February 27, 2014 Basketball # , , , , ,

EPW: The Case for Stephen F. Austin

There are two things that I am hoping for in the next couple weeks. The first is Villanova getting a number 1 seed. A friend and I made a bet about Nova’s seed, hence my interest. The second thing I want to see happen is for Stephen F. Austin to lose in their conference tournament but still get an at-large bid. The problem is, they likely won’t get in.

The Lumberjacks (awesome nickname, imo) are 25-2. They haven’t lost since November 23, which was an 8 point loss at East Tennessee St. Their only other loss was at Texas on November 15. They lost by 10. They have four game left in their regular season, which would put them at 29-2 heading into the conference tournament. They are going to have a bye to the semi-finals. Let’s assume they win their semi-final game and then lose to Sam Houston St. in the final. They would sit at 30-3 and likely be heading to the NIT. I believe this is a travesty.

The first thing to discuss is their schedule. It’s shitty. Of the teams ranked in the top 100 in EPW, SFA’s schedule is dead last. In fact, out of all 351 teams I have rated, their schedule is the 5th easiest. Only Alabama St., Incarnate Word, Radford and Hampton have had an easier slate. So I get it. Besides Texas, they haven’t played anyone of value. All of their wins are in Tier 4. But should that matter?

When I run my baseline teams through SFA’s schedule, the Lumberjacks have a positive result. They have won MORE games than either Clemson, Nebraska, Baylor, Providence, Colorado or Harvard would have been expected to win against that schedule. They have done everything expected of them and then some. Is the NCAA tournament really better off taking a team like St. John’s, who now sit at 18-11. I say no.

I wonder where the line gets drawn. If they had only two losses (Texas and the conference tournament final), I believe they’d get an at-large. For some reason, that one extra loss has removed them from the conversation entirely. I see so many people on Twitter talking about “X” team’s SOS. Usually “X” is Wichita St. They mentally bring them down a peg because of it. The problem with those people is that they have no baseline. They immediately think weak schedule = bad, without ever trying to determine how much that schedule affects them. You can play a weak schedule and still exceed expectations against that schedule. Would SFA (or Wichita St.) really look better because they scheduled a game at Syracuse in December and lost? Absolutely not. Winning is what matters. Stephen F. Austin has done a tremendous job of it so far. I’d hate to see them not be rewarded for it because of bad reasoning.

Here’s the embedded spreadsheet with ratings through yesterday, along with the direct link to the document. The two columns to the far right are the ranking from February 19th and the difference between that ranking and today’s ranking, for those looking to see the movement in the last week.


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February 20, 2014 Basketball # , , , , ,

EPW: College Basketball Rankings through February 19

I’ve got a new toy to play with.

At the beginning of January, Ken Pomeroy had a blog post about the fairness of wins. The basis of the post is simple. All wins are not created equal. The location of the victory plays a huge role in its worth. So last night, I stole his idea (Thanks, Ken!) and created buckets for every game played this year. I have broken the games in to four tiers. I used Providence as my baseline team, as they were my “First Team Out” when doing the research last night. For example, a Tier 1 win can be classified as a win over a top 20 team at home, a top 40 team at a neutral site or a top 65 win on the road. All three of those buckets have the same average win%. Then, I did the same exercise for Tier 2, Tier 3 and Tier 4. The following is a snapshot of Wichita St. Not that this is showing anything we didn’t already know.

wichita st tiers


Even though the Shockers are the only remaining undefeated team, EPW isn’t putting them on the top line for seeding. The breakdown of their victories tells the story. Having only two high ranking victories (@ Saint Louis, home vs. Tennessee) will weigh them down like an anchor on Selection Sunday.

creighton tiers


Compare their resume to a Creighton team that sits one spot behind Wichita St.   The Blue Jays have four Tier 1 wins, plus three more in Tier 2. These are the type of numbers that jump off of the page when evaluating resumes. People will ignore the fact that Creighton is projected to have five losses at the end of the regular season. It’s all about the big wins. I was able to clean up my spreadsheet over the past two days, so I know have the EPW ratings for every team in D1. In case you are curious, Southern Utah brings up the rear with a negative .756 rating. I’ve embedded the output so you can take a look at the ratings for every single team. If there’s a number in the “S-Curve Rnk” column, this means they are projected to be in the NCAA tournament. Click here to open the sheet in a new tab.

