29 January 2016

B1G Projections: Halfway Home Edition

We last looked at the B1G projections in late December prior to the onset of conference play.  We are now roughly halfway into conference play with teams having played 8 or 9 games.  Below is our summary of how the conference race has developed in the eyes of kenpom.
Above are the updated projected B1G standings.  Shown in white boxes are the most likely projected finishes for B1G teams that were based on preseason expectations.  Iowa, which has raised eyebrows by sweeping the season series with both Michigan State and Purdue, has far and away gained the most ground in the B1G pecking order.  The Hawkeyes were expected to finish in 7th place based on preseason expectations and had raised their profile during the non-conference slate to an expected 4th place B1G finish.  Eight games into B1G play and sporting a lofty 7-1 B1G record, Iowa is now the overwhelming favorite to finish in first place during the regular season.  Yes folks kenpom is not infallible and clearly missed the mark on the Hawkeyes.

Nebrasketball has also made some serious headway in the projected B1G standings.  The Huskers showed some signs of life in non-conference play -- raising their projected standings by one rung.  But they really have hit their stride during the month of January to the tune of improving their projected standings by an additional 2.5 rungs on a weighted average basis (second only to Iowa's 3.1 rung gain).  Prior to the season Nebraska was penciled in as the 13th place team ahead of only lowly Rutgers.  Now they are projected to finish in 8th.  The Huskers still have more ground to gain to earn a surprise NCAAs bid, but regardless Tim Miles is doing some good work out there in Lincoln.

Michigan, Maryland, Ohio State and Indiana have made some modest headway during conference play, each rising about one rung on a weighted average basis.  When you throw in the teams' non-conference performances, Maryland stands out as the third most improved B1G team relative to preseason kenpom expectations; the Terps were expected to finish in fourth but are now the most likely runner-up to the surprising Hawkeyes.

Rutgers and Wisconsin both have fared as expected in B1G play so far.  That is not a good thing for either team as Rutgers was projected to be the worst team in the B1G, and the Badgers have done nothing more than hold the line on the damage done during their non-conference slate which was far and away the worst among performance among B1G teams relative to preseason expectations.

After an already disappointing non-conference slate, the slide has continued during conference play for the Illini which have lost another rung in the weighted average projected standings.  The Illini are now staring down an expected 11th place finish.

But the Illini have fared better in B1G play than Purdue, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Minnesota, which have fallen in the projected standings by about 2.0 to 2.5 rungs relative to pre-B1G play expectations.  The Gophers, still winless in B1G play at 0-9, followed up its woeful non-conference play (which was only better than Wisconsin's relative to expectations) with the league's worst in-conference performance to date.  Goldy, which at a projected 10th place finish never had high expectations, is a life-support moment or two from Rutgers away from finishing in last place.  Woof.  One has to wonder if Richard Pitino -- despite only being in his third season -- will be coaching in the Barn next season.

The disappointing B1G play for the other three major underperforming teams comes on the heels of pleasant non-conference results.  The Boilers had the B1G's best performance relative to expectations prior to conference play, but during January they have given back nearly all of the ground they had gained.  Sparty had the second-best non-conference performance but so far in B1G play (despite last nigh's shellacking of Northwestern) has given up more ground than it had gained during non-conference games.  Northwestern's disappointing B1G performance (a hair better than Minnesota's relative to preconference play expectations) has left NU on net one rung below their preseason expectations.  Sadly disappointing conference results are still as common to Wildcat fans as a biting January wind blowing off Lake Michigan
The projected win totals above tell similar stories for B1G teams.  

21 December 2015

NU Projections: Pre-B1G Slate Edition

Earlier we posted about how things have evolved in the B1G since the preseason.  We interspersed some info about NU's performance there, but we wanted to dig into more detail for NU here.

Currently NU sits at 10-1 with two gimmes coming up this week against Sacred Heart (tonight) and Loyola MD on Sunday. More than likely NU will be 12-1 when it opens up B1G play in Lincoln on Wed Dec 30.  Sure 12-1 certainly sounds good on the surface, but what does it really say about what kind of team CCC has put together this year?

