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    Florida will probably lose, and it will probably be close

    by Ken Pomeroy on Wednesday, March 20, 2013

    Florida is 0-6 in games decided by single-digits. A big deal is made of this. A big deal is not made of Indiana going an unimpressive 7-5 in such games, or Louisville going 6-5. Louisville’s record even includes a five-overtime game in which they screwed up the end-game situation six separate times, but that hasn’t stopped nearly every expert from picking them. (And for the record, I think it’s a fine pick. Just don’t tell me that you can’t pick Florida because Kenny Boynton is unreliable in crunch time when Russ Smith’s track record is equally poor.)

    Maybe if Florida had played worse in some of their 26 double-digit wins, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Personally, I don’t think that would make sense. Consider the flip side - if Indiana had turned its close wins into double-digit margins, almost surely we’d be hearing about their lack of clutchness. It’s bizarre to me that people would punish a team for its ability to put opponents away. With this in mind, though, I found seven Florida wins against decent competition that had at least a moderate amount of tension at some point in the second half.

    1. 3/16 vs. #61 Alabama (at Nashville) Trailed by 10 with 14 to go. Won by 10.
    2. 3/2 vs. #61 Alabama Trailed by 8 with 12 minutes left. Won by 12.
    3. 2/23 vs. #73 Arkansas Led by 4 at halftime. Won by 17.
    4. 1/23 at #97 Georgia Trailed by 3 at halftime. Led by 14 with 10 to go. Won by 17.
    5. 12/29 vs. #87 Air Force (at Miami) Led by 1 with 17 to go. Won by 17.
    6. 11/23 vs. #138 UCF Led by 7 with 17:30 left. Won by 13.
    7. 11/18 vs. #32 Middle Tennessee (at Tampa) Led by 4 with 16 minutes left. Won by 19.

    If the Gators had just consistently struggled a little more down the stretch in these games, people could say they were 7-6 in close games and totally deserving of their high computer rankings. Or something like that.

    Not surprisingly, Mike DeCourcy has stoked the embers of his semi-permanent battle with “metrics people”. (As if people who try to measure things are somehow a special breed from everyone else.) Mike’s a brilliant writer whose barbs on this subject are not brilliant and usually worth ignoring. But I guess I’m desperate for an entertaining blog post the day before the tourney really starts. Take it away, Mike!

    Actually us “metrics people” can avoid it. Florida reasonably has a 10 to 20 percent of winning the tournament. They will almost surely end their season, like 67 other tournament teams, with a loss. Their chances of getting to the Final Four are less than 50/50. The “metrics” actually tell you this, but either Mike doesn’t understand the concept of probabilities, or he willingly ignores this to stake out a position that will make him look like a savant at some point over the next three weeks. His approach is very likely to win over an audience in the world of the metrics-haters. (Or as I prefer to call them, dorks.)

    In the world of DeCourcy’s ilk, a probabilistic outlook is unacceptable. Thus, there is no room for nuanced, intelligent analysis. Here’s his response to Jason Lisk’s piece over at The Big Lead using history to lay out Florida’s prospects.

    Nobody’s saying anything’s all-important, of course. But hey, nice strawman. Florida probably won’t win the tournament. There, I’ve said it. But, then again, they might! How can anyone possibly make a statement on a team’s future with absolute certainty? If we could, why would we play the tournament? I don’t see how an intelligent analysis wouldn’t include some hedging.

    Regarding the hot-button issue of the Gators’ lack of clutchness, I’d estimate Florida’s chance of ending the season with a close loss is slightly better than 50/50. Over the last five tournaments, the top four seeds ended the tourney with a single-digit loss in 41 of 80 cases. Many of the cases involve a double-digit loss to a dominant team, as in the case of ‘09 North Carolina or ‘12 Kentucky. Since a team like that doesn’t exist this season, I’d expect more top-four seeds to lose close in this year’s tournament. If you want to call your shot and predict Florida’s lack of clutchness will do them in, you have a good chance of looking smart, even if the lack of clutchness might not truly be the reason for their undoing.

    Anyone remember that last ultimate test case for “metrics”? That was Duke in 2010. A team that was high in predictive power rankings, didn’t fare well in close games, and played uninspired on the road. They were the one-seed that nobody picked.

    Like Florida, a reasonable estimate of Duke’s chances of winning it all couldn’t have been any higher than 20 percent. And when the Blue Devils won it, some hailed it as a victory for the numbers, while others declared Duke lucky, the beneficiaries of a good draw and a fortunate call in the Elite Eight. Neither was the correct reaction. The “metrics” had Duke as a really good team, with about a 1-in-5 chance to win a title, and they pulled off the improbable feat, and like most champs they needed some breaks to do so. That’s why no team is an odds-on favorite to win the title. To win six (or seven) tournament games, each team needs to either play better than their average performance during the season or get a few breaks. Often both.

    So if Florida improbably wins it all, they are almost surely going to have benefited from some lucky breaks. When the Gators (probably) lose, it will likely be in a close game. So if DeCourcy is interested in winning his made-up war on “metrics”, he’s staked himself to a really good position to do so. Especially when he doesn’t permit the opposition to talk in probabilistic terms. He’ll probably win this one, and the next one, and the one after that. And even if he loses, he’ll still win, because it will take some good luck for the team* that the “metrics” love to even get to the Final Four.

    *Please note that the “metrics” also love Louisville, Indiana, and to a lesser extent Gonzaga, Duke, and Ohio State. Interestingly, Florida, and only Florida, is the ultimate test this season.