11 September 2014

On 2014-15 Expectations

With the football team's disappointing 0-2 start to the 2014 season many NU fans have already turned their attention to the men's basketball team.  NU finished last season on a 2-8 stretch for a 14-19 record overall and a 7-13 conference record (including 1-1 in the B1G Tournament).  Given this context to outside observers it reeks of desperation for fans to ponder the upcoming season's prospects more than two months in advance.  And there is at least some truth to that observation.

But there's more to it than that.  This will be CCC's sophomore season and it is only natural for fans to be intrigued by the uncharted waters yet to be navigated by their team's greenhorn captain.  Add into the mix heightened uncertainty about this year's team that returns just six players as well as a hyped recruiting class (by NU standards) and it becomes clear that there are other non-football-related reasons for interest in the upcoming season.

The enthusiasm exhibited by many NU fans for this coming season is perhaps best encapsulated in this recent Inside NU article.  The three reasons given are: 1) it's not football, 2) the freshmen, and 3) "things are trending upward".  The first reason is self-explanatory.  We've already cautioned against the second reason in an earlier post.  In this post, we'd like to dig a little more into the third reason.

Here's Inside NU's explanation for this third reason for optimism:

"NU won six games in Big Ten play last year, which was only a slight improvement from the four they managed in 2012-13 under Bill Carmody. But it's the quality — not the number — of wins that show Northwestern is improving under Chris Collins. Between Jan. 12 and Feb. 1, the 'Cats went 5-2 in Big Ten play with a win over then-No. 23 Illinois, a takedown of Indiana at historic Assembly Hall and an upset over Final Four-bound Wisconsin."

The first and most obvious point we'd like to make is that the comparison being made is to just one season.  Not only is one season a poor basis for comparison even under the best of circumstances.  But to use an anomalous season such as 2012-13 that was beleaguered by a rash of injuries as a benchmark is outright laughable.  

Still we were curious about how much truth underlies the strength of wins argument that is being put forth.  Undoubtedly that win at Madison was spectacular.  The win over Illinois was nice.  And winning at Indiana is always a good thing.  But were these really that much better than the prior season? 

Using kenpom stats as we always do on this blog, we evaluated the three best wins from last year and the prior year:

#6 Wisconsin (A)
#48 Minnesota (A)
#49 Illinois (H)
#34.3 Average
(Note: Indiana was #67)

#26 Minnesota (H)
#29 Baylor (A)
#39 Illinois (A)
#31.3 Average

While the 2012-13 season ("2013" in kenpom-speak)  didn't have the equivalent big splash win, that team also won twice on the road, and the three best wins on average were better than last year.  To us that doesn't demonstrate an upward trend.

Given the aforementioned weaknesses of the benchmark comparison we figured to stretch the comparison back five years to see if any trends emerged.

The 2014 season's 34.3 average is similar to 2011 and 2012 but it is well above 2010 and especially 2009.  Furthermore this chart shows that the win at Madison wasn't exactly unprecedented.  In 2012 NU beat #3 MSU and in 2009 NU also beat #6 MSU but that time in East Lansing.  CCC may have shown he could figure out the riddle that is Wisconsin at the Kohl Center, but on the contrary he has yet to show the ability to out-coach a clearly more talented Izzo-led squad.

Furthermore we aren't convinced that how a team fares against just top notch competition is the best basis for projecting trends.  To get over the NCAAs hump NU will need to show the ability to not only pull off a big upset or two but also back-fill the resume with quality wins.  Hence, we've looked at the historical trends against the kenpom top 25, top 50, and top 100:

Taking these three charts altogether one may conclude a modest upward trend if one insists on restricting the comparison to just 2013.  When one stretches the comparison back five years the trend doesn't look so optimistic to us.

All that said this trend analysis is way too premature.  CCC deserves and will get his five years.  We hope that the freshmen live up to the hype and that CCC continues to fill out the roster with B1G-quality depth.  And we hope that over time the optimism shown at Inside NU and at other parts will prove to be warranted.  To us it really is too early to say one way or the other.

