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College Basketball Preview 14-15: Big East

My numeric projections will be available near the start of the season, but today I want to write a few words about each Big East team’s outlook.

Earlier Previews: ACC Preview, MWC Preview, SEC Preview, WCC Preview, Atlantic-10 Preview

Big East Favorite

Villanova: It hardly seems fair to the rest of the league that last year’s Big East regular season champion also has the most returning minutes in the conference. Incoming Top 100 freshmen like Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges can simply be eased into the lineup on a team like Villanova instead of thrown into the fire. Villanova is also tied with Georgetown and Marquette for the most former Top 100 recruits on the roster with seven.

James Bell is gone, but when you have a player like Josh Hart ready to move from the bench and into the starting lineup, the future is bright. Hart was great at getting to the line, great at finishing around the rim, and even more efficient than Bell last season. With all those veterans, Villanova has very little downside risk.

Hoping for the Top 25

Georgetown: John Thompson III is confident that Joshua Smith will be eligible this year, and when Smith is on the floor, he is a dominant offensive force. Given that Smith has never played 20 minutes a game, and rarely played a full season of games, I’m a little skeptical that he can dominate for a full year. But even if Smith does not play major minutes, the Hoyas are still going to be substantially improved because of a strong recruiting class that includes Top 100 recruits Isaac Copeland, LJ Peak, and Paul White. Their size and athleticism should easily compliment a back court of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Jabril Trawick. For a team that gave major minutes to three offensive liabilities last year, I will be shocked if Georgetown’s offense is not better.

But my real question is on defense. In January, I wrote how some coaches appeared to be adapting poorly to the change in the way fouls were being called. Despite the fact that their teams have fouled at a fairly consistent rate throughout their careers, John Thompson III, Roy Williams and Bill Self were all fouling at a dramatically higher rate than they had historically.

A very smart Michigan writer tweeted me and was skeptical of the numbers. After all, a handful of coaches will have outlier years every season. And the truth is, we can’t rule out that possibility. Perhaps Georgetown just happened to have some players that were particularly poor at keeping their opponent in front of them last year, and they had to foul too much. Perhaps, despite the presence of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, Kansas just had an unorthodox team, and that explains why Bill Self had the worst defensive team he’s ever had at Kansas. I’ve run some statistical tests, and the increase in fouling appears to go above and beyond the normal amount of statistical variation, but with one data point after the rule change, it is possible this was just a fluke.

But if you are looking for a reason to doubt Georgetown, the question of whether John Thompson III’s defense is too physical for the new foul rules is an important one. The next table shows the coaches who saw the largest uptick in fouls committed last year:

Coaches with the Biggest Increases in FTA per FGA on Defense

Coach

Team

2013

2014

Change

J. P. Piper

Nicholls St.

39

61

+22

Brian Katz

Sacramento St.

28

49

+21

Roman Banks

Southern

35

54

+19

Jim Molinari

Western Illinois

28

47

+19

Willie Hayes

Alabama A&M

36

55

+19

Kevin Nickelberry

Howard

37

54

+17

John Thompson

Georgetown

35

52

+17

Doug Wojcik

Charleston

27

43

+16

Steve Pikiell

Stony Brook

27

42

+15

Scott Sutton

Oral Roberts

28

43

+15

Howard Moore

Illinois Chicago

35

50

+15

Brian Jones

North Dakota

34

49

+15

Ray McCallum

Detroit

36

50

+15

Dana Altman

Oregon

33

48

+15

Roy Williams

North Carolina

27

41

+14

Clemon Johnson

Florida A&M

42

56

+14

Scott Nagy

South Dakota St.

24

38

+14

Mark Gottfried

North Carolina St.

29

43

+14

Randy Monroe

UMBC

44

58

+14

Cy Alexander

North Carolina A&T

41

54

+13

Bill Self

Kansas

32

45

+13

Hoping for the NCAA Tournament

Xavier: When I was reading the offseason headlines, “Semaj Christon declares for the draft”, “Justin Martin transfers”, I assumed Xavier was headed for a rebuilding season. But when you look at the Xavier lineup, it is much stronger than you might think. First, Dee Davis was not as good a scorer as Semaj Christon, but he had a very strong assist rate, and he should be able to keep the Xavier offense running at a high level. And incoming PG Edmond Sumner is viewed as a Top 100 recruit by everyone except Rivals. Off the ball, Xavier adds transfer Remy Abell, who was highly efficient at Indiana. Rising sophomore Miles Davis was also efficient and with the typical sophomore leap he should be in for a strong season. The guards might not score as much as last season, but that’s a solid group.

At the wing, the team adds Trevon Bluiett. If you are looking for a reason Justin Martin transferred, Bluiett might be the reason. The Top 40 recruit is so talented, he would have taken many of Martin’s minutes regardless. And the post might be the team’s area of greatest strength. Matt Stainbrook is a star. James Farr and Jalen Reynolds were two of the best reserve forwards in the country last year, and the team adds top 100 recruit Makinde London in the paint. Xavier lacks a little star power, and that may keep them from reaching the highest levels of performance. But their quality depth will win a ton of games.

St. John’s: This team is an enigma. They had star power with D’Angelo Harrison and JaKarr Sampson, quality depth, and they played solid defense, but they weren’t an NCAA tournament team last year. They had plenty of highly ranked recruits, but they couldn’t score.

And this offseason provides more of the same. On the one hand, the team takes a big step back in the paint, with three of the team’s four primary post players moving on. On the other hand, that means Chris Obekpa should play more minutes, and his shot-blocking can make up for a lot of errors. On the one hand, more Chris Obekpa and less JaKarr Sampson is bad for the offense. On the other hand, Rysheed Jordan should be better. Jordan was the typical freshman PG last year. He had moments of brilliance but also a bunch of games where he looked lost. If Jordan shows the typical sophomore leap and becomes more consistent this year, St. John’s offense should be better.

