Friday, March 20, 2009

The Unbalanced Schedule

One of the unfortunate parts of the Big Ten basketball schedule is that it is not a true home and home round robin. Such a schedule is rare; only the Pac 10 among the six major conferences can pull it off. The Big Ten, since expanding the schedule to 18 games last year, has taken a step in the right direction to balance the conference schedule. Unfortunately, there are still two games that are not played, and in a year where the conference standings are close, those two games can play a big role in deciding the standings. This, however, was not one of those years.

Still, using the log5 method developed by Ken Pomeroy, let's take a look at the missing opponents on each schedule and figure out who had the toughest schedule in the conference. The chart below will list each team with the team they did not play at home and the team they did not play on the road. We'll crunch some numbers after looking at the teams.

Team H-Miss A-Miss
Michigan State Michigan Wisconsin
Illinois Northwestern Iowa
Purdue Minnesota Indiana
Wisconsin Michigan State Ohio State
Ohio State Wisconsin Penn State
Penn State Ohio State Northwestern
Michigan Indiana Michigan State
Minnesota Iowa Purdue
Northwestern Penn State Illinois
Iowa Illinois Minnesota
Indiana Purdue Michigan

The most common trueism about the Big Ten this year is that it was incredibly balanced with everybody except Indiana having a chance to knock you off on a given night. Given this fact, the teams who didn't face Indiana twice were at an extreme disadvantage. Does that mean Purdue and Michigan had the toughest schedules? Maybe. Below is the average expected winning percentage (using offensive and defensive efficiency and adjusting for home/away) for each set of extra opponents before factoring in the team, with the fancy conditional formatting included as a bonus.

Michigan 0.629
Purdue 0.635
Illinois 0.763
Minnesota 0.803
Northwestern 0.828
Penn State 0.844
Ohio State 0.844
Michigan State 0.865
Iowa 0.892
Indiana 0.904
Wisconsin 0.915

To further clarify what these numbers mean, Michigan's remaining opponents, against average competition, would win 629 out of 1000 games. Wisconsin's would win 915 out of 1000. The teams on top got an easier schedule, since they didn't get to play the easier teams, while the teams toward the bottom got a tougher schedule.

Our gut reaction to the schedule was correct. Purdue and Michigan, by virtue of not playing Indiana, had the toughest schedules. Schedule strength is only half of the equation. It doesn't really matter, for example, how tough Indiana's remaining schedule would have been, as they probably would have lost those games anyways. Similarly, even though Purdue and Michigan had easy remaining schedules, Purdue probably has a better chance of winning both of their remaining games. Below are the chances that each team goes 2-0, 1-1, and 0-2 against their remaining opponents.

Team 2-0 1-1 0-2
Purdue 0.77 0.218 0.012
Illinois 0.578 0.371 0.05
Michigan State 0.421 0.499 0.079
Ohio State 0.319 0.496 0.185
Wisconsin 0.191 0.5 0.309
Michigan 0.151 0.806 0.043
Penn State 0.151 0.494 0.356
Minnesota 0.143 0.711 0.146
Northwestern 0.112 0.627 0.261
Iowa 0.055 0.376 0.569
Indiana 0.003 0.112 0.885

Chances are that Purdue would have won both of their remaining games had there been a full schedule. For that reason, you could say the Boilermakers would have had a legitimate gripe for the regular season conference crown had they finished within a game of the Spartans.

One more quick excercise: I am going to take the favorite of each unplayed game and add them into the standings, to get the "True" Big Ten Standings.

Team W L TrW TrL
Michigan State 15 3 17 3
Purdue 11 7 13 7
Illinois 11 7 13 7
Ohio State 10 8 12 8
Michigan 9 9 10 10
Minnesota 9 9 10 10
Penn State 10 8 10 10
Wisconsin 10 8 10 10
Northwestern 8 10 9 11
Iowa 5 13 5 15
Indiana 1 17 1 19

You may notice that the numbers above disagree slightly with these. Michigan State was statistically more likely to go 1-1 against the remaining competition, but went 2-0 here. This is likely because they were a very very slight favorite over Wisconsin, so the odds of going 2-0 were very reduced despite being favored in both games.

You can see that Ohio State, among the conference's middle teams, got a raw deal from the schedule in addition to Purdue and Illinois. Is anyone at all surprised to see that Penn State had an easy schedule? That team was the definition of "flash in the pan."

When the conference schedule does not allow for a complete round robin, the standings can be a bit skewed. While the Big Ten is unlikely to produce a schedule champion, the same cannot be said of other conferences like the Big East. Remember this when Louisville gets knocked off in the tournament.

No comments:

Post a Comment