Friday, October 29, 2010

Are you certain BYU is not the MWC favorite?

I understand the arguments against BYU. Here is what Mike DeCourcy said recently. “Set For a Fall: No. 24 BYU. The Cougars have one of the nation’s best players in guard Jimmer Fredette, and they’ll be an NCAA tournament team. But even with Tyler Haws, Chris Miles, Michael Loyd and Jonathan Tavernari, BYU only made it into the NCAAs as a No. 7 seed.“

And I have certainly read the arguments for San Diego St. They bring back five starters. And they were a pretty effective NCAA tournament team too. But my model thinks BYU and San Diego St. are a toss-up for MWC champ, and here is why I think that is right:

First, if you believe in margin-of-victory, BYU was much better than a 7-seed in the NCAA tournament last year. BYU was 10th in the nation according to Jeff Sagarin’s Predictor rating, and 10th in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, meaning BYU had some of the best margin-of-victory numbers in the country. And it has been well established that margin-of-victory is a huge predictor of future success.

And while BYU loses some of the players that led to those dominant margin-of-victory stats, the key players are back. BYU returns one of the most explosive and efficient players in the country in Jimmer Fredette. But they also return guard Jackson Emery whose 127.0 ORtg on 20% of the shots when on the floor would have people raving if not for Fredette’s success. Plus as will be discussed below, Emery and Noah Hartsock posted some fantastic defensive stats last year. Basically, BYU may not return as many players as San Diego St., but they return the most important players on offense and defense and there is every reason to think they will be dominant once again.

For everyone who thinks that Purdue should still be a top 10 or top 15 team despite the uncertain rotation, then you should be equally in love with BYU. They have the offensive and defensive stars, they just need to fill out the rest of the rotation. And as five straight years of first or second place MWC finishes have shown, head coach Dave Rose is plenty effective in developing players to fill out the lineup.

MWC Prediction

Once again, I start with the expected changes. As with Indiana, Air Force and Colorado St. experience a case of addition by subtraction. While Air Force will clearly miss forward Grant Parker, Mike McClain and Avery Merriex were so ineffective, as a whole the team should be better allocating shots elsewhere. McClain in particular was just a source of dead possessions for Air Force. He turned it over fully 30% of the time and shot just 24% while taking 45 threes. His block rate was less than 1% as the team’s center. Even with Air Force’s recruiting limitations, they can do better.

Man, I feel bad saying that. What did Mike McClain ever do to me? He did shoot 59% on his twos last year, so he did some things right. And yes, he probably has more athletic talent then I will ever have in my whole life. (Just putting that out there.)

Maybe I should not name any Colorado St. players by name. Colorado St. loses four players who could most generously be called role players. Two of them had ORtgs of 56.8 and 68.0. That’s really all I need to say.

New Mexico might be a little under-rated here. They obviously lose a ton of talent, but I think the model may under-rate what they have joining the team. True, they will only have half a season of Drew Gordon, and that will make the early numbers weaker, but his tempo free stats at UCLA were quite impressive. Also, Alex Kirk is only 98th in the RSCI top 100. Given the inconsistency of recruits at that level, the model does not expect much. But Steve Alford has had a pretty good eye for talent lately.

But here is the kicker for the model. New Mexico played three freshmen last year, but all three barely made it on the floor. In other words, they were mostly playing a deep experienced lineup last year that performed near peak performance. That is not the type of team that improves a lot the following season.

The next table shows the expected changes in offense and defense. BYU suffers some critical defections, but Jackson Emery, one of the national leaders in steal rate, and Noah Hartsock, one of the national leaders in block rate are both back. While the offense may take a small step back because they have to integrate so many new faces, because head coach Dave Rose has two critical defenders coming back, he should be able to keep the defense playing at a high level.

The next table shows the final prediction. The MWC looks like a three bid league, with a huge drop-off after the top. But New Mexico may be back in the mix by the end of the season. And Colorado St. returns five fairly efficient starters from last year and may be prepared for a surprise run.