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2018-19 Non-Conference Schedule Ratings: Methodology

It’s almost time for tip-off! That means it’s time to talk non-conference scheduling. But before we get into team specifics, a bit of background on the numbers and metrics you’ll encounter.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Florida vs Arkansas Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

For all of the posts in this series, visit the 2018-19 Non-Conference Scheduling Hub.

Warning: Graphics and tables may not appear optimally when viewing on a mobile device.

This post is largely a repeat of 2016-17’s methodology entry, but with updated team rankings and numbers where required.

We start with some explanations of the various terms you’ll find in these posts.

Four-Year Ranking

To calculate the relative strength of each of Division I's returning 351 men's college basketball teams, I used the same basic four-year formula from the last three seasons. As usual, more recent seasons are rated more highly, but last year is not fully weighted due to roster changes. This is the Team Score.

One significant change made before the 2017-18 season affected this whole exercise, as Ken Pomeroy switched his ratings from the Pythagorean Winning Percentage (pwp) to an Adjusted Efficiency Margin (AdjEM). Since these margins can be positive and negative (or zero, if we want to get even more technical), this change impacts my later calculations more than the Team Score rating itself. To better reflect the scale of differences between teams, my data consists of KenPom.com's pre-NCAA Tournament AdjEM numbers, not the rankings, for 2014-15 through 2017-18.

I’ve factored these AdjEM numbers into the formula like so:

(2015AdjEM*0.2 + 2016AdjEM*0.4 + 2017AdjEM*0.6 + 2018AdjEM*0.8)/4 = Team Score

Even with the change from pwp to AdjEM, the rankings still feature teams that are placed where you’d expect to find them. These are the top and bottom of the Four-Year Ranking of Team Scores, which I’ll be referencing throughout the series.

Top 10: 1. Villanova Wildcats (15.116); 2. Virginia Cavaliers (14.887); 3. Gonzaga Bulldogs (13.277, up from 4th); 4. Duke Blue Devils (13.262, up from 9th); 5. North Carolina Tar Heels (13.199, up from 6th); 6. Kansas Jayhawks (12.706, down from 5th); 7. Kentucky Wildcats (12.131, down from 3rd); 8. Purdue Boilermakers (12.131, new to top 10); 9. West Virginia Mountaineers (11.904, new to top 10); 10. Michigan State Spartans (11.527, new to top 10)

Out of top 10: Wichita State Shockers (11.172, now 12th) Arizona Wildcats (11.088, now 13th); Louisville Cardinals (10.776, now 14th)

Bottom 10: 342. North Carolina A&T Aggies (-9.480, up from 348th); 343. Longwood Lancers (-9.80194, new to the bottom 10); 344. Arkansas Pine Bluff Golden Lions (-10.654, up from 345); 345. Presbyterian Blue Hose (-11.460, up from 349); 346. Chicago State Cougars (-9.589, down from 342); 347. Coppin State Eagles (-10.607, new to the bottom 10); 348. Delaware State Hornets (-11.403, new to the bottom 10); 349. Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils (-11.092, down from 347); 350. Florida A&M Rattlers (-11.598, up from 351) 351. Alabama A&M Bulldogs (-12.448, down from 344)

Escaping the bottom 10: Grambling State Tigers (-8.801, now at 336th); Maine Black Bears (-9.387, now 340th); Central Connecticut State Blue Devils (-9.399, now 341st)

The two teams that begin their Division I transitions this season—the ASUN’s North Alabama Lions and WAC’s Cal Baptist Lancers—will feature in next year’s rankings.

KenPom Gap

The biggest addition to this season’s series is this statistic. This simply the difference between the four-year ranking and KenPom’s beginning-of-season’s ranking. In short, this measures whether KenPom expects a team to outperform or underperform its four-year ranking, providing a bit more context.

Game Scores

To judge a team's non-conference schedule strength, I used the same formula from 2016-17 that reflects game location, conceptually. However, heading into last season, I had to modify the location weighting to reflect the AdjEM metric’s infinite quality. This system not only serves to reward teams that schedule good competition, but it goes the extra mile to benefit those willing to play away from their cozy home courts.

Contests against individual opponents receive a Game Score—this the Team Score weighted against one five location classifications:

  • True Home Games
  • Semi-Home Games
  • True Neutral-Site Games
  • Semi-Road Games
  • True Road Games.

When necessary, I will offer my specific reasons for placing games in particular category in each team's individual capsule.

