"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Attacking the Poll Attacker

When Gary Parrish of CBS Sports put Marquette at 26 in his most recent Top 25 And 1 column, my first thought was "yeah, that's wrong." After listening to his comments on the CBS Sports Eye on College Basketball podcast, I decided I needed to explain why. First of all, I do generally really enjoy Parrish's work. I listen to the pod all year long, I read both the Top 25 And 1 & Poll Attacks, & follow him on Twitter. I think Parrish does a good job & is entertaining to follow on various platforms.

But in the most recent CBS Sports Eye on College Basketball podcast, Parrish defended his placement of Marquette using what could only be described as pretzel logic. So in the spirit of Poll Attacks, I decided to break down his defense. Here's the bulk of what Parrish had to say:

"This is the most common thing I hear from Marquette fans: How can you have us so low when we've got three top-15 wins? No you don't. You have one, over Wisconsin, at home, in overtime. You beat Kansas State when they were in the top-15 of the AP poll but they're unranked now, 28th at Kenpom. You beat Buffalo when they were in the top-15 of the AP poll but they're 21st now & 31st at Kenpom. My point being, you've got to stop it. You can't keep claiming you've got three top-15 wins...if you want to say I've got Marquette too low & give some reasons why you think I do, that's fine...They're 30th at Kenpom. It's not like they're 11th at Kenpom & I've got them 25th or 26th or whatever...In other words, think of it this way, on Selection Sunday, the Committee is going to base everything off of where teams are on Selection Sunday. You beat somebody in November or December when that school was ranked in the top-15, now they're no longer in the top-40, it won't register like a top-15 win."

Parrish is right about top-15 wins, but he's wrong about resume quality, which is what I talked about when I made my own comments on Twitter. In the Indiana capsule at #25, Parrish talks about how the Hoosiers have 5 top-50 wins at Kenpom. Let's use that as a guide. Let's look at top-50 wins both in terms of quantity & quality, & all losses. This image will be our guide. The darker green the win, the better it is. The darker red the loss, the worse it is. If a loss is listed in black, it means it's a sub-50 loss, so really bad.

Also, the defense of "look at their Pomeroy ranking", which Parrish used above when he referenced Marquette being ranked 30th at Kenpom, is not a valid defense when you have Kenpom #14 Nebraska at 24 & #44 Kenpom Arizona State 8 spots higher at 16. Also, head-to-head will not be a tiebreaker. It is effectively using the transitive property of basketball. Because not everyone plays each other, we simply have to compare resumes using ranks. So when comparing Wisconsin & Marquette, it's a loss at #30 and a win against #12.

Here's the spreadsheet showing top-50 wins and all losses:

So here we go. Marquette will only be used as a reference point. Let's compare resumes by breaking resumes into three categories.

Clearly Inferior to Marquette (14)

