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College Basketball Preview 14-15: ACC

If you are looking for my traditional projections for offense and defense, those will be available near the start of the college basketball season. But since we still have many weeks to go until November, I thought I would dig a little deeper and write some team previews for next year. (I also wrote a few more words on some of the potential Top 25 squads in early April and late April.)

ACC Favorite

Duke: Duke’s season will hinge on the play of Top 10 recruits forward Jahlil Okafor and point-guard Tyus Jones. And I think they will live up to the hype. But the player some fans may be overlooking is Rasheed Sulaimon. Some feel that Sulaimon had a bad year last year, but that’s not the case at all. On a per-possession basis he improved from his freshman to sophomore seasons. The problem was that Rodney Hood’s presence really dug into Sulaimon’s playing time. With Hood out of the picture, Sulaimon should bounce-back and become a lethal scorer once again.

Challengers

Louisville: While they will miss the all-around dominance and wins that Russ Smith brought to the table, Terry Rozier and Chris Jones have to be licking their chops now that Russ Smith is gone. Rozier and Jones were elite PGs who spent a lot of last season playing off-the-ball. Now they get to run the show, and the best part is that they still have Montrezl Harrell to throw the ball to in the paint. Louisville has another three Top 100 recruits coming in, led by Shaqquan Aaron. Wayne Blackshear is back and he significantly improved his outside shooting last year. And thanks to the success of Gorgui Dieng, Rick Pitino has seemingly fallen in love with a host of foreign centers with hard to pronounce names. That seems like a nice formula, but this is Rozier and Jones show.

Of course the PGs aren’t the only players who may be itching to get out from underneath someone else’s shadow. Blackshear was a Top 30 recruit and McDonald’s All-American, he’s started a bunch of games, he’s been very efficient, and he contributed to a national championship. And yet he’s never played more than 20 minutes a game, never felt like he has a natural position, and often spent the end of games glued to the bench thanks to Luke Hancock. If Blackshear had a different personality (or if Louisville hadn’t been winning so much), Blackshear might have transferred. But I am very curious to see whether Blackshear has the mentality to become a star now that Luke Hancock has graduated.

North Carolina: PG Nate Britt and SF JP Tokoto are likely to see their playing time cut thanks to the additions of Top 30 recruits PG Joel Berry, and SFs Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson. That may make for an awkward locker-room, but it should also mean an upgrade in efficiency. Marcus Paige may be playing out of position at SG for stretches of game time, but he thrived at that position last year. Meanwhile in the frontcourt, James McAdoo will be gone but shockingly Brice Johnson was better than McAdoo in almost every statistical category except free throw rate. And as long as the efficient Kennedy Meeks gets more playing time at the other front-court slot, North Carolina’s offense should be substantially better than last season.

Virginia:  Virginia’s junior class is special. Justin Anderson, Mike Tobey, Evan Nolte, Malcolm Brogdon, and Anthony Gill were all quality prospects out of high school. (While they are all juniors, Brogdon started a year earlier but had to red-shirt due to injury, and Gill was a transfer from South Carolina.) None of these players were instant impact superstars as freshmen. But they matured together, and as sophomores they helped Virginia make the leap to an ACC title. We tend to fall in love with the Top 10 recruits and future NBA draft prospects. But Virginia’s core shows the true value of low-end Top 100 recruits. They are efficient, hard-working, and they look like they will probably stick around for two more years and graduate. Throw in London Perrantes, a sophomore PG, and you have the ideal core of a winning team.

Hoping for the Top 25

Pittsburgh: PG James Robinson has played a ton of minutes the last two years. He’s not aggressive enough to be a star, but he is more than capable of running an offense that wins a bunch of games. Cameron Wright is your typical Jamie Dixon starter, a solid senior who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. Durand Johnson was playing well last year until a knee injury derailed his season. Josh Newkirk, Michael Young, and Jamel Artis were three freshmen who were very effective last year and who should be ready to make the sophomore leap. Pitt also adds Vanderbilt transfer Shelton Jeter and JUCO Top 100 recruit Tyrone Haughton in the front-court. Former elite forward recruit Joseph Uchebo should finally be healthy.

