Pac-12 Season Preview: Oregon Ducks

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 11th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Oregon.

Oregon Ducks

Strengths: The given is fifth-year guard Joseph Young, the dynamic leading scorer and rare returner (or so it seems these days in Eugene) for head coach Dana Altman. Young will be the do-everything playmaker tasked with keeping the Ducks’ heads above water. A distant second is a pair of freshmen, Jordan Bell and Casey Benson, who will have plenty of opportunity on a roster that tacked on five extras after October to make it appear like Oregon had a full team.

Joseph Young Will Have To Be Mr. Everything for Oregon in 2014-15. (Ryan Kang, Daily Emerald)

Joseph Young Will Have To Be Mr. Everything for Oregon in 2014-15. (Ryan Kang, Daily Emerald)

Weaknesses: Judging by the exodus in the offseason, self-discipline is high on the list. On the court, there will not be much size. Junior center Michael Chandler, a JuCo transfer from Northwest Florida State and the projected starter, is the tallest player at 6’10” but has yet to practice because of a lingering knee injury that doesn’t have a timetable for recovery. Chandler did not play in the Ducks’ exhibition opener last Tuesday. Playing the role of Captain Obvious, chemistry also will be an issue on a roster that lost 10 letterwinners.

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The RTC Pac-12 All-Freshman and All-Transfer Teams

Posted by AMurawa on November 11th, 2014

With the season imminent, it is time to start rolling out our preseason picks. Later in the week we’ll release the results of our preseason poll from our writers and friends of the microsite for things like standings, All-Conference Team, Player of the Year, and a host of other specialty awards. In getting this week’s events underway, though, we start by naming our Freshmen of the Year, Transfer of the Year and our All-Freshmen and All-Transfer teams, a group of new faces that we’ll get to know better as the season takes shape. Let’s jump right in.

Preseason Freshman of the Year: Stanley Johnson, Arizona

Stanley Johnson May Not Be An Immediate Starter At Arizona, But He Is Our Unanimous Pick For Freshman of the Year

Stanley Johnson May Not Be An Immediate Starter At Arizona, But He Is Our Unanimous Pick For Freshman of the Year

The unanimous choice among our five voters, Johnson is the latest in Sean Miller’s increasingly long line of elite recruits. Expected to be on the short list of potential leading scorers for the Wildcats, Johnson checked off all the boxes during his prep career: playing on international tournament-winning teams; McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant; two-time California High School Player of the Year; Parade All-American; MaxPreps National Player of the Year. Oh, and four CIF Division I state titles in four years of high school. So, smooth sailing at Arizona, right? Well, not so fast. In Arizona’s lone exhibition game, Johnson was conspicuously absent from the starting lineup, coming off the bench while junior Gabe York started in his place. Still, Johnson proved his bona fides by overpowering lesser competition on the way to 12 points in 24 minutes of action. Miller describes him as a “physical freak,” and while you can make the argument that the Wildcats are actually better off with him bringing energy off the bench, you can count on the fact that he is going to be one of the best players on a team already loaded with All-Conference players who you will see later in the week. There might well be other freshmen in the conference that wind up with better overall numbers by season’s end, but none of those first-year guys will be the same difference-maker that Johnson can be.

Joining Johnson on the All-Freshman Team are:

  • Kevon Looney, UCLA
  • Reid Travis, Stanford
  • Jordan McLaughlin, USC
  • Isaac Hamilton, UCLA

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Assessing Colorado’s Most Important Player

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 10th, 2014

At this point in the preseason, it is too soon to argue which player on this Colorado roster will be its most important player, but I can tell you which position he’ll play. If you follow Colorado basketball or the Pac-12 in general, you probably know their biggest question of the preseason: Who is going to replace point guard Spencer Dinwiddie? The Mayor of Boulder tore his ACL in the middle of last season and the Buffs went 9-10 down the stretch — including Pitt running them out of the NCAA Tournament — after he went down. When Dinwiddie subsequently announced his plans to enter the NBA Draft in June, the 2014-15 narrative for Tad Boyle’s team was already set in stone.

