Heresy!


Robert
Jan 10, 2022
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11 Comments

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The new AP Poll will come out here in about 10 minutes. I'll tweet it when it does, and when I do that, wherever they have us (somewhere between 22 & 24, I'm guessing) won't be good enough. Illini not being top-12 = heresy. At least that's what my mentions tell me. I'd like to talk about that.

Let's start with what I'm not saying. This is not really an "it's early - let all of this sort itself out" take. Nor is it "the AP Poll has nothing to do with our eventual seeding." I think the AP Poll is very important (that little 17 next to your name when you're playing on national TV means a lot), and I follow the poll religiously. When it's released here in 2-3 minutes, I'm going to study it very closely.

What I am going to say: we haven't really proven much. So I guess it's a bit of an "it's early - let all of this sort itself out" take, but more like "it's early, and we haven't won any big games besides Iowa, so we can't really demand respect yet". NET team sheets are starting to come out, and we'll see more and more brackets start to be produced, and right now, we just don't have much on our resume.

We're entering the "keep hitting refresh in case they put it up right at 11:00 CST" window here. So I'm going to pause and see where we're ranked and then come back to this.

25th. I'm a bit surprised, but it was a funky week for entering the poll. Colorado State was the only team certain to drop out (lost to San Diego State by THIRTY), so it was more of a question of how far teams like Texas (lost to Oklahoma State), Tennessee (lost to LSU), Alabama (lost to Missouri), and Providence (lost to Marquette) would fall.

In the end, last week's #24 and #25 jumped up to 19 and 20 (Texas Tech and Seton Hall), the four teams listed above fell to 21, 22, 23, and 24, Colorado State fell out, and Illinois slid in at #25. Let the cries of "heresy!" begin.

Look, I love me a good "nobody respects us." Search my Twitter history and you'll find plenty "we beat Purdue twice and they're 7th while we're 11th???" If the numbers don't match the ranking, I've been known to raise holy hell.

But here, I just don't think I understand the "disrespect!" cries just yet. We lost three non-conference games, and when you do that, it generally keeps you out of the polls until mid-January. That's just the way the polls generally work.

Beyond that, though, we're still lacking the wins that have backed all of my "nobody respects us!" rants in the past. Until we have those wins, I can't say I don't agree with brackets that have us as a six-seed at this point. Maybe the best way to do this is to go check my "we are 25th this week" tweet and go through some of the responses on here. I'm sure there are responses by now.

I won't link the names here because I don't want these to seem like specific call-outs. I'll just list some of the comments. If you really need to know who said each of these, just go check the responses to my tweet.

Eight responses as of this moment. I'll respond to a few of them:

They really don't trust us. Net 10, ranked 25.

Let's talk about what that "NET #10" really means. I just had this discussion with someone on Twitter this morning when I linked our current "NET Team Sheet". So I'll just repeat a lot of that here.

NCAA switched from RPI to "NET" in... 2018 I believe? The NET is the new-and-improved way to rank college basketball teams for the Committee. The formula looks at wins and losses, strength of schedule, conference strength, offensive/defensive efficiency stats, and several other factors to come up with a ranking of all teams. Illinois, as of this morning, is 10th.

But this does not mean "the committee currently sees Illinois as the 10th best team". They don't use their formula that way (because that would just be a blind "computer says Illinois is a three-seed, we're making Illinois a 3-seed" auto-generated bracket). The Committee uses the NET rankings to develop your team sheet. It's not "Illinois is #10", it's "teams that lost to Illinois lost to the 10th-best team."

Here's our team sheet as of this morning:

So just take one of our opponents there. The current NET has Iowa #27. The Committee is not using that to directly say "Iowa is the 27th-best team." They're saying "Illinois beat the 27th-best team at their place, and that's a Quad 1 Win." The more Quad 1 wins (and the fewer Quad 3 & 4 losses), the better your seed.

And it's not just numbers. When the committee was deciding the final team to get in last March, it was between Drake and Louisville. Both teams had exactly one Quad 1 win and six Quad 2 wins. So what was the determining factor? The specific Quad 1 wins. Drake had beaten Loyola, #10 in the NET rankings. Louisville had beaten Duke, #49. Advantage Drake.

I know what you're thinking. "If Loyola was #10 in the NET rankings, then what the hell were they doing as the 8-seed across from us"? Again, #10 doesn't really mean anything. It just means what kind of team the other teams played. Teams either beat or lost to #10.

As for Loyola only, they only had four Quad 1 games going into the Tournament and they were 2-2. They went 2-for-3 against Drake and lost to Wisconsin. The also had only four Quad 2 wins and two fairly poor Quad 2 losses (to Richmond and to Indiana State). So the formula might have said "10th best team", but when you compare who they beat/lost to with all of the other teams, they only had the 30th-best resume. That meant they were an 8-seed.

