the dribble, gets triple-teamed, wide open three for Thomas again:

The only questionable shot in this sequence is Koenig off the dribble. My guess is he was sick of watching other people miss:


Showalter gets into the lane and dishes to Illikainen for another open three:

Creighton D running around aimlessly leads to open three for Showalter:

Wide open three for Nigel Hayes after Jordan Hill draws a lot of attention down low:

Vitto Brown also missed an open three in this period but my recording of the game flaked out for that.

That's 11 open threes, all missed, most of them great shots, most of them the result of nice offense against ineffective defense.

Hit four or five and the game is probably won. Oh well. Keep shootin', boys.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

UW Purdue

Dropped to 7-3 after last week. UW is now 8-2 vs the spread. UW is a 27.5 point favorite and the over/under is 49.5.

Well, UW has got that running game in gear and Purdue looks a lot like IL. Only one point more than last week, so I'm betting on a repeat. Taking UW and giving the points.

Friday, November 11, 2016

College Basketball is Back! And so is T-Rank!

Actually, T-Rank never left.

But if you haven't been paying attention to it the offseason, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised, as I've added a bunch of features:

Player Stats—Filters and Leaders since 2010.

One of my projects this summer was to backfill T-Rank, and it now goes back to the 2008-09 season. This includes advanced player stats, though only to 2009-10.

On the Player Finder page, you can look for leaders in various categories in various years, or all time. But the coolest thing (IMO) is the ability to filter out by stat, so that you can look for, say, freshmen in high-major conferences who had a steal rate of at least 4%, and offensive rebounding rate of at least 10%, and a defensive rebounding rate of at least 20%:

It's Ethan. Just Ethan.

Once this season goes live, the 2017 player stats will update in real time.

Game Stats—Filters and Leaders since 2009

Similar to the Player Finder, the Game Finder allows you to look for games matching basically any tempo-free criteria you can imagine. For instance, want to know which B10 teams have scored at least 1.5 points per possession in a Big Ten game since 2009? Here they are:

(At some point I'll probably set this up so you can link to the results of your filtering.)

Team Stats

There's also a specific new page for looking at team leaders in the Four Factors and a few other statistical categories. This, too, is backfilled to 2009. For example, wondering which team had the lowest turnover rate in 2015?

You probably weren't—it was obviously Wisconsin.

These stats can also be filtered by conference and by conference-only stats.

Generate conference championship odds T-Rank WinMatrix in real time.

On the conference pages, you can press the "show odds" button, and T-Rank will simulate that conference's season 50,000 times and show you the results. You can also go the separate Conference Odds page to do the same thing and get a linkable result.

NCAA Tourney Stats

Want to compare tourney results since 2002 by team, by coach, or by conference? T-Rank has you covered.

Generate adjusted efficiency rankings over specific periods or against specified quality of competition.

You already knew about the H-Rank (ranking of every team by their performance over the past 10 games) and Q-Rank (ranking the teams by their performance in "tournament quality tests"). But now using the T-Rank Slice page you can specify your own periods of time to look at—here's last year's results starting at Jan. 1—or by specifying your own cutoff for quality games—here's a look at last year's results against top 25 quality competition. You can even combine them!

T-Ranketology Returns

Friends of the blog know that I tediously overfit T-Ranketology to last year's results. So this year you'll get a full season of tracking your team's tourney chances in real-time. Or you can even tweak the inputs and create your own T-Ranketology

T-Rank Time Machine

This is actually pretty fun. The T-Rank Time Machine lets you go back and look at T-Rank on a specific day during the past two seasons. 

For example, here's Wisconsin on Jan. 12 of last season, when things were looking bleak. If you click through to the conference page, it will even let you run the conference odds as of that day. Notably, T-Rank gave Wisconsin less than a .1% chance of continuing their top-4 steak at that moment. Do you believe in miracles?

So there you go, lots of fun stuff to play around with duing the 2016-17 College Basketball season!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Made it to 7-2 this season against the spread, guaranteeing I'll finish at least .500 (if UW has 14 games including possible Big Ten Championship and bowl game). UW is also 7-2 against the spread. Bucky is a 26.5 point favorite this week and the o/u is 39.

