Tuesday, April 1, 2014

PAC-12: the Most Under-Valued Conference in the Country?

Update:  I've updated the stats to include the Final Four.

Brief Observation
I'm impressed by Kentucky's deep run.  I don't think anyone can beat them they way they are playing.  But I also think that if Michigan had not lost center Mitch McGary this season, they would have flattened everyone. That is one talented, well-coached team.


The Numbers Don't Lie
I thought I'd post my conference seeding-versus-performance analysis while there's still interest prior to the finals. 

My methodology is simple:  I track how teams do in the NCAA Tourney relative to their seeding, then aggregate the results by conference.  So a #2 seed that loses to a #5 seed gets a minus 3, while the winner gets a plus 3.  Winning/losing as your seed says you should expect earns a zero.  So if your conference is around zero, plus or minus a few, you're doing pretty much as expected.  Keep in mind, this doesn't tell you whether a conference is good or bad.  It only indicates whether expectations as assigned by the seedings were warranted.

I've also included an additional data point, that of how many teams in each conference over-achieved, under-achieved or did about as expected.  This helps tell us whether or not the aggregate number is attributable to conference performance as a whole or to a single data point (i.e., a major upset). 

The lopsided seeding match ups for the Final Four mean that the SEC can move even higher or drop, the AAC can still move up, and the best the B1G can do is stay roughly where they are or, more likely, drop even further.     (Update: the SEC remained static, the AAC rose and the B1G sank further.)
  2014                      # Teams    # Over Achievers/# Neutral/# Under Achievers

SEC              +22           3                 2 / 0 /1
PAC 12           +8           6                 1 / 3 / 2
AAC               +6           4                 1 / 1 / 2
A-10              + 2           6                 1 / 3 / 2
MWC              -3           2                 0 / 1 / 1
Big East          - 8           4                 0 / 2 / 2
B1G               -15           6                 2 / 1 / 3
Big 12            - 16          7                 1 / 3 / 3
ACC               -21          6                 1 / 2 / 3
There are two big changes from last year.  First, the SEC skyrocketed, owing to Kentucky's deep run.  The ACC, on the other hand, plummeted.  Blame Duke and Syracuse (with some help from Dayton.)

Here are aggregate numbers for four of the last five years (I just didn't get around to it in 2012):

By Year     2014      2013     2011   2010    Aggregate
PAC 12          +8       +17       +5       +13        +43
SEC             +22         -8        -8         -6             0
ACC             -21         -2        +4          0          -19
B1G              -15         -8       -15        -11         -49
Big 12          - 16        -16       -14       -15         -61
Big East         - 8        -13       -28       -35          -84

Uh, does anyone see a pattern here?  One year is perhaps a statistical outlier.  Two years, maybe something forming.  But this?

It's not even close.

I would expect for most big conferences to trend slightly negative, owing to large contingents in the tourney (except for the SEC, which has been sending three teams for a few years), and the occasional success of mid-majors. Interpreted as such, the B1G benefits from a significant and consistent favorable bias.

However, the PAC 12 (undervalued), the Big 12 and the Big East (both severely overvalued) are clearly off the charts relative to one another (although the latter got some relief recently as it fragmented and took some of the bias with it).

The numbers don't lie.  

Sunday, April 7, 2013

So, How'd We Do?

Who's Winning?  Who's Losing?
I thought I'd post my "over-under" analysis while there's still interest prior to the finals.  Either way, it won't affect much.  I've added an additional data point, that of how many teams in each conference over-achieved, under-achieved or did about as expected.  This helps tell us whether or not the aggregate number is attributable to conference performance as a whole or to a single data point (i.e., upset).  It also indicates how many teams that conference had in the tourney.

                                       # Under Achievers/# Neutral/# Over Achievers

PAC 12           +17                       2 / 2 / 1
MVC               +16                      1 / 1 / 0
A-10                 + 3                      3 / 2 / 1
ACC                   -2                      0 / 2 /2
B1G                    -8                      2 / 2 / 3
SEC                   - 8                      1 / 2 / 2
WCC                  -8                      0 / 1 / 1
Big East            - 13                      1 / 4 / 3
Big 12              - 16                       1 / 1 / 3
MWC               -26                       0 / 2 / 3

For the most part, I ignore the conferences with just a couple of entries, like the Missouri Valley Conference and the WCC.  Wichita State and Gonzaga speak for their entire respective conferences' scores.

