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Processing the Numbers, Basketball Edition | Kentucky Wildcats

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This might hurt.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

BPI and RPI information courtesy of ESPN.com.
All other statistics are courtesy of KenPom.com, Ken Pomeroy’s outstanding basketball analytics site.

So, how’d last game go?

What a crappy way to lose. After matching 9-0 runs to open the game, the Gamecocks rode into the half with a 30-25 lead after the Tide went cold from the floor. Part of the reason for that was two quick fouls apiece for Levi Randolph and Ricky Tarrant, which would prove to be rather important later in the game.

The second half was a stuttering, ugly mess. The reason, of course, was our lovely crew of SEC referees, who on this night were bright, shining testaments to officiating incompetence. After falling behind by 13 points the Tide fought their way back into the game, but were consistently outrebounded by South Carolina on their end of the floor, in particular by forward Michael Carrera. To make matters worse, seemingly every time Carrera went 1 on 4 for an offensive board he was mysteriously gifted with a trip to the charity stripe[1], where he was 7 for 8 on the game. A rather dubious push-off call on Tarrant nullified a three-pointer, and took the junior out of the game for the final 4 minutes of play. The Tide had an opportunity to send the game to overtime, but a disorganized set play out of a timeout led to a fruitless three-point attempt by Randolph and 68-66 South Carolina victory.

1 | For cardinal offenses such as "breathing the same air as his lordship Michael Carrera" and "impeding his lordship’s flailing about like a dead fish".

At least one completely unbiased gump watching at home was thoroughly befuddled by Coach Grant’s play design[2] out of the final timeout, as the Tide burned valuable clock piddling around before heaving up a prayer from well beyond the arc. Said observer was not alone, based on the postgame commentary in the live thread. Many placed the blame for the loss squarely on Coach Grant’s shoulders — perhaps justifiably so — but it should be noted that Coach Grant has not logged a single minute on the floor this season, nor is he known for partaking in the shooting of free throws or boxing out for defensive boards.

2 | Or lack thereof.

This game was a prime example of the limitations in some of the refereeing statistics you can find at places like StatSheet. Lee Cassell and Pat Adams were among the better SEC refs last season in terms of home foul margin, and as a crew they called the same number of fouls on the two teams in this one. However, anyone that watched the game saw most of the calls for the Gamecocks in the second half were questionable at best, and the even margin at the end was highly misleading. Just real unfortunate for the Tide that it went down this way.

For a more in-depth, qualitative review of the game, check out Roger_RBR’s superb game recap.

The Four Factors

The Four Factors
Metric ALABAMA SOUTH CAROLINA
eFG% 56.1% 44.3%
TO% 21.5% 20.0%
OR% 16.7% 40.6%
FTR 73.2% 50.9%
Win Index 47 45

Interesting! The Tide actually have the slight edge in Win Index, but were not able to take home the victory. The reason for that is pretty simple — weighting the four factors to create the Win Index is an inexact science, and certain factors "mean more" to certain teams than others. In this case, TO% was effectively a push, leaving the Tide with healthy margins in eFG% and FTR over the Gamecocks but at a huge, huge deficit in OR%. The weighting factors I use are 0.4 for eFG%, 0.25 for TO%, 0.2 for OR%, and 0.15 for FTR, generally accepted weights that have worked out well this season. In this case, offensive rebounding may be more critical to South Carolina’s gameplan than the typical team, and their dominance in that factor gave them a real edge — the Tide’s lackluster foul shooting performance certainly didn’t help matters.

Wait, aren’t you supposed to be previewing something, nerd?

Right! The Alabama Crimson Tide return to the warm, loving embrace of Coleman Coliseum to face the NBA’s 33rd franchise: the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats. The game is on Saturday, January 17th, at 3 PM CST / 4 PM EST, and will be televised on ESPN (!) and WatchESPN.com.

The Goods

Overall Quality
ALABAMA KENTUCKY THE EDGE
RPI 0.5994 (41) RPI 0.7183 (2) KENTUCKY
BPI 74.5 (52) BPI 95 (1) KENTUCKY
PYTH 0.8371 (36) PYTH 0.978 (2) KENTUCKY
Luck -0.021 (225) Luck 0.06 (81) KENTUCKY

Efficiency Ratings
ALABAMA KENTUCKY THE EDGE
OE+ 106.1 (71) DE+ 82.4 (1) KENTUCKY
DE+ 92 (34) OE+ 114.6 (11) KENTUCKY
T+ 64.8 (217) T+ 64.2 (241) PUSH

Schedule Ratings
ALABAMA KENTUCKY THE EDGE
Sched. PYTH 0.5588 (98) Sched. PYTH 0.5997 (52) KENTUCKY
Opp. OE+ 103.1 (42) Opp. OE+ 103.3 (34) PUSH
Opp. DE+ 101 (201) Opp. DE+ 99.7 (104) KENTUCKY
NCS PYTH 0.4949 (198) NCS PYTH 0.5894 (79) KENTUCKY

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.

