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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. 

Big Ten Basketball Early Projection

Today I present my lineup-based model’s projections for the Big Ten in 2013-2014. While the top of the Big Ten remains strong, the league lacks the depth it had last season.

As always, these won’t necessarily be the final numbers. Last week I presented my model’s projections for the ACC and already two teams have meaningfully improved. First, Wakes Forest added a three point-shooting specialist in Robert Morris transfer Coron Williams. Williams will be eligible immediately as a graduate school transfer and should instantly upgrade the Wake Forest offense. Meanwhile, Miami added Kansas St. transfer Angel Rodriguez and he may be able to get a family hardship waiver to play next year.

Of course it isn’t clear whether Rodriguez should play next year for Miami. Even if he plays, Miami is still going to be behind NC State in my projections and well outside the NCAA bubble. (While the Wolfpack have more talent, Jim Larranaga is the better coach which puts Miami in striking distance of NC State.) That might suggest Miami should save Rodriguez until the following season. On the other hand, Rodriguez has two years of eligibility left and the young Miami players might develop better with a true PG on the floor. Thus it may be worth getting Rodriguez on the court next season even if the NCAA tournament is out of reach.

Team

Proj CW

Proj CL

Proj Off

Proj Def

Last Off

Last Def

T100

Ret Min

Ret Poss

Michigan St.

14

4

117.0

87.6

112.4

86.5

8

83%

83%

Michigan

12

6

117.4

92.2

122.6

92.3

6

62%

53%

Wisconsin

12

6

112.8

88.7

107.6

83.5

3

57%

54%

Ohio St.

12

6

108.6

86.3

115.1

87.3

6

74%

68%

Iowa

12

6

114.7

91.1

109.3

89.9

2

88%

92%

Indiana

9

9

110.4

93.1

121.0

88.6

7

32%

30%

Purdue

8

10

109.2

93.5

106.2

94.5

4

64%

70%

Illinois

8

10

108.2

92.9

109.5

92.7

5

43%

43%

Minnesota

8

10

107.9

92.7

113.8

92.7

0

63%

63%

Penn St.

6

12

106.9

98.0

100.7

98.9

0

71%

82%

Northwestern

4

14

101.9

96.7

102.5

99.7

0

61%

62%

Nebraska

3

15

100.3

97.6

100.8

97.7

0

60%

52%

For the definition of column headings, click here.

Michigan St.: Derrick Nix posted surprisingly low block numbers for a post-player last season and Adreian Payne was by far the better defensive rebounder. Thus the model doesn’t project a major defensive drop-off for the Spartans.

The departure of Nix may also make the offense run more smoothly. With Nix departing Branden Dawson will get a chance to play more minutes at the power forward spot which I truly believe is his natural college position. When Dawson played more minutes on the perimeter last year, his offensive rebounding numbers slipped.

Michigan:  Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan, Glen Robinson, Nik Stauskas, and super PG recruit Derrick Walton mean Michigan will be a Top 10 team nationally again.

Wisconsin: As of May 5th on Verbal Commits, Wisconsin has 14 players on scholarship for next year. Did the Badgers actually over-sign? Is this the sign of the apocalypse? According to Twitter the answer is no. One of the walk-on freshman was given a free ride last year.

With Josh Gasser, Ben Brust, Traevon Jackson, Frank Kaminsky, and Sam Dekker, Wisconsin should have a dominant offense again, even if the defense takes a bit of a hit with the loss of so many quality post players. And as always with Wisconsin’s depth, they can bring Top 100 freshman Nigel Hayes along slowly and limit his mistakes. Of course we all expect Wisconsin to dominate the regular season and disappoint again in the tournament. That is what Bo Ryan does.

Ohio St: I think most experts are overrating the Buckeyes because they are overlooking how important DeShaun Thomas was to the Ohio St. offense last season. The same people who expect Georgetown to fall off the map without Otto Porter don’t seem to be dropping the Buckeyes much at all. But Thomas was responsible for a much larger portion of the Ohio St. offense. With all the key defensive players back, the model thinks Ohio St. will have the best defense in the nation. But the offense will probably struggle at times next season.

