Kentucky Basketball: Ken Pomeroy's Analysis

Yesterday, Ken Pomeroy of Kenpom.com (not the same guy as our Ken Pomeroy here on A Sea of Blue) came out with his Pythagorean projections of records.  What this post will do is examine his projections (which, by the way, change as the season goes on to reflect improvement or regression of teams through their Pythagorean Winning Percentage.  We'll get to all that in a few minutes.

Pomeroy's projections are always pretty good, but they are far from flawless.  I don't track his performance over the years (you have to pay attention at the very beginning so you can compare the end) and I haven't done that, but I know historically they are pretty accurate taken as a whole.

Fortunately for the Kentucky Wildcats this year, they are very young, which makes them look worse early as the freshmen learn the college game.  As this Wildcat team learns to play good defense, learns the Calipari system, and gets to better understand their roles on the team and how to best maximize their strengths and minimize their weakness, we can expect these stats to have a greater than normal margin for error. 

Pomeroy really doesn't factor youth in to his equation (because there is just no real way to do so other than an arbitrary bugger factor), but it really makes a difference when you are talking about a group as talented as the Wildcats are.  In fact, there has arguably been no group in college basketball this young and this talented since the Fab Five, and that means that Pomeroy's system has never come up against a scenario this potentially volatile.  But let's leave that for now, and look at his projections.

Follow me over the jump.

First, let's examine a reproduction of Ken's projections as of now. I have highlighted the losses for easier reading:

2010 Schedule
(Game Plan)
Date Opponent Result Prob. Location Record Conf
Fri Nov 13 (261) Morehead St. W, 75-59 73 Home 1-0
Mon Nov 16 (174) Miami OH W, 72-70 63 Home 2-0
Thu Nov 19 (173) Sam Houston St. W, 102-92 83 Home 3-0
Sat Nov 21 (211) Rider W, 92-63 76 Home 4-0
Tue Nov 24 (212) Cleveland St. W, 73-49 70 Neutral 5-0
Wed Nov 25 (114) Stanford W, 73-65 65 OT Neutral 6-0
Mon Nov 30 (334) NC Asheville W, 94-57 70 Semi-Home 7-0
Sat Dec 5 (44) North Carolina W, 68-66 74 Home 8-0
Wed Dec 9 (33) Connecticut W, 64-61 69 Neutral 9-0
Sat Dec 12 (158) Indiana W, 90-73 68 Away 10-0
Sat Dec 19 (202) Austin Peay W, 80-61 68 96% Home
Mon Dec 21 (145) Drexel W, 65-52 65 92% Home
Wed Dec 23 (95) Long Beach St. W, 82-71 72 84% Home
Tue Dec 29 (259) Hartford W, 81-57 64 98% Home
Sat Jan 2 (105) Louisville W, 79-67 71 87% Home
Sat Jan 9 (189) Georgia W, 77-59 66 95% Home
Tue Jan 12 (34) Florida L, 70-66 68 30% Away
Sat Jan 16 (132) Auburn W, 74-68 72 73% Away
Sat Jan 23 (232) Arkansas W, 88-64 70 97% Home
Tue Jan 26 (92) South Carolina W, 77-75 75 58% Away
Sat Jan 30 (63) Vanderbilt W, 79-72 71 76% Home
Tue Feb 2 (25) Mississippi W, 75-74 72 54% Home
Sat Feb 6 (113) Louisiana St. W, 67-63 63 67% Away
Tue Feb 9 (80) Alabama W, 74-66 66 80% Home
Sat Feb 13 (9) Tennessee L, 77-72 71 34% Home
Tue Feb 16 (14) Mississippi St. L, 78-68 69 16% Away
Sat Feb 20 (63) Vanderbilt L, 76-75 71 46% Away
Thu Feb 25 (92) South Carolina W, 82-71 75 84% Home
Sat Feb 27 (9) Tennessee L, 81-68 71 12% Away
Wed Mar 3 (189) Georgia W, 73-63 66 84% Away
Sun Mar 7 (34) Florida W, 69-67 68 61% Home

Projected record: 24-7 10-6

Chance of unbeaten record: 0.00% 0.00%

Chance of winless record: 0.00%
Projected record is based on cumulative probabilities of
winning each game and may not equal the individual game predictions.
Home games played at Rupp Arena (23,000, 2nd largest in D-I)
Games against opponents yet to be determined are not included in the upcoming schedule.

Trust me, I can feel the gnashing of teeth out there right now.  "Whad'ya mean we're gonna lose seven games!  This guy is clueless!  Tennessee is going to beat us twice, and we only have a 30% chance of taking down the Florida Gators in Gainesville?  What a crock!"

Relax, it isn't a crock.  The data at this point is relatively sparse, and a couple of games can make a huge change.  This is typical of how these calculations look early in the season, so just chill and please don't beat on Ken Pomeroy for his effrontery -- this is a calculation that gets better as time goes on, and these numbers will change, most likely for the better (well, I certainly hope so, anyway!).

To explain why this looks the way it does, keep in mind that Pomeroy's system currently ranks the Wildcats at #41.  Now, nobody believes that UK is only the 41st best team in the country right now -- all you have to do is have a look at the polls.  Statistical systems cannot measure everything, and one thing that cannot be accounted for in any way is potential, which human systems can account for.  Also realize that the more data statistical systems accumulate, the more accurate they are.  Right now, only about 33% of the games have been played, so keep in mind that the data at this point is really sparse.

Why are the 'Cats so low right now?  Take a look at this graph, brought to you by the magic of Google Fusion (note - clicking on the bar will bring up the value):

 

What I have done here is taken the top twenty teams from kenpom.com, including their offensive and defensive efficiencies and their strength of schedule, and appended Kentucky's numbers onto the end of that group.  To make SOS graph better, I have multiplied it by 100, but relatively speaking, it is still the same thing.

So how does UK grade out?  The fundamental basis for Ken Pomeroy's analysis, in the end, is the difference between offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency.  Remember that for DE, lower is better, and it is represented by the red line, while OE is the blue line.  The orange line is the difference between the two.

You may not quite be able to see it, but UK's DE is the worst of this lot, which is why they are not a top 25 team.  The OE is competitive, but it also toward the low end of the teams in this list.

The orange line tells the tale.  The margin between UK's OE and DE is much lower than the top clubs, hence our relative position in Pomeroy's system.  To be honest, our OE is good enough for a top 20 team, no question -- even a top 10.  But the DE is a big problem.  Currently, UK is ranked 65th in defensive efficiency.  That's not a good number at all.

The green line represents strength of schedule, with larger being better.  You will note that UK's SOS is better than the Kansas Jayhawks or Syracuse Orange, but is much weaker than the Texas Longhorns or Duke Blue Devils.  To make things worse, UK has not been able to defeat these weak opponents by a wide margin, hence our current place in Pomeroy's hierarchy.

There is no doubt whatever that Kentucky will move up this list fairly rapidly, particularly by the time we get to conference play, and as teams like Kansas, Missouri and Memphis start to play tougher squads.  Kentucky has only one more daunting game in the non-conference season, the annual tilt with the Louisville Cardinals.  If the 'Cats can start playing better defense and blowing out opponents, you will see them move up the Pomeroy rankings fairly quickly.

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