The Pi-Rate Ratings

February 11, 2020

PiRate Ratings College Basketball For February 11, 2020

Tuesday’s Games

 

Home

Visitor

Spread

Akron

Bowling Green

9.0

Ball St.

Northern Illinois

6.8

Boise St.

Air Force

11.4

Central Michigan

Eastern Michigan

5.4

Colorado St.

Utah St.

-2.0

Davidson

Fordham

14.5

Dayton

Rhode Island

9.6

Illinois

Michigan St.

-1.7

Kansas St.

Oklahoma St.

2.3

LSU

Missouri

10.7

Maryland

Nebraska

17.3

Ohio

Western Michigan

5.7

Ole Miss

Mississippi St.

-1.8

Purdue

Penn St.

3.0

Saint Joseph’s

St. Bonaventure

-6.9

San Diego St.

New Mexico

16.7

Syracuse

North Carolina St.

3.1

Tennessee

Arkansas

-0.3

Toledo

Miami (O)

10.2

Vanderbilt

Kentucky

-9.8

Virginia

Notre Dame

3.3

Wake Forest

North Carolina

0.3

 

The Captain’s Table

 

Top Games on TV Tuesday

 

Time (EST)

Network

Home

Visitor

6:30 PM

BTN

Purdue

Penn St.

7:00 PM

ESPN+

Akron

Bowling Green

7:00 PM

SECN

Tennessee

Arkansas

7:00 PM

ESPN2

Syracuse

North Carolina St.

7:30 PM

CBSSN

Dayton

Rhode Island

9:00 PM

ESPN

Illinois

Michigan St.

9:00 PM

ESPN2

Virginia

Notre Dame

9:30 PM

CBSSN

Colorado St.

Utah St.

 

Captain’s Musings

 

Where the NCAA Selection Committee Gets It Wrong

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Selection Committee has issued its first preliminary seeding of top 16 teams, and we at the PiRate Ratings are happy to say we predicted all 16 teams on the correct seed line.  Predicting seed lines and teams accepted to the Big Dance isn’t all that difficult, because the NCAA clearly shows its cards.  With the exception of Team 68 and occasionally Team 67, determining in advance which 68 teams receive Dance Invitations is almost as exact as multiplication and division.

Usually, when our Bracketology, or our friends on the Internet that supply their own Bracketology, are finalized on Selection Sunday, the only differences in the brackets come on the lower seed lines.  Many times, predictions for a seed line were accurate, but the Committee had to move a team up or down one seed in order to obey the NCAA’s rules about facing an opponent from the same conference in the opening rounds.

Basically, the process is done correctly every time, and when Team number 69 is left out, no matter who that team is, the folks at CBS and ESPN immediately cross-examine the Committee Chairman as if a major slight has taken place.  That is done strictly to get the public to keep watching their Selection Sunday special show, because face it, the public could just as easily wait 30 minutes and quickly see the entire field in the bracket on their computer or phone.

We have no issues with the Selection Committee every year.  They do a great job, and it isn’t easy to get a dozen highly opinionated people to agree on whether Teams 67, 68, 69, and 70 deserve to be in or left out.  The consensus usually is right.

Our problem hangs entirely on the process itself, and we have one major complaint that we believe needs to move high up on the priority line.  That statistic is where a team finishes in its own conference.

Why continue to even have conference play if a team that finishes in third place sweeps the 7th place team and then watches the 7th place team get an NCAA bid, while they have to go to the NIT.  Do you think this doesn’t happen?  Unfortunately, this, or something similar, happens almost every year.

Take a look at South Carolina last year.  The Gamecocks handily beat Florida in Gainesville, and they wiped Ole Miss off the floor.  They split with Mississippi St.  All told, USC finished a game ahead of the two Magnolia State teams and two games ahead of Florida.  Yet, they were the team left out of the NCAA Tournament, while the three teams below them in the standings all went to the Big Dance.

What good is having a conference race at all, if it means absolutely nothing, other than that the regular season champion is guaranteed a spot in the NIT if it fails to make the NCAA Tournament?

If we were named the Commissioner of College Basketball, there would be changes made.  First, we would flip the rules on automatic NCAA Tournament bids.  We’d award an automatic NCAA Tournament bid to the regular season champion of each conference and then guarantee an NIT bid to all Conference Tournament winners that did not receive an NCAA Tournament bid.