This lineup perfectly fits the stereotype for Pitt basketball. There are no sexy choices in the lineup. But everyone has experience. And Jamie Dixon remains among the best at developing players.

The easiest way to see this is with my player projections model. I project what we should have expected for every player over the past five years based on their high school recruiting rank and previous NCAA stats. Then I compare those expectations to how those players performed. Only Mike Brey has been better at developing the offense of his players than Jamie Dixon. No, Pittsburgh doesn’t have 9 or 10 former elite recruits like Duke, Louisville, and North Carolina. But with Dixon developing players at an above average rate, Pitt is always a title contender.

Team

Coach

Player ORtg Relative to Expectations

Notre Dame

Mike Brey

1.034

Pittsburgh

Jamie Dixon

1.031

Louisville

Rick Pitino

1.022

Syracuse

Jim Boeheim

1.020

Miami FL

Jim Larranaga

1.020

Boston College

Jim Christian

1.019

Duke

Mike Krzyzewski

1.017

Virginia Tech

Buzz Williams

1.013

Wake Forest

Danny Manning

1.013

NC State

Mark Gottfried

1.009

Virginia

Tony Bennett

1.005

North Carolina

Roy Williams

1.000

Clemson

Brad Brownell

0.997

Florida St.

Leonard Hamilton

0.991

Georgia Tech

Brian Gregory

0.976

Most major conference coaches tend to exceed expectations when developing players. That is why they have jobs in a major conference. But while Brad Brownell and Leonard Hamilton have struggled to develop offensive talent, they are elite defensive coaches.

Roy Williams is probably the baseline. He has recruited at a high level and his players have tended to perform about where you would expect for elite recruits. Rick Pitino’s players have exceeded expectations on offense in recent seasons. And  when a coach recruits well and develops players, that’s the formula for a national title.

Syracuse: Even with major losses, you can never count Syracuse out. Their zone defense will still be very hard to score against. Trevor Cooney became a star SG last year. Forward Chris McCullough is the type of highly ranked recruit who should make an impact from Day 1. Obviously, for the second year in a row, the season will come down to the play of a freshman PG. This year his name is Kaleb Joseph. No PG can be expected to replace Tyler Ennis. Ennis’ low turnover rate was not just special for a Syracuse PG, it was basically unprecedented for a college freshman.

But I think the differences in opinion for Syracuse come down to how you evaluate the rest of the Syracuse roster. Is DaJuan Coleman a player that is still injured, a career disappointment, and never going to be a star? Or is he an explosive former Top 25 recruit who will provide a key punch late in the season once he finally gets back to 100%? Is Rakeem Christmas a passive offensive player who lacks the killer instinct to ever be anything other than a role player? Or is Christmas a player who improved on defense last year, a player who deferred to CJ Fair and Jerami Grant, but another former Top 25 recruit who can still be a late bloomer and star now that he’ll get more touches on offense? Is Tyler Roberson the freshman who posted an 89 ORtg last year, and couldn’t even finish simple baskets? Or is he the former Top 40 recruit who never got to show his stuff last year because of the depth chart, and who should mature as a sophomore into a true star? The reality is that we don’t know. And that is why we want to watch.

But my biggest concern for Syracuse is the overall lack of depth. There are just 10 scholarship players on the roster right now, and right now they are not all healthy. That lack of depth is going to force Syracuse to play slower than they want again this season, and open them up to losses to some inferior teams.

Notre Dame: Jerian Grant was injured in the middle of last year and Notre Dame fell apart. You probably expect me to write some story about how you can’t blame a team’s collapse on just one player. But when you look at the numbers, I think you can. The splits show that Notre Dame was brutal after Grant went down. And Grant’s stats last year were unbelievable. His ORtg was 132, he was making 58% of his threes, 40% of his twos, and averaging 19 points per game. And he was making his teammates better. His assist rate was 36. He was even contributing on defense. His steal rate was 3.5%. Now, a lot of that came against a weaker non-conference schedule. But even so, Grant was posting the kind of numbers where you would have had to include him in the conversation for ACC player-of-the-year. With Grant back, Notre Dame will look like a traditional Mike Brey team. The Fighting Irish will be an elite offensive team, that plays passive zone defense, hangs around the edges of the Top 25, and lacks the defensive toughness for a deep NCAA tournament run.

