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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. 

SEC Basketball Early Projection

Andrew Wiggins is expected to make his college decision on Tuesday afternoon. Assuming the announcement is not leaked on Monday, I plan to post an updated Top 25 around 7pm ET on Tuesday evening. Even if Wiggins commits to Kentucky, the numbers below will not change substantially. The Wildcats are already projected as the No. 1 team in the nation and Kentucky is deep enough that another elite recruit won’t dramatically change the team’s outlook.

But this week I wanted to focus on the SEC because two other key decisions have already happened. First, Florida added Rutgers transfer Eli Carter. Second, it was announced that Tennessee guard Trae Golden will not return next year. With that news, here is how my lineup-based model projects the SEC standings to shake out next year:

Team

Proj CW

Proj CL

Proj Off

Proj Def

Last Off

Last Def

T100

Ret Min

Ret Poss

Kentucky

15

3

123.6

92.5

110.3

95.4

9

44%

42%

Florida

15

3

115.7

87.2

117.2

83.5

7

54%

51%

Alabama

11

7

106.0

89.2

102.5

89.7

6

70%

72%

Tennessee

11

7

109.2

93.5

108.3

97.7

4

60%

64%

LSU

10

8

110.9

96.4

104.7

97.9

4

75%

76%

Vanderbilt

10

8

105.5

92.2

101.8

93.8

4

100%

100%

Arkansas

10

8

110.3

96.6

105.4

95.1

3

65%

55%

Mississippi

8

10

106.6

96.8

111.6

93.3

1

58%

60%

Missouri

8

10

106.8

97.0

114.5

93.9

3

39%

37%

Auburn

7

11

104.5

98.7

96.8

100.2

2

50%

47%

Texas A&M

6

12

101.2

96.2

103.1

96.8

3

63%

60%

S. Carolina

6

12

104.8

100.2

98.8

104.4

3

45%

50%

Georgia

5

13

99.4

96.5

101.2

94.9

0

57%

58%

Mississippi St.

4

14

94.3

95.3

89.9

99.5

0

96%

97%

For a list of column definitions, click here.

Kentucky: Even if Kentucky is young, I completely agree with the model’s conclusion that this is the No. 1 team in the nation. The roster is full of instant impact Top 20 recruits, and even if a few don’t pan out, there is so much depth that it won’t matter. Probably the only place where Kentucky doesn’t have great depth is the back-court, so only an injury or poor play by Andrew or Aaron Harrison could derail the team’s season.

But let’s not get carried away with the undefeated talk either. Even if SEC basketball is in a down period, there are enough quality teams and differences in styles of play that the odds still favor the Wildcats tripping up a few times in conference play.

Florida: There seems to be a clear consensus that Kentucky, Louisville, and Michigan St. are the top three teams in the nation. But this week Florida added Rutger’s transfer Eli Carter. And while there is no guarantee that Carter should be eligible immediately, if the Arsalan Kazemi situation is any indication, I think there is a good chance Carter will be eligible to play next season. After the mistreatment of players at Rutgers, I think the NCAA will be hesitant to turn down a waiver request. And since Eli Carter gives the Gators another perimeter scorer (one of the team’s only question-markets), the model now likes them to jump ahead of Louisville for third nationally.

And looking at the roster, I cannot help but agree. Florida goes two deep at basically every position. There is basically no downside risk for this roster. Is Scottie Wilbekin or Top 10 recruit Kasey Hill the better PG. It doesn’t matter, they can play together. Should they be joined by hot-shooting Michael Frazier or Eli Carter? And what about the front-court? Will Top 20 recruit Chris Walker and South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris be able to earn playing time with Patrick Young and Will Yeguete coming back? And Casey Prather and Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith are plenty good too. Honestly, who is the weakest player in that 10-man rotation? All 10 of those guys are SEC-caliber starters. Is it any wonder why DeVon Walker and Cody Larson transferred out? They weren’t even going to have a chance to play this year.

