Saturday, January 28, 2017

Head Games

Daylight turns into night
We try and find the answer, but it's nowhere in sight
It's always the same, and you know who's to blame
You know what I'm saying, still we keep on playing
Head games

First of all, Foreigner Rocks. 

Second of all, I hate the stupid NBA 3 point line being on the court in college games. UW kids can’t handle the head games. College kids are either too stupid, or too egomaniacal to pretend like it isn’t there. All it takes is the presence of that line, and they feel like they have to shoot the ball from NBA range.

By my official count, the badgers launched 18 of their 25 3PA from NBA range or with their feet on the NBA line. They shot 4 more from well behind the college line, and only 3 from what would be considered a normal college 3. I’m not totally making this up. I went through my DVR of the game and took photos of every 3 point shot. Most look like this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or this:

I won’t put up every photo, but there were way too many long threes, especially for a team that only made 3 of 25. UW eventually stopped messing around, launching 0 3PA in overtime, while they made 5-6 FG.

One more thought from an ugly game I almost wish I didn’t watch. Was tonight Happ’s coming out moment. You may remember Frank set a Badger record with 43 points vs. North Dakota in an early season game in his Junior Year. After that, Frank wasn’t always dominant, but it was the coming out moment from which his dominance started. It was his team after that day. That team was loaded with good players, but it was Frank's team. Happ is not the same player, and is only a Sophomore, but I feel like this was his coming out moment. 

After setting a career high with 28 against Minnesota, he set another with 32 vs. Rutgers. Both games on the road, and both wins in OT. Most important, after the Badgers were down 9 with three and a half minutes to go, Happ scored 8 of the final 13 Badger points, including the basket with 2 seconds left to tie. On that play he could have handed off to Bronson, but Bronson was guarded pretty well, so Happ just backed his guy down and took him. Happ then went on to add 7 more points in overtime, outscoring Rutgers by himself 15-13 in the final 3+ minutes and overtime. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Committee

Seems like everyone is putting in their 2 cents about changes to the NCAA tourney selection process this week. Since the committee is meeting soon to discuss the process, and put on a TV show so they can make more money, I want to make sure they have my valuable input. I do realize that when it comes down to it, all they really care about is making money, so that will in the end be the determining factor despite my wise advice. From what I read on the interwebs, the committee may revise the metrics part of how they pick the teams and seeds. The demise of the RPI, and the birth of a more advanced metric system to determine what teams get in will be the beginning of a new era where fairness rules over the process.

As you may have guessed by now, I don’t care that much about this. I think the process as it is right now gets everything basically right. You can certainly quibble about team 68 getting in over team 69, or a team getting seeded a couple too high or low. In the end, they all have to win 6 games against good to great basketball teams, and start seeded pretty close to where they should. As for team 69 that doesn’t get that chance, there isn't any system that will not result in a subjective decision between a few teams with very little difference between them. The idea that using advanced metrics will result in significantly different outcomes on selection Sunday is silly. It’s even more silly to think any changes will lead to a better tournament.

Now that I have cleared all that up, I can dive into this, as I don’t really have any problem with changing the metrics that the committee uses, I just don’t have expectations that anything will be different or more fair.

Part of the problem lies with the committee and that they tell us they want to get the “best” teams into the tournament, without telling anyone what "best" means. This is frustrating since there is no way to know why something like overall strength of schedule is valued over top 50 wins or vice versa in any given year. Much of the recent debate seems to be focused on a pretty good indicator of “better”, the margin of victory, and why that should or shouldn’t be used to select and seed teams. Especially as it relates to just victories, and the inevitable example of Maryland.

Coaches will game any system to give themselves any advantage possible as that is their job, and they are all crazy competitive. The RPI is gamed now, and to think that coaches won’t game any new system is naive. It’s not hard to take this to the extreme conclusion that coaches will play starters longer, run up scores, and do whatever unsportsmanlike actions they have to in order to get a higher seed. You can even go to the extreme of a team being down 3 at the end of a game, and taking the easy 2 and losing, because it will close the margin of victory over a higher risk 3 point shot that would tie. Seems crazy and it is, but the discussion of should wins matter more than margin is interesting.

