Tuesday Truths: “Statistically extreme” edition

A low-fumble group.

A low-fumble group.

Warren Sharp’s analysis of the low fumble rates recorded by New England since 2007 immediately made me wonder how unusual the Patriots’ numbers really are. And by “really,” I of course mean “in college basketball terms.”

Using our old friend Mr. Standard Deviation, let’s frame this question in a way that anyone who follows our nation’s True Greatest Sport can understand. Here are a few of the more statistically aberrant team-based behaviors currently occurring in college hoops:

                                  SD's better/worse (-)
                                       than mean
Utah efficiency margin                    1.95
Richmond offensive rebound %             -2.31
Arizona defensive rebound %               2.34
Kentucky defense                          2.44
Wisconsin turnover %                      2.46
Kentucky efficiency margin                2.53
San Diego opp. turnover %                 2.54
Wichita State turnover %                  2.59
San Jose State offense                   -2.61
Virginia defense                          2.62
Wisconsin offense                         2.63

Patriot fumble rate, 2010-14              3.83

Basketball stats: Relative to respective conference means, conference games only
Football stat: Relative to NFL mean (offensive plays per fumble lost, all games) 

“Tuesday Truths” has been one of our country’s most cherished traditions since the Taft administration, and in that time I’ve never seen a team statistic vary from its league mean by three standard deviations, much less close to four. I don’t suppose there’s a single correct conclusion to be drawn from that observation — mundane circumstances produce statistically zany outcomes once in a great while. But put me down as one vote for “the most statistically extreme thing I’ve yet run across.”

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Tuesday Truths: “Red velour” edition

The Mayor is so excited about early-season per-possession stats he borrowed an outfit from the Sonic red velvet cake ad.

The Mayor is so excited about early-season per-possession stats he borrowed an outfit from the Sonic red velvet cake ad.

Hoiberg even kind of looks like the Sonic guy.

Welcome to Tuesday Truths, where I look at how well 131 teams in the nation’s top 11 conferences are doing against their league opponents on a per-possession basis.

ACC: Reveal thyself, North Carolina!
Through games of January 19, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession   Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Virginia              5-0   56.4    1.16    0.95    +0.21
2.  North Carolina        4-1   65.3    1.12    0.99    +0.13
3.  NC State              4-2   65.4    1.11    1.01    +0.10
4.  Notre Dame            5-1   60.5    1.14    1.06    +0.08
5.  Duke                  4-2   67.3    1.11    1.04    +0.07
6.  Louisville            3-2   64.2    1.07    1.02    +0.05
7.  Miami                 2-2   63.6    1.11    1.09    +0.02
8.  Syracuse              4-1   62.9    1.00    0.98    +0.02
9.  Pitt                  3-3   59.4    1.05    1.12    -0.07
10. Georgia Tech          0-5   61.2    0.98    1.05    -0.07
11. Wake Forest           1-4   70.2    1.01    1.09    -0.08
12. Florida State         2-4   64.1    1.02    1.11    -0.09
13. Clemson               2-4   58.8    0.95    1.05    -0.10
14. Virginia Tech         0-4   65.6    0.98    1.14    -0.16
15. Boston College        0-4   58.7    0.95    1.12    -0.17

AVG.                            62.9    1.05

On paper the Tar Heels are egregiously underrated, but I can at least see where the pollsters are coming from. The beautiful efficiency margin you see here was achieved entirely at the expense of Clemson (albeit at Clemson) and Virginia Tech (in Chapel Hill). Throw in three coin-flip games (one-point loss at home to Notre Dame, one-point win at home against Louisville, two-point win at NC State) and you have UNC’s conference season to date.
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Tuesday Truths: “Way too early” edition

Scarily Intense LSU Woman says it's never too early for Tuesday Truths.

Scarily Intense LSU Woman says it’s never too early for Tuesday Truths.

Welcome to the season’s first installment of Tuesday Truths, where I look at how well 131 teams in the nation’s top 11 conferences are doing against their league opponents on a per-possession basis.

This year I decided to do something a little different with the season’s first Truths. Ordinarily in mid-January I shield your tender sensibilities from conferences that haven’t played very many games.

But for 2015 I’m just flinging them all at you right from the start. Who cares if Kansas has played just two Big 12 games? In future years archivists will treasure this comprehensive week-by-week look at the entirety of the conference season.

(Hello, archivists! Do people still recline on airplanes?)

ACC: A theory of Virginia
Through games of January 12, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession   Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                          W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Virginia              3-0   58.2    1.12    0.99    +0.13
2.  North Carolina        2-1   63.2    1.14    1.01    +0.13
3.  NC State              3-1   64.9    1.09    0.97    +0.12
4.  Duke                  2-1   69.2    1.12    1.03    +0.09
5.  Syracuse              3-0   62.8    1.08    1.00    +0.08
6.  Louisville            2-1   66.3    1.08    1.00    +0.08
7.  Notre Dame            3-1   60.8    1.13    1.05    +0.08
8.  Miami                 1-1   59.2    1.05    1.09    -0.04
9.  Georgia Tech          0-3   62.6    0.93    1.01    -0.08
10. Wake Forest           1-3   71.2    0.99    1.07    -0.08
11. Virginia Tech         0-2   66.0    1.07    1.17    -0.10
12. Florida State         1-2   65.9    1.04    1.15    -0.11
13. Clemson               1-2   59.6    0.97    1.08    -0.11
14. Pitt                  1-2   57.3    0.97    1.11    -0.14
15. Boston College        0-3   60.1    0.95    1.10    -0.15

AVG.                            63.2    1.04

I’m wondering if there might be three differences between what we saw from Tony Bennett’s team in the ACC last season and what’s about to transpire here in 2015. I’d venture to say those differences might be as follows: Continue reading

Why we should occasionally be less impressed by undefeated records

If a team's still undefeated at this point in the season, they will almost invariably be ranked or very close to it. Is that a correct assessment? Good question.

