Thursday, November 30, 2017

FPI is annoying

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

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

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

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

Here's why I'm annoyed.

FPI is not an accurate measure of team quality.

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

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

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

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

"We don't know."

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

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

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

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

Who benefits?

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

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

WI is better than MI

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 17, 2017


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

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

UW wins. 23-14.

Friday, November 10, 2017

On board with Van Vliet, but....

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

UW Iowa

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

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

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

Is Illikainen out?

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Likelier Things

There's been a lot of focus lately on a scenario—let's call it the Doomsday Scenario—that could arguably keep a 13-0 Wisconsin out of the college football playoffs. I have a few things to say about this.

To start, a 13-0 Wisconsin team is making the playoffs. "But what if the Doomsday Scenario occurs? What are the chances that the Badgers would miss the playoffs then?" The chances are zero. ZERO. It's not happening. "How can you be so sure?" Because I have a functioning brain. If you disagree with me about this, I'm sorry: we can't be friends anymore. Not even on Facebook.

Even if I am wrong about this—and I am not wrong about this—it's super unlikely that I'll be proven wrong. This is because the chances of the Doomsday Scenario even materializing are still extremely small. For the Doomsday Scenario to occur, each of the following must occur:

1) The Badgers must win out. Let's be chipper and put the odds of that at 1 in 3. Here, already at step one, we have a Likelier Thing that submarines the Doomsday Scenario. But we still have hope. 

2) Either Alabama or Georgia must win out, and the other must finish with just one loss (to the other, preferably by a slim margin). I'll be generous and say Georgia has a 40% chance of winning its final three games, and Alabama has a 75% of winning its final three games. That makes this another 1 in 3  shot, and one of them losing not to the other is another Likelier Thing that pierces the Doomsday Scenario bubble.

3) Either Oklahoma or TCU wins out. FiveThirtyEight says Oklahoma has a 33% chance to win out and TCU has a 17% chance to win out. That's a total chance of one of them winning out of around 45%. This may be off given that they play each other at least once, but close enough for these purposes. Another Likelier Thing that defeats the Doomsday Monster.

4) Finally, the most likely iteration of Doomsday Scenario involves both Notre Dame and Clemson winning out. Being generous again, let's say both of those are 50/50 chances, meaning the chance of them both happening is 1 in 4. Yet another Likelier Thing kneecapping Dr. Doomsday.

So, the odds of the Doomsday Scenario emerging in the face of all these Likelier Things is .33 * .30 * .45 * .25 = 1% — and that's being generous.

5) Now, if you plug the Doomsday Scenario into the FiveThirtyEight playoff calculator—which has not been informed that a 13-0 Wisconsin team is actually a 100% lock to make the playoffs—it says that the Badgers currently have an 83% chance of making the playoffs even in this Doomsday Scenario. In fact, they're actually the third-most likely team to make the playoffs in this scenario, meaning that they'd still likely be the 3-seed ahead of either Oklahoma or Notre Dame. 

Bottom line: even if we pretend we don't know that the Badgers would be a 100% lock to make the playoffs at 13-0, there's about a one-sixth of one-percent chance the Doomsday Scenario ensnares them. So let's talk about something else. 

How about college basketball?

Friday, November 3, 2017

UW Indiana

Drop to 4-6 after another 0-2 week. UW is a 13.5 point favorite this week and o/u is 48.5.

This sure seems like a trap game. UW has Iowa, MI, and at Minn before a date at the Big Ten Championship game. Indiana is an improved team, and Bucky is on the road.

I'm taking Indiana and the points, and the under.