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Way Too Early Top 25 Projections

I am once again breaking out my lineup-based projection model to predict the 2014-15 season. A lot can still change. ESPN’s #2 Recruit Myles Turner has yet to make his college choice. There are a number of intriguing players available who have graduated and are eligible immediately. And there are also several Top 10 JUCO recruits who have yet to commit. Last year, I had Kansas as a borderline Top 25 squad in my first projection, and then they added Andrew Wiggins and Tarik Black and became an obvious Top 10 squad.

Somewhat unusually, I think we have a pretty good idea who is leaving in the draft this year. When a player’s decision is an open question, I list that in my discussion below. For the record, I’m projecting that Julius Randle, Will Cauley-Stein, James Young, and both Harrison twins leave Kentucky, but that everyone else returns. And I’m assuming that Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams leave UCLA based on the CBS Sports notes that suggest they will leave.

One final technical note: The results I am presenting are based on the mean projection for each player. I am saving the simulation portion of the model for later this year. The idea of the simulation is to show what happens if players fall above or below expectations and show the best and worst case scenario for each team. But the real purpose of the simulation model is to evaluate each team’s depth. And right now a number of quality teams would look pretty bad based on limited depth. That will be corrected with the addition of a late signing, eligible transfer, or JUCO recruit. Because the bottom of each team’s roster is in such flux, I don’t think it makes sense to show the simulation results at this point in the year.

Pred Pyth = Predicted Pythagorean Winning Percentage, the winning percentage against an average D1 team on a neutral floor.

Pred Off = Predicted Offense, Points Scored per 100 Possessions

Pred Def = Predicted Defense, Points Allowed per 100 Possessions

2014 Off = 2013-14 Offense

2014 Def = 2013-14 Defense

RMin = Projected Returning Minutes

T100 = Projected Players on Roster who were once Top 100 recruits

Rnk

Team

Conf

Pred Pyth

Pred Off

Pred Def

2014 Off

2014 Def

RMin

T100

1

Arizona

P12

0.963

119.8

90.1

114.7

88.5

82%

8

2

Kansas

B12

0.952

120.0

92.5

116.8

96.3

68%

10

3

Duke

ACC

0.943

122.0

95.5

123.5

102.3

47%

10

4

Wisconsin

B10

0.934

121.9

96.7

120.8

97.6

82%

3

5

Florida

SEC

0.920

116.3

94.0

115.3

89.2

47%

7

6

Michigan

B10

0.919

121.8

98.6

124.1

102.1

73%

5

7

Kentucky

SEC

0.916

118.9

96.6

118.4

97.1

21%

7

8

N. Carolina

ACC

0.914

116.4

94.7

111.7

95.4

74%

10

9

Connecticut

AAC

0.910

113.8

93.1

112.5

92.5

55%

6

10

Virginia

ACC

0.909

112.7

92.3

114.4

90.1

72%

4

11

Villanova

BE

0.909

116.6

95.5

113.8

94.4

78%

7

12

Wichita St.

MVC

0.908

116.9

95.8

118.1

93.3

64%

0

13

VCU

A10

0.907

109.6

89.9

107.9

90.2

70%

4

14

Louisville

ACC

0.899

113.6

93.9

116.6

90.0

41%

8

15

Syracuse

ACC

0.899

113.2

93.6

112.3

93.6

41%

7

16

Ohio St.

B10

0.898

113.4

93.9

106.5

89.6

54%

8

17

SMU

AAC

0.895

113.3

94.1

110.1

94.7

75%

3

18

Colorado

P12

0.878

114.2

96.2

105.1

96.9

99%

4

19

Baylor

B12

0.877

117.6

99.2

117.8

100.0

61%

4

20

Texas

B12

0.876

115.8

97.7

111.0

98.4

100%

6

21

Maryland

B10

0.873

112.1

94.8

107.6

95.5

99%

9

22

Iowa

B10

0.873

118.9

100.6

119.8

102.7

69%

2

23

UCLA

P12

0.872

114.0

96.5

117.0

97.3

35%

6

24

Gonzaga

WCC

0.872

116.3

98.4

111.4

94.4

64%

4

25

Utah

P12

0.861

112.2

95.8

108.7

96.5

94%

2

I see three teams that missed the NCAA tournament jumping into the Top 25:

SMU: The Mustangs had the 30th best margin-of-victory in the nation, and Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy are back. The team also adds elite PG recruit Emmanuel Mudiay.

