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!