Hype, poll-skewing, and under-appreciation

I’ve been a little puzzled this year by what I perceive as an undeserved negative perception of this year’s basketball team, and I’m wondering if I’m the only one?

This notion was triggered over time as I watched the team’s ranking in the human polls plummet during Lo’s absence, all while the RPI stayed relatively unchanged and much stronger.

Couple of days ago I noticed it again, but this time I realized that the team’s RPI was high 20’s and yet they weren’t getting a single vote in either the AP or Coaches’ polls.

I decided to build a comparison between rankings based on polls of sportswriter and coaches (which I really don’t like) compared against rankings based on programmatic indices (which I do like), and to identify teams that show the most variance from one to the other.

Methodology: To create the population of teams for analysis, I included any team that is mentioned with even a single vote in either the AP or Coaches’ poll. I added any additional teams that were present in the top 30 of the RPI ratings and ESPN’s BPI ratings. This gave me a population of 46 teams.

There were some gaps in the data. For example, San Diego State is 34th in the Coaches’ poll but absent from the AP poll. For these cases, to keep the analysis as fair as I could conceive while not leaving any population teams out, here’s what I did. Let’s stick with the AP poll. This poll contained 39 teams. That means there were 6 teams in my population that weren’t included. For the sake of this analysis, I assumed that they all tied for the next spot in the AP poll and assigned them all a ranking of 40th. I applied the same approach with the Coaches’ poll. Interestingly at this point I noticed that my population included only 3 teams that were unranked in either “people” poll: Colorado, Wichita State and (you guessed it!) NC State.

To simplify a bit (this is necessary when you have a simple mind, like mine), I then created a poll average based on the two “people” polls, and an index average based on the two index polls. I then subtracted the computer index average from the people poll average to arrive at my differential index. So negative numbers means that the team is “over-rated” by the people polls (according to the computer polls) and vice-versa.
Here’s the top of the list, showing the most “over-rated” teams:
over rated Screen shot 2013-03-06 at 4.04.04 PM

Some interesting results, but K-State grabs my attention from that list. Their poll average projects a much higher seed than the index average. Depending on where they end up, especially if they have a first round matchup with an under-rated lower seed, I’ll definitely consider them an upset possibility.

Now for the bottom of the list, showing the most “under-rated” teams:
under rated Screen shot 2013-03-06 at 4.05.13 PM

That right, boys and girls, friends and relatives, #1 on this list is the NC State Wolfpack. No other team is further apart in the minds of the collective sports writers and coaches vs. these computer indices. Surprise!

The other team here that grabs my attention is Colorado State. They’ve flown under the radar (at least under MY radar) this year, and I want to know a little more about them. I’ll take a really hard look at who they’re matched against this year.

What does it mean?
My take on this is that this year’s Wolfpack team has been punished by the media/coaches for not living up to the insanely optimistic pre-season expectations that were promulgated by….those same media/coaches. What’s your theory?

As I type this, I also wonder if I included other computer indices (say Pomeroy and/or Sagarin) would the results be substantially different? If I have time, I’ll give it a shot.

About ncsu1987

Senior IT Manager for Fortune 500 company living in central NC. Grew up a basketball player and fan, discovered college football while attending college. Proud alumnus of NC State University since 1987.


31 Responses to Hype, poll-skewing, and under-appreciation

  1. jbpackfan 03/08/2013 at 12:05 PM #

    Great job. The Pack is a top 25 team. Hopefully they prove it in March.

  2. wilmwolf80 03/08/2013 at 12:20 PM #

    I agree %100, and it is good to have your statistical analysis that backs it up. This team has most definitely received the Rodney Dangerfield treatment. And the mystifying part, as you say, is that the same people that are showing us no respect are the very ones that created the unrealistic hype in the first place.

    It is my prediction that as long as we continue to finish the season strong, there are many “experts” that will be surprised at our seeding come tourney time. I believe that the numbers indicate that we are a much better team than we are currently getting credit for.

  3. TLeo 03/08/2013 at 12:25 PM #

    We didn’t live up to all their pre season hype so now it’s like they don’t want to to acknowledge us. This team, even with all the bumps in the road we have had is a top 25 team. when you look at how many highly ranked teams have lots of losses (4 or 5 or more losses for several) Maybe our guys can use this as motovation and play with a attitude from here on out.

  4. blpack 03/08/2013 at 12:32 PM #

    Wonder what writers and coaches will pay attention to a team with 23 regular season wins and a top 4 finish in a power conference? Just keep winning, Pack!

  5. MP 03/08/2013 at 12:56 PM #

    Ahem… Would you mind updating this the day before NCAAT brackets are due…? And of course including KenPom / Sagarin would be great! But I’m mostly pleased that you used BPI.