Maryland: The Terrapins finished with the 41st best margin-of-victory in the nation in 2014. With virtually everyone on the roster back, and four four-star prospects joining the roster, there are no more excuses for losses. If Mark Turgeon cannot turn Maryland into a winner now, he is not going to keep his job.

Utah: The Utes had the 42nd best margin-of-victory in the nation last year and they bring basically everyone back. By simply upgrading the non-conference schedule, the Utes will be in the NCAA tournament hunt.

Focusing on the rest of the Top 25:

Arizona: Aaron Gordon was the least efficient offensive player in Arizona’s primary rotation, but he was also the heart of Arizona's defense. Thus as Arizona seeks to replace Aaron Gordon with elite recruit Stanley Johnson, I project that as helping the offense but hurting the defense. But the real reason I expect a big jump in Arizona's offense is the return of Brandon Ashley. Arizona's offense was four points better with Ashley in the lineup. If you don't like Arizona near the top of the rankings, you must think Nick Johnson is going to declare for the draft (which seems like a mistake) or that the defense is going to fall apart without Gordon. Given the athleticism Rondae Hollis-Jefferson showed this year, I think Arizona's defense will still be championship caliber.

Kansas: Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins should enjoy life in the NBA next year, but don't cry for Bill Self. With elite recruits Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre joining fold, he has already found replacements. Also, don’t forget about Arkansas transfer and former elite recruit Hunter Mickelson who is joining the team. Finally, Kansas gave a lot of minutes to freshmen besides Embiid or Wiggins, and you can expect a big sophomore leap for many of those players, including Wayne Selden.

Duke: Even without Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, Duke has a loaded recruiting class, and I think a lot of people will be tempted to slot them #1 overall. I agree that the offense will be great and project Duke's offense as the best in the nation. The overall ranking depends on how high you project Duke's defense relative to last year. Jahlil Okafor and a more mature Marshall Plumlee will help, but Mike Krzyzewski's defensive prowess has faded in recent years. Can he really depend on a freshman to anchor the defense when the scouting reports say Okafor is good but not great on D?

Wisconsin: Only Ben Brust departs from a Badger team that was one shot away from the national title game.

Florida: The Gators front-court is graduating and the defense will take a hit. But I'm projecting Chris Walker to return, and along with Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and Michael Frazier the Gators should still have a dominant lineup. Also, don't overlook the importance of a healthy Eli Carter and elite recruit Devin Robinson.

Michigan: I'm assuming Nik Stauskas leaves and Mitch McGary comes back. If both come back, Michigan will have a real chance at a national title.

Kentucky: James Young got a huge steal late in the national semifinal against Wisconsin. But he had only 29 steals on the full season before that. And despite NBA size, Young and the Harrison Twins were not elite defensive players on the full season. Having a player with the quickness of elite recruit Tyler Ulis will certainly help the perimeter defense next season, and even without Will Cauley-Stein, Kentucky should still have enough elite athletes to best this year's defensive effort. Offensively, Kentucky has reached another level in the NCAA tournament, and I don't expect next year's club to match that. But with a few more non-freshmen on the team, they might be able to avoid some of the mid-season struggles, and I see a slightly better offense on the whole year.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels found a rotation late in the year that really worked. Replacing James McAdoo should be doable with incoming elite wing Justin Jackson, who lit up the McDonald’s All-American game, and returning big man Brice Johnson. The real question is perimeter depth, but the team will have three elite passing PGs. And as Connecticut and Florida showed this year, that's a formula that can work.

Connecticut: Replacing Shabazz Napier's defense might be harder than replacing his offense. Napier was an elite defensive rebounder for a guard, and he was fantastic at getting steals. The combination of NC State transfer Rodney Purvis and elite recruit Leonard Hamilton should fill in for the loss of Napier's offense, especially with Ryan Boatright easily taking over the PG role.

Virginia: A year ago I would have said Virginia would fall off a cliff when Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell graduated. But with the emergence of Malcolm Brogdon and a strong core back, Virginia should have another extremely strong season.

Villanova: Every critical player but James Bell should be back from a team that dominated the Big East.

