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H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. Predicts: Nebraska and Rutgers

It’s a new year, let’s try something a little new

Wow, the Michigan game was exciting. I mean really fun to watch from start to finish. Lead changes, overtime, energy, excitement. It almost felt like a game in March. I don’t have a lot to say about it other than that. Iowa looked good, but young, which is exactly what they should look like and were able to out-hustle the Wolverines and seemed to want it more. So, since I don’t have a lot of words to write in retrospect, I want to take a minute to let you all look under the hood of H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. a bit more than usual. It’s a new year so I wanted to try something a bit new to fit the mood. This way, you all can give me some suggestions on how to make this whole thing better.

The Model

Without getting too technical, I use what could loosely be called a structural equation model to make these basketball predictions. And just for reference, I plan to port this over next season and try something similar to it for football. Essentially, I view a basketball game as a series of possessions in which there are a fairly finite set of outcomes.

But not every team plays the same style and this can effect the number of possessions. So before I can predict a score, I need to predict the number of possessions. To do this, I look at tendencies. How many three point attempts to they have per game? how often do they turn the ball over and force turnovers? Do they commit a lot of fouls? Do they create second chances from offensive boards or do they keep other teams from doing that? I do this for both Iowa and their opponent and use OLS regression to predict the number of possessions that are likely to occur. Then using this prediction, I use another OLS regression to predict the number of points given the number of possessions (the strongest indicator of a game’s score is, unsurprisingly, the number of times a team has the ball in the first place), taking into account those same tendencies listed above.

Nebraska

Nebraska’s scoring comes from the trio of Tai Webster, Glynn Watson, and Ed Morrow. All three of these guys average double-digit scoring per game and are also the source of a great deal of their rebounding. However, outside of those three, the Huskers are a little bit shallow, depending predominantly on their starters to get the job done. And they have a pretty big liability: turnovers. Tai Webster averages over 3 turnovers per game and just under 4 assists, and as a team they rank 11th in the B1G in this category (28 in just two conference games). However, in those two conference matches, they were able to down Indiana and Maryland. In fact, they have a few marquee wins against quality opponents like Dayton, Indiana and Maryland. This is a difficult team to read.

Clearly Nebraska puts a lot of emphasis on second-chance points, averaging 13 offensive boards per contest. This could be a function of their abysmal field goal percentage (42%, 286th in the nation). In fact, they are just incredibly inefficient all around, with the 280th and 305th ranked two-point and three-point shooting percentages in the nation, respectively. In fact, just looking statistically, the Huskers are terrible. And yet they’re 2-0 in the Big Ten and 8-6 overall with wins over two of the top teams in the conference. Fluke? Real? I’m not sure. But the computer sure seems to think that Nebraska are pretenders. H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. pegs this game as a 70-50 blowout in favor of the Hawkeyes. I can’t say that I disagree. But I’m not sure I agree either. Personally, I’d say this one ends up closer to 80-70, Hawks. But this is a quirky team.

Rutgers

Basketball seems to at least be heading in the right direction for the Scarlet Knights, unlike the crater that is their football team. Or it could just be the fact that they played nothing but patsies in the non-con, dropping their first two B1G games to Penn State and Wisconsin. Seriously, they have wins against Niagara, Hartford, Morgan State, Central Connecticut and Molloy (who?) Their only contests against teams with a heartbeat have been their 4 losses (PSU, Wisconsin, Miami (FL), and Seton Hall). That 11-4 record looks much less impressive when you actually look at that schedule. And while they have been racking up some pretty good offensive numbers, that all goes out the window against quality opposition, where they’ve failed to score more than 61. They held Penn State to 60 and still lost by 13.

And it looks like the model sees this, too. The only advantage that the Scarlet Knights really have is that they are big and will make Iowa pay for missed shots. Don’t expect Iowa to pull down too many offensive boards and don’t be surprised when they give up a few themselves. It is the place where Rutgers shines, if you can call it that. As long as Iowa’s shot is falling anywhere north of 43%, this should be an easy win for the Hawks. H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. pegs this game as a low scoring battle, with Iowa winning 63-45. I just can’t see the game being that low of a score, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Expect to see Iowa hitting the three early and often in this one. If they don’t, then this could be a rough outing for the good guys.