College Basketball & The Computers, Revisited

Will Rogers | Feb 26, 2013 | ARCHIVE

Hi there.  Will Rogers here.  I just wanted to take a moment and follow up on last week's discussion concerning college basketball, the use of analytics and the computers.

Neither computers or analytics are always going to be perfect.  We found that out the hard way two Mondays ago when a team the computers "like" (Pitt) went out and lost at home to a team the computers "don't like" (Notre Dame).   It was funny.  At one point, Pitt had jumped out to a 19-3 lead and the computers were probably "feeling pretty good about themselves."  But what a computer can't account for is Notre Dame coach Mike Brey going out of his way to get called for a technical foul, thus inspiring his team and the rest of the way the Fighting Irish outscoring the Panthers 48-23.  What we can measure is just how putrid Pittsburgh's shooting was for the full 40 minutes: 16 of 46 on field goal attempts with none made behind the three-point arc.  

Or how about New Mexico-Colorado State?  According to rankings such as those at KenPom, the Rams were the clear choice at home.  But again, an extraordinary performance proved to be the computers undoing.  Lobos' leading scorer Kendall Williams (14.4 PPG) hit a Mountain West Conference record 10 three-pointers in the game, scored a career-high 46 points, and helped erase a six-point deficit with six minutes to go giving UNM the outright victory.  

So, be forewarned. The computers are never perfect.  That said, they are usually right more often than not.  With that in mind, here's a revised look at teams that are underrated/overrated when one takes a look at the computers and compares to that their ranking in the human polls.


Pittsburgh  - Despite the loss to Notre Dame, the computers still really like the Panthers, who are ranked as high #7 at KenPom and have been even higher at other points of the season.  Again, margin of victory, which is not factored into a team's RPI is the Panthers' best friend.   Sunday's 63-47 win at St. John's was Pittsburgh's 19th of the season by 10 or more points.  Widely considered to be a top-flight rebounding program, the Panthers were undone on the boards in losses to Marquette and the Irish.  Ranked just 23rd in the AP Poll and unranked in the USA Today Coach's Poll, the Panthers have three very winnable games remaining before the Big East Tournament and will be heavily favored in each.

Virginia - The Cavaliers' chances of dancing in the NCAA Tournament looked shaky at best after losing a game to fellow bubble team North Carolina on February 16th.  Not only is UVA not ranked, but they didn't even receive a single vote in either human poll this week! But perhaps, the voters are severely short-changing this team, which since losing to the Tar Heels has narrowly lost to the ACC's top team (Miami) and blown out Georgia Tech.  This Thursday, the Cavaliers can definitely improve their NCAA Tourney hopes with a home win over Duke.  They are definitely catching the Blue Devils at a good time as Coach K's group has a huge revenge game on deck vs. Miami upcoming Saturday. Lookahead?  Virginia is rated 17th at KenPom as of Tuesday.   

Minnesota - The Gophers, like Pittsburgh, were on this list last week.  I mentioned how despite their recent losing ways, you might find them to be a bit undervalued Tuesday when they hosted #1 Indiana.  Well, I played Minnesota as a 10* and the end result was an outright win the Gophers desperately needed.  Enough said. Not ranked in either human poll, KenPom has Tubby Smith's team ranked in the Top 20.


Kansas State - 13th in both human polls, the Wildcats are rated just 33rd at KenPom.  I'm still not sure how they were able to pull off covering an 18.5-point spread Monday vs. Texas Tech, a game they actually trailed in outright in the second half.

Memphis - The Tigers came into the week ranked in the Top 20 in both human polls, but were just 37th at KenPom entering Tuesday's tussle with Xavier, a quirky bit of non-conference scheduling.  The result there was Memphis' 18-game win streak (tied for longest in the nation) getting snapped.  Remember that outside of Southern Miss, no other team in Conference USA is good.  This is the one new addition on this list from last week.

Notre Dame - The Fighting Irish are trying their best to prove the computers wrong.  They've beaten Pitt and Cincinnati since suffering that embarrassing loss to Providence on February 16th. But remember that their seven wins before that were all by eight points or less, three of them coming in overtime (one in 5 OT). They still have two challenging road games left, this Saturday at Marquette and the regular season finale at Louisville.

Butler - The Bulldogs are certainly making the computers look smart of late.  I played against this team last Friday, despite the fact they were at home and playing with revenge against St. Louis.  Those of you that joined me for that one know the Billikens won the game outright.   Their upcoming schedule has them on the road the next two games, at VCU and at UMass, a daunting task.