BIG TEN BASKETBALL: ARE YOU FEELING LUCKY?

Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE

Is the Big Ten really talented this season, or are they just simply not as good as we thought?

We're coming up on the end of the regular season, and with about 90% of conference play in the books, it's safe to say this has been one of the craziest seasons for the Big Ten in recent memory. We've seen the best teams in the conference go through massive losing skids. We've seen a Michigan team that lost one of their best players to a season ending injury clinch at least a share of the the conference title. And, as Iowa fans, we've seen our Hawkeyes look like a Final Four contender for certain stretches of play, only to look more like an NIT-caliber team for other periods of time. I mean, we basically see an upset within the conference on a weekly basis anymore. This is happening with so much regularity that it's beginning to feel kind of like the natural order of things.

Here at BHGP, we've basically boiled it down to one sentence: The Big Ten is full of blood and Spiders.

Now, I know some people have taken to the idea that the Big Ten just isn't as good as we all thought this season. While I can see why people may choose to make that argument, I, on the other hand, still subscribe to the theory that the Big Ten is just very good from top to bottom this year:

Big_ten_medium

My numbers (and Kenpom), have the Big Ten as the toughest conference in the country this year. As you can see by the chart above, almost every team has an above average offensive and defensive unit. Only Northwestern's offense is below average this season, and they have helped offset that with a pretty stingy defense.

Rather than saying the Big Ten is filled with mediocre teams, I would argue that the difficulty of the conference this season means that each team has a smaller margin of error in every single game they play. That is where luck comes plays a big factor.

Every team has to deal good luck and bad luck all season long. Every play in basketball probably has some kind of luck involved in it. A defender slips while contesting a shot he would have otherwise blocked. A shooter getting a lucky bounce. A referee blowing an obvious foul call. Over time, we would expect all of these events to even out (or come relatively close) given a large enough sample size. Unfortunately, thirty or so games per year isn't a gigantic sample size, and some teams end up very lucky, while others find themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum.

It is with this in mind, that I want to take a look at the Big Ten this year.

How Might We Measure Luck?

The first question is probably how might we measure luck? Well, a chart:

4_year_luck_medium

To explain this is simply as I can, this chart plots each teams' strength of schedule rating on the x-axis (easiest to hardest from left to right), while plotting the difference between a team's actual win percentage and their expected win percentage on the y-axis (underperformers to over performers going from bottom to top). This is for each D-I men's basketball team for the past four years. Because a team's expected win percentage tells us how many games a team would be expected to win against an exactly average schedule, the logic behind this is that a team will be more likely to outperform their expected win percentage if they play an easy schedule, while a team that plays a very difficult schedule will be more likely to underperform their expected win percentage. And with an r^2 of 0.77, I would say that the thought seems to match reality. Based on this logic, any team below that line would be considered "unlucky" and any team above the line would be considered "lucky."

What About This Season?

So, let's apply this to our current season:

This_season_luck_medium

I've color-coded the Big Ten teams to give everyone an idea of where each team falls on the schedule vs. win differential scale (Nebraska is the black and red diamond). Each Big Ten team has played a very tough schedule this year, which is no surprise, seeing as they have all played each other. But, for a more exact look, what do the numbers really say?

Team Luck Schedule Win% W L xWin% xW xL Game differential
Wisconsin 0.110 104 0.828 24 5 0.717 20.81 8.19 3.19
Northwestern 0.058 104 0.414 12 17 0.356 10.31 18.69 1.69
Michigan 0.029 104 0.750 21 7 0.721 20.18 7.82 0.82
Nebraska 0.021 103 0.607 17 11 0.586 16.40 11.60 0.60
Michigan State 0.007 103 0.759 22 7 0.752 21.80 7.20 0.20
Minnesota -0.018 104 0.600 18 12 0.618 18.53 11.47 -0.53
Purdue -0.041 103 0.517 15 14 0.558 16.18 12.82 -1.18
Illinois -0.050 103 0.586 17 12 0.636 18.45 10.55 -1.45
Penn State -0.055 103 0.483 14 15 0.538 15.59 13.41 -1.59
Ohio State -0.066 103 0.733 22 8 0.799 23.97 6.03 -1.97
Indiana -0.110 102 0.586 17 12 0.696 20.18 8.82 -3.18
Iowa -0.126 103 0.690 20 9 0.815 23.64 5.36 -3.64

