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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Texas Sneaks Into USA Today Poll; Kansas State Nowhere to be Found

Posted by dnspewak on October 17th, 2012

The preseason USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ poll released today slotted Kansas and Baylor at #7 and #18, respectively, unsurprising selections for the presumable top two contenders this season in the Big 12 Conference. We’ve got no argument there. The discussion begins with the final team in the Top 25: Texas. The Longhorns are the third and final Big 12 squad in the rankings, sneaking into the polls in a tie with Florida State’s 61 votes. For as much criticism as Rick Barnes takes for not elevating his program to another level — criticism we’ve actually worked hard to debunk at RTC’s Big 12 microsite time and time again — there’s no doubting his track record, and there’s no doubting an eligible Myck Kabongo could justify a spot in the Top 25. There’s a danger with ranking this Texas team, however. Kabongo’s a stud, sure, but this team is remaking itself after the loss of J’Covan Brown. It will rely almost exclusively on freshmen and sophomores, and it will bank on a big performance from freshman Cameron Ridely, the four-star center who will change the way the Longhorns play in the frontcourt. You’ve also got to remember that this was not a terrific Texas team a year ago, even though you need to credit Barnes for finding a way to qualify for the NCAA Tournament amidst a lot of youth and inconsistent play from Kabongo.

It’s Not a Travesty Texas Made The Top-25, But Where’s Kansas State

This is a good Texas squad. It defends, it has more size than a year ago and it has one of the nation’s fastest and most talented point guards in Kabongo. But we’d actually be more inclined to use that final top 25 spot on Kansas State, which received just 13 votes in today’s poll. That’s somewhat surprising, considering this team actually finished a game above Texas in 2011-12, advanced further in the NCAA Tournament and brings back its stud leading scorer in Rodney McGruder. Bruce Weber’s rocky finish at Illinois is cause for concern, but he’s a proven coach to an extent and seems like a solid replacement for Frank Martin in Manhattan. This team has a significant edge in experience over Texas and it is probably one of the league’s top defensive squads. There’s no Kabongo on this roster, but Will Spradling, Angel Rodriguez and a handful of other guards in this deep backcourt are more than capable. Plus, Jordan Henriquez might be the most underrated defensive center in the nation. “On paper” — and, remember, that term means essentially nothing in sports — Kansas State looks like a better bet in the top 25.

We’re arguing about polls here, though. They are meaningless — interesting, but meaningless. So while Kansas State may seem like a better choice right now, by the time December rolls around, that might not be the case. Another team could emerge, too: No other team besides Kansas, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State or Oklahoma State received votes in this poll. There’s no Iowa State or West Virginia, both of which qualified for the NCAAs a year ago, but that could easily change depending on what happens this winter. The rankings are fluid, and we’ll surely have another debate when the Associated Press releases its preseason poll in the next couple of weeks. Can’t wait!

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Syracuse At #1 — Get Used to It, the Orange is Likely to be There a While…

Posted by rtmsf on December 19th, 2011

Matt Poindexter is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Syracuse win at NC State Saturday night.

“We’re talking about a team that could be playing on Monday night in April.”

North Carolina State head coach Mark Gottfried had just watched the top-ranked Syracuse Orange run away from his Wolfpack, winning 88-72 in Raleigh. The Orange, though, only looked like a national title contender for about twenty minutes on Saturday. Halfway through the first half, NC State — a team in the bottom half of the ACC that will struggle to make the NCAA Tournament — led by seven. By halftime, the Orange were up by fourteen, and at one point had peeled off a blistering 23-0 run in the RBC Center. The second half was a similar affair: a 17-3 Wolfpack blast in the first five minutes, and NC State within a possession with eight minutes to play. But when Gottfried’s best weapon, CJ Leslie, went to the locker room with cramps, Jim Boeheim’s deep bench overwhelmed the Wolfpack’s less-talented substitutes. The Orange won the game to keep its top ranking, but did so in an oddly uneven manner.

Syracuse's Schedule Shapes Up Very Nicely For Boeheim This Season

During Syracuse’s 23-0 run, Basketball Prospectus author John Gasaway tweeted, “If you yelled at me for saying Syracuse will be No. 1 for a while please turn on ESPN2.” When polls came out last Monday with the Orange on top, the feeling that Syracuse was first only by default was prevalent, especially given that Ohio State’s loss at Kansas came without the aid of its superstar big man, Jared Sullinger. More illuminating than a ten-minute stretch against an NIT-caliber team, though, is a look at Syracuse’s upcoming schedule. The Orange have eleven home games and nine road games left before the Big East Tournament starts, and there is a reasonable chance the Orange can make it to Madison Square Garden in March with a goose egg in the loss column.

