Bottoms Line: Analyzing Indiana’s Negative Efficiency Margin in Big Ten Play (Beware the Dangers of Math…)

Call me a nerd, but I’m a big proponent of tempo-free stats as a way to evaluate basketball teams.  And furthermore, I agree that they become even more meaningful during conference play, because even though very few leagues play a balanced schedule, it still standardizes the level of competition and makes comparisons more legitimate.

However, I would caution anyone against looking at such stats after just a couple games, because with such a small sample size, the numbers are ultimately dependent on who teams have played.

And if you read too much into them, you can draw some erroneous conclusions.

Case in point, Jerod forwarded me some early Big Ten numbers that he had received, which basically compared the efficiency margin of each team.  As it turns out, IU’s margin is actually negative, meaning they are giving up more points than they are scoring on a per possession basis.  Here’s the full picture through Wednesday night’s games:

Games Off. Points
per Poss.
Def. Points
per Poss.
Ohio St. 3 1.11 0.82 0.29
Michigan 2 1.11 0.92 0.19
Michigan St. 3 1.09 0.93 0.16
Purdue 2 1.13 1.00 0.13
Wisconsin 3 1.03 0.96 0.07
Iowa 3 1.07 1.04 0.03
Illinois 3 0.95 0.98 -0.03
Indiana 2 1.01 1.09 -0.08
Minnesota 3 0.95 1.03 -0.08
Northwestern 3 0.94 1.06 -0.12
Penn St. 2 0.90 1.15 -0.25
Nebraska 3 0.76 1.14 -0.38


A few noteworthy points about the Hoosiers:

  • They have played two of the league’s top three teams (Michigan State and Ohio State) in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency on  The Hoosiers, themselves, are the top-rated team in the league.
  • The 1.21 points per possession allowed against Michigan State was by far their highest total of the season.  The previous high was 1.04 ppp against Kentucky, which makes the MSU game look like a bit of an anomaly in that regard.
  • They held the Buckeyes to an even 1.00 ppp, which was OSU’s second lowest output of the season.
  • The Spartans and Buckeyes are also two of the league’s top three teams in adjusted defensive efficiency as well.  The Hoosiers scored 0.98 ppp against MSU, which is virtually the same number put up by North Carolina and Duke.  IU is also one of just four teams to score over 0.97 ppp against OSU with 1.06.

So come back in off the ledge IU fans, I really don’t see a reason for concern here.  Had they played even one of their games against a mid-tier team in the conference, these numbers would likely look drastically different.

Here’s a few other quick observations about the teams at the top of the list:

  • Ohio State held Northwestern to 0.79 ppp and Nebraska to 0.61 ppp, which coupled with their stellar 1.28 ppp against the Wildcats led to their sizable overall margin.  Northwestern is unbelievably poor in terms of defensive efficiency…or defense in general.
  • The bulk of Michigan’s margin came against Penn State, where they scored 1.18 ppp and held the Nittany Lions to just 0.88 ppp.  They also benefitted from playing a Mbakwe-less Minnesota team that has struggled in conference play so far.  Overall, Michigan’s defensive efficiency hasn’t been great this year, ranking 90th in Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency ratings.
  • The Spartans have allowed just two opponents to score more than 0.99 ppp this year and have held all three of their conference foes below that mark.  Their defense is 100% legit.  On offense, Sparty was held to 0.97 ppp against Wisconsin and was right on their average with 1.11 ppp against Nebraska.
  • Purdue has been consistently solid in terms of their offensive efficiency.  On defense, they allowed Iowa to put up 1.09 ppp but held Illinois to 0.91 ppp in their other game.  The Illini offense ranks outside of the Top 100 in adjusted efficiency, so that isn’t particularly shocking.  The Boilers should improve on their margin thanks to a game against Penn State tonight.

As I mentioned above, these stats can be very telling but only once you have a large enough sample size.  For now, they make for good conversation, but beware of drawing firm conclusions at this point.


Follow me on Twitter (@andybottoms) for more thoughts on college hoops, and check out the latest edition of the Bottoms Line podcast.

About Andy Bottoms

While Andy was born and raised in Indiana, he would like to point out that he grew up shooting hoops in his driveway and not against the side of a barn like you see in all the March Madness promos or in the middle of a field like Jimmy Chitwood. Andy ranks among the top bracketologists according to the Bracket Matrix and has provided his projections to Fox Sports for the past three seasons. When not compiling excuses for missing work during the NCAA Tournament, Andy enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters. He is a proud IU graduate and co-hosts The Assembly Call postgame show following every IU game. Twitter: @AndyBottoms


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