Askia Booker Is Among The Players Who Will Need To Replace Spencer Dinwiddie's Production

Askia Booker Is Among The Players Who Will Need To Replace Spencer Dinwiddie’s Production

Who are the main candidates? Really, there are three. The one you probably know is senior guard Askia Booker, who, even when he was not technically “the point guard” at the end of last season, was still the guy initiating the Colorado offense. The problem is that Booker is the team’s best scorer on the wing and, despite his sometimes erratic shooting percentages (I’m being kind here), its best shot-maker. He’s capable of playing the lead guard position, but that involves a complete change of personality. You see, this is a guy like former All-American Russ Smith at Louisville. Sure, Booker is very much a poor man’s Smith, but they’re cut from the same cloth: defend like crazy on one end; get up shots on the other. And it doesn’t always matter if they’re good shots, so long as those shots get up. That’s the M.O. for Booker, and it works to an extent, especially in end-of-clock scenarios where there are few other guys on the team who can create a shot.

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The Pac-12’s Biggest Questions: Askia Booker, UCLA Point Guards & Arizona Shooters

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 7th, 2014

Little story, probably not all that interesting. With the college basketball season due to tip off a week from today, we here around the RTC Pac-12 microsite are finalizing our preseason rankings and all-conference teams and whatnot. So, in compiling those things, I sent out a poll to our writers and friends of the microsite. Tucked away at the very end of the poll was something of an afterthought; it read, simply “Biggest Question Marks – use any criteria.” Now, when I wrote that and when I filled out my own poll, I was thinking of just individual players and I came up with a list that included Robert Upshaw, Sam Singer, Tra Holder, Bryce Alford and Jordan Loveridge. And then when I looked at everybody else’s ballots, I saw more big picture question marks: Oregon’s mental state, new coaches around the league, Utah playing with expectations. And I thought those were some damn good questions myself. Never one to pass up a good topic to write on that I can easily cherry-pick, I’m going to go through some of the biggest questions that my colleagues came up with and ponder their answers as much as I can.

Askia Booker, Colorado

Question Number One For The Buffaloes Is Whether Askia Booker and Company Can Follow Spencer Dinwiddie’s Example (Patrick Ghidossi, BuffaloSportsNews)

Askia Booker and Life After the Mayor

Adam Butler of Pachoops.com listed this as his biggest question mark and it is no surprise. First, Butler absolutely loves writing about Booker (seriously Adam, how many more columns do you think you can get out of ‘Ski in his remaining collegiate eligibility?). Second, if Tad Boyle can find a coherent answer at the point guard position post-Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffs are maybe the team with the best chance to challenge conference-favorite Arizona. But after Dinwiddie fell from a torn ACL last year, Colorado went 9-10 down the stretch and got run out of the NCAA Tournament in embarrassing fashion. As Butler loves to point out, Booker began to shelve his freewheeling, bad-shot hoisting, basketball-purist infuriating ways and embrace his inner point guard. Still, for the Buffaloes to live up to their ceiling, he needs to play off the ball on a regular basis and become a high-octane scorer. This means guys like sophomore Jaron Hopkins and freshman Dominique Collier will have to prove themselves worthy of earning the majority of those on-ball minutes. The facts that Hopkins struggled in his first season and that Collier is battling ankle problems do not bode well for positive answers on those fronts. In other words, the Booker point guard experiment (a role the 6’2” guard will probably have to embrace if he hopes to earn a long professional career) may continue.

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Pac-12 Season Previews: Washington State Cougars

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 6th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Washington State.

