UCLA Bruins v. Tulsa Golden Hurricane By The Numbers

With the Bruins getting ready to take on Tulsa on Friday night, we revive a traditional March Madness series of posts on BN - looking at some of the stats and rankings underlying the performance of UCLA's next NCAA Tournament opponent.

Over the years, when the Bruins have headed into their NCAA Tournament games (an all too infrequent event in recent years), I have written up a series of posts looking at the numbers underlying the performance of our upcoming opponent, with a focus on the work of Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin as well as their adjusted statistics.

Tulsa enters the tournament with a 20-12 record, having earned an automatic bid and the South region's 13th seed after finishing the regular season in a four-way tie for 1st place in Conference USA, and winning their conference tournament by defeating Tulane, Middle Tennessee State and Lousiana Tech. The Golden Hurricanes are the only C-USA team to make this year's field of 68. Out of conference, Tulsa played 4 games against NCAA Tournament teams with a 1-3 record: Losing to Creighton, Oklahoma and Wichita State, and defeating Texas Southern. The loss to Creighton was a close fought game on the road, while Texas Southern is the worst team to have made the tournament (Pomeroy #240, RPI #238).

UCLA and Tulsa have no common opponents, just the common piece of history from 20 years ago that I am sure TruTV's broadcast crew will have no problem bringing up frequently on Friday night. Now to the numbers...

RPI: UCLA: #14, Tulsa: #73

BPI (ESPN): UCLA: #16, Tulsa: #84

Ken Pomeroy: UCLA: #18, Tulsa: #65

Sagarin: UCLA: #15, Tulsa: #71

Unlike last year's opening - and only - tournament game for the Bruins, there is not much upset talk surrounding UCLA. Looking at the computer rankings, we can get an idea of why. These various metrics all see the Bruins as a proper 4-seed; there is a bit more variance around Tulsa's rating, but even their most favorable result has them as the #65 team in the nation while Sagarin's average ranking gives the Bruins about a 9-point advantage on a neutral court.

A couple of quick notes and reminders on these rankings - they all have differing philosophies the factors that make a team good or bad, and different ways in measuring success in creating a ranking. The RPI is the result of a formula that factors in only the win % of a team's opponents, their opponents and those team's opponents, without factoring in score margin or other measures of team/game performance. Ken Pomeroy's rankings are based upon a more detailed data set which is used in an attempt to predict future performance. Sagarin actually has multiple ratings - the rankings above reflect his synthesized rating, a combination of his two established ratings systems along with a newer metric that he began publishing this season. ESPN's Basketball Rating Index (BPI) is a newer computer ranking system that has gained steam in the past couple of years, with an explanation of the theory and intent behind it published here.

Now, here is a look at the efficiency metrics and pace of play for the Golden Hurricane and Bruins, as calculated by Ken Pomeroy.

Tulsa:

  • Offense: 105.2 points/100 possessions (#162 in D-1)
  • Defense: 96.1 points/100 possessions (#26 in D-1)
  • Pace: 68.5 possessions/40 minutes (#71 in D-1)

UCLA:

  • Offense: 116.6 points/100 possessions (#14 in D-1)
  • Defense: 97.7 points/100 possessions (#50 in D-1)
  • Pace: 70.0 possessions/40 minutes (#32 in D-1)

As much as we might have thought of the Howland era as more of a slow-paced, too deliberate (on offense at least) style of basketball, last year's squad actually played at a high pace, averaging just over 69 possessions/40 minutes. This year's Bruin team has slightly outpaced that squad, with their adjusted average of 70 possessions/regulation game being the 9th highest of all of the teams in this year's NCAA Tournament. Tulsa also likes to play at a fairly high pace, coming in as the 17th fastest playing team in this year's field.

While UCLA has taken advantage of those frequent possessions with a high degree of statistical efficiency, Tulsa has struggled on that mark. That #162 overall ranking on offensive efficiency does not seem that great on its own, and looks even worse when put into some context: their 105.2 points/100 possessions comes in as the 8th least efficient offense of the 68 teams in this year's tourney. Aside from 5th seeded Saint Louis (which has a top-10 defense per Pomeroy to balance), the teams falling below Tulsa in this metric are all 15th or 16th seeded teams whose primary goals are to not get blown out too badly on national television. While they do also have an efficient defense, it is not at such an elite level to properly counter their offensive inefficiency.

The Bruins have experience with teams that like to play at Tulsa's speed: Washington's average pace is the same as Tulsa's, while Oregon comes in at just 0.3 possessions/40min more. In terms of offensive efficiency, Weber St is the closest match from this year's schedule (105.6 points/100 - #155 overall, but with an awful defensive efficiency: #210 in D-1). Looking at defensive efficiency, ASU is the closest match out of this year's Bruin opponents (96.2 points allowed/100 - but with a more efficient offense than Tulsa features). Colorado is likely the closest match in terms of overall efficiency, though the Buffaloes played at a much slower pace than Tulsa.

Using Ken Pomeroy's calculation of 'luck', both UCLA and Tulsa have been slightly unlucky over the course of the season; while the calculation of Variance (inconsistency) in BPI rates the Bruins as one of the more consistent teams in college basketball this season - surprising for any of us who watched that game at Washington State 2 weeks ago - and Tulsa as one of the more inconsistent teams - which makes sense looking at their schedule, where they nearly won at Creighton but lost twice to a bad TCU squad (#212 RPI, #238 Ken Pom).

Using the above efficiency measures, together with the average pace of the two teams' play, the average game score of each team, based upon an equal schedule composed of average Division 1 teams would be:

Tulsa: 72-66

UCLA: 82-68

This looks like a game that the Bruins should win without too much stress - the computers have the UCLA advantage around 8-10 points, which is not as close as most games in Pac-12 play would have rated. But after the Bruin performance in the regular season finale in Pullman, as well as the historical lesson to be learned from that last touney game against Tulsa, if the staff has not properly gotten the team properly focused for the day's opponent, it can still be a quick appearance in the Madness.

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