This table is ordered from most to least lucky this season. Much to the annoyance of Iowa fans everywhere, Wisconsin rates out as the luckiest team in the Big Ten this year. They have played one of the most difficult schedules in the conference, but they have outperformed that schedule by about 3 games. They were expected to win around 72% of their games so far, yet they have won 83%. After Bo and his pesky Badgers, Northwestern has won almost two more games than they were expected to, while Michigan has added about one victory that they weren't supposed to.

Heading down to the bottom of the chart, yes, Iowa is in last place, with almost 4 games worth of bad luck. The numbers basically think the Hawkeyes and the Badgers' records should be flipped. It's also interesting to note that Indiana was considered more unlucky than Iowa before their game against the Hawkeyes, underperforming their expected schedule by around 4 games. Of course, after Will Sheehey went off on Iowa and Ohio State, they are now closer to 3 games and Iowa is now the unluckiest team in the conference. Sports, you guys!

For another interesting look at this, here is each team's actual win percentage plotted against their luck measure:

Win__vs_luck_medium

Wisconsin has the best overall record on the year and they have also been the luckiest team in the Big Ten by a pretty wide margin. Meanwhile, Iowa's the unluckiest team out of the Big Ten's top five teams. Also by a large margin.

And for one final perspective of this, I give you each team's rating according to my numbers plotted against their luck measure:

Thor_vs_luck_medium

For those of you who didn't read the comments in this post, Crowdog came up with an acronymic nickname for my ratings that I happen to like. I wasn't planning on naming them, but what the hell, right?

Anyway, according to Tito Hawk's Official Ratings (THOR), Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State are by far and away the best teams in the Big Ten and all are amongst the top 15 teams in the country. These five teams rank 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, and 14th in the country, according to THOR, and all are separated by no more than 0.96 rating points. In other words, they are all relatively equal in talent, yet all five of them have had different degrees of luck this season. Iowa and Wisconsin have been polar opposites of each other. Michigan has benefited from about a game's worth of luck, while Michigan State has basically broken even, and Ohio State looks as if they gave up two games that they shouldn't have.

All of that isn't even mentioning the teams toward the middle and lower end of the conference. The likes of Purdue, Illinois, Penn State, and Indiana have all dropped at least a game that they weren't expected to. In other words, these teams are likely better than we give them credit for.

Is Any of This Indicative of Skill?

Looking at these numbers brings up an interesting question: is any of this the result of an in-game coaching effect? I mean, Bo Ryan has been suspected of wizardry for years in Madison, and Tom Crean (justified or not) has been criticized as a poor X's and O's guy. If each coach was as good or bad as people believed, it would most likely show in the luck column after we have a big enough sample. So, I decided to test this hypothesis a little bit.

I was only able to go back four years, so what follows is not a big sample size at all, which means we can not make any definitive statements from this. But, I still thought it might be interesting to look at how Iowa has performed under Franimal when looking at luck. In addition, I also wanted to compare and contrast his numbers to the two coaches listed above. As a bonus, I also looked at Fred Hoiberg because his results were a bit surprising to me. Also, he has been at Iowa State as long as McCaffery has been at Iowa, so it's an interesting comparison.

Coach THOR Rating THOR Ranking Luck Luck Ranking Wins Losses xWins xLosses Game Diff.
McCaffery 10-11 105 #82 -0.123 #325 11 20 14.80 16.20 -3.80
McCaffery 11-12 104 #94 -0.006 #166 18 17 18.21 16.79 -0.21
McCaffery 12-13 110 #28 -0.045 #236 25 13 26.73 11.27 -1.73
McCaffery 13-14 112 #9 -0.126 #332 20 9 23.64 5.36 -3.64
4 Year Avg. 107.75 #53 -0.075 #265 N/A N/A N/A N/A -2.35

I'm not going to lie, Fran looks unlucky as hell here. In his second year at the helm in Iowa City, his team's luck basically balanced out to even, but was still slightly negative. Add in those other three years, and... yikes. That's two seasons where his teams were unlucky to the tune of almost 4 games and one season where happenstance seemed to leave the Hawkeyes with 2 less wins than expected. That's an average of -2.35 wins per year, which means on average Iowa has underperformed their expected win total by 2 games.