Alabama: Alabama point-guard Trevor Releford remains a true star and Levi Randolph is still becoming one. But the biggest improvement should be in the front-court. With former #22 recruit Devonta Pollard becoming a sophomore, I expect a big jump in his efficiency. It will help that Pollard will be joined in the front-court by Top 100 recruits Jimmy Taylor and Shannon Hale. The team also adds a JUCO transfer Algie Key. Combine that talent with Anthony Grant’s ability to teach defense and you have a solid NCAA tournament team. Before Trevor Lacey transferred, I had Alabama in the preseason Top 25.

Tennessee: This week Tennessee lost PG Trae Golden. While the university cannot issue a formal statement, it is likely he is leaving because of academic issues. Cuonzo Martin went on the offensive with reporters and tried to claim that his team’s expectations shouldn’t slip without Golden. But that is ludicrous. Golden had an ORtg of 110 and 107 the last two seasons and that kind of veteran offensive efficiency at the PG spot is very hard to replace. The team is now projected to start unranked freshman point-guard Darius Thompson and I project Thompson to have an ORtg of 97. No matter what Cuonzo Martin says, freshmen simply make more turnovers and mistakes. Overall, Tennessee’s offensive projection drops from 115 to 109 thanks to Golden’s departure. Like Alabama, Tennessee fell out of my preseason Top 25.

LSU: Second year head coach Johnny Jones has upgraded the quality of recruiting with Top 100 players Jarrell Martin, Jordan Mickey, and Tim Quarterman joining the fold. He has also added JUCO transfer John Odo to provide size in the paint, just in case Mickey and Martin aren’t ready to lead from day one. And that added talent should help high volume shooter and high potential forward Johnny O’Bryant improve his efficiency. With Anthony Hickey returning to man the PG slot and Andre Stringer knocking down threes, LSU has a solid rotation on paper. But LSU is still a bubble team. And with all those new players playing major minutes, expect some puzzling losses at times this season.

Vanderbilt: A year after losing everyone to graduation, Vanderbilt returns their entire rotation. The team also adds Top 100 recruit Damian Jones and Tulsa transfer Eric McCllelan. With some normal player development, Vanderbilt will be better. But Kedren Johnson is the only player who looks like he might be a star.

Arkansas: With Hunter Mickelson transferring and Marshawn Powell and BJ Young declaring for the draft, it sure feels like Arkansas is headed in the wrong direction. And with Young departing, the team has a glaring need at PG. Arkansas made a play for Rutgers transfer Jerome Seagers but Seagers chose Auburn. Probably the only thing that could make Razorbacks fans feel worse than losing three key players unexpectedly was losing out on a player to Auburn. Still, if you are expecting Arkansas to fall off the map, the recruiting class will probably stop that from happening. Bobby Portis is an instant impact recruit in the post, and Moses Kingsley will provide some key minutes as well. Houston transfer Alandise Harris will also chip in this season. And Mike Anderson is a solid coach. But the recent string of departures is disheartening.

Ole Miss: The back-court of Marshall Henderson and Jarvis Summers is back but the other three starters are gone. And without a slew of elite recruits (either new or incumbent on the roster), replacing those missing players will be difficult. In the front court, the return of DeMarco Cox may help, but he is the kind of player that never shoots the basketball unless wide-open, and coming off an injury he certainly does not project as a big-time scorer. The same can be said for Aaron Jones who was also rather passive last season. And that means unranked freshmen recruits like Dwight Coleby and Sebastian Saiz will play more than Andy Kennedy would probably like.

Last season was head coach Andy Kennedy’s best defensive season of his career. But Murphy Holloway, the team’s best ball thief, and Reginald Buckner, the team’s best shot-blocker, are gone. And unless they can duplicate that kind of defensive performance, they probably won’t have enough offense to make the NCAA tournament. Aaron Jones was a solid shot-blocker in limited minutes last season, so another strong defensive season is possible, but certainly not probable.