Wichita St.: I feel like my model is under-valuing the contributions of Cleanthonly Early. But Wichita St. has four super-efficient rotation players returning (Fred Van Vleet, Darius Carter, Tekele Cotton, and Ron Baker).  And while they'll need to pick up some frontcourt size from the JUCO ranks again, that plan has worked well in recent years. Overall, Gregg Marshall is on such a role developing less heralded players, there is no reason to expect that to stop next season.

VCU: PG Briante Weber, a healthy three point shooter Melvin Johnson, and leader Treveon Graham will be back. But the best news is that Shaka Smart has finally broken into the elite recruiting game with three Top 100 freshmen coming in this year. That formula doesn't always work. Sometimes managing elite prospects is more difficult than it sounds. But on paper, this is the most athletic team Shaka Smart has ever assembled.

Louisville: Losing Russ Smith will be devastating to the offense, but you cannot under-state Smith's impact on defense too. Right now the team has enough elite recruits and returning players that the perimeter offense will be solid. But most of the young forwards are a year away from dominating at the D1 level. Thus Montrezl Harrell's NBA decision might be the most critical of any player in the country. If Harrell comes back, Louisville is a real Final Four threat. Here I project Louisville without Harrell in the lineup. Either way, I think Louisville is a team that will benefit from the simulation model when I break that out later this summer, as they have significant quality depth.

Syracuse: Based on where he is showing up in mock drafts, I'm assuming Jerami Grant declares for the draft. Even without Grant, CJ Fair, and Tyler Ennis, Syracuse still has talent. Rakeem Christmas became a better defender last year. (Jim Boeheim no longer had to give him the hook for Baye Keita nearly as often.) Chris McCullough is a quality big man recruit. And DaJuan Coleman still has the recruiting profile to say he will be a dominant player if he ever stays healthy. Michael Gbinije is a natural wing. Trevor Cooney slumped at times, but he can be a dominant shooter. And thus you can see why Jim Boeheim is so frustrated that Tyler Ennis declared for the draft. For Syracuse to stay at an elite level, they need an elite PG. Kaleb Joseph had a lower recruiting rank than Ennis, and the reality is that freshmen PGs are a big risk.

Ohio St.: Ohio St. loses the three most important offensive players from a team that was not that great offensively last season. They are easy to write off. But they have a veteran PG in Shannon Scott, they gained a huge boost with the addition of Temple transfer Anthony Lee who is eligible immediately. They add three Top 30 recruits who should boost the offense. And they get back Kam Williams, a great SG prospect who was injured and forced to red-shirt this year. Ohio St. isn't going to be the same elite defensive team, but the talent is there for the offense to make a meaningful jump.

Colorado: Colorado finished the year with the 77th best margin-of-victory numbers in the nation. Thus they make the biggest jump of anyone in my projections. There are two key reasons. First, they gave a ton of minutes to freshmen, who should take a big jump forward. Second, PG Spencer Dinwiddie should return from his injury and substantially improve the team’s offensive execution.

Baylor: Kenny Chery was a brilliant PG last year. Ish Wainwright and Allerik Freeman (an injury redshirt) won't match Bradly Heslip's shooting, but the former elite recruits should improve on his defense. Royce O'Neale is a dominant wing who should take on a larger role. Rico Gathers is a dominant rebounder. And if Austin comes back, Baylor is clearly a Top 25 team. Isaiah Austin says he hasn't made up his mind about going pro. And given that he is projected as a 2nd round pick in most mock drafts, I’m projecting that he returns here.

Texas: The Longhorns made the Round of 32 and everyone is back. They should be in everyone's Top 25.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes lose three seniors, but given how many players the team used last year, those losses are not devastating. The addition of elite JUCO PG Trey Dickerson should also help the team to find the right scorers in more situations. But the real reason this team fell apart down the stretch was because the defense collapsed. Head coach Fran McCaffery has had mixed success on defense in his career. He's had some good defensive teams and some bad ones. With just a little defensive improvement, Iowa should be back in the Top 25.

