Sports information departments are back at it again this week and that means only one thing: Not only am I going to burn some bridges, I'm going to line them with dynamite beforehand and set the charge by driving a truck filled with nitroglycerin and 40 tons cannonballs with lit fuses sticking from them square in to the structure.
Here's the background to this entire thing: I'm pulling apart a handful of tweets from sports information departments regarding where lacrosse teams rank in various statistical categories and addressing them in three ways -- (1) the level of truth in the tweet; (2) creating context to the tweet, providing brief notes as to why the team's ranking is important; and (3) balancing the proffered note with a side of ickiness (because nobody tweets about the good things and the world of lacrosse isn't just rainbows and eyeballs made of jellybeans).
Let's do this.
MLAX: @ualbanysports ranks 1st in the country in scoring and Lyle Thompson is 2nd in points per game ow.ly/i/1RhpE #aemlax— America East (@AmericaEast) April 10, 2013
Wonderful! Let's beat this up a little bit:
Truth Factor: It's truthful if we ignore the fact that no team in the country plays more possessions per 60 minutes of play than the Great Danes. So, basically, it's truthful in the sense that America (for the most part) has accepted pace-inflated statistics as an acceptable way to measure things. No team scores more goals per game than Albany; also, only two teams -- Bryant and Duke -- have played more total offensive possessions than Albany and the Great Danes have actually played five extra minutes of game time this season due to its double-overtime victory against Syracuse. So, yeah. It's truthful based on the fact that we all accept half-truth and a level of white noise that causes some people to bleed from the ears. But it is technically truthful, just in a very not-totally-truthful way.
Context: Here's what really burns me up about the per-game ranking (outside of it being pace-included): It's not adjusted for defenses faced. On the year, Albany has played a schedule ranked 42nd in terms of opposing defenses faced. So, the ranking includes pace-inflated values and doesn't recognize that the Great Danes have feasted on a relatively weak slate of opposing defenses. That aside, when you adjusted for defenses faced and break down Albany's offensive showcase on a per-possession basis, the Great Danes have rolled with an amazingly efficient offense, generating around 38 goals per 100 offensive opportunities (a mark that ranks sixth nationally). This has been an incredible offense to watch, but it's arguably not as potent as what Denver, Princeton, St. John's, Duke, and Cornell are rolling with. It's a fireworks show in the Capital Region, it just isn't as efficient as what some other teams have.
Ignored Ickiness Note: Albany currently ranks 37th in lost functional opportunities ratio. (This measures the ratio of trips to the attack box that result in a turnover against trips that don't.) The Great Danes have a hint of sloppiness in their play, and per-game metrics hide that fact given the total number of possessions that the Great Danes play over the course of 60 minutes (and beyond). The team is only average at limiting their turnovers (Albany ranks 29th in turnovers per 100 offensive opportunities and 36 in unforced turnovers per 100 opportunities) and when it's occurring in the attack, the most pain is felt -- given how efficient the offense is, those turnovers are squandered opportunities that could allow the Great Danes to really stomp on their opponents' necks. That needs to be cleaned up.
MLAX: Bearcats ranked 27th in RPI according to the NCAA, which is second highest in America East (only behind Albany at No. 15)— Binghamton Athletics (@BU_Bearcats) April 9, 2013
Fantastic! Let's investigate like we're wearing important hats:
Truth Factor: This is very true. Binghamton does rank 27th in the last RPI release from the NCAA, 12 positions behind its brother from the America East. On a real-time basis, though, Albany actually ranks 13th while the Bearcats remain in the 27th position.
Context: It doesn't matter. Well, it matters in that the RPI has importance in terms of NCAA Tournament selection and seeding because the NCAA can't seem to understand that the RPI is basically a corncob being used as a baton to conduct an orchestra. Where Binghamton ranks in the RPI doesn't necessarily tell the story of how well the Bearcats have played this season relative to the rest of the country (or the America East), nor does it provide a foundation for determining where Binghamton may be headed over its last four games. In fact, when you look at efficiency values (which actually measures performance), the Bearcats rank 38th nationally in adjusted efficiency margin and have a Pythagorean win expectation value -- 42.43 percent -- that ranks 38th in the country. (Binghamton, in addition to trailing Albany in these contexts, also trails Stony Brook in the America East in both measures.) This isn't to knock what Binghamton has done this season (the Bearcats are improved over 2012, in many ways significantly); rather, it's an illustration that RPI rankings don't adequately indicate where the Bearcats fit in Division I's hierarchy compard to what performance-based metrics provide.
Ignored Ickiness Note: Binghamton is 5-5 on the year but the Bearcats have beaten just one team ranked in the top half of the county in adjusted efficiency margin -- Stony Brook (27th) -- while earning the remainder of its victories against teams ranked in or just above the bottom third of the nation in the same metric -- Hobart (39th); Delaware (37th); Manhattan (56); and Quinnipiac (49). The Bearcats also hold a loss against Siena, currently ranked 47th in adjusted efficiency margin. The team's schedule strength looks decent in the overall -- in terms of aggregated opponent efficiency margin the slate ranks 22nd nationally and with respect to opponent Pythagorean win expectation, 27th -- but Binghamton's wins have been fairly underwhelming. The team's RPI ranking is partly attributable to simply playing a handful of teams with winning records -- Cornell, Colgate, Penn State, Albany, and Stony Brook -- and not necessarily winning them. I wouldn't say that Binghamton is fool's gold, but the strength of their wins isn't all that good.