24. Nebraska: They have great computer numbers, but Marquette has 3 wins better than the Huskers' best win & they have a glaring loss to Minnesota.
23. Cincinnati: Zero top-50 wins. Their loss column looks good, but how about actually beating somebody, anybody, before you get ahead of a Marquette team with 4 wins in the top-40?
21. Houston: Undefeated is great, but they haven't beat a single team as good as Marquette's fourth-best win. I'll take 4-2 against the top-40 over 0-0 every single day.
19. North Carolina: The win over Gonzaga is great, but they've done nothing else of consequence. They've only played 4 top-50 games & lost 3 of them. One game does not a resume make.
18. Kentucky: If North Carolina doesn't quality, the Wildcats' case is even weaker. Win over UNC, sure, but only 2 top-50 games & a loss outside the top-50 should disqualify them from the rankings altogether. They're only ranked because Parrish had them #1 preseason. That's it.
17. Mississippi State: 3 top-50 wins to Marquette's 4, each win they have is of lesser quality, & a worse loss than any that Marquette has taken.
16. Arizona State: Their two best wins are better than Marquette's two best, but MU wins in terms of quantity & that loss at Vanderbilt is really glaring. It's amazing that everyone was ready to drop ASU like a bad habit after Vandy, then suddenly everyone forgets that when they beat Kansas. That was a really bad loss to take. It is the single worst loss of any team in the Top 25 And 1.
15. Auburn: No team in the nation right now says "confirmation bias" like Auburn. Zero top-50 wins. Zero. Sure, their losses are good losses, but like Cincinnati, beat somebody, anybody, please.
14. NC State: What has NC State done to deserve this spot? Beat Auburn, who doesn't belong here in the first place. Ignoring that fact, NC State has padded their resume with cupcakes & has half Marquette's top-50 wins & of lesser quality.
12. Ohio State: Only 2 top-50 wins, wins are of inferior quality, & a loss worse than any loss Marquette has suffered.
11. Virginia Tech: They are being propped up by a win over Purdue that loses luster by the minute, have a worse loss than any Marquette has, & nothing else of substance. Another case of confirmation bias with zero substance to back it up.
9. Texas Tech: We already deconstructed Nebraska, which is the only top-50 win on TTU's resume. Are they really in the top-10 because of 1 decent win & 9 against sub-90 Kenpom opponents? Or is it because they played Duke tough for 35 minutes? Sorry, but if results matter, this ranking is a joke.I think Chris Beard is a great coach, but their eFG% is propped up against the #337 ranked schedule in the country. If TTU belongs here, why isn't St. John's right next to them?
8. Michigan State: I know, it seems like sacrilege to mention Sparty. The computers love them. But they don't own a single top-25 win. Their worst loss is worse than Marquette's worst loss. Maybe if they played the same schedule MU wouldn't be as good, but based on the schedule each team has played, Marquette owns the better resume.
3. Nevada: Houston, we have a problem. It's that Houston has two wins better than Nevada's only top-50 win & is ranked 18 spots behind them. And if Marquette should clearly be ahead of Houston, they should also clearly be ahead of Nevada. Nevada might be great, might be deep, might have won all their games, but Marquette is 4-2 against the top-40 & Nevada is 0-0.  Get back to me when you actually play someone. So March 21, 2019.

Comparable to Marquette (6)

25. Indiana: The Hoosiers don't quite have the quality of Marquette's wins, but they edge them in quantity & have a road win. The loss to Arkansas is bad, but since the 5 top-50 Kenpom wins is the root of the discussion, I'll consider them on par with us.
22. Oklahoma: Matt Norlander likes to talk about their Quadrant 1&2 wins, but Parrish used Kenpom top-50, so that's the measuring stick. Marquette wins in terms of quantity & quality of wins, the Sooners win in quantity & quality of losses, we'll call it a wash.
20. Iowa: Marquette wins in terms of quantity & quality of wins, Iowa wins quality of losses. Iowa having half the total top-50 wins is a problem, but no losses outside the top-12 is really impressive.
13. Wisconsin: Best win goes to Marquette, second best win goes to Wisconsin, best loss goes to Wisconsin, second best loss goes to Marquette. Flip the coin between these two.
10. Florida State: Marquette has the better win, FSU the better loss (and one less loss). These teams should be close together.
7. Gonzaga: Yes, I'm going there. The Duke win is awesome. Really impressive. But what else have they done? The Creighton win is nice, but Marquette has four wins between Duke & Creighton. The Zags have two losses as well. Better losses than Marquette, but 4 wins better than Gonzaga's second best win is a lot to overcome. I'm not saying Marquette should be ahead of Gonzaga. I wouldn't rank them there. But in terms of resume, Marquette's is right there next to Gonzaga.

Clearly Better Than Marquette (5)

6. Kansas, 5. Michigan, 4. Virginia, 2. Duke, 1. Tennessee: These are the ones I'm not going to go into. Though that Arizona State loss is ugly for Kansas, Marquette simply doesn't match the quality of victories these teams have & every other loss is better than our best loss.

So what does this all mean? If you're going to cite resumes as the reason for your ranking using Kenpom top-50 as the basis, Marquette should be no worse than 12th. And if you are going to make part of your profession attacking other people's work, be willing to accept the criticism when someone justifiably attacks your own, especially when you invite them to do so on your podcast.

It also means that Marquette isn't the only team that has reason to gripe. Gonzaga, Florida State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Oklahoma, & Indiana should all be moving way up.

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