UCLA: Bryce Alford, Norman Powell, and a now-eligible Isaac Hamilton will man the perimeter. Meanwhile elite recruits Kevon Looney and Thomas Welsh will join Tony Parker in the paint. That's a pretty good core, but the lack of depth is a concern. On paper, UCLA is not that much better than Stanford, but the model has more faith in head coach Steve Alford than Johnny Dawkins over the long grind of the regular season.

Gonzaga: Transfer big man Kyle Witjer was a very good shooter at Kentucky, but his defense was suspect.

And a few notes on teams that surprised me by missing the cut:

Iowa St: If Bryce Dejean-Jones makes the jump from UNLV, that should bump the Cyclones into the Top 25. I’m making projections based on current commitments, but given Fred Hoiberg’s track record in closing the deal with transfers, I don’t have a problem with anyone assuming he will get that commitment. And I don’t have a problem with anyone putting Iowa St. in their Top 25 right now.

Oregon:  Super-scorer Joseph Young, Dominic Artis, elite PG recruit JaQuan Lyle,  elite transfer recruit Brandon Austin (eligible in December), Elgin Cook (who broke out against BYU in the tournament), elite recruit Jordan Bell (a late qualifier and red-shirt), and Top 10 JUCO forward Michael Chandler are all reasons to love this team. But I think Oregon had more talent last year, and they still finished 29th nationally. Right now this team has limited depth in the paint, but with one more transfer addition in the front-court, they can easily jump into the Top 25.

San Diego St: It cannot be over-stated how vital Xavier Thames was to the Aztecs offense and how important Josh Davis' rebounding was to the team's defense. San Diego St. has a great recruiting class filled with players who should be stars in 2016. And Angelo Chol is a transfer who could put the team over the top. But without Thames and Davis, the team falls just outside the Top 25.

Stanford: I really feel like Stanford should be in the Top 25. With Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, Stefan Nastic, and three elite recruits, this is a team that can build on the Sweet Sixteen run. But even with the Sweet Sixteen run, Stanford's margin-of-victory on the season was only 36th nationally. And that continued a trend where Johnny Dawkins has failed to develop teams that perform on a per possession basis. Dawkins saved his job this year by making the tournament, but the long-run stats say he hasn't been great at developing players. Perhaps he will prove the model wrong by turning Reid Travis into a star this year, but right now the model isn’t convinced.

Dayton: The Flyers will show up in many people's Top 25 rankings because they played a deep lineup and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. But they lose their two most important offensive players (Devin Oliver and Vee Sanford), and don't have anyone coming in to replace them. For a team that finished 38th nationally in margin-of-victory, that isn't the formula to move up into the Top 25. But if you are looking for a reason these projections are wrong, consider that Dayton played much better basketball after February 1st.

And now a note on a few other teams that might spend some time in the Top 25 next year:

Michigan St.: The Spartans lose three critical offensive players in Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling and they don’t have anyone coming in who projects to make an immediate impact. The return of key role players like Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine will keep them near the edges of the Top 25, but the Spartans take a big step back this year.

Pittsburgh: The return of Durand Johnson from injury should help offset the loss of two key seniors.

Bottom Line: Even though Michigan St. and Pittsburgh are not in my top 25, never bet against Tom Izzo and Jamie Dixon. These teams will still be very dangerous.

Georgetown, Seton Hall, UNLV: Great recruiting classes, but each team needs to improve in a number of areas to be a Top 25 team.

LSU: Another team with elite talent, that isn’t quite there yet.

Memphis: The Tigers have enough elite talent to finish in the Top 25. But they had Top 25 talent last season, and they finished with the 37th best margin-of-victory numbers. Realistically, with zero seniors in 2014-15, Memphis projects to peak in 2015-16.

Tennessee:  The Volunteers lose a ton of production, but if Jarnell Stokes comes back, they will be in the hunt.

Illinois: Jon Groce’s team finished with the 49th best margin-of-victory in the nation last year, and the team adds three quality transfers, plus incoming Top 100 recruit Leron Black in the paint. They still don’t have many star scorers besides Rayvonte Rice, but given the upgrade at PG and PF, Illinois is intriguing.

Nebraska: Tim Miles is very close and brings almost everyone back. But considering that Nebraska still has zero Top 100 recruits, if Tim Miles can get the team to jump from 44th to 30th nationally, that would still be a huge accomplishment.

Cincinnati: The offense was bad with Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson in the fold. They deserve respect as the defending American Conference champs, but it is hard to see this team defending that title.