The pattern of past years remains unaltered, however.  Once again, the PAC 12 was the most undervalued conference in the tournament.  The A-10 was also a bit undervalued.  The Mountain West Conference, the Big 12 and the Big East were big failures.  (That would certainly seem to give pause to idea of an east coast bias.  Maybe its just a PAC 12 bias, pure and simple.) 

The B1G also under delivered, as usual.  But, to give them and the Big East their due, at least those two conferences were not as disappointing as in the past.  The Big East made the greatest improvement, having consistently been under the Mendoza line of -20 over recent years.

The B1G improved this year, but only because they actually had two over-achievers:  Michigan and Minnesota.  Michigan is especially interesting.  I understand that freshman center McGary only began starting games during the tourney.   His contributions are the reason for Michigan's sudden rise to prominence. 

So, why were they hiding this guy?  He came to Michigan considered one of the top young prospects in the country.  Word is he had "under-developed offensive skills."  Huh?  Looks pretty developed to me.  Plus he has a court sense unusual in a big guy.  Have you noticed how many assists he gets?  He'd have more but his teammates sometimes aren't ready.

He faltered somewhat down the stretch in the Syracuse game.  But he has the potential to be the best player in a generation.  The best big man since Walton.  He's going to be dominant and make everyone around him better, something unusual for a center.

Back to the Numbers

There's been a lot of sports columnist ink devoted to how the teams from the West were decimated in the tourney, which is true only if you emphasize the dismal showing of top seeds like Gonzaga and New Mexico.  (The MWC Conference was just plain terrible, though.) But, as I've shown, the PAC 12 beat expectations far more than any other conference.  Seeding Oregon and Cal so low was just ridicullous.

So, how do the powers-that-be rectify their consistent failure with regards to the PAC 12?  The simplest answer is that they probably don't want to.  It speaks volumes when I'm living in California, in the Cal market region in fact, and I can't watch the Bears play on TV because of network telecast choices. 

Yea! Santa Clara!
My Broncos pulled off their second post season tournament championship in three years -- sandwiching a winless conference season.  They took George Mason on the road in the two-out-of-three championship of the CBI.  They beat Vermon (home), Purdue (road) and Wright State (road) to get there.  Good for them and congrats to their seniors.  It will be a very different team next year.

PAC 12 Refs
Another interesting tidbit:  I read that PAC 12 officials called a "rougher" game this season, as compared to previous years.  The thinking goes that that's why the PAC 12 did so much better than expected in this year's tourney.  But as I have shown in previous columns, the PAC 12 always does better than expected.  Lazy sportswriters.   

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Oh Those Surprises

Ratings: Reverting to Historical Form
For a while I thought the BeeOneGee would pull off an historic reversal.  No such luck.  Back to their overrated ways, but at least this year it is to a smaller degree.  Remember, these rankings don't tell us who has the best conference.  It tells us how teams/conferences are doing in the context of their seeding.

As ever, the PAC 12 was woefully under-seeded and the BeeOneGee over-estimated. (But, to give them their due, other than Wisconsin, they've been pretty close to form.  Oh yeah, except for Indiana.  Uh, and Ohio State...)

At least the Big East is improving on their abysmal showing in earlier years.  Here's the tally after Sunday.

PAC 12               +17
MVC                  +  9
SEC                    + 5
A-10                   +  3
ACC                   -  2
WCC                  -  8
B1G                    -  8
Big East               -13
Big 12                 -16
MWC                 -26


The Wolverines are the BeeOneGee's great last hope to prevent a total swan dive in the tourney.  But I'm impressed.  I did not see their blowout of VCU coming.  It was, on paper, a great matchup.  They both have speed but, in the end, Michigan had the big guy (McGary) that VCU lacked.

As for Michigan's miraculous take down of Kansas, I especially noticed who was cool down the stretch:  Kevin Young for Kansas, McGary for Michigan.  Young wasn't a star, but he played smart, error free b-ball and made some key buckets.  They needed him in the lineup down the stretch, but Self made a mistake by benching him (probably for matchup purposes) and Kansas suffered.  Sometimes, a less than spectacular player who is feeling comfortable and playing well is what you need in a desperate situation like that.

