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.