Big Ten Wonk
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Home cookin'-as-pity in Ann Arbor
(Yes, I'm posting again on item number 1 on my list of four dullest hoops topics. Hey, the way you alert readers treat it, this ain't so dull after all!)

The story so far....
--Last Wednesday Michigan plays Michigan State in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines gather in many more boards and cough up one fewer turnover than their visitors from East Lansing. But said visitors shoot much better from the floor (58.7 effective FG pct.) than does the home team (46.9 eFG pct.). Michigan wins anyway. Was it their 34-10 advantage in free throw attempts? Hmmm....

--Thursday I link to some articles on UM-MSU. Articles that say: Hmmm....

--Friday I post a Q&A in the form of separate emails from alert readers Nick D. and Terry B. If only someone had data on fouls called in Big Ten play, home vs. road, Nick mused aloud. Terry had that data and found that the home team is whistled for about three fewer fouls a game than the visitors.

And then came the weekend. More emails....

Alert reader Eric F. has refined the Terry B. approach. Eric says: forget about the bottom four! Tossing Northwestern, Purdue, Minnesota, and Penn State out of the mix yields data that, before this weekend's action, looked like this:

Top seven at-home avg foul differential: -4.94
Top seven at-home avg FTA differential: 8.32

Jinkies! So in Big Ten games not involving the Wildcats, Boilermakers, Gophers, or Nittany Lions, the home team can expect five fewer fouls and about eight more free throws. That's appreciable!

But wait a second. Isn't this all a bit conspiratorial? After all, maybe foul differentials and justice can coincide--and did, in the game between Michigan and Michigan State.

Let's hear from another alert reader!

I think the answer to this particular game is that the officials called a very tight game, which benefited Michigan greatly. The officials cracked down on hand-checking, shoving on rebounds or for post position, and bodying up on players running through screens. All those things that are technically fouls but usually aren’t called are staples of how MSU plays. UM, as everybody knows, is much softer than MSU and doesn’t have a lot of players who throw their bodies around. (The one who does, Graham Brown, was called for several ticky-tack away from the ball fouls, including one for looking at Paul Davis as Davis slipped.)

The officiating was not uneven in the sense of bad calls going in one direction. MSU had some bad calls, but so did UM. Horton was hacked on the wrists on a couple drives, Neitzel palmed the ball twice to free himself for an open layup, and Brown was whistled for the ridiculous aforementioned phantom foul on Davis. The officiating was even, but the decision to call it tight and even as opposed to loose and even benefited Michigan enormously.

Yes, I’m a Michigan fan, but I bet if you watched the game closely you’d see the same thing.

Jon Chait
The New Republic

Wow. Jon Chait. I've been a TNR reader since college and subscriber since, well, employment. Would Walter Lippmann or Herbert Croly have read my blog? Edmund Wilson? (Dare I think it? John Dewey?) You made my day, Jon!

Anyway, as to your email: excellent points. For the sake of discussion let's accept your premise for this particular instance. The general question then becomes: why does the even-handedness so uncannily benefit the home team so often? In other words, why is it we know in advance the UM-MSU game won't be called this way in East Lansing?

Or do we know that? Now comes alert reader, Ph.D., and erstwhile faculty member Matthew S., who decided it was time to put the "significant" back in significance! Matthew looked for home cookin' by parsing box scores from the last 67 games at the Breslin Center and the last 51 games at Crisler. The results will surprise you!

Wielding his alpha level and null hypothesis, Matthew found no statistically significant difference between the number of fouls called on the Spartans and the number whistled on the visitors in the last 67 games in the Breslin Center. Zoinks! No home cookin' in East Lansing? C'mon, Coach Izzo, get on those refs!

Ah, but in Crisler Arena--a different story! A statistically significant 2.6 foul per game advantage. J'accuse!

No, really, what in the name of Brian Ellerbee's going on here? How can Michigan have benefited from home cookin' when the plain fact is that for 49 of the last 51 home games they've been beyond horrific? Is there a sympathy factor at work here? Are Ed Hightower and Ted Hillary busily discussing The Theory of Moral Sentiments before each game?

