We’ve completed just 10 days of 2016-17 college basketball season, but if you look at the standings, a peculiar thing has happened:
The East Division is a combined 10-13 (.434) on the season.
The West Division is a combined 16-12 (.571) on the season.
Of course, the college basketball season can be a bit hard to use as a benchmark: schedules can vary widely, after all, and it’s possible that the East is just playing a tougher schedule — and for the most part, that’s true, as this chart below shows.
The tougher the schedule, the higher (bottom to top) the team’s dot is. The better a team’s win percentage, the higher (left to right) that dot is.
That line in the middle is known as a “trend line,” and it’s basically the expectation for any team based on the current data. So, for example, Murray State and Austin Peay, which sit on the line, are performing “on par” for their overall strength of schedule.
Teams above the trend line are, basically, performing better than expected. Teams below, worse. The farther you are from that line — the more you’re over or underperfoming the “trend.”
Five of the six teams from the East Division are above that trend line — only Tennessee Tech falls below it.
In the West? Even if you count Murray and Austin Peay, who are more-or-less on the line, only three teams are above the trend line, and none as far removed as Belmont or Tennessee State.
This isn’t by any stretch a perfect model, but it does give pause to the relative “strength” of the West this season based on the early record alone. As we play more games, and the difference in team’s SOS likely evens out a bit, I wouldn’t be surprised if the East catches up.
Some notes on early season SOS
- The least shocking thing about that chart is that Belmont has the toughest early season strength of schedule. The Bruins SOS ranks 42nd overall, according to KenPom. After a bout Friday with Rhode Island, (37th in Ken Pom) the Bruins schedule gets a *bit* easier, with no more top-100 teams on their schedule.
- Eastern Illinois having the weakest schedule in the OVC isn’t unsurprising, and it’s not getting a whole lot tougher: not a single opponent on the Panthers schedule currently ranks in the KenPom top 100. Their next five opponents: at home against South Alabama, (196th in KenPom) at home against Bradley, (245th) and on the road against Illinois-Chicago, (261st) Northern Kentucky, (241st) and Western Illinois. (275th)
- TSU’s schedule gets much more difficult after Thanksgiving, with three top-100 teams remaining on the non-conference slate: Vanderbilt, North Carolina State, and Duke.
- Look at SEMO sitting there above the trend line. The Western Illinois (275th in Ken Pom) win isn’t amazing, but road wins are always tough to get. Their schedule is about to get a whole lot tougher: Indiana, (11th) a pair against Missouri State (128th) and Depaul (185th) still loom before conference play begins.
- If there’s a team you’re worried about — it’s Tennessee Tech. The Golden Eagles are 1-3 on the year despite, according to Ken Pom, a quite easy schedule. Shooting has been a struggle: TTU is hitting just 41% from the field, and 27% from three-point range. Luckily, they’ve been quite a strong offensive rebounding team in the early going, keeping them in games despite the struggles from the field.
- This chart does make you think the race in the West Division this year could be quite tough. Every team (save EIU) is quite close to the overall trend line — and EIU is only as far off as they are because of their weak SOS. So far, I’m not sure there is a true early frontrunner in the West.