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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.

Should We Ignore The Components Of Defense That Teams Can't Control?

Given the small sample of games in a college basketball season, even if every player returns, a team’s defense is surprisingly unpredictable. As an anecdotal illustration of that point, in last week’s column I noted that North Dakota St. brought back essentially its entire roster in 2014, and yet NDSU’s defense was much worse than in 2013. But brilliant South Carolina Gamecock writer @chickenhoops emailed me and pointed out that North Dakota St. wasn’t necessarily a worse defensive team last year, they were just unlucky. The Bison’s collapse on defense was almost entirely driven by factors outside their control. Notably, North Dakota St.’s opponents hit an incredibly high percentage of three pointers, and made an extremely high percentage of free throws on the season. I had noted that North Dakota St.’s defense fell from 59th to 131st. But ChickenHoops noted that if opponents had made the same percentage of threes or the same percentage of free throws as the average D1 team, North Dakota St.’s defense would have ranked 70th in 2013 and 74th in 2014.

Most people would agree that teams have little control over their opponent’s free throw percentage. And Ken Pomeroy has argued that an opponent’s three point percentage is something teams also have little control over. (Ken argues that teams have control over whether opponents take threes, but have substantially less control over whether those shots fall.)

And as ChickenHoops proposes, we can easily recalculate each team’s points allowed per 100 possessions, assuming their opponents hit the D1 average percentage of free throws and threes. This new measure of defense will be the points allowed per 100 possessions, assuming more typical luck. In the next table I show how each team’s defense would have looked last season using this new measure.

In the major conferences, a team like Vanderbilt stands out as fortunate last year. While the average team made roughly 70% of its free throws last year, Vanderbilt’s opponents made only 65% of their free throws. And while the average team made 35% of its threes last year, Vanderbilt opponents made only 30% of their threes.

On the flip side, a team like Notre Dame was probably very unfortunate to have such a bad defensive season last year. Opponents made 75% of their free throws and 39% of their threes against Notre Dame last year, far above the national averages.

Team

Conf

Def

New Def

Change

Vanderbilt

SEC

99.0

101.3

2.3

Clemson

ACC

95.0

97.2

2.2

Memphis

AAC

98.1

100.0

1.9

Texas A&M

SEC

96.3

98.1

1.8

Louisville

AAC

90.0

91.8

1.8

Arizona St.

P12

97.6

99.4

1.8

Northwestern

B10

94.2

95.9

1.7

Kansas St.

B12

94.8

96.4

1.6

North Carolina

ACC

95.4

96.9

1.5

Virginia

ACC

90.1

91.6

1.5

Virginia Tech

ACC

100.5

101.9

1.4

Nebraska

B10

96.1

97.4

1.3

Connecticut

AAC

91.8

93.1

1.3

Cincinnati

AAC

91.3

92.5

1.2

Utah

P12

96.5

97.6

1.1

USC

P12

102.2

103.2

1.0

Ohio St.

B10

89.6

90.6

1.0

Butler

BE

99.6

100.6

1.0

Wake Forest

ACC

101.9

102.8

0.9

South Carolina

SEC

102.3

103.2

0.9

Syracuse

ACC

93.6

94.4

0.8

Duke

ACC

102.3

103.1

0.8

SMU

AAC

94.7

95.5

0.8

UCF

AAC

106.1

106.9

0.8

Missouri

SEC

104.4

105.2

0.8

Oklahoma St.

B12

96.6

97.4

0.8

Kentucky

SEC

96.9

97.7

0.8

Maryland

ACC

95.5

96.2

0.7

Indiana

B10

97.5

98.2

0.7

Washington

P12

104.5

105.2

0.7

Xavier

BE

100.6

101.3

0.7

West Virginia

B12

104.2

104.8

0.6

UCLA

P12

97.3

97.9

0.6

Miami FL

ACC

100.0

100.6

0.6

Providence

BE

102.2

102.8

0.6

Florida St.