Hoping for the NCAA Tournament

Florida St.: Florida St.’s defense bounced back last season behind a bruising front-line and the soft hands of steal artist Aaron Thomas. There are still some flaws. How does 7’3” Boris Bojanovsky grab so few defensive rebounds? But Leonard Hamilton has proven to be a strong defensive coach at this point.

The bad news is that the lethal inside-outside combination of Ian Miller and Okaro White has graduated and their star power will be hard to replace on offense. Xavier Rathan-Mayes was an elite recruit who was academically ineligible last year, but his shooting should help tremendously. The return of center Kiel Turpin should also help. Turpin was granted a sixth year of eligibility after missing last year with a leg injury and he was much more efficient than Michael Ojo.  Add Top 100 JUCO guards like Dayshawn Watkins and Kedar Edwards, and replacing Miller and White seems a little more plausible.

But the Florida St. offense is mostly limited by Hamilton’s system. For six straight years Hamilton’s teams have been among the nation’s most turnover prone teams. That’s a flaw Hamilton needs to fix if his team is ever going to reach the next level.

Clemson: I’ll understand if you view the loss of KJ McDaniels as a sign of the apocalypse. Clemson wasn’t a good offensive team last year and now their best player is headed to the NBA. Worse yet, while the program brings in prized recruit Donte Grantham, he’s ranked low enough that there is no guarantee he will be a star this year. And there are no other Top 100 recruits on the roster.

But I’m optimistic about Clemson for two reasons. First, Brad Brownell’s formula isn’t going to be recruiting or dynamic offense. When his teams win, they are going to win with defense. And most of the roster is back from a quality defensive team last year.

Second, Clemson has two highly underrated upperclassman who may be able to step into a larger roles. Demarcus Harrison and Jordan Roper both used a high volume of possessions and were very efficient with the basketball last year. A long time ago, Ken Pomeroy emphasized the importance of free throw shooting as a predictor of future offensive performance. And Harrison and Roper were both excellent free throw shooters last year. If they get the playing time, they should be able to produce some points to replace what McDaniels took to the NBA.

Miami FL: I really don’t understand the roster Jim Larranaga put together last year. It felt like before the season started the coaching staff decided that trying to make the NCAA tournament wasn’t that important. Last year Miami went into the year with such a short bench, and so few scholarship players, that winning was virtually impossible. But then a funny thing happened. Because the Miami coaching staff are really good at their jobs, they focused on their team’s strengths, and actually got the Hurricane roster to play competitive basketball with just about everyone in the ACC.

This year, Miami has done the right things to make sure they have the depth to be competitive. Additions like Niagara graduate transfer Joe Thomas and Top 100 recruit Ivan Uceda don’t project to be stars. But they are the kind of veteran role players you need if you want to compete for an NCAA tournament bid. The star power will have to come from Texas transfer Sheldon McClellan, Kansas St. transfer Angel Rodriguez, and Top 50 high school recruit Ja’Quan Newton. And that might not be enough to compete at the highest level in the ACC. But unlike last year, Miami at least enters this year with the kind of roster that could make the NCAA tournament if things work out right.

NC State: Only Duke, Louisville, and North Carolina can top NC State’s eight players who were RSCI Top 100 recruits out of high school. And Desmond Lee was a Top 10 JUCO recruit last year, meaning that at some point in time, the scouts were raving about just about everyone on NC State’s roster. And yet for the second year in a row, I find myself saying that NC State is a year away. With TJ Warren and Tyler Lewis leaving with eligibility left, the Wolfpack again has a roster of almost all sophomores and freshmen.

The frontcourt is the biggest question mark, but the simulation model thinks that because NC State has so many options, the team will find an answer.  No player has a great projection individually, but Beejay Anja, Kyle Washington, Abdul-Malik Abu, Cody Martin, and Caleb Martin are all former Top 100 recruits, and Lennard Freeman was an effective, if reluctant scorer. The top 3 or 4 of those players should be able to compliment a quality backcourt that adds Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey.

