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Gift Exchange: Pre-Christmas Advanced Statistics Check-In

Sagarin, KenPom, and BPI open up their presents, then swap them

Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images

It’s the week before Christmas. That can only mean one thing: it’s time for the annual office Christmas party. These parties usually include two highlights: free beer, and a gift exchange with Byzantine rules that only Gladys in accounting understands.

Well, I’m the Gladys in accounting of BT Powerhouse, so let’s set up a Computer Ranking Gift Exchange. I’d offer you some free beer, but that’s hard to do over the internet.

-The Rules

Here’s how the gift exchange works: There are three major computer metrics (Sagarin, KenPom, and BPI) and 14 Big Ten teams. We’ve wrapped up each of the fourteen teams and put them under the tree, along with a fruitcake. The fruitcake brings us up to fifteen gifts, meaning each person (i.e. computer ranking) will get to take home five of them.

(I thought about including UCONN as the fifteenth gift, but I didn’t want to give Commissioner Delaney any ideas.)

Each person knows what the fifteen gifts are and has ranked them in order of preference. Santa Claus has access to each of the three rankings. For the most part, he’ll let people swap their gifts at will, but at the end of the day the most important duty that Santa has is to the gifts that he has lovingly built through countless hours on the recruiting trail. His job is to make sure each gift goes to the person who likes that one the most. So sometimes Santa will intervene and make people switch.

Round One

Sagarin opens the fruitcake. Wow, that’s not the one you want to open with. Good luck getting rid of that, Sagarin. Maybe someone will trade you for a modern user interface. God knows you need it.

KenPom opens Illinois.

BPI opens Indiana. The gift is dinged up and smells vaguely of whiskey and Lucky Charms, like Indiana was just in a fight with a leprechaun.

No swaps happen.

Gifts at End of Round One:

  • Sagarin: Fruitcake
  • KenPom: Illinois
  • BPI: Indiana

Round Two

Sagarin opens Iowa. Some parts are missing, but a note says they are on back order and will be there soon.

KenPom opens Maryland. Lol.

BPI opens Michigan.

BPI has Iowa at No. 9 on his list, so he swaps his Indiana (No. 11) to Sagarin. Sagarin has Indiana 11th and Iowa 13th.

Gifts at End of Round Two:

  • Sagarin: Fruitcake, Indiana
  • KenPom: Illinois, Maryland
  • BPI: Iowa, Michigan

Round Three

Sagarin opens Michigan State. Yes! That will make up for the fruitcake.

KenPom opens Minnesota.

BPI opens Nebraska. BPI taunts KenPom that his gift beat up KenPom’s gift. KenPom asks BPI if that means he wants to switch. BPI gets quiet and says no. He has Minnesota at No. 5 and Nebraska at No. 13.

Santa doesn’t like Minnesota getting made fun of, so he forces KenPom to give the Gophers to Sagarin, who have them at No. 3. KenPom gets Indiana in exchange.

KenPom is unhappy and tries to get Santa to make someone else take Maryland, but Santa shocks KenPom by saying that no one has Maryland ranked higher than they do at No. 4.

Gifts at End of Round Three:

  • Sagarin: Fruitcake, Michigan State, Minnesota
  • KenPom: Illinois, Maryland, Indiana
  • BPI: Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska

Round Four

Sagarin opens Northwestern.

KenPom opens Ohio State.

BPI opens Penn State. The box it comes in is huge, but the Nittany Lions only fill up about 40% of its capacity.

Sagarin and KenPom immediately swap Ohio State and Northwestern. Sagarin has the Buckeyes 6th and the Wildcats 10th, whereas KenPom has the Wildcats 7th and the Buckeyes 8th.

Now some of you may not know that BPI, as the newest employee at the office Christmas party, sometimes resents his status as the new kid. He has that nouveau riche money (his daddy is ESPN after all), but he wants that old school status. Nebraska and Penn State don’t have the cache that a classic in-state rivalry does. He looks at KenPom’s pile of gifts and proposes a deal.

BPI gives Penn State and Nebraska to KenPom for Northwestern and Illinois. BPI has Northwestern at No. 6—ahead of No. 7 Penn State—and Illinois at No. 13—ahead of No. 14 Nebraska. KenPom has Penn State 5th, Northwestern 7th, Nebraska 12th and Illinois 14th. They complete the four-team trade.

Santa smiles. He loves it when teams go where they are appreciated.

Gifts at End of Round Four:

  • Sagarin: Fruitcake, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State
  • KenPom: Maryland, Indiana, Penn State, Nebraska
  • BPI: Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, Illinois

Round Five

Sagarin opens Purdue. Yes! With Purdue and Michigan State, Sagarin is all but guaranteed to have the Big Ten champion.

KenPom opens Rutgers.

BPI opens Wisconsin. He is surprised that Wisconsin was last since for the last few years Wisconsin has been one of the first four presents opened.

But Santa immediately takes Purdue from Sagarin and gives them to KenPom. Sagarin complains, but Santa tells him that KenPom’s user interface makes it much easier for him to make his naughty/nice list, so KenPom deserves a reward. Sagarin gets Rutgers in return.

“Purdue for Rutgers? Do you think that’s fair?” Sagarin asks in disgust. Santa tells him that’s what he gets for ranking Rutgers as his ninth favorite team. He says, “Pay more attention to strength of schedule. Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Sagarin responds by throwing the fruitcake at Santa’s head.

Santa is getting fed up with Sagarin by now. Sagarin is clearly not feeling the Christmas spirit. Then Santa is struck with a brilliant idea. What’s more Christmas-y than ugly sweaters? He gives Tim Miles and Nebraska to Sagarin, and takes Michigan State and gives them to KenPom.

Sagarin goes off and cries in the corner. Santa puts an arm around him and explains to Sagarin that he had Nebraska ranked at No. 8, so there was no way he wasn’t going to end up with the Cornhuskers at the end.

Meanwhile KenPom is gloating that he has both Purdue and Michigan State now. “Take one of them away!” yells Sagarin. Santa hates to do anything that Sagarin says, but he concedes that he does have a point. He makes KenPom give Michigan State to BPI in exchange for Wisconsin.

KenPom searches for the remnants of the fruitcake so that he, too, can fling them at Santa’s head, but Santa points out that KenPom had Wisconsin at No. 9, higher than anyone else. “Don’t overrate the Badgers and you won’t end up with them,” Santa says wisely. “And while we’re at it, we need to have a little talk about Virginia...”

At last the furor seems to be dying down. The beer has run out, and people are starting to leave. “Everybody happy?” Santa asks. Then, before anyone can say anything, he adds, “I’m not asking you, Sagarin.”

But there’s one last swap. KenPom has Michigan State at the top of his list. BPI has Purdue at the top of his. They exchange Boilermakers for Spartans with some sharp words about the importance of offensive rebounding.

Final Gifts Everyone Takes Home:

  • Sagarin: Fruitcake (destroyed), Minnesota, Ohio State, Rutgers, Nebraska
  • KenPom: Maryland, Indiana, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State
  • BPI: Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue

And with that, everyone goes home in various states of agitation. As they grab their car keys and head out the door, they all have the same thought on their mind: “Thank God RPI wasn’t invited.”

Appendix: All Three Preference Lists

The following are the preference lists of each of the participants, based on their rankings as of Sunday morning.

  • Sagarin: Michigan State, Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan, Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska, Rutgers, Northwestern, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Fruitcake
  • KenPom: Michigan State, Purdue, Michigan, Maryland, Penn State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, Rutgers, Illinois, Fruitcake
  • BPI: Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan, Maryland, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Rutgers, Illinois, Nebraska, Fruitcake