Projecting Five Breakout Players

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on November 17th, 2016

Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks, Josh Hart, Josh Jackson. Everyone already knows the studs of the game, the Preseason All-Americans, the incoming superstars. But by the end of the season, there are going to be several more names for you to know as a number of players will force themselves into national relevance. Using Sports Illustrated writer Luke Winn’s annual breakout players column as a starting point, here is an incomplete list of who five of those players might be.

  • Kelan Martin, SF, Junior, Butler — With Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham no longer enrolled at Butler, this is now Martin’s team. Last year the 6’7″, 220-lb wing displayed an improved outside shot and enough quickness to get to the rim, registering eye-popping totals like a 35-point outburst against Georgetown. Martin also rebounds well for his position, registering five double-doubles in Big East play last year. He is now the undisputed first option for head coach Chris Holtmann, and stands to see his usage and scoring increase accordingly. Winn, as a matter of fact, projects Martin to lead the Big East in points per game this year. Butler hasn’t had a player with Martin’s all-around dynamism since Gordon Hayward from 2008-10, and he is reason alone to tune into the Bulldogs’ games this year.
It is now Kelan Martin's show at Butler. (USA TODAY Sports)

It is now Kelan Martin’s show at Butler. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Jawun Evans, PG, Sophomore, Oklahoma State — Evans missed the final 10 games of Big 12 play last year with a shoulder injury, but before he was hurt the freshman showed why he was underrated as the 33rd-ranked prospect in his class. His season high of 42 points against Oklahoma was the pinnacle, but Evans consistently scored throughout his 22-game season, hitting for double figures 15 times. He was far from one-dimensional, though, as his 41.9 percent assist rate was good for fourth nationally and he managed 4.4 rebounds per game despite his diminutive stature. All of this makes the sophomore a prime candidate to explode in his sophomore campaign (spoiler alert: it’s already started) and perhaps prove to be the most complete player in the Big 12 by the end of the year.

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On the Predictive Power of Top 10 Rankings…

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on November 8th, 2016

The college basketball season is right around the corner, but all we have to amuse ourselves until tip-off this Friday night are the myriad published projections and preseason polls. I am a big fan of preseason polls, and have written extensively in the past about both their predictive power and their biases. This year I decided to focus on the preseason and postseason top 10s (note that only the USA Today/Coaches Poll publishes its final poll after the NCAA Tournament has completed). I was curious if there was any continuity between the two and the corresponding likelihood of a team finishing in the postseason top 10 given their inclusion in the preseason top 10.

Duke is Back in the Top 10, But the Blue Devils Didn't Finish There Last Season. Does it Matter? (USA Today Images)

Duke is Back in the Top 10, But the Blue Devils Didn’t Finish There Last Season. Does it Matter? (USA Today Images)

First, a quick note about each poll. A natural first instinct is to dismiss the preseason Top 25 as little more than idle speculation, but it has proven over time to be a useful predictive tool. In a sport with relatively little year-to-year continuity, the projections of the preseason polls are useful proxies for the objective talent of a team, which is notoriously difficult to quantify. The postseason poll (i.e., the poll taken after the conclusion of NCAA Tournament) is functionally irrelevant in college basketball, but it is a good metric of holistic season success. The Tournament exerts its weighty influence on the judgment of those teams, but it seems harsh to factor the entire perception of teams on a few games in March. The postseason Top 25 represents a season-long assessment. For example, Michigan State, a strong #2 seed that many pundits and fans alike projected into the Final Four, shockingly lost to #15 seed Middle Tennessee State in the First Round. The Spartans were therefore ranked seventh in the postseason poll, which ultimately felt about right.

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It’s Election Day: Why So Quiet in College Basketball?

Posted by Kenny Ocker on November 8th, 2016

Kenny Ocker is a longtime correspondent for Rush The Court based in the Pacific Northwest. This is his first (and hopefully last) foray into political journalism for the Independent Voice of College Basketball. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyOcker.

