Wednesday, March 13, 2019

BrackAnalysis: Gonzaga

You may wondering: BrackAnalysis? Yet another branding change? NO! BubbAnalysis focuses on bubble teams. BrackAnalysis takes a wider view. Thus, today's focus: Gonzaga's case for a one seed.

As of yesterday, the Zags were widely considered a lock, maybe THE lock, for a one seed. I wasn't sure if the lock consensus was really based on "they're a one seed even if they lose" or if it was "they're a one seed because there's no way they're losing to Saint Mary's, who they've beaten by like ten thousand points in two games this year." In any case, my algorithm did not agree with the consensus. It was projecting that a loss to Saint Mary's would knock Gonzaga down to the two line. And that's where they are today.

Yesterday's consensus may well turn out to have been correct but I think it's worth looking into the sources for my algorithm's dissent. One preliminary note: none of this is intended as a subjective opinion on whether Gonzaga is good, or whether it deserves a one seed—only an attempt to analyze Gonzaga's profile the way the Committee might.

The Case Against Gonzaga as a One Seed

Gonzaga's problem is that it has only four Q1 wins and only six Q2 wins, so it is projected at 27th in the resumé metric. In my database (since 2008), the only team to get a one seed with four or fewer Q1** wins was undefeated Wichita St. in 2014. They had three Q1 (top 50) wins and eight Q2 (top 100) wins. But they were also undefeated—33 games over .500 on Selection Sunday—and had those two more Q2s. No team (since 2008) has been awarded a one-seed with ten or fewer Q1+Q2 (top 100) wins. Here are all the one seeds since 2008 with fewer than 15 Q1+Q2 wins:

So here's the case against Gonzaga in a nutshell: their volume of Q1+ Q2 wins has never before been good enough for a one seed, and their volume of Q1 wins was only good enough for an undefeated team. Given the primacy of this kind of analysis in the Committee's work, I think this is a very reasonable argument that Gonzaga may not be awarded a one seed.

The Case For Gonzaga as a One Seed

Nonetheless, there are still good reasons to think that the Committee will bestow a one seed on Gonzaga:
  • The eye test. Gonzaga passes it. Mainly because ...
  • They beat Duke. Full strength Duke. In Maui, in a game everybody watched. And for much of the game, they dominated. 
  • They are really, really good. Gonzaga is second in Kenpom and most other similar ratings. They are certainly worthy of a top seed.
  • Lock in effect. The Committee was already in session, as of Monday (I believe). I think one of the first things they do is consider one seeds. So it's possible, even likely, that there was a provisional one line, and Gonzaga was sitting on top of it. Once things like that get started, the analysis become less about looking at the whole resumé, and more about "how much should this one result affect what we already thought?" Cognitive biases being what they are, new results tend not to affect what people think as much as results that went into the original opinion.
  • No one else fits in the West. All of the other potential one seeds are well east of the Rockies, most east of the Mississippi. If there's a close call between Gonzaga and an eastern team, Gonzaga may get a logistical bonus. This is especially true if the 4/5 on the s-curve comes down to Zags versus Duke because ...
  • They beat Duke. Did I mention that?
These are all good reasons, so it will be interesting to see how this shakes out.

**Prior to last year, Q1 = top 50 and Q2 = top 100, with no adjustment for venue (because that's how the Committee used to do it).

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

BubbAnalysis: NC State

Welcome to the latest edition of BubbAnalysis, formerly known as Bubble Breakdown, formerly known as Bubble Banter.

Right now I want focus on NC State. In the latest bracketmatrix, NC State is an 11. Yet my algorithm currently projects them on the 9-line, and unlikely to fall out even with a loss. What gives?

It inescapably comes down to non-conference strength of schedule. Because they played so many of the worst teams in DI, their "NCSOS" is dead last—at least based on the primary measure of NCSOS highlighted on the NCAA's Nitty Gritty report and Team Sheets, which is simply opponent's winning percentage (i.e. RPI Factor 2). This primitive measure is not an input to the T-Ranketology algorithm. In fact, my algorithm gives no separate weight to strength of schedule as a standalone input (though it is certainly incorporated into the algorithms inputs).

Most bracket projectors, I gather, do separately consider SOS and especially the NCSOS, and I understand why they do. First, it's a number on the official documents. Second, there have been a few high profile cases where a bad NCSOS was specifically mentioned as a reason that a team was excluded. A couple of Seth Greenberg's Virginia Tech teams come to mind here.

