02 March 2015

B1G Projections: Finals Week Edition

With all B1G teams set to play their final two regular season games this week we're about to enter "Finals Week".  It's been a long cold winter both literally-speaking and figuratively-speaking for the folks in Piscataway, State College, and Minneapolis.  

With just 14 games left on the B1G slate many questions have been answered.  Congratulations are in order to Bucky who has lived up to its billing.  Maryland is all but guaranteed to finish in second with a few teams hoping to join them in a tie.  At the bottom of the B1G Rutgers is going to finish in the B1G basement.  The Scarlet Knights have less than a 1 in 5 chance of sharing the basement with Penn State.  

Still there are many questions that still remain as attention turns to the upcoming Big Ten Tournament in Chicago next week.  Which other two teams will get a double-bye for the BTT?  Which two teams will be joining Rutgers and Penn State in their Wednesday tussles?  Which teams will claim the coveted third seed and thereby avoid the Wisconsin juggernaut until Sunday.

Unfortunately our standings projections do not take into account tie breaker rules for BTT seeding.  If NU were in the mix for an NCAA invite then we might be inclined to take that extra step.  Maybe next year.  As it stands Ohio State, Purdue, Iowa and Michigan State fans have the most vested interest in digging into those particulars.  Hoosier fans know that they can safely count on delaying their trips to Chicago until Thursday, but it's far from certain where Indiana will finish in the rankings.  

It is likely that Nebraska and Northwestern will need to play on Wednesday.  But if Goldy continues its disappointing B1G campaign and loses both games this week then it's possible the Huskers or Wildcats could avoid a Wednesday game.

Below are the win charts.  With two games left there isn't much left to say about these projections. Perhaps the most interesting part are the data in bottom section from which one can compare the current W-L projections against those from prior to the season. The biggest disappointments this B1G season are Minnesota Penn State and Rutgers while the biggest mover up the charts are Purdue Iowa and Maryland.  All other teams are expected to finish within two games of their pre-B1G expected win total.

21 February 2015

B1G Projections - Stretch Run Edition

Things are really starting to come into focus with just four or five games remaining in the B1G regular season.  We have some thoughts but will have to save them until next update.  Don't have time to provide commentary except to say we are exhaling now that it looks like NU won't finish in 13th or 14th thank to a three game win streak.  It's the little things...

Green shoots

Tonight NU (4-10) walloped Penn State (3-12) in Evanston to the tune of 60-39 and extended the Wildcats' win streak to three.  While the prior win at Minnesota was eye opening we suspected human nature would take hold of this young team and allow another sad home loss to a bad Penn State team.  Instead what we saw was a team that is showing signs that it will come of age under CCC.


The Penn State was easily NU's best performance of the season and continued what is now a three game rebound from what was NU's worst performance of year against Michigan State.  What's most heartening during this surge has been that each game's performance has been stronger than the prior game.  And for the first time all season NU outperformed an average B1G squad on both ends of the court!

We'd like to say that we saw this coming when we wrote last time that we suspected NU would snap back to put the wheels on this train.  We in fact could envision the team going on a run once it got over the mental hurdle of breaking the losing streak.  But the truth is we didn't envision that the team would play as well in its wins as it has in the past two games.

We give credit this strong three-game stretch to Vic Law for beginning to live up to the hype -- especially over the past two games.  If he can continue to shoot this way and continue to learn to move without the ball then we really can see this guy growing into a star for NU.

We also like the brief flashes that Gavin Skelly has showed of late.  The guy needs to build some strength to bang down low, but hopefully it won't come at the cost of his agility and energy which has been a real asset.

With these two guys stepping up we can see the rest of the team relax a bit on offense and get into a better flow and rhythm.  This has been apparent with Demps who hasn't had to force the action nearly as much of late.  BMac has seen his point production go down, but this is not a bad thing.  He has good vision and knows where and when to pass the ball, so the fact that he has gone into more of the facilitator role can only be a positive.  Olah also looked much more relaxed on offense today knocking down some baseline jumpers that he's short armed in recent games.

In the bigger picture with the three game win streak NU is now expected to win 5.5 games.  While 5.5 wins isn't something to write home about it still is a huge improvement from where the team was just ten days ago.
We are also pleased that this little win streak has pretty much guaranteed that NU will not make B1G history by becoming the first 13th or 14th place teams; those honors look likely to be bestowed upon Penn State and Rutgers, respectively.

On the twitter we've honored this win streak but more symbolically our getting off the CCC fence by changing our name to "Coach C Court".  It's still premature to draw any conclusions, but we've now seen enough from the frosh and CCC's coaching abilities to think there is at least some evidence to go with the belief of brighter days ahead.   

11 February 2015

Updated B1G Projections

Given the state of affairs with NU basketball you will have to forgive us for mailing this one in.

