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Injury Splits, March Edition: Is Duke Now The Favorite?

Oregon, North Dakota St., Florida and Duke all got key players back recently and given how these teams performed without these players, the returns could not have come at a better time. In the following splits, I replicate the formula used on Ken Pomeroy’s website, adjusting for opponent and venue. 

Team

Adj Off

Adj Def

W

L

Pyth.

Oregon (without Dominic Artis)

101.3

88.9

6

4

0.7920

Oregon

107.8

86.8

17

2

0.9027

           

North Dakota St. (without Taylor Braun)

97.3

89.9

5

5

0.6925

North Dakota St.

106.3

91.4

15

3

0.8251

           

Florida (no Will Yeguete)

116.9

87.0

4

2

0.9537

Florida

122.1

81.3

19

3

0.9849

           

Duke (without Ryan Kelly)

119.7

95.0

9

4

0.9143

Duke

119.7

83.8

16

0

0.9746 

Oregon’s 17-2 record with Dominic Artis sounds a little better than it actually is. The Ducks played a relatively weak non-conference schedule, and even with Artis in the lineup, Oregon was not blowing teams out like some of the other elite teams. But there is no question Oregon has been a better team with Artis healthy. This Pythagorean rating suggests the Ducks have been the 19th best team in the nation with Artis in the lineup.

North Dakota St. should be one of the most fascinating teams to watch in the smaller conference tournaments. With Taylor Braun healthy, the Bison were a legitimate challenger to Nate Wolters South Dakota St. team and Western Illinois for the Summit league title. Without him, they simply lacked the offensive punch to compete with quality teams.

Florida’s defense did sag with Will Yeguete out, but Michael Frazier was also out in the Tennessee game, so it might not have been all Yeguete. 

Finally, according to these numbers, when Duke has been healthy, only a healthy Florida has been more capable of blowing teams out. And given that Duke is undefeated with a healthy Ryan Kelly (against a quality non-conference schedule), you can expect a lot of people to start saying that Duke is now the favorite to cut down the nets in March. 

But before we get completely on the Duke bandwagon, I want to express a word of caution by pointing to the following teams. All of these teams have integrated key pieces back into the lineup, and it has not always worked according to plan:

Team

Adj Off

Adj Def

W

L

Pyth.

UNLV (without Khem Birch)

109.7

85.2

5

1

0.9306

UNLV (Moser out or limited)

108.3

91.3

7

1

0.8525

UNLV (Moser post injury)

106.0

87.7

9

5

0.8751

           

Wichita St. (healthy early season)

108.8

88.8

9

1

0.8889

Wichita St. (3 rotation players injured)

108.8

89.1

6

1

0.8856

Wichita St. (Carl Hall returns)

108.9

91.6

9

5

0.8550

           

Syracuse

111.8

80.7

15

1

0.9661

Syracuse (without James Southerland)

119.3

91.9

4

2

0.9355

Syracuse (Southerland returns)

115.0

92.2

3

4

0.9054

 

 

 

 

 

 

Providence (missing players)

102.9

90.1

8

4

0.7973

Providence (January)

111.7

98.8

2

7

0.7800

Providence (February and March)

108.3

91.3

6

1

0.8527 

First, one of my big concerns is that injured players do not always return and play at their former level. Mike Moser has clearly been a shell of himself since returning to the UNLV lineup full-time. He showed signs of life in his last game against Nevada, but the reality is that sometimes injuries can take away a player’s explosiveness.

The fact that Ryan Kelly scored 36 points in his return should alleviate some of those concerns, but not all of them. I think Robbie Hummel is the ideal example. Hummel came back and continued to be an explosive scorer for Purdue last season. But I don’t think he ever regained the defensive form he showed as a junior.

The differences are pretty small here, but Wichita St. may also be informative in this regard. The Shockers lost 3 players to injury mid-season and remarkably kept their same level of performance. But since Carl Hall has returned the defense has slipped slightly. 

And sometimes it has nothing to do with an injury at all. Sometimes teams simply struggle to regain chemistry after an absence. I think we are all shocked that James Southerland’s return has not been a boost for Syracuse. But the Orange have played their worst basketball of the season since Southerland has returned. Sure, a lot of that came against quality competition. But I don’t think anyone expected Syracuse to lose two straight games at home.

And it can take time to build that chemistry. Providence was a depleted team early in the year with Vincent Council, Kris Dunn, and Bryce Cotton all missing games for various reasons. But the early season team was committed to playing lock-down defense to stay competitive. When the offensive stars returned, the defensive intensity just wasn’t the same. Only after a disastrous January did Providence players realize that they needed talent on offense and effort on defense in order to be a quality Big East squad. And for the last month, Providence has been playing like the 40th best team in the nation. That’s still the level of play of a bubble team, and based on the overall resume, Providence isn’t a legitimate at-large team at this point. But watch out for the Friars in the Big East tournament this year.

Team

Adj Off

Adj Def

W

L

Pyth.

Boise St.

109.5

102.6

2

5

0.6601

Boise St. (Full Strength)

113.4

94.6

16

3

0.8657

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miami

102.7

89.2

8

3

0.8095

Miami (Full Strength)

115.8

85.7

15

2

0.9566

 

 

 

 

 

 

Missouri

109.0

93.0

11

4

0.8363

Missouri (Full Strength)

123.4

95.7

10

4

0.9312

           

San Diego St. (without Xavier Thames)

103.6

97.3

2

2

0.6551

San Diego St.