Missouri: While Missouri can put together a pretty solid rotation of 7 players, the team will struggle to replace so many star players. PG Wes Clark is a Top 100 recruit and he will start from Day 1, but he is no Phil Pressey. Johnathan Williams is another Top 100 recruit and JUCO transfer Keanau Post was a Top 10 JUCO player. But neither projects at Laurence Bowers or Alex Oriakhi’s level. Perhaps the only player who can match last year’s quality is Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson who can probably match what Keion Bell brought to the team last year. But if Missouri is going to have any chance of matching last year, they are going to need one of the three returning players to step up their game. And while Earnest Ross and Tony Criswell will be nice pieces, the player most likely to break out is Jabari Brown. Brown was a Top 20 recruit out of high school, and joined the team mid-season last year. With a full fall of games under his belt, perhaps Brown can reach that next level. But his development won’t make up for what the team loses. And given Frank Haith’s struggles at teaching defense, the tournament seems unlikely.

Auburn: I’m assuming Rutgers transfer Jerome Seagers will get a waiver to play right away. Seagers and Virginia transfer KT Harrell will join Chris Denson and Jordan Price to form a passable SEC back-court. But the lack of talent in the front-court will keep this team near the bottom of the SEC.

Texas A&M: PG Fabyon Harris and forward Kourtney Roberson are fantastic players. But the rest of the roster is hideously inefficient. Normally I’d talk about how former Top 100 recruits Alex Caruso and J-Mychal Reese are poised for a breakout sophomore season. But after they posted ORtgs of 88 and 83 last year, it would take a minor miracle for them to become dependable players next season. And Florida St. transfer Antwan Space looked ill-equipped to play major college ball in his short time at that school too.

South Carolina:  My model still loves what Frank Martin did at Kansas St. He was a consistent winner, and other than his first season, he did it without a roster full of elite talent.  This Post & Courier story about the night SC’s Brenton Williams scored 38 points summed up Martin’s views perfectly. “My whole thing is, I don’t care what your talent level is. That’s irrelevant to me. I don’t care if you have 96 stars. I don’t care if somebody rated you a 99… I watch guys play 50 times over a course of a year, including summer basketball, and I still don’t know if they’re good enough. How people can watch somebody play three times and determine whether they’re a three-star, four-star, I don’t get that. I don’t care how many stars you’ve got. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what your talent level is. Bring some positive energy every day.” Martin inherited a rag-tag bunch of players that went 2-14 the previous year and believed he could win with that group because he had done it before. But last year a coach who had never had a defensive performance outside the top 50, suddenly coached a team to the 228th best defense in the nation. His team was hard-nosed and physical as always, committing fouls at a record pace. But unlike most seasons, that didn’t translate to a hard-nosed two-point defense. Instead of fouling to stop lay-ups, South Carolina fouled and allowed lay-ups. 

The real problem was the lack of size and depth in the front-court. Michael Carrera was an under-sized rebounding machine (much like Colorado St.’s Pierce Hornung), but he wasn’t the type of guy who could anchor the defense. It hurt the team that Carlton Geathers was injured. It also hurt that RJ Slawson could never live up to Frank Martin’s high expectations. (I wasn’t even remotely shocked to see that Slawson transferred this off-season) But that meant the focus had to be on freshmen front-court players, and they weren’t ready.

Bruce Ellington (when he returns from football), Sindarius Thornwell (the top 100 recruit), Ty Johnson (the mid-season Villanova transfer who struggled mightily for Jay Wright), and Brenton Williams (efficient but as Martin put it “he might be slower than me”) all provide something. And ideally Carrera could play more minutes at small-forward (at least defensively). But the 5 other players competing for time in the front-court have nearly equivalently low expectations. And that means no matter what Frank Martin has accomplished in the past, the turnaround will take time.

