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Upsets, Adjustments, And The Game The President Missed

We Don’t Know Anything

With the NFL season coming to a close, many fans will turn their attention to college basketball. This should be the time when college basketball analysts tell you what to expect in the next two months. But the truth is that we don’t know much of anything.

-I thought Kansas was establishing itself as one of the best teams in the nation. Lottery picks Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid were hitting their stride, Kansas was 7-0 in the Big 12, and Texas was a team that had over-achieved to date. So of course Kansas shot 26 percent in the first half at Texas, Andrew Wiggins shot 2-of-12 from the floor and fouled out, and Kansas was blown out on Saturday.

-I thought that Pitt’s great margin-of-victory numbers were evidence that the Panthers were an elite team, even if they lacked a signature victory. But after back-to-back home losses to Duke and Virginia, it is getting harder and harder to make that argument.

-I thought that Duke had turned a corner with a deeper lineup and an improved emphasis on rebounds in recent games. I thought that Duke might be well positioned to give Syracuse their first loss of the year. And Duke seemingly got exactly what they wanted on Saturday. With the exception of one play in the first half (which caused Mike Krzyzewski to call a timeout), the Blue Devils kept Trevor Cooney from coming around on curl cuts for open threes and held Syracuse to just 4 three point attempts in the entire game. Duke made an impressive 15 three pointers against the zone, avoided turnovers, and crashed the offensive glass. The Blue Devils hit a game-tying three at the end of regulation. And yet, Duke had no answer for CJ Fair throughout the game, or Rakeem Christmas in OT. And even if Duke is playing better, the Blue Devils sit three games back in the loss column in the ACC standings.

-I thought Michigan St. had proven that it could win and thrive even with injuries, and that without Joshua Smith, Georgetown’s season was in the tank. The Hoyas had lost six of seven, with the only victory coming in OT against the Big East’s last place team. But the Spartans lack of paint depth is proving significant as Georgetown had its best offensive rebounding performance since December in knocking off the Spartans.

-I thought UNLV head coach Dave Rice was looking to get fired and that his team was on its way to a disappointing sixth home loss of the season. But down by 11 to Boise St. near the four minute mark in the second half, the Running Rebels went on an amazing 12-0 run, including a huge bucket, steal, and bucket by Deville Smith near the 90 second mark. Somehow, UNLV escaped with a victory.

-I thought that Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan never lost at home and that the starting five for the Badgers was one of the most explosive in the nation. But after Wisconsin shot a miserable 26 percent in the home loss to Northwestern, the Badger starters shot a miserable 31 percent from the floor against Ohio St. And Wisconsin lost three home games in a row for the first time since 1998.

-I thought Northwestern was the only truly terrible team in the Big Ten after they started the season 7-9, and had lost the opening three games in Big Ten play by 27, 23 and 26 points. But after Minnesota missed a number of point-blank shots in the final four minutes, Northwestern hung on for the win, and improved to 5-5 in the Big Ten. The Wildcats have won three straight Big Ten road games for the first time since 1960.

-I thought Baylor’s season was over. At 1-6 in the Big 12, with starting PG Kenny Chery ruled out before the game, a trip to Oklahoma St. seemed like the worst case scenario. Scott Drew’s teams have spiraled to dreadful Big 12 finishes before, and when Oklahoma St. went on a second half run to eliminate a nine point deficit, this seemed like more of the same. But of course that is when Baylor’s Gary Franklin, who had made all of four three-pointers in his last six games, made back-to-back triples. The Bears picked up the key road win, and thanks to their non-conference schedule, they remain on the bubble.

-And finally, I thought Arizona was the best team in the country. They have a tight, defense-oriented rotation that has been dominating the Pac-12. They have a great combination of talented post-players and a veteran perimeter scorer in Nick Johnson. And yet, all it took was a rough outside shooting night, and even though Arizona won every other statistical category (rebounds, turnovers, 16 of 16 free throw shooting), the Wildcats were knocked off. Worse yet, Brandon Ashley went down with a foot injury and could be out for an extended period of time. Given Arizona’s lack of rotation depth generally, his injury could be more crippling than the overall loss.

Sure Syracuse is undefeated. Sure, a 2 point loss does nothing to obscure Arizona’s dominant seasonal. But this weekend’s games revealed the truth about college basketball this year. This season is wide open.

Adjusting to the New Rules?

Last week I wrote about coaches who were sending opponents to the free throw line at an unprecedented rate relative to their career numbers. Certainly the new defensive freedom of movement rules contributed somewhat to those numbers.

