Sagarin data, published by USA Today at this website, provides an objective way to assess the relative strengths of the Pac-10 basketball teams. With the season now just 28% behind us - not really enough for a complete assessment, we nevertheless take a quick early look at that data.

"> Sagarin data, published by USA Today at this website, provides an objective way to assess the relative strengths of the Pac-10 basketball teams. With the season now just 28% behind us - not really enough for a complete assessment, we nevertheless take a quick early look at that data.

">

The Pac-10 season takes shape in computerized data

<p class="txt">Sagarin data, published by USA Today at <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/sagarin/bkc0203.htm">this website</a>, provides an objective way to assess the relative strengths of the Pac-10 basketball teams. With the season now just 28% behind us - not really enough for a complete assessment, we nevertheless take a quick early look at that data. </p>

What does it mean to say "objective"? I use that word advisedly because computers can only analyze past data, which inherently limits accuracy because important contests - Cal vs. Arizona for example - have not been played and those results will have an important effect on the final assessments. Perhaps more seriously, basketball is often a game of match-ups, where the particular skills and strengths of a team can match well against one perhaps stronger opponent - but not so well against a nominally weaker opponent. Only skilled human judgment can make those assessments in advance.

Nevertheless, computer rankings do have the virtue of being opinion-free. There is no "east-coast-media" bias in the numbers, so they mean exactly (and only) what they mean, and stand in splendid isolation from prejudices, opinions, and coach's excuses.

So with those caveats, let's look at what the numbers now say.

Arizona is the class of the conference, with a 91.9 rating, way above Oregon at 84.7. That 7.2 point differential, which when added to the 4.1 point home court advantage (that's a national average), means that Arizona would be favored by 11.3 points over Oregon if they played the Ducks in Arizona. And those are the best two teams in the conference, at least according to the current numbers.

Oregon, Stanford, Cal, and Arizona State are The Pretenders, the latter three closely bunched at 84.00, 83.98, and 83.95 respectively. That's a total of 5/100ths of one point between the three teams - were the games played on a neutral court. Obviously with teams that close, the home court advantage is a huge swing: Stanford would be favored by 4 over Cal at Maples, and a 4-point underdog at Haas. That's big.

USC, and recently the Washington Huskies, populate the Lower Middle, at 77.42 and 76.83 points respectively. While we've seen some good games from both these teams, seriously uneven performances in others have limited their overall rankings.

UCLA, playing poorly on the court, must now suffer the additional humiliation of being ranked below Oregon State near the bottom of the conference. Bear fans know that Oregon State is a scrappy, competitive team, and that they have fought hard for whatever successes they have achieved to earn their 74.93 ranking. The Bruins, on the other hand, seem to be giving up, painting a plain lesson in how bad coaching and poor motivation can contribute to team collapse. A side-bar story for the rest of the Pac-10 season - a soap-opera that we may not be able to avert our eyes from - will be whether these guys can recover any sense of character to enable them to play for personal respect even if not for final standings. The Bruins now weigh in 73.27, falling rapidly.

Washington State fills out the lineup by occupying the cellar position at 70.69, a notable drop from even the two teams just above. But we can't be too hard on the Cougars because they have suffered an unreal number of injuries to starters and are playing with a seriously decimated team.

Cal is now 5-0 in Pac-10 games, but is heading into a six game series that will probably define the Cal 2002-2003 season. The Bears play the LA schools at Haas, then the Arizonas and the Oregons on the road before returning to Haas for a Washington weekend that on paper should result in two wins.

Sagarin's computer says that the Bears are favored by 10.6 over USC and by almost 15 points against the Bruins - taking into account the Haas Advantage. Those are substantial margins as these things go, but USC also understands the numbers, and will take the Cal game as a primary hurdle on the road to gaining respect in the league. The UCLA game, however, could be anything imaginable. After a probable loss to Stanford at Maples, the Bruins could come into Haas angry and super-motivated, or they could be further discouraged and be just playing out the season. Nevertheless, we have to say these two games chart out as wins for Cal.

The Arizona trip will be a different matter. Arizona, with a number 1 national ranking from Sagarin, and playing at home, will be a major challenge for the Bears. Arizona State, with a numerical ranking matching the Bears, will have a home court advantage to work with. These will be two tough games, so at best I think we can give the Bears a 50:50 chance at one of them.

The single biggest question on the Oregon trip will be whether the Ducks truly deserve their ranking. Early season polls had them as high as tenth-ranked in the country, but recent losses to Cal, Stanford, and others have called those numbers into question. Their ranking may be the most dubious of the Pac-10. Oregon State? Even factoring in OSU's home court advantage, the Bears still figure to be favored by five going in - unless of course the rankings change substantially in the intervening period.

