"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

Monday, February 21, 2011

Maryland's 2003 and 2004 teams examples of why Palm's "Top 200 record" criteria is flawed

Like many Maryland teams throughout the years, Marquette has played one of the toughest schedules in the country, but warmed up with a bunch of non-top 200 teams.

In 2003 and 2004, Maryland went only 14-9 and 12-11 against Top 200 teams, respectively, and away from home vs. the Pomeroy Top 25 barely missed going 0-11 due to two one-point wins to finish 2-9. However, in 2004 the Terrapins played in by far the best conference in the country AND scheduled Wisconsin (#5 Pomeroy), Gonzaga (#15), Florida (#24) and West Virginia.

The 2004 Maryland squad had the most similar schedule and results to the current Marquette squad of any team since Pomeroy starting his page in 2003. Even if MU wins three of four to close the season, they would be a virtually identical 12-12 against Top 200 teams and they have lost their first six road games against Top 25 teams. However, like the Terrapins, MU played in by far the best conference in the country AND scheduled Duke (#2), Wisconsin (#6), Vanderbilt (#25) and Gonzaga (#49).

And because of the weak Top 200 record and road losses to good teams, Jerry Palm has MU out of the tournament. The good news is he is in the minority, as Forecast RPI gives MU a 9-seed based on the Dance Card criteria that has been within one seed 85% of the time. Most analysts like Mike Miller at NBC Sports (see his quote from Cracked Sidewalks) have MU somewhere in between the two, around a 10- or 11-seed.

RPI Forecast
Beyond The Arc @ NBC Sports
CBS Sports

Jerry Palm has done more for sports analysis than anyone, but I believe these two criteria (can’t beat good teams on the road and Top 200 record) would be dangerous criteria.

1. MU is one of the best teams away from home even if they have lost close road games vs. the Top 25. Based on Sagarin ratings, MU is one of the best 35 teams in the country away from the Bradley Center (86.2 rating) and one of the best 35 teams in the country at the Bradley Center (85.9 rating). MU is 3-6 on the road only because of six single-digit road losses to RPI top 25 teams. This season teams have lost by double digits in 67% of all trips to RPI top 25 teams and won only 9% of the time, so if you are going to start disqualifying teams like Marquette for single digit losses at Top 25 teams then no one is going to schedule the out-of-conference games that the NCAA and fans want.

2. MU’s record vs. the Top 200. Yeah but … if MU finishes 12-12 vs. the Top 200 that would make them 3-11 vs. the Top 25 (one of only 10 teams with three such wins) and 9-1 against 26th to 200th. I believe Jerry Palm is introducing a dangerous criteria, because basically he is disqualifying MU and MSU for playing seven and five (respectively) of their creampuff games against non-top 200 teams instead of teams rated, say, 175th. MU averaged winning those games 91-62 and MSU by 83-57, so to follow that logic, if MU had beaten six teams ranked 150th to 200th by 20 points instead of beating teams below 200th by 30 points, they’d be easily in the tournament with a 19-11 mark vs. the Top 200.

I believe you must keep the focus on how tough the big games are, not whether you schedule Arkansas State (just inside the Top 200) instead of Mississippi Valley State (just outside the Top 200).

Oh, and how tournament worthy did those two Maryland teams prove to be after their brutal schedules that started by warming up with non-Top 200 teams and going 2-9 vs. good road teams and barely .500 vs. Top 200 teams?

In 2003, Maryland (14-9 vs. Top 200) beat an NC Wilmington team with a much better 13-6 mark vs. the Top 200, then a Xavier squad with a much better 20-5 mark to make the Sweet 16, before losing by two points vs. Michigan State to just miss the Elite 8.

In 2004, Maryland (12-11 vs. Top 200) stunned Wake Forest, NC State and Duke to take the ACC tournament and then beat a UTEP team with a much better 18-7 mark vs. the Top 200 before losing by two points to defending national champion Syracuse to just miss consecutive Sweet 16s despite an overall regular season record of 26-20 vs. the Top 200.

Maryland’s victims played tougher creampuffs (top 200), but Maryland played much tougher big games.

Not suggesting Marquette is ready to compete for the Big East title (2.79% chance of winning according to Forecast RPI), but if you throw everyone’ creampuffs out and focus on the brutal rest of the schedule, I believe MU like those Maryland teams is a solid NCAA pick.

1 comment:

Eye Dr Doug said...

From a Maryland alum friend of mine..."2003 team was the defending national champs with a ton of experienced reserves from the 2002 team playing. 2004 team was awful then caught fire to win the ACC tourney." Not really a reflection of this years MU squad.