Category Archive: Sports

College Football Playoff rankings have been released; should you be worried?

The vaunted College Football Playoff rankings were released for the first time today. I wondered, is it time to start freaking out?

These things always seem to take care of themselves. Most of the top programs are still alive

When it comes to college football, there is always controversy, however, things seem to take care of themselves.

Remember in 2o07, when the chaos of the BCS was still reigning? Going into the final week of the season, here were the rankings:

Week 7

And then teams 1, 2, 4, and 6 lost. The 7th and 8th team didn’t have much of an argument to be in the final game, given they had 2 losses already.

Week 8

Things took care of themselves. The same thing will happen this time around.

Here are my predictions for the CFP:

1. The SEC Champion is in no matter what. It’s still mathematically possible that the SEC winner has 3 losses.

2. Florida State is in, unless they lose the ACC Championship Game (and predictions 3-7 still have only 1 loss, see below…)

3. Oregon is in if they run the table in the Pac 12, including the Championship Game. I believe they will do this.

4. Notre Dame is in if they run the table on their season. This includes beating Arizona State, Louisville, and USC. I don’t think they can do this, but it’s certainly possible.

5. If 2-4 somehow disqualify themselves, the next team in is the Big 12 Champion if they only have 1 loss. Since it’s possible that 2 of TCU, Baylor. and Kansas St. make it through with only 1 loss, my prediction is that the winner of the head-to-head between these two teams will make it.

6. The B1G Winner with only 1 loss

7. A 1-loss team from the SEC: either a team that doesn’t qualify for the championship game, or the loser of the championship game with only 1 loss. I would have completely ignored a 2nd team from the SEC if it wasn’t for 2011, when the SEC had both representatives in the National Championship Game.

There are a couple key considerations that go into these predictions. I just finished reading Thinking Fast and Slow, and there are so many biases I believe the committee will fall prey to. A human committee is more susceptible to biases than a hybrid system:

  1. For example, the Availability Bias: Recent losses will weigh more heavily in this system than in the BCS. A loss in the last week could doom a team
  2. Another bias that will be prevalent is the Anchoring Bias. The rankings that came out this week really matter. The relatively lower ranking of the Big Ten will be difficult to overcome. The fact that Oregon and Notre Dame ended up where the did mean that winning-out is an easy path to the playoff. If all teams win, these rankings will largely persist despite very different win quality. I would prefer a system that didn’t do interim check-ins, and rated the teams only at the end of the season (similar to the NCAA basketball tournament).

“Over the years VT doesn’t tend to lose by more than 10 unless the other qb is a senior”

Ohio State and Virginia Tech meet for the first time on Saturday night. Having lived in Virginia for many years, the stakes are high (at least for me, personally).

My buddy JMorg, a true Hokie fan, posited an interesting opinion via twitter: “Over the years VT doesn’t tend to lose by more than 10 unless the other qb is a senior.” I wondered, is this true?

quote

 

I pulled data from the past 10 years to see how many games Virginia Tech lost by more than 10, and who was the opposing QB. I was surprised by 2 insights.

Insight #1: JMorg’s observation appears to be false. 40% of VTs losses over the past 10 years have been by >10 points. Of those, 50% were against quarterbacks who were true-juniors-or-younger.

VT Losses

Insight #2: The Non-Sr. QBs that VT has lost to have been TREMENDOUS QBs. It takes a stellar non-Sr. QB to beat this team. Here is the list, in order, of the non-Sr. QBs that have beat the Hokies. You’ll notice some familiar names:

  • Brett Hundley
  • Stephen Morris
  • Taj Boyd (twice, doesn’t count his 3rd >10-pt win as a redshirt Jr)
  • Andrew Luck
  • Matt Ryan
  • Kyle Wright

Key Takeaway for me: I had picked Ohio State to win 28-13. While I do think VT is beatable by >10 points by non-SR. QBs, I wouldn’t put Ohio State J.T. Barrett in the category of the QBs listed above. I’m going to revise down my projection to a 10-point win, Ohio State 23-13. Great observations, JMorg!