Iowa: Aaron White and Roy Marble are already stars. Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury were Top 100 recruits out of high school and both should make a significant sophomore year leap. Plus Josh Oglesby should bounce back from a subpar season. Oglesby shot 37% from three two years ago, but only 27% last season. And with virtually the entire rotation coming back, Iowa won’t have to break in a bunch of new freshmen. Overall that is a formula for an offense that should be substantially improved. This is the season Fran McCaffery finally breaks into the top of the Big Ten.

Indiana: I may have the most pessimistic projections in the nation for Indiana next year, but let me explain what the model is thinking. Essentially everyone who has Indiana in the Top 25 is saying this, “Well they aren’t going to fall that much. They still have some talented players coming in. They’ll still be pretty good.” But having talented players doesn’t ensure anything. What allows coaches to reload and stay in the Top 25 is teaching elite defense to young players. The reason Kansas is projected as a Top 25 team has everything to do with the defense. And Tom Crean doesn’t have a great defensive track record. His only elite defensive teams have come when he has had veteran squads at Indiana and Marquette. He isn’t that good at getting young players to play great defense immediately.

And anyone who studies college basketball closely realizes that even teams with loads of talent can take time to gel offensively. Look no further than North Carolina last year. They were 11th in last year’s AP preseason poll because they were loaded with Top 100 recruits. But I had the Tar Heels 26th in my preseason rankings and they finished with the 30th best margin-of-victory numbers in the nation. The reality is, if you are going to rely on recruits outside the Top 20 (and only Noah Vonleh is a Top 20 recruit,) it usually takes time for those players to figure out the college game.

Even the late transfer of Remy Abell hurts. While Abell didn’t seem to do much against good teams last year, he did show signs of an outside shooting touch. Abell’s departure drops Indiana to a .500 team in my model. The future is still bright for the Hoosiers, especially in 2014-2015. And Indiana will likely be a tournament team in 2013-2014. But I disagree with folks who have the Hoosiers in their Top 25.

Purdue: After Indiana, I am rather pessimistic about the rest of the league. While most of the teams have smart coaches who will get their teams to play good enough defense to be competitive, the talent difference between the top and bottom of the league is pretty significant.

The best news for Purdue is that the Boilermakers gave fully 44% of their minutes to freshmen last year. That investment in young players should pay off this season. Most notably, tons of prognosticators are in love with AJ Hammons potential. Clearly many of the freshmen mistakes that plagued the team last season should be eradicated this year.

But this team simply lacks the depth to compete with the top teams in the league on a consistent basis. The slew of recent transfers is actually a bit of mixed bag in that regard. Even if Anthony Johnson and Jacob Lawson had returned, that wouldn’t have helped a lot. Anthony Johnson improved his free throw shooting last year, but still struggled mightily with his shot, posting an ORtg of 89. And Lawson basically never put up shots. Thus the loss of those two players isn’t major. But the transfer of Sandi Marcius will matter. Even if Hammons is the future of the team, Marcius would have provided needed depth in the paint. And on a roster full of improving young players, but plenty of question marks, the loss of a dependable option is costly.

The model also assumes some improvement for the Purdue defense based on Matt Painter’s early career success. But the defense has been trending in the wrong direction in recent seasons, and if that continues, Purdue could finish even lower in the standings.

Illinois, Minnesota, and Penn St.: Let’s start with the offenses. For all three teams the backcourt will be the strength. Penn St. probably has the best back-court with Tim Frazier (returning from injury), DJ Newbill, and Jermaine Marshall. But Minnesota’s unit will also be strong. Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, and Joe Coleman all played well at times last year. Illinois’ backcourt will be the weakest, but Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand, and Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice (a high volume shooter who should be more efficient in a more limited role) will still be quality Big Ten players.

But the differences are much more notable in the front-court. Penn St.’s offensive options in the post are pitiful. Ross Travis is probably the best option, but his 87 ORtg last year was dreadful. And none of the Nittany Lions other post options were even three star athletes out of high school. Certainly Penn St. will be as perimeter-oriented as possible next season, but the front-court looks like a huge offensive liability.

