Today, the NCAA Selection Committee put out their first ever in-season preview, releasing the current top 16 if the season were to end today. Let’s see how they did.
Today, the NCAA Selection Committee put out their first ever in-season preview, releasing the current top 16 if the season were to end today. Let’s see how they did.
Tomorrow, we’ll find out who the committee thinks should be the final four teams in the College Football Playoff. As I’ve laid out before, I’m not a fan of the “committee” approach, which is given vague and unspecific guidelines on how to select the four teams. That leaves the criteria open to interpretation and invites inconsistent and biased decision-making. Are we selecting the “best” or “most deserving” teams? What does “best” or “most deserving” actually mean? Does the “eye test” matter? Do big wins outweigh bad losses? Does head-to-head matter, and if so, for how much? Same for conference championships?
There are so many questions to answer, and many are open for debate. However, leaving that debate for after the games have been played and up to each committee member to answer for themselves is a travesty. The answers to those things need to be decided ahead of time so that every team knows the parameters by which they’ll be judged, and they need to be applied consistently and objectively to remove as much subjectivity and bias (whether conscious or subconscious) as possible.
My solution is the Achievement Rankings, which I’ve applied to the NCAA basketball tournament for years and carried over to football as well.
The base of my system is simple–how many wins would a baseline team be expected to win against your schedule, including your opponents and the location of the games. For my baseline, I use the #10 team in the country.
Things can be added in as seen fit, and the biggest one is the value of Conference Championships. This year, the committee’s weight on that will play a huge role, as 11-1 Ohio State did not win the Big Ten conference, while 2-loss teams Penn State (Big Ten) and Oklahoma (Big 12) both did. How much should those titles be worth? The answer to that question could determine who goes to the playoff and who doesn’t.
Another big question this year is the value of head-to-head wins, as Penn State beat Ohio State this year, but Ohio State beat Oklahoma, and Michigan beat Penn State but lost to Ohio State. I am not a proponent of giving additional bonuses for head-to-head wins, which deserves a longer post, but the main reasons involve difficulties applying them in a logically consistent way (for instance, in 3-way ties) and the dubious idea that they only matter if you just so happen to be close in the ranking to a team you beat.
This year, I’ve decided to include a conference championship bonus of +1 achievement points (I gave non-Power 5 champions +0.5 points), but eschew any head-to-head adjustments. The choice of +1 for conference titles was rather arbitrary–the main thing is that this number should be arrived at ahead of time before the season and applied consistently. As it stands now, each committee member gets to decide whether to apply a bonus and how much it should count for–and they may not even apply it consistently!
2016 CFB Playoff – Achievement Rankings
So who does my system say should go this year?
Alabama is a stone-cold lock as the #1 seed. Both Clemson and Washington grade out very well with just 1 loss and a Power 5 conference championship for each team.
That leaves just the fourth and final spot up for grabs. The contenders–Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan from the Big Ten, Oklahoma from the Big 12, and Western Michigan as the undefeated non-Power 5 MAC champion. My system narrows it down to two of those 5 teams–Penn State and Ohio State. The Buckeyes have a tougher schedule and one fewer loss–they went 11-1 against a schedule that the #10 team in the country would be expected to win 9.13 games against, meaning they won 1.87 games more than expected. Without a conference title, that’s their score. Penn State went 11-2 against a schedule that the #10 team would win 10.05 games on average if they played the same slate of games, giving PSU just a 0.95 score. However, they are the Big Ten champions so get a +1 bonus, putting them at +1.95 and just ahead of the Buckeyes. As you can see, the conference championship bonus amount matters greatly this year.
There’s one other thing to point out–Penn State benefits from playing 13 games to Ohio State’s 12. My system uses an aggregate score, but if you instead used a per-game average, Ohio State would edge ahead of Penn State, with a +.156/game score compared to +.150/game for the Nittany Lions.
Ultimately, we’ll be at the mercy of the committee members and their application of individual rankings of this year’s teams. But with so many potential factors and razor thin margins, we really need a system that lays out the details of how teams will be graded–objective, consistent, and transparent. Of course, teams can always feel safe if they go undefeated and win their conference, like Alabama was able to do this season.
I love almost everything about March Madness. Almost everything.
So, despite this being the greatest week of the year–from Selection Sunday to filling out brackets to the wall-to-wall television viewing of the 48 tournament games on the weekend–I offer up a few of the things I do NOT like about the first week of March Madness.
