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Posts Tagged ‘131 Sports’

In? Out? What’s the deal with Michigan basketball?

Friday, February 10th, 2017


(MGoBlue.com)

If there is one thing that every Michigan basketball fan, coach, player, or other affiliate of the program can agree on, it’s this: absolutely no one can get a read on this team.

The 2016-17 squad had an incredible break from the gates, easily dispatching Howard and IUPUI in their regional of the 2K Classic before making quick work of both Marquette and SMU – two victories that still look solid today – to take home the preseason tournament championship.

But since then, it’s been more topsy-turvy than a slinky falling down a staircase. There have been highs – take the two home drubbings of Michigan State and Indiana, for example – and there have been lows (see: a listless loss at South Carolina, a miserable second half faltering versus Virginia Tech, an annihilation by a bad Illinois team, etc.). And then there have been the classic play-to-the-level-of-the-competition heart palpitations against Iowa (loss), Penn State (win), Nebraska (win), Wisconsin (loss), and Ohio State (loss).

So what is the deal with this team? Well, you’d need to find a person willing to sell ice to an Eskimo to have the gall to answer that question with a straight face. The absolute truth is that no one knows what to expect. In fact, I don’t even really know if this team is more likely to finish 0-7 down the stretch or 7-0. It’s just been that type of year.

Derrick Walton Jr has averaged 22.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists the past four games (MGoBlue.com)

On the other hand, there is plenty of information we can glean from watching this team. As most John Beilein-coached teams have been in the past, these Wolverines play exceptional offense, score an inordinately high number of their points from three-point land, make their free throws, and hold onto the ball. They also play poor defense, don’t crash the offensive glass, and don’t see very many free throws taken on either end of the floor. These are pretty hard-and-fast facts.

What makes this team so hard to get a read on, however, is the game-to-game uncertainty of who is going to show up and what character the team is going to display.

We’ve seen Zak Irvin put the team on his back against Virginia Tech, Nebraska, and Wisconsin by attacking the basket (7 made 2pt. FGs in each of those three contests), fighting for rebounds (16 in those three games), and finding his open teammates. But we’ve also seen (or not seen, for that matter) the senior falter in important matchups against South Carolina, Texas, Ohio State, and Michigan State (twice).

Likewise, the team has ridden fellow senior Derrick Walton over the course of the last four games to the tune of his 22.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists during that stretch, but fans seem to forget about the three game stretch in December where the Detroit native failed to crack double digit points, or the 10 games that he’s made three or fewer field goals, or even the nine games that he’s recorded fewer than seven combined assists and rebounds (four of which were losses).

Similar Jekyll/Hyde performances can be found in the game-to-game outputs of the two other Wolverines who have led the team in scoring in at least three games a piece – sophomores Moritz Wagner and D.J. Wilson.

Rarely has more than one player had a bona fide game on any given night. Add to that a defense that has allowed opponents to shoot better than 50 percent from the field on seven different occasions while also forcing seven or more turnovers in seven different games and you have a recipe for uncertainty with a side of unease.

If this team can put together a stretch run to give themselves solid footing on Selection Sunday, the individual players are going to need to start producing with some consistency. No more can we see Derrick Walton look like the only interested party in Maize and Blue. No more can we see Wagner get into foul trouble or fade away from his strengths as a skilled inside-out big man. No more can we this team put it together with an invisible Zak Irvin.

A little help from juniors Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (who’s scored seven or fewer one more game than he’s reached double digits) and Duncan Robinson (double digits 10 times and seven or fewer nine times) could go a long way as well. Combine that with a sprinkling of Xavier Simpson (who looked like the solid point guard prospect that he was for the first time on Tuesday night) and you just might have yourself a recipe for success.

Forget to add a couple of these ingredients, however, and Michigan fans could be left with a bad taste in a month’s time.

