Friday, February 20, 2015

An NCAA Selection Process For The 21st Century

Three Top 50 wins. An RPI of 36. An SOS of 41. A 12-3 road/neutral record.

Get ready. The college basketball dialogue is about to morph into an endless string of incomplete metrics meant to summarize a team's worthiness to be one of 36 at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament.

The current selection infrastructure is ripe for mockery, though it's not the RPI's fault. That formula was designed in a different era, when computing power was some trivial fraction of what it is today. For some reason, despite endless evidence to support better metrics, the NCAA has maintained its reliance on that shortcut formula as its method of categorizing team performance for its hard-working selection committee.

Of course, all that an incomplete metric does is breed mistrust in statistics, providing people with an excuse to substitute even more flawed observational anecdotes to support whatever pre-existing biases with which they walked in the room.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fun With My Ivy Games Database (Back to 1980)

Having recently completed my update to the Ivy Games Database, dating back to the 1979-1980 season (the start of College Basketball Reference's Simple Rating System "SRS"), I have decided to share some of the more interesting nuggets here.

From looking at the data, it is undeniable that the Ivy League is at its strongest point since the 1970s - and by a considerable margin, I might add.

Speaking of the 1970s, the Massey Ratings for college basketball extend all the way back to 1950, so my next project will be to add those 30 seasons to the database to provide for the first true comparison of league strength from the glory years to today. Even those incredible years where Penn finished in the top five of the ratings, the league as a whole still had no luck cracking the stranglehold of the top conferences that still dominate the top of the ladder today.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Luck-Adjusted College Basketball Scores: (Or How I Intend To Take Most of the Fun/Mystery/Excitement Out of Sports)

As many of you have noticed, I've been working on a new pet project recently.

It's no secret that I am an ardent opponent of attributing all of an outcome to skill when it is partially (or sometimes mostly) driven by luck. My vociferous opposition has nothing to do with a desire to argue for argument's sake, nor is it because I want to be the annoying pebble in the shoe.

The reason I care so deeply about separating luck from skill is that what I find interesting about sports is the predictive pursuit. Once you know what is luck and what is skill, you can account for both in your predictions in different ways, but failing to admit that much of what happens on the playing surface is driven by luck is essentially conceding any ability to predict outcomes with a reasonable level of accuracy.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

2014-15 Ivy Preseason Projection Uber Post

The Ivy League has quickly become a mid-major freight train.

Sure, finishing 2013-14 with the highest rank and average pythagorean winning percentage of the Pomeroy era was nice, as is Dan Hanner's 2014-15 projection of the Ivy as the 12th-best league in the country (which would set another record). But the most impressive part of the league is how its best teams closed out the campaign last season, establishing a momentum that carries far beyond Harvard, and its summer of Top 25 praise.

Five Ivy League teams made the postseason, and four of them won at least a game. Yale played all the way into April, notching four victories (including the first Ivy vs. Ivy postseason battle against Columbia) on its march to the CIT Championship Game.

All told, five Ivy teams finished among the top half of Division I, and none of those five squads returns less than 60 percent of its minutes from last season. In fact, Columbia brings back everyone, Brown loses "just" four-year starter and perennial All-Ivy guard Sean McGonagill and Yale's only significant loss is Brandon Sherrod, who has reminded us all of the true nature of the Ivy experience by taking a year off to pursue his passion of a cappella - something with which I can't argue, given that I've watched Pitch Perfect about a billion times.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Ivy League's RPI Problem

That simple formula, born in 1981, remains the most influential tool in college basketball today.

If you don't agree, just ask SMU or Utah. Each of those two teams came into Selection Sunday with a body of work that would have merited a seed in the 7-9 range, according to Vegas, which hopefully most will agree retains expert status in judging team quality.

Due to a pair of legitimately awful non-conference schedules, however, SMU became 2014's biggest snub, while Utah didn't really get serious consideration at all. Both the Mustangs and Utes would have been solid favorites over multiple at large teams (NC State, UMass and Colorado come to mind), but the poor scheduling dragged down their RPI, pushing SMU into the 50s and Utah all the way down to the 80s.

One might feel strongly that SMU and Utah deserved to be punished for their poor schedule strength. The problem is that the RPI isn't the best arbiter of such claims. SMU's non-conference strength of schedule ("NCSOS") checked in at 298th in Pomeroy and finished around 295th in the RPI's calculation. That area of Pomeroy's NCSOS ranking was littered with AAC teams, though. Cincinnati was just four spots ahead, and Louisville slotted in just a couple more away. In the eyes of the committee, the Bearcats and Cardinals looked nothing like SMU, as Cincinnati and Louisville had RPI NCSOS rankings of 95 and 149, respectively.