Nationally, the turnover numbers are also down. The next table shows the major conference coaches with the highest career steal rate (prior to this year) and their steal rate this season. Even if turnovers are down generally, this table suggests that an active zone defense or a full court pressure defense can still be effective at generating turnovers:

Steal Rate

Career

This Year

Shaka Smart

14.6

16.3

M. Anderson

14.0

11.5

Anthony Grant

12.3

10.8

Jim Boeheim

12.3

14.3

Oliver Purnell

12.2

10.2

Josh Pastner

12.2

13.3

Rick Pitino

12.1

13.6

I should be a little careful in presenting this table. While Louisville’s steal rate is higher than it has been for most of the last decade, Louisville’s steals are down from last season. The new rules could be contributing to the dropoff from 2013 to 2014. But I am skeptical that we can blame the entire decrease on the rule changes. Last year was Rick Pitino’s best ball-swiping team ever, and at least part of the decrease in steals should be attributed to the loss of the team leader in steals, Peyton Siva. Also, Louisville has not been able to gamble as much this year because Gorgui Dieng has not been available to bail the defense out when it makes a mistake.

In general, it certainly seems like aggressive defensive strategies can still be effective at forcing turnovers, even with the officials calling more hand-checking violations.

Of course, even if all coaches are not abandoning aggressive defensive strategies, some coaches have made changes this year. I find the numbers for Clemson head coach Brad Brownell to be particularly fascinating. Whether because of the new foul rules, or other reasons, his defense looks substantially different this year.

Despite the fact that FTs are up nationally, Brad Brownell’s team is actually sending opponents to the FT line at a career low rate. Meanwhile, his team is also forcing turnovers at a career low rate. And yet his team’s eFG% against is a career best:

Brad Brownell

Year

eFG% against

TO% forced

FTA per FGA allowed

UNC-Wilm.

2003

46

25

35

UNC-Wilm.

2004

48

25

38

UNC-Wilm.

2005

50

22

41

UNC-Wilm.

2006

44

23

44

Wright St.

2007

49

22

33

Wright St.

2008

48

20

30

Wright St.

2009

45

24

38

Wright St.

2010

49

25

44

Clemson

2011

46

23

35

Clemson

2012

49

23

30

Clemson

2013

47

20

33

Clemson

2014

42

18

29

Essentially, Brownell has evolved his coaching style to take less chances. Clemson is gambling for fewer steals and committing fewer fouls. But by staying home and preventing easy looks, they are still winning games with defense.

Now, I don’t mean to say that Clemson has suddenly evolved into an elite team. They still got blown out at North Carolina as they do every year. But they are sitting at fifth place in the ACC, and they out-defensed Florida St. in an impressive road win on Saturday. One possession before the four-minute mark at the end of the game summed it up perfectly. Florida St. drove inside and there were three Clemson defenders under the basket with their hands straight up. FSU got two looks, but neither shot went in, and Clemson went right back down the court and scored. Florida St. is a team that historically turns the ball over a lot. But even without forcing turnovers, Clemson found a way to shut FSU down. Brad Brownell is showing that a coach can evolve his approach, and still win.

What the President Missed

Last Tuesday, the President apparently wanted to watch Michigan St. at Iowa instead of watching folks file into the capital building on CSPAN. If you were curious about the game he wanted to see, here’s the run-down:

This was one of those sneaky compelling games. Both teams were playing with a “nobody believes in us” chip on their shoulder. For Iowa, despite the fact that this is clearly Fran McCaffery’s best team ever, Iowa has consistently come up short in big games. And to a certain segment of observers, until the Hawkeyes beat the other elite teams, they are not legitimate. Iowa supposedly earned their breakthrough win at Ohio St. a few weeks ago, but with the Buckeyes falling apart since that game, the skeptics remain. Meanwhile Michigan St. was without Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne, and after the home loss to the Michigan Wolverines, the Spartans had to prove they were still a legitimate contender for the Big Ten title. The game delivered:

-In the halftime interview, a visibly shaken Tom Izzo said he had “weird guys” on the floor in the first half. Mike Tirico tried to make it sound a little better by saying Izzo had “weird lineup combinations, not weird guys,” but the comment was both funny and accurate. With Michigan St.’s limited frontcourt depth, Iowa killed the Spartans by throwing lob passes to its big men in the paint. Aaron White and Adam Woodbury combined had as many FT attempts as the Spartans, and Iowa more than doubled up on FT opportunities in the game.

