Conference Primers: #21 – Patriot

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Holy Cross (19-7) (11-3)
  2. Bucknell (19-8) (10-4)
  3. Lehigh (17-12) (8-6)
  4. American (13-16) (7-7)
  5. Colgate (12-15) (7-7)
  6. Army (12-16) (6-8)
  7. Navy (9-19) (4-10)
  8. Lafayette (6-23) (3-11)

WYN2K. The story of the Patriot League this season, like many other low-major leagues, is that the big dogs are suddenly vulnerable. Holy Cross and Bucknell have combined for six of the last seven Patriot League championships, but with a mass of graduations and injuries between the two, the gap between themselves and the rest of the league is closing. The question is whether the gap in talent returning has closed enough to where we can make a good faith argument that another team will win the Patriot this year. Sadly, we can’t.

Predicted Champion. Holy Cross (#14 seed NCAA). Ralph Willard’s team lost its entire starting backcourt of conference POY Keith Simmons and DPOY Torey Thomas, but guards at the low major level are easier to replace than bigs, and former 2005 ROY Pat Doherty should smoothly take over the reins of the Crusaders (if he can stay healthy). Six other players return from a 13-1 team, but the most intriguing is 6’11 center Tim Clifford. Schools at this level simply do not have the luxury of skilled size, yet Clifford (#42 block% nationally) has shown that he can anchor the post for one of the nation’s most efficient defenses (#5 in defEff and #1 in stl% nationally). The Crusaders have gone 44-1 over the last three seasons in the Patriot League against ABB (anyone but Bucknell), so there is also a psychological advantage here that shouldn’t be understated.

Others Considered. As much as we really enjoy watching Bucknell play in the NCAAs, we fear that their personnel losses are simply too much to justify picking the Bison to win the league this year. Bucknell was already losing three main cogs from its 2005/2006 NCAA squads (Chris McNaughton, Donald Brown & Abe Badmus) before it got news that incumbent forward Darren Mastropaolo tore his ACL over the summer and will likely miss this season as well (all three inside players from the nations #1 offReb% team are now gone). That leaves guard John Griffin as the team’s sole returning starter with a group of talented reserves ready to step up. While we expect Bucknell to take a bit of a step back this year, we really don’t see another team in the Patriot ready to vault into the Bison’s position as a member of the Big Two. If we have to choose one, Lehigh is probably the most viable candidate. The Mountain Hawks return several starters from a 7-7 squad, but their coach Billy Taylor jumped to Ball St. in the wake of the Ronny Thompson fiasco. One knock against this team is that, in a league filled with three-point shooters, Lehigh defends against the three like a sieve (in other words, teams shot 39.2% from three against them last year – #318 nationally). Another team we considered is Colgate, who returns most of its minutes except for leading scorer Jon Simon, but they have a tendency to underachieve (20 wins in two years) and we don’t expect that to change substantially this season.

Games to Watch. Bucknell and Holy Cross are must-watches for this league. They will probably meet three times again this season.

  • Bucknell @ Holy Cross (01.19.08) & Holy Cross @ Bucknell (02.16.08)
  • Patriot League Championship Game (03.14.08) ESPN2

RPI Booster Games. This is the first league we’ve analyzed this year that pulled a complete oh-fer against BCS opponents last season (0-23). Bucknell came closest to pulling out wins, losing in OT to both Wake Forest and Penn St. (the Bison did beat Xavier 68-67). Nevertheless, this is probably a simple anomaly because this league is good enough to get a few wins against BCS teams most years. Out of only fifteen scheduled this year, here are the best opportunities.

  • Army @ Minnesota (11.10.07)
  • Bucknell @ Villanova (11.18.07)
  • Seton Hall @ Navy (11.23.07)
  • Bucknell @ Wake Forest (12.16.07)
  • Colgate @ Syracuse (12.18.07)
  • Lehigh @ Penn St. (12.31.07)
  • Holy Cross @ Maryland (01.08.08)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. None this year, but if Bucknell and Holy Cross continue to grow their programs, there could be a foreseeable future where both of these teams would have good enough overall resumes to get an NCAA bid.

Neat-o Stat. Just how dominant have Bucknell and Holy Cross been in this league over the past three years? Try 80-4 on for size, with a perfect 28-0 record in 2007 against the other six conference members. Is it any wonder that the other six coaches are cautiously optimistic about their chances this season? Of course, in order to have a chance to win this league, the bottomfeeder group of Army, Colgate, Navy and Lafayette are going to have to do better than finishing in the bottom fifty teams nationally in offensive efficiency (cf. with Bucknell – 140th; Holy Cross – 189th).