ACC

98.8

99.4

0.6

Iowa

B10

102.7

103.3

0.6

Florida

SEC

89.3

89.8

0.5

Baylor

B12

100.0

100.4

0.4

Georgia

SEC

99.1

99.5

0.4

Kansas

B12

96.3

96.7

0.4

Georgetown

BE

102.1

102.5

0.4

Pittsburgh

ACC

96.2

96.5

0.3

Mississippi

SEC

102.7

102.9

0.2

Marquette

BE

100.2

100.4

0.2

Creighton

BE

104.1

104.3

0.2

Temple

AAC

109.1

109.3

0.2

Mississippi St.

SEC

103.7

103.9

0.2

Georgia Tech

ACC

99.8

99.9

0.1

Oregon

P12

100.6

100.7

0.1

Purdue

B10

101.2

101.3

0.1

NC State

ACC

102.9

103.0

0.1

Arizona

P12

88.5

88.6

0.1

Arkansas

SEC

98.1

98.1

0.0

Illinois

B10

93.3

93.3

0.0

Texas

B12

98.4

98.4

0.0

Michigan

B10

102.1

102.1

0.0

TCU

B12

103.1

103.0

-0.1

Houston

AAC

108.0

107.9

-0.1

Tennessee

SEC

94.8

94.7

-0.1

St. John's

BE

96.8

96.6

-0.2

Washington St.

P12

103.5

103.2

-0.3

LSU

SEC

99.4

99.1

-0.3

Oklahoma

B12

100.6

100.2

-0.4

Colorado

P12

96.9

96.5

-0.4

Wisconsin

B10

97.6

97.2

-0.4

Villanova

BE

94.5

94.1

-0.4

Oregon St.

P12

107.1

106.6

-0.5

Seton Hall

BE

101.2

100.7

-0.5

Alabama

SEC

100.0

99.5

-0.5

Michigan St.

B10

96.2

95.7

-0.5

Stanford

P12

97.0

96.4

-0.6

Penn St.

B10

100.8

100.2

-0.6

Iowa St.

B12

99.9

99.2

-0.7

DePaul

BE

107.3

106.5

-0.8

Texas Tech

B12

102.2

101.4

-0.8

Auburn

SEC

106.5

105.7

-0.8

Minnesota

B10

100.4

99.6

-0.8

South Florida

AAC

104.1

103.2

-0.9

California

P12

100.6

99.6

-1.0

Rutgers

AAC

106.3

104.9

-1.4

Boston College

ACC

111.4

109.9

-1.5

Notre Dame

ACC

106.4

104.1

-2.3

Though not listed in the above table, Wichita St. was also extremely fortunate last year. The Shockers opponents made only 65% of their free throws and 31% of their threes last year. Wichita St.’s opponents rarely had scorching shooting nights, and when they did, (Evansville making 5 of 11 threes and 15 of 16 free throws), the game was enough of a mismatch that it didn’t matter. The Kentucky game was arguably the first time on the season that one of Wichita St.’s quality opponents had an unusually good shooting night.

This is worth revisiting in the middle of next season, to see if the margin-of-victory rankings are misleading us about the top teams. But it can make a meaningful difference. With this alternative metric, Notre Dame was not the 99th best team in the nation last year, but they were the 82nd best team.

Another way to think about this is to think about performance between seasons. A team’s adjusted defense is correlated year-to-year. But if I use this new measure of defense, the year-to-year correlation is meaningfully higher. The improvement in the unexplained variation is a bit difficult to put into words, but perhaps a comparison will help. One of the factors that matters in my model is the height of each team’s center. Using this new measure of defense improves the performance of my prediction model four times as much as adding the height of each team’s center to the model.

