Untrustworthy: Caveat Emptor on These 10 Teams

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on March 14th, 2018

Preseason rankings — they are, in most sports, completely irrelevant when the postseason rolls around. But not in college basketball. When projecting Final Four teams, as we have covered in this space before, the preseason AP Poll is just as predictive as the current AP poll. The rationale for this is that preseason rankings account for things that the mathematical models struggle with (for example, coaching changes, big recruiting classes, injuries and suspensions, etc.), making them a surprisingly accurate projection system. So what about the handful of teams each year that are excluded from these rankings but go on to do great things in the regular season? Is it safe to assume that if you can’t crack the preseason Top 25, you won’t cut down any nets in March?

Can Virginia Break the Trend? (USA Today Images)

To answer this question, I looked at historical NCAA Tournament teams that were unranked in the preseason but were ranked in the final regular season poll (this one) to examine whether they came crashing down to earth when it mattered most. My findings indicate that these teams have in fact underperformed as a group in the NCAA Tournament. Since 2007, 106 teams fit the criteria. Just 37 of that group (35%) exceeded their seeds’ average win expectation (based on average wins for each seed since 2002), and the group as a whole won just 120 games. That mark is 30 below an expected aggregate total of 150 victories, a statistically significant difference at the five percent level. Furthermore, just one of 51 top-four seeds ultimately made the Final Four (Kemba Walker’s 2011 Connecticut squad), although they have collectively produced 11 Elite Eight appearances with Florida‘s run last year being the most recent example. The conclusion here is that, although a handful of teams in this group may turn out to exceed expectations, it is likely as a whole to underperform.

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Ten Questions to Consider: A Weekend of Important Match-ups

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 9th, 2018

As the second weekend of February approaches, it also means the days until March are getting fewer. Here are 10 things I am looking at around college basketball this weekend.

Purdue Looks to Regroup After a Heartbreaking Loss to Ohio State (USA Today Images)

  1. Can Michigan State make it two losses in a row for Purdue? Michigan State and Purdue are the only two teams in America with offensive and defensive efficiency rankings among the top 20. While Sparty owns the best two-point defense in college basketball, they will be tested by Purdue’s elite three-point shooting (42.7%, first nationally). Michigan State has already allowed six Big Ten opponents to shoot 40 percent or better from distance this season.
  2. Can Creighton stay perfect at home against Xavier? Creighton is 13-0 at the CenturyLink Center this season with double-figure home wins against both Butler and Seton Hall. In the Bluejays’ loss to Xavier earlier this year, Creighton logged its season-high turnover percentage and suffered a season-low of just two points from Khyri Thomas.
  3. Will the three-point line be the difference again in North Carolina vs. N.C. State? In the recent overtime thriller between North Carolina and North Carolina State, the Tar Heels shot 4-of-19 on their three-point attempts while the Wolfpack nailed 15-of-30. The 33-point resulting difference was enough for the Wolfpack to overcome their inability to slow North Carolina from scorching shooting inside the arc (64% 2FG). Read the rest of this entry »
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Examining the SEC Bubble: Volume I

Posted by David Changas on February 8th, 2018

With just over a month remaining in college basketball’s regular season, the SEC is collectively better positioned for postseason play than it has been in a very long time. But as of today, only two teams – Auburn and Tennessee – should feel completely comfortable about making the upcoming Field of 68. On the other end of the spectrum, barring any unforeseeable late-season surges, we feel safe in saying that four SEC teams – Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and LSU – will miss out on this year’s Big Dance. That leaves eight teams in the messy middle, so let’s take our first look at the otherwise crowded bubble and offer some predictions on the fortunes of those squads.

