The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 12, 2018

Bracketnomics 505 for 2018: First Class


Welcome to the 2018 edition of the PiRate Ratings Bracketnomics 505 Course.  Our course is accredited, and when you complete it, you will earn your Bachelor of Madness Degree.  Just remember that it may not be a BS degree, but it is a BM degree, so you may want to think twice before telling others you received it from PiRate U.

Most universities have some type of history that potential enrollees can examine.  That’s to make the school look worthy of consideration.  Our PiRate School of Bracketnomics has been a bit up and down throughout our history.  When we first debuted as an online course, our selections and predictions put us into Ivy League/Cal Tech/MIT status.  We isolated some key points from back-tested data that worked.  Some of the early pointers that helped us pick brackets were things that would appear obvious to most people–scoring margin, rebounding margin, field goal percetage margin, turnover margin, schedule strength, and the ability to win away from one’s home court.

Our big breakthrough that helped us devise our first advanced metric came about when CBS’s Clark Kellogg mentioned that teams with “spurtability” tended to do best in the NCAA Tournament.  What is spurtability?  It is exactly what it sounds like, the ability for a team to go on a scoring spurt.  What we are talking about here is something like 10-0 or 15-4 or 20-8 run.  Next, in the evolution of PiRate Bracketnomics, our Captain began to research what factors contributed the most to big scoring spurts.  He discovered that half-court offenses and half-court defenses that led to one team connecting on a very high percentage of shots while the other team missed a high percentage of shots seldom led to these spurts by themselves.  It was rare for Team A to hit eight out of 10 shots, while Team B hit only one out of ten shots and led to a 16-2 run.  So, what caused the great spurtabilities of the teams?  The Captain discovered that in a large majority of the cases where a team went on a big scoring run in the NCAA Tournament, it was due to dominating rebounding at both ends of the court, forcing turnovers (especially steals) and then getting easy fast break baskets or forcing the opponent to foul.

From this point, the Captain devised what has come to be the most important factor in picking NCAA Tournament winners–the R+T Rating.  After trial and error using different data points, the Captain created a formula that doubled rebounding margin, added turnover margin, and then gave additional weight to steals and the prevention of steals.  The result was an approximation for how many extra scoring chances and points a team might be expected to receive versus the average college team.  If Team A had a R+T rating of 20, and Team B had a R+T rating of 10, then Team A would be expected to score 10 extra points against Team B just from extra scoring opportunities.  Team B could still win if they outshot Team A by a high enough percentage to make up for those 10 points.

A little success swelled the heads of all the PiRates.  We became too big for our tiny ship.  We began to try to perfect our rating by adding additional information.  We thought for a few years that teams that relied on the three-point shot were at a disadvantage against teams that pounded the ball inside, because so many of the tournament games were held in giant stadiums, even domes, and it affected depth perception and made it hard to aim on outside shots.

There was a time when we discounted teams that won games by shooting a lot of foul shots, because the officials did not call as many fouls in the tournament.

The success of the PiRate Ratings Bracketnomics led to some mainstream media sources linking to us, and we saw our readership go up by large multiples, especially between the second week of March and the first week of April.  And, then what happened?  After correctly picking the national champion during Bracket Picking day for three consecutive years; and after picking tiny George Mason to contend for a Final Four spot when Jim Larranaga guided the Patriots to the Final Four; and after picking Duke, Connecticut, and Kentucky to win and hit on another three in a row, the bottom fell out.

Just like the Dosage Index for the Kentucky Derby, the criteria began to lose its effectiveness.  Too many basketball equivalents of Strike The Gold and Real Quiet began winning when the profile predicted they had little or no chance.    While R+T ratings still remained effective, other criteria not used by us began to be more predictive.

The better three-point shooting teams started to win more and more. Watching the Golden State Warriors dominate the NBA and then seeing how almost every NBA team tried to copy them in some way, it became apparent that advanced metrics were changing the game, just like Sabermetrics changed the way general managers built their baseball teams.  The name of the game became three-point shooting and very high percentage two-point shooting.  Defenses that forced opponents to take lower percentage two-point shots became the new basis for determining effectiveness.

There was one other change that greatly affected the college game.  When the shot clock moved from 35 to 30 seconds, it appeared on the surface that it would minimally affect the game by maybe two or three possessions per game.  This was not the case.  Defenses discovered that they could pressure the offense more and more in hopes that they would force a turnover or force the offense to escape the pressure to find a good shot.  Many times, the pressure defense led to a hurried shot by the offense.  Thus, teams that were patient all of a sudden saw their shooting percentages fall when good pressure defenses forced too many hurried shots.  There was also the case where a defense that could keep the ball out of the close two-point range and force three-point shots to be taken a few feet farther back, could stop the patient offenses.  What was the solution to these defenses?  Up-tempo basketball came back in vogue.  Offenses began to try to hurry up their tempo to beat these gambling defenses or to get the preferred close in two-pointer or right behind the line three-pointer before defenses could organize.  The newer up-tempo style of play brought back basketball from 40 years ago.

Once again, the teams that can get up and down the court in a hurry and do so without becoming sloppy in execution have begun to dominate the game.  The patient offenses and non-pressuring defenses have found out that it is really hard to win consistently when the opponent is now finding a way to score 10 more points per game due to their new style of play.

What did we do at the PiRate Ratings to combat our decline in effectiveness?  The PiRates stripped our criteria down back to the basics.  We felt like we were missing the obvious.  Here is what matters when the NCAA Tournament begins play.

1. True Shooting Percentage Margin

2. R+T Rating

3. Schedule Strength

These three basic principles make up an overwhelming majority of how we will select our brackets when we release them Tuesday afternoon.
1. True Shooting Percentage Margin:  this is the difference between a team’s offensive true shooting percentage and defensive true shooting percentage.For college basketball, true shooting percentage is:


Don’t let this stat look intimidating.  We would never force you our patron that we love so much to have to figure the offensive and defensive percentages for 68 teams.  Do you know how long it takes to go to 68 different official athletic sites to get this information?  We do!  We have already calculated this informaton.


2. R+T Rating:  We hope most of you reading this today have some familiarity with our R+T Rating.

The formula for R+T is:

(R * 2) + (S * .5) + (6 – Opp. S) + T

R = rebounding margin; S = Steals per game; and T= Turnover margin

3. Schedule Strength:  It is obvious that a team could compile some very lofty True Shooting Percentages and R+T ratings playing the weakest 30 teams in the nation, while another team could compile some really awful stats playing the top 30 teams in the nation.  The first two data points must be weighted with the strength of schedule, and there is the rub.  How much do we adjust the data from True Shooting Percentage Margin and R+T Rating to factor in schedule strength?  We think we have the answer.  Based on the fact that a certain schedule strength number has held consistent as the floor among past Final Four teams, we believe we know the cut-off points that will allow us to interpolate the winners of each round.  Obviously, it is not an exact science, but hey, nobody has ever picked a perfect bracket, and we hear that the chances are better than somebody can win the Power Ball and Mega Millions jackpots in the same week than picking a perfect bracket.
The PiRates will reveal our entire bracket Tuesday afternoon.  And, after each round, we will then post an updated bracket for those people that play in contests where you can pick the winners round-by-round.

Additionally, we will issue our regular PiRate Ratings spreads for each tournament game.
We hope you return Tuesday after 12 Noon EDT to see what we believe will be an exciting and informative Bracketnomics 505 course.  Yes, you can earn your BM degree!

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