2016-17 FBS Playoff Preview

2016-17 FBS Playoff Preview

This football season, like all the others it seems, failed to disappoint! There were a few raucous weekends when the unexpected happened (i.e. several Top 10 teams were upset).

Diamond RankingsTM is once again proving its worth and value by having steady rankings week-in and week-out and leading the way with a truly scientific method which could reduce the potential legitimate arguments against the current unscientific method. The College Football Playoff (CFP) committee is very fortunate that this seemingly unreliable method gets as close to correct as it does.

The first three teams in each ranking (CFP and Diamond RankingsTM) are the same but, not in the same order – Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson. Things go off the rails a bit from there.

Diamond Rankings has Michigan at #4 while the CFP felt that Washington was the better of the two teams. As you can see in the Diamond Rankings, the difference between the two teams is razor thin.

Table 1 – Top 10 FBS – Diamond Rankings
Rank Teamname Measure Standard Error of Measurement
1 Alabama                     102.80       5.45
2 Ohio State                   96.93        5.07
3 Clemson                      91.42        5.10
4 Michigan                     89.77        5.23
5 Washington                89.45        5.31
6 Western Michigan    87.39         6.89
7 Penn State                  85.57         4.84
8 Colorado                     85.12         5.10
9 Oklahoma                   83.45        5.55
10 Wisconsin                83.22         4.86

Table 2 – Top 10 – College Football Playoff Rankings
1 Alabama                13 – 0
2 Clemson                12 – 1
3 Ohio State             11 – 1
4 Washington          12 – 1
5 Penn State             11 – 2
6 Michigan               10 – 2
7 Oklahoma              10 – 2
8 Wisconsin              10 – 3
9 USC                          9 – 3
10 Colorado              10 – 3

Given the team measures and standard errors of measurement, Alabama should have little trouble winning the two games of the CFP. ‘Bama’s measure is more than 2X SEMs better than Washington and a little more than one greater than Ohio State. With ‘Bama’s defense, they will win the College Football Playoff Championship. Anything less than a National Championship will be one of the greatest upsets in college football history. Alabama is THAT good. There are at least seven players, reportedly, projected to be NFL first round draft picks on defense for the Crimson Tide – it’s like a rookie NFL team already!

Ohio State will likely beat Clemson to set up the highly anticipated Alabama-Ohio State championship game. It is rather peculiar that the experts heaped love on Ohio St all season saying they’re clearly the #2 team in the country but, the CFP committee saw fit to lift them into the #2 slot even though OSU is #2 in all of the polls and Diamond Rankings’ measure is a full SEM higher than Clemson’s. That must be Clemson’s reward for winning their conference championship. That does not make them better than OSU. Isn’t the CFP supposed to be the four best teams? Sure, OSU is still in the playoff you say but, OSU is still clearly the better team. One loss to a very good team and they drop a position because they didn’t win their conference??

Other notes from the Diamond Rankings:

Western Michigan was the anomaly of the 2016 regular season by going undefeated to finish 13-0 and winning the Mid-American Conference Championship. Because of their weak schedule, #6 is the highest they could climb despite winning every game. They are only #12 in the AP Poll and #15 in the CFP. Their weak schedule is shown in the Diamond Rankings by their high SEM. Their error is high because they are a relative unknown quantity from a traditionally weak conference. They did beat two Big Ten teams – their season opener at Northwestern and a convincing road win at Illinois.

The only other teams with SEMs >6.0 are at the bottom of the rankings. There are 128 teams in the FBS and the first other SEM >6.0 is Rutgers (6.57) at #120! The teams near the bottom of the rankings have 0 to 2 wins and are also rather unknown quantities. Now you’ll say, well Alabama is undefeated and their SEM is 5.45! Correct! Look at their schedule – it is one of the most difficult schedules in the country! They’ve played a great schedule and have won each game while allowing a minimum of points. Bama is a known quantity. WMU, not so much.

My next article will discuss strength of schedule and conference strength and how all of these different measures are all on the same ruler (all measures are in the same unit of measurement like inches, for example).

Football Season is Back and so are our Rankings – Finally!

Happy football season!!

This season we’ve added some high school football to our rankings. My partner at High School Football America, Jeff Fisher (no relation), hosts an internet radio show as well as a show in Los Angeles (http://www.highschoolfootballamerica.com/radio-shows) and our SoCal (Southern and Los Angeles Sections) high school football rankings will be featured on his shows.

After some tweaking and adjusting, we believe we’ve improved the early season rankings for both high school and college football. Also, after some back and forth with Jeff, we’ve come to the painfully obvious realization early season football team measures (rankings) may look a lot different than expected when comparing the measures to opinion rankings, which is what polls are, opinions. Let’s illustrate exactly what is meant by this.

Let’s use ten historical college football powers to paint the picture. What we say here is a hypothetical example and in no way is intended to reflect the current season.

