The Wake Forest Demon Deacons are currently ranked 30th nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, but are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament due to an overall record of just 15-12, and the lack of a quality win. While Wake Forest definitely blew its opportunity against Duke (especially the first time), Wake Forest’s schedule hasn’t done them any favors, and I’m not only talking about the fact that the Deacs play in the dominant ACC.
My favorite television show of all-time is Seinfeld. That comes as no surprise to those who know me, and I even believe I recorded a Facebook Live video wearing a Seinfeld t-shirt. One of my favorite episodes of the series is “The Bizarro Jerry,” where Elaine becomes friends with the Bizarro World version of Jerry, George, and Kramer. In Bizarro World, up is down, etc. Somehow bringing this back to basketball, I have wondered what our team would look like with an alternate schedule. Bizarro Wake Forest basketball.
If one simply looks at Wake’s current record against RPI top 50 teams, it definitely doesn’t look very good. Wake Forest is 1-9 by my count. Of those 10 games, however, 6 were on the road, 1 was on the neutral site, and just 3 were at home. Additionally, the average RPI of those 7 road/neutral site games was 17.14. Good luck to any team trying to beat those caliber of teams on the road.
For my analysis I simply reversed the location of every home/away ACC game of Wake Forest’s schedule in addition to the Northwestern and Xavier games. I picked those two games because of the caliber of teams, but also that Wake had no control over location in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge game, and were actually on the road for the second year in a row, and the Xavier series alternates every year. I also kept all Home/Away series the same, so 8 of the games went unchanged. In order to retrieve the alternate win probabilities, I used the Ken Pom Game Predictor, which is a phenomenal website that I was fortunate enough to discover today. What did the analysis show?
How to read the chart
I certainly don’t intend to insult anyone’s intelligence with this paragraph, I’m simply doing it for clarification. The 1st column represents the teams on Wake’s ACC schedule (plus Xavier and Northwestern), while the 2nd column represents Ken Pom win probabilities based on where the location of the games were actually held/will be held. The 3rd column represents what Wake’s probability would be if the locations were reversed. Again, for the purposes of the home-and-home series, I kept those constant. The 4th column is Wake’s increase or decrease in win probability in overall percentage points, and the final column represents a overall win percentage improvement. For Florida State, Wake Forest goes from a 24% win probability to a 49% win probability. That’s 25% in actual percentage points, but it also represents about a 100% increase (double) in win probability.
These percentage are all based on current Ken Pom ratings, so it doesn’t factor in that Wake has improved a considerable amount throughout the season, and also that other teams have also improved/worsened.
The analysis, in my opinion, is startling. Home court advantage is so vital in sports, especially college basketball. In a time where conferences are getting larger, the schedule discrepancies are doing the same. It’s no longer the case where the ACC consists of 9 teams and there’s a true round robin regular season format. Instead, conference standings can be greatly influenced by the home/away splits of certain teams. Wake Forest had a very unfortunate draw this season.
In terms of total expected wins, Wake jumps from 10.19/20 to 10.82/20, which is something, but not a monumental shift. What’s more interesting, however, is the distribution of expected wins. As you all know, not all averaged (expected outcomes) are created equal. A team with win expectancies of 10% and 90%, respectively is expected to win 1 out of 2 games (50%), but the distribution of outcomes is dramatically different than if the win expectancies were 50% and 50%.
In Wake’s actual schedule, the Deacs are favored in 8/20 games. In the alternate version, however, Wake all of a sudden is favored in 12 contests, and is a virtual toss up (49%) against FSU. Several of those additions include Notre Dame, Xavier, and Northwestern. If Wake wins 2 out of those 3, then Wake’s resume looks a helluva lot better in a very short period of time. They’d also have the potential to add a few ACC road wins with Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech switching to road games. They would be favored in both of those games.
Was Wake Forest fortunate to play NC State and Boston College twice? There’s no doubt, and that’s a “strength” of Wake’s schedule, but those games essentially provided no value (if the committee doesn’t look at margin of victory) and Wake simply avoided bad losses. Had Wake had home-and-homes with Notre Dame or Virginia instead of Boston College (sorry, #therivalry), then that’s adding another excellent opportunity at a quality win.
For Wake’s schedule, the similar averages are arrived at in very different ways. The current schedule is much more concentrated around 10 expected wins, while the alternate schedule provides so much more room for upside.
The purpose of this article was not to complain. Ultimately each team’s schedule has its own strengths and weaknesses. I’d personally love to see this analysis done for teams like Georgia Tech, Syracuse, or Virginia Tech. I have some intuition what the results would be, but can’t say for sure. Teams face teams with various lengths of time in between games, or have the fortune of playing a team with an injured player.
I strongly encourage every member of the NCAA Tournament committee to conduct an analysis like this for every bubble team. Use scenarios where home/away splits are reversed, use scenarios where bubble teams play simulated schedules in other conferences. There is so much information out there that it should absolutely be considered when trying to determine the most deserving teams. Do results matter? Absolutely, Wake should be held accountable for the wins and losses they get with the schedule they have (and there’s still plenty of basketball to play), as should every team in the country, but it’s imperative that the committee considers context and does more than simply look at conference record and Top 50 wins.
What are your thoughts?