Last fall, I used my tempo free prediction model to predict the races in the major conferences. On Tuesday, I looked back at my predictions for the SEC, Big Ten, Pac10, and MWC. Three of those four leagues performed better than my model predicted, on average. Today, I show four more leagues, three of which have performed worse than my model predicted.
Big East Prediction
What I got right:
Most preseason magazines picked a down to the wire battle between Villanova and Pittsburgh. But my model liked Pittsburgh to win in a run-away. Early in the year, it looked like I was wrong. Nova’s defense was ranked in the top 20 and they were clearly playing well. But Villanova’s defense fell apart in the last 12 games, and the model nailed both Villanova’s adjusted offense and Villanova’s adjusted defense within 1 point.
The Big East was a league full of unexpected positive surprises. Let’s start with Connecticut and Kemba Walker. Despite taking a shot 10% more often when on the floor, Walker has increased his efficiency from 105 to 117. That is an extremely rare and special improvement.
But Walker is not the only point guard to play better this year. Cincinnati’s Cashmere Wright improved his offensive rating from 89 to 107 by learning to make threes and upping his assist rate. But the big key for Cincinnati is a huge improvement in turnovers forced. The team has been particularly adept at forcing steals this season and not surprisingly both the offense and defense are better.
Louisville’s defense is also substantially better than last season. Maybe you want to blame Samardo Samuels and Edgar Sosa for being average defenders. Maybe you want to blame Rick Pitino for being distracted by the Karen Sypher scandal last year. But something was surprisingly wrong with Louisville’s defense last season, and that did not carry over to this season.
We got a sense that Notre Dame might be able to play well without Luke Harangody when he was injured in 2010, so perhaps it should not have been a shock to see the Fighting Irish play so well this year. But to lose someone with his career numbers, and then jump to second in the Big East, counts as a bit of a surprise.
Surprise and Flop:
Seton Hall deserves credit in both categories. While Jeremy Hazell’s injury and various off-court incidents have derailed the offense, first year head coach Kevin Willard led a tremendous improvement in the Seton Hall defense.
I knew Oliver Purnell did not have a lot of offensive talent, but I thought he would at least get the DePaul to play tough pressure defense. Instead, DePaul’s defense fell from 119th in the nation to 230th in the nation and the team did not move out of the Big East cellar.
What I got right:
Temple, Xavier, and Richmond were pretty easy picks for the top of the league.
Duquesne guard Bill Clark improved his ORtg from 102 to 120 by increasing his three point percentage from 28% to 39%. (Has anyone even talked about his improvement this year? This seems like a very under-the-radar story.) But the player everyone wants to credit is A10 freshman-of-the-year candidate TJ McConnell. When you look at him on the court, McConnell does not look like a star. But maybe that is how he sneaks up on people. He has one of the nation’s leading steal rates at 5.2%; he makes 40% of his threes; and he is a decent point guard too. Not a bad combination.
Alan Major’s first year as head coach of Charlotte has been a major disaster, but it is his first season, so I’ll give him a chance to bring in his players and try to turn it around.
The real disappointment in the A10 was Dayton. Dayton was one of the most efficient teams in the league last year (even if they lost a lot of games), and the Flyers won the NIT title. The team returned its two most efficient players (Chris Johnson and Chris Wright), and had a promising newcomer (Juwan Staten). But last weekend’s loss to rival Xavier was probably a microcosm of the season. Chris Johnson was dominant and Chris Wright made some amazing plays including a fantastic block late in the game. But the bench chipped in all of three points, and the starters could not get the key stops in crunch time. And if Juwan Staten wins the A10 freshman of the year award over TJ McConnell, that is just a crime.
What I got right:
Believe it or not, I want to praise my prediction of Maryland’s efficiency margin. I know Maryland has a mediocre record in ACC play, but I picked them to have a top three efficiency margin, and they have delivered exactly that. Maryland is a lot like Illinois, Kentucky, and Washington. They win big, but lose a lot of close games.
I said in October that my model’s prediction for North Carolina was way too low, but let’s give North Carolina credit for getting better. And had Roy Williams not benched Larry Drew, I’m not sure the turnaround happens. It also helps that Harrison Barnes has started knocking down some big shots.
Surprise and Flop:
Boston College has started playing a lot like Northwestern, with a high-powered offense but questionable defense. This seems to be what you get when you hire a coach out of the Ivy League.
Brad Brownell’s team still uses some of Oliver Purnell’s pressure defense on occasion, but not nearly as often. As a team, Clemson’s steal rate has dropped 1.2% from last year, and the team has had fewer open court opportunities. Thus the offense has fallen off slightly. But the defense has given up fewer transition lay-ups which has made the full season prediction about right.
Virginia Tech can still be a quality defensive team, as they showed in the upset of Duke. But on the year, the defense has been much less consistent than expected.
NC State’s offense hasn’t been the problem. The problem is that Sidney Lowe’s team has not played any defense this year. Good coaches know you have to teach freshman to play defense first. Also, Virginia has had a number of injuries and Wake Forest has a new coach and a young team.
But what is Paul Hewitt’s excuse at Georgia Tech? In one of those odd statistical transformations, last year Iman Shumpert was one of the least efficient Georgia Tech offensive players. (He shot a lot, but it did not always go in.) But now Shumpert has become the only efficient player in the Georgia Tech offense. That is quite a flip-flop.
Big 12 Prediction
What I got right:
I am not feeling too good about my Big 12 predictions. I did like Oklahoma to have the worst efficiency margin in the league, and it has taken a long time, but they have finally delivered.
For Kansas to lose Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich, and Xavier Henry, and not miss a beat is amazing. For Kansas to do all this while having multiple point guards miss time, is amazing. Bill Self has truly proven to be one of the best coaches in the nation.
The big surprise is the improvement in the Texas defense, which is best in the nation. We all knew Dogus Balbay could defend, but it takes a total team effort to put up these gaudy defensive stats. Quite frankly, I did not think head coach Rick Barnes could coach defense this well.
Nebraska’s eFG% defense has also improved dramatically from 217th in the nation to 25th. If you force teams to miss shots, you can stay close in any game.
Meanwhile, no one notices because Iowa St. has so many losses, but the Cyclones have dramatically improved their three point shooting from last season.
You often think that one player does not make that much of a difference. Duke can lose Kyrie Irving and not miss a beat because they have other great players. But for teams that have no answer at point guard, it can be devastating to the season. I admit Tweety Carter was not a superstar for Baylor last year, but he was a solid point guard. Without Carter, Baylor turns the ball over at an alarming rate.
Finally, Texas Tech has suffered an epic defensive breakdown this season, which is very disappointing for a team dependent on so many upperclassmen.