Since my prediction model is a bit complicated, for now let’s think about the simplest possible prediction model which accounts for returning minutes (but which does not account for individual player stats, player heights, recruiting rankings, or coaching). I’m discussing results based on the last 10 seasons of data. In this simple prediction model, if a team brings back the average number of minutes, having a defense that is 1 point better predicts that the defense will be 0.67 points better the following season. But when we use this new measure of defense, a defense that is 1 point better predicts that the defense will be 0.72 points better the following season. For a team on the unfortunate end of the scale, like Notre Dame, using the new measure of defense essentially moves them up about 12 spots in my projections for next year.

It is not fair to say that teams have no control over their opponent’s free throw percentage. FT defense depends on which players a team fouls. And Pomeroy has admitted that three point percentage includes some information. But college basketball analysts should be thinking of this a bit like Batting Average on Balls in Play in baseball. If a team is way too high or way too low in free throw defense or three point percentage defense, that probably is a bit about luck. Both within seasons and between seasons, we shouldn’t necessarily expect that component of defensive performance to persist.

College Basketball Injury Splits Part 1

It is time for my first look at this year’s injuries and suspensions. I look at all meaningful injuries in the top seven conferences, plus key injuries for a few other elite teams (like Gonzaga). I am generally going to limit the splits to situations where we have at least three games with and without the player. And, with a few key exceptions, I also limit my analysis to players who were playing at least 20 minutes per game when in the lineup.

Obviously, all of these splits involve small samples. These stats are descriptive, but not necessarily predictive of the future. But part of the discussion below will be to decide whether what we see in the splits was caused by the injury and whether the trend is likely to continue.

Note that the splits can only say something about players that have played part of the season. For a player like Florida’s Chris Walker who has yet to play a minute of college basketball, there is no data to describe what impact his suspension has had on the Gators.

Off = Points Scored Per 100 Possessions, Adjusting for Opponent and Venue

Def = Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions, Adjusting for Opponent and Venue

W = Wins

L = Losses

PWP = Pythagorean Winning Percentage

Team

Off

Def

W

L

PWP

Notre Dame

113.3

101.7

8

4

0.776

Notre Dame (no Grant)

110.5

105.4

3

3

0.633

           

Washington St.

105.0

102.2

5

5

0.578

Washington St. (no Lacy)

89.8

97.6

2

5

0.278

           

Vanderbilt

104.2

96.4

8

4

0.709

Vanderbilt (no McClellan)

109.6

110.1

1

3

0.487

           

Georgetown

113.1

93.5

10

3

0.899

Georgetown (no Smith)

101.7

104.0

1

3

0.435

Don’t let the win over Duke fool you. Notre Dame hasn’t been the same team without leading scorer Jerian Grant. Even Sunday’s home win over a bad Virginia Tech team on Digger-Phelps-Appreciation-Day ended up with a closer final margin than Notre Dame would have liked. Notre Dame has been playing like the 109th best team in the nation with Grant out, which would leave the team well short of the NCAA tournament.

DaVonte Lacy was the highest scoring and most efficient offensive player for Washington St. Not surprisingly, the team has fallen apart without Lacy in the lineup. But it is distressing how poorly Washington St. has played. The 25 point game against Arizona (which Deter Kernich-Drew also missed) was frankly embarrassing and the 89.8 number for the team’s offense reflects that ineptitude.

When Vanderbilt dismissed Eric McClellan, you might have assumed that it would hurt the Commodores’ offense. After all, McClellan was the team’s leading scorer. But McClellan had become an offensive liability. He was a high volume shooter, without necessarily getting the approval of his coaching staff, and his ORtg was unacceptably low. Since McClellan has been out, Vanderbilt’s offense has actually improved slightly. But shockingly Vanderbilt has had four of its worst defensive games of the season, including giving up 113 points per 100 possessions against an offensively inept Alabama team. Part of that is also due to the absence of Josh Henderson. Henderson has been out for more than four games, but his absence (and the team’s lack of frontcourt options) wasn’t exposed until SEC play. I don’t think this necessarily reflects how Vanderbilt will play going forward, but it is fair to say that in the four games without McClellan and Henderson, Vanderbilt’s defense has fallen apart.