So saying "NET 10 and AP Poll 25" doesn't exactly correlate. Yes, it's a data point that can be combined with other data points (KenPom 11, Sagarin 9) to say "we're underrated" (I mostly agree, given our potential), but NET doesn't exactly work like that in the Committee's eyes.

Let's get to another response:

Love to be back In the Top 25 but kinda ridiculous to have Texas and Tennessee and kinda even Alabama ahead of us. Wish the voters would still stop punishing us for the bad early season and look at what we've done in the past month and a half.

I'm not sure about that. Tennessee immediately sticks out because we have a similar head-to-head. They beat Arizona and we lost to Arizona. And if you go by what the Committee looks at (I know that's different than what a pollster is considering, but the two should at least be close), Tennessee has beaten #2 Arizona and lost to LSU (4), Villanova (7), Texas Tech (21), and Alabama (22). Plus they beat #34 North Carolina. The three Illini losses: Arizona (2), Marquette (44), and Cincinnati (66). Advantage Tennessee, right?

Or just look at Alabama. They've beaten Houston (3), Gonzaga (5), and Tennessee (11). They did lose to Memphis, Davidson, Iona, and Missouri, so that factors in for sure, but their best three wins are 3, 5, and 11 and our best three wins are 27, 68, and 87.

Again, this is super early to be getting this deep. So many more Quad 1 and Quad 2 games to be played. I like where we might sit when it's all said and done. But these are responses to my tweet saying that we're 25th in the latest poll, and from the three teams listed in this response, Texas is the only one (0-3 Quad 1, best win is #39 West Virginia at home) I'd put behind us.

Such an insult. Seriously, this team is destroying teams and extremely consistent. Should easily have been top 20. In the end, doesn't matter so long as the selection committee doesn't disrespect us in the end.

Destroying team, yes, but what teams? Actually I shouldn't start there. I should start at the end.

Your last sentence is really all that matters. In the end, we just need the Committee to come through. And with this process, I think they will (provided we win the games I think we're going to win).

But right now, I'm not sure I'd say "easily top-20". Our best win is at #27 Iowa. Our next best win is at #68 Minnesota (I'm guessing they'll be 100+ by the time the season is over), and our next best win is over #87 Kansas State on a neutral court. If you look at that compared to the other who-they-beat/who-they-lost-to's, I'm not sure we'd be in the top-20? Meaning, I'm not sure we'd be any higher than a six-seed if the Tournament were seeded today.

Maybe I can just make this simple and go with something the Committee uses: Quad 1 + Quad 2 wins. We have three (two Q1, one Q2). Let me go count how many teams have four or more.

LOLOL. Isn't this convenient. There are 24 teams with four or more Quad 1 wins. Wisconsin has eight (4 and 4). So the team tied for 25th in Q1+Q2 wins (Illinois) is ranked... 25th.

Let's just use that Wisconsin comparison to bring this home.

Wisconsin's five best wins: Houston (3) on a neutral court, at Purdue (8), Iowa (27) at home, St. Mary's (43) on a neutral court, Indiana (33) at home.
Illinois' five best wins: at Iowa (27), at Minnesota (68), Kansas State (87) on a neutral court, Notre Dame (86) at home, Maryland (112) at home.

Wisconsin's losses: at Ohio State (25), Providence (35) at home
Illinois' losses: Arizona (2) at home, at Marquette (44), Cincinnati (66) on a neutral court.

If the Tournament was being seeded today, Wisconsin would be a 2-seed and Illinois probably a... 7-seed? That's based on resume, not potential.

Does the eye test tell me that we look better than Wisconsin? Yes. Do I think we beat them on February 2nd? I do. After that and other wins happen, do I think we'll have the resume to say we're the 7th-best team in the country and deserving of a 2-seed? Absolutely.

But for now, I'd say being ranked 22nd through 25th is just about right. We have one good win (at Iowa). The other three Big Ten teams we've beaten (Rutgers, Minnesota, and Maryland) are all likely headed for losing conference records. We played six high-major opponents in the non-conference season (Marquette, Cincinnati, Kansas State, Notre Dame, Arizona, and Missouri) and we only went 3-3 with the three wins being Kansas State (87th in NET), Notre Dame (86th), and Missouri (199th).

Over the next month we'll have opportunities for Quad 1 wins against Purdue (8), Michigan State (15), at Northwestern (69, which would currently make it a Quad 1 win on the road), Wisconsin (24), at Indiana (33), and at Purdue (8). Right now we've played four Quad 1 games and by February 10th we'll have played 10. We will have an opportunity to turbocharge the resume very soon.

As for now, though? Somewhere between 20th and 25th sounds about right.

Comments

IBFan on January 10, 2022 @ 01:46 PM

Perfect, great breakdown

If people are so inclined let us get a little prayer in for AC.

jdl on January 10, 2022 @ 02:58 PM

This is a little tough to digest as it's about both NCAA resumes and the poll. I suppose some voters may go through some kind of analysis on teams but I think you really nailed it early on that we lost those 3 games and that keeps you out. And to continue down that road of poll simplicity, the only way to get back in is to keep winning and have teams ahead of you lose and drop out (which is what did happen) though this can take a long time when you have that many losses. The other way is to get a big win over a ranked team ahead of you. We could have done that against AZ but lost. Win that game and we're already in and moving up.

