Saturday, December 17, 2016

Preview of Women's NCAA Final: Texas vs. Stanford

My last posting, on the Final Four teams' success rate this season in five-game matches, turned out to be useless for the semifinals, as neither match went the distance. Maybe tonight's final will...

Things haven't exactly gone as expected. The vaunted Big 10 conference (abbreviated B1G), which had the three highest national seeds -- Nebraska, Minnesota, and Wisconsin -- has no finalist. Also, this year will be the first in the six years I've compiled my Conference-Adjusted Combined Offensive-Defensive (CACOD) measure that a national title winner will be below a score of 1.94. The two finalists are close though, Stanford at 1.91 and Texas at 1.79.

I found Stanford's four-game semifinal win over Minnesota surprising, but the Cardinal had defeated the Gophers, also in four, way back on August 28.

My reaction to the other semi, which also involved a rematch from the regular season, was: What the hell happened? Defending national champion and this year's No. 1 national seed Nebraska had not merely swept, but routed Texas (25-15, 25-16, 25-21) on August 27. In the national semis, however, the Longhorns returned the favor, sweeping the Huskers!

Certainly, improved defense was a major for the Longhorns' turnaround. UT let Nebraska hit .304 in the teams' first match (with only 5 total blocks for the Horns), whereas Texas held the Huskers to .182 in the rematch (with 10 blocks).

Offensively, Longhorn frosh outside-hitter Micaya White struggled mightily in the first Nebraska match (hitting in negative territory, -.143, with 3 kills and 6 attack errors on 21 attempts). However, she improved to a solid, if unspectacular .269 (7-0-26) the second time around.

Another key player for Texas tonight will be fellow OH Ebony Nwanebu. She hit .378 (15-1-37) in Thursday's semifinal match and .333 (13-3-30) in the early-season match against Nebraska. Although now based in different conferences, Nwanebu and Stanford should be pretty familiar with each other. The reason, as close followers of the women's college game are aware, is that Nwanebu began her career at Stanford's Pac-12 rival USC, before transferring to Texas after her sophomore year. As the following chart shows, Nwanebu had some big matches as a Trojan against Stanford and generally committed few hitting errors.

Stanford combines a very youthful line-up (perhaps a reason for the team's slow start this season) with the experience of Inky Ajanaku, a fifth-year middle-blocker who missed last season with an ACL injury. Ajanaku finished sixth in the nation in blocks per game at 1.52. This article describes Ajanaku as the "grandma" of the team, noting also that she's a "wannabe orthopedic surgeon."

The big question, then, is whether the title will go to the wannabe or the Nwanebu.

UPDATE: Stanford takes it in four.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Final Four Teams' Records in Five-Game Matches

There seem to have been a lot of five-game matches this year, both in the regular season and in the NCAA tournament. Some of the Final Four teams went five in roughly a quarter of their matches this season. Here's how the remaining teams fared in five-game matches:

Texas: 4-3 overall; 2-1 home; 2-2 road

Nebraska: 4-1 overall; 2-0 home; 2-1 road

Stanford: 4-4 overall; 1-3 home; 2-1 road; 1-0 neutral
  • Included in Stanford's record is a win over visiting Cal Poly. How did the Cardinal even let Cal Poly take the match to a fifth game?
Minnesota: 5-3 overall; 4-0 home; 1-3 away

Thursday, December 1, 2016

2016 NCAA Women's Tourney Preview

With this year's NCAA women's tournament getting underway today (brackets), I'm back with my Conference-Adjusted Combined Offensive-Defensive (CACOD) measure to forecast teams' success. The CACOD simply divides a team's own hitting percentage during the regular season by the overall hitting percentage it allowed its opponents, and then multiplies the resulting ratio by an adjustment factor to reward being in stronger conferences (details here). Teams that hit well and don't allow their opponents to do so will get the highest CACOD scores.

I have been calculating the CACOD for the past five years. The following table (which you can click to enlarge) shows scores for all teams making the Elite Eight during that time frame. Again, CACOD scores are based entirely on regular-season play (i.e., NCAA-tourney games are not factored in), so they can be judged for their prognostic efficacy.

The table tells us three main things, in my view:

  • No team below a CACOD of 1.94 has won the national championship during the five years I've computed the statistic. Thus, if your favorite team is well below a CACOD of 2.00, it is unlikely to ascend the victory podium. 
  • Although we're talking small sample-sizes, the CACOD appears to distinguish eventual national-championship teams (mean = 2.43) from national runners-up (1.90), losers in the national semifinals (2.03), and losers in the Elite Eight (1.96). However, it does not differentiate the latter three groups from each other.
  • Only twice in the past five years has the team with the very highest CACOD won the NCAA title (Penn State in 2013 and 2014). One leader lost in the national semis (Penn State, 2012), one lost in the Elite Eight (Washington, 2015), and one even lost in the round of 32 (Nebraska, 2011). 

So which teams have the highest CACOD scores this year? The next table tells us...

No. 1 seed Nebraska leads the way by a sizable margin, with a CACOD of 2.56. Penn State, though seeded all the way down at 16, has the second-highest CACOD (2.10). The Nittany Lions frequently do well on the CACOD, which I take as a sign of its "face validity." Unfortunately for Penn State, it would have to play Nebraska in the Sweet Sixteen. Several discrepancies between teams' seeds and their CACODs are evident. Eleventh-seeded Florida has the third-highest CACOD, whereas fourth-seeded Texas has only the tenth-highest CACOD.

We'll see how well the CACOD performs as the games get underway!

Hawai'i Sweeps Long Beach State to Claim Second Straight NCAA Men's Championship

Hawai'i swept Long Beach State last night in Los Angeles to win its second straight NCAA men's championship. Scores were 25-22, 25-...