If you have been following the “Players Leaving” column in my tables, you’ll eventually determine that the top ten teams with the biggest losses this off-season are:
10. St. Mary's
Omar Samhan, Ben Allen, Wayne Hunter
9. Mississippi St.
Jarvis Varnado, Barry Stewart, Phil Turner, Romero Osby
Ekpe Udoh, Tweety Carter, Josh Lomers
Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Wilkerson, Chris Lutz, Darryl Merthie, Cam Miller
Luke Babbitt, Armon Johnson, Brandon Fields, Joey Shaw, London Giles, Ray Kraemer
Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry
Wesley Johnson, Andy Rautins, Arinze Onuaku
Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Jamal Boykin, Theo Robertson, Omondi Amoke, Nikola Knezevic, DJ Seely, Max Zhang
Ryan Wittman, Jeff Foote, Louis Dale, Geoff Reeves, Jon Jaques, Alex Tyler
DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton, Darnell Dodson, Ramon Harris, Perry Stevenson
No team in the nation lost more quality players than the Kentucky Wildcats. The key question is whether the top recruiting class in the nation will be enough to replace those players. But as you may guess from my prediction for North Carolina in the ACC, my statistical model is not confident that Kentucky will be able to make a successful transition.
As I noted in the ACC post, recruits have had a surprisingly inconsistent effect on team performance over the last three years. The key is probably that recruiting is endogenous. Elite recruits are much more likely to go to teams where they are likely to play. Kansas did not have a dominant recruiting class this year, but that was partly due to the fact that Kansas already had a number of under-utilized players who are ready to take on a much larger role for the Jayhawks. Meanwhile Kentucky’s successful recruiting class was partly based on the fact that they had few pieces already on the team that were ready to step in. Kentucky could pretty much guarantee playing time to recruits under all circumstances. But the lack of emerging backups should also temper our expectations for Kentucky this season.
Basketball Prospectus Book Update – An Alternative Model
But if you are not happy with the weight I put on recruits, I am pleased to announce that there is a numeric alternative. As I hinted at previously, Ken Pomeroy has developed his own predictive model for tempo free team performance and you can find it in this year’s Basketball Prospectus Book. While Ken and I use the same basic underlying factors (the Dean Oliver statistics for returning / departing players), his model puts a higher weight on previous seasons and a much higher weight on elite recruits.
So for the next week or so, you can continue to get a few free tempo free predictions from me, but due to the upcoming release of the book, I have provided very few words on the various teams.
But if you pick up the book, you will get
-A detailed statistical analysis of all major conference teams
-Some analysis of all the non-major teams
-Several insightful articles combining stats and basketball
-And Ken Pomeroy’s tempo free predictions for every conference in the nation.
Somewhere John Gasaway is carefully crafting the finishing touches on the publication, but the wait is almost over!
The first table shows the expected changes for the SEC. If it were not for John Calipari’s incredible recruiting ability at Kentucky, we could be looking at a repeat of what happened to Indiana a few years ago. (OK, maybe not that bad, but Kentucky lost a lot of talent.) I assume Enes Kanter will not be eligible in these projections, but even with Kanter, Kentucky would have a hard time duplicating last year’s success. That does not mean it cannot happen, but the expected value of any recruiting class is clearly less than 5 NBA first round picks.
While Kentucky is depending completely on recruits to step in, Florida both adds an elite recruit in Patric Young and gains from having given substantial minutes to Kenny Boynton last season. The model expects the freshman guard to develop into a much more consistent player this year.
Georgia’s recruiting class kind of fell apart due to ineligibility issues, but they bring back enough key players to get better this year.
The next table shows the expected changes in offense and defense. My model is aware that Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney will be joining Mississippi St. mid-season. (And Mississippi St. has used some creative scheduling to try to minimize the impact of the games those players will miss.) But even with Bost and Sidney, Mississippi St.’s defense is expected to get substantially worse this year. You simply cannot replace the top shot blocker in NCAA history (Jarvis Varnado) and not expect the defense to take a step back.
Offensively, the loss of Dan Werner is irrelevant to Florida. He was the team’s least efficient player. But defensively, the Gators will miss his high steal rate.
The next table shows my model’s prediction for the SEC. The Gators barely made the NCAA tournament last year but they bring back all their most efficient players and are the clear favorites in the league. Meanwhile, people tend to overlook the talent Vanderbilt brings back. And Alabama was very unlucky last season. The Tide may very well be the favorites in the SEC West.
Personally, I’m not comfortable with ranking Kentucky this low. In my contribution to the basketball prospectus book, I did not trust my own model and picked Kentucky for a higher finish. But even John Calipari admits his team could struggle early in the season.