Ivy League Hoops and Efficiency Margins

By John Ezekowitz

One very effective statistical measure to analyze college basketball is Efficiency Margin. The concept behind EM, like a lot of the best stats, is sublimely simple: track how many points per possession teams score and allow, and see which teams have a positive margin. A team that wins a 70-60 game with 60 possessions is said to have an Efficiency Margin of .1 (1.1 Points per Possession – 1.0 points allowed). The losing team would have a -.1 EM.

The incomparable John Gasaway at Basketball Prospectus has done a great job popularizing the stat, and every Tuesday he tracks the EM’s for the 10 biggest college basketball conferences during conference play. But what of the Ivy League, HSAC’s little corner of the college basketball world? Although much of the drama was taken out of the conference title race by Harvard’s two losses, Princeton has risen up as an unexpected challenger to Cornell’s hegemony. After the jump, I have compiled the Efficiency Margins for the Ancient Eight, with interesting results.

Several things jump out at first glance, the foremost being Cornell’s utter domination of the league. They have the league’s best offense by a wide margin, scoring .14 more points per possession than the 2nd best team, and the league’s second best defense. There is also a clear division between the top three teams and the rest of the league. Harvard, Princeton, and Cornell possess the league’s best three offenses and defenses. The Ivy League title will be determined by the four more games between these teams, the first of which comes this Saturday when the Big Red pays a visit to Princeton.

Looking further down the standings, we can see how EM can reveal more than simple win-loss records can. Brown, who has suffered several close losses in Ivy play, appears to be a more efficient team than Columbia, despite looking up at the Lions in the standings. Because of a scheduling quirk, Penn’s stats are inflated as they have only played one game against the Big Three of the league. Their backloaded schedule could push them down below Brown and even Columbia. And sorry, Dartmouth fans: no redeeming qualities here. Here’s hoping that the coaching search goes well.

As we head closer to March, I will update this chart, which could become even more revealing as EM’s effectiveness as a stat grows as more games are played.

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