Illinois is a bad offensive team. They are 80th in the country in rushing at 163 yards/game, and are even worse throwing at 113th place and just 164 yards/game. Their best showings were 52 points against Murray St, and 31 against both MSU and Purdue, all terrible defensive teams. Illinois has played a tough schedule. They played UNC and undefeated Western MI in the non-conference season, and have played Nebraska, MI, and Minn so far in Big Ten play. They lost all those games and scored 23, 10, 16, 8, and 17 points.  It's hard to see IL scoring more than 10 against a great UW defense.

Illinois is also terrible on defense. They only gave up 3 to Murray St, and 7 to Rutgers, but they have given up no less than 31 in any other game. Add that in with the offense and this is how you end up with a 26.5 point spread in a conference game when the favorite only averages 23.8 points per game.

Other than the blow outs against Akron and MSU, UW has not scored more than 23 points in any game this year. Granted those games have been against some good defenses, but UW is not an offensive juggernaut. They have a lot of freshman playing including starting 2 on the offensive line. I think they win this game comfortably, but I'm not sure they score 5 touchdowns. If they pitch a shutout they probably cover, but I'm taking IL and the points this week.

Monday, October 31, 2016


6-2 after picking against Bucky last week to cover. Bucky now falls to 6-2 in covering the spread. This week they are a 6.5 point favorite and O/U is 41. So this is generally where it all falls apart. The reversion to the mean seems inevitable, but this is the year I'm going to beat Vegas.

Northwestern put up big points in 2 shootouts vs MSU and Iowa (54 and 38), but has been pretty ordinary on offense the rest of the year. They have not scored more than 24 in any other game. They started off the year with a one point home loss to Western Michigan which now looks fine since Western is 8-0 and ranked in the top 25. Losses to top 10 Nebraska by 11 and OSU by 4 also don't look so bad. If they had won the rest of their games they would look quite formidable.

Then there is the loss to Illinois State. State is an FCS team, and not a very good one at 4-5. This loss was not some crazy fluke either. State overcame a 2-0 loss in turnovers, and lost penalties too 9-89 to 6-70. The crushed NW in total yards 372-277. Northwestern was terrible in this game on offense, scoring just 7 points on a 4th quarter TD by going for it on 4th down.

Hard to see how Northwestern scores against a UW defense that has not given up more than 17 points in regulation this season. But then, this is UW vs. NW, and strange things always seem to happen. Remember the fumble when Barry was running out the clock, or even the Peavy TD last year that for some reason wasn't a TD.

I plan to be drinking like a college boy for this one at 9am in the cold morning air of Evanston. I feel like my drunken shouting will be the difference in this one. I'm taking Bucky, and giving the points.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A legendary sequence REDUX

Since Vine is going away, thought I'd post here for posterity's sake a gif of my one quasi-viral Vine:

As you know, Adam, I was always a pretty big Bill Murray fan. I even ran two separate "Bill Murray for President" campaigns: one in 1996, which involved chalking up Bascom Hill with various slogans ("It's a Cinderella Story...") and one in 2000, which involved plastering the University of Minnesota Law School with "Bill Murray for President" posters.

Alas, those days are gone. Now Bill will forever be "sad Xavier fan" and hopefully soon also "sad Cubs fan" to me...

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

UW Nebraska

5-2 after Bucky covered again last week. Bucky is now 6-1 vs. the spread this season. They are 8.5 point favorites against Nebraska and the season long trend of respecting the UW defense/disrespecting the offense continues with an over under of 43.

Nebraska is a fraud. Their 7-0 record and #7 ranking are based on them beating up on the Bag of Deplorables of college football. Hard to say what their best win is. Maybe 5-2 non-power 5 Wyoming, maybe @4-3 Northwestern, or maybe @3-4 Indiana. Those are the best options. I won't get into who the worst team they beat is.

Bucky has been on the happy side of some Nebraska whoopings lately. If Bucky covers Saturday it will more likely be of the variety we saw last week at Iowa. Bucky's D is getting more and more banged up. They will at least be without their starting nose guard, nickel corner, and now Cichy is done. They may have 2 freshman starting on the offensive line if Maxwell can't go. This may be the week the injuries finally catch up with the Badgers.

