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Opening Weekend Thoughts

Georgetown’s New Big Man

At a neutral site military base, when the crowd does not have a rooting interest, it is pretty difficult for a player on the losing team to stand out. But not only did Joshua Smith stand out for Georgetown, when he finally fouled out, he drew a standing ovation.

Joshua (don’t call him Josh) Smith did a little bit of everything in his Hoyas debut. He backed defenders down and finished in the lane. He fouled two Oregon centers out of the game. He showed great vision, passing and hitting cutters for easy baskets. He ate up space, blocking off defenders to give his guards wide-open lanes to the basket. And it became clear that no one watching Georgetown this season is going to be able to talk about anything other Georgetown’s new 350 pound center.

But as NBC’s Rob Dauster was quick to point out on Twitter, Joshua Smith had zero defensive rebounds in the loss. And the Hoya’s defense, not its offense, was the reason Georgetown lost the game. On Saturday, I sat down and watched the full game tape to see if Smith really was such a defensive liability. And the game film confirms that conclusion.

The big problem wasn’t Smith’s court awareness. I only caught two possessions where Smith seemed to be unaware of the ball and out of position. (Most notably this happened on the second possession of the game.) And Smith was mostly able to adjust to take away penetration. He even drew a key charge in the second half.

But the big problem is that Smith’s poor defensive rebounding wasn’t random chance. I counted at least four possessions during the game where the rebound careened into Smith’s zone and he didn’t even make an effort to jump for the ball. All four possessions came while the Hoyas were playing zone defense. I really got the sense that Smith was conserving energy by not jumping. And if you don’t jump, even a 6’10” player can seem small on the court.

Smith looked better as a defender when Georgetown was playing man-to-man defense. That is because when Smith boxes a player out, that player truly has no shot at the rebound. But you cannot win every rebound battle by just boxing out. Smith’s style of play means players like Nate Lubick and Mikael Hopkins have to be beasts on the boards. And neither one of those players had elite defensive rebounding rates last season. This is where Georgetown really misses Greg Whittington’s size and rebounding from a small forward role. But assuming Whittington doesn’t come back, John Thompson will have to work hard to find the right defensive lineup to balance out the Hoya’s new dominant big man.

Oregon’s Transfers

As fascinated as I was to see Smith, I was just as interested to see Oregon’s transfers in action. Joseph Young was clearly the star. I knew he could knock down wide open threes. But Young looked extremely comfortable knocking down two point jumpers in traffic as well. Most importantly, if there were any concerns that Young was just a spot-up shooter, his hustle on the court was apparent. At one point in the second half, he dove for the ball on the sideline and did a complete flip onto his back on the scorer’s table. That’s the kind of hustle that Dana Altman will love to see this year.

Mike Moser’s debut was a little more disappointing. I thought he settled for far too many jump shots. Certainly Georgetown’s defense had something to do with that, but I’m not a big believer that Ben Carter is going to come back in a month and own the inside. Carter was far too passive last season. And Waverly Austin just isn’t an offensive force. Austin’s numbers last year were poor, and he even had his shot blocked by the 6’5” Jabril Trawick in the second half. As big a win as this was for Oregon, for the Ducks to truly reach their goals, they need Moser to spend less time on the perimeter.

The biggest pleasant surprise was actually the play of transfer Jason Calliste. The former Detroit guard is getting a big chance to prove himself with Dominic Artis suspended, and he looked sharp. His understanding of floor spacing and ability to get to the free throw line really kept Oregon ahead in the game when Georgetown seemed to be taking control.

I Hate Suspensions

Oregon St. lost at home to Coppin St., but the Beavers were playing without two of their three best players in Eric Moreland and Devon Collier. Purdue won by just one point against Northern Kentucky, but the Boilermakers were playing without star center AJ Hammons.  Top 10 ranked Florida won by only eight against North Florida. But the Gator roster has been so depleted by eligibility and suspension issues that walk-on Jacob Kurtz played 26 minutes. Finally, Syracuse trailed Cornell by 6 at halftime, but Syracuse’s Jerami Grant did not play.

The most frustrating part of these early season suspensions is that they can wreck a team’s computer numbers. Even if the selection committee may be aware of what happens, Oregon St.’s RPI is going to be permanently damaged by that kind of loss. And that can hurt everyone else in the Pac-12.