Here’s the early season top ten in a traditional poll:

1. The University of Chicago*
2. Alabama
3. Ohio State
4. Florida
5. Michigan
6. Texas
7. Oklahoma
8. Nebraska
9. USC
10. Florida St

Now, based on who these ten teams played and how they performed against them let’s take a look at how their early season measures may have them ranked:

1. The University of Chicago*
2. Florida St
4. Alabama
8. Ohio State
10. Florida
14. Michigan
15. USC
20. Nebraska
29. Oklahoma
63. Texas

What this example shows is that some teams (i.e. Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas) play a weak early season schedule and that while they may be beating their opponents (and some of them they’re beating very badly like, 70-0), those teams are not competitive against powerhouses like those three teams. SportsMeasures’ ability estimates (measures) and rankings are reflective of the actual game results. Take Florida St’s situation in our example: they are ranked #10 in the opinion poll and #2 in our ranking. Clearly, FSU played a highly competitive early season schedule and had success doing so, resulting in a very high ranking.

This example is exactly what is happening in our high school (Southern California and Los Angeles Sections of the California Interscholastic Federation) and college football rankings. There are teams ranked highly that most likely won’t be there in late November and there are teams which are not there currently which most likely will be then. If the opinion polls are indeed correct, SportsMeasures’ rankings will either verify or challenge them as the season progresses.

In three of the past four seasons SportsMeasures’ college football rankings have shown that the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) had the two best teams in the BCS Championship game. Last season our rankings showed that the BCS system is indeed flawed in having Notre Dame in the championship game against Alabama. Oregon rightfully deserved to be playing Alabama for the national title as they finished at #2 in our poll. Alabama beat Notre Dame, 42-14 for the title. Notre Dame was ranked #4 in the final regular season measures, behind Oregon and Texas A&M.

So, take heart, SportsMeasures’ work is absolutely reliable and our weekly rankings reflect exactly what is currently happening in the high school and college football seasons. As the season progresses the opinion polls and SportsMeasures’ Pyramid Rankings will come into a high degree of synchronicity. The cream always rises to the top and our measures reflect that truth.

The degree to which the rankings remain disparate as the season grows older shows the inaccuracy of opinion polls. Many times reputation buys a team a lot of undeserved stock value. Our work shows which teams truly are the best.

*The author is a graduate of The University of Chicago

Final NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Conference Strength Ranking

Final NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Conference Strength Ranking

            One of the more popular annual arguments among college football fans is which conference is the strongest, toughest or best in the country. Our research shows that in 2011-12, the Big 12 (with only ten teams) is the best conference in the country by far. It is not even close.

            Even though the SEC has the two teams in the BCS National Championship game, the Big 12 has the top five toughest schedules of all FBS teams. Just as amazing is that all ten Big 12 teams have schedules in the top 21! THAT is a tough conference.

This is the only opening that we’ll give Oklahoma St for being LSU’s opponent in the national title game. OSU’s strength of schedule (SoS) is #4 vs. Alabama’s #39 SoS. It is OSU’s SoS that boosts its ability measure as high as it is, which places it #3 in the nation, about 1.50 units behind ‘Bama and nearly five units behind LSU. OSU’s loss to Iowa State is impossible to compare to Alabama’s loss to LSU. We’re advocates of pairing the two best teams no matter their conference affiliation. However, we’re also strong advocates of an eight- or 16-team playoff. Any team below that level would be soundly defeated in the first round, a la the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in March (a #16 seed has never beaten a #1 seed).

The BCS Conferences (marked with an * in the table below) are the top six conferences according to schedule strength (FBS Independents are not a conference).

So, the argument is settled for the 2011-12 season: Big 12 is the best football conference.

Conference Strength in Measure Order

Rank

Conference

No. of teams

Conference Strength

Standard Deviation

1

Big 12*

10

66.14

2.61

2

SEC*

12

61.70

2.04

3

Pac-12*

12

61.40

3.23

4

Big Ten*

12

59.04

2.70

5

ACC*

12

57.14

2.61

6

FBS Independents

4

56.68

5.55

7

Big East*

8

56.47

1.54

8

Conference USA

12

54.36

4.73

9

WAC

8

53.52

3.27

10

Mountain West

8

53.46

3.75

11

MAC

13

51.76

3.47

12

Sun Belt

9

51.23

3.59

Average Conference Strength

120

57.11

5.40

Our methodologies are scientifically objective, meaning that there is no bias or subjectivity in our data analysis. We use only game results data and a data analysis method without inherent assumptions. See SportsMeasures.com or Rasch.org to learn more about objective measurement methods.

2011 BCS Rankings: A comparison of major ranking services vs. SportsMeasures

Once again, the annual argument about the validity of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings has begun! I am happy to lead the charge against this assault on the intelligence of the American sporting public.

My public rantings have been raged in this space many times before and will continue. The BCS is as unscientific, invalid, and therefore, inherently unfair to everyone involved, as anything foisted upon the sporting world. It combines subjective and biased sportswriters’ and coaches’ opinions, flawed statistical analysis and deception to create the illusion of accurate rankings. It is anything but that.

OK, so that’s out of the way. Let’s compare the AP Poll (no longer part of the BCS equation), the USA Today Poll, the BCS rankings to the only objective measurement methodology available anywhere. A short refreshed for those of you unfamiliar with our methodology. We use only games results data to create our measures. That means there is no subjectivity or bias of any kind in our measures. We make no assumptions about the distribution of the data like the Bayesian method does. We let the actual data do the talking and that is what you see reflected in the table below. SportsMeasures rankings and measures are a pure reflection of the wins and losses of all the teams at all levels of college football. If you disagree with anything in this comparison chart, then you’re disagreeing with the actual results of the games on the field. That statement reflects the absolute independent nature of our methodology.