For the most part fans appear satisfied with NU's performance to date.  You can count us among them here at Coach C Court. The skeptics rightfully point out that NU's 10-1 performance to date is akin to holding serve against this cream puff schedule (kenpom has NU's strength of schedule at #330 out of 351).  However one can also take it a step further and credibly say that NU has achieved that record in better-than-expected fashion.  This is because NU's kenpom rating has improved from 72 in the preseason to 51 as of the time of this post.

In the larger B1G context NU has had the fourth or fifth best non-conference performance.  Couple this with an underwhelming B1G performance as a conference and NU's favorable B1G schedule, and we find that NU now stands in 7th place in the B1G pecking order.  It's hard to believe, but NU is now ahead of Ohio State despite their upset victory over Kentucky and Wisconsin where the wheels have fallen off the preseason bandwagon.

With a successful non-conference performance and a down B1G the Wildcats are now most likely staring at 21-10.  NU has a 64% shot of finishing 9-9 or better, and a 42% shot at a winning B1G record.  This would be a marked improvement over the 6 B1G win campaigns in CCC's first two seasons.  If it happens then we would consider this season a success regardless of whether or not NU makes it into the NCAAs this year.

Final thoughts: the best argument we've seen from the schedule cynics is that NU's non-conference schedule hurts its NCAAs prospects.  Although NU has done reasonably well in the non-conference schedule if NU winds up on the bubble, NU will not win any tiebreakers with its weaker-than-weak schedule.  If NU were to make the NCAAs it would need to play itself off the bubble discussions in B1G play.

With how down the B1G is this year and NU's playing MSU and Purdue - the cream of the B1G crop this year - only once we think that even a B1G record of 10-8 would lead to heartache in Evanston.  That would suck were it to happen, but even then getting back to the NIT would still be a big step in the right direction.

Conference Projections: Post Non-Conference Edition

OK.  This blog post is a wee bit premature since B1G teams still have to play another game or two of their non-conference slates.  But with travel schedules for the upcoming holidays we at Coach C Court will not be able to run the simulation models until after B1G play begins.  So this will have to do.

With 11 or 12 games in the books there has been some significant shifts from the preseason kenpom projections.  Which B1G teams have made hay?  Which have fallen flat on their faces?  We have the answers.

Above are the current projected B1G standings per kenpom data as of today.  Underlined and bolded were the most likely projected finishes for B1G teams based on preseason expectations.  Purdue has made the biggest headway in the projected standings.  This may not be readily apparent because Purdue has move up one spot in the projected standings (including ties) from second to first.  But on a weighted average basis Purdue has moved up 2.7 rungs in the standings.  Next on the list is Michigan State.  While MSU was and still is projected to finish first Sparty has consolidated its relative position to the point that it is the most likely team to finish first and on a weighted average is projected to be 2.0 rungs higher in the standings.

Iowa has jumped from 7th to 4th in the most likely projected finish and on average is up 1.8 rungs.  Northwestern is next on the list with its jump from 10th to 7th (!!) and a 1.6 rung improvement on average.  Maryland  is up 1.4 rungs on average.  Nebraska is the proverbial canary in the B1G coal mine  -- despite having literally the same kenpom ranking as in the preseason the Cornhuskers are projected 1.1 rungs highers in the B1G standings on average.

In a no-contest the team that fallen flattest on its face is Wisconsin.  The Badgers were most likely to finish in first based on preseason projections but are now most likely to finish in eighth (!!!!!), and on average they are projected 4.7 rungs lower.  Salt in the wound for fans who are still reeling from the surprise announcement last week that Bo Ryan had stepped down as head coach effective immediately.  

Minnesota and Michigan have also plummeted in the projected standings on a weighted average basis.  While the Gophers are down only one rung in most likely finish they are down 2.2 rungs on average.  Michigan has fallen from a title contender to a most likely sixth place finish and on average down 2.0 rungs.  Other notable relative losers in the projected standings are Ohio State (down 1.4 rungs) and the Illini (down 1.3).