All three were deserving tournament teams, at least as far as the best available measures of team quality are concerned. Two of them played the RPI game, either knowingly or unknowingly, and sat solidly within the NCAA field, while the last was left to make a run in the NIT.

The dirty secret is that for most BCS teams, gaming or not gaming the RPI is merely the difference between being judged fairly or in a more positive light. For mid-major leagues like the Ivy, failing to consider the effects of the RPI invariably leads to a squad looking much worse than it otherwise would.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ivy League Dynasties

The best Ivy team ever won't be this year's edition of the Crimson.

Let's just keep repeating that to counterbalance the myriad national writers who have suggested or even predicted that Harvard would go down as the best Ivy team in the league's 60-year history. The 1970s saw Penn have two different teams that finished third in the final Associated Press poll and a third which made the Final Four. When it comes to great teams and great dynasties, that Quakers run will be nearly impossible to beat, unless the Ivies get far more reasonable about their athletics admissions policies. Consider that Penn won eight out of 10 Ivy titles during that decade (making the Top 10 in an AP poll during five of those seasons), while losing one of the two times to a Princeton team that rose to No. 15 in the AP poll itself.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The 2013-14 Ivy Pre-Season Projection Uber Post

There has been an undeniably strange structure to the questions posed this offseason.

Will Harvard become the first team to win a share of four-straight Ivy titles since Penn and Princeton both accomplished the feat in the early-to-mid 1990s?

Will Harvard spend most of the year in the Top 25?

Will Harvard make a deep run in March?

Will Harvard be the best Ivy team ever?

In the world of rhetoric, these might be derisively exposed as instances of begging the question or in the world of law, potentially labeled as leading the witness. For these questions wantonly assume the conclusion to the examination undertaken in this piece - that Harvard is a lock to win the Ivy title and the only race is for spots two through eight.

No, the ultimate finding of the preseason projection model wasn't that your 2013-14 Ivy favorite is the Princeton Tigers (quite bold, Sporting News...). But the Crimson doesn't take home 100 percent of the solo titles either, nor does it even claim a share of the crown in every simulated season.

Like most stories in life, reality comes up a little short of the associated hyperbole.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Where Does The Ivy League Really Stand?

Anyone who has looked at the RPI realizes that the Ivy League had fallen from its recent perch, squarely in the teens, first to the absolute bottom of the list before rebounding to the high 20s.

While the league has struggled this season, the binary win-loss nature of the RPI is currently punishing the Ivies far too much for their close losses, something which should even out and lead to the league's rise over the next month.

Pomeroy tells a different story, as the league sits 15th nationally, primarily on the strength of the overly generous preseason rankings, which are still biasing the team ratings in his system.

The ultimate answer likely lies in between the two. Massey's composite rankings, which look at a wide ranging group of ranking systems, have the Ivy League in 21st, and Sagarin's predictive model has the league 25th. If forced to pick a narrow range within which the Ivies would be likely to fall, those boundaries sound as good as any.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The 2012-13 Ivy Basketball Projection Post

It was going to be 2010-11 all over again.

A talented Harvard team, full of potential, against a gritty, veteran Princeton unit with the league's best two-way player (Kareem Maddox, then, and Ian Hummer now) in a showdown for another Ivy title. The Crimson appeared to be the slight favorites in that hypothetical horse race, boasting a much stronger reservoir of young talent to fill out its rotation than the Tigers had accumulated over the past couple years.

Then, this happened.

Harvard lost its best player (Kyle Casey) and its most important player (Brandyn Curry) in one 24-hour news cycle, which when combined with the graduation losses of Keith Wright and Oliver McNally left the Crimson down four starters from last year's NCAA tournament squad. Oh, and throw in rotation guard Corbin Miller, who left the team to fulfill his two-year religious mission obligation. Those five players accounted for 62 percent of last year's total offensive possessions and included three of Harvard's four best defenders by Adjusted Plus-Minus. Most importantly, that list also included the only three Crimson players to see any time at point guard last season (Curry, McNally, Miller).

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Noruwa Agho Takes 25 Shots, And Other Things That Happened This Weekend

Hard to argue that the most surprising performances of the weekend came in Ivy showdowns with the Big East, of all conferences.