Pet Peeve #1: Calling out the committee for “mis-seeding” teams
You’ll see this all around the internet this week, such as here on 538.com. While sometimes it can be warranted, what I’m talking about are the times people say a team is over- or underseeded compared to their true strength. For instance, FiveThirtyEight called Wichita State underseeded as an 11-seed, saying the committee made an error. I’ve railed on this before, but again: THIS IS NOT AN ERROR ON THE COMMITTEE’S PART. They are grading resumes, not talent! This is Wichita State’s fault for losing 8 games against a sub-par schedule.
I liken this to a teacher–they grade tests, not intelligence. If the smartest kid in the class gets 80% of the questions correct, nobody says she should get an A+ because her IQ is 135! That’s insane. Even if you disagree with this premise that the committee should be concerned with resumes over talent (which is a separate pet peeve of mine!), that is what they are doing! Why would we say they are doing a bad job by using criteria completely different from what they are using. This makes absolutely no sense and makes me literally scream at my computer screen every time I read somebody say it. Stop doing this, people.
Pet Peeve #2: Touting ridiculous trends or trivia as bracket-picking advice
Rece Davis on a recent ESPN Bracketology show warned that the last time a team with a 25+ PPG scorer made the Final Four was–I don’t even remember exactly, but a long time ago. The point was that you should beware of picking Oklahoma to reach Houston this year because Buddy Hield averages over 25 points a game. As if he averaged just 24.9, that would be somehow better.
You’ll hear inane advice like this all over the airwaves this week. I know, I know, there’s a lot of airtime to fill up and not a lot to say. But that doesn’t make advice like this any less annoying. There’s lots of forms of this. Never pick all four #1 seeds to reach the Final Four. Pick one 12-seed to beat a 5. Tom Izzo teams always outperform in March. Yada yada yada. It’s all nonsense, I just wish there could be one bracket show without it.
Pet Peeve #3: Putting the 6/11 game above the 3/14 game in the bracket
I have no idea when this became a thing, but I have even less of an idea as to why it did. It is now prevalent across nearly every bracket I see, and it burns me to my very core.
A bracket is a beautiful, splendid, pristine piece of art. The secret to it’s visually- and intellectually-pleasing perfection lies in its symmetry and patterns. So why–in the name of all that is holy, WHY–would people blatantly ruin this?!
Let’s walk through this. Here’s what a typical bracket looks like:
Let’s break down this bracket into four groups of four teams each. Within each four-team group, we can look at where the lowest seed resides. In the 1/16/8/9 section, the 1-seed is on top, and in the 2/15/7/10 section, the top seed–the #2–is on bottom. So far, so good. But then in both of the other sections, the top seed–#3 and #4–are both on the bottom! That means 3 of the 4 sections have the top seed in the bottom game. THIS MAKES NO F***ING SENSE!!!
If we split the bracket in half and re-seed, we should get mirror images of each other. The top half would go 1/8, 4/5, 3/6, 2/7. That means the bottom half SHOULD get reseeded as 2/7, 3/6, 4/5, 1/8…but instead we get the cringe-inducing 3/6, 2/7, 4/5, 1/8. I don’t know who I’m more mad at–the person who started this insane, illogical, claw-my-eyes-out trend…or every person thereafter who perpetuated this high crime on the sacred bracket. Please, I beg you all, for the love of all that is good and holy in this world: STOP IT. Stop it now.
Now that all of that is out of my system, I can enjoy everything else I love about this time of the year. Happy March Madness everyone.
Today is Selection Sunday, representing the start of the NCAA Tournament, but it also marks the end of the conference tournament season.
Earlier, I recapped how my projection system fared in 2015 with conference tournament predictions against Ken Pomeroy and Team Rankings predictions. Unfortunately for myself, the results were the same as when I tracked these in 2013–a 3rd place finish behind 2nd place KenPom and 1st place Team Rankings.
This year, things were finally different and my projections scored a resounding victory over the other two competitors, while Team Rankings edged out KenPom for 2nd place honors. The full results are in a google spreadsheet here. My projections had a strong showing, “winning” over half of the 31 conference tournaments–in 16 conferences I had the lowest cumulative score by conference, with 9 2nd place finishes and 6 3rd places. Team Rankings actually had more last place finishes than KenPom (13-12) but had twice as many 1st places (10-5) which was enough to secure the 2nd place overall finish for TR.