Georgia: When Georgia hired Mark Fox, I thought he was a great hire. But with Gerald Robinson graduating and Ketavious Caldwell-Pope leaving in the draft, there is literally nothing left. There are no Top 100 recruits left on the roster. There are no obvious stars.

Mississippi St.: Everyone is back. But last year’s team was so horrible that even with substantial improvement on offense and defense, this is still by far the worst team in the SEC.

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

The game of the weekend featured Baylor ending Kentucky’s 55-game home winning streak. I’ve often described Scott Drew as an excellent recruiter, but without the in-season coaching ability of John Calipari. But for at least one afternoon, Scott Drew’s club ended up on top.

A couple of things fascinated me about the game.

First, John Calipari had Kyle Wiltjer on the bench for a long stretch in the second half. And he really had no choice. Wiltjer finished the day 1-for-11 from the floor, and he doesn’t have the defensive ability to stay in the game if his shot isn’t falling. Wiltjer has to find ways to provide value to his team other than just knocking down threes if he is going to be a true leader this season.

Second, I continued to be impressed with the all-around game of Baylor’s Isaiah Austin. I wish he would settle for a few less outside shots, but what I love about Austin is how he always looks extremely focused when on the floor. Even if he commits a turnover or takes a dumb shot, Austin doesn’t ever appear to get rattled.

Of course it is easy to describe an intangible like “quiet confidence” when a player is winning. And with Kentucky losing, it is easy to attack Nerlens Noel’s complete lack of an offensive game. But had Kentucky rallied to win, we’d instead be talking about all the little things Noel did to help his team win on Saturday. Noel had 16 rebounds and 6 steals in Kentucky’s loss, and Kentucky needed those defensive stops in a game where they shot so poorly. Watching so many freshmen play prominent roles made me want to do a quick update of how all the top recruits have fared this season. Here is a summary of the RSCI Top 80.  * = injured or ineligible for part of the season

 

Player

Team

PPG

Pct Min

Pct Poss

ORtg

DR%

Ast%

1

Shabazz Muhammad

UCLA

16.0

42.4*

28.0

105.2

11.1

5.9

2

Nerlens Noel

Kentucky

11.4

78.5

21.1

110.2

21.1

14.8

3

Kyle Anderson

UCLA

6.6

69.5

20.4

87.9

19.4

20.6

4

Isaiah Austin

Baylor

13.7

64.2

22.1

107.9

18.2

6.4

5

Steven Adams

Pittsburgh

6.0

48.0

17.7

110.6

14.8

3.4

6

Anthony Bennett

UNLV

18.8

66.6

25.5

130.9

13.6

9.6

7

Kaleb Tarczewski

Arizona

6.2

51.5

17.6

109.0

25.8

6.6

8

Alex Poythress

Kentucky

15.4

73.9

22.7

114.9

13.7

3.9

9

Marcus Smart

Okl. State

14.5

85.7

28.0

103.4

16.4

35.3

10

Archie Goodwin

Kentucky

16.4

85.7

27.3

105.0

14.0

24.2

Kentucky has had a problem with rebounding this year, but don’t blame Nerlens Noel. He needs some help from Willie-Cauley Stein and Kyle Wiltjer who are very poor defensive rebounders for their size.

If Kaleb Tarczewski and Steven Adams aren’t earning major minutes at this point in the season, it is hard to envisioning them becoming full scale stars later. When conference play rolls around, coaches tend to be less patient with their freshmen. Thus in many ways, percentage of minutes can be the most important stat this time of year.

Efficiency is also important, and Kyle Anderson’s 87.9 ORtg is terrible for an elite recruit. Point guards can struggle more than other players to adapt to the college game and Anderson was considered to have point guard skills out of high school. So perhaps Anderson’s struggles aren’t a complete surprise. On the other hand, Archie Goodwin and Marcus Smart weren’t really point guards in high school and they have adapted to the position. Goodwin’s turnover numbers are far too high, but he’s set up his teammates passably while setting up his own shot a lot. And Marcus Smart has made a tremendous transition to playing the point-guard position at the college level. Smart’s assist rate is much better than many players regarded as better passers out of high school.

