Saturday, February 24, 2007

Happy Anniversary

Today marks the One Year Anniversary for Basketball Predictions. It's been a good year, and I feel like we're starting to build a good place to discuss college ball. Over the first few months this site existed, visits would often number only a dozen or so per day, and comments were few and far between. Now, we're receiving well over 1000 hits, and around a dozen comments per week. Also, visitors are starting to get the hang of what is offered here, as well over 100 different "returning visitors" show up on the day of each new BP65. We're at about 150 hits per day throughout the month of February, and have a total of 17,780 hits for the year at the moment I'm typing this. The hit counter is constantly going on the bottom of the page if you're curious. I think that a double in the number of hits (around 35,500) will be a good goal for the next twelve months.

On another exciting note, we're only 3 days away from my favorite part of the college basketball season: conference tournament time. There are just more good matchups during conference tournament time than during the real Tournament. You get teams with similar styles, and historical rivalries playing each other. Duke/UNC, Florida/Kentucky, etc. In the Tournament you often end up with teams from different conferences with clashing styles, and the games aren't as smooth or exciting. Not to mention all of the small conference teams playing for their seasons. There is no other sport in the world where one month before the end of the season, well over 300 teams still have a shot at winning the national title. I can't wait.

Finally, if that wasn't enough to chew on, let's go over some of the key bubble matchups from the past couple of days, as well as earlier this afternoon:

Oregon State 73, Washington 65
Probably going to do it for a very disappointing Huskies team. I won't mathematically eliminate them, because you have so many good chances for big wins in the Pac-10. Washington closes at Oregon, then at home vs. USC and UCLA. If they win all three and run through the conference Tourney, they'll be discussed as a red hot bubble team. But I don't see them winning all three. I don't see them even winning two of three. And if they don't win all three they can officially start selling tickets to their first NIT game.

USC 69, Stanford 65
I hope Cardinal fans haven't been fooled into thinking that their team has wrapped up a Tournament spot. They have a decent RPI of 43, and are sitting fourth in a conference that will get atleast five bids. But they still have to head to UCLA, where the Bruins will be ready to deliver payback for a loss earlier this year. And Stanford also has to play a very tough Arizona team at home that might be desperate to keep their conference record over .500. Losses in those two games will drop Stanford to a mere 10-8 in the Pac-10. Stanford still probably will get in on the back of several quality wins over Tournament locks, but they will have to sweat it out through conference tournament week. USC, meanwhile, seems like a team that should be a Tournament lock, but has an inexplicably low RPI of only 50. The reason for the poor RPI is that they played a bunch of really awful teams (300+ RPIs) that crushed their strength of schedule. It's the trick that the Missouri Valley and Mountain West conferences have used to inflate their RPIs in recent years: Never play teams with RPIs worse than 250 if you can avoid them. If you play team #200 they will still be an easy victory, and your RPI will be much healthier for it. However, I think this is where the Selection Committee will look past the computer numbers and recognize that USC has earned a Tournament bid for their play thus far. For the record, Sagarin puts USC 33rd. It's rare for BCS conference teams to have Sagarin ratings that high and get denied.

Texas Tech 59, Oklahoma State 57
In a lot of ways the Cowboys outplayed Tech in this one, but their thin bench was exacerbated by foul trouble and Tech parlayed good home court advantage into an important win. Tech has struggled with their computer numbers all year, but this win pushes them to 36th in the RPI. They're also back up to .500 in the conference. They have two very winnable final two regular season games (vs. Baylor and at Iowa State) that they really need to get that 9-7 record. I'm under the impression that no Big 12 team has ever made the Tournament at 8-8, although someone can correct me if I'm wrong. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State really has their backs against the wall now. The RPI has dropped to 49, and even if they win out they will still only be 8-8 in the Big 12. The fact is that teams like Florida State and Georgia are outplaying Oklahoma State right now. So, if those teams are still on the outside looking in, the Cowboys are really going to have a tough time arguing why they should stay in the bracket.

Florida State 78, North Carolina State 52
Boston College 59, Clemson 54
It is widely assumed that the top six teams in the ACC are moving on to the Tournament (UNC, Va Tech, BC, Virginia, Duke, Maryland). But many people also think that a seventh team is going to get in, and right now FSU and Clemson are dueling for that seventh spot. Clemson seemed like a Tournament lock just a month ago, but right now I think that today's results put FSU in position for that 7th spot. The 6-9 ACC record is pretty bad (obviously it will have to end up at 7-9, because they won't get in at 6-10), but the rest of the numbers are pretty nice. The RPI is up to 38th, and they have wins over Florida, Virginia Tech and Maryland, as well as Duke on the road. I think that if the Seminoles take care of business against Miami and against their first round ACC opponent, followed by an upset in the ACC Quarterfinals, they will probably be able to wrap up an at-large bid. Clemson, meanwhile, has to win at Virginia Tech to avoid a 6-10 record that would essentially eliminate them from at-large consideration. It's been quite a few years since we've seen a team with such a meteoric rise and fall within a season. I can't imagine what it feels like to be a Clemson fan right now.

