Boilermetrics: Power in the Big Ten

I'm back – I know it probably seemed like I was waiting for the Lions to win another game before I posted again, but instead it was just that work stuff. I prefer spending more time talking Purdue sports with the good folks here, but you know how that goes.

This is ENIAC, the first "computer". It correctly picked
CCNY to win both the NCAA and NIT in 1950,
but finished third in the office pool behind that tall
secretary who works for Mr. So-and-so and the guy who
picks up the punch cards and loads them for you.

Anyway, this is the first in an occasional series that I may have hinted at before: a more in-depth look at topics the other guys have covered (and a couple they may not), with a bit more emphasis on numbers. The title of the series comes from sabermetrics, baseball analysis through statistics. (Even though the term comes from baseball, it's loosely applied to similar analysis in other sports.)

A few things to keep in mind as you read this and future articles:

  • Analysis in sports is relatively new and thus pretty rough in places, especially outside baseball. There will occasionally be things I refer to that will have changed recently or will change in the near future, as the people who create those models tweak them to better fit what they're studying. 
  • Analysis is just another tool to help you understand what you're seeing. It's intended to complement rather than to replace observation. If the numbers tell you one thing and your eyes tell you something really different, the truth is likely in the middle somewhere.
  • Along those lines, there's a lot that advanced statistics can't yet tell us about sports that aren't baseball. When we refer to an individual player's advanced stats, it's really shorthand for "that player's stats within his role on Purdue's team". We're a long way from being able to separate the contributions of a player from the effects of playing in the offense his team runs.

All right, let's get started. Open your textbooks to Chapter 1 ... the Big Ten.

For a few years now, people here and elsewhere have talked about the strength of the Big Ten in basketball and how it's the best conference in the country. (Well, the folks at EsPN mention the ACC a bit, but most people know the truth.) This year, so far, it's not even close. If you go over to kenpom.com – and I highly suggest you do, because his site has a ton of useful stats even for free, and for $20, you get a year's access to all of the cool stuff, some of which I'll be quoting – you'll see the Big Ten in first place by a mile, with the Big East chugging away in second and the Duke Conference a distant third. (To put it in perspective, the mean Big Ten team would be 33rd in the country; the Big East mean, 50th; the ACC mean, 63rd, and that would drop even further once Maryland walks this way. Of course, so would the Big Ten's mean ...)

Here's Ashley Russell to introduce
... what was I saying?

Of course the Big Ten is also a little top-heavy (woo!). Through Thursday's games, Michigan State was ranked 18th in the country by kenpom ... and was 6th in the Big Ten. Wisconsin sits at #11 and is a mere 5th in the conference. So keep that in mind as we go back through boilerdowd's power rankings: 6th here isn't anything at all like 6th in, say, the Pac-12. (#69 California.)

For each team, I'll list their ratings by boilerdowd, kenpom, Sagarin, Massey, and the good old RPI that EsPN duplicates (which, naturally, is behind a firewall – subscribers only). I'll then look at which of the Four Factors are their strengths and which are their weaknesses, and mention what, if anything, might have changed during conference play.

Playing for a #1 seed
1. Wisconsin (kenpom 11; Sagarin 15; Massey 23; RPI 41)The good: Avoiding turnovers. Their turnover percentage is 14.2%, best in Division I. (#2 is Michigan at 15.1%.) Combine that with their glacial offense, and you get standard Vince McMahon basketball: crush the life out of the ball, then dare you to hit the one shot they're going to give you.
The bad: Getting to the line. They average 30.3 FTA for every 100 FGA, 293rd in DI. This is good news if, say, you have foul-prone post players. Wisconsin is not going to get them on the bench early.
The B1G: They're pretty darn good so far. Winning in that place in Bloomington is no mean feat even when Indiana is down, and they're not down this year.
Non-con notes: Best win was 77-70 over #66 Arkansas at a neutral site; worst loss was 50-60 at #41 Marquette.

2. Michigan (kenpom 5; Sagarin 4; RPI 5; Massey 2)
The good: Um, most everything. Their effective FG% (multiply by FGA to get points scored off FGs; it gives you a single number to compare) is 57.9%, 2nd in DI. They don't foul (21.1 FTA/FGA, also 2nd) and don't give up offensive rebounds (24.8% of possible ORebs, 3rd in DI).
The bad: Getting to the line. Is there an echo in here? (Actually, Ryan and Beilein have similar styles they prefer to play. Beilein just has a ... different team this year.) 30.2 FTA/FGA, right behind Wisconsin.
The B1G: Freshmen is as freshmen does. aOSU gave them something they hadn't seen before, and the young guys did not respond well. Unfortunately for Michigan, youth is all they have (338th in experience; Kentucky is 339th).
Non-con notes: Best win was 67-62 vs. #9 Pittsburgh at a neutral site. Best loss was Tommy Amaker.