Occasionally my projection system will reveal some under-the-radar roster trend that seems somewhat controversial. For NC State, while Kyle Washington played more than Beejay Anja last year, the model likes Anja to pass Washington in the rotation this year. The reason is somewhat simple. Anja was more highly ranked out of high school, and while Washington was a more consistent player last year, Anja’s higher block rate is a reflection of Anja’s greater athleticism. Additionally, while Anja rarely shot, Washington’s efficiency was extremely low. I’m not sure it means anything, but it does line up a little bit with roster utilization last year. While Washington’s minutes decreased as the season progressed, Anja’s playing time increased. Whether Anja actually passes Washington in the rotation remains to be seen, but that is what the model predicts.

Hoping for the NIT

Boston College: Returning minutes don’t mean everything. Exhibit A might be last year’s Boston College squad. Despite returning the team’s top six rotation players, BC fell from 96th in margin-of-victory to 138th and it cost head coach Steve Donahue his job. The drop-off was all on the defensive side of the ball. Part of it was an injury that kept center Dennis Clifford out of action. And part of it was that Boston College went from being a team that almost never fouled to a team that fouled a lot. (Was it the new defensive foul rules?)

This year BC can put together a rotation without any freshmen. And with an offensive superstar like Olivier Hanlon, that’s a formula for a solid offense. But for new head coach Jim Christian to succeed, he needs to somehow upgrade the defense while using many of the same players.

Virginia Tech: Buzz Williams has never believed he has had a lot of job security. He’s always had to fight to earn his place in the coaching profession, and he’s never had the luxury of putting a freshmen team on the floor and letting them work through their issues with a patient fan-base. But this year’s Virginia Tech roster might break that mold. Given the current Virginia Tech options, it is hard to envision a scenario where Top 100 freshmen like Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs won’t get their chance.

JUCO Shane Henry seems like the classic Buzz Williams player. A Top 10 JUCO recruit, he should slide into the lineup and be a focal point on offense. And Adam Smith, injured for much of last season, looks like he might be the ideal late bloomer. But overall, there are not enough skilled players to field a solid offense.

Wake Forest: I hope the Wake Forest fans are still enjoying watching Tim Duncan win titles in the NBA. Because I don’t see how Danny Manning has signed up for anything other than a long rebuilding project. In the short-run, Wake Forest’s three most efficient offensive players have graduated. The team adds Campbell transfer Darius Leonard, but he doesn’t have the pedigree to carry an ACC team. This year’s recruiting class is not great (although perhaps last year’s recruit Greg McClinton can be the answer if he ever gets healthy). And Wake only projects to have two scholarships available for next year, so Manning will have to force several players to transfer if he wants to bring in a big recruiting class next year. It is going to take some time to get this program back in order.

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets should have been competitive last year. Trae Golden, Marcus Georges-Hunt, Kam Holsey, Robert Carter, and Daniel Miller were all very good players. And while Carter’s injury was not timely, there is no reason that a starting rotation with that caliber of talent should not have been competitive for an NCAA tournament bid. They won at Syracuse late in the year, and given their rotation, that type of success should not have been so rare. But the individual talents never seemed to click, the bench was terrible, and head coach Brian Gregory continued a trend that was apparent at Dayton. Even when he had talented players at Dayton, his teams could never put it all together.

Of the team’s five best players listed above, only Georges-Hunt returns. Ole Miss transfer Demarco Cox, East Carolina transfer Robert Sampson, and freshmen prospect Tadric Jackson will help. (I’m not sure South Florida transfer Josh Heath will help given that Heath couldn’t shoot at all last year.) But on paper, those four don’t replace what Georgia Tech loses. Basically if Brian Gregory could only get Georgia Tech to a 6-12 ACC record with last year’s roster, he could be headed to the cellar with this year’s roster.

Ten College Teams That Will Play Faster

Every summer coaches tend to give interviews and talk about how they plan to play faster the following season. But then the calendar turns to February, the games get tight, and coaches continue to exert a lot of control over what happens on the basketball court. Most of the summer talk about faster pace is just cheap talk.