As for McGary:  Wow.  This guy is a freshman?  Cool under pressure and great down the stretch.  He's going to be a great one. 

Too bad Duke and Louisville are playing today and not for the title.  Is there really any doubt that Mike Krzyzewski is one of the all time greats?  Best thing is, he sits most of the time and doesn't micromanage every move, every placement of every play.  Still wondering how you get "Shuh-shev-ski" out of that name, though.  Must be a Cyrillic thing.

Wichita State
Have to admit, I didn't see this one coming either.  I saw Creighton take them out in their conference tournament and I figured they were another San Diego State:  good talent, toss them the ball and tell them to go play.  The fact that Creighton can beat them and yet they're still standing in the Tourney is a bit of a head-scratcher for me.

Pet Peeve #4
Those stupid ads with the smugly self-satisfied guy talking to a small group of kindergarten kids is worse than all-talk radio with Dick Vitale.  But there's nothing worse than child actors who are more adult than adults trying to act like genuine little kids.  Gag me with a spoon.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A-Ten Baby!

Conference Over/Under
In past posts, I have performed a simple "over/under" analysis, tracking how teams do in the NCAA Tourney relative to their seeding, then aggregating the results by conference.  So a #2 seed that loses to a #5 seed gets a minus 3, while the winner gets a plus 3.  Winning/losing as your seed says you should expect earns a zero.  So if your conference is around zero, plus or minus a few, you're doing pretty much as expected.  Keep in mind, this doesn't tell you whether a conference is good or bad.  It only indicates whether expectations were warranted.

After the first round, here's the tally:
A-10                  +10
PAC 12               +9
SEC                    +7
MVC                   +1
WCC                     0
ACC                     -1
B1G                     -2
Big 12                 -13
Big East               -17
MWC                 -18

So, it looks like thus far, the A-10, Pac 12 and SEC were very underrated.  In all fairness, the SEC only had three teams and their plus 7 is from Mississippi's win over Wisconsin.  The big losers are the Big 12, Big East and MWC.  But, some things never change:  the Big East is consistently overrated year after year.  The B1G usually is too.  Let' see how it shakes out in the coming rounds.  More in a future post...

Round of 64 comes to an end
I commented previously on how the first day had the preponderance of interesting games.  The second day fulfilled my low expectations, despite some fun with Creighton and La Salle, giving us some truly ugly games.  But first, let's play nice.

How about my A-10?  I'm feeling pretty good about nailing the La Salle win over K-State.  I am so jealous of the fans in the A-10 conference's markets. 

More nice...
City of Brotherly Love...and College Basketball
Is there a better city for college basketball than Philadelphia?  That city may not have anything else for the rest of the country, other than Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell (hell, they even removed the Rocky statue), but it has to be the greatest city for college hoops, at all levels:  Temple, La Salle, St. Joseph, Villanova, Penn and Drexel, with Rutgers across the river and Univ. of Delaware just down the road.

Tobacco Road has the reputation (Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, NC State) - and probably has a similar geographic area.  But it doesn't have the diversity.

OK, now on to today's games...

Ugly #1:
Because my bro is a Buff fan, I endured the Colorado game v. Illinois, singling out the first half in particular.  Now I, above just about anyone else I know, want to see the PAC 12 smack a BeeOneGee team.  But the best I could make out of that poor excuse for a game was an ever escalating exchange of ineptitude.  CU eventually lost more than Illinois did.

Ugly #2: Give me a U...Give me a G...
I endured Georgetown v. Florida Gulf Coast becasuse the pundits said FGCU was a team to watch.  Fair enough.  I knew nothing about them and I figured Georgetown was vulnerable, if only because I've never liked them (mostly a holdover from the current coach's daddy). But, to put it simply, I was waiting for someone to lose this ugly game and Georgetown eventually came through.  I'm scratching my head trying to figure out how and why.

St. Mary's exit was predictable and about right.  Their defense kept them in the game in the second half, as it did v. Middle Tennessee State in the "play-in."  To their credit, Memphis locked down star St. Mary's guard, Matthew Dellavedova.  Otherwise, Memphis was singularly unimpressive.  Without even looking who they play next, I figure Memphis will get thumped.  