With the system as it is, both wins and margin matter, but some would like to see margin matter more.  I don’t like that much. It seems strange to value a metric like margin of victory over wins to select and seed teams in a tournament where each game is single elimination where margin means nothing. It values having “better” teams over having a better season, which bring us back to the example of Maryland. Maryland has recently had great seasons (measured by wins) without having great teams. 

Maryland has been winning lots of close games in recent seasons to the chagrin of advanced stats people. They don’t blow out bad teams that they probably should if they were as good as their ranking indicated, but all those close wins don’t hurt rankings much. I concede this leads to Maryland getting into the tournament/seeded higher than they should be, and I think that is good. I think teams should be rewarded for having a great season as defined by wins (close or not). Having a great season should matter over being a great team. If I wanted to watch a college football playoff game with the 2 teams playing the best, I would have seen USC play Alabama. USC was playing unbelievable football at the end of the year, but they lost 3 games during that season. I don’t want the National Champion to have 3 losses, because wins should matter, even if USC was incredible by the end of the year. In the great words of Herm Edwards “You play to win the game”.

If you have made it through these rambling thoughts, I’m sorry I can’t give you those few minutes of your life back to you. Take heart in that it doesn’t matter, the committee pretty much gets it right anyway, and that’s good enough in an imperfect world. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Quick trigger

Someone at ESPN was a bit quick on the trigger tonight. OSU won with a last second shot, but this (below) was on the site right after the win:

2016-17 Big Ten Standings

Michigan State4-20.512-7
Penn State3-31.511-8
Ohio State1-53.511-8

Monday, January 16, 2017

WI is better than MI

Saw a tweet today that during Beilein's time at MI he is 2-15 vs UW. I checked Amaker too, and he was surprisingly better, but still a losing 4-6.
So, since the 2000-01 season, MI is a combined 6-21 vs. UW.

WI is better than MI.

The inbound

Much of what Greg Gard does is similar to what Bo Ryan did. Makes sense, since he was Bo's assistant for his entire career, and why fix what ain't broken. Some of the wrinkles Gard has added have been major, like the experiment with the 3-2 zone, (I hope it will RIP) and some minor. One of the little things he added was a change to the inbound play when under your own goal. 

This was always a rather annoying play for fans under Ryan, for pretty stupid reasons. The play often started with some screening action toward the rim that almost never resulted in someone getting open. Even if they did, they wouldn't get a pass unless it was 100% open, as Ryan did not want any turnovers, period. Then after waiting about 4 seconds of the allotted 5, the inbounder would throw the ball out past half court to a guard who would run it down. The play always came close to a 5 second call which made fans edgy, but they almost never got the 5 second call. On occasion a defender would intercept the long inbound, and this would lead to a transition opportunity, but again this was a great rarity. 

This was a very reliable way to get the ball inbounds without turning the ball over, so Bo used it almost exclusively. From a fan's perspective, (in a league with Izzo, who runs all kinds of inbounds plays with great results) it was an area that just looked like UW should be better in. This is a rather stupid fan opinion of which I occasionally agreed with, to my detriment. When you already have an offense that is spectacularly efficient at running half-court offense, you don't need to design a bunch of schemes to get open shots off the inbounds. Just get it in, and run your normal stuff. Also, don't doubt Bo. 

I do like what Gard has done with the inbounds play though. The play is similar in that it is very safe, with an extremely low turnover percentage, but has some advantages over the chuck it deep play. It starts with a guard as the inbounder, and the other 4 players basically in a box formation. One player is right under the rim, another (which is always a big, usually Happ) is on the baseline to the outside of the inbounder. The other 2 stand somewhere between each elbow and the 3 point line. 

It looks like this:

The inbound is designed to get it in right away to the big on baseline. The player under the hoop commands the attention of his man for obvious reasons. Having a man under the hoop also tends to have the man guarding the inbounder shade to the hoop to take away any chance at an easy pass under the hoop. The 2 players at the top are far enough away that they draw their man out of the action. The defender guarding the baseline player has to maintain defensive position between him and the basket. This leaves the space to the corner wide open. Since this player is always a big, they just have to create a post position with their body so the space to the sideline is open as they step away from the basket. 

