FanPost

Joy Factor, Or, A New Way To Visualize The Pac-12's Basketball Disappointment


Because you really needed another one!

(Apologies in advance: this is a block of text. I just didn't have time to liven it up with graphics, which have never been my strong suit. I may add some images later, but that's unlikely. If you want the tl/dr takeaway, skip ahead to the "Overall Statistics" section.)

Intro

Ken Pomeroy's site (which is abundantly worth the 20 bucks it costs now that it's subscription-only; the value is pretty amazing) includes, among other things, a tool known as FanMatch.

In theory, this is a proprietary metric intended to rate the most viewer-friendly games of a given day (for instance, Cal-UNLV got a "thrill score" of 74.0 and was the highest rated game of last Friday) based on a combination of the scoring prowess and pace of the teams, their overall skill level, and how close the game is projected to be. However, there is another extremely neat thing you can do with it: go back to PAST days and find out what results were really surprising at the time.

This is a lot of fun to fool around with. For instance, we can see that UNLV went into its game with North Carolina with a 43% chance of pulling the big upset. It did just that, and you have to point to that as great scheduling. A 43% chance of a major resume boost, and a 57% chance of a loss that will do little to hurt you? Sign me up, Scotty!

Methodology (of sorts)

Every good analysis needs defined terms. So I'm going to divide the Pac-12's nonconference games into six categories: Coups, Predictable Wins, Toss-Up Wins, Toss-Up Losses, Predictable Losses, and Disasters. A Coup will be any game which involves a win over a team when the Pac-12 team entered with a win probability of 35% or less. A Toss-Up Win will be any win where the Pac-12 team entered with a win probability between 35% and 65%. A Predictable Win will be any win over a team where the Pac-12 team entered with a win probability over 65%.

You should be able to figure out the opposite: a Disaster is losing a game which would have been a Predictable Win, a Toss-Up Loss is losing a game which would have been a Toss-Up Win, and a Predictable Loss is losing a game which would have been a Coup.

How many of each kind of nonconference game does each team in the Pac-12 have? How has each team done, and how has the conference made out overall? (You can probably guess from the title...)

To evaluate the subjective "joy factor" of each team's season, I'm going to arbitrarily assign a value of 3 points to a Coup, 2 to a Toss-Up Win, 1 to a Predictable Win, -1 to a Predictable Loss, -2 to a Toss-Up Loss, and -3 to a Disaster. This has no relevance to anything predictive, or indeed any validity outside of this fanpost, but I think it does a decent job for what it's trying to do, which is measure the collective mood swing of a fanbase.

The Teams

Arizona (Joy Factor: 2)

Toss-Up Wins: St. John's, New Mexico State

Predictable Wins: Valpo, Duquesne, Ball State, Northern Arizona, Clemson, Oakland, Bryant

Predictable Losses: Florida

Toss-Up Losses: Gonzaga

Disasters: Mississippi State, San Diego State

I rather like this metric, as silly and utterly unscientific as it is, and it shows off well for Arizona. They were so close to beating Florida on the road and putting themselves in decent shape for an at-large berth, but that happened to be the game that Josiah Turner missed, and I think by the end of that one two other scorers had fouled out. Worse yet, St. John's showed well early and then evaporated, so that win is suspect at best.

Arizona State (Joy Factor: -12)

Coups: Tulsa

Toss-Up Wins: Wake Forest, North Dakota State

Predictable Wins: Montana State

Toss-Up Losses: New Mexico, Fairfield, DePaul, Southern Miss

Disasters: Pepperdine, Nevada, Northern Arizona, Fresno State

Amazingly, despite pulling an upset in the only game in which it was a major underdog, ASU has had so many bad losses that the overall record is not only terrible, but easily qualifies as the most disappointing in the league, and might be right up there as most disappointing of any team in a BCS conference. Herb Sendek's job is-- you heard it here first-- in serious jeopardy at this point.