Who's that fat guy playing center for Minnesota?  That's all the comment this game deserves.  Minnesota has some talent.  But Jordan Adams, perhaps UCLA's best player, was out with injury.  UCLA quit. Nolo contendre.

Western Kentucky
These guys were seeded #16?  Huh?

This game was no fluke.  There's clearly a parity issue developing.  More in a future post.

Also, the TV scoreboard operator for this game must've had more beers than I did.  I've never seen so many misappropriated scores and corrections than I have in the last two minutes of this game.

Notre Dame
Please lose the day-glo green.  That's all.  No more.

Pet Peeve
In an earlier post, I railed on the flopping that makes it even more difficult for refs to make the right call in a charge/block situation.  Following up:

Pet Peeve #2- Players making the ref's call by pointing the direction of possession on an out of bounds when it's perfectly obvious to everyone, including yourself, that you last touched it.  What happened to honesty in sports?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Let the Games Begin

Protection Racket
I'm trying to figure out the four play-in games.  Why is it that eleven seeds St. Mary's and Middle Tennessee (and 13 seeds La Salle and Boise State) have to "play-in" while the rinky dink teams like Albany and Southern have automatic slots in the round of 64?  Sure, the latter teams face killer first round matchups.  But just bump the whole bracket downwards and push out the bottom seeds to the play-in games.  You could argue that the NCAA Selection Committee is giving its due to conference champions as automatic qualifiers over bubble teams, albeit stronger ones. You could also conclude that the big conferences and the networks want to protect their top seeds from early exits.

St. Louis Blues
After watching St. Louis struggle with VCU's speedy guards in their conference final, I've become more worried about the Billiken's chances in the NCAA tourney.  I thought their guards were better than that.  Still rootin' for them, however.

  • La Salle (of the A-10) and Boise State.  Both are seeded 13 and face each other in a play-in game.  The coup de grace:  the winner gets stuck with Kansas State.  I watched La Salle and Boise State in their conference tournaments.  They are quality teams and deserve better, particularly La Salle.  La Salle or Boise State in a major upset over K-state is not a bad pick folks.
  •  The PAC-12 may be weak, but Oregon deserved better. If they get past Oklahoma State, which is doable, they face my favorite team this year, St. Louis.  I'm bummed because Oregon, which is strong at the guard position, is just the type of team that can take down the Bilikens.   

Flops: Pay to Play?
I watched a lot of basketball this past week.  I was struck by how often the refs across the country made bad calls on charge/block situations.  Granted, it's the toughest call for a ref to make.  But the misses seem more egregious than ever.  I wonder if its because the players on defense are getting much better at "selling" it.  On a hopeful note, I did detect a few instances where the ref may have called a block on a player who took a flop. I wonder if they're trying to send a message.  Perhaps we need to look at the game of soccer, where a flop is considered a penalty?  The NBA is already doing so.

Thank you PAC 12 and MGM Grand for not plastering candy bar logos and other image clutter all over the floor.  Conference banners and arena logo are all we need, thank you very much.

PAC 12
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I don't follow the PAC 12 like I used to. But after watching Oregon and UCLA in the conference tournament final, I have to say I'm impressed by the level of physical talent.  If the PAC 12 disappoints in the tournament, then maybe we should be looking at the conference's level of coaching as the reason. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

A-10 Controversy

The A-10 plays great basketball.  Take Butler.  They beat Gonzaga and are only the fifth seed in their conference tournament!  Gotta love it. It's a shame that ESPN televised the opening round but won't be back until the finals on Sunday.  They'll be too busy with the ACC and Bee-One-Gee.

I'm Not Making This Up
What an amazing finish. Charlotte is down 63-60 to  Richmond with 5.9 seconds to go in the A-10 tournament opener. Richmond fouls in order to prevent a three point attempt.

Now, as an aside, I think any foul in the last minute should be two shots and the ball. C'mon, you're ahead by three and you intentionally foul the other team?  This practice completely changes the nature and flow of the game. Discouraging late fouls would also speed things up.  I'm tired of the 10 minutes it takes to play the last minute of a game. Of course, some of that is due to all the timeouts, which is a another pet peeve of mine.  ...I guess that's two asides.

During the first free throw, Richmond's Derrick Williams gets entangled with Charlotte's Willie Clayton and throws him down with a forearm.  Since the foul (yes, it was a foul) happened during a dead ball, it's automatically a technical.  Free throws completed, Charlotte has the lead and the ball.  Richmond fouls and coach Chris Mooney gets called for two technicals.