If a team’s still undefeated at this point in the season, it will as a matter of custom be ranked or very close to it. Is that a correct assessment? Good question. (TCU)

TCU and Colorado State have posted identical 13-0 records to start 2014-15, and I would venture to say that both the Horned Frogs and the Rams are indeed much better than we expected them to be in the preseason. Kyan Anderson, an unfailingly aggressive sub-six-foot lead guard, really is playing the way Chris Jones probably thinks that Chris Jones plays. CSU is winning games with zero (or multiple) point guards, a very high barrage factor (many offensive boards and few turnovers), and heaping helpings of clutchy clutchness and just wanting it more in close games. Trent Johnson and Larry Eustachy, take a bow.

I’m just not sure either team is really as mighty as what’s currently being shown in the polls: Colorado State is No. 24, and TCU’s No. 1 in the “others receiving votes” small type. There’s an evaluative bonus that comes from being undefeated, and I’m not interested in lobbying against it as much as I am in defining it more precisely. Indeed I myself have been known to bestow the evaluative bonus on this or that team on occasion. If anything I was perhaps too charitable in my pre-Stony Brook ranking of Washington.  Continue reading

Putting Syracuse’s historically atrocious three-point shooting into context

He's been far and away Syracuse's most accurate three-point shooter. He's shooting 28 percent.

He’s been far and away Syracuse’s most accurate three-point shooter. He’s shooting 28 percent. (syracuse.com)

If the Unannounced Audit Panel of the US Basketball Writers Association shows up at my door later today, I think I’ll be in pretty good shape. I’ll steer them toward my pre- and early-season wariness of a North Carolina team that at the time was being ranked in the top 10 or even in the top five. I’ll trot out my hearty approval of Tony Bennett’s decision to embrace offensive rebounding last season. (Now look. The guy’s practically Tom Izzo Jr.) And I may even call attention to my canny (if entirely risk-free) decision to leave an analytic light on just in case an NJIT team returning six members from a seven-man rotation should decide to win one of its four tries against major-conference competition — despite the fact that the Highlanders entered the season 0-22 lifetime on that score.

All in all I feel like the audit will go pretty well. But then the diligent and tireless auditors will ask me about Syracuse, and that’s where things could get a little awkward. What was that I said again about the Orange being “underrated”? Just what exactly did I mean when I said “the laws of statistical gravity suggest an offense powered collectively by Trevor Cooney and players to be named later can shoot just as well as if not better than the one that last season was focused with surprising insistence on C.J. Fair”?

Since those statements were so confidently asserted Syracuse has started the season 5-3, losing two of those games by double-digit margins to unranked opponents. Furthermore Jim Boeheim’s men have reached mid-December shooting 20.8 percent on their threes. So, yeah, at that point in the audit I’ll have two options — flee or explain. And since I’ve already given the USBWA my home address, I guess I’ll have to opt for the latter.  Continue reading

Before UAB: When schools say no to football

Amos Alonzo Stagg coaching the University of Chicago Maroons.

Amos Alonzo Stagg coaching the University of Chicago Maroons.

“We agree with you that the first purpose of an educational institution is to educate, with football of secondary importance. We, the players, are proud of you and the University of Chicago.”
Letter to president Robert Maynard Hutchins from a freshman football player after the University of Chicago discontinued the program in 1939

It’s rare for an institution to face a situation where the benefits of retreating from football at its highest level are perceived as outweighing the disadvantages. Nevertheless, those situations do arise, and — notwithstanding the University of Pacific’s decision to drop football in 1995 — such instances tend to occur in clusters at times when the nature of participation in major college sports is changing dramatically.

December 2014 may be one such time. Cost-of-attendance scholarships are rapidly becoming commonplace, and UAB says it would have cost the school $49 million over the next five years to try to put a competitive football team on the field in Conference USA.

This is not the first such era, however. In the years preceding and following the Second World War, colleges and universities were forced by unfolding events (including but not limited to a 1930s-era college sports reform movement triggered in part by the Carnegie Report of 1929, postwar increases in student enrollments, and the infancy of televised college football) to weigh the costs and benefits of pursuing fame and glory through sports.  Continue reading

Conference strength is somewhat related to results in the Iowa Caucuses of hoops

Kaminsky vs. this guy -- should be a pretty good game in Madison. (newsobserver.com)

Kaminsky vs. this guy. That should be fun. (newsobserver.com)

Tonight the ACC-Big Ten Challenge will tip off, with Florida State hosting Nebraska and Clemson playing at home against Rutgers. This will be the 16th time the conferences have squared off in this event, meaning if there had been a Lamar Hunt figure at the founding we would be referring to this as Challenge XVI.

The ACC holds a 10-3 advantage since 1999, though in truth John Swofford’s league hasn’t won the event outright since December 2008. The last two Challenges have ended in 6-6 ties. This will be the first year that 14 games are played — the ACC chose to leave Boston College at home for this one.

If the ACC leads the Challenge 10-3 all-time, that must mean it’s been the better conference over the past 15 years, right? Well, sort of. Continue reading