(*Also, I am currently in the middle of my third annual Celebrity Death Pool draft. You can follow along at home by clicking the links on the sidebar for the 2014 version. Scoring system based on life expectancy from actuary tables, if you are curious.)

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February 17, 2014 Basketball # , , , , , , ,

EPW: College Basketball Rankings through February 16

After an eventful weekend in college basketball, I was pretty excited to refresh my spreadsheet to get the updated rankings. First, a disclaimer. I have changed the baseline teams. There are two reasons behind that but the main one is that the teams that I had originally been using were a bit too good. It was pushing up teams with poor SOS and good records. In a bit of a spoiler, I’ve added all conference leaders to this exercise, along with a ton of extra bubble teams. I noticed something was off when Stephen F. Austin was climbing way too high in the rankings. That’s when I remembered I needed to adjust the baseline. So now, the baseline teams are: Clemson, Nebraska, Baylor, Providence, Colorado and Harvard. The changes really aren’t dramatic. The scale of ratings is really the only difference, which will be seen in the graphics to follow.

College Basketball Automatic Qualifiers as of February 16

(Quick note: the average f(SOS) of the Top 40 teams is .604. Lower equals more difficult.)

I generally just took the team that is leading the projected standings from KenPom, unless there was a clear switch that needed to be made. It’s really not going to change anything if you think there’s a different winner in the Big South or something. They all suck. I currently have ratings for 93 teams, with Southern being the worst of the bunch. The “S-Curve” column is the ranking, in order, of the 68 teams EPW say should be in the tournament. Davidson, Weber St., Coastal Carolina and Southern would be the four automatic qualifier teams that play bullshit play-in games.

I’ve seen a lot of back and forth on Twitter lately about Wichita St. and the likelihood they’ll receive a one-seed on Selection Sunday. At first, I assumed there was no doubt they would be on the top line if they finished the regular season undefeated and won the conference tournament. Now, I’m starting to see the scenarios where this doesn’t happen. If Syracuse, Arizona and Florida win their conference tournaments, they will all be one seeds. I don’t think there is any debate. I think Villanova, Michigan St., Duke and Kansas can all get the last one-seed with strong regular season finishes and conference tournament wins. There is a gulf in schedule strength between the Shockers and the potential one seeds and I think the committee would look at the SOS and bump Wichita St. down a peg.

The more interesting thing to look at right now is the bubble. I tried to rate as many bubble teams as I could, but I’m sure I missed one or two. If there are any teams that should be rated, hit me up on Twitter and I’ll get them added.

College Basketball At-Large Candidates as of February 16

Florida St., Indiana St., Oregon and Saint Joes are the current last four in, with Providence, Southern Miss, BYU and Tennessee being the first four out. There is very little separating most of the teams on the bubble, so this section will be in constant flux. Simple changes in schedule strength from games played that don’t involve the bubble teams could jump a team like Providence over Saint Joes. I think these ratings do the best job of identifying teams that need a closer look, but really, when it comes to figuring out if Oregon or Southern Miss are the 51st best team in the nation, the answer is mostly irrelevant. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to blog about it for the next month, though.

As always, here is the Top 40:

EPW College Basketball Top 40 Rankings through February 16

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February 13, 2014 Basketball # , , , , , ,

EPW: College Basketball Rankings through February 12

It’s been a long time. I shouldn’t have left you. Without some dope rankings to step to.

Sorry for being slack on updating these rankings. Crappy weather in North Carolina, coupled with yesterday being the anniversary of leaving my mother’s womb, has left me less interested in doing any writing. But today is a new day. And that new day brings a new #1 team to the EPW rankings.