This seems like a key season for Steve Lavin in terms of proving he still has this team headed in the right direction. But almost any outcome seems possible at this point.

Marquette: The Big East may face tough times if the Power Five conferences begin to offer stipends and other compensation and the Big East is not allowed to match those policies. But right now, there is no reason to expect the conference to fall off the map. The Big East currently has more former RSCI Top 100 recruits per team than every conference except the ACC:

Conf

Teams

RSCI Top 100 Recruits

Top 100 Per Team

ACC

15

66

4.4

Big East

10

38

3.8

SEC

14

47

3.4

Big Ten

14

45

3.2

Pac 12

12

38

3.2

Big 12

10

31

3.1

Amer

11

20

1.8

MWC

11

15

1.4

A10

14

9

0.6

WCC

10

5

0.5

MVC

10

1

0.1

Marquette has seven former Top 100 recruits and adds BYU’s explosive scorer Matt Carlino as a transfer this season. That sounds like a dangerous lineup, but the problem is that not all Top 100 recruits are created equally.  Steve Taylor and Juan Anderson are former Top 100 recruits on Marquette’s roster, but they have largely been busts. And freshman Sandy Cohen is probably a year away from dominating at the D1 level. (Recruits ranked 51-100 are often inconsistent in their first season.) Indiana transfer and former Top 100 recruit Luke Fischer will not be available until December as he transferred mid-season, and that can often be disruptive to a team’s chemistry.

The good news is that three of the other Top 100 recruits still have lots of upside. Deonte Burton is one of my Top 10 breakout players in the country. He was an efficient high volume scorer with a great recruiting pedigree, and with more playing time he should be a star next year. Duane Wilson missed all of last year due to injury, but he still projects as a key player. And as the highest ranked recruit in the bunch, JaJuan Johnson still projects as another key player for Marquette. But even with seven former Top 100 recruits on the roster, Marquette’s roster is a work in progress.

Providence: Is it possible for me to both rave about the job Ed Cooley is doing and say that most people are probably over-rating the Friars NCAA chances? Well, that’s exactly what I am about to do.

On the one hand, Providence’s program is as healthy as it has been in a long time. The team is getting key commitments from quality players years in advance. To say the talent level on this team has been upgraded is a huge understatement. LaDontae Henton is now the ONLY player on the roster who was not a consensus 3-star recruit out of high school. And Henton has turned into a star anyhow. Given where this program was five years ago, that’s amazing.

But despite a very positive outlook in the long-run, 2014-15 looks like a bit of a transition year. First, this team barely snuck into the NCAA tournament last year. They may have given North Carolina a scare, but their margin-of-victory was only 51st in the nation. And losing Bryce Cotton, their most efficient player, their best passer, their best scorer, and a player who never left the floor, is going to hurt.

Second, the team is going to have to give more minutes to freshmen. Last year with Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock suspended, Providence basically never used any first-year players. This year with Bullock eligible and an outstanding recruiting class coming in, Providence projects to give substantially more minutes to its young players. And while many of them are talented, playing inexperienced players will lead to more mistakes. There will be games where players don’t rotate properly defensively, and games where players simply stand around and don’t run the offensive sets with the same crispness of a veteran team.

And while many of the names sounds scary, many of the players don’t have great projections for this season. PG Kris Dunn was an elite recruit, but he has struggled massively with injuries, and hasn’t been able to perform at an elite level in his two seasons with the team. That may mean more minutes for freshman PG Kyron Cartwright. Meanwhile Carson Desrosiers is a quality shot-blocking big man, but he is a very passive offensive player. And while transfer Junior Lomomba has received some positive reviews on the team’s European tour, he didn’t have great efficiency numbers at Cleveland St. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for him being an efficient player in the Big East. Rodney Bullock seems like a household name at this point because of the off-court issues, but I also think we need to recognize that he was only a 3-star recruit. He does not necessarily project as a star. Honestly, the true freshmen may be deserving of the most love. Paschal Chukwu and Jalen Lindsey were both consensus Top 100 recruits, and Ben Bentil may be the most polished of the young big men.

The good news is that Providence has great depth in the front-court. Despite being a guard-heavy, defensively weak team the last few years, the upgrade in the team’s post-players means the team’s defense may finally take a key step forward. But the numbers suggest Providence’s offense will take a key step back. Obviously with quality returning double figure scorers LaDontae Henton and Tyler Harris leading the way, Providence could be back in the tournament. But this is a team that needs to try out a number of unproven pieces, and a couple of bad losses in the non-conference schedule could leave this team on the wrong side of the bubble.

Hoping for the NIT

Seton Hall: And if you think Providence is going to have a young team, Seton Hall is going to be even younger. If I were to rank the Pirate’s seven best players heading into next season, I would say that four of them are freshmen. The best news is that the team has an experienced PG in Sterling Gibbs, so even if the team is young, at least they have a leader on the floor.

Isaiah Whitehead is a Top 20 recruit, but given how much Seton Hall will be relying on him, he will probably finish in the Top 10 in freshmen scoring nationally. Realistically, Seton Hall is a year away. Brandon Mobley is the only key player who will run out of eligibility at the end of the season, so if the team can convince Whitehead to stick around for his sophomore year and develop enough of the young players, there is no reason this team cannot be one of the best teams in the conference next season.

Creighton: Creighton is going to be worse without Doug McDermott. But it isn’t just McDermott. The team also lost a number of sharp-shooting veteran perimeter players as well. Center Will Artino made 67% of his buckets last year, but that was because he was taking mostly wide-open lay-ups. Without the same players spreading the floor next season, his shooting percentage is going to plummet. But there is one critical reason for optimism. McDermott stayed on as a walk-on last year which allowed the team to stockpile more players on the bench. And even though Creighton lost a ton of production, this is not a particularly young team. With additions like Cal transfer Ricky Kreklow and Top 100 recruit Ronnie Harrell, this team may surprise us.