SM ranking

Team name

measure

error

AP Top 25

USA Today

BCS

wins

losses

1

Alabama

97.30

6.10

2

3

2

7

0

2

LSU

95.94

6.24

1

2

1

7

0

3

Boise St

95.00

6.50

5

7

5

6

0

4

Oklahoma

89.19

6.19

3

1

3

6

0

5

Oklahoma St

89.03

5.26

6

6

4

6

0

6

Wisconsin

88.81

7.13

4

4

6

6

0

7

Stanford

86.62

8.79

7

5

8

6

0

8

SMU

84.90

6.09

29

29

NR

5

1

9

Clemson

84.72

5.42

8

8

7

7

0

10

Oregon

84.69

6.41

9

8

10

5

1

11

Virginia Tech

82.91

5.77

16

14

12

6

1

12

Houston

81.45

8.55

21

20

19

6

0

13

Kansas St

80.96

6.39

12

16

11

6

0

14

Michigan

80.63

6.14

18

17

18

6

1

15

West Virginia

80.31

6.05

11

14

15

5

1

16

Texas A&M

80.21

5.62

17

18

17

4

2

17

Arkansas

80.14

5.36

10

10

9

5

1

18

Arizona St

79.20

5.12

24

25

NR

5

2

19

Nebraska

78.96

6.11

13

11

13

5

1

20

Penn State

78.76

5.97

26

22

21

6

1

21

Michigan St

78.75

5.67

15

13

16

5

1

22

Temple

78.67

5.61

NR

35

NR

5

2

23

TCU

78.57

5.38

NR

37

NR

4

2

24

South Carolina

78.38

5.72

14

12

14

6

1

25

Toledo

78.16

5.17

4

3

26

Notre Dame

77.28

5.81

27

27

NR

4

2

27

Georgia

76.30

5.51

24

26

NR

5

2

28

Rutgers

75.99

6.21

35

28

NR

5

1

29

Washington

75.37

6.76

22

24

25

5

1

30

Texas Tech

75.20

5.68

4

2

31

Miami FL

74.82

5.83

3

3

32

Illinois

74.47

5.89

23

21

23

6

1

33

Georgia Tech

73.92

5.60

20

19

22

6

1

34

Southern Miss

73.76

5.82

32

31

NR

5

1

35

North Carolina

73.51

5.53

NR

33

NR

5

2

36

Utah

72.86

6.58

3

3

37

Missouri

72.66

6.86

3

3

38

Baylor

72.11

6.55

30

34

NR

4

2

39

Texas

71.92

6.57

31

30

24

4

2

40

Florida St

71.61

6.43

3

3

41

Southern Cal

71.60

6.79

28

NR

NR

5

1

42

South Florida

71.47

5.43

4

2

43

Auburn

70.90

6.25

19

23

20

5

2

44

Ohio State

70.01

5.94

4

3

45

Iowa

69.13

7.19

4

2

46

Louisiana-Lafayette

68.23

10.12

6

1

47

Cincinnati

67.89

6.93

33

32

5

1

48

San Diego St

67.75

7.05

4

2

49

Arkansas St

67.73

8.52

4

2

50

Florida

66.04

8.68

4

3

51

Nevada

65.83

6.56

3

3

52

Tennessee

64.43

6.92

3

3

53

Western Michigan

64.34

6.12

4

3

54

Virginia

62.16

6.48

4

2

55

Mississippi St

62.12

10.71

3

4

56

UTEP

62.03

8.49

3

3

57

Hawai`i

62.03

5.68

3

3

58

Vanderbilt

61.51

6.61

3

3

59

Tulsa

61.13

13.70

3

3

60

Wake Forest

60.92

7.45

34

4

2

61

Central Florida

60.84

6.52

3

3

62

North Carolina St

59.82

7.05

3

3

63

Eastern Michigan

59.73

6.47

4

3

64

Washington St

59.54

7.01

3

3

65

California

59.43

7.86

3

3

66

Pittsburgh

59.05

6.84

3

4

67

Utah St

59.02

6.03

2

4

68

Northern Illinois

58.84

6.62

4

3

69

Florida Intl

58.12

7.43

4

2

70

Ohio U

58.06

5.68

4

3

71

Air Force

56.83

8.01

3

3

72

Syracuse

56.08

8.03

4

2

73

Connecticut

56.03

6.15

3

4

74

Navy

55.58

8.10

2

4

75

UCLA

55.53

7.73

3

3

76

Brigham Young

54.10

7.68

5

2

77

Maryland

54.01

7.55

2

4

78

Bowling Green

53.09

6.85

3

4

79

Wyoming

52.59

7.83

4

2

80

Iowa St

51.87

6.00

3

3

81

Louisville

51.72

7.42

2

4

82

Northwestern

51.33

7.09

2

4

83

Ball St

50.88

6.52

4

3

84

Marshall

50.56

6.30

3

4

85

Louisiana-Monroe

50.55

8.28

2

4

86

Louisiana Tech

49.80

7.90

2

4

87

San Jose St

48.81

7.95

3

4

88

Purdue

47.02

8.83

3

3

89

Rice

45.32

9.12

2

4

90

Fresno St

44.56

6.72

3

4

91

Duke

44.29

7.04

3

3

92

New Mexico St

43.96

9.20

3

3

93

Buffalo

43.85

6.09

2

5

94

Central Michigan

42.35

5.61

2

5

95

Kansas

41.26

6.79

2

4

96

Colorado

40.51

5.87

1

6

97

East Carolina

40.24

11.33

2

4

98

North Texas

39.64

7.80

2

5

99

Mississippi

39.47

5.95

2

4

100

Army

38.90

7.09

2

4

101

Colorado St

38.12

6.18

3

3

102

Boston College

37.84

6.67

1

5

103

Kentucky

37.50

6.66

2

4

104

Miami OH

36.57

6.51

2

4

105

Indiana

36.13

6.85

1

6

106

Troy

35.27

8.38

2

4

107

Idaho

34.36

6.13

1

6

108

Arizona

33.09

8.16

1

5

109

Oregon St

32.19

7.72

1

5

110

Kent St

31.54

6.25

1

6

111

UNLV

30.79

6.27

1

5

112