-Meanwhile, we got some flawless basketball to start the second half. The under 16 minute TV timeout was not called until 11:25. Basketball without whistles is beautiful.

-We saw Roy Devyn Marble do his thing as he and his father are now the ninth highest scoring father-son duo in NCAA history. Both are also 1000 point scorers.

-We saw Michigan St.’s Denzel Valentine both make me cringe and smile at the same time. Valentine is not a great three point shooter. But despite a few questionable threes (2-for-7 on the night), at one point he had a brilliant pump-fake on a three and his drive for a dunk was back-breaking.

-We got to see brilliant half-court defense. There’s a certain feeling in a college basketball game when the home team has played lock-down defense for 30 seconds. The road team desperately passes it around the perimeter and starts to realize that no one can even get a clean look at the basket. The crowd becomes more frenetic as the seconds tick down and finally exhales when the shot-clock expires. At 6:30 left in the second half, Iowa executed this to perfection.

-And this even continued into OT. Iowa played brilliant lock-down defense for the first 3 minutes of OT. Michigan St. seemingly couldn’t even get a clean look. And yet MSU’s Keith Appling still got free and nailed a dagger three pointer at the end of one shot-clock. Appling remains one of college baskeball’s best closers. That isn’t to say his is a perfect clutch player. Appling did miss a pair of free throws that would have sealed the game in OT. But whether he is abusing an opponent’s tired legs at the end of regulation, or knocking down a dagger three, Appling know how to win in a hostile environment.

It wasn’t Duke-Syracuse. It wasn’t the game-of-the-year. But it was compelling basketball. At least when it comes to college basketball games, the president has good taste.

Final Comment: I don’t think enough people have been discussing Fran McCaffery technical with Iowa leading 32-30 in the second half. First, I think we have to all acknowledge that McCaffery was correct. Michigan St.’s Keith Appling clearly took three steps in transition and he should have been called for a travelling violation. Sometimes on breakaways, refs will just let that stuff go, but the travel was particularly egregious because if Appling didn’t take three steps, he probably would not have been able to get around the Iowa defender so easily. But even if McCaffery was right to question the call, this marks the second time this year that his technical may have cost his team the game. Michigan St. made both free throws, and in a game that was tied at the end of regulation, and won by two points in OT, those two points seemed particularly important.

Bonus final comment: I can’t believe that Mike Tirico and Jay Bilas were still making the joke about how the Big Ten has 12 teams and Big 12 has 10 teams. First, can we all acknowledge that this is about branding? The Big Ten brand has been around for 100 years, and if they didn’t give it up when they went to 11 teams, they aren’t going to give it up when they go to 14 teams. Brands matter even if they are not factually accurate. I imagine most people aren’t bothered when their local 7-11 store is open until 2am. But more importantly, the joke has been played out. It might have been cute once in 2011, but in 2014 announcers need to let it rest.

Bullets

-Last week Nebraska trailed Indiana by 13, but outscored the Hoosiers by 18 in the second half en route to the victory. I’m paraphrasing here, but after the game, Tim Miles was asked what he said in the locker-room at half-time. “You know I can’t answer that. My mom is watching.”

-Rick Pitino seemed angrier than normal after Louisville’s home loss to Cincinnati, but I think the anger had more to do with the team’s lack of focus than the team’s play. A coach can live with poor physical performance, but Louisville clearly screwed up the execution of the trap/fouling strategy in the final 20 seconds and that type of mental error is not something any coach will accept.

-Speaking of mental errors, leading by one point at Notre Dame, Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan inexplicably hacked ND’s Eric Atkins across the arms with 0.7 seconds left in the game. Atkins hit one of two free throws to send the game to an extra session, and then hit a three point buzzer beater to win in the extra session. Boston College seemingly can never get defensive stops this year, but fouling with less than a second left when the opposing player is 10 feet from the basket is particularly egregious.

-St. Louis remains undefeated in the Atlantic 10 and they owe a huge thanks to 6’11” forward Rob Loe. Loe hit the game-tying three at the end of regulation and another pair of threes in OT, in the narrow win over George Mason.

-The Memphis frontline has really developed this season. But they absolutely did not have an answer for SMU’s Markus Kennedy who was 10 for 10 from the floor with 15 rebounds on Saturday.

-I have an unhealthy love for all-around stat-sheet stuffers like UCLA’s Kyle Anderson, but you have to love a player who can help his team win even when he shoots 1-for-8 from the floor. Anderson dished out 10 assists in Thursday’s win at Oregon, and had the game-sealing block in the final seconds.