Butler: The return of Roosevelt Jones from injury will be huge. Andrew Chrabascz is much better than most people think. And Kellen Dunham is still a star. But the drop-off to the rest of the roster is pretty significant.

Alex Barlow might be the best “former walk-on” in the country, but even giving it his all, he doesn’t have the athleticism to truly be a star. Kameron Woods can rebound quite well, but he has horrible hands for a big man. Indiana transfer Austin Etherington might sound like a key player, but he couldn’t even earn playing time in a down year for the Hoosiers, and he injured his foot this summer. That does not foretell a breakout season.

More of the Same

DePaul: Whenever ESPN does a star-watch feature on DePaul this year, expect them to focus on Billy Garrett. Garrett was a former 4-star recruit and he is the team’s leading returning scorer. Maybe, since he is only a sophomore, DePaul will have a good season before he graduates. The Blue Demons hope that by adding three Top 100 JUCO transfers and Illinois transfer Myke Henrythat they will play better. But they have a long way to go to be competitive with the rest of this league.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: Atlantic-10

Earlier Previews: ACC Preview, MWC Preview, SEC Preview, WCC Preview

Now that the Power Five conferences have achieved autonomy, a lot of people fear that this will destroy a league like the Atlantic-10. I’m not buying it. Even today, the A10 is not recruiting on a level comparable with the top leagues. There are only nine former Top 100 high school recruits in the entire A10 right now. Compare that to a league like the Big Ten, which is supposedly not a great recruiting league, and you see that the Big Ten has 45 former Top 100 high school recruits on its rosters.

In the new era, A10 teams will have to try to win the way they always have, by finding hidden gems, developing players, and giving players a second chance. (Of the A10’s nine former Top 100 recruits, four are transfers from Power Five conferences.) Even with this strategy, the A10 can continue to occasionally have brilliant seasons. Last year the A10 sent six teams to the NCAA tournament. The problem for teams in the A10 is that it can take longer to restock the cabinet. Five of last year’s tournament teams; Datyon, UMass, George Washington, St. Louis and St. Joseph’s all lost significant pieces. When talented seniors leave, teams in the A10 sometimes need a year or two to rebuild, while teams in the Power Five conferences simply reload.

VCU is the prohibitive favorite behind a stellar recruiting class. Dayton will be good again. And UMass and George Washington still retain enough of their best pieces to make another run at the tournament. Jon Rothstein is correct that Rhode Island is the trendy pick to jump up in the standings. And in this case, that trend is backed up by the numbers. With better injury luck, Richmond should be better too. But the league as a whole looks like it will be taking a small step back.

A10 Favorite

VCU: Many expected the new foul rules to hit pressing teams harder. If hand-checks prevented players from grabbing on the perimeter and if defenders could no longer step in to draw charges at the last minute, HAVOC might become less effective. But at least last season, that was not the case. VCU fouled less than the year before, VCU forced more turnover than the year before (the most in the country), and VCU’s defense was as dangerous as ever.

And with Shaka Smart repeatedly turning down contract offers from other power conference teams, recruits are starting to believe he’ll stick around. This year, Smart has by far the best recruiting class in his tenure, led by Top 50 recruit Terry Larrier. And VCU’s roster now has the highest average star rating (most potential as measured in high school) in the A10. VCU is no longer the plucky underdog trying to win in the big bad A10. Thanks to Shaka Smart, VCU is now the blue blood program in this league.

Hoping for the Top 25

Dayton: Dayton made the Elite Eight last year, but they were only rated the 38th best team in the country by the margin-of-victory numbers. Still, I felt like the margin-of-victory numbers might be wrong because they might overlook the incredible winning streak Dayton went on to end the year. But after I crunched the numbers, they were less impressive than I expected.  During Dayton’s brilliant 13-3 finish to the season, Dayton’s opponent adjusted margin-of-victory was only the 31st best in the nation. Dayton’s Pythagorean Winning Percentage was only 0.8487 in that stretch with an adjusted offense of 113.6 and an adjusted defense of 97.8.

And maybe that shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Dayton was quite fortunate during their Elite Eight run. Dayton drew two offensively challenged teams in Ohio St. and Syracuse in the NCAA tournament and beat them by a combined three points. And the Flyers were fortunate to draw a low-seeded Stanford team in the Sweet Sixteen. It was an incredible and memorable run, but it isn’t necessarily indicative of a team that was playing dominant basketball.

The good news is that during last year’s tournament run Dayton played 11 (and sometimes 12) players, and seven of those players are back. The bad news is that four of the returning players had very low ORtgs last season, and one of those players (Kyle Davis) didn’t really play enough minutes to fully evaluate his game. With Jordan Sibert and Dyshawn Pierre back next year, Dayton will still have a very good team. The Flyers should make the tournament again. But my statistical projections think Dayton will spend more days sweating the bubble than they spend in the Top 25.

Hoping to Make the NCAA Tournament

George Washington: When ESPN ran its college coaching series this spring, I was shocked that Dayton’s Archie Miller was voted the 26th best coach in the country. How is it possible that a coach that has never achieved a margin of victory better than 31st in the country could be the 26th best coach? It is not as if Miller took over a moribund program. In the ten years prior to Miller taking over, Dayton won 58% of its conference games. In the three year’s Miller has been a head coach, Dayton has won 54% of its conference games.

