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Injury Splits - March Edition

Today I once again look at all meaningful injuries and suspensions for teams in consideration for an at large bid. I am generally going to limit the splits to situations where we have at least three games with and without the player. I also limit my analysis to players who were playing at least 20 minutes per game when in the lineup. Obviously, all of these splits involve small samples. These stats are descriptive, but not necessarily predictive of the future. But part of the discussion below will be to decide whether what we see in the splits was caused by the injury and whether the trend is likely to continue. This analysis is through games on Saturday, March 8th.

AdjOff = Points Scored Per 100 Possessions, Adjusting for Opponent and Venue

AdjDef = Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions, Adjusting for Opponent and Venue

W = Wins

L = Losses

PWP = Pythagorean Winning Percentage

Team

AdjOff

AdjDef

W

L

PWP

Arizona

115.8

86.8

21

0

0.965

Arizona (without Ashley)

112.4

87.9

7

3

0.944

           

Georgetown

116.1

97.4

10

3

0.883

Georgetown (no Smith, Trawick)

104.7

104.2

1

4

0.512

Georgetown (no Smith)

114.4

101.3

6

6

0.802

           

Louisiana Tech

107.3

95.3

11

3

0.797

Louisiana Tech (no Appleby)

108.6

98.8

9

3

0.748

Louisiana Tech (Appleby limited)

105.1

88.1

4

0

0.897

-I include Arizona’s loss at California in the “no Brandon Ashley” category because Ashley played only 2 minutes in that game.

Arizona’s record is clearly worse without Brandon Ashley in the lineup, but Arizona’s schedule has been much tougher in the last 10 game stretch. Adjusting for opponent and venue, Arizona has still been playing like the 3rd best team in the country even without him, with margin-of-victory numbers worse than only Louisville and Florida. To lose a key starter and continue to play like a national title favorite is an impressive feat. The biggest issue is Arizona’s offense. With Ashley out, the team has been more likely to struggle to score. The poor offensive game at Oregon was particularly distressing given how porous Oregon’s defense has been this season.

-Meanwhile, Georgetown has rebounded from a pitiful stretch of basketball without Jabril Trawick and Joshua Smith. With Trawick back in the lineup, Georgetown has been competitive.

-Finally, Raheem Appleby’s injury splits are a bit complicated. He missed 12 games due to injury. But in the game prior to his injury and the three games since he has returned, Appleby has played minimal minutes. Thus I group these four games separately (noting that Appleby was limited in these games.)

Louisiana Tech suffered its worst loss of the season, to East Carolina, when Appleby was out. But overall Louisiana Tech was still playing very good basketball while Appleby was out. Surprisingly, despite his scoring prowess, the defense took the biggest hit when he was absent. And in more of a puzzle, Louisiana Tech has actually played its best defense in the recent stretch were Appleby has played minimally.

There are several key lessons from this first table:

1)      The quality of the replacement player matters a lot.

And by replacement player, I don’t just mean the player who takes the spot in the starting lineup. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson started a number of games and most closely absorbs Ashley’s direct minutes. But Hollis-Jefferson was already playing quite a bit for Arizona. The real replacement players for Arizona are Gabe York and Elliot Pitts. And while both are not quite as impactful on offense as Ashley, York is a former Top 50 recruit, and Pitts is another 4-star recruit who just missed the Top 100. Both are quality players that are strong-enough to keep Arizona in the elite class of teams.

But contrast that to Georgetown when Smith and Trawick first went down. Georgetown ended up elevating the playing time of walk-on John Caprio. Caprio even played 22 minutes in the OT home loss to Marquette. Let’s just say that Georgetown’s replacement players were not nearly as good as Arizona’s replacement players.

2)      You need a decent sample of games before you can really trust an injury split.

I think Georgetown’s performance in the 5 games without Smith and Trawick shows the danger of any small sample split. Georgetown went 1-4 when Trawick was out of the lineup, the worst basketball of John Thompson’s entire career with the Hoyas. I highly doubt that would have continued permanently. But it was brutally tough to replace two starters at once.

Similarly, we only have four games with a part-time Raheem Appleby. And Louisiana Tech’s defense has been outstanding lately. But that’s such a small sample; they probably did hit a few teams that had bad games.