I like Bucky to win at home in a nail bitter, but I'm taking Nebraska and the points.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

UW Iowa

4-2 after UW covered again. UW is a 3.5 point favorite on the road and the over/under is a measly 42.

I have mostly rode the Badgers this year and they are 5-1 vs the spread. Both of Iowa's losses this year came at home, and they haven't faced a defense like Bucky yet this year. UW almost got the offense uncorked last week when they had over 300 yards in the first half vs. OSU #2 ranked defense.

I'm going to keep riding the Badgers and give the points, but I'm very uncomfortable with this pick. Weird things seem to happen when UW plays Iowa or Northwestern, and I can see this game as a 7-6 final or a 38-28 final.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Michigan State's struggles are good for Wisconsin

After losing just four regular-season games over the past three seasons, Michigan State has now lost four games in a row, starting with Wisconsin's win in East Lansing last month. The Spartans still have to play Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State, so things are looking bleak.

I have to admit I have a bit of a soft spot for the Spartan football team, because their program is similar to Wisconsin's in a lot of ways. Not flashy, usually underrated, etc. Obviously familiarity breeds contempt, so I still hate their guts. But it's a respectful hate.

The reality, however, is that Michigan State's struggles are probably a good thing for Wisconsin, even if it means that Michigan—a truly evil program—benefits by reestablishing unquestioned dominance in the state of Michigan. Wisconsin and MSU compete for recruits in a way that Wisconsin and Michigan do not. One can dream, but it's unlikely that Wisconsin will ever really challenge Michigan in recruiting.

So the worst situation is a strong MSU program that regularly humiliates its in-state rival, thus amassing the cache to beat out Wisconsin for the 4* recruits they compete for, while Michigan still uses its institutional advantages to still come in and cherry pick 5* guys out of Wisconsin's natural recruiting territory. That's basically been the situation for the last five years or so.

A better situation is that Michigan definitively supplants State, and State becomes a perennial also-ran behind Michigan and Ohio State in the East. Meanwhile, Wisconsin can lay claim to being the superior program in the West, and pitch the opportunity to regularly play for championships. That way they can dominate MSU in regional recruiting, and have at least a chance at warding off the heavy-hitters on Wisconsin's home recruiting turf.

So, upon reflection, I will revel without remorse in Sparty's downfall.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Back on the happy side with UW covering against michigan to go to 3-2.
OSU is a 10 point favorite and the o/u is 44. This matchup looks a lot like last week. 2 very good defenses, and probably a low scoring affair. There's a chance OSU is really, really good and totally blows UW out, but I think the home field helps keep this close.
I'm taking UW and the points.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Will a Badger Sophomore Redshirt?

Usually when a player takes a redshirt, it is because they are a freshman and need time to build strength, develop a skill, or are just buried on the depth chart and are biding their time until they will have more opportunities. The Badgers have used the redshirt rule liberally over the years, as they have often had a core of upperclassmen waiting to eat up most of the minutes. Brian Butch redshirted despite being the most heralded Badger recruit in years.

Most of the time when a redshirt occurs after the freshman season it is due to a medical redshirt when a player gets hurt early in the season. However the Badgers have used the redshirt for non-freshman for the same reasons as above. Most notably this occurred with Duje Dukan, which allowed him to develop enough to be a contributor on the best Badger team of all time. It also occurred with current Badger Jordan Hill, who played as a freshman, redshirted as a sophomore, then played last year as redshirt sophomore.

The Badgers had several freshman last season that at least contemplated a redshirt, but none did (although Pritzl was later granted a medical redshirt after reinjuring his foot in the non-conference season). The Badgers had to deal with the loss of Van Vilet due to academic reasons, Pritzl due to medical, and Dearing due to transfer shortly after the season started. This left them with just 9 scholarship players last year, including no seniors and 4 freshman. With so few bodies those freshman had chances to play, and while some could have used the year to develop, none turned down the opportunity to play.