And so the moral of the story so far is simple. Want home cookin'? Suck!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
COMING this weekend! The recurring festival known as the Do Wonk's Blog for Him Contest!

Your intrepid blogger and the Wonk Wife are escaping for a few days of non-slush-related existence in their prior stomping ground of northern California. Thursday's post will be the last until I return next Wednesday. And that's where you come in!

The Big Ten never escapes! There are games this weekend and I need recaps. You can fill that need!

You know the drill: link to the box score, say who won, drop a few "Ye gods," link to some beat writers, and, voila! It's a recap. Here's your chance to blog without having to do it every day: keep those recaps to 200 words or so and bring 'em on!

First place vs. first place
Wisconsin plays Illinois tonight in Madison (ESPN, 7 ET). Bo Ryan on Alando Tucker: "He is the heart and soul of our team as far as what he brings every day." Ryan has a winning record against every Big Ten team--except Illinois. Profile of Ray Nixon here....Bruce Weber: "It's not do or die with our season. But it is: Are we going to make that step forward, which I've been talking about, trying to challenge our guys?" Dee Brown: "Something has to change or we're going to continue to get blasted on the road....Yeah, it's must-win."

In today's less first place vs. first place venues....
Ohio State beat Florida A&M 95-53 in Columbus last night. (Box score.)

At 1-6 in the Big Ten can Minnesota still make the NCAA tournament? Sunday's win against Indiana has some observers saying yes.

Michigan State big man Paul Davis is still recovering from the elbow to the head he took from teammate Idong Ibok last Friday. Davis received ten stitches and missed Saturday's game against Penn State. He did not practice yesterday and his status for this Saturday's game at Northwestern is uncertain.

Michigan has received a verbal commitment from high school baller Kelvin Grady, a 5-10 point guard from East Grad Rapids, MI....As Elwood P. Dowd said: a little conflict in any discussion is good, shows everyone's participating, no one's being left out....It's a floor wax! "What Michigan has done so far shouldn't have surprised anyone." No, it's a dessert topping! "If you had told me in September that the best team on campus would be the basketball team, I would have punched you and called you Sparty." You make the call!

Iowa wing Adam Haluska is profiled here.

Purdue senior point guard Bryant Dillon is profiled here.

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

(It'd be easier if everyone played everyone.)

Count me among those who miss the full double round-robin Big Ten schedule.

In 1929, a German mathematician by the name of Ernst Zermelo faced a similar problem when he sought to produce standings for a round-robin chess tournament that was not completed. Zermelo's idea was to assign a numeric rating to each player wherein the probability that Player A might beat Player B is a function of their ratings (and, as later mathematicians modified his system, a "home court advantage" parameter).

The ratings are assigned such that for each player, the sum of the probabilities for each game played equals the number of matches actually won by the player. These ratings summarize both wins and schedule strength as a single number. The higher your rating, the better you've played.

If we calculate this Zermelo rating for each team, we can simulate a 20-game Big Ten schedule by adding up the probability of winning home and away vs. each opponent. This number, which we'll call Schedule Independent Wins, reflects the number of games a team would expect to win over a full 20-game schedule if it continues to play at its current level.

Schedule Independent Wins are to traditional standings what tempo-free stats are to traditional statistics.

Schedule Independent Wins, through Sunday:
1. Michigan St. (15.7)
2. Iowa (15.4)
3. Wisconsin (14.2)
4. Illinois (13.5)
5. Michigan (13.2)
6. Ohio St. (12.3)
7. Indiana (9.5)
8. Penn St. (7.9)
9. Northwestern (5.0)
10. Minnesota (2.3)
11. Purdue (1.1)

--Michigan State's schedule has cost them a full game in the standings versus the 5-2 teams. They are the real first place team at this point.

--Indiana is closer to Penn State than they are to the contenders.

--It's even worse for Purdue than the 1-7 record indicates. They've already played the "easy" games, and shouldn't expect to win again.

Ross B.

A reader from Indy saying "Indiana is closer to Penn State than they are to the contenders"? Ouch! (Though indeed Sunday's performance lends credence to your assertion.)

Keep those SIW updates coming, Ross! Thanks!

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