I did not include SOS or NCSOS in the algorithm for a few reasons:

  • In prior years, the committee used RPI, which was highly correlated to SOS because it was 75% composed of schedule metrics. Indeed, the current "SOS" numbers on the official NCAA documents are just what used to be called RPI Factor 2, which was 50% of the RPI formula. So it was possible to simply use RPI and get good enough results with the algorithm. For example, the 2010 Virginia Tech team that was snubbed supposedly because of its terrible NCSOS also had an RPI rank of 59—not a disqualifying rank, but definitely in the area where a team is not likely to be selected. (My current algorithm would have had them the last team in the field—close enough!)
  • It's a very very noisy signal. There are many examples of teams with terrible schedules getting in, and getting good seeds. Just as an example, last year Michigan had a bad NCSOS and got a three-seed. And there are many examples of teams with very good schedule metrics who nonetheless were left out or down-seeded. So it's hard to figure out how to put this into an algorithm because in the vast majority of cases it clearly has no impact whatsoever (at least independent of its effect on RPI).
  • Strength of schedule is accounted for in Kenpom, BPI, Sagarin, KPI, and SOR — the other metrics on the official docs. People seem to resist this, but it's clear that Kenpom has long had some effect on selection decisions, and that was formalized last year with its inclusion, along with those other metrics, on the team sheets, etc. Teams that play terrible schedules will typically be punished in those systems unless they actually perform very well against those opponents.

Now, with the NET this year things are up in the air. If we were still using RPI, there is zero doubt that NC State would be disqualified from consideration for an at-large. (Their RPI rank would be 100+, far beyond the realm of consideration, certainly in my algorithm.) And the reason their RPI would be so bad is because their NCSOS kills it. But their NET is in the low 30s, their power ratings are in the 30s, and they have 8 Q1+Q2 wins. Only one team with that profile has been left out since 2008: last year's USC team, which was widely considered an at-large shoo-in. (By the way, their NCSOS rank was a perfectly respectable 62.)

That leaves the question: will the Committee rely on RPI Factor 2 to downgrade NC State, despite having a profile that otherwise matches dozens of at-larges and just one snub? It might! And if it does, I'll probably tweak my algorithm to incorporate some kind of special punishment for having an extremely bad RPI Factor 2 in non-conference games. The easiest way to do this would be simply to put RPI itself back into the mix somehow.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Happ down the stretch

It has seemed to me that Happ has not been shooting all that well recently. He looks like he is rushing shots and his accuracy just isn't there. It's not as though he is awful, just not as good as he has been for the past 3 1/2 years. Numbers bear it out. 

Over the first 16 games vs major conference opponents (I know that not all are equal, but it's an easy way to filter out the crap opponents) he shot 142/251=56.6%. This is in line with his career FG average 54.6%. Over the last 10 games he is shooting 66/141=46.8. Over those first 16 he shot better than 50% in 9 games, but in the last 10 he has only been better than 50% in 1 game. 

Guys that play on the perimeter are especially prone to ups and downs, but Happ never shoots anything but hooks and layups. I don't think this is just a random shooting slump. For a while I thought he was altering his shot so he could get it up and not get fouled, because he was so terrible at the line. I'm not sure that is the case, but it could be something in  the back of his mind. He definitely seems to be shooting faster though. The moves where he fakes in 3 different directions, gets his opponent off balance, then lays it in don't seem to come very often. Maybe that is because teams have figured out not to go for them, but then why didn't they figure that out in the past 3 years. 

Not sure I have any sort of good explanation for this. Just thought I would throw it out there since I have neglected this blog so much and felt it needed some love. 

B1G Tourney picks

Here they are, I'm getting wacky this year. Let's see your picks Torvik!

Wednesday Winners:

Thursday Winners:
Penn State

Friday Winners:
Penn State

Saturday Winners:

Sunday Winner:

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Bubble Breakdown March 02

Note: After consultation with marketing and legal,  I'm rebranding Bubble Banter as Bubble Breakdown™.

Here's a look at the bubble through the robotic yet strangely beautiful eyes of TourneyCast:

The nice thing about this view, as opposed to the current T-Ranketology bracket, is that this includes simulations of conference tournaments. So a team like UNC Greensboro, which might reasonably considered on the bubble as of today, fades to extreme long-shot as an at-large when you factor in a loss in the conference tournament. It also is the best way to look at bubble teams who are projected auto-bids in the same view as bubble teams who are not.

Let's do this.

Probably safe: Ohio State, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Washington, TCU

These teams generally just need about one more win, at least according to my algorithm. The big mark against several of these teams is poor conference record. Oklahoma and TCU are both currently projected to go 7-11 in Big 12 play, and Oklahoma would be projected to be fine even at 6-12. It's certainly possible that the committee will balk at those figures, as it's pretty much unprecedented for teams with those kinds of records to have tourney credentials otherwise.