Year Four to Six (The Hot Seat Years)

After a call went against Syracuse with 10 seconds left against Duke, Jim Boeheim went crazy and was ejected from the game essentially removing any remaining chance Syracuse had to win the game. But as one of the winningest coaches in D1 history and a coach who has won a national championship, people won’t hold the incident against Boeheim for long. This was just one ugly moment in a career of brilliant moments.

Meanwhile a month ago Iowa’s Fran McCaffery was ejected in a loss to Wisconsin and it seems like the topic will never go away. Similarly, we spend forever nit-picking whether McCaffery can ever win close games. The idea that he is a bad close-game coach is silly, but with such a small sample of McCaffery competing in a major conference, the record in close games continues to be emphasized.

This is the difference between a coach with a long-tenure profile and a coach in year four to six with his program. In year four to six, every decision is under the spotlight. And make no mistake, a head coach’s career depends on every decision.

His Job is on the Line

I’m going to start by graphically showing what is common knowledge, that fourth through sixth year head coaches are the most likely to get fired.

In the graphs, I only chart involuntary separations. Coaches that move on to the NBA or are hired to a better college job are essentially not included in the numerator or denominator of the calculation.

In my analysis I drop the 12 programs with the most NCAA tournament wins and appearances in the 64+ team tournament era (1985 to present) because those schools tend to have different expectations. For example, Tubby Smith and Bill Guthridge were forced out despite making the tournament every year at Kentucky and North Carolina. I don’t think it makes sense to include schools with that level of expectations in my sample.

I also throw out schools with very low expectations. I keep only schools with at least nine NCAA tournament appearances and wins in the 64+ team tournament era. This cuts a few power conference programs, like Northwestern (0 NCAA appearances) and Oregon St. (4 appearances, 0 NCAA wins). But this sample includes several high profile mid-majors jobs including the obvious ones (Gonzaga), but also teams like Princeton (10 appearances, 2 wins in the modern era) and Tulsa (11 appearances, 11 wins).

This leaves me with 98 D1 programs in my sample. I look at coaches who start after 1985 and drop all interim head coaches. That leaves me with 381 head coaches who begin their career at one of these 98 high profile programs from 1985 to present.

As the figures show, being a D1 head coach is a very rough way to make a living. Figure 1 shows the probability of surviving past each year. Only a small number of head coaches get fired after the second year. Oklahoma St. head coach Sean Sutton is a recent example. The big years for coach terminations are year 4, 5, and 6. Amazingly, only 50% of coaches that take these high profile jobs survive 6 years.  

 
 

We often talk about how these coach’s jobs depend on making the tournament, and the next table illustrates that. In red, I plot the probability of surviving each year for coaches that have made the tournament every season. If you aren’t coaching at UCLA or Kentucky, you would think that making the tournament every year would be a ticket to perfect job security, but it is not. Jerry Green was essentially forced to resign at Tennessee after four years, despite the fact that he made the tournament every season. (This is even more amazing given Tennessee’s tournament drought before Green was the head coach.) If you are looking for an explanation for the drop in year 6, exhibit A is Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl who was forced out for lying to NCAA investigators, not because of on-court performance.

In contrast, in blue I graph the probability of surviving each year if a coach has never made the NCAA tournament. Obviously, if you have not made the tournament yet, your odds of keeping your job are substantially lower, and the odds of getting fired in year 5 and 6 are very high.

That said, the odds of a coach surviving six years despite never making the tournament are actually higher than I expected. Some recent examples of coaches that have earned a 7th year without making the tournament include Leonard Hamilton at Florida St., Doug Wojcik at Tulsa, and Andy Kennedy at Ole Miss. In year 7, Leonard Hamilton and Andy Kennedy made the NCAA tournament, while Doug Wojcik was fired.

Obviously for coaches with sporadic NCAA appearances, the survival path is somewhere between the blue and red lines.

 
 

This type of job insecurity may seem cruel, but the good news is that it really isn’t getting worse. The next table compares the survival probabilities from 1985-2000 (in blue) to the survival probability from 2000-2013 (in red) and the odds are almost identical. If boosters and athletic directors are inpatient, this isn’t a new trend.