True Home Games against an opponent always receive a Game Score that equals the Four-Year Ranking. I applied no weighting to these.

However, I had to adjust the weighting for all other game sites to reflect the positive and negative Team Scores AdjEM creates.

Let’s start with the best team in the rankings, the Villanova Wildcats. The Wildcats’ weightings work just like last season’s.

  • Semi-home games against Nova are scored at 18.895 (Team Score of 15.116*1.25 weighing factor)
  • True-neutral site games are scored at 22.674 (15.116*1.5 weighting factor)
  • Semi-road games are scored at 26.453 (15.116*1.75)
  • True road games are scored at 30.232 (15.116*2)

But if you attempt to use these same weighting factors with a team with a negative AdjEM, you only end up with larger negative numbers. And since these ratings are designed to reward teams that play games away from home, I had to adjust the weighting as illustrated with the Game Scores for the 351st-ranked team, the Alabama A&M Bulldogs.

  • Home games against Alabama A&M are always scored with the Bulldogs’ Team Score of -12.548.
  • Semi-home games against Alabama A&M are scored at -10.980 (Team Score of -12.548*0.875 weighting factor)
  • True neutral-site games are scored at -9.411 (-12.548*0.75 weighting factor)
  • Semi-road games are scored at -7.843 (-12.548*0.625)
  • True road games are scored at -6.274 (-12.548*0.5)

In other words, I multiplied the negative Team Score by a decimal that would provide the same weighting that positive Team Score receive when they’re multiplied against the holdover positive location factor.

Games against non-Division I opposition always receive a zero, no matter the site. This also applies to games scheduled against our two data-less newcomers, Cal Baptist and North Alabama.

Bracketed tournament Game Scores can also vary based on site, especially since several of these events feature teams playing true or semi-home games this season (for example, Hawai’i in the Diamond Head Classic in a true home situation and Syracuse and UConn in the 2K Empire Classic in a semi-home situations). Games for a bracketed tournament appear twice in a team’s schedule listing if there’s a location-rating difference, with the names of the teams that don’t fall under a particular category placed in parentheses.

Schedule Strength

To measure an individual team’s Schedule Strength, I’ve used the following formula, since non-conference schedules vary in size:

Game score 1 + Game score 2 + Game score 3 + ... Game score N / N ...

where N equals the total number of non-conference games a team scheduled. Note that individual Ns range from nine to 17 games this season.

Teams participating in bracketed tournaments once again receive four schedule strength scores.

  • The Known Schedule Strength accounts for all set games on a team’s schedule, including the first opponent in bracketed tournaments, but does not account for any pending tournament games. In this case, the N is only the number of known games.

For example, the Florida Gators, participating in the Battle 4 Atlantis with second and third day opponents to be determined, have a “Known Schedule” N of 11, while their “Complete Schedule” N, which will be used for the next three metrics, totals 13.

  • The Average Schedule Strength accounts for the game score for the first opponent and the average game scores of all possible opponents for the second and third games. This score reflects the general strength of a team’s tournament field.
  • The Maximum Schedule Strength accounts for the game score for the first opponent and the game score for the best possible opponent for the second and third games. In other words, this score projects a trip to the event's championship contest.
  • The Minimum Schedule Strength accounts for the game score for the first opponent and the game score for the worst possible opponent for the second and third games. In other words, this score projects a trip to the event's consolation game (in a four-team bracket) or seventh/eighth-place game (in an eight-team bracket).

While the average score is the most meaningful one, in my opinion, simply because it's impossible for all evaluated teams to experience either the best or worst case scenario. Instead, the average score aims to reflect the collective quality of the tournament field. As a result, the overall min and max rankings will wildly vary from the average ranking, as you'll see in future posts. All teams, even those whose schedules are set in stone, are placed within all four rankings.

The Actual Rankings

However, there’s still some variance between the Average, Minimum, and Maximum scores and rankings for the teams in tournaments, specifically those of the eight-team variety. Therefore, to rank the schedules, I came up with a new metric this season, the Super Average. To calculate this, all I did was add the Average, Minimum, and Maximum scores together, then divided them by three. I then ranked these results from 1 to 353. This is the number you’ll see next to the team names in each post.

For example, here is the SEC’s schedule ranking table with all four schedule strength scores and national rankings displayed. You’ll notice the Super Average Ranking on the left.