So many issues remain, and the games do have to be played after all, but on paper the Bears look to get the three-of-six split they need in these upcoming games, made up of two against the LA schools at Haas and at least one of the two in Oregon. We can expect a hard-fought and competitive game against the Sun-Devils but are left with huge question marks about the UCLA game (which team will show up?) and the Oregon Ducks (are they as good as their numeric ranking or not?).

Stay tuned Cal fans; this is going to be a grueling series of games that will tell the core story of this 2002-2003 season.


BearTerritory.net Top Stories

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What does it mean to say \"objective\"? I use that word advisedly because computers can only analyze past data, which inherently limits accuracy because important contests - Cal vs. Arizona for example - have not been played and those results will have an important effect on the final assessments. Perhaps more seriously, basketball is often a game of match-ups, where the particular skills and strengths of a team can match well against one perhaps stronger opponent - but not so well against a nominally weaker opponent. Only skilled human judgment can make those assessments in advance.

Nevertheless, computer rankings do have the virtue of being opinion-free. There is no \"east-coast-media\" bias in the numbers, so they mean exactly (and only) what they mean, and stand in splendid isolation from prejudices, opinions, and coach's excuses.

So with those caveats, let's look at what the numbers now say.

Arizona is the class of the conference, with a 91.9 rating, way above Oregon at 84.7. That 7.2 point differential, which when added to the 4.1 point home court advantage (that's a national average), means that Arizona would be favored by 11.3 points over Oregon if they played the Ducks in Arizona. And those are the best two teams in the conference, at least according to the current numbers.

Oregon, Stanford, Cal, and Arizona State are The Pretenders, the latter three closely bunched at 84.00, 83.98, and 83.95 respectively. That's a total of 5/100ths of one point between the three teams - were the games played on a neutral court. Obviously with teams that close, the home court advantage is a huge swing: Stanford would be favored by 4 over Cal at Maples, and a 4-point underdog at Haas. That's big.

USC, and recently the Washington Huskies, populate the Lower Middle, at 77.42 and 76.83 points respectively. While we've seen some good games from both these teams, seriously uneven performances in others have limited their overall rankings.

UCLA, playing poorly on the court, must now suffer the additional humiliation of being ranked below Oregon State near the bottom of the conference. Bear fans know that Oregon State is a scrappy, competitive team, and that they have fought hard for whatever successes they have achieved to earn their 74.93 ranking. The Bruins, on the other hand, seem to be giving up, painting a plain lesson in how bad coaching and poor motivation can contribute to team collapse. A side-bar story for the rest of the Pac-10 season - a soap-opera that we may not be able to avert our eyes from - will be whether these guys can recover any sense of character to enable them to play for personal respect even if not for final standings. The Bruins now weigh in 73.27, falling rapidly.

Washington State fills out the lineup by occupying the cellar position at 70.69, a notable drop from even the two teams just above. But we can't be too hard on the Cougars because they have suffered an unreal number of injuries to starters and are playing with a seriously decimated team.

Cal is now 5-0 in Pac-10 games, but is heading into a six game series that will probably define the Cal 2002-2003 season. The Bears play the LA schools at Haas, then the Arizonas and the Oregons on the road before returning to Haas for a Washington weekend that on paper should result in two wins.

Sagarin's computer says that the Bears are favored by 10.6 over USC and by almost 15 points against the Bruins - taking into account the Haas Advantage. Those are substantial margins as these things go, but USC also understands the numbers, and will take the Cal game as a primary hurdle on the road to gaining respect in the league. The UCLA game, however, could be anything imaginable. After a probable loss to Stanford at Maples, the Bruins could come into Haas angry and super-motivated, or they could be further discouraged and be just playing out the season. Nevertheless, we have to say these two games chart out as wins for Cal.

The Arizona trip will be a different matter. Arizona, with a number 1 national ranking from Sagarin, and playing at home, will be a major challenge for the Bears. Arizona State, with a numerical ranking matching the Bears, will have a home court advantage to work with. These will be two tough games, so at best I think we can give the Bears a 50:50 chance at one of them.

The single biggest question on the Oregon trip will be whether the Ducks truly deserve their ranking. Early season polls had them as high as tenth-ranked in the country, but recent losses to Cal, Stanford, and others have called those numbers into question. Their ranking may be the most dubious of the Pac-10. Oregon State? Even factoring in OSU's home court advantage, the Bears still figure to be favored by five going in - unless of course the rankings change substantially in the intervening period.

So many issues remain, and the games do have to be played after all, but on paper the Bears look to get the three-of-six split they need in these upcoming games, made up of two against the LA schools at Haas and at least one of the two in Oregon. We can expect a hard-fought and competitive game against the Sun-Devils but are left with huge question marks about the UCLA game (which team will show up?) and the Oregon Ducks (are they as good as their numeric ranking or not?).

Stay tuned Cal fans; this is going to be a grueling series of games that will tell the core story of this 2002-2003 season.

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