I really think the problem with Anderson is that Ben Howland hasn’t figured out how to use him. Lots of coaches from Rick Pitino to John Thompson III have been able to feature great lanky passers, by positioning them at the high post and letting them see the whole floor. Anderson still has the potential to be that type of player, even if he has struggled early.

 

Player

Team

PPG

Pct Min

Pct Poss

ORtg

DR%

Ast%

11

Grant Jerrett

Arizona

6.6

47.0

16.2

126.9

17.2

9.2

12

Rasheed Sulaimon

Duke

12.9

80.0

20.1

108.2

10.5

13.4

13

Ricardo Ledo

Providence

 

*

       

14

Cameron Ridley

Texas

5.1

44.2

22.3

72.9

17.1

0

15

Brandon Ashley

Arizona

11.0

56.5

22.8

122.5

25.5

6.3

16

Gary Harris

Mich. St.

11.8

44.6*

21.7

116.1

7.0

3.1

17

Rodney Purvis

NC State

10.0

73.3

17.3

106.8

5.8

9.1

18

DaJuan Coleman

Syracuse

5.8

37.0

24.1

85.4

25.4

2.3

19

Sam Dekker

Wisconsin

10.5

51.2

23.1

125.6

5.9

16.4

20

Kris Dunn

Providence

 

*

        

Grant Jerrett and Sam Dekker are the only players in the Top 20 who are not starting. Ricardo Ledo is ineligible. And Kris Dunn and Gary Harris are injured.

We start to see the typical drop-off when we get to recruits in the 11-20 range. DaJuan Coleman still has the profile of a player who will be a star in a future season, but right now he is having trouble earning playing time behind other quality big men on Syracuse’s roster. Meanwhile Cameron Ridley has been extremely disappointing for Texas. Certainly it hurts not to have Myck Kabongo eligible, but Kabongo’s absence doesn’t explain why a player like Ridley can be so passive against a team like Chaminade as he was in the Maui Invitational loss. The only good thing I can say about Ridley is that he has 19 blocks already, which is more than any other player in the Top 50 except Nerlens Noel.

Only Rasheed Sulaimon has become an undisputed crunch time star for his team. And Sulaimon’s efficiency is even more impressive when you look at Duke’s strength of schedule so far. Rodney Purvis has also played major minutes, but he is deferring a lot to his teammates at this point.

 

Player

Team

PPG

Pct Min

Pct Poss

ORtg

DR%

Ast%

21

Amile Jefferson

Duke

2.9

21.8

18.0

109.7

8.5

5.3

22

Devonte Pollard

Alabama

5.0

56.7

17.2

86.0

10.3

7.9

23

Glenn Robinson III

Michigan

12.3

79.2

18.6

131.3

14.8

7.5

24

Tony Parker

UCLA

3.3

13.2

18.5

117.1

13.7

4.6

25

Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell

Indiana

5.6

60.6

18.1

106.9

9.8

28.6

26

Mitch McGary

Michigan

5.0

35.7

20.3

117.4

26.4

3.4

27

T.J. Warren

NC State

15.3

69.5

19.6

132.4

8.5

3.5

28

Marcus Paige

North Carolina

7.9

61.7

20.2

87.7

7.8

19.6

29

Danuel House

Houston

11.3

54.6

26.4

100.8

12.6

8.1

30

Robert Carter

Georgia Tech

7.8

60.8

21.2

95.2

19.2

7.3

Glenn Robinson has been shockingly efficient at this point in the season, well above many of his peers on this list. But none of the players listed here are going to quite be in the national player of the year discussion because they are starting to become more passive offensive players. (I.e. the percentage of possessions used is now often below 20%) Only Danuel House is using a large number of possessions at this point in the rankings, and House plays for a Houston team that is in the process of upgrading its talent level in anticipation of joining the Big East.

