Thursday, July 7, 2011

FIBA U19 2011 World Championship -- A Pause Before the Medal Rounds (part 1)

Sorting Out Group E & F Action
When the Argentines tagged the Brazilians with their second consecutive loss to close the last day of Preliminary Round 2 action, they had sprung the last surprise in group round games that seemed to have more surprises than "usual" outcomes. Team USA beat the powerful Lithuanian squad one day only to lose to Croatia the next. The Russian squad, once the powerhouse of Europe had to back into the Quarter final round by beating host Latvia and then hope (and pray?) that Argentina could beat Brazil, the only team they could tie with at the end of Group E play that would give them a spot in the medal rounds. Australia recovered from a Group A (first preliminary round) loss to host Latvia to sweep their next four opponents, and match Team USA's single loss performance through the two preliminary rounds. With both preliminary rounds (Group A & B play and Group E play) in the books, this is how the Group E side of the bracket sorted out...

Group E

A Few Adjustments to the Metrics
The four teams that will advance out of Group E are listed above as "E1" through "E4". The FIBA site is rife with basic and per capita stats. Standings through most of group play has ranked the teams by points, and when two or more are tied, the site ranks by the margin between "Points For" and "Points Against" -- a misleading stat as readers here know. I decided to control for possessions and compute an efficiency margin, much as I (and many others) have done for the NCAA's Division 1 conferences over the past several seasons, and a different picture emerges for Groups E & F. Though the six Group E teams were tied going into the second preliminary round, the cross over play between Group A and Group B teams has sorted the field out...with a few wrinkles.

The Mighty Emus
Tabbed here and elsewhere as a dark horse going into the tournament, Australia recovered from an early stumble to dominate the competition in Groups A and E. In taking the #1 seed out of Group E, they have managed to draw some attention in FIBA and in the MSM. Those who have followed Division 1 basketball, and especially those at St. Mary's, Vanderbilt and Saint Louis are already familiar with the talent pool Australia has developed over the past decade. Brazil's collapse, loss to Argentina (who managed to jump Russia in the standings in the process) and consignment to the #9 - #12 Classification Rounds is the yang to Australia's ying in Group E. Losing to Russia on Tuesday meant that Wednesday's game with Argentina would determine who earned the last spot in the Quarter final round. The difference column at far right emphasizes how well the Brazilians have performed throughout group play. Badly timed losses coupled with misfortune of losing to the one team Brazil would lose a tie-breaker suggests how well-intentioned procedures can have unintended consequences. As I put the efficiency differences and the four factors together for Groups E & F it was very clear there is a great disparity between the teams bound for the medal rounds and those consigned to the #13 - #16 Classification Rounds. If we assume the two brackets (Groups E & F) will produce a pool of reasonably competitive teams, how would the four Group E teams compare to each other if I only considered the games they played with each other? Treating the four teams as a mini-conference, I came up with these results...

Group E Quarter Final Teams

The results suggest that Argentina and Russia were not as competitive with the top two teams in the group, Australia and Poland, as the overall results would suggest. The mini-conference results reenforce Wednesday post game impressions that going into the Quarter Final round Australia is indeed the team to beat. How does Group E compare to Group F? I will take a similar look at Group F shortly. The standings are different from Group E.

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