28 April 2016

Eyes turn to recruiting trail

As our esteemed AD Dr Jim put it when explaining why he decided to fire CBC NU is now a program that he holds accountable to external benchmarks.  While those benchmarks are undefined there is a commonly held notion that -- barring unusual and extenuating circumstances -- new coaches are given four or five years to establish their program.  If the coach does not make the NCAAs during that period then his seat gets very hot and is normally given his walking papers.

CCC's third season is complete, and under his watch NU hasn't come close to making the NCAAs and is o-fer the NotInvitedTournament.  Although it's been an inauspicious start to CCC's head coaching career some have fairly pointed out that some coaching legends also had slow starts to their careers.  Coach K is commonly held out as such an example, and why not?  You can't argue with his success, and there is the added anecdote that Coach K is CCC's mentor.

Still without any tangible proof that the program has taken the next step one's belief that CCC will lead NU into the NCAAs must come largely on faith.  NU fans place their faith principally on CCC's recruiting chops and to a lesser degree CCC's coaching resources (his Dad, Coach K, his assistants) as well as NUs projected standing within the B1G.  This last point is salient and is best viewed through the recruiting lens -- at least until the teams lace 'em up this fall  The coaching resources point is such a data-free point that to engage would only lead to a meaningless discourse running in perpetual loops.

So how has CCC done on the recruiting front?  According to verbalcommits.com on the whole NU's 2016-17 roster has an average star rating of 3.11.  This is equal to the 9th best average star rating in the B1G.  That's not bad, but it's hardly rock solid evidence for placing one's faith in NU making the NCAAs within the next two years.

Similarly a recruiting trend analysis also doesn't provide much basis for placing one's faith.  According to 247sports.com NU had the 49th best class recruiting class in 2016 and 9th best within the B1G.

Let's take a big leap and assume for a second that the recruiting rankings are infallible.  Once we stopped laughing about such a silly notion we did realize that a roster full of 9th place talent gives NU a puncher's chance at making the NCAAs.  On average one wouldn't expect NU to make the big dance, but if the breaks fall NU's way then who knows?  So the external benchmarks as measured by that silly measuring stick of recruiting stars do not provide great confidence for placing one's faith, but they do provide at least some basis for hope.

If one turns to internal benchmarks then it looks a bit more promising -- at least superficially speaking.  247 has tracked NU's recruiting efforts back to 2000, and the top three recruits and four of the top five were all landed by CCC.  Furthermore all four of these relatively heralded recruits are going to be sophomores and freshmen next year.  That is at least some basis for making the case that NU is priming itself for a run in Year 6 of the CCC era.

An internal benchmarking exercise such as this raises other comparative issues such as Xs and Os.  For example CBC was able to bring comparatively inferior rosters to four straight NITs.  Can CCC lead a comparatively superior roster to the NIT let alone the NCAAs?  TBD.

In sum there isn't any proof that NU will make the NCAAs within the next two years.  However if one places faith in the recruiting rankings then one could reasonably expect that NU has a fighting chance at the NCAAs over the next two years if things fall the right way.  That's not exactly inspiring stuff, but at least there's some basis for placing one's faith in CCC.  Beggars can't be choosers, and when it comes to the NCAAs NU is the ultimate beggar at this point in time.

19 March 2016

2016 NCAAs: Round One Recap

The first round of the 2016 NCAAs is in the books, and it was a historic first two days.  My pretty much any measure, this was the most tumultuous first round since the move to 64+ teams.  MSU was the biggest upset victim, but fans of 13 teams saw their NCAA dreams vaporize at the hands of a lesser seeded team.  There were but 32 games in Round One.  If you exclude the four 16-1 games that have never resulted in an upset, one could've done just about as well flipping coin to determine the outcome of the remaining 28 games than immersing oneself into hours or research in pursuit of bracket pool glory.  That is a stunning statement on so many different levels.

The sun has risen for the weekend with Round two set to tip off shortly, and the results of the Round One carnage is everywhere in your carefully planned brackets.  For example today there is just one out of eight games that held to chalk. Tomorrow just three of eight games held to chalk.  But fret not that your bracket has been taken over by the red tide of march madness.  Even if you were smart enough to use kenpom ratings as your guide to filling out your brackets your bracket would look wiped out (8/32 first round misses, 3/16 sweet 16 spots already guaranteed to be wrong, 2/8 of elite eight are sayonara) but it is still good enough for 93rd percentile amongst all brackets.