Has the end of the steroid era impacted hitting?

From Sports Illustrated: Batting average of pull-hitting lefties.

BA = batting average

BABIP = Batting average on balls in play – basically BA – home runs

BABIP

 

NY Giants QBs

2 QBs have started for the New York Giants since 2004. Name them. Answer in the comments.

Dwight Howard has missed more free throws this season than Steve Nash has his entire career

I was stunned by USA Today’s stat: Dwight Howard has missed more free throws this season than Steve Nash has in his career. Surely, this can’t be true – the mainstream media must be mistaken. I dug into the data.

Dwight Howard is an abysmal free throw shooter

Dwight Howard is shooting 48.6% this season. Absolutely terrible. He has the distinction of missing 14 in a game this season, and 2 games each missing 12, 11, and 10 free throws.

In fact, he’s a full 9 percentage points worse than the worst free throw shooting teams in the NCAA.

Dwight Howard 1

Nash really has missed fewer in his career than Howard this season

Nash is fantastic. He has hit a full 90.4% of his free throws, and has indeed only missed 322 shots EVER.

Here’s the plot of Nash’s career (blue) vs. Howard this season (orange).

howard nash

 

How critical is Aaron Craft’s play to The Buckeyes’ success?

Aaron Craft is a thrill to watch, unless you’re opposing him; then he’s an absolute terror. He’s also been inconsistent on offense. I wondered, if Aaron Craft has an off-day shooting, how does that impact the Buckeye’s chances?

Craft is consistent on defense

In the Buckeyes’ 34 games (27-7), Craft has averaged 2.1 steals per game (a stat that greatly discounts the turnovers he creates each game). How does this break down in games the Buckeyes won and lost?

Aaron Craft Defense

Craft is remarkably consistent. He always brings his A-game on defense.

Offense is a different story

While Craft is stoic on defense, his offense is much more variable. Craft shoots almost 50% better in wins than in Buckeye losses.

Aaron Craft Offense

 

Of Aaron Craft’s 7 worst shooting games this year, 4 were losses (and 2 were blowouts).

Aaron Craft Offense by Game

 

Clearly, the Buckeyes need Craft to shoot well, in addition to leading the defense.

How does Craft compare to Deshaun Thomas?

Deshaun Thomas is the Buckeyes’ leading scorer. I wondered, how does variations in his performance affect the Buckeyes’ chances of winning?

Thomas is as consistent on offense as Craft is on Defense. There’s no difference in his shooting percentage in wins and losses.

Aaron Craft Deshaun Thomas

So, as you’re watching the Buckeyes in the NCAA tournament over the next few weeks, the key will be to watch Aaron Craft’s offense. If he has a strong offensive game, it bodes well for their chances. And if he’s cold from the floor, look out.

 

At what race distance could the women’s world record be faster than the men’s?

Women and men were created differently. Men hold faster world records than women for every running distance (as tracked by wikipedia).

I wondered, as the distance gets longer, does the margin decline between men and women?

Methodology: I looked at world records from wikipedia to find the difference between men and women at different distances. I used a logarithmic chart below, which is a little more intuitive given the exponentially increasing distance. Note the regression will not look like a straight line due to the logarithmic horizontal axis (linear scale chart is included at the end of the post).

Men vs women world records by race distance 2

Findings:

  • From the 100 meter dash to a marathon, men appear to progressively get faster than women. This is not what I was expecting. I thought men would be much faster than women at shorter distances due to sheer muscle mass, but as the length got longer, women would be closer.
  • This didn’t start to occur until after the marathon. For the double marathon (second dot from the right), men are only 10% faster. And for the 100K Ultramarathon, women are much more competitive, coming in within 5% of the men’s time.

At what distance could a women’s world record be faster than the men’s?

Methodology: I used the linear regression equation in the chart above to extrapolate what would happen at longer distances. The model was a pretty good fit, having an R-squared of 0.67.

Findings: Women could beat the men’s world record @ 200k. The model suggests the tipping point is 199k. Anything above that, and women should be on an equal playing field.