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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume XII

Posted by jbaumgartner on February 22nd, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor. In this weekly piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball. This week, Jesse is diggin’ the balance at the tops of the rankings, offers up some serious rule changes, wants respect for USU, and says UNC needs to tidy things up a bit.

The Five things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…..Derrick Williams’ unbelievable block with 0.2 seconds left to save Arizona’s memorable win on Saturday. Yes, it was close to goaltending (I thought he just barely got it), but what an incredible I’m-an-All-American-and-we’re-not-going-to-lose-this-stinking-game kind of play. I mean the guy got up 12 feet, and did it by coming out of nowhere. We won’t see many bigger plays this year. Time to pay attention to Tucson, America.

I LOVED……the UA-Washington game for its larger impact. Of all the big conferences, the Pac-10 gets the least attention thanks in large part to their glaring lack of an ESPN contract. Not many people catch the FSN West channels (or the late start times), so when the league is also struggling a bit with quality, things can hit rock-bottom. Well, the Pac-10 had its chance on Saturday with a prime-time game between its two best teams – and they delivered. An up-and-down game with a thrilling finish was just the medicine the league needed. Maybe now they’ll think about, you know, pursuing a better contract with the Worldwide Leader.

A Close Call Ends a Close Game, But the Pac-10 Won (AZ Daily Star/M. Popat)

I LOVED……Tom Izzo going Good Samaritan and helping a stranded motorist out of the snow. Perhaps it’s sad that this is a story, since any decent person should be stopping. But let’s be honest, I’ve driven by people before – we all have. Especially after a bad day of work, and Izzo has now had about 80 of those in a row.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 10.22.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 22nd, 2010

  1. Thursday was a big day in the recruiting world, as three top prospects in the Class of 2011 made their commitments public with the result that two Big 12 schools not named Kansas and Texas will also be bringing elite talent onto their campuses.  The #4 player in that class according to Rivals, LeBryan Nash, committed to Oklahoma State, while the #5 player, Quincy Miller, and his teammate and #43 player, Deuce Bello, committed to Baylor.  Nash and Miller are program-changing forwards, while Bello is a ridiculously athletic shooting guard.  As an aside, Scott Drew is absolutely getting it done on the recruiting trail — Miller represents the third top ten player to commit to the Bears in the last two years (Perry Jones arrives this year; seven-footer Isaiah Austin will arrive in 2012), and he’s beating out the likes of grizzled veteran recruiters such as Rick Pitino for these kids.  When you also consider that Baylor had to rekindle an entire program from the ashes of the Dave Bliss debacle merely seven years ago, seeing this kind of talent commit to play ball in Waco is nothing short of extraordinary.
  2. The preseason USA Today/Coaches poll came out on Thursday, and as expected, Duke was at the top with 29 of the 31 first-place votes.  Michigan State was second and received the other two first-place votes.  Kansas State, Pittsburgh and Ohio State rounded out the top five.  For a little historical perspective, last year’s Final Four teams were ranked #2 (Michigan State), #8 (Duke), #9 (West Virginia) and #10 (Butler) in the preseason.
  3. Could the summer evaluation/recruiting period become a thing of the past?  According to a report released Thursday, the Conference Commissioners Association voted last month to recommend abolition of the summer period.  The NCAA’s Board of Directors will make the final decision on this, but many coaches are already harping on the proposal as a disaster in the making.  In an email sent to coaches from NABC president Tom Izzo, he noted that it will become much more difficult and costly to evaluate prospects individually rather than in the summer camp group setting, and that the cancerous influence of agents, runners and other hangers-on during the summer will only become more powerful without the coaches and NCAA around to lend an air of propriety.
  4. Scary news from the DC area that former Georgetown star guard Charles Smith was shot twice in the chest on Thursday and was taken to the hospital in critical condition.  Smith was the Big East POY in 1989 and played on the 1988 bronze-medal US Olympic team, the last US international basketball team comprised solely of collegians.  The suspect who shot Smith is still at large, but we certainly hope that Smith comes through this ok and his assailant is brought to justice.
  5. The Atlantic 10 media made their predictions yesterday in NYC, with Temple receiving the burden of expectations to win the conference while Xavier, Richmond and Dayton fell in line behind the Owls.  The preseason all-A10 first team consists of Lavoy Allen (Temple), Kevin Anderson (Richmond), Andrew Nicholson (St. Bonaventure), Damian Saunders (Duquesne) and Chris Wright (Dayton).
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Morning Five: 01.29.10