Conversely, we now have 12 games with no Josh Smith, but a healthy Trawick, and that feels like a decent enough sample to get a real read on the current version of the Hoyas. We’ve seen Georgetown play well (beating Creighton) and play poorly (blowout loss to Villanova) with the current lineup, and that’s what you want to see before you feel like you have a full read on a team’s new level of play.

3)      Expect the committee to ignore all three of these injuries.

The committee says that in order for an injury to really impact its seeding that a player must be a major contributor. But while Jabril Trawick has clearly been essential to Georgetown’s success, he only scores 9 PPG, and there is no way the committee elevates him to a major factor.

Conversely, Raheem Appleby, 14 PPG, is a major contributor for Louisiana Tech. But in order to count his return as significant, the committee needs to believe he will be healthy and scoring at a high rate again. In the three games since his return, Appleby has scored a total of six points. Unless he suddenly has a huge scoring game in the CUSA tournament, I am skeptical that the committee will factor in his return to a large degree.

That said, the above splits also suggest that Appleby’s injury was not catastrophic to Louisiana Tech. We probably shouldn’t look to give them a ton of credit for his absence.

Team

AdjOff

AdjDef

W

L

PWP

California (no Solomon)

114.5

118.2

0

2

0.409

California (no Kreklow)

112.6

96.5

7

4

0.855

California (Full Strength)

108.6

99.6

12

6

0.729

           

Colorado

110.4

95.6

14

3

0.840

Colorado (without Dinwiddie)

106.9

96.7

7

7

0.760

           

George Washington (no Garino)

114.4

100.7

7

0

0.813

George Washington

109.5

94.5

8

3

0.845

George Washington (no Savage)

109.4

94.7

8

3

0.840

-California remains a bit of a mystery. When Ricky Kreklow was out with an injury (Jabari Bird also missed games in this stretch), California actually played its best basketball of the season. And with Kreklow and Bird returning to the lineup, it sure seemed like California was poised to jump to the top of the Pac-12. Instead, the team has stagnated since their returns.

Mike Montgomery has forgotten more about basketball than I will ever know, so I suspect he sees value in Kreklow that I don’t, but if you want to make an argument against using him I can see it. When Kreklow plays in the post, he’s undersized, and he basically doesn’t have a block all year. And when he plays on the perimeter, California already had two very good big perimeter players in Tyrone Wallace and Jordan Mathews. I honestly think this is a case where those two should be on the floor in critical minutes, and not Kreklow.

-Colorado has played admirably since Spencer Dinwiddie went down, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking this is the same team. Since Dinwiddie has gone down, Colorado is playing like the 62nd best team in the country. With wins at Stanford and Arizona St. in that stretch, there is no question they have a good enough profile to make the NCAA tournament. But just realize that if you are picking Colorado to advance in your bracket, you are picking against the margin-of-victory stats.

-One quick note on the George Washington splits. I’ve thrown out the game against Dayton because Kethan Savage, Maurice Creek, and Joe McDonald were out in that game. There really isn’t anything we can learn about any team from that game.

Ignoring that game, I’m shocked at how well GW has survived without 13 PPG scorer Kethan Savage. True, their only real big win over a quality team in that stretch was against St. Joseph’s, but they really kept up their high level of play. The game at Fordham on Saturday was closer than expected, but even with that game, they’ve been playing like the 36th best team in the country without Savage. Ever since Patricio Garino got healthy and boosted the defense, GW has become a legitimate tournament sleeper.

Team

AdjOff

AdjDef

W

L

PWP

Nebraska

106.5

99.7

7

8

0.680

Nebraska (without Biggs)

110.0

94.9

11

3

0.846

           

Oklahoma St.

119.6

94.4

11

1

0.938

Oklahoma St. (no Smart & Cobbins)

104.7

102.0

0

3

0.573

Oklahoma St. (no Cobbins)

115.7

96.3

9

7

0.892

           

Pittsburgh

118.5

93.4

15

1

0.939

Pittsburgh (no Johnson)

114.8

99.1

7

7

0.844

           

West Virginia

115.6

102.7

14

11

0.797

West Virginia (no Henderson)

109.4

111.8

2

3

0.438

Nebraska’s Deverell Biggs might be the clearest case of addition by subtraction I have seen this year. He went down in mid-January, and Nebraska has actually been playing much better basketball since he went down. While Biggs scored a lot for the Huskers, he was also one of the team’s least efficient players. By allocating his shots to other more efficient players, Nebraska’s offense has improved. The defensive improvement is more of a surprise. Part of that is because David Rivers has been playing more in that span, and the 6’7” Rivers is a solid all-around defender. Also, Benny Parker has seen his playing time increase, and Parker has the best steal rate on the team. But surprisingly, the current Nebraska lineup looks dangerous enough to win a game in the tournament if they get there.

