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.