By William Qualkinbush.
On Saturday, a strange thing happened in the world of college basketball. Michigan, a team with high expectations coming into the season, lost a home game to the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
You know, the same team that has already lost twice to something called UMass Lowell.
But one ridiculous loss wasn’t enough, because the Wolverines wiped out again on Tuesday against lowly Eastern Michigan. The encore marked back-to-back horrific home losses for the Wolverines.
Come March, barring something unforeseen, Michigan will still likely still make the NCAA Tournament in spite of this momentary meltdown. It seems weird given the magnitude of the two losses John Beilein’s team just suffered, but it’s very much the reality of the situation.
That’s the beauty of college basketball. No matter the expectation level, a team can still reach all of its goals with a couple of miserable losses during the early part of the season.
Now, let’s not get it twisted: Michigan isn’t an NCAA Tournament team right now. Frankly, nobody is. It takes time to build those credentials, and time is plentiful in mid-December.
Clemson is facing the exact same uphill battle Michigan is with regards to building a quality postseason resume after a rough start in the nonconference portion of the schedule. The Tigers have had some disappointing defeats, and each time, fans have reacted by pretending that losing to a nondescript team in the first few weeks of play is somehow unique to one program.
Once again, let’s be clear about one thing: When Clemson loses to a pair of Big South teams (Winthrop, Gardner-Webb) or a rebuilding Rutgers squad, it’s not acceptable—particularly when two of those three games were contested at home. Just because it happens to everybody doesn’t mean it has to happen to you.
But it does happen to everybody, and it probably should happen to Clemson as much as (if not more than) most. The response should not be to freak out or call for sweeping changes that might disrupt the long-term vision for the program. Fans must be at least moderately understanding that bad losses happen from time to time.
By the same token, some good wins are bound to happen, as well. We all tend to dwell on the negative, but the positive is arguably more important in building a body of work that catches the nation’s eye at season’s end.
It’s true that Clemson has borne the brunt of several such defeats so far this season. However, even among their peers, the Tigers aren’t alone in having to deal with disappointment in the early going.
So how bad has Clemson’s start been? If we look at the Atlantic Coast Conference, we can see just how Brad Brownell’s team compares to the rest of the league in terms of good wins and bad losses.
I like to use two different metrics to measure so-called “good wins” and “bad losses”. For postseason purposes, any top 50 victory is considered good, while a loss outside the top 100 is considered bad. That’s the measurement we’ll be discussing here.
One way we can measure these kinds of wins and losses is by looking at RPI. It’s more of a snapshot of the moment, a reflection of where a team is right now relative to its peers.
Clemson is currently ranked 199th in the RPI, next-to-last in the ACC. Based on the most updated ratings, the Tigers have two wins against top 50 opponents and two losses against opponents ranked worse than 100. The rest of the league has 11 “good wins” and eight “bad losses”.
Another metric we can use is the composite rating from KenPom.com. This is more in-depth because it shows both how a team is playing and how that level of play projects through the rest of the season. It’s more about how what we see today can impact tomorrow.
Clemson is 114th in the KenPom.com rankings, which is 12th in the 15-team ACC. Right now, the Tigers boast one top 50 win and claim three losses to teams worse than 100th in the KenPom ranking system. The rest of the league has 14 “good wins” and six “bad losses”.
This data tells me a couple of things about Clemson’s rough start. First of all, based on the differences between the two data sets, the long-term effect of Clemson’s losses may be greater than what we feel right now. Secondly, while the results are more positive than negative, there are still plenty of other teams dealing with these same kinds of losses within Clemson’s direct peer group.
By no means is this an exhaustive study. In fact, a better way of analyzing this phenomenon might be to go the favorite-underdog route, but this is a simple way of accomplishing a similar goal.
After seeing the numbers, it’s clear fans have a right to be frustrated about how 2014-15 has begun for the Tiger basketball team. However, with a ton of ball left to be played and other more prestigious programs dealing with the same issue, all hope is not lost—especially given the most recent result, a win over top 50 Arkansas.