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Comparing The Conferences

The Pac-12 has been suffering through a long dark period. The Big Ten has been dominant (at least in the pre-conference schedule) for the last few years. Should we expect a change this year? Is the Pac-12’s slump over? Is the Big Ten’s boom about to come to an end? Let’s take a quick look at some basic roster data and see if we can uncover any trends.

Part of predicting the season is noting the number of elite high school prospects on each roster. Not only are these players more likely to play well as freshmen, but they are also more likely to breakout later in their career. Recall, for example, Michael Snaer of Florida St. Snaer was a former Top 20 recruit, and while it took him three seasons, he broke out in a big way in 2011-12. After adding up the numbers…

- The Big East has the most former RSCI Top 100 prospects on rosters heading into the season with 58.

- But the Big East has more teams, and the Big East has only 3.9 elite recruits per team. The ACC has the most former Top 100 recruits per team with 4.6 per team.

- But James McAdoo is the only former Top 10 prospect in the ACC this season. That seems like an unprecedented lack of super-elite talent for the conference. If you want super elite talent, you probably want to watch the SEC, assuming everyone is declared academically eligible. John Calipari never lets us down on the recruiting trail.

- The SEC, however, is only welcoming ten Top 100 freshmen this year as a whole. Even the Big Ten, the land of typically poor recruiting, is welcoming more Top 100 freshmen than the SEC this season. And yes, the slumping Pac-12 brings in quite a few elite recruits this year.

Conf

T10

T100

T100 Fr

ACC

1

55

22

BE

1

58

17

SEC

4

49

10

B10

1

40

15

B12

3

33

11

P12

3

37

15

MWC

1

15

5

A10

0

11

3

The next table isn’t really roster data, but it does reflect some of my preliminary projections about playing time.

- The ACC is going to be the youngest conference in the nation this year, according to my projections.

- The Big East has a startlingly low number of key seniors on rosters this year.

- As usual, the MWC and A10 have more mature rosters. They lose fewer players to the NBA and that helps the top MWC and A10 teams compete, even without a plethora of blue chip talent.

Class

Sr%

Jr%

So%

Fr%

MWC

35%

30%

17%

17%

A10

33%

27%

19%

21%

P12

28%

32%

18%

22%

B12

32%

19%

26%

23%

BE

22%

32%

27%

19%

B10

27%

26%

23%

24%

SEC

25%

28%

24%

22%

ACC

25%

22%

23%

31%

The Pac-12 is getting older in a hurry, thanks in no small part to an influx of transfers. Note that your transfer numbers may vary slightly. I’m excluding transfer walk-ons and a few JUCOs who seem unlikely to play in the next table.

Incoming Transfers

D1

JUCO+

P12

15

8

SEC

10

11

BE

14

6

MWC

7

5

B12

7

5

A10

8

3

ACC

3

3

B10

5

1

The transfer table doesn’t mean the Pac-12 has suddenly become the conference of transfers. This is all a natural consequence of recent league history. The Pac-12 teams have struggled the last few years making those teams particularly attractive places for transfers to matriculate. If you want to transfer and PLAY in an elite league, you would have chosen the Pac-12 too.  On the other hand, the Big Ten has been on an upswing and few coaches have needed to dip into the JUCO ranks as a quick fix. Deverell Biggs of Nebraska is currently the only incoming JUCO player projected for the Big Ten this year.

Overall, the Pac-12 was a depleted league, but it is adding a number of impact freshmen and key transfers this year. The days of the league failing to field a Top 25 team are over. As for the Big Ten, the jury is still out. The teams at the top still have plenty of talent, but programs like Purdue could be in for a bit of a slip without an influx of can’t miss players coming in.

Are Transfers Out Of Control?

A few years ago I read how D1 programs were firing their head coaches at an alarming rate. In response, I wrote this piece which showed that coaching turnover has always been rampant at all levels of D1.

A few days ago John Gasaway emailed me and asked me a similar question about transfers. The perception seems to be that players today are much more impatient and much more likely to change programs. John wanted to know if this was really true or whether this perception was simply a product of the increased information at our fingertips.

It certainly seems like there are a large number of transfers. So far this year I have 432 players who have left their schools with eligibility left. 432 is larger than the number on Jeff Goodman’s summer transfer list, but remember that Goodman had a separate mid-year transfer list and there were a few mid-year transfers that occurred after his December list was revealed.

