What Pomeroy Knows About The Current Top 25 That You Might NotPosted by Bennet Hayes on December 13th, 2013
It’s happened to many a college basketball fan (hopefully not just me). You pull up kenpom.com, just needing to check Doug McDermott’s offensive rating, or Syracuse’s adjusted tempo. You quickly accomplish your goal, but 45 minutes later, Doug McDermott’s offensive rating has morphed, several times over, into a glance at individual seasons similar to Joe Trapani’s 2007 campaign at Vermont. Fortunately, I am not here to discuss John Shurna’s freshman year (one such similar season), and instead, I’ll spare you a bit of KenPom wandering. Via college basketball’s statistical maestro, here are four takeaways in comparing his metrics with the current AP Top 25.
KenPom’s ratings are never a perfect match with the polls. Expect the two evaluative systems to converge a bit as the year progresses, but let’s note the teams with the most decisive split of opinion at the moment. On the plus side of things, Pittsburgh sits at #4 in KenPom’s ratings, despite having not yet entered the AP poll. The potentially underrated (at least by AP voters) Panthers were third in “receiving votes” last week after a 9-0 start to the year. One of the teams that beat the Panthers into the poll was the Missouri Tigers, yet they rest some 37 slots below Pitt at #41 in KenPom’s rankings. Mizzou hasn’t done anything wrong yet – the Tigers are also 9-0 and coming off consecutive victories over West Virginia and UCLA – but Pomeroy’s model doesn’t yet view them as an elite squad. Other teams that pollsters are a bit keener on include Colorado (#37), San Diego State (#40), and UConn (#21).
Extremes Of The Youth Movement
You may have heard, but there are a few decent freshmen playing college basketball this season, and even a couple teams that are relying almost exclusively on their fresh crop of recruits. So it surely won’t be shocking to hear that Kansas and Kentucky are near the bottom in KenPom’s experience ratings (the metric uses eligibility class weighted by minutes played). But would you have guessed that they are third to last and last, respectively, in the category? In fact, if Kentucky’s experience rating of 0.22 holds through the year, they would record what would easily be the lowest rating in the history of the category (dating back to 2007). The Citadel, with those bright-eyed, bushy-tailed youngsters back in 2008, is the only team to ever record anything under 0.41 in the metric (they were at 0.27). On the whole, the Top 25 isn’t quite as young as you might think; 12 teams in the poll rate in the upper half of D-I when it comes to experience, although the oldest of the bunch (Oregon) sits just 22nd in the category, and the runner-up (UMass) is all the way down at 47th.
Bad Arithmetic: Playing Fast = Winning Fast
Over the last seven seasons, only one program has managed a year-end finish in both the top 10 in adjusted tempo (possessions per game) and KenPom’s top 25. The successful roadrunners are the Tar Heels of North Carolina, who have amazingly accomplished the feat four times in that seven-season span. There’s a long way to go to reach the clubhouse, but two teams are currently pulling off the statistical double-dip: Iowa State and UMass. Whether the winning – and the running – keeps up for the Cyclones and Minutemen will be something to keep an eye on moving forward.
Defense Still Wins… AP Poll Votes?
No surprise here – the best teams in the country are getting it done with defense. Fifteen of the AP’s Top 25 teams are included in the list of KenPom’s 25 most efficient defensive units, with another six clubs ranking in the top 50. The four teams in the poll that are winning without elite defensive efficiency? Missouri, Oregon, Gonzaga, and… wait for it… Duke. The Blue Devils’ current adjusted efficiency rate of 100.2 on the defensive end would easily be the worst mark for a Coach K team in the “KenPom era” (from 2003), surpassing the 97.2 clip that the 2012 team posted. Time will tell if the token cliché holds true, but while we wait to learn if defense wins championships, we can certainly say that it is winning early-season games.