Washington State Cougars

Strengths. Washington State has two things in particular really going for it: (1) DaVonte Lacy, and (2) newness. Lacy himself isn’t new, but he is excellent, as we’ve already detailed this year. But what is new is the culture around the program. Ken Bone is both a fine man and basketball coach, but he had his chance in a place where it is ridiculously hard to succeed and he just couldn’t get it done. That’s no knock against him; many have tried there and failed before. But without a doubt, the excitement level around this program significantly waned to last year’s low point. Enter Ernie Kent. He’s had success in this conference before, and he brings with him a new energy to the program. Make no mistake, he’s got a lot of work ahead of him in convincing talent to come to Pullman, but at least the program gets a fresh start.

New Head Coach Ernie Kent Brings New Hope To The Paloose (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

New Head Coach Ernie Kent Brings New Hope To The Paloose (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

Weaknesses. Everything else. Really, aside from Lacy and sophomore wing Que Johnson, you could make a fair argument that no one else on this roster has any business playing significant minutes in the Pac-12. At the very least, nobody else has proven that worth. Everywhere else on the floor, Kent needs to find temporary solutions. Sophomore Ike Iroegbu figures to start at the point guard slot, but he’s still a work in progress and more comfortable off the ball. He has three freshmen with varying degrees of comfort ready to challenge him for that role. And then up front, wow, it is a mess. Only D.J. Shelton kept the Cougs from being completely overmatched in the paint last year, and he’s already used up his eligibility. At least one of Jordan Railey, Josh Hawkinson or JuCo transfer Aaron Cheatum is going to need to surprise.

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UCLA’s Most Important Player: Isaac Hamilton

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 5th, 2014

The offseason in Westwood could have gone better — much better. The Bruins knew they were going to be woefully thin in the backcourt, and head coach Steve Alford was never going to completely replace point-forward Kyle Anderson, the 6’9” match-up nightmare with elite point guard skills. But then UCLA received word that Colorado State transfer Jon Octeus had been denied admission, nixing the Bruins’ best-laid plans to make him the starting point guard. There’s just not much depth available here at all, and this clearly puts additional pressure on the Bruins’ starters (although senior Norman Powell should have little issue so long as he remains in good health). Off the bench, UCLA may struggle beyond Noah Allen to find any realistic contributors under the height of 6’9”.

Isaac Hamilton, the No. 25 overall prospect, cited his relationship with UTEP head coach Tim Floyd as deciding factor

Sophomore guard Isaac Hamilton, who was forced to miss all of the 2013-14 season, will be needed at both backcourt positions at UCLA.

The void creates a big opportunity for combo guard Isaac Hamilton, and there may not be a more valuable player on the roster. The 6’4” sophomore missed the entire 2013-14 season after backing out of his initial commitment with UTEP. While Hamilton lost a year in the transition, he was able to practice with his teammates and digest the system, and that is where his true value will be revealed. The year away from action did wonders for T.J. McConnell at Arizona, where the point guard ran the scout team before becoming a valuable piece last season. Hamilton’s case is different because he doesn’t have previous Division I experience under his belt, but there’s something to be said about developing team chemistry and learning the tendencies of teammates in a practice setting.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: California Golden Bears

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 4th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with California.

California Golden Bears

Strengths: Year 1 of the Cuonzo Martin era will feature some quality leftovers from Mike Montgomery’s tenure. Senior forward David Kravish is coming off his best season, while sophomore guard Jordan Mathews headlines a mostly young backcourt. In all, four of the team’s top six scorers from last season are back. Cal, picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12 media poll, has the look of a team that could get stronger going into the new year.

New California Head Coach Cuonzo Martin Has a Backcourt to Build Around But Will Be Looking For Depth and Frontcourt Help in 2014-15. (Cal Athletics)

New California Head Coach Cuonzo Martin Has a Backcourt to Build Around But Will Be Looking For Depth and Frontcourt Help in 2014-15. (Cal Athletics)

Weaknesses: The direction of the offense, however, will be worth keeping an eye on. Cal no longer has first-team all-Pac-12 point guard Justin Cobbs to lean on. Looking to fill that void will be junior Tyrone Wallace, who matched Mathews with a game-high 21 points in a 94-50 exhibition win over Cal State East Bay on Halloween. Three different players, including Wallace, had three assists. Martin will also have to find some depth as he figures out his rotation, particularly in the paint where the Bears have questions on the glass seeking to replace Richard Solomon’s 10.2 rebounds per game.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Most Interesting Team & Player

Posted by AMurawa on November 4th, 2014

What’s that smell? Hey, is it getting a little warm in here? Call the fire department, because it is time for Pac-12 Burning Questions, where we ask our Pac-12 writers for their answers to what we’re dying to know. This week:

Burning Questions: Which team are you most excited to watch this season? And which player are you most interested to see?