Minnesota

30.77

6.06

1

5

113

Western Kentucky

30.03

6.58

2

4

114

Akron

28.30

13.41

1

5

115

Tulane

26.03

8.19

2

5

116

Middle Tennessee St

25.99

6.46

1

4

117

Florida Atlantic

22.03

8.85

0

6

118

Alabama-Birmingham

17.83

8.08

0

6

119

Memphis

16.70

6.11

1

6

120

New Mexico

13.41

10.55

0

6

Our method takes into account the whole data matrix – who played who played who played who, etc. That is virtually impossible for any voting sportswriter or coach to do. These measures also allow us to create realistic strength of schedule calculations as well as fair and objective conference strength measures (see our other article on that subject – search by author name – Patrick B. Fisher)

The most glaring omission in the major rankings is Southern Methodist University. SMU has a 5-1 record, with their lone loss coming at (#16) Texas A&M, which has the toughest schedule (SoS) so far.  Our SoS calculations are based on games played so far. Their victories have been over UTEP (#56), Northwestern St (#44 in FCS; would be #84 in FBS), @Memphis (#119), @TCU (#23) and Central Florida (#61). Each win has come by a sizeable margin and the TCU game was on the road. Houston (#12), 6-0 so far, is ranked #21 in the AP Poll, #19 in the BCS. Their SoS is 111th of 120 and are getting more respect and attention than SMU. Houston’s weak schedule is reflected partly in their high error of measurement (8.55). Compare that to Oklahoma St with a 6-0 record and an error of 5.26 (#20, SoS).

Boise St is once again not getting all the respect they deserve. They’ve responded to the critics by adding a road game at Georgia to their schedule, which they promptly went out and won. The BCS has them at #5, but SportsMeasures has them fighting for a spot in the BCS Championship game.

Other large discrepancies include #17 Arkansas (#9, BCS), #18 Arizona St (unranked BCS) and, #24 South Carolina (#14, BCS). These examples highlight the problems with the BCS method. Another commonly argued (and valid) point is the syndrome of beginning the season highly ranked and staying there because you won, not because your schedule strength or performance warranted staying there. Since SportsMeasures makes no assumptions, every team starts at the same place at the beginning of the season and their performance dictates their ranking as the season goes.

The other big issue with the BCS is how they hope and expect there to be very few (read: 2) undefeated teams so that the national championship game teams are easily paired. Currently, there are ten undefeated teams in the FBS, which opens the floodgates for the other undefeated teams to argue their case for being in the BCS championship game. Because our method is subjected to scientific rigor  it will stand up to any scrutiny by anyone.

I will be writing shorter follow-ups for the duration of the season focusing on the Top 25.

Strength of Schedule and Conference Strength

As we head into the 2011 college football season, let’s take a look back at last year to discuss a couple of consistently argued topics: strength of schedule and conference strength. SportsMeasures’ objective measures for college and pro sports teams are exactly what is needed to solve many of the issues and arguments in sports today.

 

If you’ve visited SportsMeasures website previously, you’re aware that we are the only website using truly objectively scientific methodology to produce sports rankings. If you would like to learn more about our scientific method, visit www.Rasch.org for a complete and detailed explanation of objective measurement. This methodology allows us to do many things with the measures we construct using only game results data. There is no bias or subjectivity of any kind in any of our measures. No other methodology can make those claims or back them up if they do attempt to make them.

 

 

Strength of Schedule

 

Although college football does not use the Ratings Percentage Index, aka RPI, in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings, college basketball does, making this discussion relevant to college athletics in general.

 

Instead of rewriting what others have already done, I’ll let http://www.rpiratings.com/WhatisRPI.html explain RPI.

 

What is the RPI?

