December 5, 2021

Who will win Canada’s Olympic Curling Trials? A basketball stats guru might have the answer

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In the ever-expanding world of sports analysis, Ken Pomeroy is one of the most revered pioneers. Back in late 2003 / early 2004 (a few months later Silver ball was published), Ken devised a statistical model for evaluating American college basketball teams – a sport he enjoyed watching in his spare time after working as a meteorologist. These notes, published on the site, often differed from ideas received on certain teams. Hardcore hoop fans and gamers alike devoured this new information. Then the media and even some coaches caught on, seeing Ken’s numbers as a way to better understand what was really going on on the court. Today, it’s safe to say that anyone who follows the sport – or even makes a little effort in his March Madness category – has been enlightened by Ken’s work in one way or another. You could call him the Bill James of college basketball.

And it turns out Ken is very fond of curling, too. He started playing a few years ago at his home in Salt Lake City and wanted to find a way to improve. But there aren’t many curling experts in Utah (“It’s a bunch of people who got into this sport later in life,” he says), so he started watching matches on TV and online to try and glean best practices from the best players in the world. . It made him wonder, just like he did with college basketball all those years ago, what might be behind the final scores. Which teams were really the best?

So Ken did what Ken does: create a statistical model that evaluates the best teams in the world and predicts who will win when they face each other. This one is simpler than its college basketball system, which takes into account a myriad of factors such as scoring differential, timing strength, pace of play, and even luck. “Essentially, [the curling model] just look at the wins and losses. It doesn’t take into account how a game was won, ”says Ken. “And, of course, that takes into account the quality of your opponent, so you get more credit for beating good teams. “

Notes are available to everyone on the website. There, Ken draws up a table of the top 100 men’s and women’s teams in the world, writes occasional analyzes and calculates the odds of winning for each team at major events.

One of those big events – perhaps the most important in terms of prestige and quality of competition – is the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials, which will kick off Saturday in Saskatoon and decide who will represent Canada in the men’s and women’s events at Beijing in February. I talked to Ken about what his model predicts for testing, and here are the most interesting takeaways mixed in with a few ideas from him:

Tracy Fleury is the little favorite to win the women’s tournament.

It is somewhat unexpected. Yes, the Manitoba-based Fleury Rink holds a huge lead in the official Curling Canada rankings, and is on a roll this season, winning one of two Grand Slam tournaments held so far and reaching the top. final on the other. But most fans would probably expect Kerri Einarson and Rachel Homan to end up playing for the Olympic spot after they met in the Scotties’ last two finals (Einarson won them both). Ken’s model is also pretty high for them – they’re basically tied for second in odds of winning the title at around 23% each. But Fleury, who has never reached a Scotties final, has the advantage: her team are 30.4 percent to win the trials.

Ken describes the Fleury rink as “the undisputed best team in the country this season”. They are 30-5, including a sparkling 9-3 against top 10-ranked opponents. This compares quite favorably to both Einarson (a superb 0-9 against top 10 teams) and Homan. (3-3). These two have been their usual dominant selves against less competition, but there won’t be many easy notes in the trials.

A possible red flag for Fleury is that she started with the hammer in an unusually high 28 of her 35 games, which could mean her odds are a bit inflated. “It’s pretty unbearable to win the hammer 80 percent of the time,” says Ken. “So that might bring her back down to earth a bit when we get into testing. “

The women’s event looks like a three-team race – with perhaps a dark horse.

After Homan and Einarson, there is a pretty big drop for jump number 4 in the odds of winning: Jennifer Jones, who has a 9.5% chance of winning the title. The 2014 Olympic gold medalist and six-time Scotties champion is, at 47, on the downward slope of her career. But she showed she is still dangerous by reaching the Slam season opener final, which she lost to Fleury. “There are still signs that she can get sexy and play for some really good teams,” says Ken.

None of the other five skips in the field has a more than 3.4% chance of winning the title. In this level are Laura Walker, Krista McCarville, Casey Scheidegger, Kelsey Rocque and Jacqueline Harrison. If you’re looking for a shot from afar, Ken points the finger at McCarville and Scheidegger as these are top 10 talents who haven’t played as much in the past two years, which has cost them dearly in the odds.

Brad Gushue is the favorite to win his first trip to the Olympics since winning gold in 2006. (Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press)

Brad Gushue is clearly the favorite to win the men’s tournament, but there are more potential spoilers than among the women.

No big surprise here. The 2006 Olympic gold medalist and three-time Brier champion dominates the official Canadian men’s rankings and appears to be peaking at the right time. His St. John’s-based team won the last Slam before practice. Ken’s model gives Gushue a 37.1% chance of returning to the Olympics. “He just doesn’t have bad games,” says Ken. “He hasn’t lost to a team outside the top 10 on Canadian soil since November 2019.”

Ken calls the Gushue arena “clearly the best team in Canada”, and Brad Jacobs the undisputed number 2. The latter has a 21 percent chance of winning the trials. “It would be pretty amazing if one of these two didn’t win it. That said, you add up their odds and it’s only a 58% chance. So there’s definitely room for the next level.”

This group has big names. Kevin Koe, the 2017 test winner and four-time Brier champion, has a 13.1 percent shot. Brendan Bottcher, who has qualified for four straight Brier finals and ultimately won one last season, is at 11.7. Matt Dunstone (8.0) and Mike McEwen (5.5) are also threats. The rest of the field – John Epping, Jason Gunnlaugson and Tanner Horgan – are all at 1.3% or less. While it would be a surprise if someone at the Koe / Bottcher / Dunstone / McEwen level wins the trials, Ken says they are “all capable of looking like the best team in Canada in any given week.”

Ken’s choices:

He sticks to his role model in the men’s event and takes Gushue to his first Olympic place in 16 years. On the women’s side, he goes a bit against the system and chooses Homan to win his second consecutive trip to the Games.

You can read Ken’s analysis of the Canadian trials here. He will also appear in the season premiere of This curling show for a preview of the trials with hosts Devin Heroux and Colleen Jones. Watch it on CBC Sports’ YouTube channel Friday at 7 p.m. ET.

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