3. Minnesota (kenpom 8; Sagarin 6; RPI 6; Massey 8)
The good: Rebounding. 47.9% ORB%, 1st in the world. Yes, they get almost half their misses. You'd think that would give them a ton more FGA than their opponents ...
The bad: ... but instead they have a whopping 1 more attempt. Why? They allow a 35.0 OReb% at the other end, and their TO% on offense is terrible, 21.9% (249th). They're wasting a lot of opportunities.
The B1G: They might be a touch overrated. Losses at Indiana and to Michigan at home aren't necessarily a concern yet, but if Minnesota can't beat the other top teams, they could have a tough time getting a high NCAA seed. (Well, not that tough: they play Michigan and Ohio State once each.)
Non-con notes: Best win was 70-57 vs. #30 North Dakota State. I know, right? They're 16-3, with losses at Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin-Green Bay. Only loss was 71-89 vs. #3 Duke at a neutral site.

4. Indiana (kenpom 4; Sagarin 7; RPI 12; Massey 11)
The good: Drawing fouls. 48.4 FGA/FTA, 4th in DI. (Notice how many of these are single-digit rankings? Toughest conference in America, yo.) They drive and chargedraw fouls and do it again and again, and then you have the waterboy in at center or something like that. Zeller: 7.0 fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Watford: 5.0/40 minutes. That's a third of your starting lineup fouling out per game, kind of.
The bad: Eh, not much. 19.2 TO% on offense, which is a bit high (106th). That's about it.
The B1G: Barring a matchup in Indianapolis, Watford and Hulls will leave without a win over Wisconsin. Games like that are why Crean has a rep for doing less with more. Indiana has two games against each of the other four contenders. If they can't catch one on an off night, they could end up being the best 10-loss team in the country.
Non-con notes: Best win was 87-61 vs. #30 North Dakota State, 2012 I-AA football champions. (Also the type of team that could scare a team in the first round, or else have the worst night of their lives to have a bad game.) Only loss was 86-88 to #35 Butler in OT at a "neutral" site.

Playing for a high seed
5. Ohio* (kenpom 10; Sagarin 12; RPI 26; Massey 12)
*ht mgoblog and Brady Hoke – slights at aOSU's expense are always funny
The good: Cleaning up the defensive glass. They allow 26.4 OReb%, 16th in the country (and 4th in the conference!). With a defensive Block% of 12.5, sometimes your offense won't even be one-and-done.
The bad: Getting to the line. (Who doesn't?) 34.3 FTA/FGA, 206th. It's not a big problem, but their eFG% is not elite-level (52.1%, 49th), and they don't rebound at their end as well as you'd think (34.8%, 87th), so without drawing fouls enough, they chip away at their offense enough to make it good instead of solid.
The B1G: Well, they beat Michigan and were whipped by Illinois, so I don't know. It's tempting to say that this Ohio team occasionally drops its guard; three times under Matta, OSU has been seeded #1 or #2 and has failed to reach the regional finals, so I'm going to stick with that theory.
Non-con notes: Best win was 77-66 vs. #73 Washington. Worst(?) loss was 66-74 vs. #6 Kansas. Beat the bad ones, lost to the good ones.

6. Michigan State (kenpom 18; Sagarin 20; RPI 16; Massey 17)
The good: Cleaning up the defensive glass. (Copycats!) 27.3 OReb% on defense, 25th overall. If you thought this was normally a strength of the Spartans, you'd be right.
The bad: Possession. Not as bad as Minnesota, but close: 21.1 TO%, 202nd. Combine it with their usual lack of three-point shooting, and they're just not the type of team that should put together a good run when they need one.
The B1G: No real change. They beat the bad teams and lost to the one good one they played (Minnesota).
Non-con notes: Best win was 67-64 vs. #6 Kansas at a neutral site. Worst loss was 62-66 vs. #47 Connecticut at a neutral site. Izzo doesn't mess around when he sets up the schedule.

Playing for a tournament seed
7. Illinois (kenpom 63; Sagarin 59; RPI 24; Massey 46)
The good: They kind of take care of the ball (18.0 TO%, 50th), although not so much in conference play (18.8%). They're better than they were at the end under Weber, but they are not a 12-0 team. (No, I can't explain the Butler win.)
The bad: Preventing offensive rebounds. 33.8 OReb% on defense, 239th. You'd expect that from a team that plays zone, and that may be a side effect of the switch from Weber (we know the Keady Rule: zone? what's a zone?) to Groce.
The B1G: They don't belong at the big kids' table. A loss at Purdue is one thing; a loss at home to Northwestern ... whoa. I know, I know, by 19 over aOSU. Blind squirrels, acorns.
Non-con notes: Best win was 85-74 at #12 Gonzaga (fluke). Only loss was 73-82 vs. #25 Missouri at a neutral site.