The Rating Percentage Index (RPI) has been used by the NCAA men’s basketball committee since 1981 and officially by the women’s basketball committee since 1984 as supplemental data to help select at-large teams and seed all teams for the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments. The NCAA did not make the RPI available to member institutions in-season until the 2005-06 season, when it began doing so on a weekly basis in a bare-bones fashion. Before then, the data were kept confidential within the committees. Collegiate Basketball News duplicates the adjusted RPI that is generated by the NCAA to four decimal places using available formulas without input from the NCAA. The four component factors which make up the RPI are as follows:

 

Factor I is the team’s Division I winning percentage and is 25 percent of the RPI. Games against non-Division I opponents are not included in the normal RPI.  For the men, beginning in 2004-05, home wins are weighted 0.6, neutral wins 1.0, and road wins count 1.4, with similar weights given to losses.

 

Factor II is the team’s opponents’ Division I winning percentage, or the team’s schedule strength, excluding results against the team in question. It is 50 percent of the RPI.

 

Factor III is the team’s opponents’ opponents’ Division I winning percentage, or the team’s opponents’ strength of schedule, excluding results against the team in question. Factor III is 25 percent of the RPI.

 

So, as you just read, RPI is calculated using the teams’ own winning percentage, their opponents’ winning percentage and the team’s opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage. RPI uses only two degrees of separation to be calculated.

 

SportsMeasures’ methodology for calculating each team’s ability measure incorporates the complete data matrix, not just two degrees of separation. Therefore, inferences across the whole data matrix are enabled. This allows for the most accurate strength of schedule measures and makes them completely comparable because their calculation is not independent of the other measures. RPI is nothing more than a ratio and its usefulness is very limited.

 

SportsMeasures’ team ability measures can be used to create other products like conference strength and strength of schedule. To keep the list short only the conferences are listed here (although all teams’ ability measures are available on our website – www.SportsMeasures.com). We create a ruler using a 0-100 scale to put the measures in a familiar frame of reference for everyone to be able to have a basic understanding of the ability of each teams.

 

This list of conferences’ strength of schedule includes both FBS and FCS divisions of college football. It does not include any of the independent schools such as Notre Dame.

 

Strength of Schedule by Conference

   

1

Pac-10

61.48

2

SEC

58.73

3

Big 12

57.40

4

ACC

56.65

5

Big 10

55.05

6

Mountain West

54.06

7

Big East

54.00

8

WAC

52.62

9

Colonial

48.20

10

Conf USA

48.12

11

Southern

47.30

12

Missouri Valley

47.06

13

Big Sky

46.39

14

Mid-American

45.15

15

Great West

43.24

16

Sun Belt

43.13

17

OVC

42.59

18

Southland

42.45

19

Ivy

36.83

20

SWAC

36.24

21

Patriot

36.03

22

Big South

35.07

23

Pioneer

31.21

24

MEAC

29.64

   

 

Mean

46.58

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the top conferences are the ones with the automatic bids to the major post-season bowl games. The lone exception is the Mountain West Conference slipping in at number six just ahead of the Big East. These numbers are the average strength of schedule of the teams in each conference. There isn’t a lot to say about this – the measures speak for themselves.

Conference Strength

The next list is the strength of each conference as determined by their teams’ average ability measure. While the order is changed a bit, the strongest conferences are the six with automatic bids to the bowl games. The SEC and Pac-10 were the strongest conferences in 2010. These two conferences also had the toughest schedules in 2010.  I doubt this surprises anyone either. These numbers are the average ability of the teams in each conference.

 

   

measure

1 SEC

64.46

2 Pac-10

63.47

3 Big 12

60.89

4 Big 10

58.68

5 ACC

57.95

6 Big East

57.09

7 Mountain West

52.29

8 WAC

52.28

9 Colonial

49.99

10 Southern

49.63

11 Missouri Valley

45.35

12 Conf USA

45.30

13 Great West

44.03

14 Big Sky

42.59

15 Mid-American

40.75

16 OVC

39.38

17 Ivy

38.18

18 Southland

37.86

19 Sun Belt

37.71

20 SWAC

35.41

21 Patriot

33.60

22 Big South

29.06

23 Pioneer

28.69

24 MEAC

28.02

   

  Mean

45.87

 

These measures are no one person’s opinion. These are facts. SportsMeasures uses only game results data to create our measures. Those measures can be added, multiplied, divided in various combinations to create other meaningful measures like those presented above. Our methodology is indisputable as it is wholly scientific. Visit www.Rasch.org to learn more about objective measurement.

 

If anyone has any questions or comments, please feel free to send them to questions@SportsMeasures.com.

2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament: SportsMeasures vs. the NCAA

I wonder if the NCAA Selection Committee knows something about estimating ability of athletic teams that I don’t? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not insulting the committee of men who gathered in a hotel conference room last weekend to select the 68 teams for this year’s Men’s Basketball Tournament. However, I am asserting my knowledge about objective, scientific measurement and how it is applied to rank ordering sports teams.

The Field of 68 has left me scratching my head for a few different reasons. Let’s start with the most pressing issue that comes up each Sunday night after the field is announced: who barely got in and who was left on the outside looking in through a knot hole in the wooden fence.

In SportsMeasures’ Field of 68, the last four teams in should have been New Mexico (21-12, No. 47), Colorado (21-13, No. 48), Penn St (19-14, No. 49), and Georgia (21-11, No. 50). These last four teams in would have been seeded twelfth in the new “First Four” format.