And as for our thoughts on what to expect for 2014-15?  We wish we could join the seeming majority of NU fandom that believes NU will be improved over last year.  We think it's far too early to make such a prediction (ask us again in January).  If everything were to go right this year (no injuries, a couple of the frosh live up to the hype) then we would agree that NU will be improved.  But this is NU basketball after all where nothing ever goes to plan.

From what we've seen so far from NU fans expectations there is an under-appreciation for how good Drew Crawford was on offense and on defense.  Plus as always happens no one is building into expectations any personnel losses which simply isn't realistic (has Cobb -- NU's indisputable best player this year -- ever played a whole season?).   Lastly people are putting too high expectations on these freshman.

11 March 2014

GAMBLE Report 1.22

It's been six games since our last installment of the GAMBLE Report.  Let it never be said that we post these out of some sort of sadistic desire to bury CCC with futility statistics.  The first five games of this six game absence were all losses including one for the ages (more on that later).  The most recent game was a win.  If we wanted to trash CCC there was definitely ample opportunity over the last few weeks  (in particular the Penn State debacle as reference in our recent CCRUMMYs post). 

No.  Despite the name of our blog which may lead one to conclude we have some of anti-CCC agenda the point of these statistical summaries is to take an unbiased view of CCC's performance relative to CBC's benchmark.  We didn't know what the results would be this year when we started it.  We figured that whatever happens happens and we'll interpret it accordingly. 

And let's just reiterate that we do hope good things happen in the future. It's hard to understand how any Northwestern fan does not hope for the best in the future no matter what one's thoughts are on that fateful decision to fire CBC about one year ago.


OK down to business.  The three week break may not be ideal for someone interested in how any of the past six games influenced the statistics but conversely it does provide an opportunity to view trends over the last third of the season. 

The team's overall ranking slipped 31 rungs from where we last measured it.  Basically NU is now at the same place it was before the big upset at Wisconsin.  NU finished the B1G regular season at #146 which is 14 rungs worse than last year's injury plagued season.  FULL STOP. 

Let us repeat because it bears repeating.  An unusually healthy NU squad (only material absence -- Cobb missed the last four games), one that had the benefit of adding three keys to its lineup who were not available to CBC during last year's B1G campaign (Crawford, Cobb, Lumpkin), finished the year ranked 14 rungs lower than last year's team.

On offense the story is ALL RED!!!!!  How is that even possible??!?!?!?!?

The adjO is at #319.  This is just horrible and is only a dead cat bounce away from the season low (#324: GR 1.17).

The eFG% continued to go from bad to worse.  Or maybe we should say from worse to worst.  It is now #328 which is the season low.  Where the hell is the improvement?!?!?!

Oh wait.  We found the improvement.  It was in TO% which improved 11 rungs to #89.  That good news is muddied by the fact that is still 52 rungs worse than last year and 70 rungs worse than in the NIT years.

The OR% did not improve one iota from it laughable #348 in our last report.  Remember: there are only 351 teams tracked by kenpom.

The FT% improved marginally by 6 rungs to #288.  That's still worse than the NIT years and last year.  #NUEra?????

The good news is that the story on defense remains largely the same.  A marked improvement over CBC's NIT years and 2013.  On all fronts except TO% this year's team was hands down better than the CBC benchmarks.  We are quite happy to ignore the TO% difference because at the end of the day NU had the #14 defense in the land. That is off from the high water mark of #7 but it is still MIGHTY IMPRESSIVE and a welcomed changed.  Kudos CCC!!!!!!!!!


The story is bleaker than when we last looked at the BIG GAMBLE Report.  We had been giving some credit to CCC for having to compete against an improved B1G at least at the bottom of the standings.  But now the kenpom rating is lower than even last year (see note 2) so even that modest note of good news is no more.

As we know the offense couldn't get any worse.  No use beating that horse anymore. 

Sadly the defense slipped over the last trimester of B1G play.  NU's high water mark of #4 is no more with NU slumping backing to a slightly below average overall defense at #7.  That's still a marked improvement over the CBC benchmarks. 

 Our Overall Take on the GAMBLE Reports

These reports do not paint a pretty picture, and this last report just underscores it in our minds ever so slightly.  Yes the defense made big strides.  And yes there were some growing pains to be expected with the coaching transition.  But we can't help but conclude that this season has been anything more than a disappointment. 

