Peaking at the Margins: Washington’s Luck and Other Pac-12 Points

Posted by Adam Butler on January 10th, 2018

According to KenPom’s luck rating, Washington is the most Irish team in the country. Let’s now dissociate ourselves from preconceived notions of luck and consider both what the rating means (you can read about it here) and more relatable measures of success and expectations. To synopsize the luck statistic, this is a measure of a team’s success relative to expectations (as established by their efficiency ratings). At 12-4 overall, with an adjusted efficiency differential of just +5.44, the Huskies sit ahead of similarly efficient teams in terms of wins and losses (although most have between one to three more losses). Consequently, they rate 108th by KenPom, or slightly above average. What do other margins say about the rest of the Pac-12? As we’ve established, the Huskies are the luckiest team, but what else can 17 or so games tell us about the remaining and critical two-and-a-half months of Pac-12 Hoop?

To start the conversation, I examined scoring differential (total points for minus points against), the Synergy Sports points per possession margins and the aforementioned KenPom adjusted efficiency margins. The Pac-12 results:

Team W L Scoring difference PPP difference KP difference
Arizona 12 4 171 0.127 20.17
Arizona State 13 2 252 0.185 20.08
UCLA 12 4 130 0.100 13.91
USC 11 6 142 0.078 13.87
Utah 10 5 121 0.122 11.88
Oregon 11 5 179 0.125 10.66
Washington 12 4 55 0.050 5.34
Colorado 10 6 28 0.016 4.89
Oregon State 10 5 95 0.077 4.6
Stanford 8 8 -6 0.002 4.34
Washington State 8 7 1 0.043 0.51
California 7 9 -84 -0.088 -2.59


Some quick notes followed by a few takeaways: 1) scoring differential is a predictor of success and usually an indicator that you’re a really good team regardless of record, 2) The PPP difference column is based on Synergy data, which accounts raw points per possession information into its metric (i.e., it’s neither a prediction of possessions nor adjusted for strength of schedule, home/away or otherwise), 3) a reminder that the KenPom difference includes the aforementioned adjustments.

Some takeaways:

  1. The adjustments are very friendly to Arizona and far less friendly to Oregon. Consider that the two schools have roughly the same scoring (+171 and +179) and PPP (0.127 and 0.125) margins but the Wildcats have double the KenPom difference. This would suggest that the Ducks have room for improvement and are currently punching below their weight. Poised for a run?
  2. Washington, indeed, appears to be well ahead of itself. Its KenPom rating, as previously discussed, would suggest they should have a couple more losses. The unadjusted numbers confirm as much.
  3. Arizona State is real, as its scoring margin leads the conference by a substantial margin (+73). They play a gambling style with greater than 40 percent of their offense and defense coming from beyond the arc. It has paid off well enough through the season’s first 12 games, but it has sputtered, however, in what’s been the most challenging start to any Pac-12 team’s conference season. Through that start they’ve shot just 30 percent from distance (38% overall).
  4. Cal is bad.
  5. Stanford is confounding. It doesn’t show up in the above chart and requires the use of subjective or unaccountable measures. This is a talented roster that has missed one of its talented pieces in Dorian Pickens. The senior has missed 11 games, but the Cardinal are 4-1 when he’s played. The numbers don’t suggest it, but it might be time to become more bullish on the Cardinal.
Adam Butler (47 Posts)

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