64/65-Team Era. The Patriot actually has one of the worst conference histories of this era (2-16, .111), ranking only ahead of the SWAC (.043) and the Northeast (.042) conferences in terms of NCAA Tourney success (and tied with the OVC and Big South). Part of this is due to its seeding, which has averaged #14.9 over the years. Still, in the last five years with the ascendance of Bucknell and Holy Cross, the league has earned an average seed of #13.2, which, not coincidentally, is the period of the most success of the league. The two wins were both orchestrated by Bucknell in magnificent upsets, the 2005 victory over #3 Kansas 64-63 still resonating in the nation’s heartland (in the form of… joking… joking… these are simple jokes we tell…). Enjoy.

Final Thought. As we’ve gone through the low majors we’ve been a little surprised by just how many dominant programs have risen to the top of these leagues. It’s gotten to the point in several conferences where if you don’t see a particular name such as Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Penn/Princeton (Ivy), Winthrop (Big South), Davidson (Southern), or Holy Cross/Bucknell, etc., then something went seriously wrong. By pure coincidence, Holy Cross and Bucknell are the two Patriot League schools that spent the most money on its hoops programs in 2006 (h/t to Mid-Majority).

Share this story

NCAA Tournament Success in the 65 (64) Team Era by Conference

Posted by rtmsf on July 7th, 2007

Hope everyone had a great 4th of July holiday… although we gotta say this midweek holiday thing kinda sucks. Give us the three-day (or four!) day weekend instead.

Anyway, we’re now ready to unveil the conference follow-up to our June analysis of the Top NCAA Performers of the 65 (64) Team Era. Once again, we’re going to take several different views of the world here. Today we’ll just look at the raw statistics and make some obvious insightful observations. In the next post, we’ll take a look at how conferences have performed versus its seeds during this era, and whether we can draw any broad conclusions from the data about overachieving and underachieving conferences.


What Kind of Conference is This?

A couple of notes before rolling out the data. First, with only one notable exception, we counted a team’s performance in a given year toward the totals of its conference at the time. For example, Louisville’s 1986 national title counts toward the Metro Conference totals (the Metro disbanded in 1995), not the Big East totals. The notable exception is that all Big 8 totals were subsumed into the new Big 12 conference, since every member of the Big 8 ultimately became Big 12 members. See Table A below.

Table A. NCAA Tournament Success by Conference (1985-2007)

Notes: this table is sorted by winning percentage. The conferences whose names are in red are conferences that no longer exist.

NCAA Tournament Conferences v.5

BCS Conferences. This won’t surprise anyone, but we wanted to show the numbers in context. The following represents the percentage of each category achieved by the six BCS conferences from 1985-2007.

  • 46.4% of all NCAA Appearances
  • 60.9% Winning Percentage
  • 72.5% of all Wins
  • 76.6% of all Sweet 16s
  • 87.0% of all Final 4s
  • 90.2% of all #1 Seeds
  • 91.3% of all Titles

If you’re writing a paper on the correlation between resources, exposure, talent and success in NCAA basketball, the above numbers should be included in your first paragraph. It matters.

Best in Show

Best in Show?

Best in Show. Over this 23-year period, there can be no question that the ACC has been the strongest performer in the NCAA Tournament. This conference leads in every objective category except for appearances, which actually makes their hard numbers with respect to S16s, F4s and Titles look even more impressive. The most shocking finding for us regarding the ACC’s success was that more than half (52.5%) of its participants during this era won at least two games (i.e., made the Sweet 16). This is phenomenal, especially considering that the next-best major conference is the Big East at 42.6%. Of course, when you’re winning greater than two-thirds of your games as a conference, then it shouldn’t be that surprising.

Next Best. From our view, the next tier of conferences include the Big East, SEC and Big Ten – you can pretty much throw them all in a pot and pick any of the three as second behind the ACC. The Big East leads in S16s and winning percentage; the SEC leads in titles and mostly has middle-of-the-pack numbers otherwise; and the Big Ten leads in appearances and F4s. We rate the Big 12 slightly below this group because there seems to be a drop in most categories from the above three, most notably in winning percentage and titles (ouch – only one). But the Pac-10 clearly performs worst over this era, earning the fewest bids, having the worst winning percentage and owning by far the least wins, S16s and F4s.

