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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.

Stats To Pick Apart The Bracket

Quick note: Every year the committee picks out a team and leaves them out because of a weak NCSOS. This year the victim was SMU. And if you look at their team sheet, you can understand why. There simply are not very many games in the two left columns.

I do not have a lot of unique hints to help you pick your bracket. But reading the research other people have done on the topic, here are the most important factors:

1) Margin of Victory (MOV)

See Jeff Sagarin’s Predictor, Ken Pomeroy’s Ratings, ESPN’s BPI, or a similar MOV-based system.

2) MOV

3) MOV

OK, fine. There might be a couple of other things that matter a little:

4) The ability to create turnovers

This tends to matter because almost every team you face in the tournament is going to be good on offense and defense, and if you force turnovers, you can even score on a good defensive team. But relative to MOV, this is a very small factor.

5) Having a coach who knows how to win in March.

By now, you’ve probably seen lots of studies about Performance Against Seed Expectations (or PASE). The idea is to pick out coaches who exceed their typical NCAA seed. But I’m not a huge fan of that analysis because all it takes is one loss for a coach to completely blow his numbers. And the NCAA tournament is filled with small sample sizes.

Today, I’m going to present some numbers that offer an alternative measure. What I do is take each coach’s efficiency margin from November to February, and compare that to their efficiency margin in March. I include all March games, not just NCAA tournament games, so that I can do something with seasons when a coach does not make the NCAA tournament. For example, the table below gives Scott Drew credit for his team's NIT run last season.

Efficiency Margin = Opponent and Venue Adjusted Offense minus Defense

AEMFY = Average Efficiency Margin November to February

AEMM = Average Efficiency Margin March

Here are the coaches with efficiency margin improvements of more than 1.5 points late in the year:

Seed

Team

Coach

AEMNF

AEMM

DIFF

5

VCU

Shaka Smart

14.3

22.0

7.8

2

Michigan

John Beilein

12.7

16.9

4.2

6

Baylor

Scott Drew

8.5

12.4

4.0

8

Memphis

Josh Pastner

15.1

17.5

2.4

4

Louisville

Rick Pitino

22.2

24.6

2.3

1

Wichita St.

Gregg Marshall

12.3

14.6

2.3

6

Ohio St.

Thad Matta

23.0

24.8

1.8

4

Michigan St.

Tom Izzo

20.3

22.0

1.6

By focusing on efficiency margin instead of just the outcome, we get a slightly different picture than the PASE stats. Thad Matta’s team has not always exceeded the expected seed in the NCAA tournament, but his teams rarely play poorly. Thad Matta’s team has lost its final game in the last five tournaments by a total of 13 points.

Josh Pastner’s inclusion on this list is the most dubious. This is mostly about his team rolling teams in the CUSA tournament. But it is worth noting that his team lost a close game to a brutally under-seeded St. Louis team in 2012 and lost by two to Arizona in 2011. Pastner’s less than stellar NCAA record may not be completely representative of his team’s March performance.

Conversely, the following coaches have all seen their teams efficiency margin plummet by more than 1.5 points in March:

Seed

Team

Coach

AEMNF

AEMM

DIFF

9

Pittsburgh

Jamie Dixon

22.5

20.9

-1.7

2

Villanova

Jay Wright

17.5

15.3

-2.2

5

Oklahoma

Lon Kruger

12.3

9.9

-2.3

1

Arizona

Sean Miller

16.9

14.6

-2.4

9

Oklahoma St.

Travis Ford

12.6

9.9

-2.7

1

Virginia

Tony Bennett

15.9

12.0

-3.9

9

Kansas St.

Bruce Weber

19.2

15.2

-4.0

7

Texas

Rick Barnes

22.0

16.2

-5.8

10

BYU

Dave Rose

18.1

12.0

-6.1

2

Wisconsin

Bo Ryan

24.6

18.3

-6.3

5

Cincinnati

Mick Cronin

12.0

5.1

-6.9

3

Duke

Mike Krzyzewski

29.2

21.0

-8.2

Mike Krzyzewski’s inclusion on this list is a bit misleading. His teams have not always under-performed in the tournament. The issue here is that Duke has historically been dominant in November and December, and has not quite kept that up later in the year.