Three years ago, I compiled predictions for the conference tournaments from three sources–my own, Ken Pomeroy, and Team Rankings. When the dust settled, Team Rankings had narrowly edged out KenPom for the title as I lagged behind a distant third.
I didn’t get around to it in 2014 (though perhaps I can find time to go back and gather predictions from that season), but last year I did track things. Unfortunately, I’m just now getting around to posting it. The results were the same, though this time, Team Rankings won comfortably over KenPom and my own predictions. I’ve posted the full spreadsheet on Google docs, which you can find here. I discuss the scoring system in this post. Since we are posting advancement odds, we don’t have predictions for each individual matchup. Instead, predictions are essentially a rolled up version of all possible matchups. To score them, I use the log of each team’s predictions to get exactly to the round they did. For instance, my predictions for Montana in the Big Sky tournament were 81%/61%/43%, meaning an 81% chance of winning the 1st round and advancing to the semifinals, 61% of reaching the final, and 43% of winning the title. Another way of looking at it is that Montana had a 19% chance to lose in the 1st round (that’s 100% minus the 81% chance to win in the 1st round), a 20% chance of winning one game and then losing in the semis, an 18% chance of winning twice and losing in the final, and, of course, the 43% chance to win it all. Those are the probabilities that are scored.
This year is under way. If I get around to it, I may post the predictions for each of the three systems, but either way, I’ll be back in a couple weeks with the final results. Good luck to Ken Pomeroy and Team Rankings; I hope to be able to at least climb out of the cellar this year.
We’re less than one month from Selection Sunday, which means the burgeoning field often called Bracketology is in full swing. Bracketology has taken on some broader meanings over the years, but it most often refers to predicting the selection and seeding of teams in the NCAA Tournament bracket. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi (aka “Joey Brackets”) has made a name and a living on his projections and there are now so many bracketologists that there is a site called The Bracket Matrix that collects all of them (dozens and dozens), displays them in a matrix, and grades them when the final bracket is released.
As a March Madness lover, I am a fan of most things involving the tournament and endorse almost anything that brings interest and discussion to the event. While predicting the NCAA Tournament field certainly falls into that category–and I myself have dabbled in my version of it–there are some aspects of the current state of Bracketology that range from misguided to downright silly.
We’re less than an hour from the CFB Playoff selection, so I figured I’d release a final version of my system. For an explanation of the system and caveats with it, see this post.
We can set the baseline team wherever we want, so I’ll show 2 different sets of rankings–vs the #10 team and vs the #25 team.
Achievement Rankings – #10 team baseline
Achievement Rankings – #25 team baseline
Obviously Mississippi State is going to be the big surprise here, but Sagarin’s ratings which I’m using, are astronomically high on the SEC West (see here). This could be too high or it could be right (I think we’d all agree the SEC West was an extremely strong division), but in the end it makes their schedule over a loss tougher than the other top contenders. Adjusting the SEC downward a bit, would give you either Baylor and TCU (no Oregon) in the #10-team version or Oregon and TCU in the #25-team version. The issue with Oregon is that the high baseline we set combined with Sagarin’s view of the Pac-12–lots of good but few great teams–makes Oregon’s schedule look relatively easy for a top 10 or even top 25 team.
I think there are good reasons for moving Mississippi State down, but this is a good reminder that teams shouldn’t be automatically excluded simply because they have more losses than another team. An extremely tough schedule can be enough to account for the extra loss.
Also, remember that conference championships, head-to-head, margin of victory, and the “eye test” are not included here, but those are things the committee could consider. Most of those things would not work in Mississippi State’s favor.
It will be interesting to see what the committee does today, both in selection and seeding. And then we all get to enjoy college football’s first playoff on the field, which promises to be exciting no matter who is selected.
Decided to dust off the ol’ blog for the new College Football Playoff system. I’m simply going to apply my Achievement S-Curve [see here] to college football to see who should be selected for the inaugural CFB Playoff this year.
Quick summary of what the Achievement Rankings are doing: determine the most deserving teams based on on-field accomplishments. From each team’s perspective all that matters is whether they won or lost, and how difficult the game was (opponent strength, home/away, etc.). For opponent strength, however, we are free to use a more predictive rating, or true strength. Simple example: the Arizona Cardinals at 8-1 against a tough schedule would come out on top of a most deserving ranking in the NFL and if they season ended today, they certainly deserve the #1 seed. However, the Broncos or Packers or maybe even Seahawks may be the best team and would come out on top of a predictive system (say, Inpredictable‘s, which has DEN #1, GB #2, NE #3, SEA #4…and ARZ #14).