Again, I caution you not to start calling Fran a terrible coach. While his Hawkeye teams have been pretty consistently unlucky, it's only four seasons, and that's simply not a big enough sample to make such bold claims. Looking at Kenpom's luck ratings (which, according to the eyeball test, seem to correlate pretty well with mine), Fran's non-Iowa teams had an average luck ranking of #109 in the country. That includes some good and bad years at UNC-Wilmington and Siena, but special mention goes to the 2005 season where his Seahawk team was the luckiest team in the country according to Kenpom. I might add that he parlayed that season into the head coaching gig at Siena the next year. So, it hasn't been all bad.

Also, I would point out how far this team has come in four years. Fran had them in the 80s and 90s according to THOR before seeing them shoot up into the top 25 last year and the top 10 this year. Sure, the luck thing is frustrating, but look how far this program has come in just four seasons.

Coach THOR Rating THOR Ranking Luck Luck Ranking Wins Losses xWins xLosses Game Diff.
Ryan 10-11 115 #5 0.070 #52 25 9 22.63 11.37 2.37
Ryan 11-12 115 #6 0.011 #136 26 10 25.60 10.40 0.40
Ryan 12-13 114 #11 0.016 #122 23 12 22.45 12.55 0.55
Ryan 13-14 112 #10 0.110 #21 24 5 20.81 8.19 3.19
4 Year Avg. 114 #8 0.052 #83 N/A N/A N/A N/A 1.63

Now, if anyone lives up to their reputation as a great coach, it's Bo Ryan. Over the last four seasons, his Wisconsin Badgers have outperformed their expected win total by about 2 games per year. They were close to middle of the pack in two of those years, but it's interesting to note that none of those four seasons were negative at all. Like I said, there's some damn sorcery going on in Madison.

Coach THOR Rating THOR Ranking Luck Luck Ranking Wins Losses xWins xLosses Game Diff.
Crean 10-11 106 #74 -0.165 #336 12 20 17.27 14.73 -5.27
Crean 11-12 113 #9 0.057 #60 27 9 24.94 11.06 2.06
Crean 12-13 118 #3 0.087 #37 29 7 25.87 10.13 3.13
Crean 13-14 106 #60 -0.110 #328 17 12 20.18 8.82 -3.18
4 Year Avg. 111 #37 -0.033 #191 N/A N/A N/A N/A -0.82

Crean is a mixed bag. In two of the last four seasons his teams were extremely unlucky. I mean, holy crap, look at that 2010-2011 team. They were expected to win five more games than they did. And this year's team was right around -4 games until they beat Iowa and Ohio State. However, his numbers kind of balance themselves out (as you would expect randomness to do), as those two middle seasons saw his teams benefit from some pretty nice breaks. Unlike Ryan, four seasons worth of numbers don't seem to necessarily point to how good of a coach Crean is.

Coach THOR Rating THOR Ranking Luck Luck Ranking Wins Losses xWins xLosses Game Diff.
Hoiberg 10-11 105 #77 -0.186 #341 16 16 21.96 10.04 -5.96
Hoiberg 11-12 109 #31 0.011 #137 23 11 22.63 11.37 0.37
Hoiberg 12-13 110 #27 -0.067 #271 23 12 25.35 9.65 -2.35
Hoiberg 13-14 111 #16 0.059 #60 22 6 20.36 7.64 1.64
4 Year Avg. 109 #38 -0.046 #202 N/A N/A N/A N/A -1.57

As for Fran's counterpart in Ames, I ended up including him because of those two very unlucky seasons you see above. Unless I'm mistaken, I thought the opinion's of Hoiberg were pretty high. And with his addition, I'm in no way saying he can't coach. Rather, I was just surprised to see those first and third seasons and an average of -1.57 wins per season. His team has seen better luck this year (as I'm sure we all remember how that game in Ames played out), so another good season next year and those numbers could be closer to Crean's Indiana teams.