With Joshua Smith missing the last four games due to academics, and with Jabril Trawick missing three of those games with a jaw injury, Georgetown’s rotation is now decimated. Georgetown head coach John Thompson III likes to use a short rotation, but that strategy has backfired given these player losses. Georgetown was competitive for the first 30 minutes in the last two games, but gave up a huge run late against Xavier and Seton Hall, and I don’t think that timing is a coincidence. The Hoyas have been relying far too heavily on their starters and the team has simply run out of gas late in games. Georgetown’s current level of play is not even that of an NIT team.

The next set of teams also have clear splits, but these all reflect situations where I want to see more data before I draw any strong conclusions.

Team

Off

Def

W

L

PWP

Seton Hall (missing Auda, Edwin, Gibbs, and/or Teague)

109.1

105.2

6

5

0.603

Seton Hall

107.2

95.2

5

2

0.797

           

Creighton

122.8

94.7

13

2

0.952

Creighton (no Gibbs)

129.8

108.3

2

1

0.889

           

Northwestern

99.5

99.7

7

9

0.492

NW (no Sobelewski)

88.7

79.5

2

1

0.778

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida (missing Wilbekin, Hill, Finney-Smith, and/or Casey Prather

113.7

93.3

8

2

0.907

Florida

113.6

90.7

7

0

0.930

-Most people have probably written Seton Hall off at this point. But high volume scorer Fuquan Edwin has missed four games, rebounding monster Gene Teague has missed four games, rebounder and efficient finisher Patrik Auda has missed 6 games, and stud PG Sterling Gibbs has missed a game too. When all four of those players have been available, this has been a significantly better team. Now the stats are not saying that Seton Hall is going to the NCAA tournament. But with all these players available, they’ve played more like an inconsistent bubble team, rather than a conference bottom feeder.

We clearly need to see more. This weekend’s Georgetown game was only the second time since November that all four of these players have been in the lineup. The small conference games suggest they were decent, but the only quality opponent Seton Hall has faced with the full complement of players was Oklahoma, a game Seton Hall narrowly lost in New York City.

Also, if you are worried that these numbers are being inflated by the Georgetown game, they are not. When I adjust for Seton Hall’s opponents, I factor in in Georgetown’s lower level of play without Joshua Smith. Regardless, the punchline is clear: Don’t assume you know this year’s Seton Hall team yet.

-Creighton is a worse team without Sterling Gibbs, but the defensive drop-off you see here looks to be a bit of a one-game fluke. Creighton had one of the worst defensive games of the year against Providence, allowing 134 points per 100 possessions, and that can’t all because Gibbs was out. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Gibbs loss does have larger ramifications for the defense. As a 6’5” guard, Gibbs size is important to the team’s defense.

-Next up, we have a split that seems like random noise. Northwestern didn’t suddenly learn to play defense when Dave Sobelewski went down. This split mostly reflects Illinois and Indiana’s complete inability to make jump shots. Northwestern has capitalized with two wins in the last three games.

-Finally, I saw a lot of people make national title picks this week and include Florida in the group of title contenders. And I completely agree. Scottie Wilbekin, Kasey Hill, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Casey Prather have all missed games this year. But as the table shows, when Florida has had all of these players, the Gators have played like the tenth best team in the nation. Florida has wins against Kansas and Memphis with their current lineup, but they also narrowly beat a mediocre Auburn team with that lineup. In the end, I think Florida will end up closer to No. 1 than No. 10, but we need to see more games with everyone available. (Of course, even today, calling Florida full strength is a little deceiving because Chris Walker and Damontre Harris have not been eligible, and Eli Carter has never been fully healthy.)

The next table shows some of the most baffling splits:

Team

Off

Def

W

L

PWP

Michigan

117.9

93.8

4

4

0.935

Michigan (no McGary)

121.6

98.7

7

0

0.917

           

Oregon St. (no Moreland)

110.3

106.4

8

4

0.602

Oregon St.