The projected win totals tell a similar story.  The biggest winners are the same as above (Purdue up 3.2 wins on average, MSU up 2.8 wins) though Maryland has jumped NU in the improvement category with the Terps up 1.6 wins on average in the updated projections while NU is up 1.0 wins.   Still NU fans should be feeling pretty good about the fact that NU is projected to be 9.1-8.9 which is good enough for 7th best in the B1G!!!

The biggest loser is once again Wisconsin (down 3.7 wins).  Minnesota is down 2.2 wins on average, and Michigan is down 1.4 wins.  

Also of note is Nebraska improving by 0.6 wins despite doing nothing in the eyes of kenpom to improve its rating.  Woe is the B1G this year.

Above is the cumulative win probabilities chart.  At this early point in the season it's most interesting to us to look at the probabilities in the 9 to 11 win range as this is where the NCAAs bubble teams will likely finish.  Teams with weak non-conference schedule (e.g., Northwestern: kenpom ranked as #330 out of 351) will likely need to finish at the top end of that range to fall on the right side of the bubble.  
One factor coming into play in the projected wins and standings is the imbalanced B1G schedule.  We took a look at it in the preseason, and below is a look at how things have changed over the past month or  so.  One interesting thing that popped out at us is the bipolar aspects to the chart with teams either clearly a beneficiary or a victim of the schedule this year.  

The other items of note is that this chart makes it abundant clear just how down the B1G is this year. NU's average B1G foe is ranked 80.7 by kenpom which is well above the average rankings in the past two years (42.2 for 2014 and 57.4 in 2015).  If ever there were a year for a bottom half team like NU to make a run toward the top this is it! 

30 November 2015

Conference Projections: B1G-ACC Challenge Edition

Tonight the annual B1G-ACC Challenge tips off.  The season is now about a few weeks old.  Let's see how things are beginning to shake out in the B1G projections vis a vis the preseason projections.

For projected wins expectations have already shifted a fair amount.  The schools with the largest upward revisions are Purdue (+2.3 wins), Michigan State and Purdue (+2.0), Iowa (+1.6) and Maryland (+1.0).  Schools that have disappointed to date relative to preseason projections are Wisconsin (-2.7 wins), Ohio State (-2.0), Michigan and Penn State (-1.1), and Minnesota (-1.0).
The projected standings tell a similar story.  Michigan State has become the front runner for a first place finish (51.45% likelihood) followed by Purdue (38.1%).  In the title conversation at 11 to 12% likelihood are a trio of schools (Indiana, Iowa, and Maryland).  Both Wisconsin and Michigan were originally projected to be in the race but both have been significantly downgraded -- especially the badgers who are most likely to finish in 7th (including ties)!

The race to the bottom has seen less change with Rutgers still the odds on favorite to finish dead last (48.7%).  However that is a marginal improvement of the preseason projections for 14th place (54.4%) thanks to Penn State's drop in the rankings.  While Penn State is still most likely to finish in 13th (including ties) -- unfortunately for Nittany Lions fans, the odds of PSU finishing alone in the basement have materially worsened (11.4% preseason and 25.7% now).

Northwestern has moved up a couple of pecking spots for most likely finishing spot in the standings (was 10th, now 8th), but we don't read much into that since on a weighted average basis NU has improved by less than half a rung.

18 November 2015

Pre-Season Forecast for 2015-16 B1G Regular Season

This post is part of a series that looks at pre-season expectations using data from kenpom.com.  This post uses pre-season kenpom data to analyze expectations for the 2015-16 B1G regular season.

The first chart summarizes the probabilities of where teams are expected to finish in the B1G race.  The chart does not distinguish ties (other than 14th because there is no such thing as a tie for 14th), and for this reason the probability for the standings do not sum to 100% across all teams.
There are four teams that are most likely to finish either first or in a tie first.  In descending order of likelihood these teams are: Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan State, and Michigan.  Purdue also has a good chance at finishing at the top but is more likely to finish just below the winner's circle.

Maryland which has a 9.1% chance of winning or sharing the B1G crown but is most likely to finish in fourth place (12.0%).  This is at odds with the media expectations for the Terps who are considered a final four contender.  Time will tell whether the kenpom data or the media group-think is more on target with UMD expectations.