This year could be different. The Badger had a lot of questions last year beyond Hayes, Happ, and Koenig. Both Brown and Showalter were question marks going in, and if they had not improved so much could have been surpassed by a younger player. Both are now firmly entrenched as starters and should get major minutes. The bench will need to be sorted out, but I don't see how there are enough minutes to go around for all the big men, barring injuries.

In the backcourt things are more simple. Koenig and Showy will start, and since Pritzl and Hill have both used their redshirt already, they have to play. Throw in that Gard likes to play some 3 guard lineups and there should be enough minutes to go around. If Trice is good enough he could take minutes from either backup, or could redshirt. Since this post isn't about freshman redshirts I'll move on the the frontcourt.

Hayes, Happ, and Brown will all start and should all play a lot of minutes. Hayes played 36 minutes per game last year and it's hard to see that going down much. Of the 3, Vitto played the fewest minutes per game at 25, so it's hard to see how there will be enough minutes for the rest. That includes Iverson, Thomas, Illikainen, and Van Vilet. You could also throw true freshman Aleem Ford into the mix here, but I'm assuming he will not be ready to be a major contributor this year. Let's look at each of the 4.

Van Vilet- Seems very unlikely to redshirt. Having not seen him play or practice it is hard to say how good he is, but rumors indicate he can play and will be ready to this year. How much is hard to say, but I can't see him redshirting after sitting out all of last year due to academics, and spending 2 full seasons not playing.

Iverson- Seems very unlikely to redshirt. Having seen him play all last year he looks like a star waiting to explode. He led the freshman other than Happ in games played, and minutes played. He will be buried this year behind Hayes, but he should get opportunities because of his defense. He can guard 3 or 4 positions, and if he has developed any kind of jump shot he could play a lot.

Thomas- Possible, but not likely. Thomas was not your typical freshman at UW last year. He came in with the grown man body that most kids need 2-3 years to develop. He also has a decent jump shot for a man that big, and does not lack the confidence to let it go. He played a lot early when Bo was still coaching, but got fewer minutes once Gard took over and played more smaller lineups. He does need to work on post moves of which he showed none last year, but he could have worked on that this summer. Since physical development is not needed, a redshirt seems unnecessary. This only happens if the other 3 kids have moved so far in front of him on the depth chart that no minutes are likely.

Illikainen- Possible. Illikainen was the closest to redshirting last year, but with so little depth last year he ended up playing in 33 games and getting almost 10 minutes per game. He looked good earlier in the year when he was shooting the ball with confidence, but struggled with that shot as the season went along. He showed pluck in defending the post against bigger players, but you could see he was outmuscled sometimes. He has had all summer to bulk up, so maybe he won't need the time to get stronger. I think it's possible that he ends up as the best player in the 2015 class 4 years from now, but right now I think he's the most likely to redshirt.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

MI next year

While Bucky didn't win in the matchup with MI this year, I had fun in my first trip Ann Arbor for a game. After the game the MI fans were quite nice. I stayed in the downtown area, so maybe if I would have wandered over more toward campus it would have been different. I heard a lot of: that's the best defense we will face all year, and go beat OSU.

I could not help myself from starting to think about next year's matchup. Earlier this year I blogged about how crazy young this Badger team was and how they bring back so much talent next year.

That got me thinking about MI and the game next year, and who MI would be bringing back. Not much is the answer. 8 of 11 starters on defense are seniors, and 9 of 11 starters on offense. It gets worse, as 13 of the 22 in the 2 deep are seniors on both offense and defense. That is a lot of seniors to lose. By the way, that doesn't include losing underclassmen to the pros, of which MI should have at least one- Peppers, the best player on the team.

I can already hear the MI folks saying that MI doesn't rebuild, we reload. In the 2016 draft, OSU had 5 first round picks, and 12 players drafted overall. They currently sit at #2 in the country and look like a playoff contender one year later. While MI has upgraded their recruiting, they are not OSU. MI will take a hit from losing all those players.

WI is better than MI. In regards to the matchup next year I quote the immortal Bart Scott.
"Can't Wait"

Top 10 vs. Top 10

When Bucky played #8 MSU this season both teams were ranked in the top 10 (Bucky was 10 in coaches, 11 in AP). Big games when both teams are ranked in the top 10 are rare during the regular season. Even very good teams with very good schedules often only get one of these games a year, maybe 2. 