Cal (Joy Factor: 4)

Predictable Wins: Irvine, George Washington, Austin Peay, Georgia, Denver, McNeese State, San Jose State, Jackson State, Weber State, UCSB

Toss-Up Losses: Missouri, San Diego State, UNLV

Yeah, that looks about right. Wins in the games the team was supposed to win, losses in every game worth caring about. Cal's performance this year is akin to what it was in 2010, in that it's simultaneously adequate and disappointing (and rather unlucky, too). The difference is that the Bears didn't luck into a bunch of really good mid-majors this year to buff the RPI. I can't see the Bears as better than a bubble team without 15 Pac-10 wins, and I think that's unlikely, as the conference manages the remarkable feat this year of fielding a huge number of mediocre teams, only one or two truly bad ones, yet having hardly any that are actually good.

Stanford (Joy Factor: 7)

Predictable Wins: Central Arkansas, Fresno State, Colorado State, UC Davis, Pacific, Seattle, NC State, San Diego, Bethune-Cookman

Toss-Up Wins: Oklahoma State

Predictable Losses: Syracuse

Disasters: Butler

Losing to Butler is crushing (not that anyone here is likely to care, except to revel in it-- but, frankly, you should, because the conference playing like crap has a self-reinforcing negative effect on NCAA appearances and recruiting). I feel like with that game in hand, Stanford would be looking fairly well set for an at-large berth assuming reasonable (12-6 ish) performance in the conference; losing that one probably means at least 13-5 will be required. Butler's "name" cachet after the last two seasons mitigates the damage a bit, but the fact is that it's a team that Stanford should have beaten easily, and probably, in the end, a sub-100 RPI loss.

I can't think of a better way to sum up the way this league's nonconference season has gone than to point out that Butler posted the eventual victory margin through a combination of a 3-pointer by Ronald Nored (a terrible shooter who somehow made 3 of 4 from three in this game) released a good half-second after the shot clock expired, and a wild heave, also near the end of the shot clock, which missed the rim utterly yet somehow bounded straight off the backboard to a Butler player, conveniently waiting to lay it in, just before the clock expired.

Colorado (Joy Factor: 3)

Toss-Up Wins: Western Michigan, Air Force, Georgia,

Predictable Wins: Fort Lewis, Fresno State, CS Bakersfield, Texas Southern

Predictable Losses: Wichita State

Toss-Up Losses: Maryland, Colorado State, Wyoming

Colorado technically still has one more game left tonight before conference play starts, but it's against New Orleans, which is no longer a Division I school (and they're already getting credit for beating D-II Fort Lewis, to boot), so I don't feel bad about docking them. As the above indicates, Colorado has done better than expected in what's clearly a rebuilding season, though they'll be lucky to finish with an above-.500 record against Division I competition on the year.

Utah (Joy Factor: -8)

Toss-Up Wins: Idaho State, Portland

Predictable Wins: SD Christian

Predictable Losses: Harvard, UMass, UNC Asheville, Fresno State, BYU, Weber State

Toss-Up Losses: Boise State, CS Fullerton,

Disasters: Montana State

The -8 reflects that while this performance is clearly horrendous, it's not totally unexpected. Utah suffered what was, in effect, a Fukushima-style nuclear meltdown of their roster, and was clearly headed for a lost season at the outset. Things were not helped by their best player deciding to be a jackass and getting himself suspended for a period. That said, really, Montana State? UNC Asheville? They might not win a game in Pac-12 play.

Oregon (Joy Factor: 8)

Coups: Nebraska

Predictable Wins: Eastern Washington, SE Mo St., UTEP, Fresno State, Portland State, NC Central, Prairie View, Stephen F. Austin

Predictable Losses: Vanderbilt, BYU, Virginia

I have to say Joy Factor misses on this one. Yes, Oregon has won a bunch of fluffy games and lost some games they weren't expected to win anyway, but Nebraska's not that good and the rest of the wins are worse. This is a totally empty profile, and I don't get the sense that Oregon fans are particularly jazzed up about the team, despite a decent overall record.

In order to make this wholly subjective "stat" match my subjective oeuvre, I'm arbitrarily decreeing a 3-point deduction, soccer-points-table-style, for having a five-star prospect transfer after two games. There. 5 sounds much better...

Oregon State (Joy Factor: 8)

Coups: Texas

Predictable Wins: Chicago State, West Alabama, CS Bakersfield, Hofstra, Towson, Montana, Illinois-Chicago, Howard, Portland State

Predictable Losses: Vanderbilt

Disasters: Idaho

Compared to prior OSU teams, this one induces positive giddiness, as it has only one "disaster" and no losses to sub-200 RPI teams at all. That doesn't sound like anything to write home about, but when you've lost games in recent years to the likes of Howard University, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Yale, and Utah Valley, progress is progress.