Why?  Because we just can't get past the fact that it underperformed a severely hamstrung CBC team which was missing three key personnel from this year's team which so happened to be 4-6 in B1G play until Jared Swopshire went down with an injury and was the straw that broke the camel's back.  That is simply inexcusable and grounds for a "D" grade for this coaching staff at best.

Sure excuses have and will continue to be made about this being a natural outgrowth of the coaching change.  There is some truth in all that.  But that hand is SO OVERPLAYED.  It's basically the same as trying to bluff a pair of 10s with a pocket ace past two other hands no worse than three of a kind.   Yes you have something to go on but it's a loser hand.

Some even go one or two steps further and say the personnel didn't fit CCC's offense so you can't blame him.  Usually the tone is not so subtle though with many willing to throw nearly the entire team under the bus in an effort to deflect blame away from CCC. 

Screw that!  Simply put CCC did not have the wherewithal to tailor his offense to make adequate use of the talent he inherited.  CCC himself has said the mark of a good coach is one who maximizes what he has.  On offense it was an EPIC FAIL of a coaching job.  Instead of the team adjusting to the new offense and improving during the year -- straws that some had feebly tried to grasp out of desperate hope for this season -- this offense just got worse.  The eFG% ended the year at rock bottom for goodness sakes. 

For all the goodwill earned by the defensive coaching our confidence in the future is shaken by the complete disaster that we witnessed from this year's offense.  Based on the team's performance alone it is a stretch to say that this year was a step in the right direction.

A Look to the Future

The hope now is that the defense will stay at or near current levels and the offense improves once CCC's recruits make their way to Evanston.  We will say that these kids do sound pretty good on paper.  Vic Law is the headliner and is arguably the most ballyhooed recruit to land in Evanston since The Esch.  The other four have decent resumes as well although not hands down any better than what we had seen during CBC's latter classes.

There may even be some more new blood on the way in the form of an incoming 5th year transfer or two if the rumors that at least one NU underclassman will be parting ways with the team (Abrahamson is the most common name floated about, but we have also seen some suggest Taphorn or even rising senior Sobo). 

So next year's team will be substantially made over with CCC-style recruits.  That in and of itself should prove improve the team in the long term although in the near term many aren't appreciating just how hard for most if not all of the recruits to make the from high school stardom to B1G play.  No one is saying these kids are one-and-done types afterall, and only those type of recruits tend to make waves during their freshmen years. 

What's more concerning to us is that CCC is used to working with McD AA type recruits.   Can he get it done with a tier lower of recruits?  No one knows the answer to that, but this year's offense does not suggest CCC will be very adaptable if the fit and/or talent level aren't adequate.

The other question we have is whether CCC will routinely get a Vic Law or better caliber recruit in the future?  If he can then we might just have to hop on the CCC-bandwagon. 

For now there are too many uncertainties and red flags to put more than one foot on board. 

10 March 2014


The Carmody Court Awards show is a wrap.  For those who missed the telecast -- no need to wait for some kind soul to upload the video to youtube -- here are the award winners.

The CCRACKYS: Awarded for most outstanding game performances by a B1G team. 

The Glove (Best CCR-D: 0.338 PPP)
In an upset dark horse Penn State took home its first Glove for its suffocating defensive effort at Northwestern on March 6.  Although it is well-documented that Northwestern's offense was awful in league play (0.881 PPP) the Nittany Lions made an already futile offense look like something run by a JV team.   The Nittany Lions earned a rare blowout road victory, 59-32, and held their opponents to just 0.571 PPP.  Northwestern's offensive figure (literally and figuratively speaking) is even worse than just that eye popping statistic when one remembers that the game was played IN EVANSTON!  ON SENIOR DAY!

The Nittany Lions weren't even an after-thought for The Glove until their beatdown of Northwestern.  Their next best defensive effort, a CCR-D of just 0.097 PPP, came in a 64-65 loss at Purdue way back on Jan 18.  In their next and final game the Nittany Lions had their third worst defensive effort of the season, a -0.168 stinker at Minnesota.