But in a few cases, we may expect a faster tempo next year. Mostly this is due to coaching changes, but here are 10 teams that I am confident will play faster next year:

Washington St.: Former head coach Ken Bone wasn’t always a slow-paced coach. At Portland St., he once had one of the Top 25 fastest teams in the country. But given the way he was recruiting at Washington St., Bone soon learned that his only chance to win in the Pac-12 was to keep the score low and try to steal a victory at the end. By Bone’s final season the Cougars were 336th in the nation in tempo. New head coach Ernie Kent played at a much faster pace in his time at Oregon, and even if the talent level is not there in his first year, Kent will almost certainly increase Washington St.’s pace from last year.

Delaware St.: I don’t think Keith Walker will be a lightning fast coach. He has not been a D1 head coach before, and after he took over as interim coach in February, Delaware St. did not have a huge uptick in pace. But almost anyone would be expected to be faster than former head coach Greg Jackson. In the 13 years for which Ken Pomeroy has tracked the data, Jackson’s team always ranked as one of the 20 slowest teams in D1.

Montana: Montana’s Wayne Tinkle made the NCAA tournament in three of the previous four seasons, but last year Montana struggled. And Tinkle did what veteran coaches do when things are not working. He slowed things down, tried to get his team to focus on what they did well, and tried to ring a late season-run out of the team. The team finished 9-4 after starting 8-9 thanks in no small part to a more controlled pace. Tinkle departed for Oregon St. this off-season and new head coach Travis DeCuire will take over. But even if Tinkle had returned, Montana would have likely played faster than their unusually slow pace last year.

The next four teams are all from the ACC.

Virginia Tech: I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a bold statement. The ACC will not be the slowest conference in the nation for the second year in a row. A lot of people blame the addition of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Notre Dame for the ACC’s decreased pace. But the decrease in pace has actually been coming for a while. The conference couldn’t keep losing fast coaches like Gary Williams and adding slow coaches like Tony Bennett, Brad Brownell, and Steve Donahue, and expect to have the same up-tempo attack as always. The good news is that this year’s additions Buzz Williams (at Virginia Tech), Jim Christian (at Boston College), and Rick Pitino (as the league swaps Maryland for Louisville) should work towards increasing the tempo in the long-run. Williams will likely improve the pace at Virginia Tech in two ways. First, he uses a quicker system. Second, by upgrading the talent level, Virginia Tech will no longer need to play slow to be competitive.

Miami FL: A bigger reason the ACC will play faster next year is that many of the league’s coaches had unusually slow-paced years last year. Jim Boeheim had the slowest team of his career at Syracuse. And Jim Larranaga had the slowest team he’s had in the 13 years Ken Pomeroy has been tracking the stats. In Larranaga’s case, he felt his Miami team was under-manned and needed to play slow to have a chance to be competitive. But with key transfers like Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan joining the fold, Miami should not slow things down quite as much this season. The Hurricanes were the slowest team in the nation last season, and they won’t duplicate that.

Syracuse: I’m not quite as confident that Syracuse will play faster. The team will once again be breaking in a rookie PG. And like last year, the lack of depth could cause Jim Boeheim’s squad to play slower than he would like.

But when you look at the big picture, last year looks like a fluke in terms of Boeheim’s career tempo. Moreover, Syracuse’s pace was artificially deflated because Tyler Ennis never turned the ball over last year.

Year

Syracuse Raw Tempo

Avg 2002-2010

70.3

2011

66.3

2012

65.4

2013

65.2

2014

60.5 

On the other hand, it has now been four years since Syracuse has had a speedy team. While the Orange used to average over 70 possessions per game, Boeheim’s team has been trending towards a much slower pace of play in recent years. I’m projecting that Syracuse’s pace will increase significantly next year (to around 64-65 possessions per game). But without a lot of depth, I would still expect Syracuse to play slower than they have historically.

Boston College: Over his last two seasons, former head coach Steve Donahue slowed BC to a crawl. Donahue was hoping to ring out a few more close wins with the more deliberate pace, but it didn’t work and he lost his job.

Year

Boston College

Tempo Rank

2012

205th

2013

261st

2014

321st 

New head coach Jim Christian has been a mixed bag in terms of tempo. He’s had some fast seasons and some slow seasons with his former teams. But he should get BC to play faster than what we saw last year.

