Friday, February 25, 2011

14-Game Tournament: America Loves Drama

No one expected Princeton to survive the four-game road trip unscathed.

But there the Tigers were, having dispatched the three toughest challenges, according to Pomeroy, and needing just one more win at Brown to maintain a commanding lead in the Ivy race. With a return home to face Columbia and Cornell and a trip to Dartmouth upcoming, Princeton would have little trouble showing up in Boston on March 5th at 12-0 in league play.

Then the Bears proved why Saturday night road games have a special distinction in the minds of the Ivy League faithful. Brown built an 11-point first half lead, only to watch Princeton chip it away entirely to grab a one-point lead of its own. Undaunted, the Bears immediately responded with a 21-10 run to go up double-digits with under three minutes to go and never looked back.

Meanwhile, Harvard was beginning the same road trip - just on a week's delay. The Crimson had little problem dispensing with Cornell and Columbia, but now must deal with the pairing that gave the Tigers trouble, starting tonight at Brown.

Harvard has exactly the same stakes as Princeton as well. A sweep would have it return home to Boston at 11-1, needing just a win as a near-double-digit favorite against Penn to set up a winner-take-all showdown (for Harvard, at least) for the NCAA berth. A loss at either Brown or Princeton would swing the odds back to the Tigers' favor, though barely.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What If Middling Majors Played Mids Schedule (Part II)

Climbing back on that precarious bubble, it's time to follow up last week's post about Mids and Middling Majors by flipping the script and re-running the analysis in reverse.

This time, the Middling Majors get to join the Horizon League or Conference USA or The Valley and try their luck at the "cupcake" schedule of a Mid Major. As a refresher, the six Mid Majors selected for this analysis were picked on the basis of being on the Bracket Matrix's bubble as of February 16th (UAB, Butler, Duquesne, Colorado St., UTEP and Missouri St.). The nine Middling Majors were selected in the same way and include Michigan St., Boston College, Virginia Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma St., Alabama, Kansas St., Georgia and Marquette.

The methodology was quite simple - take each Mid Major team's offensive and defensive rating and the relevant variance and co-variance metrics and generate win probabilities against the various opponents on the substitute Middling Major team's schedule. Then, run 1,000 simulations to see what the Mid's profile would look like if it had played the Middling Major's schedule.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Who Should Win & Who Will Win Ivy League Awards

With 70 percent of the Ivy season behind us, there is enough of a sample size with which to project out the contenders for and likely winners of the league's various coveted awards.

As with most awards and polls, the results tend to be more fitting of a beauty contest, rather than having a backing in the actual numbers (or usage of correct numbers - I'm looking at you Points Per Game!). So, in order to serve the two facets of the public - those who like advanced statistics and those that like predictions - I will provide, for each award, an argument for the player that should win and then the name of the player (often different) that will win.

For all analysis, I will be using the conference-only numbers. While it is my personal belief that "year" means entire season, the voting coaches seem to apply the term universally to the calendar sort, giving league play undue and almost blanket influence over the results. In order to keep the playing field level for the "should" and "will" win projections, this piece will stick with the Ivy-only stats.

Let's get to it and project out some hardware!

Monday, February 21, 2011

NOTEBOOK: Adjusted Efficiency Margin Tells The Story

The weekend's events have shuffled the Adjusted Efficiency Margin standings, as Harvard closed the entire 5.6 point gap with Princeton and took a minor lead.

The Crimson has jumped ahead despite a 12.2 percentage point gap in free throw "defense," though that was much larger before Brown sank 25 of its 27 attempts Saturday night.

Brown        98.7      104.4 -5.8
Columbia        95.7      102.5 -6.7
Cornell      103.1      109.1 -6.0
Dartmouth        84.9      104.9 -20.0
Harvard      107.8        98.7 9.1
Penn        99.4        97.7 1.7
Princeton      100.8        92.7 8.1
Yale        95.8        97.2 -1.3

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Week 16 Powerpoll: Brown Draws First Blood

Despite some shaky moments, Ivy leaders Harvard and Princeton entered Saturday night 15-0 against the rest of the league, just nine wins away from a clean sweep.

The Crimson held up its end of the bargain with a 61-42 win at Columbia last night, but the Tigers couldn't get past a Brown squad, rejuvenated by the return of its captain, Peter Sullivan. Sullivan went 16-for-16 from the free throw line as the Bears posted the third most efficient offensive performance against Princeton (behind Presbyterian and Duke) all season.

Meanwhile, Penn rebounded from its disastrous four-game stretch where it lost three times in overtime before getting blown out at Columbia with a road sweep and season sweep of  Yale and Brown. The win over the Bulldogs on Saturday night knocked them out of postseason contention but kept the Quakers slim CBI or CIT hopes alive. Penn needs to hold serve against the Big Red and Lions this upcoming weekend, win at Dartmouth and split with Harvard and Princeton to get to 15-13 (9-5 Ivy), which should be enough to at least get into consideration.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What If The Mids Played A BCS Schedule? (Part I)

It started as a Twitter flame war.