Let’s look at a possibility that would make this rule show how much better the tournament might be flipping the automatic bids.  Look at this year’s Southland Conference.  Stephen F. Austin is talented enough and well-coached enough to challenge for a Sweet 16 appearance if not more.  The Lumberjacks won at Duke in one of those games where the zebras tried their hardest to give the big team the win.  SFA players were whistled for fouls just for occupying the same city block in Durham, while Duke players had to commit felonious assault before they were whistled for fouls.  Still, SFA won the game, and had this game been played with totally unbiased officials, the Lumberjacks would have actually blown Duke off the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor.

SFA (12-1/21-3) is three games ahead of its nearest conference foe.  They are likely to enter the Southland Conference Tournament at 28-3 and no worse than 27-4.  And, for this incredible run, the Lumberjacks will be guaranteed only an NIT bid.  They will have to win the SLC Tournament to get into the Field of 68.  What if a team like Nicholls State catches SFA on a cold shooting day and upsets the Lumberjacks?  Nicholls will go bye bye in the opening game, while SFA will probably be forced to play a road NIT game and receive the same type of home-cooking officiating that they faced in Durham.

Under our system, The Lumberjacks would still go to the NCAA Tournament, while Nicholls State would be guaranteed that NIT bid or be allowed to accept the CIT bid if they preferred.  The Colonels might finish four games in back of SFA, and after a 20-game conference schedule, when one team finishes 19-1 in the league and the second best team goes 15-5, it is quite clear which team is better and more deserving of the NCAA bid.

The same holds true in the Power Conferences.  Let’s look at the crazy Big Ten race this year.  Currently, three teams, Ohio State, Indiana, and Michigan, are tied for 12th place at 5-7 in the conference.  Minnesota is a half-game ahead of the trio at 6-7.  However, if you look at the criteria used by the NCAA Selection Committee, Minnesota is barely on the bad side of the Bubble and looking at the NIT, while the other three teams are in the Field.  The Big Ten plays a 20-game conference schedule, so if any number of these four teams get in the Field, the preference should be to take the team(s) that finish higher in the standings.  20 games are enough to determine which teams are better than which teams.  Using advanced metrics is great, and we are devoted Sabermetric devotees, but we realize that actual results trump theoretical results.

 

The 2020 R+T Rating Revision

Recently, we were asked to explain how our power ratings are computed, and we gave a detailed explanation of how we rely on the “Four Factors” of basketball and then apply weightings to each of the four offensive and four defensive factors and then adjust the data based on strength of schedule and a constant (that changes a little every year).  What we basically end up with is something similar to baseball’s weighted on-base average and WAR, where instead of estimating how many wins the players on a baseball team are worth, we estimate how many points better or worse than average each team is worth.

In that explanation, we relied heavily on something that has been obvious in Major League Baseball through the “Moneyball” years.  As Oakland Athletics’ General Manager Billy Beane has so succinctly said in the past, “My stuff doesn’t work in the playoffs.”  He didn’t use the word “stuff” but the PiRates refrain from using foul language.

What Beane said was proven to be correct over and over again.  The analytics that show a team how to win 90+ games don’t apply to winning in the playoffs, and there is a reason for this.  Let’s use last year’s Tampa Bay Rays as an example.

The Rays finished 96-66 and made the playoffs.  Tampa Bay played Baltimore and Toronto 19 times each.  They played Kansas City and the LA Angels seven times and Detroit and Seattle six times.   Even against good teams like the Yankees, Twins, Indians, Astros, and Athletics, they faced those teams’ number four and number five starting pitchers between one third and 40% of the time.

In the playoffs, the Yankees are not going to use their number four and number five pitchers, except in mop up duty.  In a seven game series, they might send their number one ace out there to start games 1, 4, and 7, if he can pitch on three days rest.

Moneyball statistics and all the evolved improved statistics are meant to be used over the course of an entire season’s worth of games.  After 100 games played, the strategies of going for big innings and limiting strategies like sacrifice bunting, hit and run, stolen bases, and hitting to the right side of the infield prove to be less efficient and successful in scoring runs on the whole and even winning games.  Small ball doesn’t work when almost every team now plays in a “band box” ballpark.