NU is now the favorite for the basement.  Wisconsin has locked up first place.  As mostly expected there is a heated race for second; only surprise is that Indiana and Purdue have a puncher's chance at it.

NU has sealed its fate for a losing season.  Realistically 4 B1G is the Wildcat ceiling.  Same goes for Rutgers.  The impressive Badgers have a realistic shot of winning out but will likely drop one more game along the way.  Other teams have a realistic ceiling of 13 wins.

The wheels have come off

We thought that the Purdue game that was over by the 15:00 mark of the second half was demoralizing.  Little did we know that the fate of the next two games would be decided in the first half.

OK technically the Wisconsin game was effectively decided on paper at tip-off with NU having a scant 3% chance of winning, but any doubt was removed by the 15:00 mark of the first half when the Badgers jumped out to a 13-2 lead.  By the 12:00 mark the formidable Badgers had forged as 23-6 lead at which point the Badgers and even their faithful appeared to lose interest in its over-matched prey.

On paper the MSU game at The Welsh was supposed to be more competitive with NU given a 30%+ chance at victory.  Not so much.  Over the final 10 minutes of the first half Sparty went on a 22-1 run to lead 38-14 at halftime.  You have to hand it to Sparty: they didn't lose interest until their lead had ballooned to a laughable 56-21 by the 12:00 mark of the second half.  A combination of a NCAA resume in need of padding and a road game must have done the trick.


It comes as no surprise that the MSU debacle was the season's nadir (to date).  The Wisconsin game turned out to be a surprisingly OK defensive effort, but that had as much to do with the Badgers not caring enough to figure out the NU 2-3 zone unless the lead dwindled close to single digits.

In all NU's three worst efforts of the B1G season have come in their last four games with the Wisconsin game requiring an asterisk for lack of competitiveness.  Even more troubling is that these efforts are growing worse as time passes.  We suspect this team will rally to some degree and put the wheels back on this train given the inherent competitiveness embodied by most any athlete or coach at this level.  But to say the middle part of this B1G season has been a letdown would be a gross understatement even with our already low expectations going into part of the schedule.


The last two games have left a mark on the GAMBLE Report.  The team as a whole is down 12 rungs, with the offense giving back 22 rungs of its season-long progress.  The defense continued to its season-long regression with another 6 rungs of slippage.  Once again this 2015 season looks quite similar to the 2003 season (B1G record 3-13, Overall 155, AdjO 118, AdjD 200).  Both teams struggled within a fifth-ranked B1G although we never had to endure a 10 game losing streak in the 2003 season.

NU B1G Win Projections

NU is now most likely to win three games.  Welp.  At this point eyes are clearly set toward next season and beyond.  The silver lining is that the losses from this team are not huge given Cobb's injury-hindered season.  There is reason to hope that Olah and the other upper classmen improve this offseason, the oft-repeated hope by CCC and others that the freshmen stand to improve markedly with a year in the weight room and a year of college ball under their belts, and the incoming freshmen will fill in gaps in the lineup.  But at the end of the day all we have to go on is hope.  SOS

05 February 2015

NU Basketball 2015: Mid-season State of the Team

Zero:  Equals the number of days in the month of January that San Francisco had measurable precipitation.  Also equals the number of NU basketball wins during said month.  One of these is a historic first.  The other?  Here we go again....

We've turned the page in our 2015 calendars to February.  It seems a distant and laughable memory now with the benefit of hindsight, but prior to the basketball season there was occasional speculation that this would be an NIT year for NU. A few intrepid souls even fancied an NCAA invite this year.  Good times!

While we never bought into this optimistic outlook from what we could gather this speculation was grounded in 1) a strong dependable defense -- with accompanying (implicit/explicit) baseless assertions that CCC is a defensive minded coach 2) (relatively) ballyhooed five freshmen with athletic youtube videos 3) ignoring the impact of personnel losses and 4) typical assumption of no losses (health or otherwise) from the roster.

Well NU (1-8) is now at the halfway point of its B1G campaign, and the folly of these optimistic underpinnings has become apparent.  And with this sobering reality sinking in no one is mentioning possible NIT berths anymore.

NU's struggles has come as no surprise to anyone who places credence on the efficiency statistics, but even we NUrds have been disappointed by NU's failure to date in meeting even our already very low expectations.  Some may say that the 1-8 record doesn't reflect the fact that NU has had some moral victories in close losses.  We are sympathetic to that notion but only to a limited degree.  These moral victories have been blown way out of proportion.

The most commonly cited moral feather in NU's cap is the heartbreaking loss at Maryland.  Yes NU did play a good game, but it is also helped that Maryland has been in a funk that began shortly before they played NU and has endured as evidenced by their performances in its two subsequent games - a blowout loss at Ohio St and another near home loss to Penn State (2-8).