-Oklahoma St. really did miss Marcus Smart when he was suspended. But I don’t understand why people say the committee will treat this 3 game stretch like an injury. If a player fouls out in a game and that changes the outcome, the team doesn’t get a benefit from that. So if Smart did something that got him banned for three games, it isn’t clear to me why Oklahoma St. should get a pass on those three outcomes.

Regardless, with Smart but without Cobbins’ defense in the paint, Oklahoma St. is playing like a Top 15 team. That’s better than during the swoon, but still not at the top 10 level they played at early in the year.

-We got caught up quite a bit in talking about Pittsburgh’s resume because of all the close losses to elite teams. But the reality is that this team has been performing at a much lower level since Durand Johnson went down. The splits say this is only the 34th best team in the nation right now.

And if you want to talk about luck, in the last 14 games, Pittsburgh has just seven wins, and four of those have come in OT. Yes, Pittsburgh was unlucky against Syracuse. But they are fortunate they escaped against Virginia Tech, Miami, Notre Dame, and Clemson.

-Finally, I include some splits for West Virginia. Terry Henderson missed four recent games due to an illness and he missed the season opener back in November. (Henderson played limited minutes in the Kansas win, so I’m leaving that out of either category. This is probably a mistake because the Kansas game was WVU’s best offensive game of the year, but I didn’t think Henderson was 100% back in that game.) Regardless, the point of the table is clear: When Henderson was out with an illness, West Virginia played some lousy basketball.

Other Notes

-I’ve thrown up my hands with Michigan St. I’m not even sure which split to create. Is Keith Appling injured or still hurt? Is Branden Dawson 100%? Let’s put it this way. The only two Michigan St. players to play in every game this year are Denzel Valentine and Gavin Schilling.

-Kansas’s Joel Embiid missed loss to West Virginia. He also missed the TCU and Texas Tech games, but mismatches of that magnitude are hard to judge, so I’m not going to run that split.

-Mississippi’s Derrick Millinghaus was suspended for three recent games, but his minutes were steadily falling before that, so it didn’t make sense to do a split. Realistically, he was only critical to the team in November and December.

-Southern Miss’s Michael Craig has a high ankle sprain. The team hasn’t lost when he’s been out yet, but it is worth tracking.

-Richmond isn’t on the bubble, but I wanted to note that the team really has fallen on hard times without Cedrick Lindsay and Derrick Williams.

Quick Events

-UCLA was missing Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson in the 2 OT loss to Oregon. Other than the George Washington game at Dayton listed above, I can’t think of a game the committee will put less weight on than that game. Beating a team without its two leading scorers just isn’t worth much.

-Kansas St.’s Shane Southwell missed the team’s 2OT loss at Baylor. Remember that Thomas Gipson missed season opening loss to Northern Colorado. The committee might not care, but these injuries could have easily swung those two games.

-Green Bay is obviously going to be a huge point of discussion for the committee this year after they lost in the Horizon League semifinals at home. Keep in mind that Green Bay’s 7'1" center Alec Brown was out in the team’s loss at Valparaiso.

-Syracuse’s Jerami Grant missed the loss to Georgia Tech.

-Colorado’s Wesley Gordon missed the team’s loss at UCLA.

-Connecticut’s DeAndre Daniels did not play in team's loss to Cincinnati.

-Harvard’s Wesley Saunders missed the team’s loss to Connecticut.

-St. John’s Orlando Sanchez missed the three point loss to Villanova due to the birth of his daughter.

-Arkansas’ Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris were suspended and did not play in loss at LSU, one of only three Arkanasas' losses since the start of February.

-Minnesota’s Andre Hollins missed losses to Nebraska and Northwestern.

-Indiana’s Will Sheehy missed Michigan St. loss and Noah Vonleh was out in the Nebraska loss.

-Clemson’s Landry Nnoko missed the team’s five point loss to Virginia.

-Florida St.’s Ian Miller missed the team’s loss at Maryland.