Quick Hitters

My Oh My, the Inconsistency

How’s this for some mind-boggling numbers: As of today, Michigan has four wins over teams that should be dancing, according to BracketMatrix.com, in SMU (100% of brackets), Michigan State (92%), Marquette (92%), and Indiana (72%). Those four wins all came in blowout fashion by a combined 99 points, or about 25 points per game.

Michigan’s nine losses, on the other hand, have come by a total deficit of just 78 points, or just more than 8.5 points per game. Six of the losses have come by single digits and three of those were by four points or fewer. This is a team that has talent and can beat up on some pretty good teams but is also susceptible to taking a close loss on any given night as well.

Speaking of Brackets…

Right now, Michigan is the fifth team out of the Big Dance according to BracketMatrix.com (in on only 33.3% of the 105 submitted brackets. Note, however, that more than half of those brackets were last updated prior to Tuesday’s win over MSU) and the third team out in my good friend and trusted bracketologist Joe Cook’s projections at 131 Sports (updated daily – and better than Joe Lunardi, Jerry Palm, and every other national guy since he started a few years back. He is an actuary, after all.). So, that means that Michigan would probably have their bubble popped if today were Selection Sunday. Today is not Selection Sunday.

Looking ahead

Michigan has an opportunity to easy play themselves into the tournament, easily play themselves out of the tournament, or to stay teetering on the same ledge they are staring off right now. There are seven games remaining on the Wolverines’ regular season schedule, including two home games (Wisconsin and Purdue) and five road games (Indiana, Minnesota, Rutgers, Northwestern, Nebraska), before the Big Ten Tournament kicks off for the first time ever in Washington, D.C. (hooray for adding Maryland?).

To me, this looks like a whole lot more good news/bad news. Michigan’s two toughest opponents must travel to Crisler, where the Maize and Blue have been mostly pretty good, with only three losses in the books at home and a couple of their mercy killings coming in Ann Arbor as well. On the other hand, Wisconsin and Purdue are going to be tough outs regardless of what floor they are playing on.

Meanwhile, Indiana has already felt Michigan’s wrath, Minnesota has lost five of seven, Rutgers is…Rutgers, Northwestern has lost two straight and is probably feeling the weight of one million Northwestern fans waiting to be let down once again on Selection Sunday, and Nebraska’s early season Big Ten exploits feel older than the age of the dinosaurs. On the flip side, Michigan has been…let’s just say not good on the road, with an 0-6 record to date.

Now the question we all want answered: What does Michigan have to do to Dance? My guess is that Michigan would be in the Tournament, historically weak bubble and all, with a 4-3 close to the regular season and a first-game win in the Big Ten Tournament. If none of those four wins are over Wisconsin or Purdue and if one or two of those three losses is to Rutgers/Nebraska, then I’m not putting money on it.

I know you want a prediction, but only a fool would be wise enough to give in to those demands.

Actually, who am I kidding? I’m a fool for college basketball: Michigan to finish out the regular season 5-2 with a first round BTT win and a second round loss to get pegged as a 10-seed.

Evaluating Michigan’s tourney chances: a Q&A with 1-3-1 Sports

Friday, March 4th, 2016


UM bball(MGoBlue.com)

Joe Cook from 1-3-1 Sports is a good friend of mine, a friend of the blog, a Michigan grad and fan, and a bracketologist that you need to know. Since starting his NCAA Tournament projections in the 2011-12 season, Joe has been one of the best bracketologists (who project both which teams gets in and what seed they will receive) anywhere in the world – hands down (and forget about Lunardi and Palm, as you’ll see below).

Today, Joe has graciously agreed to answer a few questions for Maize & Go Blue about Michigan’s chances of Dancing later this month with just one more regular season game to go, how the Selection Committee works, Michigan fans’ rooting interests down the stretch, and much more.

Q: Joe, let’s get right to the people’s question: What needs to happen for Michigan to make the field of 68 on March 13? Do the Wolverines still control their own destiny?