Below is the conference level summary of the round one carnage.  Amongst the major conferences the ACC and Big East withstood the lower seed barrage and actually outperformed expectations with one more team still playing than implied by the seeding.  The Pac12 was the biggest loser as they were expected to have 7 teams playing over this weekend but are left with just two standing.  The Big 12 which has been widely lauded as the best conference in the land (and we still agree) but of the seven teams expected to advance only three survived round one.  The B1G also got bloodied with Sparty and Purdue going down.

Amonst the midmajors the MVC looks pretty darn good right about now.  The conference was projected to be done by now yet both of its teams (Wichita St and N Iowa) still stand (Wichita St alone has matched the Pac 12's two win output).  And let's hear it for the one-bid smaller conferences!  None were supposed to have teams remaining yet six of those teams remain standing.  

All told the NCAA seeding implied teams from just seven conferences would be playing in Round Two.  Fifteen conferences are still alive.  Thank goodness that games are not played in the minds of the committee members.

18 March 2016


Here's a recap of the 2016 CCRUMMYS Awards Show.  As a reminder the prizes are awarded using our patented CCR figures computed using B1G regular season results.  CCR figures are equal to Opponent's Efficiency net of Opponent's Average Efficiency within Conference Play adjusted for game location.  WE catgorize the CRUMMYS between CCRACKYS which are awarded for superlative performances by a B1G team and CCRAZZIES which are given to the worst performances by a B1G team.

The CCRACKYS: Awarded for most outstanding game performances by a B1G team.  

The Glove (Best CCR-D: 0.359 PPP)
Michigan State suffocated Northwestern's offense when it visited the Welsh way back on Jan 28.  The Spartans held NU to just 45 points, or a crazy low 0.703 PPP given that NU's offense averaged 1.037 PPP during B1G play.

By the slimmest of margins that effort edged out Iowa's defensive effort at Michigan State two weeks earlier on Jan 14.  The Hawkeyes held Sparty to 59 points or 0.855 PPP which was well below MSU's league-leading 1.19 PPP offense that it averaged during B1G play.

The Torch (Best CCR-O: 0.455 PPP)
Purdue had the league's best offensive effort when it ran Rutgers out of the RAC to the tune of 107-57 back on Jan 18.  Admittedly that nets-torching 1.574 PPP effort came against the league's worst defense (AdjD 1.196 PPP), but it was still a clear notch above the next best offensive output (CCR-O: 0.349 PPP -- Indiana's 103-69 beatdown of the Illini in Bloomington on the following day).

The Truth (Best CCR: 0.525 PPP)
The award for the best overall B1G performance goes to MSU for its aforementioned 76-45 trouncing of NU at the Welsh.  Last year, MSU had the league's second best overall game when they visited NU.  Tom Izzo must really like playing against CCC-coached teams in Evanston.

In a near second (CCR of 0.496) was Purdue's routing of Rutgers mentioned above.  

The CCRAZZIES: The 'razzies are awarded to B1G teams with the most dubious in league game performances. 

The Sieve (Worst CCR-D: -0.465 PPP)
Rutgers was just awful on defense this year.  The B1G's worst defensive effort in 2016 was mailed in by the Scarlet Knights in that home loss to Purdue.  The league's second worst defensive effort was in their 98-59 blowout loss at NU back on Feb 27 (CCR-D: -0.446)  

To put into context just how bad those defensive games were, the next worse defensive effort was in Nebraska's home opener against NU (CCR-D: -0.340 PPP).  Even there the Cornhuskers were arguably caught off guard by left handed and unknown commodity freshman Dererk Pardon whose red shirt was pulled shortly before the game due Alex Olah's injury.

The Mason (Worst CCR-O: -0.451 PPP)
Minnesota laid the most B1G bricks in their 75-52 loss at Rutgers to cap their disastrous B1G regular season.  This was a 72 possession game against the league's far and away worst defense.  To be fair that performance was an anomaly as Minnesota had something like half of their scholarship players ineligible for that game.  

The league's next worst offensive effort was put forth by Penn State when it stunk up Columbus with a 66-46 losing effort (67 possessions, CCR-O: -0.319).  NU wasn't far behind with a CCR-O of -0.312 when Sparty put the clamps on the Wildcats in Evanston.

The Angst (Worst CCR: -0.688 PPP)
Rutgers was the league's worst team last year.  They took futility to new lows this year.  Once again that 50 point beatdown when the Boilers visited Piscataway is something that will go down in the annals of B1G mismatches.  Juxtapose that with Purdue's loss in R1 of the NCAAs to Little Rock.  Wow.

