College basketball guru Ken Pomeroy fosters love of curling in Park City
Pomeroy is active in the Park City Curling Club
Every March, college basketball fans flock to Ken Pomeroy’s website for his KenPom college basketball rankings in their quest for a perfect NCAA Tournament bracket. However, when the college hoops guru, who lives in Salt Lake City, isn’t analyzing which teams are primed for a run to the Final Four, he makes the trek to Park City to partake in a different passion: curling.
Pomeroy started watching the sport eight years ago and began playing as well. USA Curling recognizes four curling clubs in Utah, two of them being the Utah Olympic Oval Curling Club in Kearns and the Park City Curling Club. He plays at both.
“It’s a pretty cool sport,” Pomeroy said. “No contact, it doesn’t require necessarily a lot of athletic ability or stamina or anything like that. It’s a good sport for when you have to leave the contact sports behind, so that’s what got me started in it.”
Away from the spreadsheets and analytics, the Park City Curling Club is a space for Pomeroy and others to meet, hang out and play with other fanatics of the sport. Pomeroy said he’s been playing with the club for three years.
“It’s a pretty chill environment,” Pomeroy said. “Most people are out there to have fun. There’s really no serious, competitive teams there, just people who live in Park City or moved to Park City and just want something to do in their free time in the evening, so everybody kind of has a good time with it.”
Pomeroy enjoys the inclusiveness that both the sport and the club offers, as well.
“There’s no objective measure of what the best sport is, but if there was an objective way to measure what the best sport is, curling would be up there because it can be played by people of different ages,” he said. “I’ve played against kids who beat me and seniors who beat me and that doesn’t hold you back. There’s not much of a difference between men’s and women’s skill.
“It’s really a sport that’s really just inclusive and anybody can play it,” he added. “I think with the right amount of dedication, anybody can get pretty good at it if they put their mind to it.”
However, it wasn’t until the coronavirus emerged that he started taking it more seriously. After the pandemic canceled the final month of the 2020 college basketball season — including March Madness — he devoted himself to a new project. Pomeroy built a curling analytics website called doubletakeout.com, which can be accessed by clicking on a curling stone in the upper-left corner of his KenPom.com site.
The analytics side of curling has been rattling around Pomeroy’s head since he started following it more closely, mirroring the route he went down with college basketball. There would be times where he would listen to a broadcaster making an observation, and he wondered if there was any kind of evidence showing that it was true.
“In Utah, we don’t have a lot of curling experts here, so you kind of have to teach yourself to some extent how to play and what strategy is,” Pomeroy said. “I started watching games and following the sport at the higher levels and kind of always wanted to break it down more scientifically.”
Pomeroy started doing what he did with college basketball and assembled a rankings system.
With just a couple of months before the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Canada’s Brad Gushue currently tops Pomeroy’s curling rankings, and defending gold medalist John Shuster of the United States is 11th. On the women’s side, which features much more parity than the men’s, Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni has the edge, but Pomeroy says that there are four or five teams with a legitimate chance of taking home the gold medal.
Unfortunately, his knowledge of curling analytics hasn’t quite translated into a significant advantage on the ice in Park City. Pomeroy described his curling skills as “above average” in the state of Utah but “well below average” compared to states that have a stronger curling culture, like Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t on his mind when it’s his turn with the stone, however.
For example, the team that has the final throw in an end has what is called “the hammer.” If a team has the hammer and scores, then the hammer goes to the other team for the next end. Teams that have the hammer have an advantage because it’s easier to score. Pomeroy wants to ensure that his team makes the most of its opportunities with the hammer.
“The general principle of scoring one when you have hammer, if you just score one in an end, that’s actually not good, it’s good for the other team,” he said. “Just remembering that is a big part of how I play and try to figure out strategy, and that’s something that comes out in the analytics as well.”
The concept of the hammer and how it affects in-game strategy is at the foundation of his analytics work in curling, but it also draws some similarities with possessions in college basketball.
“That’s kind of a way to think about how to play the game, which is why scoring one (with the hammer) is bad,” he said. “Because if you score in curling, you give up possession basically, so if you’re only scoring one, that’s kind of like an empty possession in curling, which is like missing a shot with an empty possession in basketball.”
Additionally, just like in basketball, there are debates as to what teams should do in certain situations, like whether a college basketball team should foul if they lead by three late in a game. Pomeroy said that the curling equivalent of that is the question of whether it’s better to have a one-point lead without the hammer heading into the final end or to have the hammer and trail by one.
“It gets complicated, but it’s slightly better to be up one and not have last rock in most cases, certainly at the professional level,” Pomeroy said. “It’s a little different in league curling because we don’t have time to play an extra end, and that actually is a big factor in that decision. But yeah, the analytics are pretty clear that it’s better to be up by one and not have last rock in that situation.”
Pomeroy will have his hands full in the coming months with Olympic curling in February and then March Madness a month later. The overlap between the college basketball and curling seasons makes his job a little harder.
“This time of year, it’s definitely a problem,” he said. “Not a lot of free time once I take care of basketball duties and curling duties, so I wish one of the sports was a summer sport, but that’s just the way it is.”
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