Hoops Opponent Watch: Closing In Edition Comment Count

BiSB February 27th, 2014 at 10:32 AM

Non-Conference Opponents


RPI Effect Only Teams

RPI is dumb. It is overly simplistic, dumb, unhinged from reality, and stupid. But because the Committee looks at RPI, and this section is called “RPI Effect Only Teams,” We may as well look at RPI. Ugh.

Two teams are as bad in the RPI as they are in the bouncy shooty areas. Out of 351 teams, Houston Baptist (6-22) is #344, and South Carolina State (9-17) is #334. These are terrible teams in hindsight, and they were terrible when they were scheduled. UMass-Lowell (9-18) at #286 and Coppin State (9-18) at #254 are mildly ahead of their KenPom rankings, but is also remain very very bad.  On the other hand, Long Beach State (12-14) at #150 is behind their KenPom ranking (110). Charlotte (14-12) is at #163, which you’ll probably see several times in the coming weeks because DAMN YOU, PUERTO RICOOOOOOOO.

Big Sorts of Teams

Iowa State (22-5, 10-5 Big 12)

This week: Won @ TCU (71-60), Beat West Virginia (83-66)

Michigan and Iowa State continue their bracketology pas de deux, duking it out for one of the final 3-seeds. Iowa State is still projected to lose two more games (trips to Kansas State and Baylor).

Florida State (16-11, 7-8 ACC)

This week: Won @ Pitt (71-66)

The Seminoles are going to be a bubble team right to the end here. A win over Pitt puts them back in the picture, but they probably need at least four more wins. They have Georgia Tech, Boston College, Syracuse, and the ACC tournament left, so the clock is not their friend.

#6 Dook (23-6, 12-4 ACC)

This week: Beat Virginia Tech (66-48)

We ran into a serious glitch in the Matrix this week, when someone dared to pick against KenPom:

I feared this would be one of those space-time continuum things, but just like in Back to the Future, those rules apparently don’t apply. Then again, I’m not sure there was much, even a KenPom-initiated KenPom jinx, that could have affected the outcome of a game between Duke (who is good at basketball) and Virginia Tech (who is okay at football). The lowest win probability Duke had all night was 97.5% when VaTech closed the gap to 3-2 about 90 seconds into the game.

#3 Arizona (26-2, 13-2 PAC 12)

This week: Won @ Colorado (88-61), Beat Cal (87-59)

Okay, so maybe I was a little quick on the "Arizona is dead" trigger. They plowed a couple of decent (like Minnesota/Nebraska-level) teams in Colorado and Cal. It appears they finally found a tactical solution to the absence of Brandon Ashley, and that solution is "have Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon and let them do things."

Stanford (18-9, 9-6 PAC 12)

This week: Beat UCLA (83-74) [EDIT: and lost to Arizona State in the middle of the night, (76-64)]

Bracket folks seem to have Stanford around an 8-seed right now, which probably means they’re going dancing barring an epic collapse.

[AFTER THE JUMP: The Big Ten picture becomes clearer]

In Which I Rank the B1G According to KenPom


1) Iowa (19-8, 8-6 B1G)

This week: Lost to Wisconsin (79-74); Lost @ Minnesota (95-89)

Thing: Iowa is amidst a stretch of four games in nine days after the game at Disassembly Hall was plunked right in the middle of a full week. Had they beaten Wisconsin, they might have a legitimate complaint about this game ruining their shot at a share of the title, but now they’re 3 games back with 3 games to play before even reaching anything that wasn’t previously scheduled.

Other Thing: If Iowa earns a bye in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, Kirk Ferentz automatically gets a three year extension on his contract. Man, that guy’s agent is fantastic.

Thing They Are Like: The Polar Vortex. It was a big thing in January that was supposed to destroy the world, but then people came to realize it's just sort of a thing that happens sometimes. Also, it's really white.

2) Wisconsin (23-5, 8-5 B1G)

This week: Won @ Iowa (79-74); Beat Indiana (69-58)

Thing: Wisconsin showed exactly why you will have no clue how far to pick these guys in the NCAA tournament. Are they the team that scored 19 points in the first half against Indiana to trail by 10, or the team that scored 50 in the second half to walk away with it? Are they the team that turned the ball over 7 times in the first ten minutes against Michigan State, or the team that turned the ball over 5 times in games against Michigan and Indiana COMBINED? They could easily be plunked by a 6/7 seed. They could reach the Final Four. Hell if I know.

Other thing: Wisconsin could end up the 5-seed in the Big Ten tournament and STILL grab the highest seed in the NCAA tournament of any Big Ten team. Jerry Palm had them as a 2-seed in his latest projections, with Michigan and Michigan State as 4-seeds.