Worse yet are those who were celebrating the broader 5 game moral victory streak which includes a five point loss to Illinois.  We don't know which Illinois team these folks have been watching, but the Illini have had some major personnel issues that have torpedoed their season and likely regulated them to the NIT (if only NU had such troubles!).  The fact of the matter is that NU should compete at home against teams like this, and there is no moral victory in scraping over this low hurdle.  Moreover statistically speaking that Illini game was NU's third worst effort of the year and well below that of an average team in this down year for the B1G.

More troubling to us is NU's performance in its last two games.  Purdue may be an improved squad, but they are far from the world beaters that NU made them out to be in the second half that was all but over by the 15:00 mark.  And that stinker of a second half at Nebraska added up to NU's worst B1G effort of the year -- yes even worse than the 23 point home loss to Wisconsin taking into consideration the quality of the opponent.

One slight silver lining to these two bad losses was the quieting of those who had been chirping recently about NU's improved play -- an assertion that had very little statistical support.  Not that such things matter to those who place tons of stock in the eyeball test.

GAMBLE Report 2.05

As the our fifth edition of this year's GAMBLE Report demonstrates, NU continues its range bound trending within the kenpom rankings.  NU is now at 137 overall, and is once again in line with the last two years. The offense has been improving which is one of the bright spots in an otherwise dismal year, but the defense continues to fade.

At our last report the teams closely resembled 2013 in terms of overall efficiency on both ends of the court.  With this update we are now getting into NIT era defensive quality but without the very good offense to propel NU to victory.  If one were to try to compare this team to one in NU's past then it would have to be 2002-03 when NU had an adjO of 118 and an AdjD of 200.  That team was 12-17 overall and 3-13 in B1G.  The B1G as a conference was also ranked fifth in the country that year.  The good news is that NU went 8-8 in the B1G the following year.  So we've got that going for us!

The updated bar charts projecting NU's B1G projections show that the two game relapse has taken its toll with NU's expected B1G win total now at 3.5 which is down from an already meager 4.7 projected wins prior to B1G play.  Not shown here but possibly the worst part is that NU has now pulled into a dead heat with Rutgers as likely B1G basement finishers.  NU and Rutgers each has about a 75% chance of becoming the first team to finish either 13th or 14th in the B1G.  #NUEra?


The second half of the B1G slate begins with a trip to Madison and a visit from Sparty.  With a defense that has regressed to levels worse than even CBC's final season there doesn't stand much reason for hope of repeating the heroics at Wisconsin or slowing down Sparty.  The next realistic chance for a win is when Iowa comes to town Feb 15 which kenpom shows as NU having a 38% shot at victory.  After that NU travels to the barn where despite Goldy's struggles this B1G season Minny has a 86% shot at victory.

Mercifully Penn State comes to Evanston which NU is actually projected to win by 1 point; if NU fails to win that game then it could be two straight months without a win.  That might start to become noteworthy even with NU sad history.

28 January 2015

Is Northwestern Improving?

In our last post we found there was scant evidence that Northwestern has been improving in B1G play.  Since that time NU played valiantly on the road at Maryland -- a game in which NU led nearly wire-to-wire but ultimately succumbed to the all-too-familiar black hole that invariably gnaws at fans, players, and coaches alike.  NU lost in heart breaking fashion to #13 Maryland 68-67.

The end result notwithstanding this game was undoubtedly felt like the best NU performance to date.  Time will tell whether this performance is a sign of enduring improvement in this team.  That said we were still curious what the data say about how this single game performance portends for the future.  Our CCR analysis sheds some light on the topic.

The solid purple line shows NU's game-to-game performance overall.  Notice that the Maryland game is the peak B1G performance to date.  This was helped by the second straight strong performance by the NU offense, but more importantly the NU defense held Maryland's offense to its average B1G performance.  Lo and behold our eyes telling us this was a good NU performance do not deceive us!

More germane to the subject of this post the dotted line shows the trend based on this overall performance.  Whereas the trend was slightly down prior to the Maryland game (chart is in our last post) the trend is now moderately upward with a game-to-game performance of 0.02 PPP.  

For now the data show that NU is improving in B1G play.  Of course this is subject to change as new data become available, but at least this is a nice silver lining to that gut-punch of a loss on Sunday.

24 January 2015

GAMBLE Report 2.04

NU (10-9, 1-5) is now 1/3rd of the way through its B1G schedule.  How does the first trimester report card look?

Since our last update NU has narrowly lost games at Michigan and against Ohio State.  NU fans and bloggers have widely praised these games as NU moral victories that bode well for the near- and medium-term future.  We're sympathetic to the notion of looking past the distraction of binary W-L results for underlying trends.  But does this narrative ring true?  If it did then we would expect to see a jump in the efficiency statistics.