George Washington wasn’t really a moribund program either. But head coach Mike Lonergan has taken the team on an upward trajectory in his tenure and Lonergan was a proven winner at his former school Vermont. And despite a series of critical injuries to Patricio Garino and Kethan Savage, Lonergan kept George Washington playing at a high level and managed to avoid any long losing streaks last year. Miller and Lonergan are both entering their fourth year in the A10, and if you asked me whether I think that Miller is a better head coach than Lonergan, I think it should be a tough call, not a landslide vote for Miller.

With Garino, Savage, point guard Joe McDonald, and big man Kevin Larsen back, George Washington has a solid nucleus of four players with great efficiency numbers, solid rebounding, and effective passing. But the drop-off to the rest of the roster is pretty steep. John Kopriva has posted horrible numbers for three straight years, and he should not be playing meaningful minutes for an NCAA tournament team. Nick Griffin had a few moments of brilliance, but played so little last year it is hard to evaluate his game. And the rest of the roster is filled with freshmen. Many of those young players are three star recruits which means they may be able to play well from day one. But whether George Washington makes the tournament will depend on how fast those new faces adjust to the college game, and how many mistakes they make in the process.

Massachusetts: Cady LaLanne, Trey Davis, Maxie Esho, and Derrick Gordon were all quality players on last year’s NCAA tournament team. And the team doesn’t have to go with a young unproven PG to replace Chaz Williams. West Virginia transfer Jabarie Hinds is a former Top 100 recruit, and he’ll slide nicely into the lineup.

But there are three major problems. First, UMass may have earned a six seed last year, but they weren’t really that good. They won key non-conference games against bubble teams like LSU and Nebraska that boosted their profile, but they won those games early in the year, before a team like Nebraska really hit its stride. In A10 play, the Minutemen were just 10-6, and their margin-of-victory said they were really a bubble team, not the tournament lock their seed would suggest.

Second, like George Washington, the drop-off from the starters to the projected bench is pretty steep. Don’t let Tyler Bergantino’s high efficiency rating fool you, he basically never shot last year. After the starting five, the bench projects to be a major liability. Third, Hinds is a significant downgrade from Chaz Williams. Hinds had a worse assist rate, worse turnover rate, and he never got to the free throw line at West Virginia. Finally, Hinds was a worse outside shooter than Williams, which is saying something given that Williams wasn’t known for his outside shot. If Hinds has made significant personal strides in his year practicing with the team, UMass can make the tournament again. But it won’t be easy.

Rhode Island: With every key player except Xavier Munford back, with the likely upgrade in the post with the return of Jordan Hare (who missed last year due to personal reasons), with the addition of Top 100 JUCO Earl Watson and the addition of Top 100 recruit Jared Terrell, Rhode Island will finish in the Top half of the A10 next season.

The question is how high they rise, and that may depend on two things. First, it will depend on how loyal Danny Hurley is to his veteran players. Jarelle Reischel, Biggie Minnis, and Mathew Butler all played last season, but all three players were extremely inefficient. All three were also 2-star recruits. With the talent that is coming in, they should be used sparingly next year. If that happens, Rhode Island’s offense should take a major step forward. But if Hurley gives these players another chance to prove themselves, it could hold the team back.

Second, there are questions how good the defense will be. Rhode Island’s defense took a huge step forward last year, but it might have been a bit of a mirage. Rhode Island’s opponents made only 29% of their trees and 67% of their free throws last year. Rhode Island probably won’t be nearly that fortunate this season. Obviously the return of Jordan Hare will help, but big improvements on offense might be slightly mitigated with more typical luck on defense.

Richmond: Chris Mooney’s version of the Princeton offense works best when you have a big man who can step out beyond the arc and knock down outside shots. When the offense can put four or five players on the perimeter and draw the defense out of the paint, that opens things up for cuts to the basket. The last time Richmond made the NCAA tournament was when Justin Harper was playing in the post for the Spiders. Harper was a great rebounder and shot-blocker, but most importantly, Harper was a lights out perimeter shooter. Since Harper has departed, Richmond hasn’t really been able to duplicate that same level of dominance with its Princeton sets.

Last year’s big men Terry Allen, Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, and Deion Taylor tried to make the perimeter attack work, but they all struggled to consistently make outside shots. On the full season they made 14, 13, an 17 threes respectively. It wasn’t the kind of perimeter threat to really draw opposing defenses out of the paint. Enter Niagara transfer TJ Cline. Cline was a solid rebounder and post-player on a winning Niagara squad two years ago. But what makes Cline a potential difference maker is that Cline has a much better outside shot. Cline made 40 threes two years ago.

Moreover, Cline appears to be natural fit for a cutting offense. At Niagara he rarely turned the ball over while finishing 67% of his two point shots. If his goal is to take threes and then back-cut the defense, everything about Cline’s statistical profile fits the bill.

The team’s guard play will probably take a step back, so Richmond projects as a fringe bubble team. But if Chris Mooney can develop one of the young guards to compliment Kendall Anthony and ShawnDre’ Jones, the improved post-play might just be enough to sneak Richmond into the tournament.

Hoping for the NIT

La Salle: Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack make up one of the best frontcourts in the A10. And even though Tyrone Garland has departed, after he struggled so much with his shooting last year (23% of his threes and 39% of his twos), his loss might be addition by subtraction. But Wright and Zack can’t do it alone, so let’s spend a minute talking about transfers.

Last week I noted that the number of points produced by D1 transfers in their debut season has nearly doubled over the last few years. But you may be wondering whether this growth is due to the increase in scoring by graduate transfers or transfers that sit out. The next table shows this comparison. The first column shows the points produced by players that were eligible immediately (EI) or who played back-to-back seasons because they were a mid-year transfer (MYT). The second column shows the points produced by players that sat out during their transfer year (SO) or who spent a year at a JUCO before transferring to another D1 school.

