[Bumped. So we tend to play down against bad competition (although it hasn't cost us a game yet) but we don't play up against good competition. Not helping. I'm thinking we should ban any further statistical analysis of this team until we get through Sunday' game. -KJ]
The following quote has appeared on this site before, but in the wake of last night's nail-biter over Penn State, it definitely bears revisiting.
While a team plays to win the game, its chances of winning are much greater when it leads by 20 with five minutes to go than if the game is tied at that point. There is a significant incentive to building a comfortable lead rather than just trying to stay a point ahead of the opposition all game long. You never know when your opponent is going to go all Chandler Parsons on you. For this reason teams capable of building big leads typically build them, and past results indicate that those teams are headed for good things in the future.
Thinking about this also led me to consider John Gasaway's recent observation that although Wisconsin currently sits atop his efficiency margin rankings of the conference, with the best numbers on both offense and defense (and holds a similarly lofty position with other margin-of-victory-based rankings systems - Pomeroy #4, Sagarin PREDICTOR #4), the Badgers have attained this position with the aid of two major blow-outs of conference doormat Indiana. Controlling for games against Indiana still leaves the Badgers looking good, just no better than Purdue or Ohio State.
When you look at the Big Ten this year you see three pretty clear strata: the top four (sorry, Illinois), the middle four and the bottom three (Penn State and Indiana have recently been trying to separate themselves, albeit in different directions). If teams "headed for good things" build big leads, then we would expect to see impressive wins over the worst teams by the best. How do the teams look if you separate their games against the weak sisters of the conference from the rest? Like this: (Numbers are from Ken Pomeroy's site.)
|Team||PPP||Opp PPP||Pace||EM||Avg. MOV||Record|
Wisconsin's overall superiority in efficiency margin is fueled not only by the two Indiana games but by their walloping the tar out of the other two weak teams as well. Even the improbable OT game against Penn State in the Kohl Center ended in an 8-point Wisconsin win. And it could be even more extreme. The schedulers only gave them 5 games against the bottom tier and other teams, including Ohio State, Purdue, and Illinois had the benefit of six. Gasaway lists Wisconsin among his unlucky teams, having outscored the rest of the conference at a rate that would normally net a 15-2 record rather than 12-5. But, that margin is fueled to a some extent by much greater domination of the bottom tier than anyone else. (Wisconsin's EM versus the worst teams was an amazing 49% better than second place Purdue's.) Here's a scatterplot look at how the top two tiers did against the bottom compared to how they played each other.
If margin of victory is one of the best predictors of future success, these numbers won't give Spartan fans a lot of comfort. They have neither feasted on the weak nor played "up" to the strong, placing a clear fourth in EM in each category. Not only that, it looks like they're going to have to win their share of the title against the toughest of the middle-tier opponents (who just missed making Gasaway's unlucky list themselves). The interesting number is Ohio State's margin of 0.083 against the stronger teams (which includes two Turner-less losses to Michigan and Wisconsin). This is an impressive 24% better than Wisconsin's number, which was also fueled significantly by two blow-outs of OSU and MSU. Although Wisconsin's numbers against the weak and OSU's against their peers are both characteristic of strong teams, I'm not sure which should have more weight. A neutral floor tournament rematch of OSU and Wisconsin with both at full strength is an intriguing possibility.