College basketball players and teams are endlessly compared to one another. Putting context to our observations is a vital part of what we do not only as hoops fans, but also in our everyday lives. Of course, our eyes often deceive us: Catch Texas at any time in January, and it looks like the best defensive team since the mid-decade Memphis outfits. Catch the Longhorns last Saturday against the Colorado Buffaloes, and they look like the Texas team that fell apart last year. Which vision is closer to the truth?
Luckily, we have a statistical technique that can begin to answer those questions. The concept of “similarity scores” was first proposed by baseball writer Bill James and adapted to basketball in the last few years. At its most basic level, a similarity score takes in the relevant stats of the two teams one wishes to compare and creates a value that represents the difference between the two teams. By repeating this process for all teams, we can see which teams are the most similar….