Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The High Risk Game of Luck

Watching Marquette win another nail-biter over Georgetown coupled with Andrei Greska's article at Paint Touches about why the computer metrics aren't high on Marquette got me thinking about this team's future. After reading the article, I was thinking a lot about last year's Xavier team, which had some striking similarities to this year's Marquette. Both teams were ranked highly in the AP & Coaches' polls but weren't ranked as highly by computer metrics such as Pomeroy, Sagarin, and Torvik.

These teams shared some hallmarks. Both had a number of close wins. During the regular season, Xavier was 8-0 in games decided by 5 or fewer points while Marquette is currently 5-0 in such games. While neither team lost often, their losses were by big margins. Xavier had an average losing margin of 16.3 ppg with a minimum loss differential of -9 while Marquette has an average losing margin of 17.3 ppg with an identical minimum loss differential of -9.

The third thing that stood out was both teams were ranked high in kenpom's "Luck" category. Xavier was the #1 luckiest team in the country while Marquette currently checks in at #26. According to Pomeroy, Luck "is the deviation in winning percentage between a team’s actual record and their expected record using the correlated gaussian method. The luck factor has nothing to do with the rating calculation, but a team that is very lucky (positive numbers) will tend to be rated lower by my system than their record would suggest."

In my most recent Cracked Sidewalks S-Curve, Marquette checks in as the #12 team in the curve and the last 3-seed. Based on Marquette's current Pomeroy rating of 36, they are overslotted by 24 positions. To figure that out, I simply multiplied the seed by 4 (4 teams per line) & subtracted the seed value from the Pomeroy rank. I looked at similarly overseeded teams over the past 5 years. My criteria were teams with top-50 Luck ratings, seeding disparities of 10+ positions in the S-Curve, & using only teams of at-large quality because sometimes auto-bid winners have to be overseeded just to fill the field.

Year Team Luck Rank Kenpom Rank Seed Line Overseed Value Result
2018 Xavier 1 14 1 10 2nd Round Loss
2017 Maryland 39 43 6 19 1st Round Loss
2017 Seton Hall 43 51 9 15 1st Round Loss
2016 Utah 9 28 3 16 2nd Round Loss
2016 Temple 17 90 10 50 1st Round Loss
2015 Maryland 2 32 4 16 2nd Round Loss
2015 Oregon 5 46 8 14 2nd Round Loss
2014 Colorado 3 68 8 36 1st Round Loss
2014 Massachusetts 40 50 8 18 1st Round Loss
2014 Iowa State 43 24 3 12 Sweet 16 Loss
2014 NC State 39 66 12 18 2nd Round Loss

A few things stand out. First, you have to go back 5 years to find any of these teams that overperformed their seed (2014 NC State). Second, only one of these teams made it out of the first weekend, though the team played to seed (2014 Iowa State). For the most part, teams that get into the tournament by winning close games and losing in blowout fashion tend to have their luck catch up with them on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. I can see that being something to make Marquette fans nervous as we get closer to Selection Sunday.

However, if we go back one year further, there is a reason for hope. In 2013, there was a team that ranked 11th in luck, was ranked 25th going into Selection Sunday, and was overseeded by 13 when they were placed as a 3-seed. Their luck held, winning two games on the final possession before making it to the Elite Eight and being the last team to overperform their seed under these criteria. So who was that lucky team? None other than Marquette.

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