For example:
Alabama, despite probably being in the top 10 all year, will likely only have 1 top 10 regular season opponent all year- Texas A&M.
MI and OSU both will play top 10 UW, and will play each other so they could both have 2. 
Louisville got Clemson and FSU in the top 10, but with Houston's loss today they will likely finish with 2 top 10 matchups. 
Washington's whooping of Stanford will likely be their only Top 10 matchup of the year. 
Clemson's defeat of Louisville will likely be their only matchup this season.

It's hard to stay in the top 10 all year, especially when you are playing other top 10 teams. Bucky has had 2 of these games already with the MSU game and against #4 MI when UW was #8. With Houston and Tennessee losing today, UW should return to the top 10 prior to the #2 OSU matchup giving UW it's 3rd such matchup of the year. If UW were to pull off an upset over OSU, and beat Iowa on the road, (also no small feat) they could then have a 4th top 10 matchup if Nebraska were to defeat Indiana and Purdue in the next 2 weeks (no large feat). Mind you this does not include UW's win over #5 LSU because Bucky was not ranked at the time. 

At worst, UW will have 3 Top Ten Matchups this season. What a great fucking season.

While it seems unlikely, UW could also have a Top 10 opponent in a Big Ten Championship game, and another in a Bowl game, or maybe 2 in the playoff. 7 Top 10 matchups for UW is theoretically possible in one season. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

How much do unbalanced conference schedules matter? Not much.

One of the many downsides of the trend towards mega-conferences is the death of the round-robin conference schedule in basketball. The resulting unbalanced schedules raise the distinct possibility that regular season conference championships will be decided by quirks of scheduling fate rather than talent and coaching tantrums directed at referees as God intended.

The Investigation

But how much difference do unbalanced schedules actually make? To find out, I looked at every season since 2008-09 and used T-Rank to calculate each team's:

1) Expected wins against the conference schedule it actually played;
2) Expected win percentage against a true round robin, and used this to calculate expected wins based on actual number of conference games;
3) Expected chance of winning a share of the title against actual schedule;
4) Expected chance of winning a share of the title against round-robin schedule.

The differences between 1 & 2, and 3 & 4 show the effect of an unbalanced schedule, though in slightly different ways. So I looked at both.

First, the conclusion

Overall, the data is pretty clear that unbalanced schedules are rarely extreme enough to be decisive. By far the dominant force in college basketball is variance, and that's why we love it. All the data is available here.

An Extreme Example: Wisconsin 2016

Let's look at the results for Wisconsin last year as an example.

Expected wins against actual schedule: 10
Expected wins against balanced schedule: 10.8
Chance of winning title against actual schedule: 1.8%
Chance of winning title against balanced schedule: 4%

Obviously, the Badgers got a bad draw last year. Indeed, the -.8 wins is the second most difficult schedule in the entire database. But it's hard to say that even this extreme schedule had much of an effect on anything. The Badgers finished a full 3 games behind Indiana. Even accounting for Indiana's favorable schedule (+.34 expected wins) the Badgers still finished 1.86 adjusted games back:

Team Wins EW Diff Adj. Wins Actual EW Blnced EW Actual Ch% Blnced Ch% Ch% Diff  Adj GB
Indiana 15 0.34 14.66 13.4 13 29 22.4 6.6 0
Wisconsin 12 -0.8 12.8 10 10.8 1.8 4 -2.2 1.86
Michigan St. 13 0.22 12.78 14.5 14.3 61.9 56.6 5.3 1.88
Iowa 12 -0.59 12.59 11.3 11.9 6.3 10.8 -4.5 2.07
Maryland 12 -0.37 12.37 11.5 11.9 6.8 11.8 -5 2.29
Purdue 12 -0.2 12.2 13 13.2 23.3 25.7 -2.4 2.46
Ohio St. 11 0.23 10.77 8.3 8.1 0.1 0.1 0 3.89

Perhaps more importantly, the Badgers were an extreme long-shot to win the title under a balanced schedule (just 4%) and while the unbalanced schedule cut those long odds by more than half, it's still hard to complain too much about that.