8. Iowa (kenpom 34; Sagarin 43; RPI 74; Massey 57)
The good: Defense. An eFG of 42.9% is 14th in the country, 2nd in the Big Ten behind Indiana. It's not the annoying foul machinepress they run under Dr. Tom ... well, it kind of is, a bit. Anyway, you're not going to get a lot of open looks against Iowa.
The bad: Shooting. 49.2% eFG. The elites run in the low- to mid-50s. The offense isn't particularly impressive in any other aspect, so scores like in their games with Indiana and Michigan State are not surprising, even for a high-tempo team: their strong defense and weak offense keep the score down anyway.
The B1G: They'll earn the bubble bid they'll get. Iowa is the Big Ten team this year that will be seeded about 3 spots higher than some people think they deserve; the selection committee will reward them for their schedule.
Non-con notes: Best win was 80-71 vs. #33 Iowa State. (Really?) Worst loss was 79-95 at #139 Virginia Tech, and that will hurt them come bracket time.


Playing to clear .500
9. Purdue (kenpom 79; Sagarin 95; RPI 106; Massey 101)
The good: Defense. (Because obvs.) 43.2 eFG%, 20th overall. You will not get easy shots ...
The bad: ... but you will still have an advantage, because on offense, you'll see 45.5 eFG%. That would be last in a normal year, last by far (the next Big Ten team above the Boilers is Iowa, at 49.2%), but thanks to the New Guys, there's worse. Three-point shooting is bad (29.8%, 295th). Two-point shooting is bad (45.7%, 228th). Free throw shooting, not even part of eFG, is bad (62.9%, 313th). Purdue would be fine if it weren't for shooting. Unfortunately, yeah, that's the whole game.
The B1G: The Boilers won't be an easy out in Mackey. Mind you, the aOSU game wasn't as close as it looked – the Buckeyes' win probability never dropped below 75.6% – but it was still only a 10-point loss.
Non-con notes: Best win was 73-61 at #74 Clemson. Worst loss was 44-47 at #288 Eastern Michigan, the lowest-ranked team to beat any Big Ten team this season.

10. Northwestern without Drew Crawford (kenpom 90; Sagarin 85; RPI 84; Massey 72)
The good: Holding onto the ball. 17.4%, 29th overall. Naturally, Crawford was a key to that, with a 13.1% rate himself.
The bad: Playing without Crawford. They don't rebound well (27.8 OReb%, 294th; 33.1 OReb% against, 221st), and the one thing they did well is going to drop now. Watch for those ratings to plummet as the season progresses.
The B1G: Northwestern isn't deep enough to survive an injury to a key player. Illinois aside, the Wildcats are barely enough to challenge Purdue. Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa (?!) smoked them. Three of their next four games are against Indiana, Michigan again, and Minnesota again. Sorry, guys. Maybe 2014?
Non-con notes: Best win was 74-70 at #37 Baylor, a sign of things that cannot be now. Worst loss was 44-50 vs. #144 Illinois-Chicago, with Drew Crawford playing 36 minutes.

Playing because they are contractually obligated to
11. Nebraska (kenpom 162; Sagarin 141; RPI 66(!); Massey 119)
The good: Rebounding on defense. 27.0 OReb%, 24th. (Is this something bad teams do? Aside from Northwestern, that is.) Also, they're polite, and they're always on time.
The bad: Their choice of conference. Also, their offensive efficiency is 94.5 - more than 5% below average, 252nd in DI. Penn State is the only other Big Ten team below 100. They're just not good.
The B1G: Nebraska – you. You're not good.
Non-con notes: Best win was 50-48 vs. #76 Valparaiso. Worst loss was 60-74 vs. #111 Kent State. (MAC teams, man.)

12. Penn State (kenpom 201; Sagarin 195; RPI 162; Massey 167)
The good: Rebounding on defense. 24.9 OReb%, 4th in the country (behind Colorado State, Boise State, and Michigan). That's ... about it.
The bad: The loss of Tim Frazier, and shooting. Team eFG%: 44.2, 302nd. You can get all the defensive rebounds in the world, but it won't matter if you can't shoot. Also, they are fouling machines: 48.7 FTA/FGA at the defensive end, 337th (of 347). That's horrible. The next lowest power-conference team is Villanova at 302nd.
The B1G: When they play Nebraska, BTN will be sorry.
Non-con notes: Best win was 60-57 vs. #38 Bucknell, and they won't hear the end of that for a long time. Worst loss was 61-73 vs. #126 Boston College.

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