Penn State's Glove was extra bitter for Northwestern fans.  If it were not for that embarrassing Senior Night game then NU would've won the award for its stunning 65-56 victory up in Madison (CCR-D 0.329 PPP)

The Torch (Best CCR-O: 0.351 PPP)
You can't blame Michigan State's offense for losing 4 of 6 games in the stretch run.  Sparty's offense outperformed average B1G teams in 4 of those games including the league's best effort in a 96-79 win at Purdue on February 20.

That effort was good enough to edge out the league's best offense, Michigan, which had its best effort in a 84-53 beat down of a streaking Illini in Champaign (0.341 PPP).  Remarkably Michigan's well-oiled offense outperformed average B1G offense in all but three games during B1G play.

Iowa had the second best offense in B1G play and only underperformed in four games.  Just like Sparty Iowa sputtered down the stretch -- lost four of last five games -- not because of its offense which outperformed in each of the five games but due to its suddenly porous defense which underperformed in each game.

The Truth (Best CCR: 0.478 PPP)

While Michigan State may have stolen The Torch Award from the Wolverines, Michigan's aforementioned effort at Illinois was the most outstanding performance by a B1G team overall and brought home some hardware to Ann Arbor. 

The next best effort was Ohio State's home win over Nebraska (0.429 PPP).  That figure is inflated because it took place in just the second game of the season before the Cornhuskers hit their stride.

That just goes to show that Michigan 84-53 road victory at Illinois really was truly a spectacular effort by the Wolverines.

The CCRAZZIES: The 'razzies are awarded to B1G teams with the most dubious in league game performances.

The Sieve (Worst CCR-D: -0.319 PPP)
This award is in many ways the inverse of The Torch so it should come as no surprise that Purdue takes home this CCRAZZY for its awful 79-94 losing home effort against Michigan State.  Giving up 94 points doesn't sound so bad until one considers it took Sparty just 67 possessions to tally that score.

It's a good thing Sparty played so well at W Lafayette because their home stinker of a defensive effort against Northwestern would've otherwise brought home the hardware.  Although Sparty beat NU 85-70 it was just a 62 possession home game against an offense that scored on average just 0.881 PPP in league play and against an offense that outperformed an average B1G offense just three times all year.

The Sieve (Worst CCR-D: -0.520 PPP)
NU's home loss to Penn State was by far and away the worst offensive effort of any B1G team all year long.  To put it in perspective that statistic is about 0.2 PPP worse than the runner-up, Illinois' 39-48 loss at Ohio State (-0.328 PPP).  What an awful AWFUL way for Drew Crawford to end his career at The Welsh!

The Angst (Worst CCR: -0.602 PPP)
You really didn't think NU's defense was going to keep NU from winning this most dubious CCRAZZY now did you?  Once again NU "won" this hardware going away. 

Michigan: 1 CCRACKY
Michigan State: 1 CCRACKY
Penn State: 1 CCRACKY
Northwestern: 2 CCRAZZIES
Purdue: 1 CCRAZZIE

Way to go CCC!  You won more hardware than any other B1G team!!!!

Final Regular Season B1G CCR Power Rankings

Which teams are hot and which are not?  Which will do well in Indy?  Which will make a run in NCAAs and which will fall flat?

You got questions.  We got answers.  Here are your B1G CCR Power Rankings!  Keep 'em handy when it comes time to fill out your March Madness brackets!!!!

Biggest Gainers:

+4: #1 Michigan, #5 Penn State
+3  #4 Illinois, #9 Minnesota

Biggest Losers:
-6: #10 Iowa
-3: #6 Ohio State

Trending Positive:
Nebraska, Illinois, Penn State

Trending Down:
Iowa, Michigan State

Filling out the Brackets:

The bracket project has six teams in the NCAAs: Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa.  In addition Minnesota is in prime bubble territory and could play their way into a 7th seed. 

Positive trenders Illinois and Penn State will need to win the Big Ten Tournament to make The Dance so momentum players will have to hang their hats on Nebraska.

Iowa is really in a funk, and Michigan State is uncharacteristically woozy at this time of year.  Momentum players will want to steer clear of these teams unless either can right its ship in Indy.

Best shots to go deep:  Michigan (duh!) and Nebraska (huh?)  who are trending head and shoulders above the rest of the league.