Minnesota brings back Elliot Eliason who had moments last year, but who shot so little he cannot be counted on to carry the load. And while Mo Walker continues to have potential, after missing a year and a half with injury, he struggled last season. And that means plenty of minutes for the highly inefficient Oto Osenieks or unranked recruit Charlie Buggs who red-shirted last season.

And suddenly here is where Illinois stands out. Nnanna Egwu isn’t a star by any means, but he had more offensive game last year than any of Minnesota or Penn St.’s post-players. And Illinois St. graduate school transfer Jon Ekey is one of those sneaky useful pickups. He didn’t score a lot last year, but he was super-efficient, and he also has an outside game. Ekey actually made 59 threes two years ago while shooting 40% from deep. Ekey and the improving Myke Henry will play a lot of stretch-4 minutes for Illinois next season.

Thus while none of these teams have great front-courts, Illinois can expect the most offense from its front-court, and Penn St. can expect almost nothing, which is why you see the offensive prediction you see above.

On defense Penn St. was miserable last season and without any true post options, expect more of the same. Illinois should drop-off some, but don’t expect a huge drop-off. The departing Sam McLaurin and Tyler Griffey were dreadful defensive rebounders. Minnesota is the real wild-card here, as it is a bit hard to project how Richard Pitino will do in his first season.

Final Note: I mentioned on Twitter a few weeks ago that Illinois was a 6-12 team. But the addition of Jon Ekey really is a big deal in the lineup based model. Instead of needing to rely on unranked recruits Austin Colbert and Maverick Morgan to play major minutes in the post as freshmen, with Ekey available Illinois can break those two players into the lineup more slowly.

Northwestern: Even if Bill Carmody had kept his job, this was going to be a different Northwestern team this year. With the teams three most efficient players graduating, there simply were not going to be enough great outside shooters to run the offense Carmody loved. (To some degree, there were not a lot of great outside shooters last year. It was Northwestern’s worst three point shooting season since 2007.) So Northwestern was going to have to try to re-invent itself around the plethora of “project” big men on the roster. New head coach Chris Collins at least has the luxury of an established point-guard and he welcomes Drew Crawford back for a fifth season of eligibility. But beyond those two players, basically everyone else is projected to have an ORtg below 100. And that means Collins has his work cut out for him. I truly believe Collins will get Northwestern to the NCAA tournament. But give him some time to bring in his players.

Nebraska: Nebraska returns just 52% of its possessions from last year which should slow the momentum Tim Miles was building late in the season. JUCO transfers Leslee Smith and Deverell Biggs, Texas Tech transfer Terran Petteway, and Florida transfer Walter Pitchford should add some experience which might help a little. But none of them would start for a good team in the Big Ten. (Petteway had a hideous 75 ORtg in limited minutes for Texas Tech. I remember watching him two years ago and thinking that he had no idea what a good shot was. Perhaps that is correctable, but he was still dreadful.) Realistically, this is still the beginning of the rebuilding project. Tim Miles needs to give a lot of minutes to his young players next year and build for 2015-2016.

Losing Streaks And Injury Splits, Part 1

Before I start looking at the impact of injured or suspended players, I want to talk a little about losing streaks. (This piggy-backs nicely on Ken Pomeroy’s recent writing on the predictive power of wins.) This weekend we heard a lot about Louisville’s three-game losing streak and Minnesota’s four-game losing streak.

The point I want to make is that not all losing streaks are created equally. When Illinois went on a recent losing streak against Minnesota, Wisconsin and Northwestern, John Groce’s team played distressingly poor basketball. They played basketball roughly equivalent to the 229th best team in the nation. That was the type of losing streak that correctly caused people to adjust their expectations. Even if Illinois had a few nice wins early in the year, they were NOT a Top-25 team.

But Minnesota and Louisville’s recent losing streaks have been much less distressing. While losing four in a row, Minnesota has still played roughly equivalent to the 32nd best team in the nation. And while Louisville has lost three in a row, the Cardinals have been roughly equivalent to the 55th best team in the nation. Both losing streaks could have easily been stopped with a few bounces. Had Minnesota’s Rodney Williams made a free throw in a one point loss, or had Georgetown’s seldom used Aaron Bowen not tipped in a circus shot against Louisville, we wouldn’t be talking about long losing streaks at all.