And if that isn’t enough for you, I also discussed a plethora of early season injuries back in January. Click here for the full analysis.

Year Four to Six (The Hot Seat Years)

After a call went against Syracuse with 10 seconds left against Duke, Jim Boeheim went crazy and was ejected from the game essentially removing any remaining chance Syracuse had to win the game. But as one of the winningest coaches in D1 history and a coach who has won a national championship, people won’t hold the incident against Boeheim for long. This was just one ugly moment in a career of brilliant moments.

Meanwhile a month ago Iowa’s Fran McCaffery was ejected in a loss to Wisconsin and it seems like the topic will never go away. Similarly, we spend forever nit-picking whether McCaffery can ever win close games. The idea that he is a bad close-game coach is silly, but with such a small sample of McCaffery competing in a major conference, the record in close games continues to be emphasized.

This is the difference between a coach with a long-tenure profile and a coach in year four to six with his program. In year four to six, every decision is under the spotlight. And make no mistake, a head coach’s career depends on every decision.

His Job is on the Line

I’m going to start by graphically showing what is common knowledge, that fourth through sixth year head coaches are the most likely to get fired.

In the graphs, I only chart involuntary separations. Coaches that move on to the NBA or are hired to a better college job are essentially not included in the numerator or denominator of the calculation.

In my analysis I drop the 12 programs with the most NCAA tournament wins and appearances in the 64+ team tournament era (1985 to present) because those schools tend to have different expectations. For example, Tubby Smith and Bill Guthridge were forced out despite making the tournament every year at Kentucky and North Carolina. I don’t think it makes sense to include schools with that level of expectations in my sample.

I also throw out schools with very low expectations. I keep only schools with at least nine NCAA tournament appearances and wins in the 64+ team tournament era. This cuts a few power conference programs, like Northwestern (0 NCAA appearances) and Oregon St. (4 appearances, 0 NCAA wins). But this sample includes several high profile mid-majors jobs including the obvious ones (Gonzaga), but also teams like Princeton (10 appearances, 2 wins in the modern era) and Tulsa (11 appearances, 11 wins).

This leaves me with 98 D1 programs in my sample. I look at coaches who start after 1985 and drop all interim head coaches. That leaves me with 381 head coaches who begin their career at one of these 98 high profile programs from 1985 to present.

As the figures show, being a D1 head coach is a very rough way to make a living. Figure 1 shows the probability of surviving past each year. Only a small number of head coaches get fired after the second year. Oklahoma St. head coach Sean Sutton is a recent example. The big years for coach terminations are year 4, 5, and 6. Amazingly, only 50% of coaches that take these high profile jobs survive 6 years.  

 
 

We often talk about how these coach’s jobs depend on making the tournament, and the next table illustrates that. In red, I plot the probability of surviving each year for coaches that have made the tournament every season. If you aren’t coaching at UCLA or Kentucky, you would think that making the tournament every year would be a ticket to perfect job security, but it is not. Jerry Green was essentially forced to resign at Tennessee after four years, despite the fact that he made the tournament every season. (This is even more amazing given Tennessee’s tournament drought before Green was the head coach.) If you are looking for an explanation for the drop in year 6, exhibit A is Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl who was forced out for lying to NCAA investigators, not because of on-court performance.

In contrast, in blue I graph the probability of surviving each year if a coach has never made the NCAA tournament. Obviously, if you have not made the tournament yet, your odds of keeping your job are substantially lower, and the odds of getting fired in year 5 and 6 are very high.

That said, the odds of a coach surviving six years despite never making the tournament are actually higher than I expected. Some recent examples of coaches that have earned a 7th year without making the tournament include Leonard Hamilton at Florida St., Doug Wojcik at Tulsa, and Andy Kennedy at Ole Miss. In year 7, Leonard Hamilton and Andy Kennedy made the NCAA tournament, while Doug Wojcik was fired.

Obviously for coaches with sporadic NCAA appearances, the survival path is somewhere between the blue and red lines.

 
 

This type of job insecurity may seem cruel, but the good news is that it really isn’t getting worse. The next table compares the survival probabilities from 1985-2000 (in blue) to the survival probability from 2000-2013 (in red) and the odds are almost identical. If boosters and athletic directors are inpatient, this isn’t a new trend.

