With only hours before the scheduled first tip of the 2020-21 Division I college basketball season, it’s time to finally make a call that I never wanted to make:
The Dieckhoff Power Index is shutting it down for the season.
(No, this is not a joke — though I get why you might think that. This is sadly true.)
The Short Version
For the madding crowd chasing story to story during these days of endless breaking news updates, here’s a quick rundown of what’s coming for the DPI in 2020-21:
- Due to uncertainty regarding the reliability of the data from an uneven national schedule, there will be no DPI grades/rankings for the 2020-21 season. (There are plenty of other outlets that are pressing on with full 1-357 rankings, and I’m happy to recommend a few I personally favor.)
- In place of the rankings table, The DPI Gradebook will provide in-depth analystics coverage highlighting different patterns and points of interest from game data of whatever contests are played. The spirit of the DPI will persevere; I will still endeavor to “translate” statistics and performances in a way that is readily accessible and quickly digestible.
- I will also provide analytics coverage, do Q&As, and take suggestions for research topics via Twitter at @TheDPIGradebook. I’m excited to see what research topics are bouncing around in your brain that may have never crossed my mind! Add the account today and join the discussion!
For those of you who are still unsatisfied and feel you deserve a more complete explanation, allow me to humor your sense of entitlement with a more detailed account of what’s going on here.
The Long Version
The uncertainty facing the upcoming season has been documented ad infinitum by just about every college basketball media member, coach, player, administrator, fan, and really just about any sentient being with an internet connection and a Twitter account. (OK, and maybe some without sentience.) The amount of ink wasted on games that will never happen is staggering. While schedule changes – that is, cancellations – have simply become part and parcel with the run-up to the season, one aspect of the game that is still wildly out of focus is how the NCAA Tournament will go forward.
It may seem like positioning the cart squarely in front of the horse to think ahead to March when November is still such a mess, but it is simply bad practice to have schools start the season without clear expectations as to how they will be judged by the Selection Committee. (If schools do have the information, the general public sure doesn’t.) In my past life as a teacher, it was crucial that I provided my students with a grading rubric along with any assignment where I would be grading subjectively. This is the same idea; teams need to be able to see the goalposts, and they can’t keep being moved throughout the season.
At this point, though, the goalposts haven’t even been built.
While the NCAA hasn’t yet made definitive plans for its marquee postseason event, per Jeff Goodman of Stadium, they have already made clear that they are prepared to walk back their initial threshold for how many games a school must play in order to be eligible for the postseason (note: it was originally 13 games). As that number falls lower and lower, which would likely happen in direct opposition to the rising number of games being canceled nationwide, the reliability of relationships in the data will inevitably suffer.
It is for that reason more than any other that the DPI is not proceeding this season.
But some are still pressing on.
For me, there are just too many question marks regarding whether there will be a sufficient number of games played to draw suitable conclusions from game data. One solution to that lack of games that I considered was to include preseason projections, using prior-season data to create a baseline set of numbers from which to predict the future. That is the approach that others have taken, including Erik Haslam.
“When you have a ratings system that relies on transitive performance comparisons as mine does,” Haslam said, referring to his Haslametrics analytics system, “you really need a sufficient sample size in order to arrive at the right numbers. In the case of this upcoming season, that’s going to be hard to come by.” Haslam noted the Patriot League and other schools that have chosen to skip the non-conference season as the chief culprits in the data drain.
The DPI also runs on those same comparisons between a team’s opponents and their opponents’ opponents – and only those comparisons – so the issues surround small sample sizes apply squarely to my system, too. While the DPI has decided to take a breather – we’ll get back to that in a moment – Haslam is proceeding to make changes to account for the wild season ahead and the lack of comparative data.
“I needed to adapt and crunch some numbers to deliver preseason baseline ratings for the first time ever,” said Haslam. “These baseline ratings give the system an anchoring point of sorts so that certain teams don’t wander too far from their baseline unless a sufficient sample is achieved.”
But while Haslam is making the (temporary) change, he noted he didn’t feel he had much choice.
“I’m not usually much for preseason ratings, but these are more ratings of necessity than anything else, especially considering the uncertain circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.”
I certainly respect and applaud Erik’s efforts to adapt his system for the upcoming season – and I strongly encourage you to stop reading, go bookmark his site, and then come back here – but it is simply not a change that I feel comfortable making, especially as the DPI launches in its new home for a new audience. I don’t want to create any misconceptions about what the DPI is supposed to be measuring, and I certainly don’t want to find myself in a situation where I am relying preseason projections that I don’t believe in fully.
But fear not, dear reader: We know you’re jonesing for analytics coverage.
We still have you covered.
This season, rather than providing a 1-357 rankings of Division I basketball via The DPI Gradebook, we will be using this space to take a deeper dive into various patterns and performances that catch our collective analytical eye. The full rankings and grades will be back in their regular form next season, assuming all returns to normal. For now though, in keeping with the central ethos of the DPI, our coverage will still attempt to present statistical data in an accessible, digestible fashion to help you quickly make the most of our analyses.
Without the requisite “transitive comparison data”, we are going to be fluid with regard to how the stats are presented and adjusted, but we will be as transparent as possible in the process. As with the DPI-proper, my own personal coverage will not be predictive in nature, at least not unless specifically noted. (Perhaps I am just not ready to join Erik in his jump to the realm of the clairvoyant. More pointedly, this is about staying in my wheelhouse and working how I know best.)
It is, of course, a humbling personal moment to admit that I’ve been bested by the chaos of life under the thumb of a global pandemic. Still, I am extremely excited to bring you The DPI Gradebook in its full, intended form whenever we finally get back to normalcy, and I am equally excited to bring a unique twist on analytics coverage to add to the spectacular work being done at Heat Check CBB.
To that end: Add @TheDPIGradebook on Twitter and come join the discussion as we make sense of the magical, mathematical mysteries of college basketball! I will be providing analytics coverage, doing Q&As, and taking suggestions for further research at that account, so follow now and be on the lookout for content as soon as there’s data to dissect and discuss!
Andy Dieckhoff is the creator and operator of The DPI Gradebook presented by Heat Check CBB. In addition to providing analytics coverage for Heat Check, Andy is a USBWA writer covering college basketball for Mountain West Wire of the USA TODAY Sports Media Group and is the co-host of the Mountain West Wire Basketball Podcast. He also provides freelance proofreading and editing services to independent sportswriters. Andy currently lives in Portland, Oregon.