That being said, this schedule is dismal (even with the great Texas neutral-court win). It's the kind of schedule that normally leads to big-conference teams hosting stunned Selection Sunday press conferences and then NIT games, but since the Pac-12 is effectively a mid-major league this year, they can probably at least save a few bucks on chairs and microphones.

UCLA (Joy Factor: -3)

Predictable Wins: Chaminade, Pepperdine, Penn, Eastern Washington, UC Davis, UC Irvine, Richmond

Predictable Losses: Kansas, Michigan

Toss-Up Losses: Texas

Disasters: Middle Tennessee, Loyola Marymount

Well, you already knew what this one was going to look like. Ousting Reeves Nelson does seem to have had a slight "addition by subtraction" effect, but don't exaggerate it-- since his dismissal, most of the teams UCLA has faced have been astoundingly terrible (and all at "home"-- in fact, outside of the trip to Maui, UCLA hasn't left Los Angeles this season [insert Reeves Nelson/missed plane joke here]). They did look pretty good (not great) against Richmond, but Richmond is not much better, if at all, than your run of the mill Colorados this year, so I'm still not convinced.

While UCLA still has a road game at St. John's, that team-- which early in the year looked like a chance to make late nonconference hay-- has fallen off the wagon in the last few weeks and no longer looks like a credible at-large chip. UCLA likely needs to win the conference tournament (or at least the regular-season title) to reach the NCAA tournament.

USC (Joy Factor: -6)

Toss-Up Wins: South Carolina, UC Riverside

Predictable Wins: CS Northridge, Morgan State, TCU

Predictable Losses: SDSU, UNLV, Minnesota, Kansas

Toss-Up Losses: Nebraska, New Mexico, Georgia,

Disasters: Cal Poly

USC's roster turnover makes the Oakland A's look as long-tenured as university professors. This will be Kevin O'Neill's third year as coach, and there already isn't a single remaining player from the Tim Floyd era, or even from Kevin O'Neill's first season. Thus, this abortion of a team. Worse, Maurice Jones (the only surviving significant contributor from LAST season) is a useful player only to didacts and statisticians who can point him out as an object lesson in why "points per game" is a worthless statistic-- he's certainly of no use to his team.

He is, however, at least doing a bang-up job of keeping alive the vibrant USC tradition of never having any bench players, a tradition which goes back at least as far as the Henry Bibby era and shows no signs of slowing down under the lidless eye of O'Neill. (For some reason I think of Kevin O'Neill as Sauron. I can't explain this at all.)

Washington (Joy Factor: -4)

Predictable Wins: Georgia St., Florida Atlantic, Portland, Houston Baptist, UCSB, CS Northridge

Predictable Losses: Marquette, Duke

Toss-Up Losses: St. Louis

Disasters: Nevada, South Dakota State

Ridiculously disappointing, as borne out by Joy Factor. Proof of the adage about horseshoes and hand grenades, to be sure (apart from that ludicrous loss to South Dakota State, anyway), but the fact is that at some point a Lorenzo Romar team is going to need to find a way to win a road/neutral nonconference game if they ever want a decent seed. Then again, they have plenty of company; the league was well under .500 against road/neutral nonconference opposition this season (in spite of playing a decent number of creampuffs on the road).

Having done nothing whatsoever in nonconference, their chances of getting an at-large seem slim to none.

Washington State (Joy Factor: 3)

Toss-Up Wins: Portland, Idaho

Predictable Wins: Sac State, Grambling, Eastern Washington, Santa Clara, Western Oregon, Pepperdine

Predictable Losses: Gonzaga, New Mexico

Toss-Up Losses: Oklahoma,

Disasters: UC Riverside

Very similar to Colorado: this is a rebuilding team that has done better than expected. The difference between the two, though, is that WSU is still being carried by players recruited by Tony Bennett, while Colorado is reloading with genuine talent for the future. WSU is basically treading water and trying to stay afloat in a conference that increasingly seems to be leaving it behind athletically and academically (though the Mike Leach hire was a major "get", no mistake).