Adam Butler: I won’t shy away from being a homer: I’m most excited to see the Arizona Wildcats. This is Sean Miller’s crown jewel, the team he aimed to build when he first came to Tucson. Which is maybe what last year’s team was, but at this point the expectations have aligned with the realities and it’s his year. The Wildcats have coupled Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson into the most dynamic wing/backcourt/hybrid/power force in the country. I want to see that operate. The question will be asked if they can play defense as well as they did last year, and while I don’t think they can, I think they’ll be that much more offensively effective that it will negate the lapse (I use the term relatively considering Arizona was leaps and bounds the best defensive team last year). I want to see that operate.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And The Wildcats Have Hoops Fans Intrigued (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And The Wildcats Have Hoops Fans Intrigued (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

As for players, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is the guy I’m most excited to see. He’s had what seems to be a meteoric rise from sixth man to preseason All-American. Hype-be-damned, Jefferson already has demonstrated he can defend up and down a lineup. With any semblance of a jump shot, he has the skills (ones he’s already displayed) to absolutely fulfill those All-American accolades. There are a lot of pieces on that lineup, but what Jefferson will let the Wildcats do defensively, and his ability to create going at the rim, will make them the offensive threat they might have missed a season ago.

Kevin Danna: The team I’m most excited to watch this year is Utah. While I think we can all agree that this team looks primed to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance in six years, there’s a reasonable chance that the Runnin’ Utes will be 7-5 heading into conference play. They were criticized for their non-league slate last year, something that won’t happen this time around with games against San Diego State, Wichita State, Kansas, BYU and UNLV on the docket. Obviously, though, that could come back to bite them – how many of those games can Utah pull out? What happens if the Utes lose all five – what will this team’s resolve be like heading into Pac-12 play? If Utah can win three of those contests (say Wichita State, BYU and UNLV), then 10-2 looks really good and a winning conference record should be enough to get them into March Madness (depending on how the rest of the Pac-12 stacks up in November and December).