Fresh off last night’s victory in Pittsburgh, the Syracuse Orange are now the projected #1 team at the end of the regular season. Not that this development is terribly shocking. Being undefeated tends to correlate strongly with being highly ranked. But Syracuse had not been able to jump ahead of Arizona based on their weaker schedule. Oddly enough, the schedule strength is much closed than I expected. The to-date SOS for ‘Cuse is .787, with Arizona sitting at .777. That margin shrinks in the end of season numbers.

The most interesting thing I have noticed in the last week is that the rankings have normalized a bit. There hasn’t been a ton of movement since my last update. Saint Louis had the biggest jump of the Top 25 teams, climbing 6 spots to #11. Bracket Matrix has Saint Louis slotted at #17. The real results will look more like Bracket Matrix, if I had to guess, as the public perception doesn’t seem to be matching the actual results. Maybe that will change if they pick up a win at VCU on March 1, but I think it’s a much more likely scenario that the Billikens will be underseeded come tourney time.

top40 feb12

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February 5, 2014 Basketball # , , , ,

Bracket Calculus: Bracket Math for Smart People

Apparently, there was a new Bracket Math column written by Joe Lunardi on Monday that came in under my radar due to the dental issues. I was super excited to tear it apart, but I really don’t have too many issues with it. I’m going to assume that Lunardi has been one of the twenty people reading these posts and decided to just take my advice. That seems like the most logical scenario.

The top 12 looks pretty good. There’s only one major disagreement (he has Duke at 9, I have Duke  at 14). Considering I’m a Duke fan and I have them lower than he does, I’m fine with this. The rest of the teams in the top 12 are just a bit more jumbled, but everything looks OK. He’s making progress.

The first major disagreement is Kentucky. I’ve been over this before. If the season ended today, and you think Kentucky has the 13th best resume, you shouldn’t cover college basketball. Lunardi is judging the Wildcats based on their pre-season rank and where he thinks they will be in the future. Those are two things that should have zero bearing on seeding “if Selection Sunday were today.” Moving on…

I have Iowa 14 spots lower than he does, but his column came out before the Hawkeyes loss last night to Ohio St. I’ll assume they’ll drop in his next iteration and it’ll be more in line. Same goes for Oklahoma St. and the Iowa St. loss.

Louisville being #19 is my first major problem (besides Kentucky). EPW has Louisville ranked #33. This is a team that really only has one quality win; a January 18 game at Connecticut. There’s a gulf between that win and their next best win which was at home against SMU. On the flip side, they have some bad losses. Losing at home to Memphis was really bad and dropping last week’s game against Cincinnati at home didn’t help either. Even the neutral court game they lost to UNC is looking bad in hindsight. This team simply hasn’t done anything of value this season. That doesn’t mean they can’t get there. They can create some buzz with future games at Cincinnati, at Memphis and at SMU. Going 2-1 in those 3 games would give them a nice boost, which is why the end of season rankings say Louisville will be #19.

Here’s today’s Top 40:

top40 feb5

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February 4, 2014 Basketball # , , , , ,

EPW: College Basketball Rankings through February 3

I was hoping to get this post up yesterday, but life intervened in the form of a root canal and a tooth extraction, so college basketball took a backseat to Vicodin and doing nothing. The ranking landscape has changed since I last took a look at it, with the biggest story being Arizona picking up their first loss of the season at Cal. The data I’m using for comparison today are the consensus rankings from Bracket Matrix. I took the 41 rankings that were updated before yesterday’s games from Bracket Matrix and averaged those results. Feel free to mentally adjust Iowa St. and Oklahoma St. based on last night’s game. The rest is should all be valid. The teams are sorted in order of their rank at Bracket Matrix.

top4 - feb4



Arizona, Syracuse and Wichita St. all line up perfectly, with the only miss in the Bracket Matrix #1 seeds being Florida. While I’m not surprised that there’s disagreement among the top 4 teams, I am surprised that Florida is the team that’s causing it. EPW has them at #5, so it’s not outlandish, but they just aren’t the team I would expect to be there, especially with the way Lunardi has been touting Kansas. The only other thing of note from this graphic is that even though Arizona dropped behind Syracuse in the current rankings, they are still projected to finish in the top spot at season’s end.