Answering this question has become a little tricky with Iowa’s recent slide. The Hawkeyes have lost four in a row, and holding court against them in Ann Arbor will no longer carry the weight we thought it would two weeks ago. It’s hard for me to sit here and say that a win on Saturday night locks up an at-large bid for Michigan, because that’s misleading.

In the hypothetical scenario where UM beats Iowa and loses in the first round of the Big Ten tourney, they would ruin the one pristine portion of their resume remaining – no bad losses. If we see this unfold, I believe Michigan is roughly a coin flip to make the field on Selection Sunday. If it happens that Michigan loses to the Hawkeyes, and wins one game in the B10 Tournament before bowing out, I believe they’ll have about a 1 in 4 chance of making the field. In any scenario where Michigan wins at least two more games, they will not be left out of the tournament. Similarly, in the event that Michigan loses two straight to close the season, they can make plans to host some NIT games.

Michigan’s NCAA Tournament scenarios
Scenario Beat Iowa and win 1st Big Ten Tournament game Beat Iowa, lose 1st Big Ten Tournament game Lose to Iowa, win 1st Big Ten Tournament game Lose to Iowa and 1st Big Ten Tournament game
Tournament Odds In 50% 25% Out

Q: As it stands today, where does Michigan land in your projections? What are the chances John Beilein’s squad will have to play an extra game in Dayton?

I currently have the Wolverines as an 11-seed and one of my last four at-large teams in the field, slotted for a play-in game against Cincinnati. Piggybacking off of my answer above, I believe that the only scenario that is likely to put Michigan in Dayton on Selection Sunday is the one where they beat the Hawkeyes and lose in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. My hunch is that the Wolverines will be on the outside looking in if they only garner one more mediocre win. Lose twice in a row, and they’ll be in Ann Arbor; win twice or more, and they shouldn’t have to deal with the extra game.

Q: Who are the four or five teams that Michigan fans should really be pulling for down the stretch and the four or five teams that Michigan would really like to see flounder late?

Down the stretch, Michigan fans really need to pull for any team that Johnny B. and company have played already, as this will improve their RPI and SOS. In particular, Michigan fans should root for NC State, Penn State, Texas, and Maryland.

Rooting Interests
Root for Root against
N.C. State St. Bonaventure
Penn State Butler
Texas VCU
Maryland Tulsa
St. Mary’s Temple
Wichita State

NC State (116) and Penn State (111) closing the season well could potentially boost their RPIs into the top 100, giving Michigan three more “solid” wins on their tournament team sheet. Texas finishing strong could show the committee that Michigan is capable of beating a top 25 team on a neutral court (though they need to forget the part where this was in November and Michigan had Caris LeVert for this particular game). If Maryland can climb their way up to a 2-seed come Selection Sunday, that would “add” a win over a true powerhouse to Michigan’s resume.

Furthermore, cheering for teams like St. Mary’s and Wichita State to win their conference tournaments to avoid bid stealing is also important. In terms of teams to cheer against, it would help Michigan most to see fellow bubble teams struggle. This list is chock-full of mid-majors, including St. Bonaventure, Butler, VCU, Tulsa, and Temple.

Q: The Big Ten has clearly been one of the top, if not the best, conferences in college basketball for a couple years running, but this season we’ve heard all sorts of conjecture and debate about which conference is king. Based on your bracketology and your formulas, what conference do you see getting the most teams into the NCAA Tournament and which conference do you think has everyone else looking up to it this year? How many teams do you expect the Big Ten to get in?

I honestly believe this is the most balanced I’ve seen power conferences spread since I’ve started my bracketology work. In my most recent bracket, released today (Friday, March 4th), there are seven teams apiece coming from the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big 12, and the Pac-12… how’s that for balance!? Barring some miraculous conference tournament run by an underdog, I don’t see any of these conferences getting any more than seven in the final field, so I think a three- or four-way tie is the most likely scenario. With six locks to make the tournament (Michigan State, Maryland, Indiana, Purdue, Iowa, and Wisconsin), Michigan will be the deciding factor on whether or not the Big Ten can get half of its teams in the field.