Other notables include darkhorses Ohio State and Iowa which have about a 1 in 20 shot at finishing atop the standings.  More realistically these teams are expected to finish in the middle of the pack and likely good enough to fall on the right side of the NCAAs bubble.

The next tier of B1G teams is expected to belong to Minnesota, Illinois, and Northwestern.  Each of these could play their way into the NCAAs but an expected finish of 10th will likely find each of these squads bound for the NIT.

Nebraska and Penn State are expected to struggle again this year.  Fortunately for them there is Rutgers which once again is projected to be woeful and the odds-on favorite for finishing alone in the B1G basement.  Rutgers also has the dubious distinction of being the only team to finish no higher than third in any of the 100,000 simulations that we ran.

As the next chart illustrates when it comes to wins and losses the B1G race is expected to be a slug fest.  The four preseason favorites are expected to finish 12-6.  Purdue is expected to finish 11-7, and Maryland, Iowa, and Ohio State are expected to finish 10-8.  At the top of the bottom half of the conference are Minnesota, Illinois and Northwestern at 8-10.  Penn State and Nebraska are both expected to finish at 5-13, and Rutgers brings up the rear at 3-15.
The distribution of win probabilities varies across the teams.  These distributions provide a useful means for splitting hairs among the teams who share the same most likely B1G records.  At the bottom of the chart we create a weighted average expected record based on the distributions and rank these weighted average records.

Northwestern fans should circle Sat Jan 9, Thu Feb 4 and Sat Feb 13 on their calendars.  Those are the dates when NU plays its peers (at Minnesota, against Minnesota and against Illinois, respectively) and may go a long way in determining NU's postseason prospects.

2015-16 Pre-Season Northwestern Basketball Expectations

This post is another part of our series on Pre-Season expectations as per the world of kenpom.com. In this post we focus on Northwestern's expectations.

The first bar chart below projects NU's 2015-16 win totals for the entire season.  It is worth noting that these data are based on the 30 game schedule listed on kenpom.  There is an additional game (either Kansas St or Missouri) that is not listed on the schedule as the opponent is TBD.  We project that NU would be a narrow favorite for that game so you can consider the below bar chart to be conservative.
The good news is that NU is expected to have a winning season.   That would make this the first winning season under CCC and puts NU as a likely NIT team with an outside shot at the NCAAs.  It's not where anyone wants to be, but at least it would be a step back for the program to where it was when Johnny Shurna was in the house.

The following chart summarizes the pre-season forecast for  NU's B1G conference slate.  NU finished 6-12 last year so the most likely outcome of 8-10 would be a step forward for NU and set a new high water mark for the CCC era.

Preseason Expectations for Undefeated or Winless 2016 B1G Records

From the get-go Wisconsin was the big story for the 2015 B1G season.  The Badgers were a clear favorite to win the conference with a realistic chance to go undefeated in conference play.  On the other side of the coin Northwestern and Rutgers were anticipated to do battle for the B1G basement.  Wisconsin and Rutgers lived up/down to those expectations though the Badgers did have a couple of stumbles along the way -- most notably the stunning upset at Rutgers.

While the expectations for the cream of the crop and conference laggards were pretty clear last season, the 2016 season expectations are muddier at the top due in part to massive losses to graduation/NBA up in Madtown. According to kenpom -- nipping at the Badgers' heels for B1G supremacy this year are the Hoosiers, Wolverines, Sparty, Purdue, and Maryland.  At the bottom end of the pack Rutgers is a clear favorite for the cellar.

We will have much more on 2016 preseason expectations for all the B1G teams in a bit.  But in the spirit of tapping into fans' ubiquitous preseason daydreaming prior to the reality of actual play settling in -- we wanted to give a snapshot look at what are your favorites team's chances for going either undefeated this season.  We also figured to take a look at the nightmare winless scenario while we were at it. Please note that this analysis is based on preseason expectations and does not factor in the results of early non-conference games such as Wisconsin's upset loss to the Leathernecks or Sparty's nice win over the Jayhawks last night.