According to SportsMeasures the first four out should have been UCLA (22-10, #51), UAB (22-8, #52), Tennessee (19-14, #56)  and USC (19-14, #61).

If you have visited SportsMeasures website, SportsMeasures.com, you will know that winning percentage is meaningless to our data analysis methodology. The actual game results drive the analysis. Whereas RPI (ratings percentage index) is 25% team winning percentage, 50% opponents’ average winning percentage, and 25% opponents’ opponents’ average winning percentage and uses only their opponents and their opponents’ opponents, SportsMeasures uses the whole data matrix to construct their rankings. RPI has a very limited degree of interaction between teams and is unreliable.

Using the NCAA’s methodology, it is difficult to argue with the inclusion of UCLA and UAB, after all, they are only .40 points (SportsMeasures) behind Georgia for the last spot in the tourney. OK, so those two teams are out of the argument.

Even including Tennessee isn’t too much of a stretch since only Washington State and Nebraska were both skipped over. So, I give the selection committee a pass on three of the teams they included. Isn’t that nice of me?

After that though, I have a tough time thinking that even their methods would show that the other three teams merit inclusion in the tournament. Southern Cal (19-14, No. 61), UTEP (25-9, No. 72) and VCU (23-11, #76) are just too far afield to even consider. On top of this, the NCAA gave USC and VCU eleven seeds, Tennessee a nine and UCLA a seven! Was that in honor of John Wooden or something? In SportsMeasures’ tournament (if they got in) UCLA would have had a thirteen seed.

OK, I think I made my point on that subject.

Next issue.

Before I dive into the next topic, I feel the need to re-assert that SportsMeasures does NOT care about won-loss record. Also, the measures, rankings, seeds, etc., are not the opinion of any person. The measures are a direct result of the games so, these rankings, since they are scientifically derived, are more “factual” than any other method available. I publish the error of measurement as an admission that these measures are NOT an absolute declaration of a teams’ ability and any teams’ chance to win any game are the reason the games are played (see Northern Iowa vs. Kansas in the 2010 tournament). If these measures were absolute and the game results were driven by these measures, there would be no point of playing the games. These measures show which team is better given how they have played the games on their schedule – nothing more, nothing less.

OK, that said…how would you like to be Wisconsin or Kansas St? Kansas St should be a seven seed and the NCAA gave them a five. They are playing a twelve seed in Utah St, which should be a four! Wisconsin is seeded properly, but they’re playing Belmont, which the NCAA gave a thirteen seed and should be a five. I am very eager to watch these two games. I have already picked USU and Belmont to win their first round games. I have to believe that both teams will be rather irked at their seeds and will come out with collective chips on their shoulders.

Those two games are the two most grossly mis-seeded of the tourney. There are a few others that come to mind also. I already mentioned UCLA, the recipient of a gift seven seed, which shouldn’t even be in the tournament!

Another game of particular interest is the Xavier (pronounced ‘zavier’ not x-zavier) -Marquette match-up. Xavier is mis-seeded higher by three spots and Marquette is also out of place, three spots lower. So, while the NCAA has this game as a six-eleven game, in reality it is a nine-eight game. Xavier is really a nine and Marquette, an eight.

Missouri is mis-seeded by four spots. They are an eleven and should be a seven. Mizzou is playing Cincinnati, which is seeded correctly at six. In SportsMeasures’ rankings these two teams are only separated by five spots. This should be a very competitive game.

UNLV received a seed three spots lower than they should have and given how poorly (underachieved, given their vast talent pool) Illinois has played this year, UNLV should enjoy a 15-point victory.

Florida also received a late Christmas present with their two seed. They should be a five. Since they play a fifteen seed in the opening round it shouldn’t matter at all, especially since they are playing UC-Santa Barbara.

Butler must’ve gotten the ‘championship game appearance’ exception by getting a seed four spots higher than it should have. So, instead of playing a five seed in the opening round, they will play Old Dominion, a nine seed. This, too, should be a nice game.

Vanderbilt and Richmond combine for a seeding difference of five spots. Vandy should be an eight and Richmond should be a ten. Instead the NCAA made this matchup a five-twelve game. It will be much more competitive than many games like those usually are. However, if my memory is any good, twelve seeds have had excellent success against five seeds in years past. Perhaps, it is the NCAA’s method that is the root cause of this anomaly. A five seed is among the top 20 teams in the country and a twelve is among only the top 48 – a nice team, but hardly one that should have the success against a top 20 team at the rate the 12s have had over the years.

Michigan and Tennessee is an interesting game as well. Blue has been upgraded by the NCAA by three spots and Tennessee was given an unearned invitation – which would translate to approximately a 14-seed. So, overall, there is really only about three seed spots between them or 13 ranking positions according to SportsMeasures. This should still be a competitive game.

Washington and Georgia also have a combined difference of four spots. Instead of being a five-12 game (SportsMeasures), the NCAA made it a seven-ten game. Washington, playing very well of late, should win this game rather easily. Remember, Georgia should have been the last team in the tournament.

Those are all the games where the NCAA and SportsMeasures disagree the most. I encourage you to watch these games with particular interest. All other games and teams had discrepancies of only one or two seeds. That amount is surely within an allowable gray area of any measurement methodology.

