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Who Have You Played?

Who have you played?

After the silence that was finals week, and Butler’s dramatic upset of Indiana (where Butler transfer Rotnei Clarke finally lived up to the preseason hype), Saturday night featured a nice little matchup between Top 10 teams Arizona and Florida. I’ve seen enough of Florida this season to believe the Gators are elite.

Watching Florida take on Georgetown on an aircraft carrier, I was impressed to see Will Yeguete emerging as Florida’s true physical inside presence.

Watching the Gators torch Wisconsin, I was impressed with Erik Murphy’s now diverse scoring game.

And watching the Gators absolutely shut-down Marquette and Florida St. defensively, I started to believe this might be a complete team this season. But for Arizona, Saturday night’s game was a real litmus test.

With six minutes to go in the first half, Arizona’s Mark Lyons crossed mid-court near the sideline and fell into a Florida trap. Stuck in the corner, Lyons was forced to make a desperation pass and his cross-court lob led to a turnover. Analyst Miles Simon pointed out that this is the kind of mistake an experienced point guard never makes. An experienced point guard knows to take the ball over mid-court near the center of the court to prevent the sideline from becoming an extra defender. But this is Lyons first season playing the pointg uard position, and a lack of awareness of some of these basic ball-control principles is one of the reason Lyons has a more turnovers than assists this season.

Flash forward to the end of the game. Lyons had the ball in his hands with the clock running down and his team down one. Lyons was aggressive with the basketball, penetrated the lane, and banked home the game-winning lay-up. Even though Lyons may not have experience at the point-guard position, in his time at Xavier he had plenty of experience making huge baskets at the end of the game. Teams would often force the ball out of Tu Holloway’s hands, and Lyons had plenty of experience attacking the basket in these situations. Lyons had been there before, and his shot gave Arizona a come from behind victory.

I haven’t quite made up my mind about Lyons this season. On the one hand, basketball is a game where positions are overrated. I don’t really care if he isn’t a true point guard. If he can make enough good plays, that can overcome some mistakes. Joe Jackson of Memphis showed that in spades with his stat-line on Saturday. Jackson had eight turnovers in his team’s loss. But because of his eight assists and excellent shooting (4-for-5 on twos, 3-for-4 on threes, 6-for-8 free throws) Jackson’s single game ORtg was still a respectable 113. You can be a valuable player and still turn the ball over.

And while Lyons turnovers are a concern for the Wildcats, that might not stop Arizona from winning the Pac-12. A good comparison might be Duke’s defensive rebounding. It is clearly a weakness, but if Ryan Kelly can continue to do other things well, his deficiency in that area might not be the end of the world for the Blue Devils.

And on Saturday, we saw that Arizona can do quite a few things well. They showed that even when their freshmen have a deer in the headlights look, (Kaleb Tarczewski fouled out and none of the other new players played particularly great), they still have two veterans who know quite a bit about winning. Solomon Hill carried the team early with some great slashing moves to the basket. And Nick Johnson knocked down some huge jump shots to lead the comeback. And in the end Arizona’s defense held Florida scoreless the last seven times they possessed the basketball. I don’t believe Arizona is better than Florida, and I condemn any poll voter that drops the Gators after that effort, but I finally had reason to endorse the Wildcats as a legitimate team.

Of course I want to see more before I anoint Arizona as the undisputed Pac-12 favorite. Oregon, with an eligible Arsalan Kazemi integrating into the starting lineup looks intriguing. You can never count out Mike Montgomery at California, even if the early returns aren’t good this season. And I’m not quite ready to count UCLA down-and-out permanently. UCLA super-frosh Shabazz Muhammad had another great stat-line this weekend. But I was glad to finally have a real game with which to judge the Wildcats.

The problem at this point in the season is that even though many teams are building gaudy looking records, that doesn’t always mean anything. Kansas St. was 7-1, and everyone was praising the job Bruce Weber had done in Manhattan, Kansas. But Kansas St.’s hadn’t beat a team in the Top 100 of Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. And after Saturday’s lackluster performance against Gonzaga, I’m left to ask what Kansas St. has really accomplished so far this season. In fact, the question is pretty simple:

Who has quality wins at this point?

Having developed a preseason ranking system, people often ask me why I don’t have regular season rankings. The answer is that margin-of-victory is clearly the most important predictor of in-season success, and the existing ranking systems do a fabulous job measuring this. Both Jeff Sagarin’s Predictor and Ken Pomeroy’s Rankings do a fantastic job of using margin-of-victory to rank teams.