The few examples where it made a difference

Now for the fun stuff: Looking for examples where an unbalanced schedule actually made a difference. First, I looked for teams that didn't win the title and finished less than .5 "adjusted games back." Here they are:

Team Year Conf Wins EW Diff Adj. Wins Actual EW Blnced EW  Adj GB
Coastal Carolina 2014 BSth 11 -0.22 11.22 10 10.3 0.43
VCU 2012 CAA 15 0 15 14.3 14.3 0.47
Dayton 2009 A10 11 -0.46 11.46 9.7 10.2 0.48

So just three teams over 7 seasons finished less than .5 adjusted games back, and even these three barely cleared the .5 threshold.

VCU is an interesting one because their schedule actually did not disadvantage them compared to a balanced one. The problem was that that the Colonial champs that year, Drexel, had a very favorable schedule, worth +.53 wins. Most importantly, Drexel only had to play VCU once, and that game was at Drexel. This is when an unbalanced schedule can be really unfortunate: when there is a clear top two that play only once, the team that gets the home game has a big advantage.

The other way I looked at this was to calculate likelihood of winning a championship. I think this is less good than looking at the "adjusted wins" because it's entirely hypothetical. For example, Wisconsin vastly outperformed expectations in conference play last year -- winning 12 games when T-Rank would have expected a team of their quality to win only 10 on overage. As it happened, Indiana also won two more games than expected. But if they'd won 13, as expected, it would have been fair to say that their easier schedule and Wisconsin's harder schedule combined to rob UW of a championship. But if you just look at the simulated difference in Championship expectations (4% vs. 1.8%) for Wisconsin, that doesn't show up.

That said, here are the five teams whose championship odds were negatively affected by 10% or more:

Team Conf Year Wins Actual Ch% Blnced Ch% Ch% Diff GB
Mount St. Mary's NEC 2010 12 37.1 53.9 -16.8 3
VCU CAA 2010 11 28 43.5 -15.5 4
VCU CAA 2012 15 48.6 60 -11.4 1
Syracuse BE 2013 11 12.9 24.3 -11.4 3
Butler A10 2013 11 15.1 26 -10.9 2

VCU's 2012 team shows up again, as does its 2010 team. But the 2010 team illustrates the downside of this purely hypothetical analysis: that team actually finished in a tie for 5th pace, a full four games behind Old Dominion. Similarly, each of the other teams (other than 2012 VCU) finished at least 2 games out of first. So although all these teams definitely got screwed by their schedules, they didn't perform well enough to really feel sorry for them.


So the overarching conclusion is that most of the time unbalanced schedules are not that big a deal. But a couple caveats:

1) The conclusion that unbalanced schedules don't really affect conference championships doesn't mean that there aren't other effects. Clearly, a tough schedule can easily cost a team one win, and it's not that unusual that one win is the difference between making the NCAA tournament and sitting at home. Pertinently, the 2010 VCU team noted above has a good claim to losing one win based on a bad schedule. That team ended up losing in OT to Old Dominion the Colonial Tournament Championship game, and didn't make the tourney -- despite being No. 51 in Kenpom. It was the next year that VCU snuck into the tournament, as a First Four participant, despite a significantly worse profile, but rode Almighty Variance to the Final Four.

2) Although most schedules are balanced enough most of the time, this is only true in the end. It's still very important to look at who's played whom at a given point in the season. For example, Indiana got a lot of flack about its Big Ten schedule last year, even though in the end it was just marginally favorable. But the real issue was that their schedule was extremely unbalanced temporally, with a very soft 7-game stretch to start. That was a legitimate thing to point out at the time, even though IU continued to surprise even when things got tougher, and cruised to the title in the end.

3) I haven't looked into this systematically, but the trend does seem pretty clear toward more extreme results recently. This is not a surprise, as the rise of the super-conference is relatively recent, and is still in progress. So although we haven't definitely seen it yet, we likely will see an unbalanced schedule decide a major-conference championship soon enough.