The badgers will occasionally run a back screen with the player under the hoop screening a defender at the top to open a cutter to the hoop. It's a nice wrinkle, but they don't do it often. They usually just get it in to the big on the baseline. This is followed up by the inbounding guard running around the big with the ball, who can either do a screen/handoff to the guard, or keep the ball as the guard continues through to the 3 point line.

It looks like this:

Why is this better than the chuck it in deep play?

1)    While both plays result in a very safe, low turnover rate pass being thrown, in the event of a bonehead mistake on the pass, the turnover is on your side of the floor, so it won’t result in a runout transition play.
2)    With the chuck it in deep play, the ball is received on the other end of the floor from your basket. It takes 5 seconds or so to gather the ball, get it across half court and initiate the offense. By inbounding to the baseline and running the handoff, you are already in your offensive set. You have your triangle all set up with the player at the top who can down screen and go to the post, or you can just let the big with the ball go right to work in the post on the wing, or the guard can take the ball and reverse it to the other side of the floor.

I know it’s not a major difference, but I like the change.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Fun with Game Script

Bart has added game script (aka average scoring difference) to the team's T-Rank pages.  I took a look at two different things with game script just for fun:
1) Does T-Rank's prediction line do a better job of predicting  the final score or two times the average scoring difference.
2) Are particular B1G teams doing better in the final score or the average scoring difference.

These numbers are for the B1G games through 12 January. The reason I use 2xgame script is because if a team is steadily increasing their margin throughout the game, the average scoring difference will be essentially 2x the game script.

First - T-Rank's prediction line is doing significantly better predicting the final scoring difference than   2x the game script. For 13 of the 14 B1G teams, the final scoring difference is more closely predicted, although for two teams it is essentially the same. Even the one team that leans more towards game script is very close. This makes sense - the T-rank prediction line is focused on the final difference, not the vagaries of the score on the way to the final score.  However this is something I just wanted to check and we have the data.  Two teams (Penn St and Minn) show the biggest differences.

Second - I looked at each team to see how the average difference score compared to the final score, which should be indicative of which teams scoring is (to use a calculus term) concave up versus concave down. Most teams in the conference are within a couple points per game between the final score and the average scoring difference, but a few teams (Peen St, Minn, NW) look poorly in this measure.

In the chart below, I've looked at the difference in each game between the final score difference and 2 x the game script.  What this is shows is that in many games, Penn ST (and to a lesser extent Minn) has a better game script than a final score - showing that they have done well for much of the game and faded at the end - or perhaps had a significant lead early, but gave it up at some point to lose.

Team Final Dif - 2xGS
Penn St -250
Minn -127.4
Northwestern -77.6
Michigan -51.8
Iowa -41
Indiana -28.4
Nebraska -28.2
Mich St -17.4
Ohio St -16.6
Wisconsin -5.8
Purdue 4.2
Rutgers 4.2
Illinois 17.2
Maryland 18.4

I'm not sure that either look at this means anything in the grand scheme of things, they are just my attempts to play with some of the game script data.  I'm hoping to do an in-depth look at 3ptA% vs game script in the near future.


Friday, January 13, 2017

If the NCAA really wants to replace RPI, it should go with something like WAB

The NCAA announced today that it has invited several folks—most notably Jeff Sagarin and Ken Pomeroy—to Indianapolis next Friday (Jan. 20th) for a meeting "designed to speed the inclusion of more metrics in the selection process for the basketball tournament." Specifically, at the behest of the coaches, the NCAA is looking into using "advanced metrics" to help with the selection process: "an even more powerful microscope to go with the time-honored RPI."

Leaving aside the hilarious image of the RPI as a "powerful microscope," this is a potentially positive development. I certainly trust Ken Pomeroy to advocate effectively for a reasonable replacement for the deeply flawed RPI. But skepticism is warranted. The RPI persists for a few main reasons: (1) massive institutional inertia; (2) it's the devil they (the coaches) know; (3) it can be gamed, but only consistently by teams with scheduling power—i.e., the teams with money and power within college basketball. None of these things are going away or even fading in importance.