Eleven free throws result from the entire sequence and Charlotte wins 68-63. Read all about it here.

ESPN cries controversial!  Nope.  Not...one...bit.  You foul, you pay the price. Williams made a huge mistake in judgment.  Coach Mooney compounded it.  I wonder if perhaps coach Mooney took the technicals on purpose to protect Williams, even though his team still had a slim chance at the win.  It served to shift some of the burden of the loss.

Bottom line, I don't believe refs should swallow the whistle in the final minutes of the game.  The rules don't change as the clock winds down.  The game results up to that time are a result of play under certain guidelines.  If you change the guidelines, such as a ref's willingness to call a foul a foul, then you become an agent in changing the game.  The rules provide the framework.  Play within them. 

As it was, Charlotte was on the short end of the calls all night, having four guys foul out.  A number of calls were simply awful (the "controversial" call was not.)  Richmond was adept at taking the charge (read: flopping) and selling it to the refs.  The Charlotte win was karmic balance.

Gonzaga #1?
I'm not convinced that Gonzaga is a number one team.  And it has nothing to do with their generally weak schedule, at least not directly.  They play beautiful basketball.  Olynyk is beyond impressive. But I think they are vulnerable at the guard position and can't help but feel that a physically tough team with discipline will take them down in the tournament.  I wouldn't be surprised if they don't make it past the Sweet Sixteen.  It all depends on the matchups.

Elsewhere in the WCC, I think St. Mary's will get invited to the dance.  Point guard Dellavedova is a joy to watch.  Yeah, he's slow, but he has wonderful court sense.  As for the team, I think they, like the Zags, will make a relatively early exit.  I just don't think they're that good.

Foolish Consistency?
I watched Steve Fisher's (remember the Fab 5?) San Diego State team lose to Boise State.  SDSU was an early darling of the rankings then stumbled in the second half of the season.  Fisher has had a long career and his teams are always the same.  He recruits talented kids and basically gives them the ball and tells them to go play.  I used to view that derisively, but there's something to say for letting the kids have fun.  It's also nice to see a coach who generally refrains from standing out on the court during play, micromanaging his players' every move.  But his teams tend to disappoint and, for me, aren't very fun to watch except on an individual basis.

Monday, March 11, 2013

We're Baaaack!

It's been two years since my last Hoop Poop post, so it's high time I spouted off.

But you should know that there have been some changes.  First, I no longer follow the PAC-12 closely.  I'm a season ticket holder for Santa Clara in the White Catholic Conference, aka WCC.  (OK, they're the West Coast Conference, but take a look at the schools in the conference and you'll get where I'm coming from.)

Come to think of it, though, that religious based hegemony may be threatened from a rising behemoth in the east, as other schools will soon break out with their own Catholic 7 conference.  Could that be why the Pope is retiring? 

Second, I'm going to try not to pound on the Bee-One-Gee (B1G) Conference so much.  Really.  I promise.

Well, maybe at least until the Tourney selection is made. 

March Madness Crystal Ball
I'm here to tell you to keep an eye on the teams from the A-10.  Maybe no surprise to anyone who follows college ball, but I'm not just talking about VCI and Butler, two recent darlings of the underdog set.  The team to watch is St. Louis Billikens.  I watched them take apart a bunch of talented kids from LaSalle this weekend.  They play a great game of team basketball, with good playmakers and are very strong up front.  I can't wait for the A-10 tournament.  Should be a good one.  Either way, St. Louis is going deep in the NCAA Tourney, folks.  (OK, so what exactly is a Billiken and why does it look like that pig is winking at me?)

I've also been watching a slew of conference championship tournaments.  After watching the Colonial semis (James Madison v. Delaware; Northeastern v. George Mason), I'd have to say they seem to be no great threat to anyone.  But there was a very interesting game last night between four seed George Mason and one seed Northeastern.  (Northeastern?  Really?)  With about three and a half minutes left in the first half, GM was up 31-7.  I kid you not.  Early in the second half, it was knotted at...wait for it...33.  Close game the rest of the way with Northeastern pulling it out in the final seconds.  Fun to watch, if a bit bipolar.