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Pac-12 M5: 11.04.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 4th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. You know, this week is the last one without college basketball until April. Life is good and the season is nearly upon us. But for Lorenzo Romar and Washington, this is something of a season at the crossroads. Once a fixture near the top of the conference standings and a program that really seemed to reload on the recruiting trail every year, now the Huskies have gone three seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance. And as is the case all over these days in the sports world, head coaches don’t get all that much rope. Even with a talented recruiting class coming in next season, Romar doesn’t have time to wait. The good news, as Mike Rutherford of SBNation.com points out, is that Romar seems excited about the under-the-radar team he’s put together in Seattle. With a pair of talented and experienced guards leading the way, if the Huskies can sneak into the Big Dance, they’ll be ahead of the game and definitely cool off the pressure mounting around the longtime head coach.
  2. Sean Miller has no such worries, although he has different pressures of his own. Still, Miller’s got it rolling so strong down in Tucson that he loses players early to the NBA and just files in a new round of elite players. For instance, as Bruce Pascoe points out, even with Arizona already over their scholarship maximum for next season by two, Miller is still out there looking for more talent. It’s like this: The scholarship max is 13, which is where the Wildcats are right now. Two seniors will graduate, but Miller has four players ready to sign later this month. So, no biggie — you figure Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are NBA-bound after this season, right? That puts the ‘Cats right back at 13 scholarships for next year. But Miller says he’s still looking for a couple more players? It doesn’t take a mindreader to figure out that Miller expects that other guys like juniors Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski could be considering forgoing their final year of eligibility also. Well, that and the fact that Miller’s probably already anticipating that there will be some players on a talented team unhappy with their playing time who might consider transferring between now and next year.
  3. Over the offseason, we all sort of figured that Colorado freshman point guard Dominique Collier would become a part of the rotation for the Buffaloes; he may not wind up starting, but he’d be in the mix. However, here we are a week and a half before the season tips off and Collier has spent the last three weeks dealing with an ankle injury that has limited his ability to get meaningful reps during practice. Collier’s frustrated; Tad Boyle is frustrated; and the calendar keeps chugging along while chances for much-needed experience go by. Given the fact that Boyle seems very concerned about turnovers, not only in practice but in a scrimmage against Denver this weekend, getting Collier up to speed could be vital for the Buffs.
  4. Another very important Pac-12 injury to keep an eye on has to do with Oregon’s JuCo transfer center Michael Chandler. Chandler is “nursing a knee,” according to Dana Altman, but the head coach is hopeful he’ll be ready to practice in a week or two. Matt Prehm of DuckTerritory.com says Chandler isn’t expected to miss any game action, but a week ago Jon Rothstein reported that Chandler hadn’t practiced, was “way behind on conditioning,” and was still learning the Ducks’ sets. With Oregon’s first game now 10 days away, put me on board with the notion of Chandler definitely missing some game action. In other words, guys like Jordan Bell, Dwayne Benjamin and Elgin Cook are going to have their work cut out for them up front.
  5. Lastly, again on something of an injury, Oregon State freshman guard Chai Baker has spent his time on a basketball court since practice began just watching. But for a guy that had a “cardiac incident” back in the middle of August that ended with an ambulance trip to the hospital and a pacemaker implanted in his chest, just being able to watch basketball from the sidelines is a good thing. Still, the 6’3” guard from Florida is hoping that a series of medical exams will get him cleared and that he’ll be back on the court again at some point soon.
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Cal’s Most Important Player: Sam Singer

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 3rd, 2014

If I was going to be writing about Cal’s best player – or most improved player; or most exciting player; or breakout player – I would in all likelihood be writing about Jabari Bird. But most important is a matter of perspective and timing. And for a program presently in transition – from head coach Mike Montgomery to Cuonzo Martin, certainly, but also away from rock-solid veteran point guard Justin Cobbs to the next guy in line. And that brings us sophomore point guard Sam Singer. It is one thing to replace a senior leader like Cobbs — a guy who played better than 80 percent of Cal’s available minutes in a highly efficient manner each of the last three seasons. It is quite another thing to do so as a guy who saw only spot-duty minutes as a freshman. It is another thing entirely to take those reins for a first-year head coach on a team with extremely limited depth. But that’s the position Singer is expected to find himself in this season. Sure, he’ll man a lineup with a guy like Tyrone Wallace – who is also a strong ball-handler and effective playmaker — but it is Singer who, in all likelihood, will be tasked with the role of Martin’s coach on the floor. If that happens, he’ll be the guy who will need to bring Martin’s style and philosophy to bear (ahem) on the basketball court.

California Needs Sam Singer To Step The Team's Point Guard Spot

California Needs Sam Singer To Step The Team’s Point Guard Spot

Singer’s numbers from last year weren’t all that impressive, but why would they be with the frosh taking a clear back seat behind Cobbs? Still, if you dig in a little closer, there is a lot to like here. Begin with the fact that over the course of the team’s four postseason games (one in the Pac-12 Tournament followed by three in the NIT), Singer totaled 10 assists against just one turnover in 43 total minutes of action. He only shot the ball six times – making two buckets – but he showed a great comfort level in leading the offense. This year he’s going to need to show a better capacity for scoring the ball when his team needs him to do so, but he’s got a reputation as a good shooter and he was a very effective scorer in his high school days. So if he can take and make some big shots when defenses overcommit on to guys like Bird and Wallace, he’s got a chance to make a big jump in importance for the Golden Bears.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: UCLA Bruins

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 3rd, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: UCLA.