Mick Cronin’s numbers are also a little misleading. Cronin didn’t win a game in March until his fourth season. He has been better in recent years and in the tournament.

But all of the other coaches on this list have had dominant stretches in the regular season that they have not been able to duplicate in March.

(I’m always puzzled by some of the above distinctions. Michigan and Wisconsin both have similar philosophies. Both avoid fouling and rarely turn the ball over. And yet John Beilein has had the magic touch in the NCAA tournament while Bo Ryan might be the best coach never to reach the Final Four.)

6) Teams that have under-achieved in the regular season are good upset picks.

Various folks have shown that the preseason AP poll still has predictive power at the end of the season. Thus your instincts are correct. Louisville is under-seeded due to few quality wins, but has the talent to win it all. Michigan St. when healthy, has the talent to win it all. And if Kentucky still has plenty of talent and upside, even if they haven’t always shown it.

Now, if you need some help on coin flip games, here are some totally useless facts:

Vs Tournament Field

Here is how teams seeded 1-13 in the NCAA field have fared against teams seed 1-13 in the NCAA field. (Note, given the small sample sizes, I am not capping margin-of-victory here. I didn’t want to throw away any possessions, but given that these are all quality teams, it didn’t seem like this was critical.)

Seed

Team

Off

Def

EM

W

L

1

Wichita St.

119.4

85.9

33.5

4

0

1

Florida

116.1

86.3

29.8

8

2

1

Arizona

116.2

87.6

28.6

12

3

3

Duke

128.2

99.9

28.2

8

5

4

UCLA

121.0

94.8

26.2

8

4

3

Creighton

130.4

104.4

26.0

9

5

2

Kansas

118.7

94.2

24.5

12

8

1

Virginia

109.1

87.2

21.9

6

4

2

Michigan

122.2

100.6

21.5

9

6

2

Wisconsin

114.2

92.6

21.5

7

4

4

Louisville

114.4

93.2

21.2

4

5

2

Villanova

117.7

96.8

21.0

8

3

3

Syracuse

115.4

95.1

20.3

7

3

5

Oklahoma

121.6

101.5

20.1

9

6

4

Michigan St.

116.3

96.2

20.1

8

6

6

Ohio St.

111.6

91.7

19.9

7

5

5

VCU

109.7

89.8

19.9

5

5

8

Kentucky

118.3

98.9

19.4

3

6

5

Cincinnati

108.9

90.1

18.8

7

5

6

North Carolina

114.0

95.2

18.7

7

5

11

Iowa

115.2

96.7

18.6

4

8

3

Iowa St.

115.1

97.0

18.1

12

6

11

Tennessee

108.7

92.2

16.5

2

7

9

Pittsburgh

112.7

96.6

16.2

3

8

7

Connecticut

108.0

92.1

16.0

7

5

6

UMass

110.2

94.3

15.9

7

4

5

St. Louis

102.3

86.7

15.6

5

4

6

Baylor

116.2

100.6

15.6

10

9

7

Oregon

117.1

101.6

15.5

4

6

9

Kansas St.

114.1

99.1

15.1

7

8

9

Oklahoma St.

112.2

97.2

15.0

5

11

7

New Mexico

108.1

93.3

14.8

4

4

12

Xavier

110.8

96.6

14.2

4

7

10

St. Joseph's

112.5

98.7

13.8

6

5

8

Gonzaga

112.7

99.1

13.6

3

4

4

San Diego St.

104.0

90.4

13.6

3

3

8

Memphis

115.3

102.7

12.6

4

7

7

Texas

112.6

100.1

12.5

8

9

11

Providence

112.9

100.5

12.4

3

6

10

BYU

113.6

101.3

12.4

3

6

12

North Dakota St.

118.6

106.5

12.1

1

1

10

Stanford

112.8

101.9

10.9

5

9

9

George Washington

106.9

97.6

9.3

5

6

11

Dayton

113.3

104.0

9.3

4

6

10

Arizona St.

105.4

97.1

8.3

4

7

12

NC State

109.2

101.7

7.5

3

8

11

Nebraska

107.4

100.6

6.8

3

8

8

Colorado

105.1

98.7

6.3

5

8

12

Harvard

101.9

96.5

5.3

0

2

13

New Mexico St.