Harvard Watch: The news that center Kenyatta Smith would not be playing again this season after breaking his foot is not completely devastating. Although Smith had two of his best games of the year last year against Penn and Princeton, Harvard won against both teams this weekend, even without Smith. Still, against a bigger power conference school in the NCAA tournament, his size would have been a nice option.

Final Thoughts On Ranking 351 D1 Teams

In case you missed it, last Thursday I presented my upgraded projections model. Then I presented my 13-14 season projections on ESPN Insider. My projections included the median simulation, best case, and worst case for every team. I also did a Q & A session with Eamonn Brennan and another one with John Templon. I have also been answering a few questions on Twitter. You would think after all those words I would have run out of things to say, but here are a few thoughts that did not quite make the cut in those articles:

The Underrated Club

Q: Why does the simulation hate Arizona St.? Jahii Carson is one of the best players in the country.

A: Arizona St. is a team with a lot of two-star players on the roster. In fact, they have the second lowest average star rating in the entire Pac-12, ahead of only Utah. Luckily a few of those players are transfers who played well for other teams. But what this really means is that Arizona St. just doesn’t have the same upside as many of the other schools in the Pac-12. Herb Sendek’s track record on defense is also a huge concern.

Q: Why does the simulation hate Maryland? A lineup of Shaquille Cleare, Evan Smotrycz, Dez Wells, Nick Faust and Roddy Peters sounds like it could hang with anyone. And Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, and Damonte Dodd all seem like solid reserves. Why is the model so pessimistic?

A: The simulation is concerned that Maryland has only nine scholarship players on the roster. There is real downside risk with such a short bench because if a couple of players struggle or get injured, there are no alternates. Last year N.C. State entered the year with just nine scholarship players and things turned south early. Now, that doesn’t mean Maryland is destined to fail, but depth is a risk with this type of roster.

Q: Why does the simulation hate Denver? They had a great margin-of-victory numbers last year.

A: While I truly believe star ratings are important, the focus on recruiting evaluations really hurts the small conference squads in my projections. Only when a small conference team has virtually no lineup questions will that team be ranked near the top. (This year the two exceptions are North Dakota St. and Harvard. North Dakota St. brings back 95 percent of its minutes and gets a player back who was injured for much of last year. Meanwhile Harvard gets two star players back who were suspended last season.)

In Denver’s case even with several efficient players back, particularly star Chris Udofia, winning seems likely. But Denver has to replace two of the three players that played the most minutes last season. And the likely replacements will only be two-star athletes. That’s not to say that head coach Joe Scott cannot build a winner again. But it is very hard to get a Top 50 margin-of-victory in a small conference. And if Scott does it again, that should be considered a huge accomplishment. It shouldn’t be the expectation. (The real issue for Denver is finding another ball-handler to compliment Udofia. Last year Royce O’Neale and Udofia both were key distributors for the team, but with O’Neale transferring to Baylor, the remaining options are not great.)

Random Thoughts on Some Major Conference Teams

- In my Insider column, I said that the Spartans were the lowest risk team in the nation which sparked some jokes from Michigan St. fans on Twitter. I think this points out how insanely volatile college basketball can be. Even when the Spartans bring back five of their six top rotation players including three clear stars, their fanbase in nervous. Part of that is the fact that Tom Izzo’s teams notoriously struggle in November. But when a team with Top 10 talent brings nearly everyone back and their fans are nervous, you know that anything can happen in college basketball.

- Michigan’s position in 12th in my rankings is a little misleading. I honestly believe that Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson can lead this team a long way. But I am legitimately concerned about the guard rotation. John Beilein was very reluctant to play Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary together last season because they weren’t outside shooters. So I have to assume Robinson will play most of his minutes at the four-spot again this year. But then how does the guard rotation work? Does the team play Spike Albrecht, Derrick Walton, and Nick Stauskas together? What if Albrecht and Walton aren’t ready? That is why my model has such a low downside for the Wolverines. (And don’t tell me Caris LeVert is the answer. He was a low-ranked recruit and nothing he did last season leads me to believe he should be a key player on a Top 10 team.)

- When I first ran the model, I was a little surprised the downside for Kentucky was not lower. After all, a young Kentucky team lost in the first round of the NIT last season. But this is what happens when you return two efficient high potential players (in Alex Poythress and Will Cauley-Stein), and add five Top 10 recruits. With that many high potential players, even if two or three of them struggle immensely, Kentucky can still win. Kentucky could not afford for Archie Goodwin to struggle and Nerlens Noel to get injured last season. This year if Julius Randle struggles and Will Cauley-Stein gets hurt, the team can just say “Next man in.”