Conclusion

To wrap this up, it would appear that, based on the numbers, the Big Ten is indeed full of Blood and Spiders this year. The toughness of the conference only makes the margin of error for winning a game that much smaller. That means a missed call by an official or a crappy bounce by an unfriendly rim can mean the difference between winning and losing a game even more than it would under different circumstances.

I know that some people have mentioned that the increased prevalence of advanced statistics has had a downtrodden effect on their enjoyment of this season thus far. The fact that the numbers think the Hawkeyes are so good, but the on-court product doesn't always quite live up those lofty rankings can be real frustrating. I get it. Sure, the hex put on our team's basketball season couldn't have come at a worse time (like, when Iowa had a shot at a Big Ten title). Sometimes, though, chance just plays a bigger role in how things work out than we like to think it does. I learned that lesson about four years ago with the 2009 and 2010 Iowa football teams. Luck happens. Sometimes it's good. Sometimes it's bad. Sometimes it's neither. In the end, though, it's best if we understand just how much of a factor it can play.

Bonus: Luck Rankings

Below are the rankings for all D-1 teams from luckiest to unluckiest. All stats are updated through Sunday, March 2nd.

Rank Team Luck
1 Abilene Christian 0.268
2 Tulane 0.210
3 Chicago St. 0.196
4 New Orleans 0.165
5 Utah Valley 0.163
6 TCU 0.151
7 Arkansas Pine Bluff 0.146
8 Arkansas Little Rock 0.142
9 Villanova 0.138
10 Syracuse 0.135
11 Incarnate Word 0.135
12 McNeese St. 0.131
13 North Florida 0.127
14 Florida 0.123
15 UMass Lowell 0.121
16 Arizona 0.121
17 San Jose St. 0.120
18 Loyola MD 0.116
19 Milwaukee 0.115
20 Nicholls St. 0.113
21 Wisconsin 0.110
22 Washington St. 0.110
23 High Point 0.106
24 South Florida 0.102
25 Tennessee Tech 0.102
26 South Dakota 0.101
27 Louisiana Monroe 0.099
28 Chattanooga 0.097
29 Western Kentucky 0.097
30 Miami OH 0.096
31 Missouri St. 0.096
32 Toledo 0.096
33 Kansas 0.096
34 Air Force 0.096
35 Massachusetts 0.093
36 UT Arlington 0.090
37 Lipscomb 0.088
38 UTSA 0.086
39 North Texas 0.084
40 UNC Greensboro 0.082
41 Texas 0.081
42 South Carolina St. 0.081
43 Montana St. 0.080
44 William & Mary 0.077
45 FIU 0.075
46 Grand Canyon 0.072
47 Pacific 0.072
48 UMKC 0.070
49 Eastern Illinois 0.070
50 North Dakota 0.067
51 Oklahoma 0.066
52 Wichita St. 0.064
53 VMI 0.064
54 Yale 0.064
55 Alabama St. 0.062
56 Saint Joseph's 0.061
57 UNC Asheville 0.060
58 Colorado 0.060
59 UNC Wilmington 0.059
60 Iowa St. 0.059
61 NJIT 0.058
62 Northwestern 0.058
63 San Francisco 0.058
64 USC 0.058
65 Savannah St. 0.057
66 IPFW 0.057
67 James Madison 0.056
68 Evansville 0.056
69 DePaul 0.054
70 Jacksonville 0.054
71 Sam Houston St. 0.052
72 Loyola Marymount 0.052
73 UC Davis 0.051
74 Norfolk St. 0.049
75 Alcorn St. 0.049
76 Northern Illinois 0.049
77 Alabama A&M 0.048
78 Mississippi Valley St. 0.048