Worse yet, we often don’t even know what the suspensions are about. I loved the TV commentary in the Syracuse game. “We spoke to Jim Boeheim about why Jerami Grant isn’t playing. He said ‘Grant isn’t injured, so you figure it out.’”

(Speaking of Syracuse, give credit to Trevor Cooney for making 7 of 8 threes in the opener. Cooney looked like he added a lot of muscle this off-season.)

Harvard Watch Week 1

Harvard may not be in the national title hunt, but the storyline of an Ivy League team on the edge of the Top 25 is too good to pass up. I hope to track Harvard’s progress throughout the season.

Harvard narrowly beat Holy Cross in its opener. I thought Harvard used a small lineup too much, left its best defender Steve Moundou-Missi on the bench far too long, and Holy Cross’s Dave Dudzinski displayed some outstanding outside shooting which made Harvard’s defense looked fairly pedestrian. Meanwhile reserve forward Jonah Travis carried Harvard with a career high 20 points and 10 boards thanks to some beautiful twisting moves around the basket.

But the real interest in game 1 wasn't the outcome, it was the debuts. Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey missed all of last season due to off-court issues, and I was curious whether they could pick up where they left off.  Kyle Casey announced his return emphatically with a dunk on Harvard’s opening possession. But then he was very quiet and eventually fouled out with 6:30 left in the second half.

Curry’s return was more nuanced. Curry was the primary ball-handler for Harvard two years ago, but Siyani Chambers broke out as a dominant PG last season and Wesley Saunders emerged as a capable creator as well. Thus there were real questions about how Curry would fit into the lineup.

For much of the game, I thought Curry looked a little rusty. He struggled to beat his man off the dribble, and Malcom Miller blocked the ball back in his face when he tried to attack the basket in transition. But Curry hit a buzzer-beating three before half-time. And down the stretch in the second half, Harvard’s trio started to build some beautiful rhythm with one another.

On one possession near the 7:30 mark of the second half, Saunders took the ball into the paint, drew the double team and kicked it out to Chambers. Chambers faked the drive and reversed to Curry. Then Curry drove the lane and kicked it back to Chambers for a wide-open three from the top of the key. Chambers missed the shot, but with three creators attacking, Harvard showed how tough this team will be to defend this season.

Classic Bo Ryan

I love watching debuts. Orlando Sanchez has been waiting forever  to be eligible at St. John’s and the 24 year old started his career by making his first three. Meanwhile Josh Gasser returned from his season long injury and knocked down his first three as well.

But one play in the second half of Wisconsin’s win over St. John’s pretty much sums up Wisconsin basketball. The play started with combo guard Josh Gasser posting up his guard defender. Then, when the defense collapsed around Gasser, he kicked the ball out to red-shirt forward Duje Dukan who knocked down the three. Guards playing inside and 21-year old redshirts breaking out after years of practice - that pretty much sums up Bo Ryan basketball. Dukan had 15 points in the win.

Connecticut Big Men

A lot of people are picking Connecticut to have a great season because the Huskies bring back 88% of their minutes. Meanwhile Maryland has no scholarship seniors on the roster. Thus it would be easy to write off Connecticut’s close win as a bad sign. If Connecticut isn’t better than Maryland now, will they really be the better team in March?

But that’s the wrong narrative. Even though Connecticut is a veteran team, the Huskies are still a team that is experimenting in the frontcourt. And Connecticut fans saw a couple of sequences that should have them excited. First, rising sophomore Phillip Nolan got the start and he looked explosive early with a couple of key offensive rebounds. Then seven foot freshman center Amida Brimah took over the game defensively with some huge blocks at the end of the first half. While both players picked up far too many fouls, their athleticism was tantalizing. Tyler Olander and DeAndre Daniels made some shots, but if Connecticut is truly going to reach that next level, they have to hope that Nolan or Brimah can develop over the course of the season.


-Maryland fans may be cursing the fact that Dez Wells settled for a tough jumper at the end of regulation in the 1 point loss to Connecticut. But perhaps Maryland fans can take solace in this. Former PG Pe’Shon Howard was 1 of 7 in his debut for USC.