Georgia 86, Mississippi State 73
An important win for a Georgia team, and an important loss for Mississippi State. It feels like there is at most one at-large bid to be had for the group of Georgia, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Arkansas. It's essential for these teams to keep winning, to try to put together the 9-7 SEC record that they probably will need. The fact is that the computer numbers are pretty bad for these teams, and there are few good wins to go around. Florida, Kentucky, Vandy, Tennessee and Alabama are all looking pretty safe for a bid. It seems odd that the conference leading the nation in RPI might only get five bids, but it could happen.


DMoore said...

I disagree with the thought that Clemson and Florida State are battling for a 7th spot out of the ACC. At this point, Georgia Tech is playing MUCH better basketball than either of those two teams. However, I suspect that you are looking at Tech's schedule, which is scary -- UNC and BC remain, although both are at home. Given how well they've been playing of late, though, I suspect they will win one of those games. It could even be the Carolina game, if UNC is looking ahead to Duke.

On the flip side, Clemson doesn't look like they believe they can do it. Even when they made a great run to close the gap in the Duke game, they couldn't close the deal. I think the race for an additional spot is down to FSU and Tech.

p.s. "It's the trick that the Missouri Valley and Mountain West conferences have used to inflate their RPIs in recent years: Never play teams with RPIs worse than 250 if you can avoid them."

I think the word "inflate" hit a button for me. If you only play teams that have "some" chance to beat you and avoid playing teams that have "no" chance to beat you, I think you should be rewarded for that. No one is forcing the BCS schools to schedule the Longwoods and the Savannah States of the world. I think that teams like USC who play a number of games that are essentially byes should be punished to some extent, probably in their seeding.

Jeff said...

I know we've discussed this before, but I think that it is a strategy to inflate ratings. Well, inflate might not be the right word - but they keep from DEFLATING their rankings. Like i said before, if a top-ranked team plays Longwood and Savannah State and wins both games then they get a pretty bad RPI drop. That doesn't make sense to me. A proper ranking should neither reward nor punish a team for beating up on a bad team.

If we think about it statistically, let's say that an elite team has a 1% chance of losing to a team with an RPI of 200, and a 0.1% chance of losing to a team with an RPI of 300. Well if you play teams on that level 10 times in a year, the expectation value is that you'll win all of those games. So, beating up on 200 RPIs isn't really much more impressive than 300 RPIs.

There are two ways to better judge a team:

1) Greatly increase the sample size. Have teams play 1000 games in a season. Then you would actually see the difference between a team that loses to a squad like William & Mary 5% of the top vs. 1% of the time. Obviously it's not possible to do this.

2) Take into account the score of the games. So, a team would be punished if they snuck by Longwood, but would not be punished if they won by 40.

But like I said, the Selection Committee takes this into account. They can look at certain teams and see that they've been unproperly punished for playing some teams that turned out to have really bad RPIs (like USC and Louisville) because, honestly, you can't predict exactly where teams will finish. You don't know what kind of record a team like Buffalo will end up with when you schedule a game with them.

But that's why when we look at things like RPI, we should give just as much credence to something like "Record vs. the RPI Top 50/100". See how many games they've really played against top teams, and how they fared.

You might be right that Ga Tech has moved ahead of Clemson. Clemson has utterly collapsed. But I still think Florida State has the edge for grabbing the 7th spot for the ACC.

The Babaganoosh said...

As a Terrapin, I'm still concerned that we could lose our remaining four games and get left out of the big dance for the third year in a row. It may seem strange, but

Step 1) Cut a hole in a box...

Sorry, lost my train of thought.

Step 1) Look ahead to the Duke game during game against UNC - get blown out. Maryland does this on such a regular basis I've come to expect it.

Step 2) Get hosed by the officials in Durham. This happens on such a consistent basis that I've come to expect it.

Step 3) Be so ticked off that you're 7 - 8 in conference and give 50% at home against NC State, manage to lose.

Step 4) Things come apart at the wheels during the first round of the ACC tournament and they lose to Wake Forest (bad) or Miami AGAIN (worse).

That way, the Terps are 21 - 11 and the ACC gets 5 bids. This could totally happen - in fact, it did happen two years ago. Hopefully not, but you heard it here first.

You also heard that UConn will win the Big East tournament, because I can't stand them and don't want to watch them anymore, so of course they'll win it.

The Babaganoosh said...

I wrote "wheels" instead of "seams" because ESPN loves NASCAR too much and I wrote what I heard - does that happen to anyone else?

Who does everyone have winning tomorrow in the 1-2 showdown? Ohio State's luck with those recently has not been very good.