This preseason I wrote how Marcus Paige would have some growing pains and be inconsistent this year, and the response I got was that Roy Williams had a ton of confidence in Paige and that I was being un-necessarily pessimistic. So far, with an 87.7 ORtg, neither Paige nor the Tar Heels are off to a great start. Paige has better days ahead, but North Carolina is also going to have a few more baffling losses before the season is over.

I was worried that Yogi Ferrell could have a similar negative impact on the Hoosiers because freshmen are often inconsistent. But Ferrell has thrived because he has worked within the offense. Instead of hogging the ball and needing to create shots, Ferrell has let his teammates work their isolation stuff, and provided key drives and dishes when needed. Ferrell has been happy to fill a role on the Hoosiers, and he has been everything Indiana needed.

Finally, Tony Parker’s minutes this year have been a joke, but with Josh Smith transferring, Parker at least has a chance of cracking the UCLA rotation now.

 

Player

Team

PPG

Pct Min

Pct Poss

ORtg

DR%

Ast%

31

Perry Ellis

Kansas

6.4

40.0

20.8

115.6

14.6

8.8

32

Ricardo Gathers

Baylor

5.6

41.0

20.0

101.5

15.5

1.5

33

Winston Shepard

San Diego State

3.7

24.1

24.2

49.2

10.1

6.3

34

Shaquille Cleare

Maryland

5.3

31.7

16.6

129.0

6.3

0

35

Shaq Goodwin

Memphis

7.5

50.0

21.7

109.4

16.5

9

36

Katin Reinhardt

UNLV

11.3

73.3

16.7

116.5

5.1

20

37

D. Smith-Rivera

Georgetown

5.8

44.0

15.6

108.8

4.2

5.5

38

Willie Cauley

Kentucky

7.4

48.2

20.2

103.5

14.8

7

39

Omar Calhoun

Connecticut

10.9

75.8

19.8

103.9

8.8

8.4

40

Brice Johnson

North Carolina

9.1

35.0

22.1

119.9

24.3

3.4

41

Jerami Grant

Syracuse

2.0

22.0

9.8

119.2

11.2

7.1

42

Adam Woodbury

Iowa

6.6

42.8

18.1

118.5

17.6

6.5

43

Tyler Lewis

NC State

2.7

36.2

16.9

83.6

10.6

20

44

Jeremy Hollowell

Indiana

6.4

35.3

26.1

92.7

12.4

1.5

45

Daniel Ochefu

Villanova

3.1

35.1

14.0

83.3

21.9

2.2

46

Cam Biedscheid

Notre Dame

8.0

42.4

21.9

113.7

9.1

16.1

47

Gabe York

Arizona

3.0

18.0

16.2

147.3

6.4

26.2

48

Justin Anderson

Virginia

6.1

52.8

21.8

100.8

9.8

23.2

49

Semaj Christon

Xavier

16.0

73.2

29.6

111.7

9.3

37.8

50

Hanner Perea

Indiana

 

*

        

Notice how often a lack of playing time plagues players at this point in the rankings. I expected and still expect big things out of Kansas’ Perry Ellis and Iowa’s Adam Woodbury, but their coaches have only given them a taste of playing time at this point. The result is that some guys at this point in the rankings become unmitigated gunners. Hey Indiana’s Jeremy Hollowell, no matter how good you think you are, when the game with North Carolina was close late in the first half, Indiana didn’t want you bombing threes. They wanted Jordan Hulls bombing threes.

Xavier has played much better than many of us anticipated this season, and freshman Semaj Christon deserves a lot of that credit. Christon has out-played point-guards like Marcus Paige and realistically he’s been much more important than even Yogi Ferrell given his role in the offense. Christon is using nearly 30% of his team’s possessions, scoring at a prolific clip, and setting up his teammates without a rash of turnovers.