79 Radford 0.047
80 Oakland 0.047
81 Rice 0.047
82 Sacramento St. 0.046
83 Mississippi St. 0.045
84 Saint Louis 0.045
85 Indiana St. 0.045
86 New Mexico 0.044
87 Fairleigh Dickinson 0.044
88 Robert Morris 0.043
89 IUPUI 0.043
90 Samford 0.043
91 Northern Arizona 0.041
92 Florida A&M 0.040
93 Drake 0.039
94 UCF 0.039
95 Virginia 0.038
96 Coppin St. 0.037
97 San Diego St. 0.036
98 Howard 0.036
99 Wake Forest 0.036
100 Longwood 0.036
101 Creighton 0.036
102 St. Francis PA 0.035
103 North Carolina St. 0.035
104 Delaware 0.033
105 North Dakota St. 0.033
106 Winthrop 0.032
107 Ball St. 0.031
108 Rutgers 0.030
109 Boston University 0.030
110 Western Michigan 0.029
111 Prairie View A&M 0.029
112 Michigan 0.029
113 Campbell 0.029
114 Fordham 0.029
115 Hartford 0.028
116 Vanderbilt 0.028
117 Central Connecticut 0.027
118 East Carolina 0.027
119 Duke 0.027
120 Akron 0.027
121 Belmont 0.026
122 Lehigh 0.024
123 Illinois St. 0.024
124 Washington 0.023
125 North Carolina 0.023
126 Southeastern Louisiana 0.022
127 Nebraska 0.021
128 Pepperdine 0.021
129 Western Carolina 0.020
130 Houston 0.019
131 Navy 0.019
132 Rider 0.018
133 Central Michigan 0.018
134 LIU Brooklyn 0.018
135 Portland St. 0.018
136 Gardner Webb 0.018
137 Houston Baptist 0.017
138 Bryant 0.017
139 Coastal Carolina 0.017
140 Old Dominion 0.017
141 Morehead St. 0.016
142 Saint Peter's 0.015
143 South Dakota St. 0.014
144 Elon 0.013
145 Long Beach St. 0.013
146 South Alabama 0.013
147 Marist 0.012
148 Cornell 0.012
149 Furman 0.011
150 Quinnipiac 0.010
151 Providence 0.009
152 Xavier 0.007
153 Michigan St. 0.007
154 Fresno St. 0.006
155 Green Bay 0.006
156 Western Illinois 0.006
157 Cal St. Northridge 0.005
158 Jacksonville St. 0.003
159 Southern Miss 0.003
160 Siena 0.002
161 Santa Clara 0.002
162 Butler -0.001
163 Memphis -0.001
164 Central Arkansas -0.001
165 Wofford -0.001
166 Mount St. Mary's -0.002
167 Penn -0.002
168 Towson -0.002
169 Detroit -0.002
170 Cal Poly -0.002
171 Oregon St. -0.004
172 Appalachian St. -0.004
173 California -0.004
174 La Salle -0.005
175 UAB -0.007
176 Murray St. -0.008
177 Delaware St. -0.008
178 Baylor -0.008
179 Missouri -0.010
180 Austin Peay -0.010
181 East Tennessee St. -0.010
182 Charlotte -0.010
183 Florida Atlantic -0.011
184 Idaho -0.012
185 Troy -0.012
186 Southeast Missouri St. -0.013
187 George Washington -0.014
188 Maine -0.014
189 Youngstown St. -0.014
190 Boise St. -0.014
191 Eastern Washington -0.014
192 Connecticut -0.016
193 Richmond -0.017
194 Bowling Green -0.017
195 Kansas St. -0.017
196 North Carolina A&T -0.017
197 Arizona St. -0.017
198 St. Francis NY -0.017
199 Minnesota -0.018
200 San Diego -0.018
201 SIU Edwardsville -0.018
202 Cal St. Fullerton -0.019
203 Eastern Michigan -0.019
204 Texas Pan American -0.020
205 Manhattan -0.021
206 Valparaiso -0.021
207 Morgan St. -0.021
208 Boston College -0.022
209 Northern Colorado -0.023
210 Army -0.023
211 UMBC -0.024
212 UC Santa Barbara -0.024
213 Kent St. -0.024
214 Montana -0.024
215 Wagner -0.025
216 UC Riverside -0.025