That’s not to say that those two teams are playing well right now. Both team’s offenses and defenses have fallen off in recent games. But neither team’s performance is remarkably distressing. In fact, I’m much more distressed by how Kentucky is playing in the SEC this season. The Wildcats have gone 4-2, but given how poor the SEC is this year, Kentucky has actually been playing worse basketball than Louisville during the losing streak.

Team

Adj Off

Adj Def

W

L

Pyth.

Illinois*

112.7

91.3

14

2

0.8965

Illinois (losing streak)

99.1

106.8

0

3

0.3163

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minnesota

117.4

85.6

15

1

0.9622

Minnesota (losing streak)

110.8

92.2

0

4

0.8681

 

 

 

 

 

 

Louisville

113.9

79.2

16

1

0.9764

Louisville (losing streak)

105.9

91.4

0

3

0.8181

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kentucky (non-conference)

111.7

84.4

9

4

0.9467

Kentucky (SEC play)

107.8

96.7

4

2

0.7543

*Does not include Sunday’s game.

Splits replicate the Adjusted Offense and Defense calculation on Kenpom.com which controls for opponent quality and venue. These measure how many points the team would score on a neutral floor against an average D1 team based on the team’s performance in the sample of games.

All this suggests that Minnesota and Louisville will be relevant at the end of the year, while I can’t be quite as certain about Kentucky.

For the record, I am a little nervous about Russ Smith’s play the last two games. Louisville’s national-player-of-the-year candidate has posted ORtgs below 100 in back-to-back games. (From the sideline, I can tell you Georgetown freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was very much bothering Russ Smith on Saturday.) Louisville hasn’t quite played a juggernaut schedule yet, and I’m worried if Smith might revert to his old inconsistency under the grind of Big East play.

Unfortunately, sometimes a breakout performance is just a hot-streak. As an example, look at Florida St.’s Michael Snaer. Snaer posted a career high 110 ORtg last year, and everyone thought he would be an ACC superstar this year. But Snaer has always had turnover problems prior to last season, and after a year of cutting down the turnovers, Snaer’s turnovers are back with a vengeance this season. Snaer’s ORtg has suffered because of it.

Similarly, Wisconsin's Ryan Evans is making last year look like the fluke. Here are Evan’s ORtgs over the last four years:

2009: 92

2010: 82

2011: 102

2012: 92

Sometimes when inefficient players suddenly look efficient, it really is just a temporary fluke. Russ Smith has clearly played brilliantly this season, but until we get to March, I am always going to wonder if the inconsistent Russ Smith, who falls in love with impossible shots, isn’t still around.

Of course, even if I believe in Minnesota and Louisville, these losing streaks will matter to the NCAA selection committee. And personally, I believe they should matter. A lot of people advocate for seeding the NCAA tournament based on team quality (read: Margin of Victory), not based on team accomplishment (read: Quality Wins). And I understand the arguments. Certainly, when you don’t seed by team quality, you run into situations where a 1-seed gets a horrible draw. And the NCAA committee is instructed to pick the BEST teams for the tournament.

But I view it this way. You can either win an NCAA title by over-achieving in the regular season or over-achieving in the post-season.

No one wins the NCAA tournament without performing above expectations. If you look pre-tournament, no team is favored to win more than four games. But every year someone wins 6 games and over-achieves. Similarly, some teams over-achieve in the regular season. They earn surprising wins and earn better seeds, even though they have to squeak by with a series of close wins. But why condemn over-achievement in the regular season when we don’t condemn over-achievement in the tournament?

Louisville and Minnesota are under-achieving. That just means they have a harder road to post-season glory. It doesn’t mean they are bad teams.