116.7

104.6

2

3

0.779

           

Gonzaga

121.6

99.7

10

2

0.907

Gonzaga (no Bell)

112.7

92.4

5

1

0.907

           

Oregon (no Artis/Carter)

120.1

103.2

9

0

0.851

Oregon

115.8

102.3

4

4

0.806

-In the Michigan split, I dropped the first two games of the year (which McGary also missed). Michigan has gone on an incredible winning streak with Mitch McGary out. The team has gone 7-0, and the win at Wisconsin this weekend was one of the most impressive efforts any team has pulled off this season. But, the splits say something different. The splits say that while the offense has been better in recent games, Michigan’s defense has been significantly worse, and that has meant the team’s overall performance (as measured by the PWP) has been fairly steady.

The biggest reason for an improvement in Michigan’s record is a change in the Wolverines’ luck. Or if you don’t like that term, Michigan has handled the pressure of close games better and won those games. Since McGary went down, Michigan has won close games against Stanford, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Meanwhile, prior to the injury they were losing close games to Arizona and Charlotte. But the numbers suggest that overall, Michigan has been about the same quality of team early and later in the year.

McGary was clearly hurt before he elected for surgery, so I’m not surprised the offense could get better without him. But I am surprised to see the defensive drop-off. Jordan Morgan has a reputation as a quality defensive player, but his elevated minutes have not translated to better team defense. The one point win at Nebraska, where the team gave up 118 points per 100 possessions, suggests that Michigan has some defensive issues without McGary on the court.

In the final analysis, Michigan probably wasn’t as bad as we thought when the losses were piling up. And they probably are not as good as they were in the Wisconsin win. But this is still a talented team that will earn plenty of wins in the Big Ten.

-Oregon St.’s Eric Moreland is a very good offensive player and his return was over-shadowed by the start of Pac-12 play. The Beavers started 1-3 in the conference and most people just assumed this was another lost season. But with Moreland in the lineup, the early returns do suggest that this is a better offensive team. Even when Moreland struggled from the floor, 2 of 12 on Sunday, he had 5 assists, and his ability to get to the free throw line allowed him to get 15 points. Oregon St. still isn’t a good team because they can’t stop anyone. But they will outscore a few more teams before the Pac-12 season is over.

-With Gary Bell out, Gonzaga’s offense has clearly been worse. But the team has buckled down defensively, and other than the crazy loss to Portland, Gonzaga is actually playing good basketball.

-Did anyone think that Oregon would suddenly become a worse team when Dominic Artis and Ben Carter returned? But they’ve been worse on offense and in the standings. The key point here is that I think it is sometimes much harder to integrate players into the lineup mid-season. We take it for granted that players can just slide right in. But when players join midseason they lose the chance to build chemistry in the early games. The next table shows that a number of teams have struggled to integrate quality players into the lineup:

Team

Off

Def

W

L

PWP

Maryland

108.1

96.9

7

5

0.779

Maryland (with Allen)

108.9

99.1

4

2

0.747

           

North Carolina

112.0

92.1

7

2

0.905

UNC (with McDonald)

101.1

92.6

4

4

0.732

           

Penn St.

114.9

103.1

8

4

0.775

Penn (with Johnson)

105.2

104.2

1

6

0.527

-At some point Seth Allen may be able to elevate Maryland’s play, but we have to remember he is coming off a foot injury. Allen is still a step slow offensively and defensively.

-I really don’t believe North Carolina’s Leslie McDonald is a liability in the long-run. He shot 36% and 38% from three the last two years and if he can duplicate that, he’ll help the Tar Heel offense. But right now he’s making just 31% of his threes  and North Carolina’s offense has been dreadful. (Joel James did miss several games since McDonald returned, but given UNC’s frontcourt depth and James limited role, it seems hard to believe his absence explains UNC’s recent offensive swoon.)

-John Johnson was a great three point shooter at Pitt, but so far those same shots are not dropping for Penn St., and since he joined the team mid-season, Penn St.’s play has slipped.

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