 
 

Efficiency Margins for Fourth to Sixth Year Head Coaches

Next I want to continue my discussion from last week and focus on the fourth to sixth year head coaches. As I’ve just discussed, these are the coaches who have the highest probability of losing their jobs this year. In the tables, I show the efficiency margins (the difference between the adjusted offense and defense) for these teams with the former and current head coach.

Fourth Year

Former Coach

2008

‘09

‘10

New Coach

‘11

‘12

‘13

‘14

Iowa

Todd Lickliter

2

7

-1

Fran McCaffery

6

7

17

23

Creighton

Dana Altman

9

10

5

Greg McDermott

6

14

19

26

Oregon

Ernie Kent

14

0

2

Dana Altman

6

12

16

15

Boise St.

Greg Graham

3

1

0

Leon Rice

7

-1

12

10

Iowa St.

Greg McDermott

4

4

9

Fred Hoiberg

6

16

17

17

St. John's

Norm Roberts

1

3

10

Steve Lavin / Mike Dunlap

14

1

4

15

Colorado

Jeff Bzdelik

4

-2

8

Tad Boyle

13

8

12

11

DePaul

Jerry Wainwright / Tracy Webster

4

-5

-2

Oliver Purnell

-3

2

-1

0

Auburn

Jeff Lebo

2

12

6

Tony Barbee

-5

1

-4

4

UCF

Kirk Speraw

5

1

-1

Donnie Jones

4

7

2

-2

Seton Hall

Bobby Gonzalez

5

9

10

Kevin Willard

11

10

3

9

Clemson

Oliver Purnell

19

18

16

Brad Brownell

17

8

3

12

Houston

Tom Penders

11

9

7

James Dickey

-6

-4

-2

2

B. College

Al Skinner

5

10

9

Steve Donahue

10

-9

6

2

W. Forest

Dino Gaudio

9

16

11

Jeff Bzdelik

-10

-5

2

4

-Greg McDermott’s departure from Iowa St. has worked out well for everyone. Iowa St. hired Fred Hoiberg who has taken the Cyclones to the next level. And McDermott’s son is the national player-of-the-year favorite at Creighton.

-But Oliver Purnell’s departure from Clemson has been a curse for everyone involved. While Brad Brownell has made Clemson competitive this year, they haven’t matched the level that Purnell had the team at before he left. Clemson made the tournament as a 7-seed or better in Purnell’s last three years. And DePaul has actually been as bad under Purnell as they were under Wainwright.

-This is a really brutal year for fourth year coaches, and I think the number who won’t survive another season is high. Jeff Bzdelik has been making some progress lately, but has come nowhere near the level of success the program had under previous coaches. Steve Donahue’s BC team won at Syracuse this week, but it is hard to see how anyone will overlook his team’s complete lack of defense this season. And Tony Barbee doesn’t even have a marquee win like Donahue. Auburn might have played two very close games against Florida this year, but they lost both. Finally, UCF and Houston haven’t traditionally been high profile jobs, but I list them here because neither school’s coach is really performing at a high level right now. The need to compete with the top teams in the American Conference might cause these programs to open up the check-book sooner than expected.

-The best bet to stick around is probably Kevin Willard because he has two Top 50 players in his recruiting class. Still, even with injuries ravaging Seton Hall the last two years, Willard hasn’t been able to get any consistency out of his team.

Fifth Year

Former Coach

2008

‘09

New Coach

‘10

‘11

‘12

‘13

‘14

Kentucky

Billy Gillispie

10

11

John Calipari

24

24

31

10

20

Virginia

Dave Leitao

7

4

Tony Bennett

8

5

13

13

23

Arizona

Kevin O'Neill / Russ Pennell

16

16

Sean Miller

7

18

11

19

26

VCU

Anthony Grant

10

13

Shaka Smart

13

14

13

17

17

Alabama

Mark Gottfried

8

6

A. Grant

11

13

14

10

5

Georgia

Dennis Felton

7

-4

Mark Fox

8

11

5

5

7

Xavier

Sean Miller

19

18

Chris Mack

19

14

12

8

13

Memphis

John Calipari

30

26

Josh Pastner

13

6

20

15

14

Wash. St.