    To beat the drum… “We are better than our record.”

  6. Wolfpack93 03/08/2013 at 1:22 PM #

    That is some great analysis, and I agree that our alma mater is perennially underrated. However, I also believe that just as some teams have traditionally done well in polls, so also do some (like us) do poorly. Is that due to unrealistic media expectations? In part, yes. But I think it is (unfortunately) fair to say that is also has to do with history — what has State done with equal talent in past years? Of course, regardless of reason, I’m a Pack fan for life!

  7. PackerInRussia 03/08/2013 at 1:25 PM #

    I think it’s because when your wins are against other non-ranked teams and your losses are against ranked or hyped teams (UNC), it gives the impression that you’re losing more than you are unless you keep up with each team in detail. So, if you just hear “NC State lost to Miami” then “NC State lost to Duke” then no news (although there were 3 wins in there), then “NC State lost to UNC” and then no news while getting 3 wins. No one has time to keep up with every team in depth, so I’m sure they have to go with general perception and hype. And if all you hear is “NC State lost ……lost…………lost………..” you’ll probably not think too highly of them. I think it’s the system that fails more than the voters.

  8. compsciwolf 03/08/2013 at 1:28 PM #

    This doesn’t surprise me at all.

    The best example of this is to compare our profile to that of UNC. We both have eerily similar profiles – almost identical. Yet we see that UNC is just short of breaking into the latest top 25 while NC State is nowhere on the list.

    It’s telling if you look at the latest ESPN bubble watch – they say UNC is in, then realized how similar NC State’s profile is to UNC, so if UNC is a lock then NC State must also be a lock.

    The counter to this is that the polls are all about what have you done for me lately. If we beat UNC at UNC then our positions with respect to the polls is probably reversed.
    Instead, UNC has won 6 in a row, while we’ve only won 3 in a row, so they are perceived as the better team instead of us being both about equal, as the computers say.

    I think the perception of the ACC also hurts us. While everyone says the ACC is down (and relative to its great years, it is) I think the bottom of the conference has improved a lot over last year. I would say the bottom of the ACC is better than the bottom of most conferences at this point, but much like football the conference largely screwed up early out of conference play and is saddled with a perception that doesn’t reflect reality.

  9. Wufpacker 03/08/2013 at 1:43 PM #

    Fantastic look at things with an unbiased eye, and thanks for that. Agreed that perception (polls, that is) is probably now skewed because writers think we’re not dependable.

    Also hope we prove ’em wrong in the next few weeks.

  10. JeremyH 03/08/2013 at 1:44 PM #

    Yea I didn’t realize I should be rooting for ACC teams to win the early season OCC games. Damn you Painter for beating UVA!

  11. compsciwolf 03/08/2013 at 1:54 PM #

    It’s annoying to me that ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has UNC moving up the bracket with the Wolfpack stuck in place, despite both of us essentially beating the same teams over the past 7 or so games (w/ of course the one exception being them beating us).

    CBS’s Jerry Palm has both of us in pretty much the same place, which feels right to me.

    Is there data on which one of them has been more accurate in the past?

    An additional data point: Joe Lunardi has Virginia in (although in the last four in) while Jerry Palm has them out.

    The Dance Card at this point has Virginia very close to the bubble (As I type this, 2nd to last team in).

  12. state73 03/08/2013 at 1:56 PM #

    Bias by the media in such things as polls really doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is the media bias when it comes to such things as All-ACC and All-American awards. Our kids must do more to get the same award as kids from the “blues”.

  13. MrPlywood 03/08/2013 at 2:31 PM #

    Palm actually dropped State a spot to 9 after the last 2 wins. Mystifying.

    Re: ESPN and UNC v State – ESPN actually had State as a lock before they had UNC as a lock, as per their Bubble Watch on Thursday morning. What they have posted now has been edited to make it appear that they had UNC in after the MD game, which they did not. Interesting.

    re: reputation – I wrote a post a while ago about the 09/10 Heels, and how long it took for them to fall out of the polls even though they were in a tailspin. They received a huge number of “benefit of the doubt” votes until their record finally forced the voters hands.

  14. wolfbuff 03/08/2013 at 3:31 PM #

    I agree with Russia that we kind of fell off the radar with the 3 losses, then the stumble at UNC. Even though we’ve won 6 of 7 they’ve been “quiet” victories over teams we should’ve beaten, including Scott’s last second shot down at Clemson. Meanwhile UNC is racking up wins over the same teams (including us) and beating them convincingly. If we pick up a couple of wins, maybe more, in the ACCT, we’ll get the visibility back and people will be forced to look at our numbers. Unless we lay an egg at FSU and in the ACCT, I don’t see how we go lower than a 6 or 7. The humans who ultimately put together the brackets don’t get it all right, but the get it mostly right. Screw the human polls.

