2014-15 Season Analytical Writings

Has 2014-15 Been More Unpredictable Than Prior Seasons?

On UK pregame program Tuesday evening, Oscar Combs observed that this has been a very unpredictable basketball season. Is that the case? Have the first 54 days of the 2014-15 season been more unpredictable than prior seasons? I do not believe that is the case.

Through the first 54 days of actual basketball action, upsets have occurred in 23.5% of all games played. Granted, that is a higher upset rate than the average rate since 2012 through 54 days of the season, i.e. 22.2%. It is true that the college basketball upset rate is up 1.3% this season over last, and the upset rate over the previous 3 seasons at this stage has ranged 21.1% to 22.9%. However, the increased upset rate does not equate to greater unpredictability. This year, the statistical analysis has predicted a total 562 upsets out of 2,384 total games. There have been 560 upsets.

Every season, we hear similar views, especially when conference play begins. When conference competition begins, each team starts with a clean slate with visions of sugarplums still dancing in their heads. This is a recipe for surprise outcomes whether in the SEC, ACC, BIG, Big 12, PAC 12, or any other conference. Look around; UK is not the only front-runner that had trouble putting away a lesser conference opponent in the first week of the conference season. Some front-runners have even lost to these lesser teams.

In the SEC, all Cat fans know how Mississippi forced the dominant Wildcats into overtime before falling to the Cats at Rupp. South Carolina fell at home to Florida despite posting a much stronger pre-season than the Gators and being favored to beat the Gators. Many SEC observers believe LSU can beat this UK team when they meet in Baton Rouge, but LSU lost to a very weak Missouri team in its SEC opener. Virginia needed overtime to dispose of Miami FL in its first ACC game. The list of examples is quite long.

Upsets occur in all sports. In college basketball, the national upset rate has been 24% to 26% over the last 3 seasons. This season will probably end within that range when April 2015 arrives. As noted above, it is clear to anyone who has examined the information that the statistical analysis predicts the number of upsets within a very small variance. What is not predictable with a similar reliability is which team will be an upset victim because it is not possible to know in advance whether the final margin of victory or loss will be larger or smaller than the projected margin, and the magnitude of the variation.

A team that has played 12 to 16 games would likely have had 3 to 4 upsets, 1 or 2 unanticipated losses, and 1 or 2 unanticipated wins. The Cats have none, but there have been two games in which the Cats' game margin was 17 (Ole Miss) and 21 (Columbia) points less than the projected margin (2 potential unanticipated losses for a weaker team). The Cats have also had four games in which the game margin exceeded the projected margin by 16 (Montana State), 16 ½ (UT Arlington), 18 ½ (UCLA), and 20 (Kansas) points (four potential unanticipated wins for the majority of teams). The other eight UK games have had variations between final and projected margins of 6 ½, 5, 3, 2 ½, 1, 0, -2 ½, and -7 ½ points.

Nearly every team has a similar distribution for predicted and actual game margin differences. For the vast majority of teams, these differences will average zero, and about half of the differences will be greater than zero and less than zero. Therefore, for the vast majority of teams, the Net impact of the variations on the win-loss record will be in the range of +2 to -2 wins. However, for a limited number of very strong teams, the vast majority of their “upset” games will be unanticipated losses. The same analysis, although reversed, applies to a limited number of very weak teams.

The 2014-15 season has not been any more unpredictable than other recent seasons. It is about the same.

Submitted by Richard Cheeks

Submitted by Richard Cheeks


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