Tony Bennett

21

13

Ken Bone

3

10

7

7

-3

-In November I wrote about coaches whose teams typically get better after January 1st. Mark Fox was on that list, and that’s been true again this season as his team has been far better in SEC play than it was in the non-conference schedule. Fox’s biggest problem isn’t his ability to develop players and coach X’s and O’s. His biggest problem is recruiting. If you look at the recruiting rank of the players on Georgia’s current roster, the Bulldogs are second to last in the SEC. It hurt that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope left early for the NBA, but this is more than a one-player issue. Fox has to upgrade Georgia’s recruiting if he wants to have any chance to keep his job long-term.

Sixth Year

Former Coach

2008

New Coach

‘09

‘10

‘11

‘12

‘13

‘14

Oklahoma St.

Sean Sutton

10

Travis Ford

17

15

9

7

17

16

California

Ben Braun

10

M. Montgomery

16

19

9

14

11

12

UMass

Travis Ford

12

Derek Kellogg

2

0

-2

9

7

13

Oregon St.

Kevin Mouton

-9

Craig Robinson

6

0

0

6

6

5

Stanford

Trent Johnson

20

Johnny Dawkins

13

5

5

13

13

16

Indiana

K. Sampson

16

Tom Crean

-4

-3

7

21

26

9

Marquette

Tom Crean

20

Buzz Williams

20

16

16

18

17

11

-I spent a lot of time in the introduction talking about how making the NCAA tournament is critical to a coach keeping his or her job. And the punch-line to that discussion is an evaluation of Johnny Dawkins. Coaches do sometimes get a 7th year even without a tournament appearance, but it is a long-shot. And even another nice recruiting class might not be enough to quiet skeptics if Stanford fades down the stretch again.

After a big win over UCLA this weekend, clearly Stanford would be in the NCAA tournament if it was held today. But with closing games against Arizona, Arizona St., Colorado, and Utah, Stanford needs to avoid a repeat of the late-season spiral that kept them out of the tournament last year.

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

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.

Big Ten Basketball Early Projection

A way too early projection of the Big Ten standings in 2013-2014.

2013-2014 Preseason Top 25 Part 2

A lineup-based statistical projection of the 2013-2014 season.

Nerlens Noel, Isaiah Austin, And A Quick Look At How The Top 80 Recruits Have Fared

On Nerlens Noel, Isaiah Austin, Kyle Anderson and the rest of the freshman class as they play such prominent roles to begin the 12-13 NCAA season.

Early Season Tournaments: Brackets, Observations, And Odds: Part 2

The Legends Classic might be the most highly anticipated early season tournament because of the potential finals matchup between Indiana and UCLA. We also look at the CBE Classic, Maui Invitational, Cancun Challenge, Great Alaska Shootout, Battle 4 Atlantis and the Old Spice Classic.

The Many Facets & Unpredictability Of March Madness

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

Big Ten Bracketology

Selection Sunday is about a month away, which makes it an opportune time to examine which Big Ten teams will be dancing and which ones could dance into the Elite Eight or even the Final Four.

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?

A Major Conference Without One-And-Done Talent

If you throw Ohio State out of the equation, the Big Ten's one-and-done talent over the past five years is limited to Eric Gordon. Why has a major conference not experienced such a prominent trend and why may it be changing soon?

YACB Column, Dec. 5th (On UNC/UK, Conference Ratings, Cincinnati & More)

Yet Another College Basketball Column checks in on whether we'll see a UK/UNC rematch in the title game, the surprise conferences and much more.

The Anti-Recruiting Tool

There are many ways to build a winning program. John Calipariís focus on younger players may be the best way to get elite recruits, but it isnít the only way to build a winning program.

Returning Freshmen, Big Ten And C-USA Notes

The Big Ten sent seven teams to the Big Dance, while a familiar face at UAB continues to excel in Conference-USA. What will these two conferences look like in 11-12?

Do NCAA Football Rivalries Translate To Basketball?

In honor of the beginning of the 2011 college football season, here is a look at some of their biggest rivalries and whether they translate to the basketball court.

A Formula For Finding Dark-Horse Teams

We can identify West Virginia, Iowa, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Auburn has promising dark-horse candidates if we look at a formula for how to spot them in past seasons.

Updated Conference Predictions

A look at next year's standings removing early entrants and this month's transfers.

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.

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