Saturday, July 17, 2021

First Half Point Differential: The 2020 Group of 5

Last year around these parts, I introduced a very complicated advanced stat: First Half Point Differential (1HPD). It is a difficult concept to explain concisely, but I'll give it a shot. It is the number of points by which a team outscores its opponent in the first half of a game. The theory behind using it being that consistently relying on second half comebacks is not a good long term strategy and can potentially help us identify regression candidates. Similarly, teams that rack up solid first half differentials, but ultimately wind up losing more game than we might expect actually have the bones of a solid team and might be a good candidate to bounce back the next season. In our YPP and APR offseason recaps, we go through each conference individually, but since the season will (hopefully) be here in about six weeks, we'll tackle the Group of Five this week and in two weeks examine the Power Five. 

American Athletic Conference
The 2020 AAC standings. 
1HPD in AAC play (title game excluded with numbers on a per game basis). 
I expected Cincinnati to come out on top here, but UCF actually led by double digits in seven of their eight conference games. If you just looked at these numbers, you would have expected East Carolina and Tulane to have much better seasons as they outscored their opponents in the first half while Houston, Memphis, and SMU all finished with at least a .500 conference record despite being outscored in the first half of their conference games. 

Conference USA
The 2020 Conference USA standings. 
1HPD in CUSA play (previous disclaimers apply).
Teams in CUSA played a wildly disparate number of games (as many as seven and as few as three) so I would not put a whole lot of stock in these numbers. 

The 2020 MAC standings.
1HPD in MAC play (ditto). 
The top team (Buffalo) and bottom team (Bowling Green) really stood out in 2020. Buffalo led at halftime in each of their five regular season conference games by at least a touchdown and on average by more than two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Bowling Green trailed by at least two touchdowns at halftime in all five of their MAC contests. 

Mountain West
The 2020 Mountain West standings.
1HPD in Mountain West play (ditto).
The bottom of the MAC was bad in 2020 and the bottom of the Mountain West was equally horrific. Three teams (Colorado State, Utah State, and UNLV) trailed by more than ten points on average at halftime of their conference games with Utah State and UNLV never holding halftime leads. 

Sun Belt
The 2020 Sun Belt standings.
1HPD in Sun Belt play (ditto).
Nearly every team in the East division had a positive differential at halftime, with Georgia State the lone holdout (Panthers were outscored by a grand total of one point in the first half). 

In the YPP and APR offseason recaps, I sort the teams in each conference by how much they over or under-performed relative to their expected record. Since all the Group of Five conferences are grouped together here, I am only going to list those that significantly over or under-performed (a difference of at least .200). We'll start with the overachievers.
In the AAC, Memphis trailed in six of their eight conference games at the half! That they ended up winning five games was a minor miracle. Meanwhile, Tulsa trailed by double digits in half of their six regular season conference games, but managed to come back and win each one. Take UAB's Conference USA numbers with a grain of salt. They played only four conference games and had a slightly positive margin in them. However, UTSA is a different story. The Roadrunners nearly played a full league schedule (seven games), and were outscored in the first half despite winning five times. Ball State made a surprise run to the MAC Championship Game with a decent 1HPD, but were tied or trailing at halftime in half of their conference schedule. San Jose State also made a surprise run to their conference title game despite middling 1HPD numbers. 

And now the underachievers. 
I briefly touched on East Caroline and Tulane finishing with losing records despite outscoring their conference opponents in the first half, but I'll add that Tulane only trailed at the half once in their eight conference games. I also touched on UCF dominating their opponents in the first half. Against both Memphis and Tulsa they blew huge leads in games they easily could have won. The two Conference USA teams on this list finished winless in short seasons and probably should have broken through for at least one or two wins based on their numbers. Eastern Michigan won just a third of their MAC games despite holding halftime leads four times. Meanwhile, Northern Illinois went winless in MAC play, and while the Huskies never held a halftime lead, they were tied twice. Finally, Troy finished with a losing Sun Belt record despite holding halftime leads in five of their seven conference games, with three of those leads being double digits. 

Will these over and underachievers regress or progress to the mean in 2021 or were these numbers products of a truly unusual season with little to no predictive value going forward? Hopefully, we'll get some answers starting in late August. As always, thanks for reading and we'll be back in two weeks with the Power Five numbers. 

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