But it turns out that 432 is not a particular large or a particularly stunning number. Last year I hand-coded all the D1 rosters in order to predict the season for ESPN the magazine. And based on my hand-coding, 814 players left D1 programs with eligibility left. Part of the problem is that Goodman’s list does a fantastic job picking up players transferring out of high level programs, but getting information on players transferring out of small conferences can be virtually impossible. Thus for comparison purposes, it is probably more interesting to examine whether there are more players transferring out of major programs than has occurred in the past. For simplicity, I decided to pull out the 75 programs that will compete in the Power Six leagues next year and see how their transfer patterns have looked historically:

Players leaving with eligibility left (excluding NBA draft early entrants)
2004: 174
2005: 197
2006: 185
2007: 192
2008: 160
2009: 137
2010: 203
2011: 165
2012: 113 (through April 30th)

I don’t believe that 2012 will be a historically low year for transfers. Instead, these numbers suggest to me that we don’t have the final number for 2012 yet. There will be more transfers throughout the summer. Many of these will happen for academic reasons or because of players doing foolish things (getting arrested), but I am confident that there will be more than 113 players leaving the Power Six conference teams by the time the summer is over.

On the other hand, keep in mind that only eight of the Power Six schools changed head coaches this year, the lowest rate of Power 6 coaching changes since 2009. And with so little coaching turnover, 2012 may well turn out to be more like 2009.

Also, keep in mind that I am measuring the number of players leaving these 75 schools with eligibility left. Technically, that isn’t the same thing as measuring the number of transfers. I happen to think it is the right comparison. That’s because we don’t know where many of the players on Goodman’s transfer list are going. Some of them might transfer to other D1 programs. Some of them might go to junior college. Some of them might decide to take a pro contract overseas. And some of them might stop playing basketball completely. We just don’t know. In my opinion, the only list we can construct for comparative historical purposes is a list of who isn’t coming back despite eligibility left.

But if you wanted a true list of transfers, you would almost certainly have to remove a few players from my historical table. For example, what do we make of Jai Lucas? Lucas played three years of college basketball. While he was a mid-semester transfer, he didn’t play basketball at all in 2008-09. Unless there is some weird NCAA rule I don’t understand (seems likely), I view Lucas as a player who left with eligibility left and he appears in the above table. Of course no one really thought Lucas was going to graduate from Texas and use the graduate school transfer rule last summer. At that point he had decided to play overseas. So I can understand arguments for excluding him. If you want to try to remove the Jai Lucas type players and produce a more accurate historical list of transfers, I am happy to share my data. Simply send me an email DLHanner@gmail.com

Major Conference Tournaments Day 3

Major Conference Tournaments Day 3

Playing their way out:

Northwestern – After Northwestern fell in OT to Minnesota, they paused to show all the sad Northwestern fans in the stands and all the long faces on the NU sideline.  This was supposed to be Northwestern’s year, but once again the journey appears to have come up short. With super-scorer John Shurna graduating, it is fair to ask whether Northwestern will really have a better chance to make the NCAA tournament in future years. While I’m sure Carmody can put together another team that will make some threes and play competitive basketball, I’ve personally seen enough of this story. Dan Dakich actually described it well concerning the Illinois program. When a program loses momentum, you can’t necessarily quantify it, but you can feel it. And this felt like a momentum crushing loss for Northwestern. In the same way Bruce Weber is a good coach, who ultimately isn’t a good fit at Illinois, I feel like Carmody is a good coach, who isn’t really the answer at Northwestern. You can only watch so many times when Jared Sullinger makes a buzzer beater, or Minnesota knocks down wide open threes, before you realize Carmody’s defensive system is never good enough to win in the Big Ten. Northwestern may be a tough place to recruit and win, but a basketball team only has 5 players on the floor at once. It shouldn’t take a miracle runner at the end of regulation for the team to have hope of an NCAA tournament bid. And with Carmody, that seems to be what the team is banking on. As a Big Ten fan, tired of low-scoring games and perimeter-oriented-offenses, I also think a different style of play would serve the conference well. The Northwestern football team doesn’t hope to beat Wisconsin with a power running attack, so why should Northwestern try to beat Wisconsin with a turnover-free three-point-barrage. Bring in a coach with a different system, and see if there are better results.

Trying to play their way out:

Washington - If the Northwestern loss seemed more sentimental, the way the Washington Huskies lost was just brutal. With Washington down one with 18 seconds left, Pac-12 freshmen of the year Tony Wroten went to the line and missed two free throws. But Oregon St.’s Jared Cunningham missed two free throws on the other end so Washington still had a chance. And the Huskies got a gift as Cunningham foolishly reached in and fouled Wroten again. (Certainly fouling when up one with 8 seconds left had to be accidental, right?) But Wroten missed two more free throws, and that essentially sealed the loss. The Huskies ended the season with back-to-back losses to sub-100 RPI teams and with their best win coming against Oregon, there are a lot of people who are going to argue that they do not deserve to be in the NCAA tournament.