UCLA Bruins

Strengths. There’s plenty of talent here, no doubt. Norman Powell, Bryce Alford and Tony Parker return as players who earned at least 40 percent of the team’s minutes last year and were all highly efficient offensive players on a high-powered offensive squad. They’ll be joined by freshmen Kevon Looney and Isaac Hamilton, both of whom are highly-regarded recruits expected to slip seamlessly into the starting lineup. Throw in guys like Wannah Bail and Noah Allen, who played bit parts efficiently last year, and another highly regarded freshman in Thomas Welsh (who may be more of a project than his classmates) and there is plenty of reason for excitement in Westwood. The Bruins once again should be a high-flying, entertaining ballclub.

Norman Powell's Athleticism On The Wing Will Be A Big Part Of UCLA's Offense (Harry How/Getty Images)

Norman Powell’s Athleticism On The Wing Will Be A Big Part Of UCLA’s Offense. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Weaknesses. Two immediately jump off the page: a lack of depth and defensive uncertainty. First, the depth thing is pretty clear. Freshman Jonah Bolden and senior transfer Jonathan Octeus were both supposed to play significant roles off the bench for the Bruins, but they ran into academic problems that will keep them out of UCLA uniforms this year (Octeus wound up at Purdue as a transfer after being denied admission). That leaves Bail, Allen and Welsh as the top three players off the bench. The Bruins could survive one well-placed and well-timed injury, but any significant health problems beyond that could lead to raw freshmen or even walk-ons playing big roles. Throw in the fact that Looney has battled injuries in early workouts already and this coiuld get scary. The second issue is on the defensive end. Powell is a fantastic defender, but just about everybody else on the roster has question marks. Alford is a terrific offensive player but he can get outquicked or overpowered by better athletes. Parker has a history of foul trouble. Hamilton and Looney are talents more known for their offensive abilities who still need to prove their defensive merits. On down the line, questions loom.

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Assessing Ken Pomeroy’s Pac-12 Ratings

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 31st, 2014

There once was a time, back in the day, when college basketball fans would eagerly anticipate the initial AP Poll as a harbinger of the coming season. Or maybe you were the kind of fan who took the Street & Smith’s magazine appearing at your local newsstand as the sign from the basketball gods that it was time to dig into the impending season. Nowadays, Street & Smith’s preseason magazines are long gone. The AP Poll may as well be. But with the rise of advanced metrics, college hoops junkies with a love for statistics can bask in the unveiling of Ken Pomeroy’s preseason ratings with the same joy that those old print-era milestones used to impart.

Steve Alford and UCLA check in much higher than expected. (AP)

Steve Alford and UCLA check in much higher than expected. (AP)

The 2015 ratings over at KenPom.com were unveiled earlier this week, and with now only two remaining weeks before action tips off, there is plenty to dig into in Pomeroy’s Pac-12 picks. Below, key takeaways:

UCLA Gets (Too Much?) Respect – The plan all along was to start at the top and work my way down the Pac-12 rankings. But immediately, the #2 Pac-12 team in Pomeroy’s rankings jumps out, as UCLA not only shows up as the clear-cut choice to challenge Arizona for conference supremacy, but also checks in at #13 nationally. This for a team that lost five big-time contributors from last season’s team, including three of those guys to the NBA Draft’s First Round? What gives? Well, first let’s let Pomeroy explain the basis, pulling out some choice relevant quotes from his blog post unveiling his rankings.

“People always want to know why a team is ranked in an unexpected spot. Think of the ratings formula as [team baseline + personnel]. The personnel portion is looking at who is returning from last season’s roster, how much the returnees played, what kind of role each returnee had, and what class they are in.”

“The system does not give any special consideration to new players entering the program. There is some credit given for high-profile recruits, but the poor performances in 2012-13 of UCLA and Kentucky, among others, in recent years have tended to mute the impact of recruits in the model.”

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