However, in the playoffs, when a team is facing the opposing ace or number two pitcher, and when they face the top relievers earlier in the games at the highest leverage, attempting to draw walks and hit three-run homers isn’t going to pop those cheap champagne bottles in the clubhouse.  When Justin Verlander takes the bump in October, you beat him by scratching out a couple runs here and there and hoping your pitching staff can hold the Astros in check for a 3-2 or 2-1 victory.  If you expect to put a crooked number on the scoreboard in the 6 or 7 innings he’s on the hill, you stand a big chance of putting up a run of goose eggs.

The same theory holds true in college basketball.  Over the course of a season, shooting the ball and preventing the other team from shooting the ball is going to determine the winner more times than not.  A team that can get to the foul line and hit 75% of their foul shots to win might go 13-5 in their conference and 24-7 overall.  They might get a fat #4 seed and then promptly lose to the #13 seed from a Mid-Major conference.  And, when you look at that Mid-Major team, they weren’t great shooters, but they could clean the glass better than Windex.

At tournament time, unless your team is playing a 20-loss patsy that got hot and won their post-season tournament, or your team has a number one seed and faces a 16-seed that is far outclassed, your team better be able to rebound the ball and avoid turnovers.

Thus, through the years of the 64 to 68-team NCAA Tournaments, basketball’s “Moneyball” system of trying to win the shooting wars for six or seven games just doesn’t work like it does in the regular season, when a team might win four out of every five games all year to record a 28-7 record.  The only record that matters after the Ides of March is 6-0 or 7-0.

How does a team go 6-0 or 7-0 in the NCAA Tournament?  In almost every case, said team is incredibly proficient in getting extra scoring opportunities.  How does a team get extra scoring opportunities?  They grab more rebounds on the offensive end and prevent the other team from doing the same. They force more turnovers on the opponent than they commit, and they capitalize on steals for easier scoring opportunities.  A steal is much more valuable than any other turnover, because more points per possession are scored following a steal than any other situation.

Thus, for many years, we tried to simulate how many potential extra points a team might experience through superior rebounding and protecting the ball.  We created our R+T Rating and used this formula with great success to predict which teams might advance to the later rounds of the tournament, the Final Four, and the Championship.

In many of the seasons, if the top R+T Rating belonged to a Power Conference team, we made them our favorite to win all the marbles, and we were rewarded multiple times.  We even picked a couple of upset dark horses along the way like Wichita State, Virginia Commonwealth, and Butler to make it to the Final Four.  We even isolated on Connecticut to make a run in the year where they broke all the criteria and won the Championship from way back in the pack.

In this time of advanced statistics, we have been trying to improve upon our R+T Rating with a new calculation, one that relies of rate stats over counting stats.  Rebound and turnover margin and steals per game have done well for us for two decades, but we realize there is a difference between rebounding margins.  If a team wins the rebounding battle 33-28, they have done much better than a team that wins the rebounding battle 43-37.  The R+T shows that the 43-37 result is better than the 33-28 result, but that is incorrect.  The 33-28 team retrieved better than 54% of the missed shots, while the 43-37 team only retrieved 53.8%.  Additionally, because offensive rebounding is so much more difficult than defensive rebounding, we really cannot tell which team did a better job.  What if the team that had 37 rebounds from among the four listed above happened to shoot a very low percentage in their game against the team that had 43 rebounds?  What if from the 80 rebounding opportunities in their game, 48 were at their offensive end of the floor and just 32 were at their defensive end of the floor?  What if this team had 14 offensive rebounds on the 48 rebounding opportunities at their offensive end and 23 rebounds from the 32.  By using the Rebounding Rate of the Four Factors, the team that lost the rebounding battle 43-37 actually performed a little better than the team that got the 43 rebounds by the count of 29.2% to 28.1%.

Thus, we are working on a new R+T Rate.  We have been trying to work out a linear regression line with six variables and a constant, and our friends, that is really hard to do, since it involves changing weights and constants over and over until the results are tighter and tighter to the line.  After a couple months, the line is getting there.  We have settled on the handicapping of each component of the stat and only have to deal with a constant that gives us the best back-tested accuracy.  We hope to debut the new R+T Rate just before the NCAA Tournament commences in Dayton.

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