Getting sketchy: St. John's, UCF, Clemson, VCU, Belmont, Texas

St. John's has 6 Q1 wins (though FWIW I'm projecting Georgetown will fall below the Q1 cutline eventually) but also has home losses to the likes of DePaul, Providence, and Xavier. Now they have two road games left: at Xavier and at DePaul that T-Rank sees as tossups. If they win at least one of those, they'll probably be okay heading into the Big East tourney in their backyard (note that home-court gives them a 1 in 5 chances of getting the auto-bid). But losing both those games is a real possibility, in which case they'd be squarely on the bubble.

UCF isn't worth discussing too much because their resumé remains largely to be written: three Q1 games still left in the regular season. Sweep those, and they might be wearing home jerseys in their first game of the tourney. Get swept and say sayonara. Anything in between and they'll be on the bubble.

Clemson is a team my algorithm likes more than most bracketographers. They lack the top-line wins (just projected to have one Quad 1) but have a good NET, good power ratings, no bad losses, SOS is fine. Their profile comps are all in, though never by much:

Obviously a win today over UNC will seal the deal. But if they just win the games they're supposed to, my algorithm will likely continue to favor them. I'd generally trust the conventional wisdom over my algorithm, but this could end up being an interesting test.

VCU and Belmont are both mids with a decent enough shot to get in even if they're knocked out in their conference tourney, as at least one of them likely will be (both projected at about 50% to win). All bubble teams should be rooting for them.

Texas is here, as I mentioned last week, because it is projected to be 16-15 at the end of the regular season. My algorithm starts punishing a team once its projected record is less than five games above .500. The punishment is pretty severe at a one game over .500, so it's pretty remarkable that Texas is still being projected on the right side of the cutline. If Texas gets two more wins, they will vault out of the bubble zone, but this is another sort of unprecedented case brewing, so it's hard to really say what would happen if Texas finishes at, say, 16-16 with five Quad 1 wins.

The Genuine Bubble: 

Minnesota needed two wins last week to feel safe, but they got one. They remain on the bubble with two Quad 1-A games remaining. One upset would likely do it for them. If not, they'll need two Big Ten tourney wins to be safe, I think.

Utah St. I still think Utah State needs to beat Nevada once, and that's basically where this 50% chance of an at-large comes from: they've got a tossup against the Wolfpack tonight. Win it, and they're in. (By the way, my algorithm's early projection of Utah State as an at-large contender, when no one else was even considering them, is why it is a cool thing.)

Alabama, like UCF, has three big Q1 games left in the regular season, so their profile is incomplete. All three are projected by T-Rank as tossups. Tune in next week, but in all likelihood they'll be on the bubble heading into their conference tournament.

Why does everyone hate Saint Mary's? This has vexed me for a while, and Ken Pomeroy mentioned it on a recent podcast. Even people who tend to root for mid majors root against Saint Mary's for some reason. I don't get it at all. People hate Saint Mary's resumé because they ain't beat nobody. I like Saint Mary's because they are, objectively, a good basketball team. They also have a great player in Jordan Ford. If they beat Gonzaga tonight, their profile will look good enough. If they don't, it won't.

Seton Hall is a team that projects in the field as of today, but they have three tough games upcoming (at Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova), and could very easily lose their first game in the conference tourney. They can definitely win their way into the field, but T-Rank foresees losses.

Furman and Lipscomb are alive. Technically. Better not to chance it though.

Temple is a team that I think many have been overrating, in terms of tourney chances. They have just one Q1 win, and only one more regular season opportunity: a Bracket Buster game against UCF on the last day of the regular season. The loser of that game could be in trouble, especially if it's Temple. That said, Temple's profile comps are 9/10 in the tourney:

Lastly, Arizona State. Bracket Matrix contributors refuse to budge on this team, despite their 28-point loss to Oregon the other night. Yes, they have a few Q1 wins (though many are giving them credit for a win over Washington that doesn't currently qualify as Q1). But they have, in the Committee's parlance, a fuckton of bad losses. And they are bad (67th at Kenpom). And their NET sucks 68th. And they'll be underdogs in their last two games, Oregon State and Arizona, both on the road. Only one team in my database has made the tourney with a sub-60 NET/RPI and a sub-60 Kenpom/Power ranking: Boston College in 2009. (That team had wins over Duke and at (eventual champ) North Carolina. Put it all together, and the profile comps are not pretty:

Now, to be fair, the comps for last year's teams were just as bleak, and the Committee decided to let that team in. As far as I can tell, that selection was based exclusively on the win at Kansas. Will a win over Kansas at home be enough this year? Maybe, but it shouldn't be—unless ASU wins a couple more games.

Bye for now!