5-8 feb4




I have documented my thoughts on Kansas before, so I’m not going to touch on that here. Villanova is slowly becoming the team I am most interested in reading about each morning. They’ve played a difficult schedule, only have two losses, yet don’t seem to be getting much discussion for a potential #1 seed. Of the 41 brackets that make up the consensus, only eight have the Wildcats on the top line. Maybe that will change if they can avenge the Creighton loss, but if that’s the only game they lose for the rest of the regular season, I believe they are in the driver’s seat for a #1 seed. I expect that I am in the minority with that opinion, but I stand by it.

The other big point coming from these four teams is San Diego St.’s Pyth rating. Right now, it is lower than the other projected #2 seeds. Looming as a potential 7-seed, both from Bracket Matrix and the EPW numbers, is Ohio St. The Buckeyes’ Pyth rating today: .897. Much higher than the other projected #7 seeds. While no #2 seed would be excited to play Ohio St. in the 2nd round, that match-up could be disastrous for SDST. Even if SDST has a Semi-Home game based on location of that game, KenPom sets the line at 1.5. This is a very specific scenario, but it’s the type of game that garners “SHOCKED” and “UPSET” headlines on ESPN after it happens.

The next few seeds all line up pretty well. I’ve already touched on Kentucky. They’re over-seeded with the Bracket Matrix numbers, as well. Oklahoma St. has a big disparity in the rankings, but that is mostly due to last night’s loss not being factored into their seedings. As always, here is the EPW Top 40. Louisiana Tech is only projected in 2 of the 41 consensus bracket’s, hence they’re rank of “X”.

top40 feb4

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January 29, 2014 Basketball # , , , , ,

EPW: College Basketball Rankings through January 28

There have been a ton of shake-ups through the ranks over the past two days, with the biggest move being Michigan State’s reclaiming of the fourth #1 seed with their shorthanded win at Iowa last night. The Spartans were able to pick up a pivotal road win, in overtime, without Adreian Payne or Branden Dawson. They weren’t the only team to pick up a high profile conference road win, though. The Duke Blue Devils won by 15 at Pitt and climbed three spots in the process. Pitt, on the other hand, took a tumble from #7 to #13.

I don’t have much else to add right now. I’ve been working from home for the past two days due to the inclement weather in the South, which has, oddly enough, given me less time to watch basketball and do writing. With that said, here’s a look at today’s Top 40.

2014Jan28 - Top 40

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January 27, 2014 Basketball # , , , ,

The Endlessly Frustrating Joe Lunardi, Part 1

And here I thought I was done for the day.

Joe Lunardi posted his updated S-Curve today, ranking his top 68 teams, along with the first eight out. While a full comparison is definitely coming, if I don’t touch on a few of the ridiculous rankings now, I’m going to explode. I hate that this bothers me, but articles like this are behind the ESPN pay wall and, as such, should be held to a higher standard.

First, a qualifier. Lunardi states, “This is where teams would fall if Selection Sunday were today.” While I have looked at the projections playing out the regular season schedule, Lunardi is stating, definitively, that it is seeding as of today. This makes it easier to poke holes in his “analysis.”

Frustration #1: Kansas is the #3 in Lunardi’s S-Curve. Through January 26, I have Kansas slotted #13. Now I don’t want to quibble too much in those rankings, specifically. Two spots each way makes it much more reasonable. Don’t get me wrong, ranking Kansas #3, while ignoring the remaining schedule, it completely insane. Vegas Watch broke down the Kansas/Wichita St. rankings a few days ago here. Yes, Kansas has played a much harder schedule that Wichita St. No argument there. Yes, Kansas’ best wins are largely “better” than Wichita’s; however if I rank the top 10 wins between them, it’s a 5-5 split. But one cannot simply ignore FOUR LOSSES, simply because they played good teams. Take a team like Michigan, which also has four losses. Michigan’s schedule actually grades out as MORE difficult than Kansas so far. Michigan also has wins at Michigan St. (I know, injuries. Whatever.) and at Wisconsin. These two wins rank as more difficult than any of Kansas’ victories. Lunardi is simply being lazy. His “Bracket Math” doesn’t add up. You cannot rank a team #3 on this body of work to-date. There are way too many teams with comparable schedule strength and better results. If you want to make the argument they are #3 when the conference tournaments end, that’s fine. You can build that argument. Making it now is just silly.

