"You're not buying into this Bill James bullshit, are you?" asks a disgruntled Oakland A's scout in the 2011 classic "Moneyball."
Billy Beane was. So was Ken Pomeroy.
Sure, Beane's tactics were a bit different. His job was to buy wins, and to purchase wins, you need to buy runs. He, and Peter Brand (based on current Cleveland Browns Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta), utilized James' mathematical approach to buy wins for as cheap as possible. The easiest way to do that was to figure out how to get on base. The result? Walks.
Pomeroy took James' ideology and applied it to college basketball. Pomeroy didn't work for a team, though. He wasn't trying to buy wins. He was a guy who loved hoops and wanted to tangibly rank every Division I basketball program as a hobby.
His little side project has been sewn into the fabric of college basketball, but who is the man behind it?
How Ken Pomeroy Built KenPom.com
Ken Pomeroy's path to where he is today isn't linear. I bet if you told him where he would end up when he graduated from Virginia Tech with a civil engineering degree in 1995, he wouldn't believe you.
After college, Pomeroy designed roads for a couple of years before going to graduate school at the University of Wyoming for meteorology. He then worked for the National Weather Service. In his early days on the job, he became interested in the analytical side of sports made famous by Beane and the A's. By de facto, James, too.
"I wasn't a huge baseball fan at that point, but I thought the work was very interesting," Pomeroy said via the Louisville Courier-Journal. "I looked around for similar content regarding my favorite sport, and I couldn't find it. ...In the beginning, it was just really interesting to me. Just from an intellectual experience, there was a payoff there, just seeing this data that was kind of unlocking new insights that I was not getting from watching broadcasters on TV."
So, Kenpom.com was born.
The site was launched in 2004 with basic stats like points per possession and efficiency. Today, it includes adjusted efficiency margin, adjusted offensive efficiency, adjusted defensive efficiency, adjusted tempo, luck rating, the strength of schedule rating, opponent offensive efficiency, opponent defensive efficiency, and non-conference strength of schedule rating.
These terms are a foreign language because my math knowledge starts and ends with multiplication tables. Still, Pomeroy's site layout makes it easy to understand. The site's layout is one of my favorite parts, by the way. It looks the same as when it was first launched back in 2004. That's soul.
Pomery's site started with a cult following and eventually grew into college basketball's most valuable resource. Everyone from casual fans making their NCAA Tournament bracket in preparation for March Madness to head coaches to media members uses the site.
"I've been a big fan for a long time," said radio host Gary Parrish, a college basketball columnist for CBS Sports. "It's an invaluable resource for anybody who follows college basketball closely and seriously. We'd all be dumber without it. ...If you use KenPom regularly and check what you think you know or think you're seeing against it, the site can prevent you from saying or writing or tweeting dumb things. It's almost irresponsible for somebody in our business to not have a subscription."
The subscription Parrish mentioned is something dedicated fans of premier programs like Duke, Kansas, Arizona, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Baylor, North Carolina, Michigan State, Houston, Auburn, UCLA, Texas Tech, Illinois, Ohio State, Villanova, and Purdue can purchase for a mere $19.95 a year. A bargain for the real college basketball junkies out there.
He Quit His Job to Focus on His Site
— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) March 28, 2022
Once the site started gaining popularity, Pomeroy quit his job at the National Weather Service in 2012 to focus on what was once a side gig. Now, in addition to maintaining the site, he writes. His work has been featured in publications like The Athletic, Slate, Deadspin, ESPN, and Sports Illustrated. He also co-wrote a book called "College Basketball Prospectus: The Essential Guide to the Men's College Basketball" in 2009.
However, Pomeroy, a Salt Lake City, Utah native, still has the prediction bug in other fields. He works as an Associate Instructor in the Atmospheric Sciences department at the University of Utah. He runs other analytics-based projects on women's curling and golf's U.S. Open. KenPom also has a Twitter account dedicated to predicting the short-term chance of precipitation at the Salt Lake City airport.
Pomeroy's college basketball model doesn't exactly predict, per se. There are always going to be upsets and wild finishes. But, it does give us an idea of what is most likely to play out and a deeper understanding of what happens on the court. That's the reason his website is so great.
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