Not surprisingly highest ranked #9 Wisconsin was the most likeliest team to go undefeated.  Though "most likeliest" is a relative term.  18-0 is quite unlikely to happen for the Badgers with odds of an undefeated season occurring once in every 2,634 simulations .  The Hoosiers are next on the list and in the same ballpark as the Badgers with odds of 3,625:1 against an undefeated season.  Rutgers has a laughable one 1.3 quadrillion shot at 18-0, and Nebraska and Penn State are looking at odds in the multiple billions against the unthinkable actually happening.

Unfortunately for Rutgers there is a small but realistic chance that they go 0-18 this year.  The kenpom statistics suggest that if the B1G season were played out 58 times then one of those seasons would be a winless nightmare for the Scarlet Knights.  Nebraska and Penn State have minuscule chances at going winless as well.  

13 November 2015

On the Imbalanced 2016 B1G Schedule

With college basketball tipping off today (four games are already in the books: congratulations are in order for Columbia, E Michigan, LA Monroe, and Yale who have kept their dreams of an undefeated season alive) we are keen to take a preseason snapshot of projections for the season.  This post is the first of an undetermined number of such snapshots.

We were digging around our archives from last year for ideas and noticed that around this time last year Northwestern fans were up in arms about the unfairness of the B1G schedule.  At the time we took an analytical look at the bellyaching and found that 1) NU did get the short end of the stick, but 2) that the B1G stick wasn't nearly as imposing as in prior years.  See the post here including a discussion of our methodology.

Nary a word has been whispered about NU's 2016 B1G slate.  That got us to wondering whether this was because NU caught a break from the schedule makers this year.  If you look at the kenpom rankings data, you find a pretty uniform and packed distribution from the best team (#9 Wisconsin down through #72 Northwestern).  Therefore the beneficiary/victim analysis is most affected by how many times #117 Penn State, #138 Nebraska, and especially #221 Nebraska appear on the schedule.  Behold our 2016 analysis:

Nebraska -- the only team that got screwed by the B1G schedule makers worse than Northwestern last year-- projects to be the biggest beneficiary this year.  Call it good karma, poetic justice, law of averages, whatever.  The second biggest beneficiary is Sparty (like they need it!).  But after that Northwestern is basically in a tie with Ohio St, Rutgers, and Minnesota as the third most likeliest school to have bribed the B1G schedule makers this year.

Interestingly -- except for Rutgers -- each of this year's major beneficiaries was victimized last year.  Rutgers -- some may be jealous of your good fortune but we are happy for you.  You needed and will continue to need a break for the foreseeable future.  But -- on a more serious note -- it is frankly hard to believe the dumb luck that the inequities in the B1G scheduling have more-or-less balanced out within just a year's time.

One last little NU-centric anecdote.  NU's B1G schedule is the easiest it has been during CCC's tenure.  Although NU modestly outperformed expectations last year with six B1G wins -- and even though Northwestern's prospects suffered a significant blow with Vic Law's season ending injury -- this year's schedule sets up favorably for an improvement in the W column.  To wit Northwestern is projected by kenpom to win 8 games.


Various thoughts as 2015-16 season is set to tip-off tonight

It's high time to dust off the blog as Northwestern begins its 2015-16 men's basketball season at 7pm tonight when UMass Lowell visits The Welsh.  Kenpom ranks the River Hawks as 327th out of the 351 teams included in its statistics.  This cream puff should not only afford NU a blowout victory to start the season but also give a preview for much of what is in store this non-conference season that also includes familiar fodder from recent seasons: #326 SIU Edwardsville, #344 Chicago St., and #349 Mississippi Valley St..

Non-Conference Slate

As alluded to above the non-conference schedule is weak weak weak -- even by NU standards.  According to kenpom the schedule is comprised of one team in the top 100 (#7 UNC), joined by four more teams in the top 200 (#125 Columbia, #130 VaTech, #112 DePaul, #200 Fairfield), joined by three more teams in the top 300 (#293 New Orleans, #219 Sacred Heart, #203 Loyola MD), and the four awful teams mentioned above.  NU also has a TBD opponent from its two round tournament (UNC is first round opponent) which should be decent relative to the rest of this bleak slate.  

