Thursday, April 1, 2010

What goes into a "Way Too Early" Pre-season Poll

Next Monday, prominent college basketball writers everywhere will be asked to submit their “way too early” top 25 polls for next season. I mock these every year, but I understand why they are written. Interest in college basketball is at a peak now, not when many of the key questions will be cleared up.

Earlier this month, I posted a numeric model predicting year-to-year performance. I still plan to tweak it this summer before I make any official predictions. Regardless, here are the factors that various writers will attempt to combine when trying to guess next year’s best teams.

Biggest Offensive Losses due to Graduation

A few updates:
-Due to popular demand, I added all the teams in the Pomeroy top 60 even if they did not play in a top-tier conference. This gets me all the way down to Siena. I still include all teams in the top 8 RPI conferences.
-I updated my database to use the most recent player data – this caused a few minor shifts up or down.
-I fixed a problem related to dropping certain teams.
-As in the model I presented a few weeks ago, I am weighting offensive production by percentage of total team possessions used. (This is a combination of minutes played and possessions used when on the floor.)

1. Cornell –Chris Wroblewski is coming back. But that’s about it. Basically the whole team is gone.

2. California – Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Jamal Boykin, and Theo Robertson are four seniors with offensive ratings over 112. They will be hard to replace.

3. Maryland – On the one hand you have prolific and still efficient players like Greivis Vazquez leaving, on the other hand you have someone like Eric Hayes who was one of the most efficient players in the country. Maryland loses a lot.

4. Duke – Duke tends to lose a lot each year, but for once the losses are due to graduation instead of early entry. John Scheyer was one of the most efficient high volume shooters in the country this year and that’s going to be hard to replace.

5. St. Mary’s – Omar Samhan took 33% of his teams shots when on the floor, played major minutes, and had an offensive efficiency rating of 117. And fellow senior Ben Allen was very efficient too.

6. Auburn – Probably not who you expected to see on this list, huh? But Auburn loses 5 rotation seniors and at least one of them, Tay Waller, was quite efficient.

7. Marquette –Marquette has some key players returning. But losing Lazar Hayward, one of the most effective high volume shooters in the country is going to hurt any offense. And did you see how efficient Maurice Acker and David Cubillan were this year? I’m optimistic based on what Buzz Williams was able to accomplish this year, but you can’t say the team won’t miss these players.

8. Northern Iowa – Three stars (including hero Ali Farokhmanesh) are seniors.

9. Rhode Island – The NIT semi was the end of the road for three fabulous senior stars.

10. Tennessee – Tennessee already took a big hit with Tyler Smith leaving mid-season, but with Smith, J. P. Prince, Wayne Chism, and Bobby Maze gone next year, Tennessee will have some big shoes to fill. The only salvation for Tennessee is that none of these guys played 40 minutes a game and there were plenty of possessions used by other players on the roster over the course of the season.

11. Notre Dame – Sure, Notre Dame played well without Luke Harandgody late in the year, and yes Mike Brey is a genius offensively. But any statistical model is going to tell you Notre Dame’s offense should take a hit without its high volume shooting star. Minor note: Ben Hansbrough is listed as “senior” on Notre Dame’s webpage but as far as I can tell he didn’t go through senior day ceremonies and he definitely has one year of eligibility left. While I think I caught this error which bumped Notre Dame down from 3rd overall to 11th overall, it is possible I don’t know about another “senior” who is coming back. This is the type of thing I hope to double check by this fall.

12. Wisconsin – Just two key players here, but Bohannon was incredibly efficient and Hughes was pretty good too for how often he shot. Heaven forbid we interpret losing star players as a bad thing for the Badgers.

13. Miami FL – Four key players.

14. Stanford – Landry Fields never got enough love this year because the Pac10 was so down.

15. West Virginia – At least Da’Sean Butler is still playing in the Final Four.

16. Texas – Wow, are Damion James and Dexter Pittman really seniors? Did they really play that few minutes and post only “decent” offensive numbers this year? I expected so much more.