Using the resume discussion to rank teams, well I suppose some pollsters may do that but probably not many. And it's really not a great way to rank teams - that's how you get Loyola as an 8 seed when they were top 10 in some analytic models. Going to NET was the NCAA's way to try and respond to the demand of many to use a better system but for reasons only they can fathom they insist on sticking with this old "resume" junk. The problems are many but just a couple are the Loyola example where you just don't have enough Q1/Q2 data points. Another is the arbitrary cutoffs for those quadrants, so beating the 75th ranked team on the road has the same value as beating the 20th ranked team. Or the #1 ranked team. And then there's the whole comparison of these "resumes" that can get pretty unwieldy. They usually do an OK job getting the big stuff right but there's got to be a better way.

Forbes2South on January 10, 2022 @ 03:39 PM

Count me in the camp of “who really cares about regular season rankings at this point” Illinois basketball is back relevant on the national scene and after last year’s tournament flameout its all about a deep run in the tournament. Few people remember who was ranked from November to late January. Position yourself for a respectable seed, be playing your best ball on February, and make noise in March when everyone is watching.

HNLINI on January 10, 2022 @ 05:03 PM

I think the truth is that we don't yet really know how good we are, or aren't. We have only had one true high level test (Arizona) and we lost at home. The rest of the teams we have played thus far are not great, and we have lost to two of them. The combined record of the Big Ten teams we have played, in conference, is 5-11 (5-7 if you remove the 4 losses to IL from their conference records), and the only one with a winning record (Rutgers), we played with one of their best players (Geo Baker) out. In past years, we would routinely note of other teams above us in the B1G standings early in the year "they haven't really played anyone yet". This year, we are the team who "hasn't really played anyone yet".

The good news is that we are beating teams that we absolutely need to beat in order to compete for a B1G title, and get a high NCAA seed, we continue to win on the road in the B1G, and fairly soon we should have an idea of how "good" we truly are. Our OER and DER numbers suggest that we are going to be fine. Given our resume lacks quality wins (due in large part to a lack of opportunities that the article points out), we can't afford missteps (like a road loss to NE).

Based on the pattern we have seen with Coach Underwood in the past two years (perform poorly early and improve over the course of the year, be an absolute road warrior in the B1G, peak in Feb./March) we can project that we will end up at or near the lead of the Big Ten and high in the national rankings, but we still have to do it, so I'm frankly okay with the lack of "respect" in the polls.

danny on January 10, 2022 @ 06:20 PM

You can only beat the teams you play. The Illini are doing that and quite well, unlike Purdue n Wisconsin.

In the last 32 Big Ten games, the Illini are 28-5. Illinois has been and is the dominant team in the Big 10.

IlliniJoe81 on January 10, 2022 @ 06:20 PM

I think what’s striking is how soft the high-major teams on our schedule have been.

You can go 4-0 in the Big Ten without beating anyone really good. Missouri stinks. So does Notre Dame, Marquette, Kansas State, and Cincinnati.

Arizona’s the only good one.

We tell ourselves that people will discount the loss at Marquette without Kofi but that’s not really true.

On paper in October this was a Top 5 team. If things keep trending up we could be that again in March.

Need to keep winning. The games are all winnable. Just keep chopping wood and hope Curbelo’s setback only delays things a few days for him.

jdl on January 11, 2022 @ 09:36 AM

We should have beaten them even without Kofi - and would have had Trent not turned his back on the defense - but Marquette is top 60 in kenpom and NET. If they "stink" then there's a whole lot of stink out there.

And there's no real need to "discount" that loss as it's a Q1 loss.

Now Miznoz....yes they do stink.

danny on January 10, 2022 @ 07:06 PM

You can only beat the teams you play. Continue to win and all will be good. The Illini are beating their Big 10 opponents in a dominant fashion, unlike Purdue, Wisconsin n Ohio State.

The Illini are 28-5 in their last 32 Big 10 conference games. Rankings, who cares. Just Win Baby!

Lou-a-villini on January 10, 2022 @ 07:44 PM

28+5=?? Go Illini! :)

HailToTheOrange on January 10, 2022 @ 10:10 PM

I agree with all of this...but the thing that still gets me is that pedigree absolutely factors in. Case in point: Michigan State. How many pollsters give extra love due to history? Who have they beaten that's decent? Literally one team...UCONN at a neutral site (currently unranked BTW). That's it. Yes, their two losses are way better than our three, but their resume is...not great.

HNLINI on January 11, 2022 @ 02:34 AM

Echoing this point - the combined record of their B1G opponents in conference to date is 4-14 (or 4-10 excluding the games that these teams played against Michigan State), so they have played an even weaker B1G schedule than Illionis has to date.

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