Since 2007, the points produced by transfers who were eligible immediately has grown by 441%. Meanwhile, the points produced by transfers who sat out has grown 56%. Spinning the table another way, transfers that play in back-to-back seasons for different schools once accounted for 8-13% of transfer scoring. Now they account for 27% of transfer scoring.

Year

EI or MYT

SO or JUCO

2007

380,678

3,617,092

2008

323,027

3,602,261

2009

526,820

3,408,367

2010

397,456

4,358,821

2011

783,590

3,347,771

2012

907,914

4,850,382

2013

1,421,079

4,521,055

2014

2,060,438

5,657,524

Obviously graduate transfers and hardship waivers are fueling the transfer trend, but I think it is important to note that graduate transfers do not account for all the growth in scoring by D1 transfers. D1 transfers that sit out have actually added 2 million points since 2011.And for most teams, transfers that sit out will still be the most important.This is particularly true because my data reveals that transfers that sit out a year will typically debut with ORtgs 3 to 4 points higher because of the year of practice with the team.

La Salle is banking on that fact. La Salle is re-stocking their roster with former Top 100 recruit and Auburn transfer Jordan Price, as well as Georgia Southern transfer Cleon Roberts. Both players were efficient with their previous team. But thanks to a year of working with the head coach in practice, and learning the offensive system, they should be more prepared to win right away.

The PG situation is very much up in the air for La Salle. And the team’s depth is not strong. But with two returning quality big men, and two transfers that they hope will have an impact, La Salle has a chance to finish in the top half of the league.

St. Bonaventure:  The Bonnies used a tight seven man rotation last year, and their offense was better than you remember. Unfortunately, three of the most efficient and important offensive players have graduated, which means the offense will probably take a small step back. On the other hand, the core is still very talented. Dion Wright, Youssou Ndoye, Andell Cumberbatch, and Jordan Gathers could all average in double figures this year. And with two key JUCO PGs (Lakeem Alston and Marcus Posley) coming in along with three star freshman big man Jordan Tyson, the offense will still be good. The question is whether the defense can take a big enough step forward to really make the Bonnies competitive with the top half of the league. Even with the shot-blocking 7 footer Ndoye playing major minutes last year, St. Bonaventure’s defense was among the worst in the conference.

George Mason: George Mason has incredible depth in the frontcourt. It starts with former Top 100 recruit and Georgia Tech transfer Julian Royal who is debuting this season. But don’t overlook the slightly undersized Jalen Jenkins and Eric Copes, who were outstanding shot-blockers and rebounders last year, though Jenkins is the better offensive player. And while ESPN, Rivals, and Scout had mixed reviews, Scout gave a very high ranking to freshman Therence Mayimba. The difference in recruiting ranking probably comes down to potential vs ability. Mayimba is a great athlete and rebounder who is raw. Meanwhile Top 100 JUCO recruit Shevon Thompson is a true 7 footer who should make an impact right away. I honestly keep waiting to hear that incumbent junior forward Marko Gujanicic has transferred. That’s what tends to happen in these situations. And I don’t know why three star forward Trey Porter chose George Mason over George Washington when he’s almost guaranteed to redshirt at GMU.

The backcourt has one true asset, lights out three point shooter Patrick Holloway. But Vaughn Gray is a weak backup and there are no other obvious three point-shooters on the team. The PG spot is also very shaky with either turnover prone Marquise Moore, turnover prone Corey Edwards, or freshman Isaiah Jackson taking the reins. Most importantly, Paul Hewitt checks in as one of the worst player development coaches in my data set. He’s a solid recruiter, but his offenses rarely live up to expectations.

And even if you don’t buy the historical stats, when you look at that type of roster construction you can still sort of see why the model would not be in love with this team. With only one good shooter and no good passers, it is not clear how the team will have the spacing to run a competent offense.

St. Louis: The only reason I’m not picking St. Louis to finish even lower in the A10 is because Jim Crews kept the defense playing at a high level after taking over for Rick Majerus. If he can get a young group of players to play defense, they can be competitive. But on paper, this looks like the worst offense in the A10. No player projects to have an ORtg over 100 at this point.

(For those of you who care about the details, while Austin McBroom had an ORtg over 100 last year, with 71% of the team’s minutes leaving, over 71% of the team’s points leaving, and most of the replacements being sub 3-star recruits, McBroom will probably see even fewer open shots than last year. Similarly, Tanner Lacona had a decent ORtg last year, but he only took 33 shots all year. Not only don’t we have enough data to know if Lacona is good, he’s going to have to be more aggressive this year, and that should hurt his efficiency.)

Villanova transfer Achraf Yacoubout will get his chance, but if fans in St. Louis have suffered through some ugly games the last few years, things could be even more ugly this season.

Davidson: I could write a lot about how Davidson will struggle to replace De’Mon Brooks. Brooks may not have been the player of the decade (thanks to Stephen Curry), but his four year numbers should be enough to get his jersey retired. But rather than harp on the past, I should emphasize that five of Davidson’s returning rotation players (Tyler Kalinoski, Brian Sullivan, Jack Gibbs, Jordan Barham, Jake Belford) were efficient and skilled and that should keep the Wildcats competitive.

If Davidson was a different type of academic institution, they could have added a couple of transfers and had a shot at the tournament this season. Instead, Davidson will go young this year, with five sub-3 star freshmen and the very raw sophomore Andrew McAuliffe. That’s going to leave them extremely weak in the front-court, something that will be exposed more in the A10 than it would have been in the Southern Conference.

Duquesne: Micah Mason fascinates me. On the one hand, the 152.7 ORtg he posted last year cannot be sustainable. He clearly isn’t going to make 56% of his threes again next year. And then you remember that Mason made 50% of his threes as a freshman. Better yet, he’s an outstanding passer who gets bonus credit for his assists. And yet Duquesne doesn’t need him to be the primary ball-handler thanks to Derrick Colter, and so Mason’s turnover rate plummeted last season. Mason almost certainly won’t post an ORtg over 150 again, but fundamentally there is no reason he can’t be fighting to be the nation’s most efficient player again.