 
 

Efficiency Margins for Fourth to Sixth Year Head Coaches

Next I want to continue my discussion from last week and focus on the fourth to sixth year head coaches. As I’ve just discussed, these are the coaches who have the highest probability of losing their jobs this year. In the tables, I show the efficiency margins (the difference between the adjusted offense and defense) for these teams with the former and current head coach.

Fourth Year

Former Coach

2008

‘09

‘10

New Coach

‘11

‘12

‘13

‘14

Iowa

Todd Lickliter

2

7

-1

Fran McCaffery

6

7

17

23

Creighton

Dana Altman

9

10

5

Greg McDermott

6

14

19

26

Oregon

Ernie Kent

14

0

2

Dana Altman

6

12

16

15

Boise St.

Greg Graham

3

1

0

Leon Rice

7

-1

12

10

Iowa St.

Greg McDermott

4

4

9

Fred Hoiberg

6

16

17

17

St. John's

Norm Roberts

1

3

10

Steve Lavin / Mike Dunlap

14

1

4

15

Colorado

Jeff Bzdelik

4

-2

8

Tad Boyle

13

8

12

11

DePaul

Jerry Wainwright / Tracy Webster

4

-5

-2

Oliver Purnell

-3

2

-1

0

Auburn

Jeff Lebo

2

12

6

Tony Barbee

-5

1

-4

4

UCF

Kirk Speraw

5

1

-1

Donnie Jones

4

7

2

-2

Seton Hall

Bobby Gonzalez

5

9

10

Kevin Willard

11

10

3

9

Clemson

Oliver Purnell

19

18

16

Brad Brownell

17

8

3

12

Houston

Tom Penders

11

9

7

James Dickey

-6

-4

-2

2

B. College

Al Skinner

5

10

9

Steve Donahue

10

-9

6

2

W. Forest

Dino Gaudio

9

16

11

Jeff Bzdelik

-10

-5

2

4

-Greg McDermott’s departure from Iowa St. has worked out well for everyone. Iowa St. hired Fred Hoiberg who has taken the Cyclones to the next level. And McDermott’s son is the national player-of-the-year favorite at Creighton.

-But Oliver Purnell’s departure from Clemson has been a curse for everyone involved. While Brad Brownell has made Clemson competitive this year, they haven’t matched the level that Purnell had the team at before he left. Clemson made the tournament as a 7-seed or better in Purnell’s last three years. And DePaul has actually been as bad under Purnell as they were under Wainwright.

-This is a really brutal year for fourth year coaches, and I think the number who won’t survive another season is high. Jeff Bzdelik has been making some progress lately, but has come nowhere near the level of success the program had under previous coaches. Steve Donahue’s BC team won at Syracuse this week, but it is hard to see how anyone will overlook his team’s complete lack of defense this season. And Tony Barbee doesn’t even have a marquee win like Donahue. Auburn might have played two very close games against Florida this year, but they lost both. Finally, UCF and Houston haven’t traditionally been high profile jobs, but I list them here because neither school’s coach is really performing at a high level right now. The need to compete with the top teams in the American Conference might cause these programs to open up the check-book sooner than expected.

-The best bet to stick around is probably Kevin Willard because he has two Top 50 players in his recruiting class. Still, even with injuries ravaging Seton Hall the last two years, Willard hasn’t been able to get any consistency out of his team.

Fifth Year

Former Coach

2008

‘09

New Coach

‘10

‘11

‘12

‘13

‘14

Kentucky

Billy Gillispie

10

11

John Calipari

24

24

31

10

20

Virginia

Dave Leitao

7

4

Tony Bennett

8

5

13

13

23

Arizona

Kevin O'Neill / Russ Pennell

16

16

Sean Miller

7

18

11

19

26

VCU

Anthony Grant

10

13

Shaka Smart

13

14

13

17

17

Alabama

Mark Gottfried

8

6

A. Grant

11

13

14

10

5

Georgia

Dennis Felton

7

-4

Mark Fox

8

11

5

5

7

Xavier

Sean Miller

19

18

Chris Mack

19

14

12

8

13

Memphis

John Calipari

30

26

Josh Pastner

13

6

20

15

14

Wash. St.