109.8

86.7

16

6

0.9181

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michigan (Jordan Morgan out or limited)

118.9

94.5

4

3

0.9132

Michigan

122.8

91.0

19

2

0.9558

Boise St. has been climbing into brackets this week, and you might look at their ranking of 51 on kenpom.com and think they are not all that deserving. But Jeff Elorriaga, Mikey Thompson, Igor Hadziomerovic, Derrick Marks, and Kenny Buckner have all missed games this year including some key losses for the Broncos. When fully healthy, Boise St. has been the 33rd best team in the nation.

I’ve made the point about Miami and Missouri before (as those absences happened early in the year), but those teams have clearly been better when fully healthy. But don’t forget that San Diego St.’s Xavier Thames has also been absent (with back problems) at times this season. All of these teams have looked better when at full strength.

Finally, Michigan’s loss to Penn St. occurred even with Jordan Morgan playing significant minutes. So the Wolverines aren’t a perfect team with him. But he can be a difference maker on defense, and when Michigan had to play him sparingly (or not at all) for seven games, the Wolverines were clearly playing less impressive basketball. 

Team

Adj Off

Adj Def

W

L

Pyth.

UCLA

110.4

91.9

6

1

0.8673

UCLA (with current rotation)

112.6

94.2

16

6

0.8627

           

Notre Dame

118.0

98.6

14

4

0.8636

Notre Dame (without Scott Martin)

113.2

95.0

8

3

0.8588

           

Texas

95.6

87.1

10

12

0.7212

Texas (with Myck Kabongo)

113.8

103.7

4

3

0.7223

Lineup changes have not made a huge difference for every team. UCLA has been missing Shabazz Muhammad, David Wear, and Travis Wear at times this season, but managed to fill in when those players were absent. UCLA’s middling margin-of-victory stats are not the result of injuries.

Notre Dame lost Scott Martin, but it was a mixed bag. Martin’s scoring has clearly been missed, but an injured Martin was a defensive liability, and Notre Dame has compensated by playing better defense since Martin went down.

Finally, Texas has clearly been a much more explosive offensive team since Myck Kabongo joined the team. But the team has completely let up defensively now that Kabongo has returned. If Texas wants to have any chance of making a run in the Big 12 tournament, they have to combine the defensive intensity they had for most of the year, with the more efficient offense now that the team has a point guard.

Team

Adj Off

Adj Def

W

L

Pyth.

St. Louis

106.5

90.9

8

3

0.8359

St. Louis (with Kwamain Mitchell)

110.8

88.0

15

2

0.9138

           

Virginia

108.4

89.6

7

2

0.8760

Virginia (with Jontel Evans)

110.5

87.6

13

7

0.9154

           

La Salle

110.1

97.1

6

1

0.7838

La Salle (with Tyrone Garland)

109.7

92.9

14

6

0.8469

It is easy to look at Kwamain Mitchell’s and Jontel Evan’s poor ORtg and claim that these players could not be responsible for their team’s turnaround. But keep in mind that these players did not get to pad their own stats against weak non-conference competition. And also keep in mind that having a quality point-guard can be vital to an offense even if that player doesn’t shoot all that well.

Virginia Tech transfer Tyrone Garland is not getting enough publicity nationally. Since he has joined La Salle, the team has started playing like a true NCAA tournament contender. 

Team

Adj Off

Adj Def

W

L

Pyth.

Georgetown

97.9

84.3

10

3

0.8232

Georgetown (without Greg Whittington)

113.1

84.9

13

1

0.9499

           

Kentucky

112.0

89.2

17

7

0.9116

Kentucky (without Nerlens Noel)

113.2

104.8

3

2

0.6875

           

North Carolina

107.6

91.0

15

7

0.8472

North Carolina (committed to smaller lineup)

119.4

89.2

5

1

0.9519

I’m not quite sure I buy Georgetown as a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament. But they have played like the 5th best team in the nation since Greg Whittington went down. Once the Hoyas realized that they needed to run the offense through Otto Porter, the offense has been substantially better.

I don’t quite think Kentucky is this bad without Nerlens Noel. They did pick up a quality win against Missouri without him. But the margin-of-victory numbers aren’t convinced because even the Missouri victory was by a small margin at home. 

And I want to end by talking about North Carolina. In the preseason I wrote, “If they choose to go four-guards around James McAdoo, they could attempt to replicate what Missouri did last year, and be plenty effective.” And starting with the Duke game, Roy Williams finally committed to that strategy. For the last six games, North Carolina has gone with a smaller lineup and started playing like the 5th best team in the country. The amazing part is that their defense hasn’t even dropped off with the smaller lineup. Perhaps this isn’t sustainable. Teams may be able to adjust to North Carolina’s new strategy and attack the Tar Heels more effectively. But if North Carolina keeps this up, they may be a legitimate Final Four threat after all. 

Final Notes:

I discussed some injuries earlier this season. Click here for more details. A few recent notes on players:

-Steven Adams missed Pittsburgh's narrow OT win over Villanova. His sprained left ankle is worth watching.

-UConn’s Shabazz Napier was injured in the OT loss at Georgetown and missed UConn's loss against Cincinnati.

-Iowa’s Mike Gesell injured his ankle and missed the end of the Nebraska loss, and has now missed the last two games. If Iowa wants to make a late season run, they need him in the lineup.

Other minor injury points

-Rodney Williams was out in Minnesota's home loss to Illinois.

-Lorenzo Brown missed NC State's February losses to Miami and Duke.

-Nick Williams missed Mississippi's loss to Florida.

-Andrew Smith missed Butler's loss at Charlotte.

-Pe'Shon Howard missed one of Maryland's losses to Florida St.

-Trae Golden was out in Tennessee's losses at Arkansas and vs Georgia.

-Juwan Hoard Jr. missed Detroit's loss at Wichita St.

-Finally, Stony Brook’s Anthony Jackson did not play in the loss against Vermont.

 

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