The league's No. 7 seed, Columbia, waltzed into Gampel and gave the defending champion UConn quite the battle for 40 minutes. Meanwhile Ivy No. 8 seed Dartmouth was within a possession of Rutgers before ultimately falling by six.

The rest of the weekend was a combination of okay and downright scary results. Brown and Harvard took care of their Division III opponents with relative ease. Penn pulled away late to coast to a win in an ugly game against UMBC. Yale used an 18-1 run to open up a commanding lead on Central Connecticut, only to have the Blue Devils close a 14-point deficit to one with under two to play before the Bulldogs closed out a 73-69 victory.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Opening Weekend Preview

It's finally here.

All eight Ivy League basketball teams will open their seasons this weekend with actual games that count in the actual NCAA record books. (Rumor has it that a lot of these teams have already "played" a couple of "games" against other Division I "schools" over the past 10 days or so).

That's the good news. The bad news is that the grand re-opening of college basketball in the Ivy League could be a bit of a letdown.

Harvard and Brown kick things off on Friday night with MIT and Johnson & Wales, respectively, which both hail from outside the Division I ranks. Columbia and Dartmouth have the exact opposite problem, as each take to the road to visit a Big East school - Connecticut and Rutgers, respectively. The Big Green has the best projected winning percentage for any of the underdogs in those four games at a mere four percent.

Friday, November 4, 2011

2011-2012 Season Preview: The Uber-Post

Princeton or Harvard. Harvard or Princeton.

Last year, that was pretty much the only question that mattered. This year, who will win the Ivy title is pretty much the only question that doesn't matter.

Of far greater importance are the debates about Yale as the number one contender, the fall of Princeton, the rise of Penn and the high hopes of Brown, Cornell and Columbia. With most pundits worrying far more about where Harvard will be seeded rather than if the Crimson will win the title, the goal of this year's projections will be to parse out the good Ivy teams from the decent and the decent from the bad.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2011-2012 Season Preview: Pre-Season All-Ivy

The projection of team statistics is far more stable than their component parts, primarily due to the law of compensating errors.

But the awards that many fans love so much are bestowed on an individual level, making more granular prognostications necessary in preparation for the upcoming season.

In this portion of the season preview, we'll take a look at the returning players to watch as well as the top talent from the incoming class. These are not projections of who will make each team per se (obviously if Noruwa Agho scores over 15 points a game, they'll put him on the First Team regardless of whether he needs 25 shots per game to do it), they are merely a representation of the value of each player as seen by the tempo-free community.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Preseason Primer

The release of the final preseason projections on this site is still a few weeks away (though the Ivy League will release its official media poll this Wednesday).

It's expected that Harvard will top the preseason list for the first time in the history of the poll, and not to ruin the surprise, the Crimson will probably be favored pretty heavily in this site's release as well.

That (and maybe that Dartmouth will finish last) is where the consensus stops, however. Different prognostications have had Princeton as the number one contender or as far down as fourth. Yale has been tabbed by many as the likely runner up, but by others out of the upper division entirely. Penn is probably the most egregious offender, as some think the Quakers could steal second, while others have them in a fight to avoid seventh.

The purpose today is not to rank the teams, but rather to provide some starting points for thinking about each Ivy team and the league as a whole, which should help better prepare you, the reader, for establishing your own preseason hierarchy.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Great Unknowns

Penn is the epicenter of this debate.

Senior point guard Zack Rosen is on pace to become the second most productive Ivy player of the past 10 years. Flanking him are fifth-year senior Tyler Bernardini, a streaky but at times lights out shooter who can add value at both ends of the court, and sophomore Miles Cartwright, an uber-athletic slasher who could vault to All-Ivy status if he could hold onto the ball a little better.

Even if you like the Quakers' returning depth at the guard position behind those three stars, there are two gaping holes at the four and five left by the graduation of Jack Eggleston and Conor Turley. Internal candidates do exist - the ever fragile Mike Howlett and sophomores Fran Dougherty and Cameron Gunter - but the true hope rests on the shoulders of heralded freshmen forwards Greg Louis and Henry Brooks.

How reasonable is that expectation, though? Brooks is the 19th most highly rated recruit of the past 10 years. Louis is 43rd most highly rated over the same span. Both are in the top 10 percent of the over 400 recruits from that timespan. But do the ratings even matter?