DMoore said...

I understand your fear about Maryland, but I think you're in less danger than you're worried about. Maryland teams do have somewhat of a feast or famine issue -- either they totally buy into what Gary Williams is screaming and completely outwork their opponents, or they rebel against it and give a half assed effort. However, it seems to switch on a season by season basis, depending on the team. This year, I think they're really listening to their coach, and as a result will be impressive in the NCAAs. If this theory is right, there are going to be some years where Maryland has spectacular, elite 8 or farther type years, and some years where they miss the tourney completely despite excellent talent. It's going to be a bumpy ride, but compared to the Bob Wade years, it's definitely worth it.

I agree completely that the selection committee should give heavy weight to a team's record against the top 50 & 100, and that comparatively, RPI is a lesser yardstick. However, my real concern here is that I believe it's in the NCAA's best interest to encourage teams to play as rigorous a schedule as possible, especially in their non-conference games. In order to do that, you need to reward the teams that do play better schedules, and punish those that do not. In some past years, the selection committee has stated as much. I think margin of victory fails as a yardstick, because once you're up by 30, coaches may use the opportunity to develop players who would never get into a game of consequence.

I don't agree that there is little difference between playing 100-200 RPI teams and 200+ RPI teams, and I want to give two examples of why I think USC should be punished for their schedule.

They took the opposite approach, playing zero teams non-conference teams rated above 200 (and only 2 or 3 rated above 100), even with a tough conference schedule coming up. As a result, their schedule is rated #1 in the country. They are 8-7 in conference, while USC is 11-5. USC has also beaten Arizona twice head to head, yet Arizona is universally projected as a higher seed. I think that's very appropriate.

They would disagree that there is little danger in playing a top 100 team, having lost to Oral Roberts at home in the early season. Although ORU has an RPI ranking of 101 right now, the only reason for that is the win over Kansas, as they have not beaten any other top 100 teams, have 4 top 100 losses, and 1 top 200 loss. They'd probably be about 150 without that win.

Bryan said...

I wonder what will happen if FSU / Ga. Tech / Clemson all end up at 7-9.. obviously the ACC tourney will settle some of that matter, but who would you take if they all ended up with identical records (if any)? Would you take Clemson or GT automatically over FSU since both teams swept FSU, or do you take FSU, who has a top 10 SOS, lost their 2nd leading scorer Toney Douglas for the last 6 games, and haven't lost a game to a team with less than a 60 RPI? I'd like to see FSU get in, if only to get Al Thornton a chance to play in the tourney before he leaves FSU after this year.

The Babaganoosh said...

I am very glad I was wrong.

DMoore said...

Interesting question. I think the ACC tourney would decide it. For one thing, if they all end up at 7-9, they would be the 7th, 8th & 9th seeds in the tourney, so the 8th & 9th would play each other. They'd certainly know it was an elimination game. The 7th seed would have a very winnable game against the 10 seed (either NC State, Wake or Miami), but it wouldn't be as impressive as winning an elimination game against your bubble competition.

I think Clemson's only shot is to win the 8-9 seed game. Winning out to get to 7-9, and then beating a lesser team in the first round is still likely to leave them on the wrong side of the bubble.

It's really tight between GA Tech and FSU at this point. Tech has been playing very well lately. FSU's bad stretch can be explained away because of the Toney Douglas situation. I think FSU would need to get Toney Douglas back, and show that he can contribute again, to get the nod.

p.s. If teams tie in the standings, how do they determine who gets which seed? Not only are Tech, FSU and Clemson heading toward a tie, NC State, Wake and Miami are currently tied for last, UNC, Virginia & VA Tech are tied for first, and Duke & Maryland are tied in the middle.

Bryan said...

Dmoore- If I remember correctly, ties are broken by head to head competition vs. the other team(s)involved, then overall won/loss record.. after that, SOS and all that common opponent, etc.. categories come into play. Should be interesting to see how the ACC finishes out.

Jeff said...

My understanding is that each conference can set its own rules. I'm sure most conferences will have pretty similar rules, though. I would recommend checking the conference website, as they often list the tiebreaking procedures.

As for getting a 7th/8th seed in the ACC Tourney, I think the advantage is in having the 7th seed. Because even winning the 8/9 game isn't great assurance of a bid, but it is assurance of getting creamed by UNC in the Quarterfinals. The 7th seed, on the other hand, will be able to get warmed up on whatever bad team they play in the first round and then have a real shot at winning in the Quarters. Whoever ends up number two, be it Va Tech or BC or Virginia, is going to be beatable. And whoever has that 7 seed in the ACC is going to be playing with their season on the line, against a team that only cares about moving up a seed or two in the real Tournament. Without the large talent disparity, that's the recipe for an upset and a Tournament bid.

Of course, that whole analysis flips if UNC somehow loses the regular season title.e