For many of the 5,000-plus college basketball players, today is the first presidential election in which they get to vote. Sure, there are some people with redshirt years or missions, the occasional foreign player and the odd senior who is just old enough to have voted while in high school. But for everybody else, congratulations! Your first vote is like picking between Duke and North Carolina in a National Championship game. Sure, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have some fervent fans, but many people are slogging through this election wondering why anyone else – anyone! – couldn’t have won.

Bob Knight Has Been a Vocal Supporter of Donald Trump Throughout This Election Season

Bob Knight Has Been a Vocal Supporter of Donald Trump Throughout This Election Season

Even if none of the candidates makes you want to Rush the Court (synergy!), college basketball has been in the election news more than any other election since Princeton legend Bill Bradley‘s ill-fated quest for the 2000 Democratic nomination. All three legendary coaches from Indiana schools – Indiana’s Bob Knight, Notre Dame’s Digger Phelps and Purdue’s Gene Keady – lent their support to Trump on the stump, with the perpetually outspoken Knight taking on a significant role in the Midwest. Knight made headlines a few times, including his spectacular trolling of Michigan fans last week when he reminded the Wolverines’ faithful that he was 4-0 against them as a player in the early 1960s at Ohio StateIn the department of “people who have actually been on a sideline after the Bush administration,” a couple of coaches have made this year’s election a team activity. Towson head coach Pat Skerry made all of his players register to vote and file absentee ballots for their home states. North Carolina Central head coach LeVelle Moton bragged two weeks ago on Twitter that his whole team voted early.

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On Improving the NCAA Tourney: Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2016

In June the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) empaneled an ad hoc committee whose stated purpose was to provide the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Selection Committee the perspective of men’s basketball coaches and their teams regarding selection, seeding and bracketing for the NCAA Tournament. With that in mind, we decided to give some specific recommendations of our own that would enhance an already great event. Let’s first focus on some improvements for the selection and seeding process.

John Calipari is one of the members of the recently created NABC ad hoc committee formed to make recommendations to the NCAA Selection Committee. (Kevin Jairaj / USA TODAY Sports)

John Calipari is one of the members of the recently created NABC ad hoc committee formed to make recommendations to the NCAA Selection Committee. (Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports)

Bye Bye, RPI

Whenever the subject arises of improving the ratings system that the Selection Committee uses, there is one recurring response: either dump the RPI, or, at a minimum, dramatically limit its influence. The good news is that we may finally be headed in that direction. About a month after the NABC formed its committee and began communicating with the NCAA, the following statement was made as part of an update regarding the current NCAA Selection Committee: Read the rest of this entry »

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Preseason Unranked to Ranked: These Teams Underperform in the NCAAs

Posted by William Ezekowitz on March 16th, 2016

Preseason rankings. Irrelevant in professional sports, but weirdly important in college basketball. I have shown in the past that rankings released before a single game has been played overvalue previous year’s NCAA Tournament success, so they clearly aren’t perfect. The odd wrinkle is that they also are just as predictive as pre-tournament rankings in determining who will make the Final Four. Given that the First Round starts tomorrow, I decided to look more closely into just how important preseason rankings are by looking at whether teams that outperform their preseason expectations regress in the NCAA Tournament. To do this, I reviewed all of the teams since 2007 that were unranked in the preseason and were ranked in the polls just before the NCAA Tournament (i.e., teams that performed better than expected during the regular season). In order to gauge how a team should do in the Big Dance, I borrowed Neil Payne’s win expectation chart by seed listed in this very interesting article. I then tested whether the teams that fit my definition for outperforming expectations did better or worse relative to win expectations than the rest of the field.

Ron Morris Was Certainly On To Something

Kemba Walker and UConn were one of the few programs to buck statistical trends. (Getty)

Here are the results.