ESPN had just done its seemingly annual "which is more NCAA worthy: Mids or Middling Majors?" debate, forwarding the same points and generating the same conclusions as it always has. Mid-Majors are cute and cuddly but just can't compete with the meaty resumes of even the most mediocre of BCS level squads. Meanwhile, the defenders of the little guys point out how they seem to outperform their seed expectation pretty routinely, suggesting that they're characteristically under-slotted in the tournament field and fail to garner the respect they truly deserve.

After bemoaning the contrived nature of the ESPN debate (don't get me wrong, it's hard to write anything novel on the subject), Andy Glockner - Bubble Watch guru for and that site's resident Bracketologist - picked up the baton and added the important point that BCS schools had better rack up a handful of quality wins, because they get so many chances to do so.

It's almost as if the Middling Majors are given every opportunity to fall hind-parts backwards into marquee victories. In response to Glockner, I mused that the Middling Majors' resumes should be compared against what a generic bubble team could have done with the same schedule.

Then, John Ezekowitz of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective asked the logical follow up question. If only we could give the Mid Major bubble teams a Middling Major schedule, we could see what kind of profiles they could generate and then compare them against the resume that specific Middling Major actually compiled.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why Princeton's Adjusted Efficiency Margin Might Be Deceiving

The best team in the Ivy League at the 14-Game Tournament halfway pole?

Both the simple metrics (standings) and more complex statistics (adjusted efficiency margin) agree: It's Princeton.

The only place they differ is by how much. The Tigers hold a slight half-game lead (one game in the loss column) over Harvard in the league standings, but Princeton's +11.1 adjusted efficiency margin is double the Crimson's +5.5.

In this case, however, the win-loss stat may be closer to the real story than the efficiency one, due to a wildly divergent, yet uncontrollable underlying factor.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Is "Best" Always The Best?

With just about two weeks to the tip of the first conference tournament, the Ivy League will once again have its run as a popular footnote, since the Ivies are the only Division I conference not to hold the event.

Instead of giving the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament to the conference tourney winner, the league hands it to the team that survives the 14 game round robin Ivy schedule. There are a variety of reasons for this, including but not limited to: logistics and class, necessity as it relates to the Ivy athletic mission and a sense of merit.

In a previous post, I raised the point that while 14 is a larger sample size than three, it is hardly sizeable enough to guarantee that the best team wins the league. In fact, the odds of the 14-Game Tournament selecting the best team versus a simple 1-8 seeded conference tournament were only about 9 to 20 percentage points better depending on the amount of parity and whether the games were staged at the higher seed's gym or on a neutral floor. When you consider that quite often the Ivy champion would at least be in the discussion for an at large bid, especially as the tournament continues to expand, some of those unlucky teams in that 9 to 20 percentage point delta might wind up getting picked for the Big Dance anyway.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Week 15 Powerpoll: Mighty Fast Pace Cars

For a moment on Saturday night, it looked like the league might be in for another of those second-half coronations that has become so customary rather than a legitimate title chase.

Then, Harvard stormed back from 24 points down for a relatively easy win while Princeton snuck past Cornell in a tricky Saturday night visit to Ithaca. The Tigers retain their one-game loss column lead on the Crimson, which is out to its best Ivy start (7-1) in 40 years.

Yale managed to salt away a win in Hanover, a night after taking Harvard to the wire, but the 5-3 mark (two behind Harvard and three behind Princeton in the loss column) leaves them likely needing to win their final six games and still get help to have a shot at even a playoff.

The rest of the league is essentially fighting for fourth at this point with the Lions edging ahead of the Quakers in poll position for that spot after beating Penn 75-62 last night.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saturday Notebook: Two Horse Town

After Harvard finally put Yale away with a Keith Wright dunk off of a press break, the Crimson joined Princeton as the second member of the breakaway pack that is now two or more games ahead of the rest of the field.

While the Tigers might only be a game ahead in the loss column, Princeton has carved out a huge lead in the adjusted efficiency margin at +12.3 points per 100 possessions as compared to Harvard's +6.6. The Tigers still have the tougher remaining schedule with six more road games to the Crimson's four, but given how easily Princeton dispatched Columbia at Levien last night, the home/road split might not matter to the Tigers.

The odds are dead even at this point, with both teams winning the league 61 percent of the time (49 percent on a tie-allocated basis).

Friday, February 11, 2011

14-Game Tournament: Defending Newman

There will be a Jim Goffredo reference in this story. That's how old it is.

Earlier this season, Columbia walked in to Newman Arena and did something that no Ivy team had done in the past 22 tries.