Enjoy the games – I know I will!

2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament

This is my favorite sporting event of the year! There is no single event which generates more excitement over a longer period than the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Coupled with Spring Training and Opening Day, there is no better season on the sporting calendar than mid-March through early April.

So, the 2011 version of the Big Dance comes to us with a big change. The NCAA increased the number of teams from 65 to 68 teams for this year’s tourney. The extra three teams break down something like this: the NCAA calls these games the “First Four” as opposed to the “Final Four” which describes the number of teams remaining, not the number of games. The extra three teams will consist of one more 16 seed and two extra 12 or 13 seed teams or, the last at-large teams to get into the party. So what happens is this: there will essentially be six 16 seed teams and the four lowest rated of those six will play for the last two 16 seeds for the right to play a #1 seed in the opening weekend of games.

The final four at-large teams will do something similar. Those four teams will pair off to play for the right to be the final at-large teams admitted to the field of 64. They will be either 12 or 13 seeds, depending upon the rest of the field. The final at-large teams typically fall into this range.

As of this writing, the four 16 seeds to play in the ‘First Four’ are, according to the rankings compiled by SportsMeasures are: McNeese St (#191), Arkansas-Little Rock (#211), Bethune-Cookman (#240), and Texas Southern (#247). The last four at-large teams in the field of 68 are (in order of admission): Georgia, Maryland, New Mexico and Nebraska. So, what that means to Nebraska is that if an upset occurs in the conference tournaments and an unexpected team earns the automatic bid which relegates the defeated team to at-large status, Nebraska would be the first team knocked out of the tourney.

Click here to see the projected tournament field, according to SportsMeasures.

There are a few teams and seeds that no one would have expected at the beginning of the season including San Diego St as a 2 and Belmont is in as a 6 (it will be interesting to see what the NCAA does with Belmont – they’ve been in the top 30 of SportsMeasures rankings most of the season).

Some conference representations will surprise as well. The Big East absolutely is dominant with 11 teams in the projected field of 68. The ACC and the Big 10 are somewhat a surprise with both conferences having six teams in the field, despite an overall subpar performance from some conference members. The Mountain West conference is a bit of a surprise with four teams making the field. The quirk about the fourth team, New Mexico, is that they finished one game behind non-qualifier, Colorado St in conference play. But, UNM apparently played a tougher non-conference schedule because the two teams had similar records (20-11 for UNM and 19-11 for CSU), but UNM measured 1.27 points better than CSU which was good for ten spots in SportsMeasures’ rankings and the second to last spot in the tourney.

SportsMeasures’ rankings of every college basketball team gives fan a deeper understanding of the ability level of every team in the field. Most fans have a good feel for the top 30 or so teams because they get the most media coverage and are the topic of most conversations. The teams that fans know the least about are the winners of the smaller conferences, the Woffords and Arkansas-Little Rocks of the college basketball world.

There are 345 Division I teams competing for the 68 spots in the field. Thirty-one of them automatically get in the tourney by winning their conference tourney (except the Ivy League winner – there is no conference tournament). The winners of the six big conferences, the so-called BCS Conferences, are almost always in the top 20 of all teams in the country. The winners of the smaller conferences can range all the way down the list. The worst team in the tourney (as of March 9) will likely be the winner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, most likely Texas Southern. TSU won the conference by four games and are the best measured team from the SWAC with a ranking of 247. The final pre-tournament analysis will likely result in their ranking getting a little better, assuming they win the conference tournament. As of now, there are three teams ranked lower than 200 which will qualify for the tourney. There are six more ranked between 100 and 199. There is a cluster of six more teams ranked between 87 and 99. That leaves 53 other teams and they all come from the top 59.

By Sunday evening we will all know who’s in and who’s not. It will be a lot of fun between now and then. Saturday, March 12 will prove to be one of the more exciting days of the basketball season with 12 conferences crowning their tourney champion and thus earning an automatic bid to the tournament.

This article will be updated on Monday, March 14 reflecting the actual tournament field and the teams that NCAA mistakenly chose, assuming there are any. I can make such a strong claim because of the methodology used by SportsMeasures. SportsMeasures produces the only unbiased and objective measures available. Our tag-line says it as well: Real Science for Real Sports.

NFC Championship – Packers @ Bears

This weekend’s NFL Conference Championship games have the potential to be very competitive. They also have the potential to be blowouts. Today we’ll focus on the NFC.

First, the Chicago Bears host the Green Bay Packers. It is the NFL’s oldest rivalry. They split their two Black-n-Blue Division games this year, each team winning at home. The combined score of the two games was 27-23 in favor of the Pack. OK, those are the simple facts on this game, the first time these two have met in the playoffs since 1941.

This analysis uses only objective information as it takes into account their game results ONLY. It does not take into account injuries, stats, etc. According to SportsMeasures’ NFL rankings of ability the Packers have a measure of 71.87 with an error of +/-6.14. What this means is that the Packers have an estimated ability range of 65.73 to 78.01. More on that in a minute.