Western Illinois: Former head coach Jim Molinari preferred an extremely slow pace, as his team’s tempo ranked 325th or worse in his entire tenure with the school. Billy Wright just left a Ball St. team that played at a faster tempo. But again, this is really just a case where any new coach would be expected to speed things up when the team ranked just 332nd in tempo last year.

Lamar: This is a bit of a stretch because former head coach Pat Knight employed an up-tempo system. But if you look at what Tic Price did at McNeese St., he clearly believes in an up-tempo attack. And if Price’s historic coaching-style is a fair representation, you can expect Lamar’s players to go even faster next year.

Auburn: Whether it was at Wisconsin-Milwaukee or Tennessee, the numbers support the fact that Bruce Pearl is one of the fastest-paced coaches in the nation. He will install an up-tempo exciting system at Auburn, and put transfers like Antoine Mason and Cinmeon Bowers in a position to play well. Bruce Pearl might not contend for an SEC title right away like at Tennessee, but make no mistake, Auburn will be a running team under their new head coach.

Experience Is Not A Guarantee

The Shove

College basketball was filled with inspired performances this weekend. Michigan St.’s Adreian Payne hit a game-tying three in the final seconds only to watch Wisconsin’s Traevon Jackson hit a game-winning jumper seconds later. Virginia was struggling down one on the road and went on a 22-1 closing run to beat Georgia Tech. Memphis closed with a 10-0 run to edge Gonzaga. Oregon was down 20 to Arizona St., went on an amazing second half run to come back, but still lost by 2. Mississippi’s Marshall Henderson got into a shooting contest with Missouri guards Jabari Brown, Earnest Brown, and Jordan Clarkson, and Ole Miss won thanks to Henderson’s eight threes and 29 points. Jabari Parker Brown went off for 29 points and 16 rebounds. And Iowa St.’s Melvin Ejim topped the weekend with a Big 12 record 48 points.

But despite these inspired performances, it sure feels like the only thing folks will be talking about at the water-cooler on Monday is Oklahoma St.’s Marcus Smart. Smart’s recent shooting slump (documented here by Rob Dauster) is hurting his draft stock, and his team’s poor play is hurting his reputation as a winner. But before this weekend, scouts still pegged him in the lottery due to his size at the PG slot and overall skill set.

Then Smart’s team fell to 4-6 in the Big 12, losing at Texas Tech on Saturday. And if the loss wasn’t painful enough, Smart’s reaction to his team’s struggles in a hostile environment was unacceptable. Smart fell out-of-bounds, got up, and shoved a fan in anger. He earned a technical foul and a three game suspension. Following his chair-kicking incident from a month earlier, Smart now has a big red character flag on his reputation.

I don’t want to spend forever analyzing Smart’s character, whether the suspension was long enough, or the cultural ramifications of a player going into the stands to respond to a fan. Instead I want to ask another question. How does this Oklahoma St.’s season rank in terms of epic disappointments? After all, Oklahoma St. returned a remarkable 89% of its minutes from last year. This was a team that was a co-favorite in the Big 12. And despite bringing basically everyone back, the team sits at 4-6 in the Big 12, the team’s margin-of-victory numbers are worse than last year, and the team’s defense has fallen from 15th nationally to 55th nationally. The Cowboys have given up over one point per possession in six straight games, and in that stretch the team has gone 1-5. But let’s not just stop with Oklahoma St. Let’s ask the bigger question.

How Rare is it For a Team to Bring Everyone Back and Play Worse?

-Harvard returned six players who were starters on either the 2011 or 2012 NCAA tournament team. The Crimson were supposed to dominate the Ivy League and challenge for a high seed in the NCAA tournament. But after losing to Yale this weekend, it isn’t even automatic that they will win the Ivy League. More importantly, Harvard now has some serious questions on offense. In mid-January, Harvard’s margin-of-victory numbers suggested they were a borderline Top 25 team. But after struggling to score in a damaging loss to Florida Atlantic, after a physical Brown defense slowed Harvard down on Friday night, and after Yale’s defense held Harvard down in a loss on Saturday, there are real questions about Harvard’s offensive attack. A team that was 70th and 73rd on offense the last two seasons, currently has the 124th best offense in the nation.