Q: I don’t want you to give away all of your prized secrets and formulas, but can you give us an idea of what your models take into account when projecting the field and their seed lines?

In years past, I was relatively busy with credentialing tasks related to furthering my career as an actuary, so I didn’t have as much time to watch college basketball as I would have liked. In those days, I used some simple linear regression models involving RPI, SOS, KenPom, etc. to develop a baseline for projecting the seeding of teams. Now that I’m at a point where I have a little more free time, I’ve used it to add in a lot more of my own “eye test” to really balance the qualitative analysis of a team with the quantitative analysis. Nonetheless, I want to make it clear that as a bracketologist, I’m not seeding teams based on my own personal judgment of the team’s merits; rather, my goal involves trying to go inside the minds of the committee members to attempt to analyze the teams the way the committee has in the past.

Q: Speaking of Committee members, from your research and experience, what does the Selection Committee factor into their decisions when filling out the bracket? And if you could, would you change anything about that process?

When you take a look at the list of the people who make up the Selection Committee, you’ll realize that they are some busy folks who probably don’t watch that much college basketball. Thus, it’s totally understandable for them to rely heavily on rating metrics to analyze and distinguish the teams they’ve had little exposure to during the season. That being said, I believe the committee is a dinosaur in that they still rely way too much on the outmoded rating system that is the RPI rankings. Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin, and Kenneth Massey have all come up with ranking and rating systems for college basketball that are far more nuanced and indicative of the quality of a team; it would be nice if the committee focused more on these metrics.

Q: Obviously there are many factors that the Selection Committee weighs when deciding the field, but what would you say is the single best indicator of whether a team will make the Tournament? And what do you think should be the best indicator?

I believe the single best indicator of whether or not a team will make the tournament is whether or not they win their conference tournament. All jokes aside, including a degree from Ohio State, the single best indicator, unfortunately and without a doubt, is a team’s RPI ranking. The general rule of thumb is that a team outside the RPI top-60 should not be considered for an at-large bid. It is noteworthy that Michigan is currently ranked 58th in the RPI rankings. In a perfect world, the selection process would be one big eye test, where a group of unbiased college basketball aficionados gather together and hash it out to determine the NCAA Tournament field.

Kansas

KUAthletics.com

Q: We’ll be going head-to-head in our bracket picks again this year, but I want a little bit of an advantage after you’ve beaten me the past two years, so can you tell us one or two teams that you are really looking to perform well later this month?

I’m still looking forward to those rounds of golf you are now indebted to me! This year, I’m going to be doing a rather in-depth statistical analysis to create a model for projecting a team’s tournament success. This model will be based on factors that are correlated to the success of past tournament teams. The model is near completion, but some final tweaking needs to be performed before I input this year’s information. Thus, I’ll be relying solely on the basketball I’ve watched this year to make my picks.

I believe Kansas will be a tough out, despite Bill Self’s occasional ineptitude in March. Oklahoma’s offense built around Buddy Hield is explosive, but Lon Kruger’s 16-16 record in the NCAA Tournament makes me shy away from wholeheartedly suggesting the Sooners. I think that if the bracket shakes out right, North Carolina and Michigan State could make it a rematch of the 2009 championship game, and I doubt the Spartans would get completely housed this time around.

Q: We all see Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm on TV as we get closer and closer to Selection Sunday, and I think too many people take these guys’ word as gold because they have such a large platform, but just how good are the national bracketologists and how well have your projections matched up with theirs in the past? Are there are any national pundits that seem to stand out as doing very well or very poorly when compared to the Bracket Matrix?

In the bracketologist rankings on the Bracket Matrix website, in terms of the bracket veterans (bracketologists who have been releasing projections for three or more years), Lunardi is ranked 36th of 89 and Jerry Palm is ranked 56th of 89 in terms of accuracy. As for how my projections stack up…I’ll just say they stack up very well. The Bracket Matrix website aggregates the projections of all the bracketologists across the internet, and creates composite projections, while also ranking the bracketologists for accuracy. The blurb at the top of the rankings page explains the scoring and ranking process. Looking at the results, I have been the second most accurate bracketologist over the past four years, and the most accurate over the past three years. If this year goes as planned, I’ll be able to move into the top overall spot in the rankings and never look back!