Based on the comments of Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president for basketball, the push for something to at least augment the RPI seems at least partly about PR:
[Advanced metrics are] the way so many people engage with following sports these days, and in particular in this case, college basketball. In some ways, maybe young people are right at the top of that list. 
You need to stay relevant in the age that you’re operating in. Certainly relevant today is embracing analytics and technology to the appropriate level.
So I'm a little worried that the result of this will be essentially a sop to the college basketball nerds—just enough to keep the wolves at bay. But it's mean to assume bad faith, and I won't do it. It's more like home-court officiating: there are understandable biases at play here, and that will make meaningful change difficult.

But assuming that can be overcome, what kind of replacement should we be advocating for? It's clear that the NCAA will not endorse anything that significantly emphasizes margin of victory at the expense of pure wins, losses, and strength of schedule. (Wins, losses, and strength of schedule is what the RPI tries to do, but it does it in a poor way.) They primarily want to reward good resum├ęs over good teams, and that is fine.

Given that, I'd propose using a composite power rating, say a straight average of Kenpom, BPI, and Sagarin—or perhaps a new but similar separate power rating that has a hard cap on MOV—as the seed for creating a strength of record ranking. Strength of record basically boils down to measuring how impressive it is for a team to amass a given record against its schedule; all you need to do it is some underlying measure of team quality. ESPN already does this with BPI as the seed (at least when the website is working) with its "Strength of Record." I do it in realtime at T-Rank with the "Wins Above Bubble" or "WAB" ranking. Seth Burn does WAB periodically at his website using Kenpom as the source.

The great thing about this way of doing things is that wins and losses are ultimately king and debatable differences in underlying power rating mostly come out in the wash. Kenpom, T-Rank, and BPI are obviously pretty similar rating systems, but they do have their differences. If you look at a strength of record or WAB using each of them, though, they end up extremely similar. So all you need is a power rating that passes the smell test, and you can create a credible—and useful—resume rating that will pretty closely track the general perception of which teams really deserve to be in the tournament.

So: Death to the RPI, long live WAB or SOR or whatever you want to call it.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Prediction time

Winner of the GB/NYG game today will be crushed by the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Monday, January 2, 2017

UW is better than Michigan

I noticed today that with a win today UW would finish with more wins than Mi yet again. Even if UW lost they would have won the same number of games. It got me to thinking, when was the last time the perennial powerhouse Mi actually won more games in a season than UW? 

Turns out Mi has not won more games than UW since 2003 When Lloyd Carr won 10 games and Barry just 7. 

2003 was a long time ago. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Question of the week

Who do you think wins the post season awards?

B1G player of the year- I think this comes down to Hayes and Swanigan. It's hard to ignore the numbers Swanigan is putting up, and if they continue, he probably wins. If the Badgers win the regular season title, then Hayes can win. Hayes may not put up the gaudy numbers, but his numbers are good all around, and coaches watch him shift over to defend the best player on the court and cool them down game after game. I think Swanigan wins the Media vote, and Hayes the coaches.

First team All Big Ten- Hayes and Swanigan obviously. I think Happ gets on here with his scoring efficiency and rebounding numbers. I think Blackmon gets on here too due to scoring. Shooting in the high 40s overall and 40s from 3 is hard to do with the volume of shots he takes. The 5th spot is up for grabs. Could be one of the bad teams rises up to the middle of the pack and a player like Jok, Hill, or Webster gets the credit and gets the last spot. Could be that Miles Bridges gets healthy soon, leads MSU into the top 3, and he claims the last spot. Could be a 2nd guy from IU or Purdue like Anunoby, Bryant or Edwards gets the spot if their team wins the title. For my guess, I'll say Trimble gets it together after today's rough outing and wins it.

Freshman of the year- Again, if Bridges gets healthy he should run away with this, but for the sake of argument let's say he doesn't. I still think the award stays in East Lansing with Ward. Ward is the only reason MSU is still has a chance at the title this year. He is the only player giving them easy points on the inside, and without it teams would focus on MSUs suspect perimeter game. He is also ripping down rebounds left and right, and his minutes should stay up as long as he can keep out of foul trouble.

What do you think Torvik? Or are my questions still too open ended for you?