Reason for guarded optimism: Olah finished season strong!

In the second to last game he scored 10 points on 4-5 shooting from 2P.  He upped that in his last game stuffing the stat sheet with 12 points/7 rebounds/3 blocks/1 steal on 3-5 from 2P and 6-7 from FT.  His late season improvement is a real reason for optimism for continued improvement for him personally and the team next season! 

And just look at the game highlights here! He's just not used around the arc anymore!  Even we can agree with the fire carmody folks that the high screen and roll to the tin for a flush was a refreshing part of this offense!  Check out the highlight at the 0:15 mark and try wiping that smile off your face!

Oh wait.  That was the end to last season.

Before one starts to put word into our mouths...... yes!!! We agree that Alex's play improved this year!  Yes!!! we think CCC et al played a part in that growth!   YES!!! We think Alex will continue to grow in future season thanks to this staff and his hard work!  We're not trying to say otherwise.

But the oft-repeated narrative that CBC couldn't do squat with big men beside parking them beyond the arc and let their skills diminish is a little much.  We just couldn't help ourselves to interject some facts into the prevailing "wisdom". 

The facts that have been conveniently swept under the rug are 1) CBC did use Olah for offense besides passing around the arc and 2) Olah did improve last year which was a promising sign for this year.  That Olah flush was just one of several down the stretch and was a clear sign 1) CBC adjusted his offense to fit Olah's developing skill set and 2) that Olah was getting more comfortable playing at a big ten level toward the end of last year. 

We view this year as one of Alex's continued progression that began toward the end of last season.  But that won't stop those from continuing to develop the narrative of "thank the lord CBC was fired because Olah would've been squandered."  That judgment is based in large part from projecting onto Olah the history of previous centers at NU under CBC who either did not have the potential or the devotion to become solid big ten players. 

Because they are all the same right?????  B.S.!!!!!

24 February 2014

B1G CCR Power Rankings - Feb 24 2014

With NU's season in a painful tail spin to keep our sanity we are turning our attention to the conference as a whole.  Here is an update of our B1G Power Ranking that is based on our B1G CCR trend line analysis:

Biggest Movers Since Feb 9:

Nebraska: +9
Wisconsin: +7
Illinois +4
Minnesota -4
NU -4

Nebraska has won five straight games.  Over last ten games they are 8-2!!!  Are they for real?  Five game winning streak includes four wins against lower division plus one very impressive win at MSU.  They are likely to finish above .500 in B1G.  Will be interesting to see how NCAA selection committee evaluates their resume.  Right now they only have one other big resume building win (beat Ohio State at home on Jan 20).

Wisconsin has also won five straight games.  Their wins are much more impressive than Nebraska's; three against NCAA locks including two on the road.  That they are below Nebraska is a function of blowing out NU to start out their B1G campaign.

Illinois bump a function of a great game at Minnesota.  Their only better than average performance against a B1G team not named Penn State.  Doubtful it will last with white hot Nebraska coming to C-U next.

Minnesota may have a new coach, but they are still a team that struggles down the stretch in league play.  They've lost three of four since Feb 9 (won at Northwestern).  Not convinced firing a coaching legend for the son of a coaching legend was a smart move.

Northwestern's offense perking up ever so slightly, but this positive trend more than offset by opposing coaches solving the riddle of Northwestern's defense.  Since Feb 9 NU's defense has well underperformed in three of four games (all losses).  In the other game (Minny) NU's abysmal offense also resulted in a loss.

17 February 2014

Sneak Peak: CCR Individual Game Awards

We're now two-thirds of the way through the B1G season and the eagerly anticipated CCRUMMYS are coming into focus.  Billy Crystal will be the emcee again this year. Buy your tickets NOW!

Here are your clubhouse leaders for the CCRACKYS: most outstanding game performances by a B1G team. 