Thing They Are Like: Schrodinger’s team. Not because they have a dual nature, mind you, but because Bo Ryan seems like the kind of guy who would put a cat in a box with a vial of poison for the hell of it.

3) Ohio State (22-6, 9-6 B1G)

This week: Beat Minnesota (64-46)

Thing: Sure, Ohio State has won 6 of 7. But they only scored 18 points, at home, in the first half against Minnesota. Minnesota is worse than Michigan defensively. The Buckeyes remain prone to remarkable stretches of offensive ineptitude, and that’ll catch up with them when they have to play teams that score points.*

*NOTE TO READER: Please don’t cross-reference this section with the MInnesota section. Just take my word for it.

Other Thing: At 9-6, Ohio State is favored to win their last three games (@ Penn State, @ Indiana, vs. MSU). If they win out, they could maybe possibly sneak into an opening round bye in the Big Ten Tournament by virtue of their one point win in their one-off with Wisconsin. Either way, they will probably end up on Michigan’s side of the bracket (assuming Michigan retains the 1-seed**) as the 4 or 5, so it’s really about whether they have to play Illinois/Penn State first.

**Michigan has a 1.5 game lead on the #1 seed with 3 to go. It’s happening, people. Get excited. Probably. But don’t count on it. But you can probably start counting on it. But don’t.

Thing They Are Like: The team that probably poses the greatest threat to Michigan in the coming years. Just not this year.

4) Michigan (20-7, 12-3 B1G)

This Week: Beat Michigan State (79-70), Something else I can’t remember



Other Other Thing: How many more GRIII things do you really need? Pace yourself, man. There is still plenty of season left.

One other TINY little Thing: There is a 7% chance Michigan closes out its first outright Big Ten title in 28 years by the time next week’s article runs. That number goes up to about 44% by the end of that day. You don’t want me to jinx it by telling you the numbers by the end of next weekend, but they're high. Very high.


5) Michigan State (22-6, 11-4 B1G)

This week: Lost to Mich again (79-70)

Thing: If only they’d had Branden Dawson. Those 6 points (on 46% eFG shooting) and 4 rebounds per game he averaged against Michigan last year would have been the difference. Pay no attention to the fact that like a week before he DAWSON SMASHED a table for no particular reason*, Izzo was wondering what was wrong with the guy, and whether he needed to go for some lab work because being lethargic on the basketball court typically means you’re dying of something scientists haven’t even heard of yet. No, no, he would have been the difference. And when he returns, man...

*On the other non-broken hand, I get it. It was Dakich. Dakich does these things to people.

Thing They Are Like: Uncle Rico. We would've been state champions, no doubt. No doubt.

6) Nebraska (16-11, 8-7 B1G)

This week: Beat Purdue (76-57); Lost to Illinois (60-49)


With apologies to friend-of-the-program JamieMac, the road to the tourney ends here for Nebraska, barring a very unlikely series of events that may involve a DeLorean

Other Thing: For all the Terran for Heisman talk, it was really Nebraska’s defense leading the way recently. After being drubbed by Michigan, they won five straight, giving up 0.89 points per possession (and not more than 1 ppp in any game) in that stretch. Their defense wasn’t even that bad against Illinois, but they couldn’t overcome a 5-18 shooting night from Petteway (which was really a 3-16 performance when the game was still competitive).

Other Thing: Despite the loss to Illinois, a weird thing is happening to Tim Miles. Whenever he walks into a room, everything goes slow-mo, and the Chariots of Fire theme blasts from nowhere in particular. This is a welcome change in Lincoln, as people are used to the Bushwackers’ entrance music playing when Bo Pelini walks into a room.

Thing they are like: Way better than anyone expected. Just not as good as any of us hoped. 

7) Minnesota (18-11, 7-9 B1G)

This Week: Lost to Ohio State (64-46); Beat Iowa (95-89) (no, really)

Thing: Minnesota was struggling. They’d fallen to 6-9 in conference and were holding onto a tourney bid with their fingernails. So when they fell down by double-digits early against Iowa, Richard Pitino did what any good coach would do. He sent in the kid KenPom doesn’t even acknowledge as an extant being.

Charles Buggs had played 2 minutes in Big Ten play. For comparison, Andrew Dakich has had 6 minutes of run in conference. So of course Buggs goes out and scores 13 points on 6 shots in 19 minutes of play.

Other Thing: Minnesota did not hit a field goal in the last 8:30 of the game, and still scored 95 points. Minnesota turned the ball over 14 times, and still scored 95 points. Minnesota was coming off three games of 54, 49, and 46 points, and scored 95 points. Minnesota was MINNESOTA, and still scored 95 points.