217 Northwestern St. -0.025
218 Georgia -0.025
219 Bradley -0.026
220 Kennesaw St. -0.026
221 Stanford -0.026
222 Binghamton -0.026
223 Stetson -0.027
224 Monmouth -0.028
225 Nevada -0.029
226 Louisiana Lafayette -0.029
227 Cincinnati -0.030
228 Georgia Southern -0.030
229 Canisius -0.030
230 Georgia Tech -0.032
231 UTEP -0.032
232 Virginia Tech -0.033
233 VCU -0.034
234 Dayton -0.034
235 Illinois Chicago -0.036
236 Gonzaga -0.036
237 Holy Cross -0.037
238 Texas St. -0.037
239 BYU -0.038
240 Oregon -0.038
241 Texas A&M -0.039
242 Texas A&M Corpus Chris -0.039
243 Ohio -0.040
244 Fairfield -0.040
245 Purdue -0.041
246 Iona -0.041
247 Kentucky -0.041
248 Seattle -0.042
249 UCLA -0.042
250 Pittsburgh -0.043
251 Hampton -0.047
252 Eastern Kentucky -0.048
253 Saint Mary's -0.048
254 Middle Tennessee -0.049
255 Tennessee Martin -0.049
256 Illinois -0.050
257 Albany -0.050
258 Florida Gulf Coast -0.051
259 Georgetown -0.052
260 Marquette -0.053
261 Stony Brook -0.054
262 Penn St. -0.055
263 UC Irvine -0.055
264 Hofstra -0.055
265 Texas Southern -0.059
266 Mississippi -0.060
267 Northern Kentucky -0.061
268 Weber St. -0.063
269 Alabama -0.065
270 Jackson St. -0.065
271 Drexel -0.065
272 Princeton -0.065
273 Cleveland St. -0.065
274 Lafayette -0.065
275 The Citadel -0.065
276 Ohio St. -0.066
277 Rhode Island -0.067
278 Dartmouth -0.067
279 LSU -0.068
280 Florida St. -0.068
281 Nebraska Omaha -0.068
282 Arkansas St. -0.069
283 Southern Illinois -0.071
284 SMU -0.072
285 Bucknell -0.074
286 Colorado St. -0.074
287 Duquesne -0.076
288 Utah St. -0.076
289 Hawaii -0.077
290 College of Charleston -0.077
291 Northeastern -0.077
292 USC Upstate -0.078
293 New Hampshire -0.078
294 Wyoming -0.078
295 Southern -0.079
296 Notre Dame -0.079
297 St. John's -0.079
298 Stephen F. Austin -0.079
299 Maryland Eastern Shore -0.080
300 Idaho St. -0.080
301 Southern Utah -0.082
302 Wright St. -0.082
303 Bethune Cookman -0.083
304 Oral Roberts -0.083
305 Presbyterian -0.084
306 George Mason -0.085
307 Temple -0.086
308 Loyola Chicago -0.087
309 South Carolina -0.088
310 Maryland -0.089
311 Davidson -0.091
312 Miami FL -0.091
313 Marshall -0.092
314 Buffalo -0.094
315 Tennessee St. -0.095
316 Columbia -0.096
317 Auburn -0.097
318 Niagara -0.099
319 Harvard -0.100
320 Brown -0.101
321 Northern Iowa -0.102
322 Denver -0.102
323 Texas Tech -0.103
324 Clemson -0.103
325 Grambling St. -0.104
326 Georgia St. -0.105
327 Arkansas -0.109
328 Indiana -0.110
329 Cal St. Bakersfield -0.114
330 Liberty -0.116
331 Lamar -0.117
332 Iowa -0.126
333 Louisville -0.126
334 Utah -0.129
335 West Virginia -0.130
336 Tennessee -0.133
337 Seton Hall -0.134
338 Oklahoma St. -0.135
339 Charleston Southern -0.137
340 UNLV -0.141
341 American -0.142
342 Tulsa -0.142
343 New Mexico St. -0.143
344 St. Bonaventure -0.149
345 Portland -0.149
346 Sacred Heart -0.163
347 Mercer -0.180
348 Louisiana Tech -0.183
349 Colgate -0.196
350 North Carolina Central -0.205
351 Vermont -0.229
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