SEC Schedule Strengths And National Ranks

Super Avg. Rank Team Known Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Average Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Maximum Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Minimum Schedule Strength Natl. Rank
Super Avg. Rank Team Known Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Average Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Maximum Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Minimum Schedule Strength Natl. Rank
3 Florida** 6.894278234 4 7.557835135 3 8.563254275 3 6.817776887 5
7 Kentucky 6.804183713 6 6.804183713 7 6.804183713 12 6.804183713 6
25 South Carolina* 4.858765803 29 5.147800462 27 5.634734818 24 4.660866107 29
29 Tennessee* 4.311139917 50 5.083224327 28 5.445626462 31 4.720822192 27
43 Auburn** 2.834959216 115 4.580925077 42 5.461083568 29 3.590866664 68
53 Ole Miss* 3.92253552 66 4.241016278 55 4.910253364 46 3.571779191 70
66 Alabama** 3.75725393 73 4.333874586 53 5.345006767 39 2.951919125 108
106 Vanderbilt 3.209216225 96 3.209216225 106 3.209216225 121 3.209216225 91
121 Missouri** 2.578199043 127 2.751026195 125 3.563182827 101 2.11993614 142
125 LSU** 1.638174927 183 2.752327846 123 4.248368035 71 1.536386495 186
134 Texas A&M 2.614172371 124 2.614172371 135 2.614172371 154 2.614172371 118
150 Arkansas 2.308729385 144 2.308729385 152 2.308729385 168 2.308729385 133
152 Mississippi State* 1.837824665 169 2.325408123 150 2.793656229 143 1.857160017 160
201 Georgia** 0.6073438045 251 1.595156604 199 2.411386219 163 0.8285221231 234
86.78571429 Average 3.44119834 102.6428571 3.950349738 86.07142857 4.522346733 78.92857143 3.399452617 98.35714286
1/32 Conference Rank 2 of 32 1 of 32 2 of 32 2 of 32

Scheduling Gaps

Once again, I decided to measure how well a team’s schedule strength matches up with its four-year ranking. Ideally, you would think teams would schedule to their capability. So, I devised a simple formula to determine how often this happened and how badly teams over- or under-scheduled, using the Average Schedule Strength Ranking to account for the relative strength of the fields of bracketed tournaments.

2015-18 Four-Year Ranking - 2018-19 Average Schedule Strength Ranking = Scheduling Gap

Since the Scheduling Gap can be either positive or negative, teams are ranked first by the absolute value the gap, since both over- and under-scheduling are undesirable, but smaller differences are preferable to larger ones. When two teams share the same gap, teams who over-scheduled are ranked higher than those who under-scheduled. If two teams are still tied, the stronger average schedule strength results in a higher rankings.

This year, the SEC offers an example of a team that did a perfect job of scheduling to its ranking, Kentucky, and few that didn’t. So, here’s that conference’s breakdown as a sample.

SEC Scheduling Gaps

National Rank Team Four-Year Ranking Super Average Ranking Scheduling Gap
National Rank Team Four-Year Ranking Super Average Ranking Scheduling Gap
1 Kentucky 7 7 0
33 Alabama 55 66 -11
38 Florida 16 3 13
39 Tennessee 42 29 13
58 Auburn 64 43 21
62 Ole Miss 75 53 22
65 Missouri 98 121 -23
69 South Carolina 51 25 26
112 LSU 80 125 -45
138 Vanderbilt 47 106 -59
183 Mississippi State 73 152 -79
229 Texas A&M 34 134 -100
238 Arkansas 40 150 -110
280 Georgia 57 200 -143
110.3571429 Average (1/32 conf.) 52.78571429 86.71428571 -33.92857143

Teams Covered

For the second year in a row, I’ve written a post for all 32 conferences, though my primary focus will remain on the teams likely to find themselves in the at-large pool. That includes all teams in the power conferences (ACC, American, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC) and select mid-majors. Regardless of conference, each post will not only include a capsule about each team’s non-league slate, but also information about game quality, game location, and geographical considerations when scheduling opponents. Thanks to the late release of some schedules, I’ve had to run 2018’s series on a compressed four-day timeline with eight conferences featured over each day. Posts will run in a serpentine order based on the conference’s average four-year ranking, with lower-ranked conferences posting earlier in the day.

As always I want to thank Twittersphere’s @TheD1Docket for sounding the virtual klaxon any time a team released or changed a schedule during this offseason. I’d also like to thank Chris Dortch, editor and publisher of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, for his support in this effort as well.

Be sure to follow @ChrisDobbertean on Twitter and to like Blogging the Bracket on Facebook.