Frustration #2: Kentucky is #10 in Lunardi’s S-Curve. One spot behind Kentucky in that S-Curve: San Diego St. Through January 26, I have SDST ranked #4, while Kentucky is ranked…wait for it…#31! Kentucky is 27 spots below San Diego St.

kent sdst 2



kentucky sdst

















Strength of schedule (lower is better) – SDST: .821, Kentucky: .830. Call it a wash.

Top line wins – SDST: @Kansas, neutral site vs. Creighton, Kentucky: Home vs. Louisville, neutral site vs. Providence. SDST with six of the top ten between the two teams, including the top two.

So San Diego St. has better top shelf wins and essentially the same strength of schedule. Probably a spot or two ahead of Kentucky, right? What’s that? I didn’t mention the losses. Oh right, Kentucky has four of them. San Diego St., however, has one. On November 14. To the #1 team in the nation, with a bullet. The exact type of loss that Joe Lunardi drools over. I have 27 teams ranked in between these two. If you want to say that’s too extreme, fine. But this is the type of analysis that Lunardi should be doing as an “analyst” behind the ESPN pay wall. I put this together in a little under an hour and did a significant amount of prep and research for it. I’ll get paid nothing. Joe Lunardi is the face of ESPN’s Bracketology. If his job ever becomes available, I’d like to throw my hat in the ring. I’m not sure I’ll get it based on a blog post from my own website, though. I’m guessing I won’t gain enough “winning points” for it.

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January 27, 2014 Basketball # , , , , , ,

EPW: The Undefeated Teams in College Basketball

With Sunday having been a dull slate of game, I decided to take a look at the three remaining undefeated teams, their schedules thus far and their outlooks for the rest of the season. Ken Pomeroy tweeted last night that the chances of at least one undefeated team at the end of the regular season was 48%. Whether or not any of these teams finish the regular season undefeated is largely meaningless. They don’t go from “unbeatable” to “suspect” just from a loss. It is, however, exciting (at least, to me) to think about a team having the potential to be undefeated heading into the NCAA tournament. Obviously, Wichita St. is in the best place to do so. They have a much larger chance than Arizona or Syracuse of finishing the regular season undefeated, along with a higher chance of winning their conference tournament. Most of the discussion really lands on Arizona and Wichita St., as Syracuse’s current chances at an undefeated regular season are a little over 1%, but I’ll be taking a look at all three teams anyway.

The first thing I want to take a look at is a visual representation of the games these three teams have played through January 27. What I have done in the chart below, is graph each team’s value added from each game played, from best to worst. For example, on the blue line (Arizona), the 1st data point is at .676, which corresponds to their victory at Michigan on December 14. The average likelihood of my original six baseline teams (UCLA, Iowa, Oklahoma St, Villanova, Pittsburgh and Wichita St) winning that game at Michigan was .324, therefore Arizona is credited with the difference between one full win, and that average result. Hence, that game is worth .676. I did this for every game each team has played, they graphed them in descending order.

Undefeated - Best to Worst


The two things that stand out the most, to me, are the amount of quality wins Arizona has compared to the other two teams, and the lack of quality wins that Wichita St. has at all. Now, to offer some context for that graph, the following table has all the pertinent information for this exercise.

Undefeated - Breakdown


Two quick things to point out in this graphic. The “Opp” column is the opponent’s current rank in the KenPom ratings, and the “Rank” column is a ranking of all 59 total games between the three teams ranked in descending order of value.