As for the team outlook, the biggest problem is that besides Dominique McKoy, there are no quality post players. The defense was already dreadful last year and the lack of experienced post players will make it hard to improve in that area.

St. Joseph’s: A lot of emotions were obviously going through Phil Martelli’s head as he wiped away tears after winning the A10 tournament last year. But one of those feelings had to be relief. While he had built a dominant team a decade earlier, there were questions about whether the game had passed him by. Could he still build a team that was tournament worthy?

Clearly Martelli could still recruit and develop players. His roster the last two seasons was one of the most exciting in the A10, with dynamic drivers, athletic dunkers, and big men with crazy passing skills. But despite putting together a talented roster, St. Joseph’s didn’t make the tournament in 2013. And if they failed in 2014, it might have been time to walk away. Instead, Martelli gets the green light on one more rebuilding project.

And make no mistake, this will be a rebuilding year. St. Joseph’s rode its five starters more than any team in the country last year, and the three most efficient and talented (Halil Kanacevic, Ronald Roberts, and Langston Galloway) are gone. The team can and will try to ride DeAndre Bembry, Chris Wilson, Papa Ndao, and West Virginia transfer Aaron Brown to as many victories as possible. But the downgrade in skill from last year’s starters to this year’s projected starters is enormous.

And, at some point this season Martelli will have to turn the reins over to his freshmen class and let them learn through their mistakes. This is a really outstanding recruiting class and with Bembry just a sophomore, the future can still be bright. St. Joseph’s just won’t be a very good team in 2014-15.

When will it end?

Fordham: Fordham’s combined record in the A10 the last six years is 10-86. That’s 1.7 wins per year and a winning percentage of 10%. Jon Severe is the only player on the roster who was rated 3 stars or higher out of high school and he should lead the team in scoring again.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: WCC

My numeric projections will be available near the start of the season, but today I want to write a few words about each WCC team’s outlook.

Earlier Previews: ACC Preview, MWC Preview, SEC Preview

WCC Favorite

Gonzaga: Jeff Goodman publishes an incredibly valuable transfer list every spring. (I’m honestly awed by how he talks to so many coaches and collects so much information in such a short amount of time.) Some people have seen the increase in his count of players transferring out and used it to argue that we have a transfer epidemic in college basketball. I’ve always been skeptical. I prefer to think of Goodman’s list as the “departure” list, not the transfer list. Many of the players on Goodman’s list will never play D1 basketball again. And since the dawn of the scholarship limit for basketball, coaches have quietly been asking their least productive players to leave.

Luke Winn has tried to answer the question of whether transfers between D1 programs have ticked up by using the NCAA’s fact book on transfers, and by looking through the VerbalCommits.com database. He has concluded that the raw number of D1 transfers has increased slightly, but that the big change is that more players are transferring up to quality programs. And most experts agree that the number of “quality” transfers in D1 basketball is on the uptick. Coaches are now recruiting away good players from mid-majors and opposing squads in a way they never have before.

I recently ran some numbers on the RealGM.com database, and found even more evidence of the quality transfer trend. The Points Produced by D1 transfers, in their debut season with their new team, has basically doubled since 2009. (Points Produced is a measure that includes points produced through assists and offensive rebounds. It is the numerator of the ORtg formula.)

And the number of players to produce positive points for their new team has also been ticking up. While just over 200 players did this a few years ago, over 360 players debuted with new teams and produced positive points last year. Of course, if a player only produces a handful of points, that probably is not meaningful. But if you raise the cutoff to 100 or 300 points, the number of productive transfers debuting has also been increasing.

Year

D1 Transfers

Total PP

 Debut Season

Number of Players PP>0

Number of Players PP>100

Number of Players PP>300

2006-07

39,978

207

141

51

2007-08

39,253

202

139

46

2008-09

39,352

221

136

43

2009-10

47,563

235

156

64

2010-11

41,314

226

144

53

2011-12

57,583

268

194

75

2012-13

59,421

281

199

83

2013-14

77,180

360

260

104

Maybe I’m just the final person to admit that Goodman was right. But this table convinces me that something has changed. Quality players are changing teams like never before.

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few is not behind the curve when it comes to transfers. Last summer Few added Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer and this spring he added USC graduate transfer Byron Wesley. Wiltjer is not a perfect player. He is a relatively poor defender who lacks the strength and quickness to be an elite defender. But Wiltjer is a dynamic offensive player. He’s a former Top 20 recruit and efficient scorer. He’s a stretch-4 with an outstanding outside shot. And even if he wasn’t good enough to be a starter for Kentucky, Wiltjer would be good enough to start for over half the teams in the Top 25. Meanwhile, despite playing on one of the worst teams in the Pac-12 last year, Wesley somehow made huge personal strides. Wesley became one of the most efficient high volume shooters in the Pac-12. Gonzaga already had three super-efficient double-digit scorers in Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and Przemek Karnowski, and now they have five super-efficient double-digit scorers.

Gonzaga has one of the scariest starling lineups in the nation, but Gonzaga has depth too. Domantas Sabonis, son of the NBA legend, and Josh Perkins are elite recruits who will be super-subs. And Kyle Dranginis is a very efficient reserve guard. Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan, whose eligibility hinges on when he finishes three classes, is another high-scoring addition from the SEC. But McClellan’s low efficiency suggests he isn’t even one of Gonzaga’s eight best players.

