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I didn't write one of these last week (mostly because last week was 90% "work on the new website"). So I've gone two weeks without putting together an IlliniBoard NERDstat Index. Let's start there.
20 games into the season, here's where we stand in comparison to the rest of the Big Ten:
Why those are the tieriest Big Ten tiers ever tiered. It's so very clear right now. The drop from the first tier to the second tier is 16th to 44th and the drop from the second tier to the third tier is 57th to 87th. Four teams between 2 and 16, five teams between 44 and 57, five teams between 87 and 111. The tiers:
Purdue - Illinois - Wisconsin - Michigan State
Northwestern - Iowa - Ohio State - Maryland - Nebraska
Michigan - Minnesota - Indiana - Rutgers - Penn State
The Contenders, the Bubble Squad, and the Maybe Next Years.
So maybe that's the best way to look at the rest of our schedule. For the Contenders, we have a home game with Purdue and road games at Wisconsin and Michigan State. On the next line, we have a home-and-home with Iowa, a road game at Ohio State, a road game at Maryland, and a home game with Nebraska. And on the bottom line, we get Michigan and Minnesota at home and Penn State on the road.
And perhaps now is a good time to peek at our single plays and see if the schedule is being nice to us. On the top line, we have home and homes with Purdue and Michigan State and only a road game at Wisconsin. That's pretty rough. On the middle line, home-and-home with Northwestern, Iowa, and Maryland while we only play Ohio State on the road (tonight) and Nebraska at home (on Sunday). And then for the bad teams, we get home-and-homes with Michigan and Rutgers, only home games with Indiana and Minnesota, and then a road game at Penn State.
Not bad. It's not some really tough schedule (compared to what it could be), but it's not an easy schedule either. The Big Ten being down means it's relatively "easy", but I'm not looking at this in comparison to other seasons. I'm asking if this is one of those years where we got lucky and played home-and-homes with all the bad teams like last year (boosting our W-L record) and the answer is... not really. It's tough on top (road games at all three Contenders) but still has plenty of bottom-feeders like Indiana and Michigan.
Sorry. That was mean. But don't blame me. That's just the I-N-I talking.
While I have the spreadsheet open, I feel like a plus-minus from December 14th (when I assembled the first I-N-I) until now is a good exercise. The December 14th NERDstats had a lot of preseason assumptions built in. Those have mostly worn off by now. Have teams moved up or down?
Purdue +1 (from 3 to 2)
Illinois +6 (from 17 to 11)
Michigan St. +15 (only losses since then are @IL, @NW, @WI)
Ohio State -26 (wow)
Michigan -43 (holy crap)
Penn State -3
My only takeaway there. We HAVE TO win tonight. Ohio State is in a freefall. We stopped their freefall last year and I don't want to do it again.
I also need to do the offense/defense thing that I assemble each week. Here's where we stand (offensive ranking and defensive ranking) in those four NERDstats:
KenPom: #7 offense, #30 defense
T-Rank: #8 offense, #38 defense
BPI: #15 offense, #16 defense
EvanMiya: #7 offense, #25 defense
Averages: #9 offense, #27 defense
So over the last two weeks (since I last looked at these numbers) the defense stayed at 27 and the offense moved from 12 to 9. That's... a bit surprising to me? I guess the Northwestern loss and the Indiana struggle bus have me more sour than I should be.
Going to KenPom, the comp for those numbers would be.... HOOOO BOYY. It would be 2022 Villanova. They were #9 offense and #23 defense. That was good enough for a 2-seed and a Final Four berth.
We're not going to be a 2-seed. Villanova was 11-7 in Quad 1 games that year. We're currently 2-4. Your seed comes from those, so unless we go on an absolute tear, we're not going to get a 2-seed.
And that's not exactly the point of why I do this comp every week. I'm finding the closest comp for our offensive and defensive numbers and then seeing how that team did in the NCAA Tournament. But there's no direct correlation between KenPom ranking and seeding (as we learned when Loyola got an 8-seed as the #10 KenPom team). Seeding comes from Quads; KenPom tells you the general quality of a team based on their NERDstats.
An example: we are currently #14 in NET. Let's use that number and see where the KenPom #14 team was seeded the last four years:
2021: Wisconsin (9-seed)
2022: Purdue (3-seed)
2023: San Diego State (5-seed)
So yeah, seeding is your quad wins and losses and how they compare to everyone else. KenPom, in this instance, is saying "San Diego State is better than most 5-seeds." Maybe in the future I should just say "the team with that kind of offense and that kind of defense went this far in the Tournament" and just drop the seed comparison entirely.
One final thing. For whatever reason, my mentions these past few days are filled with "Underwood and Quad 1" talk. Not sure where that all started but I guess it's this week's talking point. Many of the people pointing to it seemed to be ignoring how hard it is to win Quad 1 games. At least from my view, there was no "it's very rare for a coach to even be .500 in Quad 1 games" talk. It was a bunch of "look at this losing record."
Which is what led to this tweet this morning:
Underwood was on top of this list of Big Ten coaches until last year's 2-12 in Quad 1 really blew up his winning percentage. But still, .439 is very respectable. I saw a list somewhere that listed all Q1 winning percentages of active coaches in the 2020's and I believe Underwood was 12th nationally. So "can't win Q1 games", while certainly a concern with last year's number, isn't exactly an indictment. Nobody wins a large percentage of their Q1 games.
(This is where I remind you that Wisconsin and Michigan State both lost to 13-seed Ohio State in last year's Big Ten Tournament. After those losses, Wisconsin (a road win for us) fell out of the top-75 and Michigan State (a home win for us) fell out of the top-30. Meaning two of our four Quad 1 wins went "poof.")
Again, it's still a concern. We have to start winning these games again. Road games at Ohio State and Iowa - that's where we racked up the Q1 wins in 2021 and 2022. We have to start doing it again. I'm just pointing out that even great coaches are sub-.500 in Q1 games over their careers. You have to basically beat a ranked team at home or you have to go into a tough environment on the road and pull out a win. Not easy for anyone.
Let's go get another one tonight. (And then watch it fall to a Q2 win during the Big Ten Tournament again.)