There are two choices to make to utilize my system: you need a rating system to determine the difficulty of the game (mostly the strength of each opponent, but also home-field advantage, etc.) and you need to choose a baseline team to compare against. I’m going to use Sagarin‘s Predictor rating to determine opponent strength and for now, I’ll use the equivalent of the #10 team in the country as our baseline team since we are trying to determine the top 4 teams. So for each team I’ll find what record we’d expect the #10 team in the nation (think Ohio State or Oklahoma) to have had they played their schedule, and we’ll use Sagarin to determine that.
Let’s take Florida State as an example. Here’s their schedule with how often both the #10 team and the #25 team would be expected to win each game:
|Loc||Opponent||#10 Team||#25 Team|
On average, we’d expect the #10 team to win about 8.5 games against this schedule, and the #25 team would win 7.25 on average. Since Florida State is 10-0, their score is +1.5 or +2.75, depending on the baseline team you choose.
Here are the rankings with a #10 team as the baseline:
And if we lower the baseline to the #25 team, we get:
I prefer the higher baseline, which gives more credit to top wins and less to middle tier wins. In either system, the top 4 are Alabama, Florida State, Oregon and Mississippi State, albeit in different orders. TCU, Baylor, and Auburn are next in line in the #10 version. UCLA climbs up to #6 in the #25 version, as they have a bunch of middle-tier wins (Virginia, Memphis, Texas, Washington, etc.). It’s up to you what type of resume you want to reward.
A couple quick notes:
In any case, I’m excited to see how the whole thing plays out. College Football finally has a Playoff.
With the tournament under way, I wanted to post my NCAA Tournament predictions. Things didn’t go so well for me with my Conference Tournament predictions, so hopefully the big dance will provide some sort of redemption.
I really hate the traditional bracket with normal scoring rules, as the best bracket ends up just being pretty much chalk and, well, what’s the fun in that? However, I’m guessing most people want to see my “bracket” so I’ll provide it. It’s really unexciting: only two double-digit seeds are favored by my system in the first round–11-seeds St. Mary’s and Minnesota–and there are only a couple more mild upsets along the way.
There’s a lot of information in predictive systems like mine, but this bracket shows virtually none of it. A better way to display all of the information is with advancement odds, like I did for conference tournaments. Here is the likelihood of each team advancing to each round of the tournament.
|Rg||Sd||Team||Rtg||Rk||Rd of 32||Sweet 16||Elite 8||Final 4||Champ Game||Champ|
|1||11||Saint Mary's (CA)||92.6||16||70.0||36.9||17.5||6.3||2.3||0.7|
|2||7||San Diego State||90.6||27||65.3||31.3||8.3||2.9||0.8||0.2|
|3||8||North Carolina State||87.1||38||56.9||7.6||2.8||1.2||0.3||0.1|
|1||13||New Mexico State||78.1||73||23.0||6.9||0.8||0.2||0.0||0.0|
|2||13||South Dakota State||68.5||100||7.0||1.5||0.3||0.0||0.0||0.0|
|2||15||Florida Gulf Coast||48.5||169||7.3||0.8||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0|
|1||16||North Carolina A&T||21.8||273||0.7||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0|
The table is fully searchable, sortable, and filterable. I added in the region and seed so you can sort and look at best/worst teams by seed and region.
For now, it’s time to finally enjoy the games.
Despite what many television analysts might say, seeding does have an enormous impact on a team’s chances to advance in the tournament. Every seed line you move up increases your chances of going further in the tournament. But the seeds don’t always play out that way, and so when the bracket is released we can see exactly what matchups each team will face on their path through the tournament.
Indiana has a clear path to the Final Four
The Hoosiers head the easiest of the four regions. Their 2nd round opponent will be the easiest of the 8/9 matchups (NC State or Temple). In the Sweet 16, Syracuse could provide a stiff test but each other region has a 4 or 5 seed as good or better than the Orange. And the bottom half of Indiana’s bracket is by far the easiest of any region: Miami is the worst 2-seed, Marquette is the worst 3-seed (along with New Mexico) and none of the other teams provide much of a threat. Nobody is ever a shoo-in for the Final Four, there’s too many games against too many good teams, but Indiana definitely increased their odds on Sunday with the path they were dealt.
Also benefiting from this easy bracket is 6-seed Butler, who has a relatively easy path to the Elite 8. Could they shock the world…again…and make it to the Final Four? Continue reading