Overall Statistics

Predictable Wins: 71-15

The Pac-12 won about 83 percent of games where it was a heavy favorite entering the game. This is right around the midpoint between 65 percent and 100 percent, so offhand it doesn't seem too terrible. On the other hand, I feel like there were a lot more cupcake-eating games at the "90 percent" range than reasonably competitive games at the "70 percent" range. But that's splitting hairs, I think. Beating the teams they're supposed to beat is, with a few exceptions (coughUCLAcough) not Pac-12 teams' problem.

Toss-Up Games: 14-19

A well under .500 performance indicates that the pregame Pomeroy rankings were substantially overoptimistic on the Pac-12. What's worse is that a lot of these coin-flip wins were actually recorded by bad teams; for instance, Utah was 2-2 in such games, Colorado 3-3, ASU 2-4. The nominal "top tier" entering the season (Cal, Stanford, UCLA, Washington, Oregon and Arizona) went 3-6 in such games, and what's worse is the tiny number of such games. 1.5 per team? That's pathetic. Memo to Pac-12 coaches and athletic directors: bad scheduling puts you in a hole from the get-go.

Predictable Losses: 3-23

Now that's just shocking. In games where a Pac-12 team entered as a significant underdog, it won just 11.5 percent of the time. More than anything else, I think this is what truly crushes the conference's chances come Selection Sunday: the inability to win, or for the most part even credibly compete in, "up" games. I grant you that Utah is so bad (see: concept of UNC Asheville being an "up" game) that it drags the total number down significantly, but let's face it, even if you ignore Utah you're still looking at just 3 wins in 19 relatively big chances to make a statement, and two of those three aren't really even resume-builders anyway.

Conclusion

So there you have it. Yes, it really is every bit as bad as you thought it was. Actually, more so. The Pac-12 probably is not one of the six best conferences in the land this year (the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 can state claims; I'm more inclined to go with the MWC because it lacks the bottom-end dreck of the A-10). Worse, most of the teams spent most of their schedules eating cupcake frosting rather than Wheaties, which will cost the league dearly come Selection Sunday.

What are the lessons to be learned from this process?

1. Stop scheduling so many creampuffs. They do nothing but damage your RPI. If more than 50% of the teams on your schedule are the kind of teams that will draw amused shrugs from your fanbase if you beat them, and gleeful schadenfreude from ESPN announcers if you lose to them, you have a problem. In Oregon State's case, "problem" is really not even the right term anymore. "Eating disorder" would be more like it.

2. If you must schedule low-majors, make a conscious effort to schedule the ones that will finish high in their conferences, not the true bottom of the barrel.

3. While neutral-site tournaments provide good opportunities for resume-building wins, be careful about counting on them to provide such, particularly if it's a three-rounder. If you lose on Day 1 and get relegated into the loser's bracket, you may well come away with two bad games and only one good one.

4. If you do get relegated, please at least beat the bad teams.

5. Don't schedule all of your credible opponents away from home. As Cal found out, that's an excellent way to end up going 0-for-the relevant part of your schedule.

6. Conversely, don't schedule all of your weaker opponents at home. The NCAA loves to look at road-neutral record, so scheduling relatively easy road wins can buff your statistics in that category; it also provides a useful means by which you can test players in hostile environments before you really get into crunch time. One reason why Stanford has at least a credible (albeit unspectacular) at-large candidacy is that it is 3-1 in road/neutral games entering conference play. If it can just post road wins over Colorado, Utah, USC and Oregon-- all teams ranked below 100 in the Pomeroy rankings-- it will finish with an above-.500 road/neutral record. Anything more than that is gravy.

I hope you were entertained by this not-so-joyous look at Joy Factor. There's one and only one good thing about this nonconference schedule-- it is (New Orleans, Seattle U and St. John's notwithstanding) over! The Pac-10 may be mid-major basketball this season, but guess what-- probably half of all tickets sold to NCAA games are for mid-major basketball. Embrace it for what it is-- a chance for, perhaps, a fundamentally sound team to take down a league title at the expense of teams that might, on paper, have the better athletes. And if there's one thing we can generally say about Cal hoops under Mike Montgomery, it's "fundamentally sound." You've got to like Cal's chances!

The opinions expressed in a FanPost are, in every way, reflective of the opinions of every California Golden Blogs Marshawnthusiast. Moreover, they are reflective of every employee of SBNation, including Tyler "Blez" Bleszinski.

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