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Deficiency of consistency

Here's one reason why Florida may struggle to repeat

Posted: Wednesday March 7, 2007 1:18PM; Updated: Friday March 9, 2007 3:42PM
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Vegas Fluctuations
Consistency can be measured in more than one way. While Ken Pomeroy's version is based on a team's standard deviation from its own efficiency margin -- basically, the consistency of team's efficiency -- we can also track how consistently a team lived up to the expectations of Las Vegas. Reader Jacob Wheatley-Schaller of Brooklyn, N.Y., used a season's worth of data from sportsbetting.com to track point-spread-based consistency of major-conference teams, calculating the standard deviation from their average against the spread. Here are the 10 most inconsistent teams, according to Wheatley-Schaller's data:
Locks Who Are Most Inconsistent vs. The Spread
Team Avg. Vs. Spread Standard Deviation From Avg.
Air Force +2.7 16.41
Virginia Tech -1.12 13.80
Stanford +1.8 12.84
Florida -0.23 12.80
Kansas +3.45 12.66
North Carolina +2.2 12.35
Vanderbilt +0.21 12.21
Marquette +2.26 12.00
Maryland +2.64 11.75
Texas Tech -0.35 11.74
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The tone of the headlines following Florida's 85-72 win over Kentucky on Sunday was uniformly sanguine: "Gators Reclaim Mojo," proclaimed the Tampa Tribune; "Revived Noah, Gators enter March with a rout," said the Palm Beach Post; and "Gators dunk the doubts," stated the Florida Times-Union. Such optimism was an abrupt, 180-degree turn from the doom-and-gloom descriptions that had accompanied UF's three-loss slump, which ended with the walkover of the Wildcats. Should the defending champs maintain their mojo and win the SEC tournament this week in Atlanta, I suspect the Gator repeat bandwagon will be completely rebooked in time for NCAA tournament pools to begin.

It would be easier for me to hop on that bandwagon if I could stop dwelling on the concept of consistency -- or rather, Florida's glaring lack of it. Consistency -- not the vague noun TV announcers liberally throw around, but the actual, kenpom.com statistic that measures the standard deviation of a team's efficiency margin from game to game -- happens to be the only department in which last year's Gators and this year's Gators are markedly different. Everything else is the same, and everything else suggests Florida can and should win another title: Same coach, same starting five, same late-season malaise (UF lost three times in February 2006 before getting its act together); plus nearly identical regular-season records (24-6 in 2005-06, to 26-5 in '06-07), as well as ratings in adjusted offensive efficiency (1.194 points per possession in '05-06, to 1.215 in '06-07), and defensive efficiency (0.872 in '05-06, to 0.875 this year). But whereas the title-winning Gators ranked in the middle of the pack in consistency (174th out of 336 Division I teams), the encore Gators rank 328th, which will make them the second-most inconsistent team (behind Air Force) in the entire tournament field.

So if you pick Florida to win it all, you'll be saying that the ninth-most inconsistent team in all of Division I can win six NCAA tournament games in a row over the course of three weeks. Do you feel comfortable making that kind of prediction?

Perhaps you do. Or perhaps you're wondering why a team's consistency rating -- or anything involving the words "standard deviation" -- matters in your NCAA tournament bracket. Here's the reason: Consistency was something stat guru Ken Pomeroy recently added to his arsenal on kenpom.com as a way to solve the mystery of why certain teams that fit the efficiency profile of title contenders (i.e., ranking in the top 10 in offense and defense, and sitting pretty in his Pythagorean winning percentage formula) managed to look so conspicuously beatable every few games.

Last year's Texas squad was the prime example; the 'Horns ranked fourth in offensive efficiency, and 10th defensively, yet frequently appeared vulnerable. When Pomeroy ran the numbers, it turned out that while UT's efficiency margin was phenomenal (30.1), the fluctuation of that margin from game-to-game was so vast (a standard deviation of 29.3) that the Longhorns ranked 333rd in consistency -- which meant they were the second-most inconsistent team in Division I.

I don't think it was coincidence that Texas, despite being loaded with NBA talent and a gaudy efficiency resume, failed to make the Final Four. It's also eerie how close Florida's profile this year (fifth in offense, 15th in defense, efficiency margin of 34.0, standard deviation of 27.2, consistency ranking of 328) matches up with the Longhorns' from last year. There are obvious, non-statistical ways in which the two teams differ -- like, the fact that Florida has a stable point-guard situation, and never suffered a demoralizing blowout loss like Texas did to Duke in December '05 -- but there's no disputing they both were/are capable of looking unbeatable or very beatable on any given day. Such a reality, as Gators forward Corey Brewer said after a Feb. 24 loss at LSU, means "living dangerously" on the road to a repeat.

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