-One of my biggest frustrations with Oklahoma St. has been the fact that LeBryan Nash has spent far too much time floating on the perimeter, trying to showcase that he can play a wing role in the NBA. And while it was only one game, I was extremely pleased to see that Nash grabbed 10 rebounds in 27 minutes of play on Friday. Nash didn’t have double-digits in rebounds in a single game last year.

-Duke’s Marshall Plumlee played just five minutes, so it seems that smaller lineups are a certainty for the Blue Devils this season. Davidson wasn’t really able to expose that, but other teams might. But if Duke’s perimeter oriented big men can play this well, the team may still roll over teams. The Blue Devils 82% eFG% in the opening game (including 13 of 21 threes was just ridiculous.)

-I didn’t think I could have any more respect for Nebraska head coach Tim Miles, but then I heard this. Nebraska held Florida Gulf Cost to zero first half fast-break points in the win.

-Rutgers fans have been waiting a long time for Kadeem Jack to finally play like he did against Florida A&M scoring 30 points and grabbing 12 boards.

-I didn’t expect much from Minnesota’s newest transfer Joey King because he wasn’t even given a scholarship. But he made his first three and scored 20 points in his Gopher debut.

Boston College Needs More Athletes

5’9” UMass PG Chaz Williams is one of the quickest players in the country and an amazing driver and distributor. And when he is shooting well from the outside (as he did on Sunday when he went 5 of 5 from three point range), he is simply un-guardable. Williams led UMass to a win against Boston College on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the speedy 6’1” Bryce Cotton showed tremendous heart, scoring 28 points in Providence’s OT win over Boston College on Friday.

It is clear Boston College is the best 0-2 team in country. They will make some noise in the ACC this season thanks to Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson. But these games do expose the weakness of Steve Donahue’s plan. Donahue isn’t recruiting true athletic players and hopes to rely on execution. But when you cannot keep speedy guards out of the lane and when you cannot compete on the boards because you don’t have the athletes, Boston College’s ceiling is limited.

Were These Upsets?

Kansas St. seemingly couldn’t grab a defensive rebound down the stretch and Northern Colorado pulled off the surprise win. But it is worth noting that Kansas St. has zero Top 100 recruits and zero JUCO Top 100 recruits on its roster right now. Bruce Weber did get his team to play defense (holding Northern Colorado to 89 points per 100 possessions), and that should keep Kansas St. competitive in Big 12 play. But on a roster without any high potential offensive players, this might not be the only ugly game Kansas St. plays this year.

Virginia Tech falling to USC Upstate hardly qualifies as a surprise given how much the Hokies struggled last year.

Finally, given that Miami FL lost 6 of its top 7 players from last year’s squad, and did not put together an elite recruiting class, I think we all knew Miami was going to fall at some point. St. Francis Brooklyn was glad to be the first team to pull off the feat.

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.


Proj CW

Proj CL

Proj Off

Proj Def

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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.

Final Exam Time

Final exams are here in college basketball, making this the quiet period of the season. After the excitement of the Champions Classic, the Holiday Tournaments, and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, college basketball must make it through a relatively boring stretch on the schedule.

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.

What Happens When No One is Back?

We need to change the question from “How many minutes does a team have coming back?” to “Who is likely to step into the lineup?” An inside look at Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and Purdue.

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

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

Overlooked NCAA Games From 11-12

While the DVR is bad for tweeting, the college basketball season was full of moments that were best appreciated with the magic of recording technology.

NCAA Tournament Day 2

A running diary of a historic day in the NCAA tournament.

NCAA Tournament Day 1

Which players have contributed to Purdue's offensive resurgence, the storylines from Day 1 of the NCAA tournament, and an explanation why various teams tournament expecations are changing.

Initial Bracket Thoughts

A few preliminary thoughts on matchups and which teams will advance deep in the tournament.

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.

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

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

BCS Basketball Power Poll January 2012

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

Colleges On NBA Rosters

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

YABC Column, Dec. 19 (On Perry Jones, Miami, BYU, Illinois & More)

A hero moment for Perry Jones III, BYU doesn't slow down offense post-Jimmer, Reggie Johnson's return to the Miami lineup and much more.

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?

The Anti-Recruiting Tool

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

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