Tony Bennett

21

13

Ken Bone

3

10

7

7

-3

-In November I wrote about coaches whose teams typically get better after January 1st. Mark Fox was on that list, and that’s been true again this season as his team has been far better in SEC play than it was in the non-conference schedule. Fox’s biggest problem isn’t his ability to develop players and coach X’s and O’s. His biggest problem is recruiting. If you look at the recruiting rank of the players on Georgia’s current roster, the Bulldogs are second to last in the SEC. It hurt that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope left early for the NBA, but this is more than a one-player issue. Fox has to upgrade Georgia’s recruiting if he wants to have any chance to keep his job long-term.

Sixth Year

Former Coach

2008

New Coach

‘09

‘10

‘11

‘12

‘13

‘14

Oklahoma St.

Sean Sutton

10

Travis Ford

17

15

9

7

17

16

California

Ben Braun

10

M. Montgomery

16

19

9

14

11

12

UMass

Travis Ford

12

Derek Kellogg

2

0

-2

9

7

13

Oregon St.

Kevin Mouton

-9

Craig Robinson

6

0

0

6

6

5

Stanford

Trent Johnson

20

Johnny Dawkins

13

5

5

13

13

16

Indiana

K. Sampson

16

Tom Crean

-4

-3

7

21

26

9

Marquette

Tom Crean

20

Buzz Williams

20

16

16

18

17

11

-I spent a lot of time in the introduction talking about how making the NCAA tournament is critical to a coach keeping his or her job. And the punch-line to that discussion is an evaluation of Johnny Dawkins. Coaches do sometimes get a 7th year even without a tournament appearance, but it is a long-shot. And even another nice recruiting class might not be enough to quiet skeptics if Stanford fades down the stretch again.

After a big win over UCLA this weekend, clearly Stanford would be in the NCAA tournament if it was held today. But with closing games against Arizona, Arizona St., Colorado, and Utah, Stanford needs to avoid a repeat of the late-season spiral that kept them out of the tournament last year.

Experience Is Not A Guarantee

The Shove

College basketball was filled with inspired performances this weekend. Michigan St.’s Adreian Payne hit a game-tying three in the final seconds only to watch Wisconsin’s Traevon Jackson hit a game-winning jumper seconds later. Virginia was struggling down one on the road and went on a 22-1 closing run to beat Georgia Tech. Memphis closed with a 10-0 run to edge Gonzaga. Oregon was down 20 to Arizona St., went on an amazing second half run to come back, but still lost by 2. Mississippi’s Marshall Henderson got into a shooting contest with Missouri guards Jabari Brown, Earnest Brown, and Jordan Clarkson, and Ole Miss won thanks to Henderson’s eight threes and 29 points. Jabari Parker Brown went off for 29 points and 16 rebounds. And Iowa St.’s Melvin Ejim topped the weekend with a Big 12 record 48 points.

But despite these inspired performances, it sure feels like the only thing folks will be talking about at the water-cooler on Monday is Oklahoma St.’s Marcus Smart. Smart’s recent shooting slump (documented here by Rob Dauster) is hurting his draft stock, and his team’s poor play is hurting his reputation as a winner. But before this weekend, scouts still pegged him in the lottery due to his size at the PG slot and overall skill set.

Then Smart’s team fell to 4-6 in the Big 12, losing at Texas Tech on Saturday. And if the loss wasn’t painful enough, Smart’s reaction to his team’s struggles in a hostile environment was unacceptable. Smart fell out-of-bounds, got up, and shoved a fan in anger. He earned a technical foul and a three game suspension. Following his chair-kicking incident from a month earlier, Smart now has a big red character flag on his reputation.

I don’t want to spend forever analyzing Smart’s character, whether the suspension was long enough, or the cultural ramifications of a player going into the stands to respond to a fan. Instead I want to ask another question. How does this Oklahoma St.’s season rank in terms of epic disappointments? After all, Oklahoma St. returned a remarkable 89% of its minutes from last year. This was a team that was a co-favorite in the Big 12. And despite bringing basically everyone back, the team sits at 4-6 in the Big 12, the team’s margin-of-victory numbers are worse than last year, and the team’s defense has fallen from 15th nationally to 55th nationally. The Cowboys have given up over one point per possession in six straight games, and in that stretch the team has gone 1-5. But let’s not just stop with Oklahoma St. Let’s ask the bigger question.

How Rare is it For a Team to Bring Everyone Back and Play Worse?