A 200k is about 124 miles, which, if running 7 minute miles, would be 14 hours of continuous running. I couldn’t find an example of a continuous 200k race on the Internet, but who knows, it could exist. If there is one, I wouldn’t be surprised if a women took home top prize.

Men vs women world records by race distance - linear scale

The Mike Krzyzewski coaching tree is in need of pruning

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski is a tremendous coach. His resume of wins and titles speaks for itself (his 11,000+ word biography on Duke.com is a different matter).

I wondered, what does his coaching tree look like? Has his success propagated to his former assistants?

Coach K’s coaching tree has a couple solid branches, but it’s in need of pruning.

I would argue 4 coaches have achieved pretty successful coaching careers after being Duke Assistants (or in Jeff Capel’s case, players).

  • Mike Brey – Brey went on to coach at Delaware, and then onto Notre Dame. Under Brey, Notre Dame has been a constant contender for the NCAA Tournament
  • Johnny Dawkins – Stanford has a proud basketball tradition, and while Dawkins hasn’t wow-ed anyone yet, just sticking around in Men’s College Basketball is an accomplishment
  • Tommy Amaker – While Michigan showed him the boot, Amaker found success at Seton Hall and again at Harvard, where he has built the team into a perennial Ivy League powerhouse and an upset-favorite come tournament time
  • Jeff Capel – On the downside, former Duke player Capel has come full circle, and is back under Krzyzewski, now as assistant coach. On the upside, he had several successful seasons at VCU, and moved on to Oklahoma. He’s a recruiting powerhouse, bringing in players like Blake Griffin and Eric Maynor.

However, all the other branches are dead. Other coaches that studied under Krzyzewski (and downstream) did not have long tenures, including at Missouri, Delaware, Toledo, Rutgers, and UNC-Greensboro.

How does this compare to the top coach in College Football?

While football is a bit of a different animal, I wondered how Krzyzewski’s tree stacked up to the likes of Nick Saban.

Surprisingly, it looks pretty similar. There are many branches coming off the Nick Saban coaching tree, and many have been successful. Will Muschamp, Jimbo Fisher, Jason Garret, and Mike McCarthy are huge names. But similar to Coach K, there are many dead branches. Pat Shumer, Mike Mularky, and Derek Dooley were all fired this year.

Why are there so many dead branches coming off of successful coaches?

Athletic Directors are more willing to take a chance on an assistant studying under a successful coach. For example, when you’re VCU and looking for a marquis coach, you pick the Jeff Capel or Anthony Grant (Billy Donovan’s assistant), hoping you picked the right guy. But for every Mike Brey there’s a Quin Snyder.

For bigger-name schools, I believe a superior strategy is to pick a successful head coach in a lower division/league. Ohio State has found great success with that approach for both football and basketball, recently with Jim Tressel (Youngstown State) and Thad Matta (Xavier).

Don’t blame Coach K for his wilted coaching tree. Blame the hiring athletic directors.

East Coast Bias in one Tim Tebow T-Shirt

If the MLB season began at the All Star break, who would be going to the playoffs?

While the Texas Rangers have among the best record in the majors, since the All-Star break they’re barely above .500. I wondered, if the MLB season began after the All-Star break, who would be in line to go to the playoffs?

The Rangers and Yankees would be out

The Rangers would be 4 games out of the playoffs, and the New York Yankees would be a game out of the Wild Card.

There are some surprising teams taking their places. The Oakland As and Seattle Mariners leap ahead in the standings and into the playoffs. Both teams have had a great July and August.

Also, the White Sox would be bounced at the expense of the Tigers, which is pretty inevitable anyway. No playoff differences in the National League.

What is the impact to fans?

As a fan of the Mariners, I’m not too disappointed that the Mariners get no credit for the late season surge. It’s actually really good that the team is making progress, even after the trade deadline where the Mariners gave up a few pieces (and teams like the Rangers and Yankees added pieces). A true fan can relish in a 6-game winning streak towards the end of a lost season, while the fair-weather fan can take no joy.

On the downside, I’m sure that all fans would prefer a higher draft pick versus a 2nd place finish outside of the playoffs.

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