Injury Splits, Part 1

Over the next two days, I’m going to talk about where injuries or suspensions may be skewing our evaluation of various teams. I won’t be talking about all of this year’s critical injuries. For example, Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser, Missouri’s Michael Dixon, and Tennessee’s Jeronne Maymon have missed the entire season. While those injuries have clearly hurt their teams, because they didn’t play a minute this year, the Pomeroy and Sagarin ratings for those teams accurately reflect their future expectations.

But when players are out for a period of time (like Duke’s Ryan Kelly), it can take awhile for the rankings to catch up. Duke is now playing worse basketball, and we may want to look at how much worse the Blue Devils are playing without Kelly.

Of course not every player who is injured matters. For that reason I focus on players who play at least half their team’s minutes. And often we are looking at very small samples. Random noise may certainly explain some of the deviations from the norm. But I do think it is informative to look at how teams have performed without their missing stars.

Team

Adj Off

Adj Def

W

L

Pyth.

Duke

119.5

82.4

15

0

0.9785

Duke (without Ryan Kelly)

115.3

95.7

2

2

0.8719

           

Wyoming

111.0

88.1

10

0

0.9142

Wyoming (without Luke Martinez)

95.2

88.9

3

4

0.6685

           

Marquette

109.4

91.0

7

3

0.8685

Marquette (with Todd Mayo)

117.0

95.5

7

1

0.8889

A lot of smart folks have written about how Duke will be a much worse team without Ryan Kelly. I wasn’t quite as convinced because I happen to have high expectations for Duke’s Amile Jefferson. But through four games, the numbers are clearly worse without Kelly in the lineup. Duke’s offense has slid, and their defense has fallen off a cliff.

That’s probably too big a drop off to be permanent, and Duke’s horrific performance at Miami felt like a once-per-season collapse, not a permanent sign of bad things to come. But I think it is informative how Mike Krzyzewski is allocating playing time with Kelly out. While Amile Jefferson has seen his percentage of minutes increase from 21 percent to 58 percent in the four games Kelly has been out, the second biggest beneficiary of playing time is actually Mason Plumlee. And this worries me a little bit if I’m Duke. Plumlee has been playing 96 percent of Duke’s minutes since Ryan Kelly has been out, and Krzyzewski seems hesitant to ever take him out. I worry that all those minutes are having a negative impact on Plumlee’s energy level. Plumlee’s ORtg was 115 prior to Kelly going down, and has been just 95 in the four games since Kelly went down. Some of that is due to the tougher ACC defenses Plumlee has faced, but you have to wonder if the lack of rest time is hurting Plumlee’s overall performance.

However, I honestly think Duke may be better in the long-run if Kelly can come back. That’s because Jefferson has thrived as an offensive player now that he is getting more playing time. Jefferson has seen his ORtg increase from 104 before the Kelly injury to 119 after the injury. Now that he finally has a chance to get a rhythm in games, Jefferson is showing his offensive talents. If Jefferson can eventually improve his defense, his development will only be an asset for Duke come tournament time.

The second most important injury split in this column might be the Wyoming split listed above. Ever since Luke Martinez was suspended for his role in a bar room brawl, Wyoming’s offense has fallen off a cliff. You simply cannot lose such a potent scorer and expect to replace him with other rotation players. Larry Shyatt has done a masterful job keeping Wyoming playing elite defense without Martinez. And that defense will keep Wyoming competitive in the MWC this year. But Wyoming simply lacks offense without Martinez.

Lastly, Marquette’s offense has improved since Todd Mayo joined the team mid-semster. (Mayo was suspended for the first semester.) Mayo’s ORtg hasn’t been fantastic, but he has been aggressive and has attracted some offensive attention. The part I find more interesting is that Marquette’s defense has sagged since Mayo joined the team. In fact, in the last game against Providence, Mayo received an unusual DNP-Coach’s Decision.  Buzz Williams explained his decision not to play Mayo by saying he didn’t have anyone for Mayo to defend. But it certainly seemed puzzling for Mayo to go from over 20 minutes per game to riding the bench for a non-disciplinary reason.

Team

Adj Off

Adj Def

W

L

Pyth.