Mid-Majors. From the numbers, we only recognize four true mid-major conferences during this period – the Metro/Great Midwest/CUSA and WAC/Mountain West hybrids, the Atlantic 10 and the Missouri Valley. What’s interesting is that only the Metro/GM/CUSA teams have a winning record during this period, while of course all of the BCS conferences easily have winning records. This shows once again just how large of a disparity there is between the three levels of college basketball. Remember when during the mid-90s, the A10 was supposedly overtaking the Big East in talent and performance? – the lesson here is to not believe the hype. Within that group, Metro/GM/CUSA has had the most success, led by Louisville, Cincinnati and Memphis. Now that two of those three are in the Big East, we don’t expect CUSA’s success to continue. We were also a little surprised at how low both The Valley and the Mountain West performed here – they have poor winning percentages and the Mountain West in particular has only put two teams (of 18 bids) into the Sweet Sixteen since its inception in 2000 – pathetic for an annual multi-bid league.


Tark Has This Effect on Everyone

UNLV and Gonzaga Effect. The Big West and West Coast Conference exhibit how one very successful school can make a league look better than it actually is. By the numbers, the Big West looks like a mid-major league, but when broken down further, you quickly realize that the Rebels account for 21 of the conference’s 28 wins over this period. Excluding UNLV, the Big West is only 7-23 (.233) in the NCAA Tournament, which would put it on par with the Sun Belt and the Mid-Continent. The same is true with the WCC – when Gonzaga is excluded, the league is 7-21 (.250) during this period.


Stay Away from the NEC if you Want to Win in the NCAA Tournament

Low Majors. Picking a best conference among the low majors is a little like picking the prettiest ugly girl in the bar (not that we know anything about that, mind you), but if we have to choose, we’ll take the Southland Conference (note: we consider the conferences on the list above between the Great Midwest and the Sun Belt mid-majors, although the Sun Belt’s one S16 appearance with 32 bids is strong evidence that we might be giving that league too much credit). We choose the Southland because it’s one of only two of these conferences to put a team into the Sweet 16 (Karl Malone’s Louisiana Tech in 1985), and it has a better winning percentage than the others. We realize, of course, that all of these low majors are virtually equal in their NCAA ineptitude – only the Ohio Valley and the MAAC have ever received at-large bids (1987 – Middle Tennessee St.; 1995 – Manhattan) – but that’s our pick here. Our vote for the worst conference in D1 is a tie – the SWAC and the Northeast Conference. Each has the unenviable distinction of only winning one game in the NCAA Tournament during this period. Of course, maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way, and instead we should be celebrating the fact that every single conference has managed to win a game in the Dance during this period.

Final Thoughts. Can anyone catch the ACC? The Big East has a chance to tally significant gains if it continues to put eight teams into the NCAAs, as it did in 2006. But numbers alone probably isn’t enough – after all, the Big 10 has put the most teams in the Tournament since 1985. Rather, the ACC gives the obvious recipe for success by having two dominant programs that over the long haul consistently go deep into the NCAA Tournament (Duke and Carolina). Looking ahead, the Big East has an aging Calhoun at UConn and Boeheim at Syracuse so we’re not sure about its prospects. The Big 10 has Thad Matta the Recruiting Machine at OSU, but Michigan St. has regressed in recent years, and who else can rise up (Weber at Illinois? Beilein at Michigan? Tubby at Minnesota?). We’ll keep looking. The Pac-10 has an obvious supernova developing in Westwood at UCLA, but where else? Arizona will be in what kind of shape after Lute retires? Our choice for the conference to challenge the ACC in the next decade is the SEC. Billy Donovan at Florida has already proved his mettle; and with Billy Gillispie at Kentucky and Bruce Pearl at Tennessee challenging anyone to outwork them, it almost makes up for the coaching lightweights over in the SEC West (you know who we’re talking about). The youthful exuberance of these coaches at several programs willing to put forth the resources for success may give the SEC the best shot at catching the ACC, but the truth will ultimately lie in what happens to Duke after Coach K retires. If Duke manages to keep its dominance intact with their next coach, then it won’t much matter what happens with the other conferences – they’re not going to catch the ACC.

Coming Next: a look at how conferences overachieve and/or underachieve relative to their seeds over the years. Should be interesting stuff. Check back early next week.

Share this story