Thing They Are Like: The terrible relationship you had that one time where your significant other would be a distant, neglectful jerk, but every time you would start to break up with them they’d be all “naw, baby, I’ll treat you better. See, I can play up-tempo. I can hit outside shots. I can be interesting.”



8) Indiana (15-12, 5-9 B1G)

This week: Won @ Northwestern (61-56); Lost @ Wisconsin (69-58)

Thing: In theory, Indiana can still make the tournament. All they have to do is sweep Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Michigan in their last four games. That would get them to 19-12 (9-9). KenPom says there’s about a robust 0.9% chance of that happening. A win in the Big Ten Tournament gets them to 20 wins. That ought to be enough. That and Markinson’s testimony really ought to be enough.

(Of course, there’s also that pesky 16% chance they lose all four, finish 15-16 (5-13), and probably enter the Big Ten Tournament as the 12-seed.)

Thing They Are Like: Wrecked.

9) Illinois (16-12, 5-10 B1G)

This week: Beat Nebraska (60-49)

Thing that will be a Thing all year: Illinois was ranked seven weeks ago.

Other Thing: The good news is that Illinois has won two in a row against bubble teams, which is a gigantic leap forward from losing 10 of 11.

The bad news is that they close at Michigan State, at home against Michigan, and at Iowa.

Thing They Are Like: Illinois Football

10) Penn State (13-14, 4-10 B1G)

This week: None.

Thing: Because of last week’s technical glitch* that delayed the column by a day, and a random quirk in the schedule, Penn State didn’t play a single game that we haven’t talked about. So let’s not talk too much about Penn State.

*Technical glitch = I didn’t technically write it until Thursday night.

Other Thing: Penn State is bad at basketball.

Thing They Are Like: Uh... Illinois Football.

11) Purdue (15-13, 5-10 B1G)

This week: Purdue?

Thing: Purdue… Purdue...

Thing They Are Like: Nope, doesn’t ring a bell.

12) Northwestern (12-16, 5-10 B1G)

This week: Lost to Indiana (61-56)

Thing: Northwestern is #26 in the country in 3PA/FGA. They are #323 (out of 351) in the country in 3-point shooting percentage. In other words, they take, and miss, a metric crap-ton of threes. In fact, there is not a team in the country who takes as many 3-pointers as Northwestern while shooting at a worse clip. The next team on 3PA/FGA list that is as bad as Northwestern is McNeese State at #70. Teams worse than Northwestern from long range take such shots about 29.6% of the time. For Northwestern that number is 41.3%

Their ‘sniper,’ Tre Demps, is shooting 36.0% from deep. Their most prolific shooter, Drew Crawford, is shooting 32.3% from deep. For comparison, Spike and Derrick Walton are both shooting 39.1% for Michigan… which ties them for 4th on the team. Only one regular player who has attempted a three for Michigan (GRIII) has been as bad as ANYONE on Northwestern’s roster. And none of them do the GRIII fancy dunk things.

And hey, I get it. You play the hand you’re dealt. But the hands you were dealt are TERRIBLE AT SHOOTING. But what’s even more amazing is that despite all of those clanging misses from deep, Northwestern remains dead last in the conference in offensive rebounding. I guess what I’m saying is that your offense is terrible and you should feel terrible.

Thing They Are Like: Michigan from the first half of last night’s game against Purdue some generic time they didn’t shoot very well.


If Today Was Late March


Wisconsin (#2), Michigan State (#3), Michigan (#3), Iowa (#5), Ohio State (#6)

Teams that are Mike McDermott

Minnesota (#12)

Teams that are Only Mostly Dead


Lovely Parting Gifts:

Indiana, Illinois, Purdue, Penn State, Northwestern



Your concerns are extremely limited at this point: cheer against Sparty. Cheer against Wisconsin, I guess, though at best they grab a share, though rooting against Bo Ryan is rarely a bad idea. Unless it conflicts with the above, cheer against Ohio State and Indiana for the lulz.


  • Ohio State @ Penn State, 7:00, ESPN2
  • Iowa @ Indiana, 9:00, ESPN


  • Just the facts, ma’am.


  • Illinois @ Michigan State, 4:00, ESPN
  • Northwestern @ Nebraska, 5:00, ESPNU
  • Minnesota @ Michigan, 6:00, BTN
  • Purdue @ Iowa, 8:15, BTN


  • Wisconsin @ Penn State, 12:00, BTN
  • Ohio State @ Indiana, 4:00, CBS


  • Why don’t you and your friends go outside and play for a while. Some fresh air will do you good.