Ratings information as of 15 January 2015.

Wondering what all these terms are?

  • RPI: The Ratings Percentage Index, a measure of team strength based on winning percentage, the winning percentage of a team’s opponents, and the winning percentage of those opponents’ opponents. For a more detailed excoriation discussion of RPI, check out this section of the PTN Basketball Primer.
  • BPI: The Basketball Power Index is an opponent-adjusted statistic created by ESPN that accounts for scoring margin, pace, game location, and absence of critical players. It can be used both predictively and as a measure of a team’s strength to that point in the season.
  • PYTH: The Pythagorean Rating, a measure of a team’s expected winning percentage against an average D-I team, which is based on the concept of Pythagorean Expectation. For a more detailed discussion of PYTH ratings, check out this section of the PTN Basketball Primer.
  • Luck: A measure of how a team’s actual performance has outstripped that of its expected performance based on PYTH rating.
  • OE+: Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, a measure of a team’s offensive performance on a possession-by-possession basis, adjusted to provide the expected performance against an average D-I team. Expressed in points scored per 100 possessions.
  • DE+: Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, a measure of a team’s defensive performance on a possession-by-possession basis, adjusted to provide the expected performance against an average D-I team. Expressed in points allowed per 100 possessions.
  • T+: Adjusted Tempo, a measure of a team’s expected pace against a team that wants to play at an average D-I pace. Expressed as possessions per game.
  • Sched. PYTH: The Schedule PYTH Rating, a PYTH rating based on the adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies of a team’s opponents, used as a strength-of-schedule rating.
  • NCS PYTH: The Non-Conference Schedule PYTH Rating, simply the schedule PYTH calculated for non-conference opponents only.
  • Opp. OE+: Opponents’ Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, the average adjusted offensive efficiency of a team’s opponents.
  • Opp. DE+: Opponents’ Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, the average adjusted defensive efficiency of a team’s opponents

Wondering what all of this means? Check out the PTN Basketball primer!

So, what do we know?

RPI is not a big fan of South Carolina, and the loss resulted in a slight drop in the Tide’s rating there — they remain a top-50 team by that metric, however. ‘Bama’s PYTH rating actually ticked up a notch, most likely the result of putting up a 101.5 offensive efficiency rating on a team with a DE+ of 88.3 coming in. That’s all well and good of course, but unfortunately their opponent is arguably the country’s finest team. Kentucky has looked thoroughly mortal in the past couple of weeks[3], but they are still a team chock full of future NBA players on the bench, let alone the starting lineup. The metrics and polls are unanimous in pegging the Wildcats as a top-2 outfit, and the stark differential in Luck rating is not going to do anything to change that.

3 | The obliteration of Missouri notwithstanding.

The reason the Wildcats are so well-regarded is the most stifling defense in the country, with a stupid-low DE+ of 82.4. Their offense is almost as good, posting a stupid-high OE+ of 114.6. Both marks are well in excess of the Tide’s improving numbers, although Kentucky will find the Tide’s defense problematic. Problematic, but not unconquerable, as I fully expect Kentucky to pick their way to an ample point total, while simultaneously frustrating the heck out of the Tide’s oft-disjointed attack. These teams play at nearly identical tempos, so not much to discuss in that regard.

The schedule only gets tougher from here, and while Kentucky has had a slightly harsher road thusfar the difference is not particularly significant. The Tide’s feasted on a relatively weak slate of defensive teams, even after facing a tough Gamecocks squad, and that’s generating the gap in Schedule PYTH. I alluded to the Wildcats looking mortal earlier, and we’ve seen them weather quite the storm in three of their last four games, including two straight double-OT thrillers to open SEC play. Unlike the Tide, this team persevered under adversity, and will be a tough out despite the venue. Conference play can get weird in a hurry — Texas A&M should not be taking this team to 2OT, for instance — so it’s not a total impossibility or anything. Just… highly improbable.

On that note, when accounting for home court the magic box only gives the Tide a 19.6% chance of winning, and while I think the good guys will play better than the country expects in what will surely be one of the most-watched Tide games of the season, ultimately it will be futile — Kentucky is college basketball’s answer to Alabama football[4], after all.

4 | In the Death Star / Borg / Other Menacing Sci-Fi Baddie kind of way.

THE PICK: Kentucky Wildcats , comfortably.

ROLL TIDE