The Bears have a measure of 62.75 with an error of +/-6.49 for a range of 56.26 to 69.24. So, the Bears and Packers have a relatively small range of overlap – 65.73 to 69.24 (that is the bottom of the Packers range to the top of the Bears range). What this means in terms of game result is that the Bears have to be pretty good and the Packers have to be kind of bad for the Bears to win. If both teams play well or poorly, edge Packers. However, almost no matter how well the Bears play, if the Packers play well, the Packers will win. I don’t think the Bears have it in them to be better than the Packers when the Packers play well. The Packers have a larger margin for error than the Bears.

The Bears can be BAD, as witnessed in all their losses. Not once did the Bears play well in these five games; the defense did play well against Green Bay though.

Green Bay, on the other hand, lost six games: Bears, Washington, Miami, Atlanta, Detroit and New England. Not all of those were ugly losses where they played poorly. The Bears, Atlanta and NE are all good teams and Green Bay probably played well in two of those losses (Atlanta and New England). The losses to Washington, Miami and Detroit were very bad losses though. Green Bay had a propensity to be dominant, too. Their wins against Buffalo, @Jets, Dallas, @Minnesota, SF, Giants and Bears were by a total of 208 to 53. That’s seven of their ten wins. Their other wins were over Philadelphia, Detroit and Minnesota by a combined 83 to 70.

The Bears had four (of 11) such wins. They were against Carolina, Miami and Minnesota (2) by a combined 106 to 33. The Bears’ seven other wins were by a total of 181 to 150.

Even though I’m a Bears fan, I’m predicting a Packer victory – 24 – 13. It could be worse and I hope I’m wrong. I was wrong about New Orleans and New England, two other two-part city names; perhaps the trend will continue.

I think this analysis provides a better understanding of their measures which is exactly upon what their measures are based: how they fared against their competition.

NFL Week 15

Clearly, New England is the best team in the NFL through 15 weeks. The playoffs will test them to see if they will also be the champions of the NFL in Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, TX. The Patriots increased their already sizable lead in SportsMeasures’ ranking to over 12 points (from around nine in week 14).

http://www.sportsmeasures.com/nfl/nfl_week15.html

At the bottom of rankings are Carolina, Denver and Arizona. Their ability measures are so close together it is a toss-up as to which team is worst – 1.2 points separates them from each other.

The rankings still clearly show how much strength of schedule impacts a team’s measure. For example, look at Green Bay (8-6), #7 in the rankings with a measure of 63.55 and also look at Tampa Bay (8-6), #23 in the rankings with a measure of 39.85. How can two teams with identical win-loss records be so disparate? Take a look at their respective schedules and you’ll see. Let’s take a quick look right here:

Green Bay wins: @Philly, Buffalo, Detroit, Minnesota, @Jets, Dallas, @Minnesota, San Fran

Some quality wins @Philly, @Jets, @Minnesota – any win on the road in the NFL qualifies as a quality win – especially so @Philly and @Jets.

Green Bay losses: @Chicago, @Washington, Miami, @Atlanta, @Detroit, @New England

Some losses against high level teams – @Chicago, @Atlanta and @New England, but some bad losses @Washington, Miami, @Detroit. You *almost* expect to lose @Chicago, Atlanta or New England. But, given Green Bay’s strength they should have beaten Washington, Miami and Detroit at home or on the road.

Tampa Bay wins: Cleveland, @Carolina, @Cinci, St. Louis, Arizona, Carolina, @San Fran, @Washington

Tampa Bay’s wins all came against teams with losing records. The highest ranked team they’ve beaten is Cleveland at #15; no one else is above #25.

Tampa Bay losses: Pittsburgh, New Orleans, @Atlanta, @Baltimore, Atlanta, Detroit

Tampa’s losses have all come against teams with winning records with the exception of Detroit.

I didn’t even need to get into the scores of their games because the story was told just in their wins and losses. Fortunately, it appears that Tampa won’t be in the playoffs. With their remaining games vs. Seattle and @New Orleans it is almost assured that they will have no better than a 9-7 record. The Giants or the Packers will likely claim the other wild card slot.

NFL rankings Week 7

Pittsburgh is the new top team in the NFL after week 7. With 5-1 record they are slightly ahead of the New York Jets and New England.

Winning percentage is only generally correlated with ability. Tampa Bay is 4-2, but is near the bottom of the pile (#25). The Bucs have beat Cleveland, Carolina, Cincinnati and St. Louis which have a combined record of 8-18, while Pittsburgh and New Orleans (their two losses) have a combined record of 9-4. TB has beaten these average to bad teams by less than ten points except Carolina, which they beat by 13 points on the road – a good win against a bad team. So, TB’s wins are not impressive and their losses are. Not a good recipe for a quality ability measure.

Cleveland and San Diego continue to do well in the rankings despite their 2-5 records. Again, it goes back to who they beat and to whom they lost. Cleveland and San Diego are rather similar beyond their wins and losses. Of their combined 10 losses, only one was a defeat of more than ten points and they lost to very good teams. Their victories, on the other hand, have come against decent teams and by more than ten points (except one). So, SD and the Browns have beaten decent teams soundly and have lost to good to very good teams by small amounts. That is a good recipe for a decent ability measure despite the losses. I would take the Chargers or Browns over the Bucs even on the road. I expect both teams to finish the season with better records than Tampa Bay, depending upon the ability of the teams remaining on their respective schedules.