05 February 2015

NU Basketball 2015: Mid-season State of the Team

Zero:  Equals the number of days in the month of January that San Francisco had measurable precipitation.  Also equals the number of NU basketball wins during said month.  One of these is a historic first.  The other?  Here we go again....

We've turned the page in our 2015 calendars to February.  It seems a distant and laughable memory now with the benefit of hindsight, but prior to the basketball season there was occasional speculation that this would be an NIT year for NU. A few intrepid souls even fancied an NCAA invite this year.  Good times!

While we never bought into this optimistic outlook from what we could gather this speculation was grounded in 1) a strong dependable defense -- with accompanying (implicit/explicit) baseless assertions that CCC is a defensive minded coach 2) (relatively) ballyhooed five freshmen with athletic youtube videos 3) ignoring the impact of personnel losses and 4) typical assumption of no losses (health or otherwise) from the roster.

Well NU (1-8) is now at the halfway point of its B1G campaign, and the folly of these optimistic underpinnings has become apparent.  And with this sobering reality sinking in no one is mentioning possible NIT berths anymore.

NU's struggles has come as no surprise to anyone who places credence on the efficiency statistics, but even we NUrds have been disappointed by NU's failure to date in meeting even our already very low expectations.  Some may say that the 1-8 record doesn't reflect the fact that NU has had some moral victories in close losses.  We are sympathetic to that notion but only to a limited degree.  These moral victories have been blown way out of proportion.

The most commonly cited moral feather in NU's cap is the heartbreaking loss at Maryland.  Yes NU did play a good game, but it is also helped that Maryland has been in a funk that began shortly before they played NU and has endured as evidenced by their performances in its two subsequent games - a blowout loss at Ohio St and another near home loss to Penn State (2-8).

Worse yet are those who were celebrating the broader 5 game moral victory streak which includes a five point loss to Illinois.  We don't know which Illinois team these folks have been watching, but the Illini have had some major personnel issues that have torpedoed their season and likely regulated them to the NIT (if only NU had such troubles!).  The fact of the matter is that NU should compete at home against teams like this, and there is no moral victory in scraping over this low hurdle.  Moreover statistically speaking that Illini game was NU's third worst effort of the year and well below that of an average team in this down year for the B1G.

More troubling to us is NU's performance in its last two games.  Purdue may be an improved squad, but they are far from the world beaters that NU made them out to be in the second half that was all but over by the 15:00 mark.  And that stinker of a second half at Nebraska added up to NU's worst B1G effort of the year -- yes even worse than the 23 point home loss to Wisconsin taking into consideration the quality of the opponent.

One slight silver lining to these two bad losses was the quieting of those who had been chirping recently about NU's improved play -- an assertion that had very little statistical support.  Not that such things matter to those who place tons of stock in the eyeball test.

GAMBLE Report 2.05

As the our fifth edition of this year's GAMBLE Report demonstrates, NU continues its range bound trending within the kenpom rankings.  NU is now at 137 overall, and is once again in line with the last two years. The offense has been improving which is one of the bright spots in an otherwise dismal year, but the defense continues to fade.

At our last report the teams closely resembled 2013 in terms of overall efficiency on both ends of the court.  With this update we are now getting into NIT era defensive quality but without the very good offense to propel NU to victory.  If one were to try to compare this team to one in NU's past then it would have to be 2002-03 when NU had an adjO of 118 and an AdjD of 200.  That team was 12-17 overall and 3-13 in B1G.  The B1G as a conference was also ranked fifth in the country that year.  The good news is that NU went 8-8 in the B1G the following year.  So we've got that going for us!

The updated bar charts projecting NU's B1G projections show that the two game relapse has taken its toll with NU's expected B1G win total now at 3.5 which is down from an already meager 4.7 projected wins prior to B1G play.  Not shown here but possibly the worst part is that NU has now pulled into a dead heat with Rutgers as likely B1G basement finishers.  NU and Rutgers each has about a 75% chance of becoming the first team to finish either 13th or 14th in the B1G.  #NUEra?


The second half of the B1G slate begins with a trip to Madison and a visit from Sparty.  With a defense that has regressed to levels worse than even CBC's final season there doesn't stand much reason for hope of repeating the heroics at Wisconsin or slowing down Sparty.  The next realistic chance for a win is when Iowa comes to town Feb 15 which kenpom shows as NU having a 38% shot at victory.  After that NU travels to the barn where despite Goldy's struggles this B1G season Minny has a 86% shot at victory.

Mercifully Penn State comes to Evanston which NU is actually projected to win by 1 point; if NU fails to win that game then it could be two straight months without a win.  That might start to become noteworthy even with NU sad history.