Discussing Michigan’s NCAA Tournament outlook with 131 Sports

Monday, January 19th, 2015


Beilein vs Northwestern(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

My good friend and fellow college basketball junkie Joe Cook (@JLeeC33) from 131 Sports agreed to do a Q&A about Michigan’s challenging season to date. Joe’s specialty is in predicting the NCAA Tournament field, and he has done an outstanding job in doing that over the past few seasons, as seen below. Given this expertise, I asked Joe some questions about the Wolverines’ skimpy resume, what it will take for John Beilein’s squad to rally for a berth in the Big Dance, and the overall state of the Big Ten. [Note: This interview was conducted before it was announced that Caris LeVert would miss the remainder of the season.]

Joe, let’s start off with the basics. You don’t have the Wolverines even sniffing a Tournament berth right now (in your latest bracket, Michigan doesn’t even crack the next four out). Just how far out are they from the field of 68?

I think you captured my feelings perfectly when you said that I don’t have the Wolverines “even sniffing” a berth in the big dance right now. It’s hard to really quantify just how far out of the field the Wolverines are because of how flat and wide the topography of the tournament bubble is this year. I think the easiest way to answer this question is to say that they are one marquee win away from at least being on the radar; think home game against Wisconsin with ESPN College GameDay in town on the 24th of January.

For those of us who are hoping that your projections are way off and Michigan is much closer than that, can you give us an idea what your projection model is based off and just how your projections have stacked up to the likes of Joe Lunardi, Jerry Palm, and other so-called experts in the recent past – both in terms of correctly called teams and relation to actual seed line?

I’m an actuary by profession, so it’s really a part of my nature to try to find a way to numerically quantify any sort of sports analysis I perform; bracketology projections are no exception to this rule. Without revealing too much, I’ve developed a couple of minor algorithms using statistical regression that roughly project a team’s seed-line based on factors that the committee has used to seed teams in the past. In the seed projection process, I use this as a baseline measure, and adjust teams up or down based on my own personal “eye test”. As for how my projections stack up…

I’ll just say they stack up very well. You can see for yourself. The bracket matrix website aggregates the projections of all the bracketologists across the internet, and creates composite projections, while also ranking the bracketologists for accuracy. The blurb at the top of the aforementioned link explains the scoring and ranking process. Looking at the results, I have been the second most accurate bracketologist out of more than 100 over the past three years.

Obviously a lot has gone wrong with this Michigan team’s season so far, from a lack of quality to wins to some very bad losses, but if you had to pinpoint one thing holding the Wolverines’ resume back right now, what would it be?

It’s tough to really narrow it down to just one thing, but gun to my head, I would say it’s the lack of quality wins more than anything else. In general, I’ve noticed the committee is willing to overlook bad losses in the face of truly quality wins, because it demonstrates that a particular team has the potential to beat anybody. Michigan has played the likes of Villanova, Arizona, SMU, and Ohio State – four teams that are firmly in the tournament field. They’re 0-4 against these teams, with an average margin of defeat of more than 15 points per game.

What are the factors that you see contributing to these bad losses? Is there a player or two to blame? Is it bad coaching? Are injuries and/or inexperience taking a toll?

I would never say it’s bad coaching when Johnny B. is involved. In my one year as head coach of my former high school’s boys basketball junior varsity team (Yes, I played that card), I was (and still am) one of the firmest Beilein disciples you will find. I think you are on the right path in saying that injuries and inexperience are taking a toll on this team. It’s obvious to me that Walton’s toe injury is still plaguing him. His quick first step was one of his best weapons, and now that it has disappeared, he can’t generate as much space and respect from defenders as he needs to get off clean jumpers. Caris hasn’t taken on the lead “get me the ball and watch what I do with it” role quite like Nik did last season. The bigs are inexperienced and haven’t developed enough athletically to replace J-Mo and Horford.