Compared to GAMBLE Report 2.03 NU has improved its kenpom ranking by a statistically insignificant 2 rungs.  That's hardly consistent with a team improving game-by-game (CCC's words which have been parroted by fans and bloggers).  Furthermore this so-claimed improvement trend is not apparent even when you look back to the beginning of B1G play when NU was ranked #137 going into the game at Rutgers.

Decomposing the efficiency statistics we see that the offense continued to make strides.  The offense improved by 32 rungs over the past two games -- propelled by improved OR%.  Perhaps the rising offense is the source of the optimism?

Unfortunately the gains on offense have been offset by a defense that continues to regress this year -- dropping a further 16 rungs since our last report.  Of the four factors eFG% dropped 15 rungs, and an already pathetic TO% slipped another 24 rungs to #334 out of 351 teams.

Remember that preseason narrative put forth by insidenu that CCC is a defense-first coach?  We questioned it at the time as we couldn't recall any such claims made by CCC at the time of his hire.  We still would welcome a refreshing of our memories with such claims as this season has done nothing to demonstrate that CCC truly is a defense-first coach.

And looking at the big picture this team's AdjO and AdjD continue to converge with CBC's 2013 team -- the one that got him fired.  This year's offense is 3 rungs better than the 2013 team while the defense is 6 rungs worse.  It's difficult to get a closer alignment than that!

NU's lack of progress in the kenpom rankings comes as no surprise when you consider how NU's opponents performed against NU relative to their overall B1G efficiency statistics (as depicted in the CCR results below).  At Ann Arbor NU held the Wolverines to slightly below their average B1G results (-0.012 PPP) to date.  Meanwhile NU's inability to slow down frosh-phenom D'Angelo Russell on offense meant the Buckeyes performed above their overall average B1G performance (0.048 PPP).  Neither of these performances were wildly out of line from expectations which is why the overall kenpom ranking remains essentially unchanged.

Trendwise during B1G play the offense has been improving at a rate of 0.044 PPP per game while the defense has been regressing at a rate of -0.048 PPP.  Overall the net trend is downward (see the dotted line).  At this point it's hard to come to any other conclusion other than this improvement narrative is nothing more than wishful thinking.  

19 January 2015

2015 B1G Projections - First Trimester Edition

"Free at lastFree at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last"

 Martin Luther King Jr.I Have a Dream

Happy MLK Jr Day!  In the spirit of the day here's to hoping that someday the NCAA selection committee will be free of the scourge of such popular and misleading evaluation statistics as the RPI and Rebounding Margin.  Until that day we endeavor ever more to bring efficiency statistics to bear in evaluating B1G basketball.

We are now approximately one-third of the way through the B1G regular season.  While there is still much work to do B1G teams have already completed the early roadwork toward B1G and postseason glory.

At the top of the standings Wisconsin has held its ground since the last update and remains the favorite for winning the B1G crown.  But the Badgers are in for a battle from Maryland which has upped its odds of winning or sharing the title from 33% a week ago to 48% as things stand today.  Much of that improvement has come at the cost of the Spartans whom the Terps vanquished in style this past weekend.  Iowa has leapfrogged Ohio State as the dark horse in the B1G title race with about a 9% shot at achieving this feat.

The bottom of the standings have also seen some movement over the past week with Penn State (0-5) solidifying its status as front runner for the B1G basement.  Rutgers' surge has propelled the Scarlet Knights to dark horse status for the B1G basement (9.5% chance at finishing 14th) and left Northwestern in its dust as the second most likely 14th place finisher.

Over the weekend the Gophers managed to win their first game over Rutgers, but that expected likely outcome has done little to improve the slippage in the projected standings that occurred over their five game slide to begin B1G play.

Illinois saw its fortunes drop over the past week thanks to a bad loss to Indiana at home over the weekend.

 Iowa had the biggest upward move in its projected win total -- an increase from 10.0 wins to 11.7 wins.  Penn State had the biggest downward move in its projected win total -- the Nittany Lions are now projected to win 3.8 games which is down 1.0 win from our projections a week ago; losing a winnable home game in OT to Purdue left a mark.

In comparison to the pre-B1G play projections Iowa is the biggest winner.  The Hawkeyes are now projected to win 11.7 games vs a projection of 9.0 wins back in late December.  Maryland has also been a big winner upping their projected win total to 13.7 from 11.2.    Minnesota has been the biggest loser in B1G play with their projected fortunes decreasing from a win total of 10.4 games back in December to 7.3 wins as of today.  Penn State has endured nearly as miserable a start to B1G play with their projected win total decreasing from 6.8 to 3.8.

Northwestern and Nebraska have performed as projected in B1G play.  Other teams that haven't seen much movement in their projections are Michigan State, Rutgers.

Last but not least here again are the cumulative win probabilities...