17. Baylor – Tweety Carter was not only the first-ever McDonald’s All-American at Baylor, he was incredibly efficient this year.

18. Connecticut – Gavin Edwards, Stanley Robinson, and Jerome Dyson did some great things in the last 4 years even if they didn’t go to the NCAA tournament this year.

19. Louisville – As much as we picked on Edgar Sosa, he had great numbers.

20. Washington – Quincy Poindexter played more minutes than Scottie Reynolds, had a better offensive rating, and yet no one talked about him until he hit the game winner against Marquette.

21. Villanova –How can a team that loses Scottie Reynolds not be ranked higher? Well, the formula doesn’t give enough weight to Reggie Redding. With Redding missing most of the first half of the year, Scottie looks like the team’s only real loss. That’s not fair, but given Villanova’s depth, it might be the right measure. Because Redding didn’t play for a good portion of the year, other players got time to develop.

22. Syracuse
23. Minnesota
24. Texas A&M
25. Arizona St.
26. Siena
27. Murray St.
28. South Carolina
29. Alabama
30. Providence
31. New Mexico
32. Michigan
33. St. Bonaventure
34. Utah St.
35. Memphis
36. Richmond
37. Gonzaga
38. Clemson
39. Kansas
40. Missouri

Not missing much

12. Illinois –Domique Keller’s playing time steadily fell off late in the year.

11. Kentucky – Ramon Harris sometimes played, but didn’t contribute offensively. Perry Stevenson at least made a few shots, but he never played.

10. Florida – Dan Werner wasn’t efficient enough as a senior to count as a loss.

No seniors:

T6. Georgetown
T6. Texas El Paso
T6. Penn St.
T6. St. Louis

Addition by subtraction:

This is a very cruel title on my part, but when you lose inefficient players to graduation, history shows that this is good for your offense.

5. Virginia Tech – Two words: Lewis Witcher. That’s the only loss. Expect Virginia Tech to be a trendy pick next year in the ACC next year unless Malcolm Delaney goes pro.

4. Air Force – They lose some horribly inefficient rotation players. I won’t even mention them by name.

3. Indiana – I can’t believe Devan Dumes was that inefficient. He always seemed to make shots against my team.

2. Southern California – The offense was so bad this year, random freshman have to have more upside. That’s not really fair, but that’s the way this stuff works.

1. Colorado St. – No comment.

Biggest Defensive Losses due to Graduation

I plan to try to add some more factors to this model this summer. Right now this list is too similar to the offensive list to provide any real insight.

Freshmen Minutes

In my numeric model, I also document that teams that waste lots of possessions on freshmen (or give freshmen lots of chances to improve) are the most likely to get better. Here are the teams that used the most possessions on freshmen this year:

1. Kentucky – Kentucky is first, but this is irrelevant. The key in my model is “returning” freshman. It isn't clear that any of Kentucky's fabulous freshmen are coming back next year.

2. Fordham

3. Oklahoma – Another case of “will any of them be back?”

4. Arizona
5. Indiana
6. Iowa
7. George Washington

8. St. Louis – I’m really high on St. Louis next year. This was a very young team and they played very well against quality A10 competition late in the year.

9. Georgia Tech
10. Texas
11. Nebraska
12. Massachusetts
13. Providence
14. Colorado St.
15. Air Force
16. Gonzaga
17. Miami FL
18. Cincinnati
19. Washington St.
20. Illinois
21. Wyoming
22. Arkansas
23. Utah
24. North Carolina
25. San Diego St.
26. St. Mary's
27. La Salle
28. Colorado
29. UCLA
30. North Carolina St.
31. Villanova
32. South Carolina
33. Saint Joseph's
34. Florida
35. Oregon St.
36. Charlotte
37. Kansas
38. Wake Forest
39. Temple
40. Northwestern

Sorry freshmen, no shots for you:

25. DePaul
24. Michigan St.
23. Virginia Commonwealth
22. Virginia
21. Mississippi
20. Cornell
19. Siena
18. Dayton
17. Richmond
16. Utah St.
15. West Virginia
14. Texas Tech
13. Seton Hall
12. Memphis
11. California
10. Marquette
9. Stanford
T1. Notre Dame
T1. Ohio St.
T1. Miss St.
T1. Boston College
T1. Butler
T1. Old Dominion

8 teams didn’t have a single freshman that played over 10% of the team’s minutes. Stanford barely let Gabriel Harris play. Marquette had 3 Top 100 recruits, but they ended up winning because a number of veterans stepped up their play. I keep talking up how Michigan St. gives younger players a chance to learn and develop, but there was some controlled learning this year. Even though Derrick Nix started and Garrick Sherman played, they got a very limited number of shots this year for the Spartans. And the worst new for DePaul is that even though they were bad, they didn’t really give their freshman much chance to get better either.

Biggest Losses due to Early Entry
1. Kentucky
2. ???

This is the biggest guess, and this is the biggest reason it is dumb to try to make pre-season polls on the last day of the season. I’m not going to speculate yet, but I’m sure this will be a huge factor in anyone’s preseason poll for next year.

Best Recruiting Classes
Recruiting is also an incredibly huge guess at this point. The spring signing period officially starts April 14th. The last time I checked 7 McDonald’s All-Americans had yet to officially choose their college. And at least 9 of the fall RSCI top 50 recruits had not declared their intentions. In other words, we still don’t have a clue what teams will be able to replace their losses with key freshman.

Plus players who have already committed can always change their mind. Terrence Ross has already de-committed from Maryland after his stock shot up this year. Daniel Bejarano de-committed from Texas and committed to Arizona when he saw that Arizona had a bright young coach at the helm. More coaches are going to change jobs this spring and that’s going to lead to even more changes in commitments.

Finally, some players won’t even be eligible in the fall. (See Renardo Sidney this last season.)

Still, here’s a rough guess of the top classes, based on previous discussion that only top 10 recruits are unlikely to be busts.

1. Memphis (A top 10 recruit, and several top 100 recruits.)
2. Ohio St. (A top 10 recruit, and several top 100 recruits.)
3. North Carolina (Three top 25 level recruits.)
4. Tennessee (A top 10 recruit, and a couple top 100 recruits.)
5. Duke (A top 10 recruit and a top 100 recruit.)
6. Baylor (A top 10 recruit)
7. Texas (A top 10 recruit)
8. Wake Forest (4 top 100 recruits)
Three Top 100: Illinois, Michigan St., South Carolina, Syracuse (?)
Two Top 100: Florida, California, Connecticut, Florida St., Georgetown, LSU, Marquette, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Villanova, Virginia

Again, the Top 100 lists vary and RSCI won’t update the fall “summary” for at least a month. So this is all a big guess. But this is clearly a huge factor in predicting what will happen next season.

Teams that had big runs in the NCAA tournament

We tend to get caught up in the excitement of the NCAA tournament, but I think it is a mistake to include this factor. Anything can happen in a single elimination game setting. You can’t tell me Kansas was over-rated based on one game. Kansas was clearly the most dominant team in the country all year long. So I don’t agree with folks that inflate expectations for next season based on a couple of NCAA tournament upsets. I would only include these wins to the extent they are part of a team's overall profile.

How teams “performed” this year

The Pomeroy and Sagarin ratings give a good estimate of who the best teams are. I prefer these predictive ratings because sometimes a team's overall record was deceiving. New Mexico’s margin-of-victory numbers suggested they were a little over-rated this year. And a quick visit to suggests a number of teams that were generally good, but just couldn’t win the close games this year. This unlucky group who might be better next year includes:

1. Penn St.
2. Providence
3. Dayton
4. Alabama
5. Boston College
6. Iowa St.
7. Connecticut
8. Michigan

None are obvious pre-season Top 25 candidates, but Dayton played better than an NIT team this year. Because the Flyers lose 5 seniors from the rotation, they aren’t a great top 25 pick for next year. But on the positive side, the team’s two most efficient players Chris Wright and Chris Johnson should return.