Saturday, March 1, 2008

Close Games -- Learning to Win?

These are the "close games" so far this season. Note only Big East regular season games are shown. I define a close game as one that is decided by 5 points or less. I do not consider whether the game was won (or lost...) in regulation time or in overtime.

RecordPct. ofAvg. MgnExp.
De Paul230.4000.3578.8-9.52
Seton Hall320.6000.3337.9-14.610
Notre Dame210.6670.20010.3-14.04
South Florida030.0000.20017.0-10.513
West Virginia020.0000.14317.4-11.55
St. John's101.0000.0678.8-14.715

[Note games through 2/26/08]. Exp. Rank is Ken Pomeroy's "Experience" stat, which ranks the team by the number of seasons (of starting...) for the starters. I have shown the won-loss record followed by the winning percentage, followed by the percentage of Big East regular season games were decided by 5 points or less ("Pct. of Sched"). I then show the average margin of all Big East wins and losses (provides context for close games). The last column ("Exp. Rnk") is Ken Pomeroy's "Starters Experience" stat. I show the rank of the team, relative to the Big East only, rather than the raw score.

I had thought as I put this together I would find a few revelations about teams getting better in time. I recall a few of the more experienced Villanova teams from years past pulling off a last minute win when all seemed lost. It was going to be a great post, honest. But I realized there was a problem after I compiled the data. There does not appear to be much of a story to tell. Not if we are looking for a larger principle, like "Experienced teams win close games". Maybe, looking over the data, the principle really is "Experienced squads don't put themselves in the position to have to win close games". ..but even that does not appear to be true. There is an almost even distribution of experienced squads throughout the entire table.

Is there nothing of significance to closely played games then? Maybe, but when the underdog pulls an upset (usually with a very close score) the boost to the fan-base and team can be very obvious. can have a morale building effect. Or when the heavily favored team can do no better than a 1 - 2 possession, the margin may hurt the team's credibility with their fans and the media. Not all of the UConn faithful were of the opinion that the Huskies were completely "back" among the conference elites. A series of too close wins, especially against DePaul and South Florida, set the stage for a close road loss to Villanova. Properly refocused, Coach Calhoun's charges blew the Scarlet Knights off the floor in their next game.

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