Monday, December 27, 2010

Big East preview

The Big East conference season kicks off tonight with a match-up of top-10 teams as the UConn Huskies head to the Peterson Event Center to take on the Pitt Panthers.

The Hoyas don't tip off their conference slate until Wednesday with a tough road game at Notre Dame, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to run through a few of the normal features we run at the end of the pre-conference season, all in one big blog post.

First, Alan joined a number of fellow Big East bloggers in answering a series of questions over at the east coast bias.  Parts one, two and three have already posted, with at least two more to follow this week.  And VBTN takes a look at Big East home/road splits so far in the respective non-conference schedules.

One bit of eye candy we haul out each season around this time is the Big East aerial, which shows the relative offensive and defensive strengths of all of the conference teams right as conference play gets rolling (2008-9 link; 2009-10 link).

Here's how the teams stand right now:

You'll need to read this post to understand everything in this figure, but simply:  upper-right = good; lower-left = bad.

Some observations:
  • Pitt is currently rated as the best team in the Big East, and their doing it mostly with their offense.  This isn't a surprise, as the last great team at Pitt (2009) was also dependent upon their offense.  Right now, Pitt's adjusted OEff is actually higher than the '09 team, mostly due to an obscene 48% off. rebounding rate.  They're also turning the ball over less this season.
  • Pitt, Georgetown and Notre Dame are the most dependent upon their offense, while So. Florida is the only team with a big defensive lean.

Another topic we toss around is the conference strength of schedule [cSOS]. There are a few reasons that the strength of Big East teams' conference schedule can vary:
  1. Mirror games (3 teams are played twice)
  2. Home opponents versus road opponents
  3. Good teams don't play themselves (or bad teams don't play themselves)
But a more important issue - one that can also drive perception of the various teams - is the relative cSOS of the early part of the conference schedule versus the late part.  Teams with an especially tough early go in the Big East may be written off if they struggle, even though their path will get considerably easier later on.

Here's a table breaking out each team's conference schedule strength, along with the strength of their first nine games (1st half) and last nine games (2nd half):
Team            Overall  Rank    1st Half Rank    2nd Half Rank
Cincinnati       0.8909   15      0.8771   14      0.9047    7
Connecticut      0.9016    4      0.8882   11      0.9150    3
DePaul           0.9060    2      0.9094    5      0.9026    8
Georgetown       0.8975    9      0.8810   12      0.9140    4
Louisville       0.8952   13      0.8956    9      0.8949   12
Marquette        0.8999    7      0.9125    3      0.8874   13
Notre Dame       0.8963   12      0.9292    2      0.8634   16
Pittsburgh       0.8882   16      0.8655   15      0.9110    5
Providence       0.8925   14      0.9116    4      0.8735   15
Rutgers          0.9016    3      0.8949   10      0.9083    6
Seton Hall       0.9001    6      0.8998    7      0.9004    9
South Florida    0.8964   11      0.8777   13      0.9151    2
St. John's       0.9074    1      0.9360    1      0.8787   14
Syracuse         0.9005    5      0.9055    6      0.8956   11
Villanova        0.8980    8      0.8959    8      0.9001   10
West Virginia    0.8966   10      0.8591   16      0.9341    1

The ranking should be self explanatory, but to put the actual strength values in context, remember that they are equivalent to KenPom's Pythagorean ratings. So the hardest overall cSOS (St. John's) is equivalent to playing a neutral court game against Kansas St. (rated 38th), while the easiest cSOS (Pittsburgh) is like playing a neutral court game against Richmond (42nd).

Overall, cSOS is nearly even across the board, and shouldn't have a big effect on the season.

But the spread for each half-season is much larger - St. John's also has the hardest opening nine games (5 away games; most likely wins: hosting Notre Dame or Cinci), equivalent to a neutral court game against San Diego St. (21st).  Meanwhile, West Virginia opens with a relatively friendly first nine, equivalent to a neutral court game vs. Iowa St. (56th).  The Mountaineers would only be big underdogs at Georgetown and at Louisville for that stretch.

So, when we break the schedule into two halves, the differences can be substaintial.

Other than West Virginia, other contenders with a chance to open a lead on the field in the early going include Pitt (2nd easiest early) and, less so, Georgetown (5th); Cincinnati (3rd) can use a weak early cSOS to convince some people that they are legit.  Later in conference play, things start to even out, especially for West Virginia (hardest late cSOS, biggest spread early to late).

Meanwhile Notre Dame (2nd hardest early, but easiest late) in particular is set up to make another late season run towards respectability.

And that's about it for today.  Tip-off for tonight's conference season opening game is at 8:30 EST on the Deuce.

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