Rutgers also handed in the league's 2nd worst performance in a 90-56 home loss to Nebraska early in the season (CCR: -0.571).

Rutgers also handed in the league's 3rd worst performance in the 98-59 loss at NU (CCR: -0.560).  

Those were three truly awful efforts.  Leaving aside Minnesota's personnel-challenged losing effort at Rutgers was similarly bad to this game (CCR: -0.562) the next worst effort was Minnesota's bad home loss to NU (CCR: -0.481), and the next worst efforts came in the -0.335 CCR ballpark.  

Purdue: 1 CCRACKY
Rutgers: 2 CCRAZZYS
Minnesota: 1 CCRAZZY

17 March 2016

2016 NCAA Tournament: Conference Expectations

Here is a chart that summarizes how conferences are expected to fair between now -- just one hour 'til the Madness begins -- and when the Final Four is determined.  Pac 12, Big 12, B1G, and ACC all have 7 teams in the tourney.  The Pac 12 and Big 12 are expected to enter the weekend unscathed while one B1G and two ACC teams are expected to lose in Round 1.

Time permitting we will compare these expectations to actuals as the tournament progresses.

Enjoy today's games!

04 March 2016

A win is a win is a win?

Northwestern's win at Penn State felt good for at least a few reasons.  The win kept NU's hopes for an NIT berth alive.  It was also a nice little bit of revenge for that bad early season loss to the Nittany Lions at the Welsh.  And while the NIT years seem like a long distant memory after 3 and possibly 4 years living in post-season purgatory it still was nice to get a little payback for seasons past when perennial losses to Ed DeChellis-led teams played no small part in torpedoing NU's NCAAs dreams.

While the Penn State win felt good regrettably it also resurfaced mixed feelings about NUs season.  Generally speaking NU has taken care of business this season by racking up wins against opponents that with a couple of exceptions could be fairly labeled as anywhere between hapless to below average.  We would've preferred that NU scheduled a harder non-conference schedule (#345/351 per kenpom -- c'mon!), and it would've been nice for NU to get another notch or two in its belt against the upper portion of the Big Ten.  But the schedule is what it is, and there's nothing wrong with NU winning games one should win.

Our mixed feelings are rooted in our distaste for the superficial spin of NUs season results.  For example last night we saw the program tweet that NU has now matched its high water mark of 19 regular season wins.  This is an indisputable fact, and we're not going to criticize the program for arguably doing its job promoting itself in whatever positive light possible.  But as fans we are not beholden to promoting the program.  And simply pointing to statistics absent any context is not what we are about.

Perhaps an even better example is the NIT speculation that 20 wins is NU's magic number.  Hogwash.  20 wins is a nice round number and may sound good in people's heads, but it's not like the NIT committee will think twice about rejecting a B1G team with 20 wins.  There's a reason the guidelines for selection are silent on win totals, and that reason is that context free win totals are a particularly poor way of assessing a team's comparative merits.

So let's dig a little bit into NU's 19-11 record.  12 of those wins were racked up against the nation's 7th worst nonconference schedule.  7 of those wins came against teams ranked 285+ by kenpom.  That is a no-no to the selection committee and will be a negative factor for NU.  The only positive from non-conference play is that OT win at VaTech.  Will that be enough to offset the weak schedule?  Very unlikely.  So the nonconference schedule is not going to help NU's NIT aspirations and will likely hurt.

With no help from the non-conference slate it all boils down to NU's B1G results.  NU is now 7-10 in B1G play.  In the past NU received NIT bids on the heels of two 7-11 B1G records and two 8-10 B1G records.  That history suggests NU is likely to make the NIT, right?  Wrong.

As the chart below demonstrates, NU has racked up its 7 wins against the dregs of the conference which have an average kenpom rating of an astonishingly high 154.   That's over 60 rungs higher than the B1G wins racked up during the NIT years.   If you don't think the NIT committee will consider the opponents' weakness in NU's B1G wins then you're living in denial.

Big win totals are good for those who want to use them for spin.  And they help to make fans feel good and may even sound good to some recruits.  But detailed analyses into the wins are necessary if one wants insight into just how good or successful a team has been.  Reasonable minds may even come to different conclusions even when looking at the same metrics.

Let's see how it all plays out and whether NU makes the NIT.  At the end of the day we hope that we can all agree that is a reasonable and unbiased benchmark because the NIT committee fully understands that it's patently false that a win is a win is a win.

