Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Articles, Upsets, and Plans

I’ve spent the last few weeks finishing my contribution to the 2010-11 Basketball Prospectus Book. I’ll have more to say in the future, but suffice it to say I am very excited about the publication. Besides the normal preview content, (the returning players and predictions), the heart of the book is the detailed statistical discussion of every major conference team. You knew South Carolina was fast, but were you aware of South Carolina’s woeful defensive rebounding and commitment to one-on-one play? And thanks to John Gasaway’s hard work expanding the publication, the book now includes several words on all the small conference teams as well. Are you prepared for a full discussion of Eastern Kentucky’s unorthodox style of play?

Early this summer, I also wrote an article for the Jayhawk Tip-Off. I’m always hesitant to suggest a team-specific publication. If you are a fan of Georgia Tech, I assume you have better ways to spend your money. But if you do care about the Jayhawks, I was blown away by the quality of work Eric Angevine was able to pull together last year; and I expect even better things this year.

When you write these articles, not everything you write makes the final cut. I’ll have some posts on what did not make it into the Basketball Prospectus Book in future weeks. But today I wanted to share something that did not make the final cut in the Jayhawk Tip-Off.

One concern for Kansas fans is that Bill Self keeps showing up in the next table. Using the post-tournament Pomeroy Ratings, here are the most unlikely NCAA tournament upsets in the last seven years.

Most Unlikely Upsets in the NCAA Tournament in the Last Seven Years

If you ask him, Ken Pomeroy would probably point out that some of these upsets do not pass the eye test. Dayton hardly qualifies as a dramatic upset. But if you look at the full-season numbers for those teams, (their margin-of-victory against the quality of competition), the numbers do not lie. West Virginia was blowing teams out in 2009, and it was a significant surprise to see them perform so poorly against Dayton.

Similarly, you may be surprised that George Mason only appears on this list once. But by winning four NCAA tournament games, including wins over Michigan St. and North Carolina, George Mason had the profile of a very strong team at the end of the season. History no longer looks at the first round win over an inconsistent Michigan St. team as a huge surprise.

The shocking thing is that Wisconsin and Kansas show up as upset victims three times. Is that a sign of good coaching or bad coaching? These teams have clearly been dominant in the regular season. But for the large segment of fans that only watch NCAA tournament games, Bo Ryan and Bill Self are not leaving a good last impression.

More Quality Writing

This summer I also posted some “free” articles on this blog. First, I discussed the off-season coaching changes. I also followed that up with a detailed discussion of coaching turnover in the NCAA tournament era. And I concluded the series here. Coach ratings are my signature blog feature and this analysis is definitely worth a read if you missed it this summer.

What else can you expect from YABB this season?

For starters, I’ll be rolling out statistical predictions for all the major conferences. You may remember this spring I estimated a statistical model that predicted the tempo free stats for various teams. Here is an example of the output. Well, one thing I promised was to add some individual defensive stats to the model. And after playing with the numbers, I can say the defensive player statistics have some predictive power. Teams that lose a player with a high block rate or steal rate will perform worse on average on defense the following season. The model is still a work in progress, but it is becoming more refined. I plan to present predictions for the major conferences in the coming weeks.

(By the way, Ken Pomeroy continues to do a number of amazing things. After he revealed his win probability charts, I’m not sure I will be able to look at a game the same way again. Am I in the red zone or the green zone? And while I cannot speak to what brilliance Ken will share next, I may not be the only one developing a predictive model for tempo free stats. If Ken shares anything, I think it will be worth examining which model does a better job predicting the season.)

But the most important thing I want to do this season is get back to talking about the games. Last winter I bought a townhouse and moved to the suburbs and it significantly curtailed the number of college basketball games I watched. But now that I have a treadmill set up in my basement, and fewer worries about moving and painting, I can re-focus my leisure hours on the things that matter. While the stats are not going away, this season’s theme will be simple. Enjoy the games!