Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Big East -- What Pythagoras Sees at the 53.5% Mark

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One of the more interesting things I discovered when playing with the conference scoring differentials ("Points For" and "Points Against") raw offensive and defensive ratings (PPP differentials) a few years ago is that both yield the same Pythagorean Winning Percentage for a team. And they should, as the offensive and defensive ratings are indirectly tied to points scored, both for and against. This can be a nice shorthand method for computing the Pythagorean Winning Percentage without having to go back and look up game scores.

The conference season is just about five weeks old, with 53.5% of the games in the book. The schedules may not be completely balanced (Villanova is just now approaching the toughest stretch of it's schedule), enough games have been played to pause and take a look at the state of the conference, and speculate a bit on what may lie ahead. I have produced below the conference record to date (through 2/5/2010), along with offensive and defensive ratings (points per 100 possessions), with calculated Pythagorean Winning Percentages and a projected (more on that later).

Act. Rec.RatingPythag.Proj. Rec.
West Virginia720.778114.897.60.866153
Notre Dame550.500112.0112.10.49999
South Florida550.500104.4109.80.359612
Seton Hall360.333102.8108.80.343612
St. John's270.22293.3102.00.264414
Standard Dev.7.715.310.240

Sorted by Pythagorean Winning Percentage (Offensive Rating11.5/(Offensive Rating11.5 + Defensive Rating11.5)), the "Pythagorean Standings" do not exactly match the conference standing based on won/loss percentages. Not surprising in concept, but a look at the "Projected Record" does suggest one or two interesting, if unlikely, story lines...
1. Marquette Stages Strong Comeback -- the Golden Eagles are projected to go 8-0 through the rest of their schedule. Granted they have had a difficult first half, but even with the unexpected (and very welcomed) return of freshman Junior Cadougan, this one seems to be a stretch.
2. The Collapse of South Florida -- after a surprisingly strong start it seems strange to think the Bulls will go 1-7 through the rest of their schedule. Gus Gulchrist is back and that should bode even better for their prospects to finish somewhere closer to the 0.500 mark.
3. Louisville's Amazing Comeback -- this one may not be quite as farfetched as Marquette and South Florida, though going 8-1 through the rest of their schedule also seems unlikely. Coach Pitino's teams have a penchant for staging strong February runs, going another 1 - 2 games above 0.500 through the rest of their schedule seems possible. A record of (maybe) 11-7?
4. Life Without (After?) Jim Calhoun -- the Huskies' coach of 23 years took his second medical leave in three seasons last week. The team is in a funk, dropping three straight conference games after beating a well-regarded Texas team at the end of January. Though their out of conference body of work will not wow the Selection Committee (of the NCAA...), coupled with a winning conference record it should be enough for a bid, or at least serious consideration. The losing run changes that perception. Pomeroy shows four wins on their Team Page, but they will have to rely on the historic soft touches in the schedule, and a favorable home/away setting to get to 0.500.

The projection suggests Villanova will lose three games in the second half of the season and finish with a 15-3 record. I think a large portion of the Wildcat faithful would take that in a (New York?) second. Syracuse gets a good deal of respect from the media (and season-long stats compiled from Ken Pomeroy), but the conference-only stats are less favorable. A recent trend that Pomeroy is not picking up yet? Maybe, or most likely a too-small sample of only 10 conference games. The conference trend is easy to identify -- the Orange escaped Seton Hall by seven points, dropped an unexpected game to Pittsburgh (which will look very good on the Panthers' resume come March) and dodged a bullet at DePaul last weekend. Another Seton Hall ran a gaunlet in the first half, their 3-6 record is no doubt disappointing to the Pirate faithful, but hardly shocking based on where they have finished the past three seasons. 6-12, in the absence of a collapse in morale, would be a surprise. I suspect they will finish within 1 - 2 games of 0.500 (8-10, 9-9, etc.). No Jamie Dixon-coached Pittsburgh has finished lower than #6. The preseason had the Panthers finishing somewhere between #7 and #9. The projection puts them a #7, despite the fast start. Coach Norm Roberts upgraded the talent at St. John's yet again during the off season, pulling in a back court player and talented wing. But the Johnnies continue to struggle with offense. Has to be very frustrating for their fans.

This & That...
Note the standard deviations for offense and defense -- it seems that throught the first half of the season there is a greater gap between the best and worst offenses in the conference than the defenses. Allowing 1.05 (more or less) points per possession is a lot. And a little surprising. I had to tweak the wins and losses for a few of the teams as there were more computed "wins" than "losses", a state suggested by the average of the Pythagorean Winning Percentages at 0.504, rather than 0.500 even.

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