When I shared my way-too-early Top 25 in April, I had Gonzaga in the Top 25. But after Wesley joined the team, a strong argument could be made that Gonzaga is a Top 10 squad.  Realistically, it depends on how good you think the defense will be next year. I see the defense slipping slightly because Wiltjer and Wesley were not great defensive players, but whether you put Gonzaga in the Top 10 or not, they are going to win a ton of games.

Hoping for the NCAA Tournament

BYU: The formula for BYU is very simple. Basketball teams only need five players on the floor at once, and when you have one of the best scorers in the nation, in Tyler Haws, your odds of winning are very good. Matt Carlino’s transfer hurts, but it helps that Kyle Collinsworth became a tremendous facilitator last season, and that Skyler Halford was an aggressive efficient scorer in the limited minutes he played. The team also adds Wake Forest transfer Chase Fischer and elite recruit TJ Haws, the younger brother of Tyler. Those four players should be able to replace Carlino’s production.

Eric Mika also left on an LDS mission, and UNLV transfer Jamal Aytes will try to help fill in for his size and athleticism. But the reality is that it doesn’t really matter who plays in the post for BYU. Players like Nate Austin and Josh Sharp aren’t stars. They barely ever touch the ball. But because they are only needed to put-back lay-ups, they are incredibly efficient. The story of BYU is really about how Tyler Haws impressive scoring makes everyone on BYU an efficient player.

Saint Mary’s: Brad Waldow is one of the best returning big men in the WCC. And Kerry Carter is a solid guard. But they needed help, and having mentioned the importance of transfers at the start of this piece, head coach Randy Bennett noticed the trend as well. Bennett added three key transfers in Stanford point-guard Aaron Bright, Minnesota guard Joe Coleman, and Washington forward Desmond Simmons.  Not only were these three players former starters in major conferences, they were very efficient at their former schools as well.

But even if the Gaels starting lineup is formidable, there are some questions about the team. First, the bench is unproven. USC transfer Garrett Jackson was inconsistent last year. Big man Dane Pineau showed some promise on the offensive glass, but didn’t really play enough to know how good he will be.

And while the three transfers all have skills, they all had flaws as well. Joe Coleman was a fabulous penetrator at Minnesota, but he struggled with his jump shot, and that one-dimensional play made him easy to scout. Meanwhile, Bright and Simmons were very passive offensive players at their former schools. When Waldow is on the bench, it is not clear who St. Mary’s can rely on if they need to get a bucket.

Hoping for the NIT

San Francisco: In May, PG Avry Holmes announced he was transferring to Clemson. It was a bit of a disaster for the Dons. While Matt Glover had shown some nice complimentary passing as an off-guard, it would be a struggle if Glover had to become the full-time PG. But last year Rex Walter’s team hit new heights at 13-5 in the conference, and recruits notice that kind of success.

Despite the late transfer news, Walters was able to secure a commitment from one of the better remaining PGs on the board, former Oregon St. commit Devin Watson in June. Watson is still a freshman, and he will make some mistakes. But as a three-star recruit, he should be able to hold his own in year one. Moreover, his recruitment shows that the program is on the rise. Because of the team’s recent success, even when USF had to recruit at the last minute, they didn’t have to settle.

San Francisco also welcomes three transfers from major conference schools. Derrell Robertson and Montray Clemons both used to play for DePaul. And while they put up fairly weak numbers two years ago for a bad DePaul team, they will have the advantage of playing next to one of the best post-players in the WCC in Kruize Pinkins. Their main role will simply be to grad rebounds and play physical defense. The team also adds Uche Ofoegbu, who struggled as a freshmen wing at SMU. But with one of the best wing players in the country in Mark Tollefsen on the squad, the team won’t need to rely on Ofoegbu until he is ready.

Realistically, it will probably take a little more roster stability for USF to become a true NCAA bubble team. But if Rex Walters keeps developing players at such a high rate, and if the success continues to improve the team’s recruiting, the sky is the limit.

Portland: Scouting a team like Portland can be very difficult. The Pilots bring in five freshmen, but they are all two star recruits, and in my model, players like that all receive essentially the same prediction. But if you want to learn more about the recruiting classes at some of these smaller schools, I highly recommend Kellon Hassenstab’s “2014 College Basketball Newcomers Guide”. This year Portland brings back all its key players except elite rebounding forward Ryan Nicholas. And the Newcomer’s Guide at least provides a few more details about the team’s two big men recruits Gabe Taylor and Philipp Hartwich. The guide points out that freshman Taylor played high school basketball for a coach connected to the team (suggesting he may have an edge for playing time.) The guide also notes that Taylor was a good outside shooter for his size. Finally, the guide points out that Hartwich is thin, but that based on his experience in Germany, he may be more experienced playing against older players. If you are an information junkie, you may want to give Hassenstab’s guide a look.

Regardless, the margin-of-victory numbers suggest Portland was a better team than their 7-11 conference record would indicate, and with 78% of the minutes back from last year, they are likely to move into the upper half of the league.

San Diego: These are the kind of seasons that make or break head coaches. Bill Grier took San Diego to the NCAA tournament in his first season, but now he is entering year eight, and he has not been able to duplicate that success. This year he has a veteran team. The rotation will likely include eight juniors and seniors and 86% of the rotation is back from last year.

Cal St. Northridge transfer Brandon Perry will provide a key boost at one of the forward spots. Johnny Dee and Christopher Anderson are star players, efficient and effective, the kind of players that a winning team can rely on. But this team still has the lowest average star rating (least potential evaluated based on high school talent) in the WCC. And it is very hard to win when your team has less athleticism than its opponents. The pressure is on Grier to win now, but he still doesn’t have the horses to really go head-to-head with the top of the league.