 

Player

Team

PPG

Pct Min

Pct Poss

ORtg

DR%

Ast%

51

Josh Scott

Colorado

13.1

68.6

22.8

118.3

11.4

3.3

52

Andrew White

Kansas

2.6

11.0

22.6

101.3

26.4

5.8

53

Robert Upshaw

Fresno State

4.7

17.5

24.8

80.4

20.1

7.5

54

Braxton Ogbueze

Florida

1.7

20.0

17.2

70.7

18.6

3.8

55

Ryan Arcidiacono

Villanova

12.9

84.8

23.1

95.8

10.5

28.2

56

Dominic Artis

Oregon

10.2

64.6

21.8

100.9

9.1

23.4

57

J.P. Tokoto

North Carolina

3.4

24.3

20.9

89.6

12.4

9.5

58

Joel James

North Carolina

4.0

40.3

12.6

111.1

18.0

4.2

59

Jordan Adams

UCLA

17.8

62.4

26.1

123.0

12.0

8.3

60

Montay Brandon

Florida State

6.0

58.2

17.1

93.5

9.2

15.5

61

Elijah Macon

   

*

       

62

Prince Ibeh

Texas

1.6

30.8

12.0

63.9

14.9

2.3

63

James Robinson

Pittsburgh

7.2

74.4

14.4

120.6

9.0

21

64

Danrad Knowles

   

*

       

65

J-Mychal Reese

Texas A&M

6.6

74.6

17.7

89.1

9.5

18.5

66

L.J. Rose

Baylor

1.0

18.2

19.2

54.5

7.8

14.9

67

Xavier Johnson

Colorado

6.9

48.2

20.2

94.4

14.0

4.5

68

Jake Layman

Maryland

2.0

33.9

13.7

72.8

10.9

10.2

69

Christopher Obekpa

St. John's

4.6

59.3

13.7

96.9

11.1

9.3

70

Jordan Price

Auburn

5.3

38.9

21.9

84.6

5.4

14.2

71

Georges Niang

Iowa State

10.1

52.1

19.9

126.4

15.8

15.4

72

Torian Graham

   

*

       

73

Rosco Allen

Stanford

3.1

21.6

23.7

79.5

18.7

7.9

74

Evan Nolte

Virginia

6.4

48.1

15.3

115.6

8.4

16.2

75

A.J. Hammons

Purdue

8.6

47.7

23.8

102.2

19.4

8.2

76

Codi Miller-McIntyre

Wake Forest

9.0

75.0

16.5

103.9

7.5

17.3

77

Terry Rozier

   

*

       

78

Nik Stauskas

Michigan

14.3

69.2

15.9

158.3

11.9

3.5

79

Jakarr Sampson

St. John's

12.5

75.3

22.2

105.4

16.7

8.5

80

Javan Felix

Texas

7.1

84.9

20.6

82.7

10.0

39.6

Most of Christopher Opekpa’s stats are pretty pedestrian, but not his block rate. Opekpa has 35 blocks at this point in the season, easily out-distancing any of the other freshmen in today’s column.

Nik Stauskas has been unbelievably efficient at this point and he is playing major minutes to boot. Some people expected Michigan to be a Top 10 team, but did they really expect Stauskas to outperform his peer level players by this much? His efficiency is due in large part to his teammates, and his shot-selection. But his performance is still notable. Stauskas has the most threes of anyone mentioned in this column (18 made) beating even UCLA’s super-aggressive shooter Jordan Adams.

Also give Adams credit. He’s shooting 26% of the time while maintaining a solid ORtg. Kyle Anderson may have been the third rated recruit for UCLA, but Adams has actually played like one.

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A Formula For Finding Dark-Horse Teams

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Updated Conference Predictions

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Only 10 BCS conference coaching jobs changed this offseason, but it is still an opportune time to update the coaching tree.
 

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