I don’t think I’m pointing out anything new when I say that Arizona’s best wins have been amazing. Between the three teams, Arizona has four of the best five wins. This isn’t a product of three teams with weak schedules, either. Of those four Wildcat wins, three of which came on the road (Michigan, San Diego St and UCLA), with the fourth (Duke) being at a neutral site. The only non-Arizona win to crack the top five actually comes from Wichita St., which will have most people who read this scratching their heads. The Shockers win at Saint Louis on December 1 ranks as the 4th best win of this entire bunch. I’m sure a lot of people would assume that Syracuse’s wins over Pitt and Villanova would rank higher, but in this instance, those people would be wrong (and it’s not really that close.) Saint Louis is a top 25 KenPom team. Beating a team like that in their own building is a difficult task.

Aside from that Saint Louis victory, however, things are a bit more bleak for the Shockers. Their next best win comes in at #12, a road win at Alabama. The entire group of victories between #6 and #11 all belong to Syracuse. They might not have the marquee victory yet, but those six wins are all very strong. If those six games were played by the mythical baseline team, the expectation of winning those all of those games is just under 10%.

Right now, this information lines up with the polls. Arizona is ranked #1 based on the strength of those top shelf wins. Syracuse slots in behind them with the bulk middle-tier victories, and Wichita St. is the third banana, a quality team hasn’t had the caliber of wins (and won’t have the opportunity to pick up those wins until the second weekend of the NCAA tournament) needed to change the perception from “Best Mid Major” to “Best in the Nation.”



Looking at the above graphic of remaining games for each team, you can quickly see that Syracuse’s schedule looks very similar to Arizona’s starting schedule. The Orange own the four most difficult remaining games between the teams, with Arizona grabbing the next five in strength. Wichita St. only shows up twice in the top 20, which is why their chances to finish the regular season undefeated are around 40%. To put that 40% in perspective, Wichita St. goes undefeated in the regular season as often as Andrew McCutchen reached base last year in his MVP campaign. Arizona, however, is just under 12%, or Andrew McCutchen’s walk rate in 2013. Syracuse is bringing up the rear, finishing undefeated 1.3% of the time. To complete the baseball benchmarks, that’s how often McCutchen has ground into a double play over the course of his career. I have no idea how the rest of the season will go, but as a Duke fan, I hope the Blue Devils come in to 2nd base hard on Sunday. The last thing I want to see is Syracuse rolling a pair.

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January 26, 2014 Basketball # , , , , , ,

EPW: College Basketball Rankings through January 26

We have a new projected #1 seed after Saturday’s games, as Michigan St. falls to #9 overall, with Villanova taking over their spot on the top line. The more likely story, however, is that the Spartans loss to Michigan won’t carry a ton of weight come seeding time, as State was without Adreain Payne (118 ORTG) and Branden Dawson (119.3 ORTG). Losses from games with injured players tend to be weighted differently and this is the perfect example. Michigan St. falls five spots, but I don’t think that matches the true perception.

The other major drop in the rankings came from Xavier’s loss at Providence. The Musketeers fell from #28 to #37. Xavier should be fine; the only loss they have that really stings is the November slip-up against USC. The issue with Xavier is that their future schedule lines up with a lot of coin flip type games. If they find themselves on the wrong side of  those 50/50s, there’s no telling what could happen.

Now, on to the risers. Texas makes the biggest jump, moving from #39 to #32. The Longhorns have been on fire the past two weeks, picking up four of their best five wins since January 13 (Note: their best win was December 18 at North Carolina). They currently rank #24 in the to-date rankings, but are expected to slide for two reasons. One, they aren’t particularly good. Two, their schedule closing out the season is pretty difficult. This hot streak has done a lot for their resume, but they still aren’t guarantees for anything.

The other major movers all had slightly smaller climbs. Florida moved up three spots to #6, Michigan bumped themselves up #8 from #12 and Duke jumped to #14. I’ll touch on Duke quickly because I’m a Blue Devils fan and that’s more interesting to me. They’ve been hot lately, but are about to hit the hardest back to back set of anyone in college basketball. Consecutive road games with Pittsburgh and Syracuse are a terror, but they make for a win/win proposition. Two losses are a likely scenario and there’s no shame in dropping to conference road games to top 10 (by my standards) teams. But picking up a win here, particularly against Syracuse, could strap a rocket to Duke’s ass.

Like before, here is the end of season Top 40:

2014Jan26 - Top 40

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