108.7

103.8

4.8

1

3

13

Delaware

111.2

106.9

4.3

0

3

13

Manhattan

110.3

108.6

1.7

0

1

13

Tulsa

106.5

104.9

1.7

0

3

12

Stephen F Austin

102.7

101.9

0.7

0

1

Wichita St. hasn’t played many tournament teams, but they played well against Tennessee, St. Louis, BYU, and Tulsa, particularly given that only one of those games was at home.

It is a totally meaningless stat, but I am still amazed that Kansas has played 20 games against teams seeded 13 or higher in the NCAA tournament. The Jayhawks are the most battled tested team I have ever seen. In another totally meaningless stat, 16 seed Coastal Carolina has not played a team seeded better than 13th in the NCAA tournament all year.

The above table makes Iowa vs Tennessee seem like a compelling match-up. But the reason I am not buying it is the following:

Last 10 Games – Who’s Hot?

Looking at uncapped opponent adjusted offense and defense in the last 10 games, Louisville has absolutely been crushing teams:

Seed

Team

Off

Def

EM

W

L

4

Louisville

122.5

81.5

41.0

9

1

1

Arizona

117.1

85.7

31.5

7

3

1

Virginia

121.5

91.2

30.4

9

1

1

Wichita St.

122.7

93.7

29.0

10

0

1

Florida

117.1

88.1

29.0

10

0

11

Tennessee

113.2

86.7

26.6

6

4

2

Villanova

115.2

91.1

24.1

8

2

7

New Mexico

113.2

89.1

24.1

9

1

5

VCU

110.2

86.7

23.5

7

3

2

Kansas

122.7

99.3

23.4

6

4

2

Wisconsin

121.8

98.6

23.2

8

2

6

Baylor

127.0

103.9

23.1

8

2

4

UCLA

120.9

98.3

22.6

7

3

2

Michigan

126.3

103.7

22.6

8

2

3

Creighton

129.7

107.6

22.2

7

3

4

Michigan St.

124.4

102.9

21.4

6

4

5

Oklahoma

119.8

98.9

20.9

6

4

13

Tulsa

108.5

87.8

20.7

10

0

9

Oklahoma St.

114.7

94.1

20.7

5

5

11

Nebraska

111.7

91.4

20.3

8

2

10

St. Joseph's

114.9

94.6

20.2

8

2

3

Iowa St.

117.9

98.0

19.9

8

2

14

NC Central

113.9

94.2

19.7

10

0

6

North Carolina

115.8

96.2

19.6

8

2

4

San Diego St.

107.3

87.7

19.6

8

2

12

Harvard

113.2

94.0

19.2

9

1

7

Oregon

119.5

100.3

19.2

8

2

3

Duke

121.5

102.3

19.1

7

3

8

Gonzaga

109.9

90.9

19.0

7

3

12

North Dakota St.

113.2

95.9

17.4

9

1

11

Providence

120.8

103.5

17.3

7

3

9

Pittsburgh

116.9

99.7

17.2

5

5

13

New Mexico St.

113.7

97.5

16.3

9

1

6

Ohio St.

106.7

90.8

15.9

6

4

5

Cincinnati

109.9

94.5

15.4

6

4

8

Kentucky

112.7

97.4

15.2

5

5

10

Stanford

115.6

100.6

14.9

6

4

12

Stephen F Austin

117.4

103.0

14.4

10

0

3

Syracuse

108.1

94.8

13.3

5

5

9

Kansas St.

111.1

97.9

13.3

5

5

12

Xavier

114.7

101.8

12.9

5

5

10

BYU

112.7

99.8

12.9

8

2

11

Dayton

111.9

99.5

12.5

8

2

12

NC State

119.1

106.7

12.4

5

5

11

Iowa

121.7

109.3

12.4

3

7

7

Connecticut

103.4

91.1

12.3

7

3

7

Texas

110.8

98.9

11.9

5

5

13

Manhattan

105.8

94.6

11.2

9

1

5

St. Louis

104.7

93.8

10.8

6

4

9

George Washington

110.3

100.0

10.3

6

4

14

Western Michigan

109.9

100.2

9.7

9

1

8

Memphis

109.0

99.4

9.5

6

4

10

Arizona St.