-Boise St. returned 89% of its minutes from a team that made the NCAA tournament last year with great three-point shooting and a lethal 4-guard attack. But after blowing late-game 10 point leads against UNLV and San Diego St., and losing a weekend game at Utah St., Boise St.’s sits at 5-6 in the MWC. And given the league’s poor non-conference showing, Boise St.’s hopes of an at large bid are basically over.

-Boston College returned 95% of its minutes from last year. After finishing 7-6 in their last 13 ACC games last year, and watching Olivier Hanlan emerge into an offensive force, BC seemed poised to make a step forward. Instead the defense has completely collapsed. As noted two weeks ago, Steve Donahue’s team has not adjusted well to the new foul rules. And despite Donahue’s history as a bad defensive coach, this is actually the worst defensive team of his career by a wide margin.

-North Dakota St. returned 95% of its minutes from a team that had the 78th best margin-of-victory numbers in the nation last year. But with losses already to Denver and IPFW in conference play, it took a weekend victory against co-conference leader IPFW for NDSU to even own first place in the Summit league. The big problem is that the team’s defense has fallen off substantially this season. Ranked 59th in the nation last season, NDSU’s defense is now 232nd in the land. And given head coach Saul Phillips’ long-term history on defense, this year’s defensive collapse might not be a fluke.

-Elon returned 95% of its minutes from a team that won its Southern Conference division comfortably. Many pegged them as the favorite over Davidson this year, but their explosive offensive attack couldn’t score at all against Duke’s mediocre defense in December. And with Elon’s defense falling apart, the team sits a disappointing fourth in the league.

-Penn returned an amazing 100% of its minutes from last season, but remains an underwhelming 251st nationally in margin-of-victory, which is actually worse than last season. Despite a nice win over Columbia over the weekend, the long-term power numbers suggest Penn is long-shot to finish above .500 in the Ivy League, let alone win the conference. This was probably best exemplified by the teams 30 point loss to Harvard the previous weekend.

When you read a list like that, it is fair to ask whether this might be the most disappointing group of veteran teams college basketball has ever seen. Of course there are extenuating circumstances:

-Oklahoma St. lost Michael Cobbins to injury and there is no question that the team’s defensive collapse coincides with his injury. Kamari Murphy has fouled out or been in foul trouble in six straight games. And Travis Ford basically refused to play former Top 100 JUCO forward Gary Gaskins or the 7-foot Marek Soucek. Without adequate size in the paint, Oklahoma St. simply can’t keep quality teams from scoring in the paint.

-Boise St. hasn’t actually been playing terrible basketball. There numbers are actually very similar to last year. But the difference between winning close games in the fifth best league and losing close games in the tenth best league means everything for at-large consideration.

-North Dakota St.’s three point percentage on defense (40% against) and the free throw percentage on defense (76% against) are much worse than last year. Both of those are things that the defense has limited control over. So perhaps the epic collapse on defense is a little bit of a fluke.

Still, almost every team will face some adversity in a season. Shouldn’t these veteran squads be better equipped to overcome that? Is returning minutes no longer the strong predictor it used to be? To answer that question let’s go to the data. The next two tables shows the returning minutes for ever D1 team from 2004 to 2013 along the X-axis.

The first figure below graphs the change in adjusted offense from one season to the next based on returning minutes. As the fitted line shows, as a team returns more minutes, its offense is more likely to improve.

The second figure shows the change in adjusted defense. Again, the more minutes a team brings back, the bigger the improvement you should expect on defense. (Generally, you want the defensive rating to decrease, but I flipped the sign so it would be more easy to compare the offense and defense. The comparison shows that returning minutes have a bigger impact on a team’s offense than a team’s defense.)

Yet despite the general correlation, I want to emphasize that bringing everyone back does not guarantee anything. Look closely at the area I have emphasized in red in the lower-right hand corner of both graphs. From 2004-2013, a significant number of teams that returned over 80% of their minutes got worse on either offense or defense. While the experience of Oklahoma St., Harvard, Boston College, and others is unlikely, it is far from rare.

