Friday, January 21, 2011

Analysis: How They Played Against Whom They Played

Measuring Ivy League teams against each other based upon what can be wildly disparate non-conference schedules can be a difficult task.

The tempo free movement has led some breakthroughs in the field of unbalanced comparisons, and now one of the gurus of such analysis, Ken Pomeroy, has provided another aspect by which to compare team performance. In an effort to allow readers to parse out more meaning from game-by-game offensive and defensive efficiency figures, Pomeroy has added a rank for each, which indicates how well a rating stacks up against all of the other teams the opponent has played.

While this particular measure suffers from bias based upon the quality of specific opponent's opponents, in the aggregate, it can provide useful information about a team's offensive and defensive performance in the context of who it has played.

Top Top Top Top Top
Offense 2 5 10 15 20
Brown 1 3 6 2 2
Columbia 1 3 4 4 2
Cornell 1 1 6 4 3
Dartmouth 1 0 3 5 6
Harvard 3 2 5 1 2
Penn 1 2 4 4 2
Princeton 2 4 4 4 1
Yale 1 3 3 5 2

As an example of how to read the above chart, look at Brown. The Bears have recorded one offensive efficiency performance that was among the top two best ratings that opponent had allowed all season. It registered three ORatings that were either the 3rd, 4th or 5th best that those opponents had yielded all year. The pattern continues for Top 10 (6th-10th), Top 15 (11th-15th) and Top 20 (16th-20th).

This metric points to Brown, Harvard and Princeton as the most consistently effective offenses with Columbia, Cornell, Penn and Yale in a group slightly behind. That differs slightly from Pomeroy's aggregate ratings, which would swap Brown and Columbia and would drop Yale onto a new level, slightly behind the three with which it currently shares a group.

The Crimson and the Tigers stand out as the two highest ceiling offenses, as Harvard's 129 rating against Fordham was the highest allowed by the Rams all season and its 133 against Boston University and 123 against Colorado are the second highest those two schools have allowed. Princeton's 126 at Lafayette was the highest offensive rating the Leopards had allowed all year and the 109 against Siena was the second highest allowed by that team. The Tigers added four more solid performances versus Rutgers, St. Joseph's, Presbyterian and Towson.

What is surprising, and potentially indicative, is who the offensive debacles came against. For Harvard, the flops came against two strong opponents, George Mason and Connecticut and likewise for Yale - Providence and Illinois. For Penn, they happened at Manhattan and Marist and for Columbia they were at La Salle and Longwood. Since most Ivy opponents more closely resemble the latter pairs than the former, it's possible that teams like the Quakers and Lions could display less consistency in league play than the Crimson and Bulldogs.

Top Top Top Top Top
Defense 2 5 10 15 20
Brown 1 0 5 3 5
Columbia 0 1 4 7 2
Cornell 0 3 5 4 3
Dartmouth 0 1 8 3 3
Harvard 4 0 3 5 1
Penn 1 2 2 6 2
Princeton 0 3 7 4 1
Yale 2 4 2 3 3

The number that instantly jumps off the page is Harvard's four top two defensive rating finishes (at George Mason, vs. Holy Cross, vs. Colorado and at Boston College). Only one of those, however, happened after December 1 and its last six D-I games have yielded defensive rating rankings of 14, 15, 16, 2 (BC), 6 and 10. So, the Crimson might have shutdown potential, but it also has letdown potential as well.

Somewhat the same could be said for Yale as well. The Bulldogs' defensive ratings against the BCS run of Providence, Boston College and Illinois ranked 1st, 3rd and 4th on those teams' lists, but since exams the Bulldogs have cooled off with rankings of 12, 12, 7, 10 and 5.

Princeton has yet to display the defensive dominance of last year in any contest this season, but has been extremely consistent, producing average to slightly above average performances to keep itself in most games.

The rest of the league shakes out pretty much as expected. Penn and Cornell have the ability to put together decent defensive performances, but more often than not, don't. Dartmouth is a consistently mediocre defensive team, and Brown and Columbia are similar shades of awful.


These rankings point to a very similar set of dividing lines to the general perception. Harvard, Princeton and Yale are above-average to excellent on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball - though the Bulldogs' status might be overstated, given that their gaudier numbers were posted at least six weeks ago now.

Brown and Columbia need a complete overhaul on defense, and their decent offensive talent won't be able to save them. Dartmouth has almost no hope offensively, despite treading water pretty consistently on defense. These three teams should struggle to be competitive in Ivy play - incomplete teams will get exposed over the course of a 14-game mini season.

Cornell and Penn are the enigmas. They have each shown that they can play above-average offense and defense on a few occasions, which means that the potential is there. While that likely won't translate to competitiveness down to the final Ivy weekend, it's a sign that it could, and that should be encouraging for the team in search of its fourth-straight Ivy title and the team looking for a full rebound from last year's 6-22 disaster.

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