Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Similarity Previews: 1st Round

[NOTE: The Big 12 games from below are cross posted over at Upon Further Review, as well as some extra analysis on two other Big 12 games that fall below the threshold for inclusion here - Texas-Wake and Baylor-Sam Houston St.]

If you saw the similarity previews for the KC-area teams, you might have noticed that the predictions created by my similarity-score-drive system were quite similar to the straight Pomeroy predictions.  Naturally, games where these systems disagree are the more interesting ones – the testing ground for the similarity prediction system.  Luckily, there are about a dozen 1st round games where the difference between the two is at least 10%.  I’ll take a look closer look at those here.

#3 New Mexico Vs. #14 Montana

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There’s a lot of green up there on New Mexico’s chart – they’ve not only been good, they’ve been consistently good against teams like Montana, on both offense and defense – about 3 points per possession (PPP) better in each. On offense, it’s due in large part to limiting turnovers.  Montana (and their comps) force TO’s at a below-average rate, while New Mexico has the 15th-lowest TO% in the nation.  On defense, meanwhile, New Mexico is ranked 5th in Reb%, while Montana and friends struggle on the boards.  Put that all together, and you get an easier-than-expected win for New Mexico:

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Vegas is about halfway in between these predictions, at New Mexico –9 as I type this.  Here’s one case where the difference between standard Pomeroy and similarity-based predictions becomes a financial matter.

#5 Texas A&M vs. #12 Utah State

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Utah State’s defense against Texas A&M’s comps is remarkably consistent.  Unfortunately for Utah St., it’s consistently worse than their seasonal average.  It looks like it’s mostly an issue of turnovers again – this defense just does not force turnovers, especially when facing a decent offense.  Combine that with Texas A&M’s offensive success against Utah State’s comps (driven by good shooting and low turnovers), and it’s clear which end of the court is the key to this prediction:

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Texas A&M is listed at –2.5 and –3 in Vegas right now, which makes me feel even better about the similarity prediction.

#8 UNLV vs. #9 Northern Iowa

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The biggest difference here is Northern Iowa’s offense.  Against defenses similar to UNLV they were nearly 5 PPP better than they were on the season as a whole.  However, if you look closely, you’ll notice that they were extremely inconsistent.  So while their average is 5 points higher, their median is only 3 higher.  Those two points change the prediction to a 62% chance of victory for UNI, which would push this game underneath my threshold for inclusion in this article (10%).  I don’t trust this one quite as much as the others.

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Vegas has UNLV –1 to –1.5, so here’s one where I disagree considerably.  But again, I’m hedging here, due to the inconsistency of Northern Iowa’s offense.

#5 Butler vs. #12 UTEP

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For both teams, the most similar opponent defense they faced this season was UAB, which indicates these guys may be pretty good comps of each other.  I ran the numbers to find out – Butler’s D scores 88 as a comp of UTEP’s D, and UTEP scores 89 as a comp of Butler.  So these players should be reasonably familiar with the kind of defense they’re facing.  In a case like this, the edge has to go to the better offense, as they are probably better equipped to exploit what should be several known weakness in the opponent’s defense.  The numbers bear this out, as Butler’s offense improves when facing similar opponents, while UTEP’s stays roughly the same.  This bonus on offense is what leads to the prediction:

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Butler is –2.5 in Vegas right now, again sitting right in between the two predictions.

#4 Maryland vs. #13 Houston

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There are huge differences between the seasonal and vs-comps numbers above for Maryland, but look at the similarity scores associated with those comps – all the way down in the 60s.  This means Maryland is not going to be very familiar with Houston’s style of play, which is a huge benefit for the Cougars, who rely heavily on forcing opponent mistakes (30th in TO%).  On the other end of the floor, Houston’s offense has been extremely consistent against Maryland-esque opponents this year, while UMD has allowed quite a few points against teams that take care of the ball, like Wisconsin (3rd in TO%), Eastern Kentucky (4th), and Virginia (19th).  Guess who’s number one in the country in offensive TO%…

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Maryland is –9 in Vegas right now, again camping out between these predictions.  I’m beginning to expect those guys know what they’re doing.