 

  

 

Talent vs Experience

The beauty of the NCAA tournament is often the clash between experience and talent. Will a plucky mid-major squad filled with experienced seniors be able to defeat a young power conference team? And we spend a lot of time nit-picking the youth of talented teams like Kansas and Kentucky. The above analysis shows that maybe we should spend some time nit-picking some of these experienced mid-major squads too.

But for a team like Oklahoma St., the struggles are particularly painful. The Cowboys not only had experience, they supposedly had talent. Marcus Smart was a lottery pick. Markel Brown has been playing All-Big 12 caliber basketball for much of the season. Phil Forte had solved the team’s three point shooting problems. LeBryan Nash has substantially improved his rebounding. The offense is better, and if the defense could have simply matched last year’s form, the Final Four was easily within reach. Even if this isn’t the first team to bring everyone back and play worse basketball, for Oklahoma St. fans, that is probably not much of a consolation.

Opening Weekend Thoughts

Grading Joshua Smith's defense, Oregon's transfer debuts, Harvard's returning Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, and UConn's new big men.

Final Thoughts On Ranking 351 D1 Teams

Over the past few days, Dan Hanner has presented his updated projection model, his season projections on ESPN Insider, Q&A's with Eamonn Brennon and John Templon, along with replying to questions on Twitter. Here are a few additional thoughts that didn't make the cut.

ACC Basketball Early Projection

I use my lineup-based model to project the 2013-2014 ACC standings. Find out why Virginia is a sleeper cotender and Syracuse's offense may still be a weakness.

Feast Week And More Conference Realignment

On the reality of Maryland's move to the Big Ten and the greatness of the early season tournaments.

Early Season Tournaments: Brackets, Observations, And Odds: Part 1

Sorting through the odds of the NIT, 2K Sports Classic, Charleston Classic, Puerto Rico Tipoff, Coaches Vs. Cancer, Paradise Jam and Hall of Fame Tip-Off.

The Many Facets & Unpredictability Of March Madness

While personnel determine scheme in the NBA, college basketball coaches recruit players that fit their schemes.

YABC Column For Feb. 6th (Iowa St., Florida St., Robbie Hummel & More)

On Florida State with and without Ian Miller, Miami's upset of Duke, Missouri as a No. 1 seed, Iowa State, Robbie Hummel as a spot-up shooter and more.

BCS Basketball Power Poll January 2012

Separating the BCS schools into tiers named after John Wooden, Dean Smith, Gene Keady, Rollie Massimino, John Chaney, Kelvin Sampson, Tim Welsh, Pat Knight and Sidney Lowe, how does everyone stand?

Colleges On NBA Rosters

Duke, Kentucky, UCLA, Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, UConn, Florida and Arizona each begin the 11-12 NBA season with 10 or more players on NBA rosters.

The Anti-Recruiting Tool

There are many ways to build a winning program. John Calipari’s focus on younger players may be the best way to get elite recruits, but it isn’t the only way to build a winning program.

ACC Preview Part 2: What Are Duke's Chances?

Since Roy Williams arrived, North Carolina has consistently finished ahead of Duke in the ACC when they return more minutes from the previous season. But Duke will bring in Austin Rivers and four other elite recruits.

ACC Preview Part 1: Can Anyone Compete With The Tar Heels?

No ACC opponent has the talent and experience to match the Tar Heels and Blue Devils. But with fewer possessions per game, even mediocre ACC teams may be an occasional upset threat.

College Coaching Series Part 6

In this edition, we look at pace for all BCS coaches, with the Big 12 and SEC expected to play at the fastest rate in the nation.

College Coaching Series Part 4

Jim Larranaga is the new head coach at the University of Miami, meaning all BCS positions are now filled and we can look at how each coach ranks in the Four Factors.

State Of College Coaching 2011 – Part 1

Only 10 BCS conference coaching jobs changed this offseason, but it is still an opportune time to update the coaching tree.

Counting All-ACC Representatives

Duke has had 15 First Team All-ACC selections over the past decade, compared to nine for UNC. How does the rest of the conference rank?

 

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