But if I were to generate my own ranking system, I would choose to do one thing differently. I would discount games against low-level opponents.  Right now I hate the fact that Wisconsin’s elite ranking is generated because they crushed Southeast Louisiana, Cornell, and Presbyterian. All “cupcake” games seem to do is introduce bias into the ranking systems because coaches treat them so differently. Some coaches experiment with lineups, while others try to build chemistry with their starters.

Fair or not, when I evaluate teams, I really focus on games against elite competition.  And that is what today’s table is meant to show. In the next table, I took the top teams in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, and re-evaluate them, only counting games against Top 100 competition. And when you only count games against quality competition, the rankings look significantly different.

The biggest punch-line in table is that a number of the elite teams haven’t really played anyone yet. What do some of those gaudy win-loss records really mean? Miami (FL) has played two games against the Top 100. Santa Clara has played one Top 100 team. And after Sunday night, Providence and Seton Hall had played zero teams in Ken Pomeroy’s Top 100. (LSU and Washington might sneak up into the Top 100 by the end of the year for Seton Hall, but they aren’t there now.) Sure the win-loss totals for these teams are decent. But do we have any sense whether these teams are any good?

On the other hand, some teams have truly established themselves as elite by playing great basketball while playing quality teams. Florida, Kansas, Duke, and Gonzaga, not only have strong performances against the Top 100, they’ve played a ton of quality games already this season. These are the type of teams that I am willing to endorse as elite teams at the early point of the season.

Meanwhile, a team like Wisconsin, which has mostly earned its high power rankings by crushing small conference teams has looked more like the 47th best team in the country in its 6 games against quality competition. Ken Pomeroy may have them 14th in the nation, but I’m not buying it.

Louisville and Minnesota are also each a little bit of a mystery. Both have picked up quality wins, but both teams have been much more impressive against small schools than against the Top 100 this season. Louisville is third in the Pomeroy rankings and Minnesota is 10th. But against the Top 100 these schools have looked more like the 16th and 25th best teams, respectively.

I don’t mean to say that games against teams ranked outside the Pomeroy Top 100 aren’t important.  We should be concerned that Miami (FL) lost to Florida Gulf Coast. We should be concerned that Illinois could only squeak by Gardner Webb and Hawaii. But in the end teams are judged by how they perform in big games. And the teams that have performed well in that environment may be different from what you expect.

(One final note, I was shocked that Butler wasn’t higher in these rankings. I thought the game against Indiana would weight more heavily in these rankings, but blowout losses to Top 100 foes Illinois and Xavier really hurt the Bulldogs.)

Performance By the Top 100 Against the Top 100

(Through Sunday’s Games using Pomeroy Top 100)

 

Team

TotOff

TotDef

W

L

Pyth

1

Florida

126.8

81.5

5

1

0.9894

2

Miami FL

123.5

81.6

2

0

0.9860

3

Kansas

121.6

81.8

5

1

0.9831

4

Duke

130.8

88.5

6

0

0.9822

5

Illinois

129.7

91.2

3

0

0.9737

6

Santa Clara

123.6

87.2

1

0

0.9727

7

Indiana

127.2

90.9

3

1

0.9690

8

Pittsburgh

119.2

85.5

1

1

0.9680

9

Xavier

109.6

79.2

2

0

0.9654

10

Syracuse

100.8

73.2

2

0

0.9636

11

Boise St.

130.8

95.1

1

1

0.9631

12

Michigan

126.7

93.4

5

0

0.9579

13

Gonzaga

117.0

86.6

6

1

0.9562

14

Georgetown

105.0

77.9

3

1

0.9551

15

Arizona

113.2

84.4

3

0

0.9531

16

Louisville

109.7

82.4

4

1

0.9496

17

Creighton

121.6

91.7

4

1

0.9477

18

Ohio St.

119.3

90.7

0

1

0.9430

19

Maryland

114.7

87.4

2

1

0.9420

20

Wyoming

121.1

92.3

2

0

0.9414

21

Oklahoma St.

107.6

82.8

4

1

0.9365

22

Notre Dame

122.3

95.2

3

1

0.9287

23

Cincinnati

111.9

87.4

3

0

0.9266

24

VCU

109.1

85.5

3

3

0.9239

25

Minnesota

119.6

94.1

5

1

0.9214

26

Virginia

106.7

84.4

2

1

0.9166

27

Virginia Tech

126.6

100.4

2

1

0.9146

28

Baylor

114.4

91.0

3

2

0.9127

29

Wichita St.