It won.

While that snapped Cornell's impressive home league winning streak, what it failed to snap was the Big Red's nine-straight, home back-to-back weekend sweeps. That mark spans back to the same place that the 22-game win streak reached - a 85-79 loss to Harvard on March 2, 2007 in which Jim Goffredo dropped 32 points in his second to last game to outshine freshman Ryan Wittman's 24 points on 92 eFG% shooting.

Maybe the nine-straight sweeps are merely a relic of the past waiting their inevitable turn to join the many other streaks and spurts that came to an end this year. In such a dismal season (by record, at least), it could also be a reminder that there is still plenty to play for, especially for a team that could still have been the Ivies' second best in many of the recent years past.

This current Cornell team will never be consistent offensively - the Big Red just doesn't have the personnel required to do the low-variance things like getting to the line and making interior buckets. The same frontcourt problems leave Cornell exposed defensively, forcing it to cede easy layups or quickly venture into foul trouble.

What the Big Red can do is shoot. Cornell hits at a 37.4 percent rate from deep at Newman, and that is its ticket to saving this Ivy season. Yes, it's high variance. Yes, it makes it tough to hold leads.

But it's who the Big Red is, and if it wants to salvage the rest of its Ivy season, it would be best to embrace that fact and just fire away.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Inside The Numbers: A Change At The Top

Round One of the Ivy Heavyweight Battle went to the home team, as Princeton downed Harvard 65-61 on Friday night.

It took 50 minutes and a couple of bizarre events, but the Crimson managed to rebound from the loss at Jadwin by defeating Penn at The Palestra in double overtime 83-82. The end result pretty much matched expectations - sweep for Princeton, splits for Harvard and Penn - but the ride was quite the wild one.

We'll take a look at how those results affect the Ivy race and give you some next-level stats in a moment, but first, a public service announcement from the Please-God-Everyone-Notice-Jack-Eggleston-Is-Extremely-Talented Fund.

Week 14 Powerpoll: Hey, Remember Us?

There was a time - not all that long ago - when Penn and Princeton absolutely owned the Ivy League. They had the Ancient Eight on lockdown.

When one was down, the other was up. Lots of times they were both up, leading to national recognition and awesome fireworks. But they hadn't both been down at the same time for about 20 years, when Cornell finally broke through in 2008 and grabbed the title three-straight times.

This weekend, however, both teams put the league on notice: This is our league, and we want it back.

Aside from a talented Harvard squad, the Quakers and Tigers are pretty close to having just that.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saturday Notebook: Princeton Grabs The Lead

The 22nd time? Same as the last 21.

Princeton used a 19-2 run around the halftime break to turn a six-point deficit into a 43-32 lead and hit its free throws in the closing moments to hang on for a 65-61 win over Harvard last night.

Ian Hummer and Kareem Maddox were too much for the Crimson to handle down low, especially after Harvard big men Keith Wright and Kyle Casey picked up their fourth fouls midway through the second half. Hummer and Maddox found themselves with matchup advantages down the stretch and exploited them en route to a 13-for-21 combined performance from the field for 31 points between them.

Friday, February 4, 2011

What Peter Sullivan Means...

In case you missed it this past weekend, Brown forward Peter Sullivan missed his first career game - an overtime loss at Penn.

Sullivan's solid three-point shooting and knack for getting to the line as a freshman allowed him to force his way into the starting lineup as a rookie - a spot he has maintained until injuring his shoulder against Princeton. Now the Bears must face the prospect of going forward without their captain, as Sullivan's younger brother Matt, a sophomore, is expected to take his starting role.

How much of an impact will this have on Brown? Ask a variety of people and you'll get pretty much the same answer, one of either "He's irreplaceable, they're screwed" or "They might go winless in the Ivies." You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone that would say that it might not have a significant impact whatsoever, even though that might indeed be the case.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

14-Game Tournament: Where Were You On Feb. 3, 1989?

No, it wasn't the day the Berlin Wall fell. It wasn't the day when the Tiananmen Square protests came to a head either. And, nope, it wasn't the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (though that was Feb. 2, so good guess).

February 3, 1989 was the last time that Harvard defeated Princeton at Jadwin Gym. The victory marked the end of a 4-2 spurt over six years for the Crimson in New Jersey, a run which came on the heels of a 25-year road losing streak to the Tigers.

The current skid (21 years and counting) hasn't been entirely smooth sailing for Princeton. One of Harvard's worst teams in school history took the eventual Ivy League champion Tigers to double-overtime in 2004 and the Crimson pushed Princeton to overtime again in 2007 without Brian Cusworth, who had exhausted his eligibility midseason. Every time, however, the Tigers have found the extra clutch basket to escape with the victory.

Rarely do the games yield many style points, but Princeton would be just fine with more of the same, if it means another crucial league win.