105.9

96.7

9.3

5

5

14

Louisiana-Lafayette

116.0

106.9

9.1

8

2

6

UMass

107.1

98.4

8.7

6

4

14

Mercer

106.6

100.1

6.5

8

2

8

Colorado

102.7

97.1

5.7

5

5

15

American

96.8

91.9

4.9

6

4

16

Albany

105.8

102.1

3.7

7

3

15

Eastern Kentucky

113.4

110.3

3.1

8

2

13

Delaware

108.5

105.9

2.7

8

2

16

Mount St. Mary's

109.9

107.4

2.5

6

4

16

Texas Southern

107.3

104.9

2.4

9

1

15

Wofford

104.7

102.9

1.8

7

2

15

Milwaukee

107.6

106.3

1.3

6

4

16

Weber St.

109.0

109.3

-0.3

6

4

16

Cal Poly

103.4

104.6

-1.2

5

5

16

Coastal Carolina

96.8

98.2

-1.4

8

2

Before you get too excited about that last table, let me remind you that last year, late season performance was NOT a good predictor of NCAA tournament performance. Syracuse and Michigan both struggled in their last 10 games last season and then turned things around and made the Final Four. Still, when it comes to picking the coin flips, this is basically why I can’t pick Iowa and Connecticut with good conscience.

Finally, Tennessee is one of the biggest mysteries in this year’s field. At times they’ve looked great. They’ve blown out Virginia early in the year. And late in the year they blew out Missouri, Auburn, and Vanderbilt by such a large margin, that it seems like Tennessee has broken the computers. And yet this same team has a number of dubious losses. The real problem is the lack of a PG. Jordan McCrae has been the token ball-handler for most of the year. Darius Thompson is probably the most natural PG, but he is a freshman. And transfer Antonio Barton, expected to be the PG at the beginning of the year has struggled in that role. With the right match-up, Tennessee rolls teams. But in close games, the lack of a solid distributor makes it very difficult to win.

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. 

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.

Predictions For A10/CUSA

In a surprise announcement, VCU is headed to the A10 for the upcoming season. Where do I project the Rams to finish?

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.

YABC Column For Feb. 27th (POY Races, Improbabilities & More)

As Draymond Green locked up the Big Ten POY award and Kansas battled Missouri for a likely No. 1 seed, Saturday afternoon encapsulated everything that is great about the NCAA regular season.

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.

SEC And CAA Notes

While Vanderbilt returns so many of the 'right' players, Kentucky's incoming class is loaded with talent and there are several reasons to be bullish on Alabama.

Relative Value Losers, Pac-12 And Horizon League Notes

Using Relative Value to identify teams that will struggle to repeat their 2011 success, along with looks at the Pac-12 and Horizon.

Are Elite High School Recruits Necessary To Reach The Final Four?

Butler and George Mason have proven it is possible to reach the Final Four without Top-100 recruits, but Florida's success without Top-10 players in 2006 and 2007 may give us the most realistic scenario of success.

Yet Another College Basketball Column (Final Four Weekend)

Why Kentucky's loss to UConn was a surprise, a way to improve the college all-star senior game and what Butler-VCU made us remember.

Yet Another College Basketball Column (The Final Four Is Set)

The Final Four is set with Kentucky, UConn, VCU and Butler earning trips to Houston. Here is how they got there.

Yet Another College Basketball Column (Sweet 16 - Day 2)

Brandon Knight hits another game-winner, but Kentucky's defensive schemes were equally critical.

Looking Back And Ahead

Why Kentucky matches up well with Ohio State, Arizona's biggest strength and who will win SDSU/UConn.

Yet Another College Basketball Column (Post-Selection Edition)

The field of 68 has been set and the four No. 1 seeds boringly look like good bets to reach the Final Four, but here are a few teams capable of overachieving.

Yet Another College Basketball Column (Feb. 21st)

Dissecting how Nebraska upset Rick Barnes' Longhorns, losing faith in Villanova's Antonio Pena, random bullets and a Bracket Buster rant.

 

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