Lucas McNelly is a filmmaker who also makes and sells soap. He is also one of Maine’s foremost experts on high school basketball, but he did not always want you to know that.
Through his anonymous website, Maine Basketball Rankings, and its associated Twitter account, he has developed statistical models watched closely by coaches and some of the state’s most ardent fans. His figures have performed well against real-world results.
It’s not flawless and there’s still some bugs to work out, but this should give you matchup data on all of the day’s games.
Old data for now, but you get the idea.
An example of the match-up simulator created by Lucas McNelly. Originally tweeted by Maine Basketball Rankings (@MEBBallRankings) on November 29, 2022.
This winter, McNelly, who lives in Damariscotta, will be fully unmasked while writing a weekly opinion for the Bangor Daily News, giving takes backed by statistical models.
“I am good at giving opinions,” McNelly said. “It seemed fun. It seemed like a good way to grow the site, and I used to read the Bangor Daily News at our hunting camp in Aroostook County as a kid.”
The website started when McNelly moved back to Maine from Pittsburgh. McNelly’s brother, Ryan, was then the junior varsity girls basketball coach at Medomak Valley of Waldoboro. Lucas kept stats for Ryan’s games and followed many other teams during the 2014-15 season, so he began working with Excel to see what he could do to rank teams across the state. He then posted his work on online forums.
“When the Down East teams and County teams didn’t play anyone in the region and people were arguing about who was better, I said, ‘Well that doesn’t seem too hard to figure out. That sounds like a math problem,’” McNelly said. “I then realized it’s a lot more in-depth. The first version was just one sheet. Then you realize it’s a lot more. Then it spirals.”
Expanding from forums, he posted to a Tumblr page, which then grew into an entire website in 2015. McNelly said that if he knew how much work it would turn into, he never would have started. Instead, it has grown and grown, creating new mathematical formulas to predict games, seasons and the Heal Point rankings that determine playoff seeding.
The website is accompanied by his Twitter page, where he posts the “Game of the Day” and shares rankings and his opinions on the current season.
An example of the original format of the Maine Basketball Rankings blog. This match-up glance was originally posted to Tumblr on Feb. 19, 2016.
McNelly has always been secretive of his real name so as to not make people think his rankings had biases. He began to tell a couple coaches who he is, disclose his connections to Medomak and reassure them that he is not compromised.
Scott Bessey, the boys basketball coach at Spruce Mountain of Jay, said he did not know who was running the Twitter page or website but called McNelly’s work with Heal Points his “go-to.” He said he has messaged McNelly at times when he wanted to see the likelihood of different playoff opponents, and he got good scenarios back.
“I can almost pick my scouting trips based on that type of data,” Bessey said. “He’s been a great resource, and I definitely use that site during the season.”
People have brought the website up a few times to McNelly without even knowing he ran it, including by Caribou fans at the 2020 Class B boys state championship game.
“I said, ‘You didn’t know it was me?’” he said. “That stuff is hilarious to me.”
His models are based on what teams do on the court. They take into account how a team did the season before, who they beat, who they lost to and those teams’ records and resumes. Coaches and parents sign up for his website’s subscription service throughout the year, but McNelly sees a big uptick during the final week of the regular season as everyone is trying to find out where their team stacks up and where they project to finish.
The website has stats like “Percent Perfect” that shows how well teams have done in each game and how much they beat a team by against the expected spread. It also has one of McNelly’s favorite stats, the “Stax Index.”
The Stax Index was formed after Sean Stackhouse, a public address announcer for the University of Maine and coach of the esports team at Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield, asked McNelly which game would be the best to go see one night.
From there, McNelly took into account every team’s projected score, its record and a few more things to create a number for each game with a high number meaning the game projects to be a fun one to see.
“You don’t want to go to the 60-point blowout, but also don’t want to go to the 29-28 game,” he said. “Very often, the number is pretty good.”
McNelly will continue to update his website every day this season while writing an opinion piece every week for the BDN. His first piece will be published next week.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Lucas McNelly’s job and the location of Medomak Valley High School.