The Glove (Best CCR-D)
1.  Northwestern @ Wisconsin  0.322
2.  Ohio State @ Illinois 0.299
3.  Northwestern @ Indiana 0.264

The Torch (Best CCR-O)
1. @Minnesota vs Wisconsin 0.344
2. @Michigan State vs Northwestern 0.323
3. Wisconsin @ Northwestern 0.316
4.  Michigan @ Michigan State 0.314

The Truth (Best CCR)
1. Wisconsin @ Northwestern 0.377
2. @Ohio State vs Nebraska 0.373
3.  @Michigan vs Nebraska 0.355
4. Wisconsin @ Michigan 0.351

On the flip side here are your leaders for the CCRAZZYS: most dubious game performance by a B1G team.

The Sieve (Worst CCR-D)
1.  Wisconsin @ Minnesota -0.322
2.  @Minnesota vs Purdue -0.289
3.  @Michigan State vs Northwestern -0.277

The Mason (Worst CCR-O)
1. Illinois @ Ohio State -0.334
2. @Indiana vs Northwestern -0.313
3. @Northwestern vs Minnesota -0.281
4. @Northwestern vs Michigan State -0.270
4. Illinois @ Indiana -0.270

The Angst  (Worst CCR)
1. @Northwestern vs Wisconsin -0.434
2. Nebraska @ Ohio State -0.374
3.  Penn State @ Illinois -0.344

Northwestern is well represented above.  Fist pump!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

14 February 2014

GAMBLE Report 1.21

@Michigan St 85 NU 70

In our pregame post we had written that Sparty had slipped a notch or two at home on defense but dismissed its meaningfulness because of the ineptitude of NU's offense.  The crystal ball was wrong again.  In this game of two movable objects NU's offense broke through!

That was the good news.  The bad news is that Sparty blitzkrieged the NU defense to the tune of 85 points on 64 possessions.


The unexpected outburst by NU's offense was fully offset by the setback to NU's defense.  In the end the actual 15 point margin was just 1 point more than predicted.  Hence kenpom's overall rating did not change much (improved one rung).

The offense improved 12 rungs and is now at its "best" since after the win over the Illini.  The defense only dropped 3 rungs which is surprising seeing that three of the four factors dropped by about 10 rungs while the other factor (FTR) improved by about 10. 


The B1G CCR chart summarizes how out of character last night's game was for NU.  The red offense line smashed through that 0.00 average B1G team ceiling to the tune of a downright CBC-esque +0.178.  That means NU scored 0.178 more points per possession than MSU's prior opponents had on average.

On the other hand NU's defense fell drastically to -0.228 PPP.  That means NU's defense allowed MSU's offense to score 0.228 points per possession more than it had against prior opponents on average.  The -0.228 PPP figure barely nosed out the Wisconsin game for the NU defense's worst effort of the season.

Next Up

NU hosts Goldie on Sunday.   Both teams are 5-7 and deadlocked for a 7th place tie in the B1G standings.  Haven't these two teams been here before?  And often?  Minny is favored by kenpom by two points, but NU is trending up and Minny is trending down.  A little home cooking would be just what the doctor ordered for ailing NU which is riding a two game losing streak.

13 February 2014

Better (Statistically) Know an Opponent: MIchigan State

kenpom has installed Michigan State a 14 point favorite for tonight's game in East Lansing.  Vegas is even more pessimistic about NU's chances although Sparty is without Appling and Dawson. 

Northwestern comes into the game angry after losing to Nebraska in Etown.  Northwestern also knows it can win on the road -- they've won three straight: Bloomington, Madison, Minneapolis.

What do we know about Sparty other than that they are tied with Michigan for fewest losses in B1G play?   MSU's B1G CCR does not bode well for NU's chances.  In only one game has MSU played its opponent worse than an average team (Michigan).  Even there it is barely below the threshold.

MSU's offense has been particularly dependable at home while its defense has been generally good with the exception of its last two home games.  However, the most statistically consistent B1G CCR feature has been the below average performance of NU's offense against its opponents.  Therefore we view it as highly unlikely that MSU's defense will underperform once again at home tonight.

There are two somewhat weak cases for guarded optimism.  (1) Sparty is banged up, and (2) NU is trending up in B1G play while MSU is trending down.  The second is interrelated with the first where MSU is concerned.  If the game were in Etown we'd might latch onto these things.  However between MSU's superiority and the game taking place at the Breslin we expect pain tonight.  Lots of Payne.