South Florida – Leading Notre Dame by three points with 38 seconds left, USF’s Victor Rudd Jr. committed a foolish turnover and compounded it by fouling Jerian Grant. After Grant made two free throws, Notre Dame still needed a foul or a steal. So of course USF’s Jawanza Poland beat the pressure defense, missed a lay-up (instead of running clock), and then missed the front end of the one-and-one. It was a comedy of errors, but it somehow seemed appropriate for USF. Rick Pitino said playing the Bulls is like getting a root canal. And with their terrible offense and incredible defense, sometimes watching their games feels like one too.

Mississippi St. – If it wasn’t clear in my comments on Matt Norlander’s podcast or in my preview of the week, I was not surprised to see Georgia “upset” Mississippi St in the opening round of the SEC tournament. Mississippi St. has lost 6 of their last 8, with 3 of those losses coming to teams with RPI’s over 100. In the old days of Last 10 and a 64 team field, Mississippi St. would not have made the cut. But under the new standard that evaluates the whole season equally, they may still make it.

Oregon – A lot of people felt Oregon could make the tournament with a run to the Pac-12 final. But an opening game loss to Colorado may end that possibility. Oregon trailed by 8 points with 7 minutes to go and went on a 10-0 run that seemed to give the Ducks the game, but a late put-back by Colorado’s Andre Roberson won the game for the Buffaloes.

Playing their way in:

Texas – In a tie game in the final minute, J’Covan Brown drove into the lane, made a basket, and drew the foul. Then Texas forced two Iowa St. turnovers, and the Longhorns picked up a much-needed win. The announcers said, “Texas is in the NCAA tournament now.” I wouldn’t quite go that far, because upsets can still happen that can shrink the bubble. But on a day when most teams were playing their way out, Texas picked up a very important quality win.

Games of the Day

1. Cincinnati over Georgetown in Double OT – Cincinnati came back from 11 down to take the lead late in regulation. Then Georgetown’s Otto Porter hit a jumper to send the game into OT. Then Georgetown’s Henry Sims made a lay-up just before the buzzer to send the game to a second OT. Then Cashmere Wright made a driving bank shot to win the game in the second OT. Now that’s a basketball game.

2. Marshall over Tulsa in Triple OT – Five Marshall players fouled out, but it didn’t matter. DeAndre Kane put Marshall on his back and would not be denied. Kane had 40 points in the game, and if this had been the NCAA tournament instead of the CUSA tournament, his heart and grit in OT would have been the stuff of legend. Kane looked thoroughly exhausted at the end of the second OT, but finally the team got some contributions from other players. Jamir Hanner (no relation) came off the bench and made an incredibly put-back dunk after a missed FT, Chris Martin came off the bench and hit a three, and despite those five players fouling out, Marshall won as a team on Thursday.

3. Southern Miss over East Carolina – East Carolina trailed by three with 30 seconds left. They missed a three and a put-back, but finally found an open Robert Sampson who buried a three pointer to send the game into OT. East Carolina made 15 threes in the game, but in the end Southern Miss had too much firepower. Southern Miss player (and Kentucky transfer) Darnell Dodson nailed a three in the extra session that gave USM the lead, and they rolled from there.

4. San Diego St. over Boise St. – Boise St.’s Thomas Bropleh made a lay-up with 27 seconds left to tie the game, but San Diego St.’s Jamaal Franklin hit a three pointer on the other end as time expired to give SDSU the victory.

5. Syracuse over Connecticut – There was a big game feel in the Garden for Syracuse vs UConn, and James Southerland bailed the Orange out with three huge jumpers late in the game. Sometimes you wonder whether depth is over-rated, but when a player like Southerland can step up in a close game like that, you realize having more scoring options is always valuable. After praising UConn’s Shabazz Napier yesterday, I once again found his shot-selection puzzling in this game.

Other Notes on Thursday

-Indiana senior Verdell Jones injured his leg and appears to be out for the season. For Tom Crean it was an emotional moment, not because of what Jones contributes on the court, but because Jones has been around for all the tough years at Indiana and deserved the chance to play in the NCAA tournament.

-Baylor debuted its Neon Yellow uniforms (which looked much better than Louisville’s Neon Red uniforms.) Brent Musburger described them as “electric”. Bob Knight called them “blinding”. The banter was more humorous than I can do justice.

-Louisville had 50 points at halftime against Marquette, but started the second half 2 of 19 from the field. Eventually another run of points gave them the victory.

-Illinois shot zero free throws in losing to Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Bruce Weber’s teams have struggled at getting to the line over his tenure, so that somehow seemed fitting. This may very well be Illinois’ final game of the year. Given the NIT’s more narrow admittance standards in recent years, and the likelihood Iowa and Northwestern will go to the NIT, this may have been Bruce Weber’s final game.

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