-Harvard returned six players who were starters on either the 2011 or 2012 NCAA tournament team. The Crimson were supposed to dominate the Ivy League and challenge for a high seed in the NCAA tournament. But after losing to Yale this weekend, it isn’t even automatic that they will win the Ivy League. More importantly, Harvard now has some serious questions on offense. In mid-January, Harvard’s margin-of-victory numbers suggested they were a borderline Top 25 team. But after struggling to score in a damaging loss to Florida Atlantic, after a physical Brown defense slowed Harvard down on Friday night, and after Yale’s defense held Harvard down in a loss on Saturday, there are real questions about Harvard’s offensive attack. A team that was 70th and 73rd on offense the last two seasons, currently has the 124th best offense in the nation.

-Boise St. returned 89% of its minutes from a team that made the NCAA tournament last year with great three-point shooting and a lethal 4-guard attack. But after blowing late-game 10 point leads against UNLV and San Diego St., and losing a weekend game at Utah St., Boise St.’s sits at 5-6 in the MWC. And given the league’s poor non-conference showing, Boise St.’s hopes of an at large bid are basically over.

-Boston College returned 95% of its minutes from last year. After finishing 7-6 in their last 13 ACC games last year, and watching Olivier Hanlan emerge into an offensive force, BC seemed poised to make a step forward. Instead the defense has completely collapsed. As noted two weeks ago, Steve Donahue’s team has not adjusted well to the new foul rules. And despite Donahue’s history as a bad defensive coach, this is actually the worst defensive team of his career by a wide margin.

-North Dakota St. returned 95% of its minutes from a team that had the 78th best margin-of-victory numbers in the nation last year. But with losses already to Denver and IPFW in conference play, it took a weekend victory against co-conference leader IPFW for NDSU to even own first place in the Summit league. The big problem is that the team’s defense has fallen off substantially this season. Ranked 59th in the nation last season, NDSU’s defense is now 232nd in the land. And given head coach Saul Phillips’ long-term history on defense, this year’s defensive collapse might not be a fluke.

-Elon returned 95% of its minutes from a team that won its Southern Conference division comfortably. Many pegged them as the favorite over Davidson this year, but their explosive offensive attack couldn’t score at all against Duke’s mediocre defense in December. And with Elon’s defense falling apart, the team sits a disappointing fourth in the league.

-Penn returned an amazing 100% of its minutes from last season, but remains an underwhelming 251st nationally in margin-of-victory, which is actually worse than last season. Despite a nice win over Columbia over the weekend, the long-term power numbers suggest Penn is long-shot to finish above .500 in the Ivy League, let alone win the conference. This was probably best exemplified by the teams 30 point loss to Harvard the previous weekend.

When you read a list like that, it is fair to ask whether this might be the most disappointing group of veteran teams college basketball has ever seen. Of course there are extenuating circumstances:

-Oklahoma St. lost Michael Cobbins to injury and there is no question that the team’s defensive collapse coincides with his injury. Kamari Murphy has fouled out or been in foul trouble in six straight games. And Travis Ford basically refused to play former Top 100 JUCO forward Gary Gaskins or the 7-foot Marek Soucek. Without adequate size in the paint, Oklahoma St. simply can’t keep quality teams from scoring in the paint.

-Boise St. hasn’t actually been playing terrible basketball. There numbers are actually very similar to last year. But the difference between winning close games in the fifth best league and losing close games in the tenth best league means everything for at-large consideration.

-North Dakota St.’s three point percentage on defense (40% against) and the free throw percentage on defense (76% against) are much worse than last year. Both of those are things that the defense has limited control over. So perhaps the epic collapse on defense is a little bit of a fluke.

Still, almost every team will face some adversity in a season. Shouldn’t these veteran squads be better equipped to overcome that? Is returning minutes no longer the strong predictor it used to be? To answer that question let’s go to the data. The next two tables shows the returning minutes for ever D1 team from 2004 to 2013 along the X-axis.

The first figure below graphs the change in adjusted offense from one season to the next based on returning minutes. As the fitted line shows, as a team returns more minutes, its offense is more likely to improve.

The second figure shows the change in adjusted defense. Again, the more minutes a team brings back, the bigger the improvement you should expect on defense. (Generally, you want the defensive rating to decrease, but I flipped the sign so it would be more easy to compare the offense and defense. The comparison shows that returning minutes have a bigger impact on a team’s offense than a team’s defense.)