- I love the range for Indiana in my ESPN Insider rankings. The team has 7 top 100 recruits, and an elite season is still possible. But given all the new faces and how little most of the returning sophomores played last year, the downside risk is major.

- If you want to vote any of my model’s Top 34 teams into the Top 25, I can see arguments for all of them. But I stick by my model’s skepticism of Baylor. Pierre Jackson carried the Bears last year and I don’t see how they can be a better team without him. Their margin of victory was 26th last year (thanks to winning the NIT) and I only give them about a 20 percent chance to do better than that.

- If you have ESPN Insider, look at how painfully low Alabama’s downside is this year. After Devonta Pollard was arrested this offseason, the team is down to nine scholarship players who are eligible this year. If someone on Alabama’s squad doesn't play well, there are no alternatives. This is too bad because Anthony Grant is such a talented young coach, but off-court issues keep derailing his teams.

- Iowa St. made a great move adding Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane. But I suspect Fred Hoiberg needed to add a couple more transfers to keep his transfer winning streak going. With 64% of the lineup gone and four of Iowa St.'s six most efficient players departing (Melvin Ejim and George Niang return), expect Iowa St. to take a step back.

- My model is more optimistic about Seton Hall than what you see in some other rankings. Texas transfer Sterling Gibbs will be a huge upgrade over Tom Maayan and his 50% turnover rate. And with fewer injuries, Kevin Willard should have the defense playing better.

Random Thoughts on Some Mid-Major Conferences

- I’ve still got St. Mary’s on the NCAA bubble. Many will discount the team after Matthew Dellavedova's departure. But Beau Leveasque and Stephen Holt aren't suddenly going to forget how to shoot. Brad Wadlow isn't going to stop being a physical force on the boards and finishing over 60 percent of his shots. This team still has talent.

- The team I think most pundits have over-rated this year is Northeastern. The Huskies were extremely lucky last year. Despite the 7th best MOV in the CAA, they won a ton of close games, including a 4-1 record in OT. Their conference title is very deceiving. With the team's leading scorer and most efficient player Joel Smith gone, a repeat conference title seems unlikely.

- One team I am buying is Weber St. Weber St. had the best margin-of-victory in the Big Sky last year. They even outscored Montana by 19 points in their three meetings. But somehow they went 1-2 against the Grizzlies and that 1-2 mark gave Montana the regular season and conference tournament title. Weber St.’s aggressive and efficient inside-outside combination of Davion Berry and Kyle Tresnak is going to make sure that doesn't happen again.

- The conference champion I expect to come out of nowhere this year is Manhattan. Manhattan somehow lost 10 games to conference foes, but only one of those games was by double digits. This team was much better than last year's conference record would indicate.

- The race for the Big West title is wide open. I have five teams projected within one game of first place in that league.

- The CUSA race should also be highly entertaining. Louisiana Tech is the only team in CUSA that returns over 70 percent of its minutes from last year. (Tech brings back 85 percent of its minutes.) And Tech's losses won't hurt the offense. The team loses its least efficient player Brandon Gibson, and the extremely passive JL Lewis. With an already solid defense and an improved offense, Louisiana Tech could be headed for the NCAA tournament. But Southern Miss is just as formidable a competitor. The newest Golden Eagle, transfer Aaron Brown, shot the ball extremely well as a sophomore at Temple. His addition could give Southern Miss the CUSA title.

- Speaking of transfers, transfer Jay Harris was the PG on a Valparaiso team that won the Horizon league title in 2012. He could be the key addition that gets Wagner an NEC conference title in 2014.

- Finally, Indiana St. PG Jake Odum has to be kicking himself that RJ Mahurin transferred out in order to play his senior year with his younger brother. Mahurin was the team's only efficient big man, and the Sycamores could have been a more realistic NCAA bubble team had Mahurin returned.

Late Breaking News

- The news that Josh Smith was eligible immediately didn’t break until after I finished my rankings. With a full season of Smith you can move the Hoyas up to 27th in my projections. But as many people have noted, because of his conditioning, it still isn’t clear how much Smith will play. The downside risk for the Hoyas remains real. However, I do think that it is a major break that Smith will be around from the start of the season. The Hoya offense is a nuanced system that depends on precise cuts and passes, and integrating Smith mid-season would have been much more difficult.