106.5

85.8

3

1

0.9015

30

Memphis

112.5

91.5

2

3

0.8926

31

San Diego St.

100.0

81.5

1

1

0.8899

32

Southern Miss

98.0

80.4

1

1

0.8838

33

Oregon St.

114.1

94.2

1

2

0.8760

34

Stanford

104.4

86.6

2

3

0.8712

35

Missouri

116.1

96.4

2

1

0.8706

36

Bucknell

113.6

94.5

3

0

0.8679

37

Ole Miss

105.5

87.8

1

1

0.8676

38

UNLV

110.8

92.4

2

1

0.8651

39

New Mexico

112.9

94.6

4

0

0.8603

40

Belmont

104.2

87.3

2

2

0.8598

41

Oregon

112.5

94.7

1

1

0.8529

42

Temple

114.0

96.4

1

1

0.8469

43

Connecticut

109.4

93.1

2

2

0.8395

44

Butler

115.8

98.6

4

2

0.8393

45

Michigan St.

110.5

94.7

2

2

0.8297

46

Central Florida

113.7

97.7

1

2

0.8263

47

Wisconsin

110.6

95.2

2

4

0.8240

48

Ohio

106.4

91.6

2

1

0.8225

49

Iowa St.

108.2

93.4

1

3

0.8181

50

Florida St.

112.4

97.2

2

2

0.8172

51

St. Louis

102.2

88.5

2

2

0.8151

52

Alabama

109.1

94.5

2

3

0.8135

53

Arkansas

119.5

104.4

1

3

0.7998

54

California

105.9

92.8

2

3

0.7961

55

Dayton

108.1

95.7

1

1

0.7765

56

Colorado St.

102.1

90.9

1

1

0.7673

57

Colorado

102.3

91.2

4

2

0.7629

58

Marquette

105.4

94.2

1

2

0.7588

59

Akron

108.6

97.3

1

2

0.7547

60

St. Joseph's

106.7

95.7

2

3

0.7540

61

M. Tennessee

102.4

91.8

2

3

0.7534

62

George Mason

105.3

95.0

1

4

0.7428

63

Kentucky

100.9

91.1

1

3

0.7406

64

NC State

114.0

102.9

1

2

0.7406

65

UCLA

110.2

100.1

1

2

0.7278

66

Iowa

111.7

101.7

2

2

0.7235

67

Illinois St.

108.4

99.1

0

3

0.7153

68

Tennessee

89.1

81.6

1

3

0.7100

69

Oklahoma

106.3

97.5

2

2

0.7098

70

Georgia Tech

96.9

89.0

1

2

0.7029

71

St. Bonaventure

107.7

99.1

0

1

0.7022

72

Davidson

110.3

101.7

1

3

0.6974

73

Murray St.

107.9

99.7

1

1

0.6907

74

La Salle

110.5

102.4

1

1

0.6863

75

Northern Iowa

97.9

91.2

1

4

0.6754

76

Purdue

100.6

95.0

1

5

0.6416

77

Northwestern

104.6

99.0

2

2

0.6378

78

North Dakota St.

104.8

99.7

0

2

0.6256

79

Rutgers

105.1

100.4

0

1

0.6163

80

Villanova

101.2

97.4

2

3

0.5964

81

Kansas St.

97.6

94.5

0

2

0.5810

82

North Carolina

98.0

96.4

0

2

0.5414

83

Clemson

98.9

98.9

0

3

0.5008

84

West Virginia

102.5

102.4

1

4

0.5008

85

DePaul

92.9

94.3

0

1

0.4610

86

Washington St.

96.8

99.3

0

3

0.4362

87

St. John's

105.1

107.8

0

2

0.4358

88

Charlotte

92.1

95.1

1

1

0.4183

89

Valparaiso

86.5

90.0

0

2

0.3997

90

BYU

99.4

104.4

0

3

0.3770

91

Denver

90.0

94.8

0

4

0.3701

92

Harvard

94.2

99.2

0

2

0.3699

93

Lehigh

103.6

109.2

0

2

0.3671

94

Texas A&M

94.2

99.6

1

2

0.3588

95

St. Mary's

91.8

97.7

0

1

0.3465

96

Texas

81.8

87.4

0

2

0.3373

97

Richmond

94.2

104.3

0

2

0.2600

98

South Florida

91.9

103.5

0

2

0.2288

 

Providence

   

0

0

 
 

Seton Hall

   

0

0

 

 

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