As it stands today, what is Michigan’s best win and what is Michigan’s worst loss?

The best win has to be the early season W against the Orange, as that’s the only victory the Wolverines have over a team I currently have truly near the field. Frankly, that’s just grasping at straws, as Syracuse just lost a rather embarassing game at Clemson. I don’t think there is much of an argument from any fans of the team that the worst loss this season was the NJIT game.

Certainly the chances don’t look good for the Wolverines to storm their way into the NCAA Tournament, but is there at least a shot (outside of winning the conference tournament)? What is it going to take?

It’s going to take a miraculous finish that I currently don’t envision happening, but I think Michigan definitely still has a shot, albeit a long one, to make the tournament field. Even with the bad losses, I still think 19 wins is probably enough to allow Michigan to go dancing. That being said, I would worry if none or only one of those wins come against Wisconsin, Maryland, Ohio State, or Michigan State. As I mentioned above, quality wins tend to be a heavily-weighed factor in the committee’s mind when it comes to making a decision on a bubble team’s fate.

Last year, we saw just half of the Big Ten (six teams) go dancing, while the year before that saw a whopping eight (75 percent of teams) make it. In your latest projection, you have six Big Ten teams in the field (Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Iowa). How many of those teams would you consider locks right now, how many Big Ten teams would you consider to likely make it, how many will be on the bubble, and how many will certainly be left out in the cold?

You can book it now: the Badgers, the Terps, the Spartans, and the Buckeyes will be in the tournament field in March. Some might question me putting the Spartans in this category, but I’ve seen enough from them to know that they’re going to have no problem getting to 20-plus wins. In fact, I see all these teams being on the 8-seed line or better when all is said and done. In all honesty, I don’t think I can put any teams in the “likely to make it” category, because I think the gap between these four and the rest of the league is distinct.

I’m going to skip to the locks to miss the tournament (i.e. the teams Michigan must win all remaining games against to have a chance to be dancing). Those teams include Nebraska, Northwestern, Rutgers, and Minnesota. That leaves the Big Ten teams that are squarely on the bubble, and it’s half of the conference! Indiana and Iowa currently sit relatively firmly in the field, but one bad loss could change that in the blink of an eye. The boys from Champaign are right in the thick of things, but if the tournament started today, I think they’d be watching from home – just barely. Then you have the other three bubble teams, who fall into the category by default only because I’m not ready to say they’re locks to be out. This is where Michigan sits, along with Purdue and Penn State.

Both you and I agree on many things, but one area of college basketball that we’d like to see altered slightly is the pace of play. I, for one, like a slower game compared to the NBA, but has college basketball gotten too slow for your tastes? How do you think the powers that be should go about changing it and do you think pace of play can predict success at all?

When I initially heard rumblings of men’s college basketball potentially moving from its current 35-second shot clock to a 30-second shot clock, similar to women’s college basketball, I was definitively opposed to the idea. However, the more editorials I read, the more statistics I analyzed, the more college basketball I watched, the more I started to believe that the 30-second shot clock is right for the game. The tempo of men’s college basketball has become sluggish, and possessions per game numbers have consistently decreased since the turn of the century.

I feel that the NCAA missed an opportunity in recent years by choosing to increase focus on guaranteeing space for the offensive player in possession, rather than focusing on speeding up the pace of play. This misguided decision has led to officials blowing the whistle more on ticky-tack fouls, and players going to the free throw line more frequently than they deserve.

Thanks so much to Joe for his time and expertise in answering these questions, and be sure to check out his blog at 131 Sports and follow him on Twitter (@JLeeC33). You can always tweet your questions to me (@SamSedlecky), email me at sedlecky@umich.edu, or leave a comment. If you enjoyed this piece, let us know!