- I had already assumed Joseph Young would be eligible for Oregon so their ranking is not affected by that news. It is clear that the transfer combination of Mike Moser and Young could be one of the best inside-outside combinations in the country. But I want to offer several cautionary tales. Ryan Harrow, Trey Ziegler, and Aaric Murray were three transfers that received a ton of hype last summer, and they were all such poor fits in the new environment, they have all moved on again. We’ve seen teams bring in a bunch of transfers and live up to expectations (like Iowa St.), but we have also seen teams take in a lot of transfer and disappoint (like Missouri last year.) Transfers are high risk players, and that is why my model has such a large range for the Ducks this season.

Dan Hanner vs Ken Pomeroy

Ken Pomeroy also released his preseason rankings on Saturday. While he is rather humble about his algorithm, I think it is important to note how well his system did last season. From a modeling perspective, a more complex system is not always better.

I would argue that the real advantage of my lineup-based system is not the predictive power. The advantage is that by focusing on the lineup, my model has fewer head-scratching conclusions. For example, Ken’s team level model has Miami at 62nd this year. With basically everyone in last year’s rotation gone and Angel Rodriguez electing not to apply for a transfer waiver, that’s an extremely optimistic prediction. But that prediction is based on how well Miami did last season, not any reasonable evaluation of the current roster. The same can probably be said of Minnesota at No. 35. The Gophers had strong margin-of-victory numbers last year, so Ken’s model loves them again this season. But my model sees that the Gophers made a substantial downgrade in the front-court and added an unproven coach. My model based on the current lineup has Miami at No. 102 and Minnesota at No. 63, and I think that’s much closer to what I have seen in most expert rankings.

But while Ken’s model can cause us to scratch our heads at certain results, do not overlook his predictions. The last five seasons of data are a very strong predictor in the aggregate. (If a team had a great offense before it tends to have better facilities, higher caliber recruits, and better coaches today.) And when the results of both our models agree, those are probably the strongest predictions of all. 

ACC Basketball Early Projection

Last fall on Basketball Prospectus I introduced the first ever lineup-based statistical model. Today, I use that model to project the 2013-2014 ACC college basketball standings:

 

Team

Proj CW

Proj CL

Proj Off

Proj Def

T100

Ret Min

Ret Poss

Last Off

Last Def

Duke

14

4

115.4

90.6

10

58%

50%

118.9

90.3

N. Carolina

13

5

114.3

89.8

10

69%

73%

111.6

92.9

Virginia

13

5

112.9

89.6

5

74%

82%

107.0

89.7

Syracuse

12

6

110.3

89.2

8

52%

45%

112.5

85.7

Pittsburgh

12

6

113.1

92.0

4

59%

58%

115.4

89.2

Maryland

11

7

111.4

93.0

6

61%

64%

106.2

92.3

Notre Dame

10

8

111.1

96.7

3

78%

78%

113.6

95.8

Florida St.

9

9

110.1

96.9

5

84%

80%

105.0

101.1

B. College

8

10

111.1

100.0

0

95%

96%

109.3

101.8

NC State

7

11

109.2

100.6

6

21%

18%

115.7

97.8

Wake Forest

6

12

103.1

97.3

3

76%

76%

99.2

96.6

Georgia Tech

6

12

98.7

93.4

5

80%

83%

98.2

91.8

Clemson

6

12

99.2

94.6

0

64%

61%

98.6

94.1

Miami FL

5

13

99.2

97.8

1

18%

14%

113.7

90.3

Virginia Tech

3

15

100.9

106.0

3

68%

55%

105.0

105.9

Proj CW, CL = Projected conference wins and losses

Proj Off, Def = Projected points scored and allowed per 100 possessions against an average D1 team on a neutral floor

Top 100 = Number of players ranked in the RSCI Top 100 out of high school who are on the roster 

Ret Min, Ret Poss = Returning minutes and possessions

Last Off, Last Def = Last year’s offense and defense

Duke: Quinn Cook, Andre Dawkins, Rasheed Sulaimon, Mississippi St. transfer Rodney Hood, Amile Jefferson, #2 recruit Jabari Parker. Yes, Duke is going to be dominant again.

North Carolina: Marcus Paige, PJ Hairston, Leslie McDonald, James McAdoo, and four high potential young forwards (either ready to make the sophomore leap or contribute from day one) should make for a dominant lineup.