# of Teams Expected Wins Actual Wins
Over-Performers 90 125.7 98
Everyone else 344 425 461

 

The tested group of over-performers did in fact do worse in the NCAA Tournament than everyone else, and the difference is statistically significant. It should also be noted that an examination of the converse group — preseason ranked teams finishing the regular season unranked — produced no difference between win expectation by seed and actual wins. For some frame of reference, there are seven teams this year that have gone from unranked in the preseason to ranked now. That group is listed below. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Road to an NCAA Bid For Select Bubble Teams

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 8th, 2016

As the mid-major conference tournaments excite and entertain college basketball fans everywhere this week, teams on the bubble correspondingly shake in fear as coveted NCAA Tournament spots are snagged by pesky bid thieves. Northern Iowa (MVC), Iona (MAAC) and Green Bay (Horizon) have already collected conference tournament victories that are likely to impact the bubble equation. Power conference teams residing on the bubble still have some control over their destiny, as they are inevitably presented with multiple opportunities to bolster their resumes without having to win an entire tournament. A single victory over a fellow bubble team or an upset of a highly-ranked conference foe can provide the boost needed to rest a lot easier on Selection Sunday. Chances will vary for each of the following bubble teams, but here a few teams in need of victories this week along with a path with which to do so.

USC

Jordan McLaughlin And USC Have The Tournament In Sight...But May Need One Or Two More Wins To Get There (Photo: AP)

Jordan McLaughlin And USC Have the NCAA Tournament In Sight… But May Need One Or Two More Wins To Get There (Photo: AP)

Its Path: Beat UCLA and Utah

On January 13, USC was 15-3 with wins over Arizona and UCLA in Pac-12 play along with non-conference wins over Monmouth, Wichita State and Yale. The wheels have since fallen off the Trojans, as Andy Enfield’s squad lost eight of its final 13 games to plant itself firmly on the bubble. The rigors of conference play hit his squad harder than expected, knocking the Trojans right to the edge of the NCAA Tournament. USC begins this week’s Pac-12 Tournament with its bid-clinching work clearly laid out ahead of it. Wins over UCLA (which they swept this season) in the first round and Utah (RPI #8) in the quarterfinals would safely launch the Trojans into the field.

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The Mid-Major Disadvantage: The Power of the Power Conferences

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 25th, 2016

For the first time in recent memory, Gonzaga is in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament. Throughout a season in which the Zags began in the top 10, they have experienced a variety of miscues (home losses) and misfortunes (Przemek Karnowski’s injury) that have resulted in a spot squarely on the bubble. Their ups and downs this year will lead the upcoming HBO documentary following Mark Few’s team around this month to look less like Ballers and more like Game of Thrones (For those without a friend’s HBO Go password, find some new friends.)

Kyle Wiltjer's Team Has Not Had the Season It Expected. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Kyle Wiltjer’s Team Has Not Had the Season It Expected. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

In eight games against the KenPom top 60, Gonzaga has gone 1-7 with four of those losses coming at The Kennel. Conversely, the Bulldogs are a perfect 20-0 in the rest of their games. In determining their status on the bubble, the Zags are in a difficult spot because of a combination of zero signature wins without any corresponding bad losses. Gonzaga’s national brand name makes it unique in how it can schedule, but most other mid-major programs don’t get the chance to notch resume-building wins nearly as often as their power conference peers. Michigan, one of the Zags’ primary competitors on the bubble, will play 13 games against the top 60 this season, including six opportunities at home (five games against Big Ten teams). A different mid-major on the bubble cannot use multiple opportunities late in the season to enhance its resume — it can only avoid bad losses.

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You’re Not Mistaken: Conference Races Are Tighter This Season

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on February 19th, 2016

We are quickly approaching March and that means the regular season is almost over. Usually by this point in the season there are a few teams running away with the crowns in the power conferences, but it hasn’t quite gone that way this year. Analysts have described the level of parity this year in college basketball as unprecedented, but we decided to look into it ourselves. Exactly how close are the conference races this season as opposed to in previous years? Here’s a look at the last six years of the power conference races three weeks from the end of the regular season.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 11.20.38 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 11.20.34 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 11.20.28 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 11.20.23 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 11.20.17 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 11.20.09 AM

A quick glance at each league reveals that the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and especially the SEC are having some of the most contested conference races in recent memory. Interestingly, for every conference other than the Big East, the current first place team (e.g., Kansas at 10-3 in the Big 12) has as many or more losses than any first place team the past five years has had on this date. That also means that second and third place teams across the board have a better chance of winning their leagues than they usually would.