Posted by rtmsf on January 29th, 2010

  1. Today’s completely unsubstantiated rumor is that Kansas will be busing students the 85 miles over to Manhattan, Kansas, for ESPN Gameday on Saturday morning (as K-State tries to set a new record for Gameday attendance).  If there’s any truth whatsoever to this, we fear a little for the lives of those young Jayhawks.
  2. Did Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins “cold-cock” a South Carolina student as they were RTCing after the Gamecocks’ big win over Kentucky the other night?  Video evidence is inconclusive, but at least one radio broadcaster and a student say they witnessed it.  For whatever that’s worth.
  3. Gary Parrish reminds us that in the volatile world of college basketball polling, we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the polls around this time of year because they offer a window into the teams that will be left standing in early April.  This is an accurate point to a certain extent, but it’s more fun to take the reverse view and think about which teams in the Top Ten will flame out early in March (best guesses: WVU, Duke, Michigan State).
  4. You may have heard a little about this upcoming Harvard-Cornell game on Saturday night, but did you think an Ivy League battle would ever escalate to a Twitter cage match between the New York Times’ Pete Thamel and’s Pablo Torres?  Apparently Thamel tweeted Torres out for his soft handling of Harvard’s program in his recent piece on Wooden Award candidate Jeremy Lin, and Torres responded by accusing Thamel of similar kid-glove treatment on one of his pieces about Syracuse’s Wes Johnson.  Must be the full moon….
  5. Finally, UNC-Wilmington fired their head coach last night Benny Moss, with a record of 41-74 in four years at the school, was coming off a 39-point pasting at the hands of Hofstra on Wednesday night, and his teams were making a habit of regularly getting run out of the gym.  Moss is the fifth head coach to lose his job during the season this year, further validating a troubling trend (even at the mid-major level) of ADs impatiently cutting their losses in the middle of the season.
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RTC Back to School: 2008-2009 Preview

Posted by nvr1983 on November 10th, 2008


For those of your who haven’t been spending as much time on Rush the Court the past few months as you should (looking at myself in the mirror), we thought we would offer you a quick guide to what we have been working on over the past few months.

General Overview: Some top quality writing/prognosticating to get you in the spirit for the run from today until the early morning hours of April 7th, 2009.
Finally, It’s Here: New RTC feature columnist John Stevens offers his thoughts about the upcoming season.
A Little Preseason Bracketology: RTC co-editor (Do we even have titles?) rtmsf does his best Joe Lunardi impression and makes a surprising pick for his national champion. I’m smelling an attempt to make the RTC preseason bracketology championship the new Madden cover.
Vegas Odds – Preseason Check-In: For the degenerate gamblers out there, RTC co-founder rtmsf offers an analysis of the Las Vegas odds for the 2009 NCAA champions for pure academic purposes. . .
Preseason Polls Released: The surprisingly employed (I’m running out of titles here) rtmsf analyzes the AP and Coaches polls going into the season with a deeper look at unanimous #1 UNC’s early schedule.
ESPN Full Court: 562 Games of Gooey, Delicious Goodness*: Once again, rtmsf comes through with the entire ESPN Full Court schedule with a Steve Nash-style assist from Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball.

Big Early Season News: While there are several big stories going into this season, there were 2 major stories that have come out recently that you should know about before you start watching games.
Tyler Hansbrough Out Indefinitely: Who? Oh yeah, that guy. Everybody’s favorite for national POY and NBA Draft Day snub (get ready for the annual Dick Vitale rant) Psycho T will be out for a while, but we think the Tar Heels will be ok by March.
Jai Lucas Leaving Florida: In a story that isn’t getting nearly the attention that the Psycho T story has (for good reason), Billy Donovan has lost last season’s starting point guard on the eve of the new season. While it appears that Lucas was probably heading towards a role as a backup point guard on the Gators, the timing of this announcement is surprising. It will be interesting to see what the Gators will do if freshman guard Erving Walker struggles in adjusting to SEC basketball.

Conference Primers: As part of our attempt to make a new-and-improved RTC, we hired the finest journalists in America to make our site more all-inclusive of the little people in the college basketball landscape. To that end we put together 31 conference previews (31 automatic bids to the Big Dance means 31 previews from RTC) with the help of the aforementioned correspondents.
America East
Atlantic 10
Atlantic Sun
Big 12
Big East
Big Sky
Big South
Big Ten
Big West
Conference USA
Ivy League
Missouri Valley
Mountain West
Ohio Valley Conference
Patriot League
Sun Belt
West Coast Conference

As the season progresses, we will have more features and content including updates from all 31 conferences. We hope all of you are looking forward to the new season as much as we are and even if your team looks like it will struggle to make it to the NIT, remember the words of Kevin Garnett, who incidentally didn’t play a minute of college basketball (that’s another post), “Anything is possible!”

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