Virginia: At the start of April I wrote this: “Everything is coming together for Virginia. They have their three top scorers (really the only guys who scored at all) back from last year. Former Top 100 recruit Mike Tobey should be ready for that sophomore year leap in production. They add depth with South Carolina transfer Anthony Gill. Malcolm Brogdon (who missed the entire season) and Darion Atkins should be back healthy. And Virginia played very good basketball in conference games last year.” The only question mark is point-guard. London Perrantes, Teven Jones, and/or Devon Hall have to come through for this team to meet its expectations. And while at #97 ESPN recruit Perrantes isn’t a sure thing, the model thinks he will easily exceed the efficiency of Jontel Evans. Evans couldn’t shoot at all last year and posted an 83.4 ORtg. When a team loses its most inefficient players and has solid replacements coming in, that team should be substantially improved.

Syracuse: Unfortunately, Syracuse seems poised for another brutal offensive year. There were basically only four guys on the team that could score last year, and three of them are gone. The real problem is the lack of depth on the perimeter. My model has Duke transfer Michael Gbinije playing some minutes at the shooting-guard spot, but as Georgetown saw last year when they tried to play Otto Porter at that spot, a four forward lineup doesn’t have the right spacing. This is especially true given that among Syracuse’s returning forwards only CJ Fair has a true jump shot.

That means Syracuse will have to give a lot of minute to Tyler Ennis, Trevor Cooney, and Ron Patterson. Tyler Ennis might have a higher recruiting rank than Virginia’s London Perrantes, but he still isn’t a guaranteed star where he is rated. And Trevor Cooney was brutal last season. While the model predicts Cooney will be better this year, he certainly can’t be counted on to be a star. And Syracuse hasn’t had much success utilizing unranked freshmen right of the bat which isn’t good for Ron Patterson’s expectations.

DaJuan Coleman might become a high scorer next year, but it is a catch-22. While he is the only returning player who was a high volume shooter, he wasn’t very efficient (89.1 ORtg) last year. Part of that was an injury issue, but even with a fairly sizable jump in efficiency this year, he won’t be able to carry the offense. Don’t be fooled by transfer Michael Gbinije’s ORtg on Statsheet.com. He basically never played for Duke two years ago. The fact that he didn’t play says more about his expectations then whatever numbers he posted in garbage time in a few games. And don’t be fooled by Baye Moussa Keita’s efficiency either. Keita basically never shot last year. Syracuse has eight former Top 100 recruits on the roster, so they have talent. But it isn’t quite the right fit to expect a dominant offense.

 

Player

Ht In

RSCI Rnk

Class

Pred ORtg

Pred Pct Min

Pred Pct Poss

C.J. Fair

6'8"

96

Sr

113.1

88%

23%

Tyler Ennis

6'2"

38

Fr

100.1

69%

21%

Trevor Cooney

6'4"

79

Jr

100.4

69%

19%

Jerami Grant

6'8"

41

So

108.7

50%

20%

R. Christmas

6'9"

21

Jr

110.5

50%

16%

Michael Gbinije

6'6"

28

So

103.5

39%

20%

Tyler Roberson

6'7"

27

Fr

100.1

38%

21%

Baye M. Keita

6'10"

 

Sr

120.0

37%

13%

Ron Patterson

6'3"

 

Fr

93.1

31%

19%

DaJuan Coleman

6'9"

18

So

97.6

30%

27%

Head Coach:

   

SOSmod

1.05

   

Syracuse

   

Pred Off

110.3

   

Where I think the model may be wrong is not the offense, but the defense. The model is skeptical because Jim Boeheim has only had an adjusted defense below 89.0 once in his career. That one year was last season, so perhaps it will be repeatable. But Michael Carter-Williams had rare size at the PG spot. He made it brutally hard for teams like Indiana to get open looks at three and for players to make basic entry passes. If Cooney and Ennis can duplicate that, then Syracuse may be a Top 10 team.  My model expects a solid but not historic defensive performance from Syracuse.

Pittsburgh: This is going to sound odd, but Pittsburgh probably has a better starting rotation than Syracuse. Talib Zanna was Pittsburgh’s best forward last season. James Robinson was impressive as a first-year PG, and Lamar Patterson was a do-everything player. Meanwhile, JJ Moore is back and he was Pittsburgh’s most efficient bench player. The team also adds highly ranked freshman recruit Mike Young at forward. The real weakness for Pittsburgh is going to be depth. After those five guys, there is a serious drop-off. But keep in mind that Jamie Dixon has only finished with more than six conference losses once in his career. That isn’t going to change even in a stacked ACC.

Maryland: Replacing Alex Len won’t be easy, but the combination of Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell’s development, combined with the addition of a lights out perimeter shooting forward (Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz) should make it palatable. Pe’shon Howard was so inefficient at the PG slot that his departure is probably addition by subtraction.