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The Cats In the Back: Villanova’s Increased Depth Fuels Their Success

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 11th, 2016

Villanova is #1 in the AP Poll for the first time in school history. At no point in the successful tenure of Jay Wright or even back to the Rollie Massimino era have the Wildcats reached this kind of regular season heights. But Nova Nation shouldn’t be celebrating just yet. Since its magical run to the national championship in 1985, Villanova has spent time among the top 10 of the AP Poll in nine different seasons but only advanced as far as the Elite Eight twice in that span. In this year of nationwide parity, every fan base worries that it will be their team that will be an early upset victim in March, but that’s a feeling already well-engrained among Villanova faithful.

Josh Hart And Villanova Have It Rolling In Philadelphia (Photo: Getty)

Josh Hart And Villanova Have It Rolling In Philadelphia (Photo: Getty)

Even as the Wildcats have steadily climbed the rankings this season, fans had reasons to be wary. This is, after all, a team with an eight-man rotation that prominently features two freshmen and a sophomore. It is also a team that scores more than a third of its points from beyond the three-point arc, but ranks among the 100 worst three-point shooting teams in the country by percentage (32.9%). Cold shooting nights – the fear of any jump-shooting squad — have proven to be Villanova’s kryptonite, as it has shot a paltry 22-of-80 (27.5%) from long range in their three losses this season. When the cornerstone of its frontcourt, Daniel Ochefu, missed several games with a concussion, it seemed like Jay Wright’s team might have yet another issue to contend with.

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Overrated/Underrated Teams: February Edition

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on February 3rd, 2016

As we enter February and March looms large, the identities of teams begin to crystallize both on the floor and in our minds. Sure, things can always change, but with over 20 games for most teams already in the books, it’s safe to say we know who these teams are. But those assumptions aren’t always right. Due to scheduling oddities, injuries or just plain poor judgment, the conventional wisdom on certain teams isn’t necessarily correct. So here is a rundown of several teams that are likely to be exposed as either underrated or overrated as we enter the stretch run of the regular season.

Overrated

Dunn's Rise Has Been Meteoric (USA TODAY Sports)

Kris Dunn’s rise has been meteoric, but has his team followed? (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Providence (18-5), ranked #11 — The AP Poll will tell you that the Friars are #11 in the country. Joe Lunardi will tell you they’re a #4 seed. But we’re here to tell you they aren’t that great (ed. note: this was written before last night’s loss at DePaul). For a team led by the great Kris Dunn, Providence is a shockingly bad offensive team, with an offensive efficiency that ranks just 118th nationally. Moreover, of its six Big East wins, five have been by four points or fewer or came in overtime. That probably means that Dunn is clutch and the Friars know how to win close games, but it also means that they’re keeping games closer than a borderline top 10 team should. This is reflected in the Friars’ low KenPom ranking of #47 (it was #39 prior to the DePaul game). Besides, as talented as this team is, Ed Cooley has never lacked for talent. What he has lacked is success. Don’t be surprised if that trend continues down the stretch.
  • Pittsburgh (17-4), unranked — Three weeks ago, the Panthers were 14-1, ranked #20 in the national polls and had the nation’s fourth most efficient offense. Six games later, that offense has fallen to 19th in efficiency and the Panthers are simultaneously falling off the map. Aside from an 18-point loss at Louisville, Pitt has yet to play any of the ACC elites, and should count itself extremely lucky to be 6-3 including close wins against Georgia Tech and Florida State. However, the good teams are coming. The Panthers will play Virginia, North Carolina, Miami, Duke and Louisville in February. Their current best win is one of games at home to Syracuse or at Notre Dame, but more wins are going to be hard to find down the stretch. The Panthers could see themselves on the bubble very soon.

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