Yet despite the general correlation, I want to emphasize that bringing everyone back does not guarantee anything. Look closely at the area I have emphasized in red in the lower-right hand corner of both graphs. From 2004-2013, a significant number of teams that returned over 80% of their minutes got worse on either offense or defense. While the experience of Oklahoma St., Harvard, Boston College, and others is unlikely, it is far from rare.

 

  

 

Talent vs Experience

The beauty of the NCAA tournament is often the clash between experience and talent. Will a plucky mid-major squad filled with experienced seniors be able to defeat a young power conference team? And we spend a lot of time nit-picking the youth of talented teams like Kansas and Kentucky. The above analysis shows that maybe we should spend some time nit-picking some of these experienced mid-major squads too.

But for a team like Oklahoma St., the struggles are particularly painful. The Cowboys not only had experience, they supposedly had talent. Marcus Smart was a lottery pick. Markel Brown has been playing All-Big 12 caliber basketball for much of the season. Phil Forte had solved the team’s three point shooting problems. LeBryan Nash has substantially improved his rebounding. The offense is better, and if the defense could have simply matched last year’s form, the Final Four was easily within reach. Even if this isn’t the first team to bring everyone back and play worse basketball, for Oklahoma St. fans, that is probably not much of a consolation.

Upsets, Adjustments, And The Game The President Missed

Discussing a weekend of upsets, Clemson's new defensive approach, and a detailed look at the game the President wanted to watch prior to the State of the Union address.

College Basketball Injury Splits Part 1

How has Notre Dame performed without Jerian Grant? How has Georgetown done without Joshua Smith? How did Ole Miss fare without Marshall Henderson? 32 injury splits in one column!

College Basketball Injury Splits Part 2

How has Notre Dame performed without Jerian Grant? How has Georgetown done without Joshua Smith? How did Ole Miss fare without Marshall Henderson? 32 injury splits in one column!

The Top 100 Recruits After Two Months, Part 1

Wayne Selden, Tyler Ennis, Josh Hart, and a full look at how the Top 100 freshmen have performed to date.

The Top 100 Recruits After 2 Months, Part 2

The College Basketball Week in Review

Kentucky may have won, but Louisville will always have that dunk. I also examine what it means for FTs to cost a team a game, and I update the weekly Harvard watch feature.

Do Freshmen-Filled Teams Get Better In-Season?

Is Colorado's youth a long-run problem? Also, why Notre Dame was the worst possible matchup for Ohio St.

In Season Improvement, Part 1

What Arizona, Wisconsin, and Syracuse have that Kansas does not have, hope for Michigan fans, and the Top 10 coaches at improving their teams in-season.

In Season Improvement, Part 2

Feast Week Wrap

By almost any metric, the winner of Feast Week was the ACC. Also, notes on Scott Drew and Baylor, the turkeys of the week, Duke's defense, Harvard Watch and more.

Early Surprises And The Start Of Feast Week, Page 2

Can Michigan St. keep up its fast pace? And what teams have been playing better or worse than expected early in the year?

Early Surprises And The Start Of Feast Week, Page 1

Can Michigan St. keep up its fast pace? And what teams have been playing better or worse than expected early in the year?

Opening Weekend Thoughts

Grading Joshua Smith's defense, Oregon's transfer debuts, Harvard's returning Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, and UConn's new big men.

Final Thoughts On Ranking 351 D1 Teams

Over the past few days, Dan Hanner has presented his updated projection model, his season projections on ESPN Insider, Q&A's with Eamonn Brennon and John Templon, along with replying to questions on Twitter. Here are a few additional thoughts that didn't make the cut.

Predicting The Future: Adding A Simulation To The Lineup-Based Model

How do you take a lineup-based predictions model and make it even better? By adding a simulation and better evaluations of lower rated players.

Top College Basketball Conferences In 13-14

The ACC is eventually going to take over as the top basketball conference by just about every possible metric. If that doesnít happen this season with the addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, it should happen next year with the addition of Louisville.

Welcome Back, Part 2

Returning minutes are sometimes deceiving. Thatís because a number of teams will welcome back players who missed all or nearly all of last season. Letís take a look at some of those players such as Andre Dawkins, Anthony Brown, Malcolm Brogdon and Drew Crawford.

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