Notre Dame: For those of you keeping track, despite being listed as seniors last year, Garrick Sherman and Tom Knight are coming back. I am most interested to see how Mike Brey utilizes freshmen Demetrius Jackson. Brey usually has a short-leash with freshmen. The exception was Luke Harangody, and Jackson might just be that kind of freshmen. What is holding Notre Dame back is that Mike Brey is not an elite defensive coach. And that means the loss of a premiere defensive rebounder like Jack Cooley is a real problem.

Florida St.: Somehow, despite a horrible non-conference season, and terrible margin-of-victory numbers, the Seminoles won nine ACC games last year. I expect Florida St.’s offense and defense to be substantially better than last year. But I don’t expect them to match last year’s exceptional luck. And in an improved ACC, I project Florida St. as a 9-9 team. They will be better, but they might not have more conference wins to show for it.

Of course, if Andrew Wiggins matriculates, this expectation will be much higher.

Looking back, it is hard to believe how dreadful Florida St. played at times last season. The Seminoles scored 36 against Virginia and an even more embarrassing 46 against defensively challenged Wake Forest.  Highly rated freshman Montay Brandon had one of those avert-your-eyes awful seasons. It was amazing how much Leonard Hamilton stuck with him despite his clear offensive struggles. Brandon’s poor performance shows the difference between an old-school coach and a new-school coach. Buzz Williams and Brad Stevens would have never let a player like Brandon waste so many possessions.

But despite these offensive concerns, the real problem was the defense. How did one of the top defensive coaches suddenly forget what he was doing? I think the injury to Ian Miller had a lot to do with it, but the overall team performance was head-scratching. With a healthy Ian Miller, I predict a substantial bounce-back on both ends of the court. But it also depends on Hamilton making better lineup decisions than last season.

Boston College: Notre Dame transfer Alex Dragicevich will add to the team’s depth. But until Boston College starts playing better defense, they won’t make the tournament.

NC State: If you ask Mark Gottfried, he will admit that the lack of depth last year was frustrating. It made it hard to hold legitimate practices. But thanks to a host of defections NC State only has eight scholarship players again. One of those eight players, Jordan Vandenburg has struggled to ever earn playing time and was injured for much of last year. It is possible Vandenburg will break out as a fifth-year senior, but the expectations cannot be that high. The other seven players (including LSU transfer Ralston Turner and JUCO addition Desmond Lee) should all be solid players. But at this point, you have to bank on extreme luck to even put together a decent rotation. No one can get injured. None of the prized recruits can be a bust.

And Mark Gottfried hasn’t exactly been the kind of guy to bring a new crop of recruits together and play top defense right away. NC State probably has a higher upside than some of the teams listed ahead of them, but the downside risk is pretty high too. If everyone (but Vandenburg) comes back, this team will be in much better shape in 2014-15.

Wake Forest: Wait, why is Jeff Bzdelik still the head coach? Senior Travis McKie deserves better.

Georgia Tech: Marcus George-Hunt and Robert Carter were solid scorers as freshman last season and as highly ranked high school recruits, there is no reason to think they won’t make the sophomore leap and become stars this year. Overall Georgia Tech’s offense would be rated higher, but there is a major question mark at the PG slot. Solomon Poole wasn’t ready last year, but the alternatives Corey Heyward and Travis Jorgenson don’t have obvious pedigrees either. Without a strong point-guard and with several offensive liabilities in the rotation, the offense will still be bad.

Clemson: Given that they lose their two best players and have zero players who were elite high school recruits on their roster, I think a lot of preseason predictions will have them even lower than this. There really isn’t anyone on the roster who looks like a likely offensive star. (The only good news is that Clemson was young last year and the sophomore leap should help at least a couple of their freshmen become solid players.) But let’s face it, this is going to be an ugly team to watch. The only reason the model doesn’t have Clemson lower is because of Brad Brownell’s ability to teach defense.

Miami: Give Jim Larranaga credit for what Miami did last year, but this is a rebuilding year. This team was just devastated by graduations and Shane Larkin’s early entry into the draft. I think the lineup-based model may be a little too pessimistic. But the best-case scenario here is probably what Vanderbilt did in the SEC last year.  Don’t count on much from guys like Tony Jekiri and Erik Swoope. Guys who shoot that little rarely become big scorers. I feel bad for Rion Brown.

Virginia Tech: Goodbye Erick Green. Yep, next year isn’t going to be any better.

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