#7 Oklahoma State vs. #10 Georgia Tech

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The values for both offenses and both defenses vs. comparable teams are higher than the seasonal numbers – take the over, apparently.  The obvious thing that stands out is Oklahoma’s enormous jump in offensive efficiency against defenses like Georgia Tech’s.  Overall, they’re the 37th best offense in the country, but in those 10 games, they played like the 9th best – i.e. Syracuse.  James Anderson averaged 24.9 points against Big 12 teams on that list, and 21.3 against the other conference teams.  I guess the question is – can Georgia Tech stop James Anderson?  The model thinks not:

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Vegas agrees with the model, pegging the Cowboys as 1.5-pt favorites.

#4 Purdue vs. #13 Siena

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In every single category here, the difference between whole-season and vs-comps numbers favors Purdue.  However, those two big orange marks on Purdue’s offensive chart are partly due to games after the Hummel injury, so I’d recommend basically ignoring this prediction:

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Just for kicks, I re-ran it after removing all games before Hummel got injured:

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That’s more like it.  Vegas has Purdue favored by 4, but with so little info, who really knows?

#8 Gonzaga vs. #9 Florida State

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Here, the biggest difference is in Florida State’s offensive numbers.  Note that the three most Gonzaga-like defenses they’ve played have quite high similarity scores, so I’d be inclined to trust this.  In their games against Virginia, Miami, and UNC, their lowest eFG% was 54%.  Florida State is usually not a great offensive team; luckily for them, they’re playing a team that sometimes doesn’t show up on D.  Conversely, FSU is rated the best defense in the country by Pomeroy.  The best defense the Zags have faced this year is another ACC team, Duke, who completely shut down Gonzaga’s offense.  It’s clear what these facts suggest:

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Vegas favors FSU by 1.5.  I think that’s too small, but when my numbers are this far off Vegas’s, I’m probably the one that needs to reevaluate.

#6 Marquette vs. #11 Washington

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Washington has been beat up a lot this year in the media and the blogosphere, after the failed to live up to preseason expectations.  However, those expectations were there for a reason, as they’re talented.  And they struggled mightily away from home, but they’re not playing any road games.  All this is a round about way of saying than Washington is probably being underrated by most people at this point.  Including Pomeroy and Vegas?…

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Marquette is favored by 1.5 in Vegas.

#6 Notre Dame vs. #11 Old Dominion

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Look at all that green on Notre Dame’s offensive section.  Of course, we already know that the Irish are skilled offensively, the most important thing this chart is telling us is that ODU’s defense sometimes falters when playing good offenses.  Combine that with the recent pace-related improvement of Notre Dame’s defense, and this prediction becomes even rosier:

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Vegas is pegged halfway in between those numbers, at Notre Dame –2.

#4 Vanderbilt vs. #13 Murray State

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SEC fans can’t decide whether or not Vandy should be scared of Murray State.  These numbers say “not.”  Vanderbilt’s offense has performed well against turnover-reliant defenses like Tennessee and Missouri, while Murray State’s offense hasn’t really shown up in most of their games against even halfway decent defenses.  My system loves Vandy in this one:

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Vegas agrees with Pomeroy in this case, with the Commodores currently sitting at –2.5.

#6 Xavier vs. #11 Minnesota

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Some questioned whether Minnesota should have been invited after they were destroyed by Ohio State on Sunday.  Their defense definitely didn’t show up for that one, and it was the second time Ohio State has torched Minnesota this season.  But looking at their larger body of work, that appears to be a fluke – Evan Turner just happens to be Minny’s kryptonite (as he is for many).  Other than versus the Buckeyes, Minnesota did very well when playing against good offenses.  Their biggest problem seemed to be bothering to show up on D against clearly inferior teams.  As long as they don’t mistake Xavier for Michigan, they should be OK.

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Vegas lists Minnesota at –1; hopefully that margin will be small enough to convince Good Minnesota to show up.

Tear down that wall between reader and author, Mr Gorbachev!

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