Thursday, March 3, 2011

14-Game Tournament: ESPN The Ocho (err, 3)

The back-and-forth continues.

A week after Princeton took a tumble in the final game of its four-straight road contests, Harvard did the same, dropping a 70-69 decision at Yale. The Tigers' loss dropped Princeton from two-thirds to win the Ivy title to just one-third. The Crimson's defeat the following weekend deadlocked it with the Tigers right at 50/50.

And so we venture into the league's final weekend - the ultimate outcome in severe doubt for the first time since 2002. Both teams seem to have their own advantages - Harvard merely needs a home sweep for a share and in so doing, would force Princeton to win at Penn for its share. Meanwhile, the Tigers only need to win in Boston on Saturday night to clinch a share and only take one of their other two road games (in Hanover and Philly) to take the league outright.

Both the Penn and Princeton games at Lavietes are sold out and have been for weeks now. ESPN3 hopped on board to broadcast the Saturday night showdown between the Crimson and Tigers over the internet. If Harvard survives Friday night unscathed, it could be the most consequential night in the Ivy League in nine years, only to be topped, in the event of a Crimson victory, by a potential playoff game the following weekend.


Princeton           24             6           12             2
Harvard           23             5           12             2
Yale           15           13             8             6
Penn           13           15             7             7
Columbia           15           13             6             8
Cornell             9           19             5             9
Brown           12           16             5             9
Dartmouth             5           23             1           13

Total        1     2     3     4     5     6     7        8
Brown 0% 0% 0% 1% 10% 27% 62% 0%
Columbia 0% 0% 13% 23% 53% 11% 0% 0%
Cornell 0% 0% 0% 4% 35% 51% 11% 0%
Dartmouth 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 100%
Harvard 68% 32% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Penn 0% 0% 49% 46% 4% 0% 0% 0%
Princeton 69% 31% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Yale 0% 0% 85% 15% 0% 0% 0% 0%

The playoff odds now stand at 36 percent - the highest all season, but still not even a simple majority. Of the 3000 simulations, 31 percent had a tie at 12-2, while 5 percent had a tie at 11-3. The most likely scenario was a 12-2 solo winner (47 percent of the time) and 65 percent of the time that champion was Harvard. The third most likely scenario was a 13-1 solo winner (16 percent), which was obviously Princeton 100 percent of the time.

In other words, the race is incredibly tight. The adjusted efficiency margin, reported in a notebook item earlier this week, confirms that fact as Harvard holds an insignificant lead at +8.2 to Princeton's +8.0. Having to pick a winner between the two will more likely break down to an uncontrollable factor of luck than it will to any sort of clear display of merit, as both teams have proven themselves worthy of this year's title.

As for the rest of the league race, Penn and Yale appear to have the inside track for the final two upper division slots, as the Bulldogs will, at worst, tie for fourth even if swept this weekend, while the Quakers would also guarantee no worse than a share of fourth if they can beat Dartmouth in Hanover. The Lions need a home sweep and a Cornell defeat of Yale or two Penn losses to guarantee at least a share of fourth.


Penn at Harvard

The Quakers saw their postseason hopes all but evaporate with the home loss to Cornell last weekend but can still have an enormous impact on the Ivy race.

If Penn takes down the Crimson on Friday night, then the matchup with Princeton becomes far less relevant, as the Tigers could lose to Harvard and still win the league outright. At the same time, even if it loses to the Crimson on Friday, a Harvard win over the Tigers on Saturday would give the Quakers the ability to end Princeton's Ivy title hopes at The Palestra on Tuesday night.

Penn has been the clear third-best team in the league by adjusted efficiency margin and gave Harvard everything it could handle at The Palestra earlier this year. The combination of a star point guard (Zack Rosen), solid big man (Jack Eggleston) and strong perimeter shooter (Tyler Bernardini) has made the Quakers a dangerous team when they can get anything out of freshman Miles Cartwright and Fran Dougherty or vets Rob Belcore and Conor Turley.

The Crimson has everything to play for, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on how you think the young Harvard squad will handle the pressure. At the end of the day, the superior Crimson talent and the fact that the game is in Boston should be enough to push Harvard to victory.

Predictive Model: Harvard 71, Penn 61

Yale at Columbia

The Bulldogs played themselves back into postseason contention by beating Harvard at home last Saturday, but now must beat the Lions and Big Red on the road in order to stay in contention. At the same time, splitting the weekend would almost certainly give the Bulldogs at least a share of third place and likely that spot outright.

Yale held off Columbia 72-67 at home in a game which would vault the winner onto the fringes of contention while relegating the loser to lower its goals to an upper division finish. Despite being the only current lower division team with a shot at fourth, the Lions have faded considerably down the stretch. Columbia sits in seventh in league adjusted efficiency margin after being in fourth after the first weekend in February.

The Lions have the horses down low to contain Mangano but will need far more efficient production from Noruwa Agho to knock off Yale at home and keep those upper division hopes alive.

Predictive Model: Columbia 67, Yale 66

Predictive Model For Other Friday Night Games:
Cornell 75, Brown 69
Princeton 68, Dartmouth 56


Princeton at Harvard

For all the complaints about Saturday night officiating, this might be the most important night to get it right.

Not merely because it's a marquee game being broadcast on an offshoot of the Worldwide Leader. Rather, because each team's style actually dictates that one will have an advantage based on the choice of refs.

Harvard is the Ivy League's best team at FT Rate differential (the Crimson's FTA/FGA is by far the best in the league and 59th nationally, while its FTA/FGA allowed is also far superior to other Ivies and fifth nationally). That's about the only way to put a lot of points up on Princeton, which has been far and away the league's best defense. If the referees tend toward "letting them play," then advantage Princeton. If there are a lot of whistles, advantage Harvard.

Don't underestimate the importance either. When the Crimson holds opponents to a FT Rate under 30 percent, it is 16-1 (a three-point loss at Michigan the only blemish) while going 5-4 when letting opponents see the charity stripe more frequently. When Harvard posts a FT Rate above 30 percent, it is 18-2 (four-point loss at Princeton, one-point loss at Yale) and 3-3 when it fails to make it to the line that often.

The Tigers are, by far, the league's best effective field goal shooting defense and the best defensive rebounding team, meaning that not only do you not make many shots against Princeton, you don't get many of those misses back either.

That's why it's so important to get to the line effectively against the Tigers. It could be as simple as this: If Harvard gets to the line more than 20 times, it will win. If it can't, it probably won't.

Predictive Model: Harvard 68, Princeton 63

Predictive Model For Other Saturday Night Games:
Penn 66, Dartmouth 59
Columbia 73, Brown 69
Cornell 68, Yale 66


Sweep - 7.7%; Split - 40.9%; Swept - 51.4%

Sweep - 36.1%; Split - 48.7%; Swept - 15.1%

Sweep - 46.7%; Split - 44.1%; Swept - 9.2%

Sweep - 2.7%; Split - 30.5%; Swept - 66.8%

Sweep - 61.7%; Split - 34.6%; Swept - 3.7%

Sweep - 9.3%; Split - 68.5%; Swept - 22.1%

Sweep - 26.4%; Split - 66.1%; Swept - 7.5%

Sweep - 18.0%; Split - 49.2%; Swept - 32.8% 

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting analysis, especially the impact of the referees on the P-H game.