This non-conference slate will fatten up the W-L record and hopefully build up the confidence for the eight promising freshmen and sophomores on the active roster while allowing CCC to tinker with schemes and rotations.  But -- aside from #221 Rutgers -- it will do little to prepare NU for the rigors of the B1G slate which features six teams ranked in the top 25, four more teams in the top 100, and two more teams in the top 200.  

Future Roster Projections

With a non-conference slate that will struggle to hold our attention we have already turned our eyes to the future.  On Wednesday Northwestern announced that three individuals had signed National Letters of Intent.  The recruits include two well-regarded local prospects: C Barret Benson and W/F Rapolas Ivanauskas, and G Isiah Brown who is making waves out in the state of Washington.  On paper this is the third consecutive respectable class landed by CCC.  

The chart below projects NU rosters in future years.  The first thing to note is that NU has all 13 spots filled for next fall.  This may come as a bit of surprise given that there are 12 individuals with scholarships listed on the 2015-16 roster, three signed NLIs in the books, and three individuals whose eligibility expires at seasons's end.  
The mysterious 13th scholarship is currently held by sophomore Johnie Vassar who back in March announced his intent to transfer but has yet to pull the trigger.  It's a curious situation.  If he wants to play collegiate ball with the 5 in 4 rule the clock is ticking for Vassar who must sit out a year upon transfer but has already used a year of eligibility last year.  That said the ball is in Vassar's court so to speak as he is guaranteed four years of scholarship at NU if he so chooses.  Given that he is currently matriculated but not on the roster it is evident that he is not welcome to rejoin the team and the remainder of those four years would be spent as a normal student working towards that coveted Northwestern degree.

If it turns out Vassar holds onto his scholarship for the 2016-17 season the only significant downside we see to the program is at the Center position.  As things stand at the moment that spot will be filled by two individuals with zero collegiate experience.  This is a short run problem since -- aside from those destined for greatness in the NBA (i.e., those landed by the Kentuckys, Dukes, and Kansases of the world) -- Centers are typically slow in their development at the collegiate level.  In other words NU could really benefit from landing a fifth year transfer ala C Joey van Zegeren (who transferred to NU this year from VaTech) for 2016-17.

Of course there are possibilities other than Vassar's transfer for freeing up that 13th scholarship.  For example as a potential redshirt senior Sanjay Lumpkin might leave the program having expended all four years of his guaranteed scholarship.  Or there may be one or two who like Vassar decide to transfer for whatever reason. The 2016-17 scholarship situation bears watching, but there is much that can happen between now and next season so no reason to fret and make a mountain of a mole hill as yet.

27 March 2015

2015 NCAAs - Round 2 Results by Conference

We're midway through the Sweet 16 round so this post is a little late.  Alas here is the Round 2 update.


ACC continues to march along as expected.  

Pac12 continued to flex it muscles with three teams (Arizona, Utah, UCLA) surviving to the Sweet 16 when only one (Arizona) was expected to be there.  

The modest gains earned by Ohio State in Round 1 for the B1G were given back in Round 2 with the B1G now on track (Michigan State survived in place of Maryland) 

B12 and BE continued to disappoint with Kansas and Villanova also dropping out in Round 2, respectively.

The Big East was the biggest lower with 3 conferences still have teams playing in NCAAs.  ACC has most teams remaining (6) followed by B1G (5) and Pac12/BigEast (4).  Other conferences with multiple teams remaining are B12 (3) and MVC/SEC (2).

Surprisingly MVC continued to represent thanks to a Wichita State upset of Kansas.

21 March 2015

2015 NCAAs - Round 1 Results by Conference

Round 1 is in the books.  Here's the conference breakdown comparing actuals to expectations per seeds:


ACC went undefeated in R1 as expected.  Pac12 also went undefeated thanks to UCLA's upsetting SMU.

13 conferences still have teams playing in NCAAs.  ACC has most teams remaining (6) followed by B1G (5) and Pac12/BigEast (4).  Other conferences with multiple teams remaining are B12 (3) and MVC/SEC (2).

Losers: Big 12 (Iowa State, Baylor), Big East (Providence), American (SMU)
Winners: B1G (Ohio State), Pac12 (UCLA), CUSA (UAB), SB (Georgia State)
Wash: A10 (VCU, Dayton)