  15. Hawkeye Whitney 03/08/2013 at 3:41 PM #

    Proud that you are a fellow alumnist. That is fantastic analysis. I love it when my suspicions are confirmed by the facts.

  16. wufpaxno1 03/08/2013 at 3:44 PM #

    Its not where you start but where you finish, and the road in between just carries you on the journey. It is simply one step at a time and I for one like where the Pack is right now. This team is every bit as capable as they were projected at the beginning of the season but as long as the pundits keep us under the radar then we go into the post season without a target on our backs. This situation reminds me of the ’83 season (I was fortunate enough to be a student during that magical run.) we were very talented, but circumstances put us in a position of being overlooked.
    For now we just need to take care of business, beat FSU on Saturday (Which is not a given), finish strong in the ACC Tournament, and build on the momentum that will be created. This team is fully capable of making the elite eight and even the final four. They just have to adopt the “Team” first philosophy and execute on both ends of the floor.

  17. RegularExpression 03/08/2013 at 4:01 PM #

    Nice article and I was thinking about this very thing this morning. We all know the human polls are garbage, and in large part it is because most of the voters probably only see a few teams play a week, and most of those are their local teams.

    With most voters I think the way it works is that if a team ranked 20-25 in the polls loses, they start looking at ‘Others receiving votes’ to replace them. If those teams have won, they are in. Since State isn’t receiving votes, they are in a negative feedback loop of sorts. The way to break that is for local voters, who are actually watching the team play, to vote for us so we will start receiving votes.

    Our lack of votes from local voters however is where historical bias may creep in.

  18. BJD95 03/08/2013 at 5:11 PM #

    The indeces say we will be a 6 seed, at worst. I would bet on it.

  19. xphoenix87 03/08/2013 at 5:14 PM #

    Polls are dumb, they have always been dumb, and they will likely be dumb. I say this not because I think they have any kind of bias against us, but because the criteria voters typically use to rank teams are just foolish.

    Also, much as I commend the efforts of this article, one really shouldn’t average BPI and RPI together. BPI is a thought-out formula for determining the actual strength of a team which accounts for margin of victory, SOS, home/road and missing players. RPI, on the other hand, is total bullshit.

  20. NOT A FAN OF BLUE 03/08/2013 at 5:32 PM #

    Because of what I too perceive as “bias”, I distrust (and disregard) most people polls. I am more inclined to agree with computer polls.
    These days I trust the Massey College Basketball Ranking Comparison (http://masseyratings.com/cb/compare.htm) as much or more than any other single poll. This combines 40+ polls: people and computer.
    As of Sunday, March 3rd, State ranks an average of 29th. In the poll tht ranks us the highest, we are 17th. In the poll that ranks us lowest, we are 45th.
    Funny, ncsu1987 nails it. We rank highest in the RPI & ESPN BPI-type polls. Lowest in the other types.

  21. MrPlywood 03/08/2013 at 5:41 PM #

    I’m with you BJD.

  22. Dogbreath 03/08/2013 at 6:08 PM #

    When we stop perpetually shitting the bed the moment we crack the polls, this will change.

  23. wolfonthehill 03/08/2013 at 6:21 PM #

    Thanks, man – I’ve wanted to do this analysis since our DRAMATIC drop after 2 losses… followed by dook’s marginal drop… after 2 losses. I just didn’t have the energy to do it – but what you’re demonstrating statistically has been anecdotally obvious for 6+ weeks.

    The impact of a loss has varied so inconsistently from team to team that it borders on the absurd. Thanks for showing it…

  24. golf76 03/08/2013 at 7:04 PM #

    It is true that we do not get the respect we deserve, however, consider the positives:

    Computers always trump human belief, that’s why we have statistics;

    We get motivation from being the underdog, as we surely will be in the NCAA tourney games;

    We will be under estimated by our tourney opponents;

    If we play defense we may well end up in the final four, or better;

    We can use your more realistic polling methods to make our NCAA bracket selections (not to mention with our bookies) to win some $$$.

    Great job! Keep it coming.

  25. Blackfish 03/08/2013 at 7:04 PM #

    Well when most of your graduates push elbows with the media, and buisness moguls, of course you will get the leg up in a contest of ” way to go’s”, as for me the eye test is easy enought if we play UNC in a neutral venue with legit referees, then most certainly we would school them on hoops. If you are hoping to win a media/popularity poll forget it. We’re out by the law of averages. I for one believe in the eye test, we loose three with our point gaurd out and one with him back. So here is you a poll lets the analyst put up their house in a bet with us against the top twenty five we win fifty percent they loose se how fast they run.

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