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.