Analytics vs. Experts: Teams to Watch The Projections Disagree About

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on November 13th, 2018

As the college basketball season gets under way, everyone wants to get a read on their favorite teams. Does their on-court product match the preseason hype? For some teams, it depends on which preseason hype you considered. College basketball fans can seek either scouting/film-driven projections or analytics/model-driven projections. These two approaches usually tend toward some overlap, but not in every case. I have documented some of the bigger disagreements among top 50 teams below, and it will be interesting to watch which interpretation is borne out during the regular season.

NOTE: For the purposes of this article “Analytics” are mainly KenPom, BartTorvik, John Gasaway and some HoopLens and HoopMath thrown in. The “Experts” will be: the Top 25 polls, preseason conference polls, Matt Norlander’s #1-#353 rankings, and preview articles from NBCSports, ESPN, The Athletic and others, although many of those ranking systems also consider analytics as part of their methodologies.

Group 1: Loved by the Analytics, Hated by the Experts

Miami— KenPom: #20. AP Top 25: #33 (according to “Others Receiving Votes” section)

Jim Larranaga Wonders Why the Polls Don’t Like His Team (USA Today Images)

  • Summary—lots of talent leaving, but hyper-efficient role players taking their place.
  • What the experts say: Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker are playing in the NBA, Ja’Quan Newton is also gone, and there are no impact newcomers other than graduate transfer Zach Johnson. This one seems simple — a #6 seed lost its three most talented players, so the Hurricanes will take a step back.
  • What the analytics say: Brown, Walker and Newton were all talented, but none of them were that successful last year. To replace them, Jim Larranaga has productive big man Dewan Hernandez (formerly Dewan Heull), a sophomore jump expected from Chris Lykes, and a bunch of efficient role players led by three-point gunner Dejan Vasiljevic. And if you think 20th from KenPom seems aggressive, BartTorvik currently lists the Hurricanes at #8!

CreightonKenPom: #35. AP Top 25: No votes received (52nd or higher)

  • Summary—Four starters are gone, but Martin Krampejl and Greg McDermott are still around.
  • What the experts say: Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas are now playing professionally in addition to the losses of contributors Toby Hegner and Ronnie Harrell. Some feisty freshmen return, as does big man Krampejl from an ACL tear. However, as Matt Norlander notes while ranking the Bluejays 71st in his rankings, the fact that he’s their best player “slots Creighton as having the least impressive best player of any team in the Big East.” It’s rebuilding time in Omaha.
  • What the analytics say: Norlander should show some respect for Krampelj’s name! Per HoopLens, the Bluejays were an astonishing 0.15 points per possession better defensively when he was playing last year, which is the difference between the fourth- and 180th-best defenses in the country. On the other side of the ball, McDermott has guided his offense into the top 60 nationally every season since 2012. Put the two together, and Creighton would appear poised to make the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year.

Penn StateKenPom: #35. AP Top 25: No votes received (52nd or higher)

  • Summary—The Nittany Lions’ strong backcourt is gone, but their defense is still elite.
  • What the experts say: Penn State didn’t make the NCAA Tournament last year and its starting backcourt of Tony Carr and Shep Garner are no longer in Happy Valley. The Athletic’s media poll ranks the Lions 11th in the 14-team Big Ten, and Norlander puts them at #164, one spot behind great St. Francis (PA). Pat Chambers‘ defense should be fine, but where will his offense come from?
  • What the numbers say: The defense will be better than fine — it could even be elite. Mike Watkins returns to anchor the paint, and last year’s 19th-ranked defense was even better without Carr on the floor, per HoopLens. Offensively, the Nittany Lions should maintain a top 100 efficiency, led by play-making power forward Lamar Stevens, whom BartTorvik projects to score 17.4 points per game.

Group 2: Loved by the Experts, Hated by the Analytics

WashingtonKenPom: #41. AP Top 25: #30 (“Others Receiving Votes” category)

Mike Hopkins Says Don’t Let the Game at Auburn Fool You (USA Today Images)

  • Summary—A legitimate Pac-12 champion contender, but is that impressive?
  • What the experts say:The core of a team that beat Kansas last season and finished 10-8 in the Pac-12 is back for Mike Hopkins. As Norlander notes, the Huskies are led by “Jaylen Nowell (best sophomore in the league), Matisse Thybulle (best defender in the league) and Noah Dickerson (best rebounder in the league).” The Huskies are a trendy conference champion pick and seem a safe bet to make some noise this year.
  • What the numbers say: KenPom rates Washington as the second-best team in the Pac-12 but that doesn’t mean what it once did. The conference boasted just one squad among the KenPom top 40 last season, finishing closer to the American in his overall conference rankings than the next closest high-major conference, so any measurable success should be taken with a grain of salt. Washington can likely contend for a Pac-12 championship this year, but, in a very down league, that doesn’t make the Huskies a Top 25 team.

LSUKenPom: #45. AP Top 25: #22

  • Summary—One of the most talented teams in the country, but can they defend?
  • What the experts say: Tremont Waters is a preseason All-America point guard, and the Tigers bring in four top 50 freshman led by McDonald’s All-American Naz Reid. Last year’s purring offense should return, and the defense will be improved by a five-star frontcourt of Reid and Emmitt Williams. This team is overflowing with talent and should be able to compete with anyone in a loaded SEC.
  • What the numbers say: Can the Tigers play defense? Last year’s team finished 11th of the 14-team SEC in defensive efficiency and ranked a dismal 329th in eFG% at the rim. The models seem to be in consensus that Will Wade‘s defense will hold the Tigers back, with Gasaway’s ranking of #42 being the most bullish of them all.

Loyola-ChicagoKenPom: #57. AP Top 25: #44 (“Others Receiving Votes” category)

  • Summary: The Ramblers can keep the momentum going offensively, but can they continue to defend at a high level?
  • What the experts say: Loyola established itself as a top-tier mid-major with its unlikely Final Four run last March, and they return Clayton Custer, Cameron Krutwig and Marques Townes, arguably their three best offensive players. Last year’s team also played great defense, so it appears that head coach Porter Moser is building a powerhouse in Chicago.
  • What the analytics say:The true aberration a season ago came with its 17th-ranked defense, as Moser hadn’t coached a top 100 defense in any of his previous six years at the school. The Ramblers should fall back to earth defensively this season and won’t necessarily run away with an MVC that could have as many as five other teams among the top 100. A trip to the NCAA Tournament certainly isn’t guaranteed, especially with an early loss to Furman already on their resume.
William Ezekowitz (30 Posts)

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