  • Michigan @ Illinois, 7:00, ESPN


  • Nebraska @ Indiana, 7:00, BTN
  • Purdue @ Wisconsin, 9:00, BTN



February 27th, 2014 at 10:48 AM ^

Our own team regularly has to ratchet up the danger level for reasons beyond me. Its like deciding to juggle chainsaws while walking on razor blades as you have GERG coordinate your organ transplant as all of this is going on. Sounds exciting until it bites us.


February 27th, 2014 at 10:57 AM ^

I think we get a 2 seed if we win out. Maybe need to win one game in the B1G tournament to seal it. Winning this conference outright will strongly appeal to the committee, as will our huge number of top-50 RPI wins. You may not like RPI (Iowa currently is in the high 30s!), but even Nebraska and Minnesota are top-50 RPI teams right now, and this gives us a ton of big wins. Duke, for example, has 5 top-50 RPI wins, while we have 9.


February 27th, 2014 at 11:48 AM ^

For this reason, I think we have a strong rooting interest for Nebraska in their game vs. Northwestern. It obviously has no bearing on the conference race, but if Nebraska can hang on and make the top 50, that's a big boost for the tourney.


February 27th, 2014 at 12:13 PM ^

Putting a lot of weight into arbitrary cut-offs (like top-50) isn't the fault of RPI, it's the fault of the people using the results. I actually doubt the tournament committee looks at it that way, but who knows. You could talk about top-50 wins in Kenpom the same way, and a team dropping from 49 to 51 will still have an outisized effect regardless.

Neither system is perfect. I brought up Iowa -- currently 36th in the RPI I'm looking at. Kenpom, on the other hand, has them 12th, three stops ahead of UM despite having more losses and a strength-of-schedule that's 50 spots worse. I'm not buying that either. But I do agree that Kenpom does a better job than RPI overall.


February 27th, 2014 at 12:18 PM ^

I think people underestimate the value to the committee of winning this conference outright. This is definitely one of the strongest few conferences in the sport, and to give its outright champion a 3-seed just feels wrong. Who would be ahead of us right now? I'd guess Arizona, Syracuse, Duke, Witchita, Florida, Kansas, Villanova... that's seven. I think you could make a strong case for us as the last two seed right now. And this is with a couple weeks left for other teams to stumble.


February 27th, 2014 at 11:02 AM ^

Not that it matters much, but the [redacted] @ Iowa game was moved to Sunday to give Iowa some extra rest. So obviously karma will have [redacted]  winning that game for being so nice and moving their schedule around for Iowa when they didn't have to.


February 27th, 2014 at 11:41 AM ^

Hey, I still think Nebraska has an at large chance. But they have to win their next 4 games--NW, at IU, Wisco and their first BTT Tourney game--add in a little out-of-town scoreboard bubble choas and I think they can sneak one of the last few bids. One thing to consider is the teams they're competing against arent setting the world on fire or have great resumes either......long way to go yet to slot those last several at large bids....nevertheless, great post BISB


February 27th, 2014 at 11:42 AM ^

one of these things appears to be wrong:


7) Minnesota (19-5, 6-5 B1G)

This Week: Lost to Ohio State (64-46); Beat Iowa (95-89) (no, really)

Thing: Minnesota was struggling. They’d fallen to 6-9 in conference

kevin holt

February 27th, 2014 at 12:58 PM ^

Yeah, I don't know how we're that low in the conference overall, but I guess the noncon matters a bit. I know the committee seems to weigh it as less important except for big wins (right?).

Like if Illinois were to pull a reverse-Illinois some year, they would probably be pretty high.


February 27th, 2014 at 12:41 PM ^

Have you ever considered a small segment on a few big "opponents of opponents"? Don't those also matter?

I find myself keeping an eye on UConn, for example, because the outcomes for UConn help determine how useful our Stanford win is. 




February 27th, 2014 at 1:36 PM ^

There are a bunch of reasons, but the main one is that RPI is hilariously over-simplistic. It's 25% on your win percentage, 50% on your opponents' win percentage, and 25% on your opponents' opponents' win percentage. It doesn't take into account some of the most basic considerations, like margin of victory.

For a very simple example, Team A blows the doors off four teams and lose one game by one point. Team B beats all five of those teams by one point. Which of those teams is probably better?

No statistical model is perfect, and sport is often random... but I'll take a predictive model that incorporates all available data over a three-variables-assigned-random-weights addition problem any day of the week.

There's a pretty comprehensive takedown here: http://www.theonlycolors.com/2014/2/26/5444872/death-to-the-rpi.


February 27th, 2014 at 2:50 PM ^

Also a non-bad RPI effect (RPI 134 and Kenpom 147).  These are the types of teams I wish we'd schedule non-conference - bad enough to beat by 22 but good enough to have a decent W/L and challenge for a conference title (projected 13-5 in Patriot League, 1 game back from 1st)