Building for the Future

Santa Clara: Santa Clara is a bit like BYU above. Because Jared Brownridge and Brandon Clark are so dominant, it should allow the complimentary Santa Clara players to improve their efficiency. Moreover, the team may benefit from the departure of senior Evan Roquemore. Roquemore was once a good player, but thanks to a preseason back injury, he had a horrific slump as a senior. Roquemore’s eFG%, assist rate, and turnover rate plummeted last year. Santa Clara would have missed the younger Roquemore, but they will not miss the inefficient senior he became last season.

Pepperdine: A lot of people love this team because of Stacy Davis and Jeremy Major. Lamond Murray Jr. also looks like a likely breakout candidate as a sophomore. He was efficient and aggressive as a freshman in limited minutes. But Pepperdine’s defense fell off a cliff last year, and now the WCC defensive-player-of-the-year, Brendan Lane, has graduated. Lane was the team’s best defensive rebounder and shot-blocker. It is hard to see how the defense will get better without its best player. And if the defense is worse or comparable to last year, that will make it very hard to win games.

Loyola Marymount: Mike Dunlap is returning to college basketball from the NBA, and he is returning to the school where he began his career as an assistant. He inherits a last place team that has one real asset, high volume scorer Evan Payne. If everyone on the roster lives up to their potential, Dunlap might be able to craft a competitive lineup. But it is a long-shot. The entire roster is filled with risky players that might produce very little this season.

Chase Flint and Marin Mornar were efficient, but they never shot last year. They don’t project as anything other than role players. Godwin Okonji is the highest ranked high school prospect on the team, but he was injured in a preseason car accident last year, and there are no guarantees he will come back strong after sitting out a year. Patson Siame was supposed to be a quality recruit last year, but he was a partial qualifier and the model wonders how he will play after sitting out for a year. Ayodeji Egbeyemi was injured last year and is another risky lineup option. JUCOs David Humphries and Matt Hayes seem like key pickups, but JUCO players are almost always lottery tickets, and Humphries and Hayes are not ranked high enough by most JUCO services to expect them to dominate. Worse yet, none of the freshmen have been ranked above two stars. If the JUCOs and the players coming off injuries play to their capacity, new head coach Mike Dunlap might be able to work some magic. But with that kind of roster, odds are strong LMU will spend another year at the bottom of the conference.

Pacific: Pacific returns only 16% of its minutes from last season. With that much roster turnover, the only way to plausibly have a chance to be competitive is to go the JUCO route. And the Tigers add four JUCO prospects in Dulani Robinson, Sami Elarky, Eric Thompson, and Alec Kobre. If all those players click, Pacific may be competitive in the WCC. If not, this will be a long season.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: SEC

Kentucky and Florida are obviously playing for top seeds in the tourney, while Arkansas should comfortably be in the field. You can throw the next eight teams in a hat, and defend almost any ordering.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: Mountain West

UNLV has talent. Wyoming should be strong defensively. Boise St., Colorado St., and Fresno St. should be strong on offense. And New Mexico has some quality players. But San Diego St. is the class of the league, and no one else is even close.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: ACC

Duke are their favorites and their season will hinge on the play of Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, while Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia will challenge.

Ten College Teams That Will Play Faster

Every summer coaches tend to give interviews and talk about how they plan to play faster the following season, but it rarely happens. Here are 10 teams we expect to actually play faster.

Which Types of Players Benefited the Most From Change in Way Fouls Called? (Part 2)

The rule changes increased points per possession scoring and increased ORtgs at every position, but the increase in free throw rate and decrease in turnovers was not equivalent for all positions.

Which Types of Players Benefited The Most From Change In Way Fouls Called? (Part 1)

Points per possession were higher, free throw attempts were up, and turnovers were down. But we have not seen any discussion about how this impacted different types of players.

College Basketball Greatness Is Always Fleeting

In the major conferences, no team has improved more than three years in a row right now. Iowa St., Oklahoma, Houston, Wake Forest, and Virginia have all made improvements for three straight years.

Players In NCAA With Biggest Jumps In Points Per Game

It’s easy to look at the summer as a chance to earn money, play video games, and catch your breath. But for a select few players every year, the time they put into the gym results in huge gains in every measurable category.

Should We Ignore The Components Of Defense That Teams Can't Control?

college basketball analysts should be thinking of this a bit like Batting Average on Balls in Play in baseball. If a team is way too high or way too low in free throw defense or three point percentage defense, that probably is a bit about luck. Both within seasons and between seasons, we shouldn’t necessarily expect that component of defensive performance to persist.

Will Duke Or Kansas Have A Better Defense In 14-15?

Both teams bring in multiple impact freshmen, but based on the entire roster, Duke has more offensive weapons. The more interesting question is whether Kansas or Duke will have the better defense in 14-15.

NCAA Top 25 Projections (Post NBA Draft Declaration Deadline)

I explore the stats that make my model more skeptical of Texas, SMU, San Diego St., and Oklahoma, and I show that Syracuse, Ohio St., and UCLA still have plenty of elite high school talent.

Way Too Early Top 25 Projections

I break out my lineup-based projections model to predict the 2014-15 season.

Counting Down To Four

Why Bo Ryan deserved a Final Four trip, Michigan St.'s poor half-court offense, and other thoughts as we set the field for the Final Four.

Sweet Sixteen Day 2

A comeback, classic announcers, Michigan St.'s new closer, and Alex Poythress highlight Day 2 of the Sweet Sixteen.

Sweet Sixteen Day 1

What it means to have a Cole Aldrich moment, Scott Drew's enigmatic coaching, UCLA's three point defense, and Aaron Gordon's promotional video highlight Day 1 of the Sweet Sixteen.

NCAA Tournament Day 4

North Carolina is never predictable, Stanford's perfect tournament lineup, UK vs Wichita St., and Joe Harris' sleep habits highlight Day 4 of the NCAA Tournament.

NCAA Tournament Day 3

Saturday wasn't basketball, it was art.

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