Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Revisiting Preseason Predictions

One of my favorite things to do this time of year is to pull out the Sports Illustrated College Basketball Preview Issue and check the accuracy of their predictions. There’s Roy Hibbert and Jonathon Wallace on the cover of mine, although yours may show Tyler Hansbrough and Reyshawn Terry, or Julian Wright and Mario Chalmers.

A fourth cover shows two Washington Huskies, but since they didn’t even make the NCAA tournament, I’m just going to pretend that didn’t happen. Honestly, the cover says Big is Back and shows a 6’ 7” Huskies player. If that didn’t jinx the season, I don’t know what did. Speaking of jinxes, the fifth cover shows Brian Butch. Doh!

Today I’ll break down the West Region. Tomorrow I’ll look at the South. Today’s column also gets a big assist from Ken Pomeroy’s team scouting reports. I’m going to cite his offensive efficiency stat frequently. If a player is rated under 90, you probably cringe whenever they shoot. 90-100 had better not be a primary option. 100-110 is good with an open look. 110 and above is probably not shooting enough.

West Region
1 Kansas vs 20 Southern Illinois
5 UCLA vs 10 Pittsburgh
At least for this region, the pre-season SI rankings are eerily similar to the final seeding of these teams.

The Kansas article basically focuses on Brandon Rush and his reputation as “Lazy-and stupid” which may have been partly due to the fact that he thought college was going to be a “jog in the park”. (Trust me, Seth Davis eventually manages to spin this as a good thing.) The story goes on to claim that Rush was not selfish enough as a freshman and that the team wanted him to shoot more this season. Did he shoot more this year? According to, Rush took 23.1% of his teams shots when on the floor this year with an offensive rating of 109.2. Last year he took 23.6% of his teams shots and had an offensive rating of 104.3. So no, he did not shoot more. Amazingly however, all of the key players for Kansas except Sasha Kaun actually had higher offensive ratings this year than last year and eight players have ratings 104.9 or higher. So unlike last year when Rush really was one of Kansas’ best options, this year the team played so well that he didn’t need to shoot more.

Despite a #20 rating, SI actually had Southern Illinois rated 3rd in the Valley. SI says to watch for the “seasoned backcourt of Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young”. Duly noted. (Sorry Southern Illinois fans, you don’t get a full story unless you are rated in the top 16.)

As for UCLA, SI says that Mbah a Moute’s parents did not even know he went to the Final Four until he sent a DVD. “Why didn’t you tell us? We would have come.” (Wow, SI has some great quotes to steal. Uh, go buy the magazine.)

The key statistical question was whether or not the team could replace point guard Jordan Farmar. Well, Darren Collison had an offensive rating of 114.1 and had the 29th best assist rate in the country (Only Ty Lawson and Mike Conley have better ratings among teams still in the tournament.) So, UCLA passed the test and is once again a Final Four contender.

As for Pittsburgh, Aaron Gray worked on his stamina over the summer. He “lifted every morning (and) ran uphill sprints in the afternoon.” Was it uphill both ways? During the Big East championship game, the announcers re-iterated this point claiming that Gray was disappointed with his performance at the end of last year and felt he needed to have more stamina this year. Did Gray have more stamina? Well, Gray increased his offensive efficiency from 105.3 last year to 114.1 this year which may be a reflection of his increased stamina, but his overall minutes per game are down slightly. Moreover, recognizing the small sample bias, I have not seen better stamina in the Big East championship game or in the two NCAA tournament games. It still appears to me that Gray gets worn down too easily against good teams.

Truthfully, while Gray is good, what scares me more about playing Pittsburgh is the team’s balance. They have six players with offensive ratings over 106.3 and Ronald Ramon is a deadly three point shooter which raises his offensive rating to 117.3. Maybe someone with a Pittsburgh connection can fill me in, but I totally do not understand why Ramon is coming off the bench instead of starting.

Not much has changed for these teams since SI’s pre-season prediction that the Jayhawks would win it all and that seems like a safe pick for now.