17 February 2016

B1G Projections: Stretch Run Edition

We last looked at the B1G projections in late January.  We are now entering the stretch run of conference play with teams having 4 or 5 games remaining.  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 continues to be the overwhelming favorite to finish in first place during the regular season.  Up from last look is Maryland which is also looking at a nearly 50% shot of earning at least a share of the 2016 B1G title.  Both have also exceeded their preseason expectations which means McCaffrey and Turgeon have to be in the running for B1G coach of the year.  Indiana is the only other team with a realistic shot at the title.  Way to go Clappy McBeltbuckle!

Wisconsin has had a roller coaster year.  After a disastrous non-conference slate that continued into the early B1G slate hangover and culminated with a loss at Northwestern in mid-January, the Badgers have gone on a tear.  Their 7 game win streak -- including a win at Maryland -- has the Badgers back up to a projected fifth place finish.  That is still below preseason expectations that had the Badgers battling for the title, but it is well above where things were projecting at the end of December when Bucky's NCAAs hopes looked to be dim.  Now it's hard to imagine Wisconsin not wearing its dancing shoes.  It's worked out pretty well for Greg Guard who effectively reset the expectations bar lower so that he could surpass it.  But will it be enough to convince AD Barry Alvarez to retain Guard for next season?

Minnesota fans could only hope for Wisconsin's rollercoaster season.  Their disaster of a season that began during non-conference slate has continued to be relentlessly bad during conference play.  Minnesota is still winless, and two huge games with Rutgers will determine which of these two sad teams finishes in the basement (maybe both!).

Despite beating NU by 10 points last night, Purdue fans must still feel pretty bad about how this B1G race has developed.  That is because Matt Painter set 'em up for high expectations during non-conference only to fall well short of those expectations during conference play.  Coach Painter, you need to get on the horn with Coach Guard to learn a thing or two about managing expectations.  

Last but not least.  For those curious about the projected win totals.... we're here for you:


State of the NUion - 2016 Stretch Run Edition

With last night's 10 point road loss to #17 Purdue now in the books, NU (17-10, 5-9) has entered the stretch run of the season.  A promising non-conference slate in which NU rose up the kenpom ranks had us dreaming of the NCAAs and falling back on the NIT.  But in B1G play NU has given back all of its non-conference gains and then some.  Time to take stock of NUs post-season prospects......

Below is NU's projected wins with just four regular season games to play.  It sucks, but with NU's laughably weak non-conference slate, even if NU were to win all of its remaining games (a 7.4% probability per the below chart) the NCAAs would still be a pipe dream barring a BTT championship. 

But it gets even more disappointing.  During the season BballbyNUmbers has tweeted a series of very interesting "Easy Bubble Solver" charts that project the NCAA and NIT fields by comparing teams' average kenpom and RPI rankings.  These types of charts are purely mechanical and are surprisingly accurate (better than many bracketologists).  At last look a couple of days ago NU wasn't projected to be in the NIT field or even among the first four out.  Since last night's Purdue game went more or less as expected it is reasonable to conclude that NU's NIT chances as of today remain unchanged.  

Expectations are for a 7-11 finish so that status quo result would likely spell no NIT.  An 8-10 finish improves NUs outlook somewhat, but would it be enough for NU to leapfrog at least four teams (and possibly many more)?  That sounds NIT-bubblicious to us.  Only a 9-9 finish would have us thinking an NIT bid is likely; that has a 7.4% chance of happening, but we'll know much more about that possibility in a week's time after NU faces its toughest remaining hurdle at Michigan (currently a 24% chance for an NU victory) .

On an expected basis NU has lost two wins relative to its late December forecast.  That is disheartening.  What was teetering on the edge of a promising 9-9 conference mark now looks like 7-11.  Some may feebly point out that would be a modest one game improvement over CCC's first two years, but it would be very easy to refute by pointing out that some gains were to be expected because a) the B1G is way down this year, and b) NU had a relatively favorable B1G slate.  

Final thoughts: barring a late season run it is hard to not be disappointed by Year 3 of the CCC era.  We do like what we see from most of CCC's recruits, and for this reason we are clinging to this intangible feeling that better days (read: NCAAs) are ahead.  Still is it really so much to ask for some actual tangible on the court evidence that CCC will indeed lead NU to the NCAAs?  He has a couple of more years of rope, but the clock is beginning to tick with the program currently mired in sub-NIT-level neutral.

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.