My name is Clay Kallam and along with doing the MaxPreps’ national rankings for girls’ basketball, I started coaching high school basketball several decades ago. I’ve been an assistant coach on three California championship teams, the head coach of some pretty good teams and the head coach of some pretty bad ones — so I understand what the game looks like from several different levels.
My colleague Bob Corwin told me that Florida is going to begin to use the MaxPreps’ computer rating system to help determine its postseason brackets, and since we’ve been using it in California for more than 10 years — we are required to record our scores, and the MaxPreps’ rosters are used for postseason programs — I’ve had a lot of experience with it.
The rankings can be found by going to a team page, and hitting the “Rankings” tab on the left. After a new screen appears, it’s necessary to hit “Expand list” at the lower left of the rankings to access the rankings. They are generated by a proprietary computer algorithm that takes into accounts wins and losses, strength of schedule, margin of victory, home/away results and conceivably other metrics — though the weights given to each category are unknown.
Generally, though, you can get an idea of how the ranking for a team is created by looking at the won-lost record and the strength of schedule, and combining them. Beating a bunch of bad teams by 40 will not result in a great ranking; losing to a lot of really good teams will not result in a great ranking either. One note: Head-to-head results don’t appear to count for much. Beating a team head-to-head helps only in terms how good that team’s rating is.
The best way to get a good ranking, then, is to play good teams and beat them.
California coaches have been working on gaming the system for years, with little luck. What it comes down to is this: By season’s end, the better the team, the better the ranking.
From that perspective, the system works very well, but it does not take into account injuries, late-season results, etc. Every game counts the same, and if your team loses its point guard in January, the system will not adjust. All that matters, really, are the scores of the games.
And when every team in the state enters all its scores, the system gets more and more accurate as the season goes along — and since more and more teams across the country are entering their games, there is no penalty (or reward) for playing out-of-state teams. If they’re good, and you beat them, your ranking will go up; if they’re bad, and you lose, your ranking will go down.
There is one quirk, however: The computer loves California and Texas teams, and consistently rates them more highly than it appears they deserve, so if you play teams from those states, it could help a little more than playing a team from Wisconsin, say.
Here’s another thing to think about: When a very strong team plays a very weak team and wins, even by 60, the strong team’s ranking will likely go down. There is no benefit to scheduling blowouts, as the computer is not fooled. In California, a Northern California team that was considered sixth best in that part of the state was stuck in a very, very weak league. After a strong preseason, it went into league play and promptly won every game by 40 or more — and its rating went down.
Bob Corwin knows Florida much better than I do, and he has some local examples that might make it more clear.
In Florida 8A, the final MaxPreps computer rankings had St. Thomas Aquinas #1 while Tampa Bay Tech finished #2. This occurred in spite of Tampa Bay Tech beating St. Thomas Aquinas in the 8A State final and having a much better overall record (29-3 vs. 23-7). The key here was a strength of schedule of 21.2 for St. Thomas Aquinas vs. one of just 10.5 for Tampa Bay Tech.
Several factors worked in favor of St. Thomas Aquinas. The team went to an event in Maryland, playing but losing to three strong teams (from GA, MD and PA), winning a strong section at a national event after Christmas in Florida, and finally playing in a stronger area (Broward County) versus weaker Hillsborough County for Tech. Tampa Bay Tech played in a weaker Christmas tournament and was locked into slaughtering many locals from around Tampa. Notice the words “strong” and “stronger” kept showing up for St. Thomas Aquinas.
Bottom line: There’s no way to “figure it out” — you just have to play the best teams you think you can beat (wherever they’re from) and then beat them. And you have to avoid losing to weak teams. The two things, however, the system will not do are a) take injuries into account and b) give bonuses for head-to-head wins.
If you have any further questions, feel free to email me at [email protected] or contact any long-time California coach.
Good luck …