Long Island

110.7

112.6

4

4

0.4571

Long Island (without Julian Boyd)

105.5

115.4

6

6

0.2857

           

Valparaiso

102.4

93.1

6

3

0.7254

Valparaiso (with LaVonte Dority)

107.5

96.6

9

2

0.7480

           

Wichita St.

109.1

89.1

9

1

0.8890

Wichita St. (since 3 players out)

109.2

86.3

10

1

0.9183

Long Island was the media’s pick for the NEC title this year because they returned almost their entire rotation from last year’s tournament team. But Long Island’s season was off to a disappointing start, and then super-scorer Julian Boyd went down. And while a recent winning streak has improved expectations somewhat, this remains a heart-breaking season for fans of the team.

Former South Florida guard LaVonte Dority joined Valparaiso mid-season, and the aggressive offensive player has helped boost the team’s overall performance. He is attracting a ton of attention and making his teammates better.

Finally, Gregg Marshall has to be a national coach-of-the-year candidate. He lost virtually his entire rotation to graduation, but in November and December his team continued to play at a very high level. Then on Dec. 20th he faced a situation where three of his key rotation players were out. Carl Hall, Ron Baker, and Evan Wessel were all injured and missing in action. And yet since that time, Wichita St. has actually played better basketball. Carl Hall has returned for the last four of those games, but Gregg Marshall’s ability to find new players and stick them in the lineup has been nothing short of amazing.

Team

Adj Off

Adj Def

W

L

Pyth.

Missouri (Full Strength)

119.2

86.6

2

0

0.9638

Missouri (without Tony Criswell)

120.9

97.7

2

1

0.8988

Missouri (without Jabari Brown)

110.3

91.6

8

1

0.8703

Missouri (without Laurence Bowers)

107.5

94.8

3

2

0.7845

Arguably, Missouri has never been at full strength (since Michael Dixon left the team), but for two games in December they had everyone else active. They crushed South Carolina St. by 50 and beat an Illinois team that was playing well at that time.

The rest of the season has seen key player’s missing and the team’s performance has suffered because of it. Bowers injury has clearly been the worst, but Missouri wasn’t exactly playing elite basketball before Jabari Brown became eligible either.

I’m not going to show the Kentucky or Louisville splits (since I discussed those teams at length earlier), but surprisingly, their struggles cannot really be tied to Willie Cauley-Stein’s injury, Ryan Harrow’s early absence, or Gorgui Dieng’s absence.

Click here for Part 2: James Southerland, Greg Whittington, Taylor Braun, CJ McCollum, Mike Moser, Kris Dunn and more.

A Super Saturday

On LeBryan Nash, Davante Gardner, Elston Turner, Rontei Clarke, Wisconsin/Illinois, and every minute of two games between real Final Four contenders (Minnesota/Indiana and Duke/NC State).

Conference Play Is Here

On what is left for human game-observers as advanced metrics become more sophisticated and breaking down Minnesota against Illinois.

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.

Recruiting And Player Development, 2012 Edition

The best way to examine the value of specific college coaches is to examine how well they recruit and subsequently develop their talent. Let's examine the top 49 coaches from the Power 6 conferences.

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.

YACB Column, Jan. 30th (On The Weaknesses Of The Top-25 & More)

Many have called this a down year for college basketball and though that argument can be made about elite teams, there are still plenty of reasons why it's a fallacy.

Five Surprises From The Second Weekend In January

The theme heading into this weekend was that there were not many must-see games. But with college basketball, the sheer volume of games ensures there will always be a few surprises.

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?

Ryan Boatright, Trevor Mbakwe, Bruce Ellington, Tyshawn Taylor & The Season's First Splits

Ryan Boatright's arrival has completely turned around Connecticut's early season performance. Here's why it is sometimes isn't too soon to look at small sample sizes.

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?

Feast Week Is Over

Notes on the Thanksgiving week games, plus in-depth analysis of the Old Spice Classic.

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.

Printable Brackets And Early Season Tournament Odds

Don't wait until March to start printing out college basketball brackets. With the Preseason NIT, Maui Invitational, Puerto Rico Tipoff and other excellent tournaments, you can start the madness in November.

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?

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.

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