Kassius Robertson has been a huge part of Missouri’s turnaround. (Kansas City Star)

  • Kentucky. Despite the considerable angst in Lexington about these Wildcats — now 6-5 in SEC play with trips to Texas A&M and Auburn upcoming — they appear to be safe, for now. They have 10 top-100 RPI wins without any bad losses, and there will be several more opportunities for quality wins down the stretch. Chances of making the field: 90%.
  • Florida. The up-and-down Gators are a surprise on this list, and not in a good way. At 15-8 overall, they’ve now lost three in a row in SEC play and face a very difficult closing stretch. While they currently have seven top-50 RPI wins, four Tier-2 losses mean Mike White’s team needs to take advantage of its chances over the last two weeks. Chances of making the field: 85%.
  • Texas A&M. After what was the best performance of any SEC team in non-conference play, it is hard to understand how the Aggies have landed on this list. An 0-5 start in conference play will certainly do that, however, and even though they have won five of their last six SEC games and hold five Tier-1 wins, the Aggies have more work ahead. Chances of making the field: 80%.

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Recapping the Good and Bad from the Big 12/SEC Challenge

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2018

Despite being underdogs in seven of the 10 games of the Big 12/SEC Challenge last weekend, the SEC pulled off its first overall win (6-4) in the fourth year of the battle between power conferences. It was yet another boost to a league that has undergone a revival of sorts this season. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad for the SEC from Saturday’s action.

The Good

John Calipari paid homage to Bob Huggins with his attire, then saw his team pull off a big upset against the Mountaineer coach (John Clay/Lexington Herald-Leader).

  • Kentucky’s Upset of West Virginia. How improbable was it that the previously struggling Wildcats would come back from a 17-point second half deficit in Morgantown on Saturday night? According to KenPom’s win probability metric, the Mountaineers had a 97.8 percent chance of emerging victorious with 17 minutes left in the game. And yet, Kentucky stormed back and notched the impressive victory. While an inspiring road win doesn’t fix all of the Wildcats’ ongoing woes, it will serve as a clear resume-enhancer for a club desperately in need of one and should boost the team’s confidence as it heads into February.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Play Heats Up

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 6th, 2018

As we turn the corner into 2018 and settle into conference play, let’s examine 10 questions heading into a busy weekend.

Texas Tech Looks to Build Off Its Huge Upset Win in Allen Fieldhouse (USA Today Images)

  1. Big 12, Part 1: Will Kansas leave Forth Worth with one or two conference losses? While Kansas was picked once again to win the Big 12 in the conference’s preseason poll, the Jayhawks are in serious danger of losing two of their first three conference games. Earlier this season, head coach Bill Self noted that “this is the softest team that Kansas has had since I’ve been here. Things have not improved since those remarks as Kansas currently owns the second worst defensive efficiency in the Big 12 and ranks last in opponents’ rebounding rate through two games.
  2. Big 12, Part 2: Who will stay undefeated at the top? While Trae Young shines every night out for the Sooners, Oklahoma has also received consistent contributions from his sidekicks Kameron McGusty, Christian James and Brady Manek. West Virginia will represent the Sooners’ second opponent this season with a defensive efficiency within the top 50. The Mountaineers will get an offensive boost with the return of Esa Ahmad, who was second on the team in scoring last year.
  3. Big 12, Part 3: Should Texas Tech be concerned with Kansas State? After beating Kansas in Lawrence earlier this week, Texas Tech is riding high with a 2-0 record in Big 12 play. With games to come next week at Oklahoma and versus West Virginia, it would be easy to overlook a Kansas State team that lacks a true marquee win. But the Wildcats have four double-figure scorers and are a year removed from having already beaten Texas Tech. Beating Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse was a program-defining win, but it will lose some of its luster if Texas Tech fails to show up against Kansas State.
  4. How will Notre Dame look without Bonzie Colson? While Notre Dame did not miss a beat without the services of an injured Bonzie Colson against NC State, the Irish must now deal with a tricky road game against the Syracuse 2-3 zone. ESPN.com‘s Jeff Borzello reported earlier this week that Colson — who accounts for approximately a quarter of Notre Dame’s points and rebounds this season — is likely to miss eight weeks with a foot fracture. TJ Gibbs stepped up with 22 points in the Irish’s first game without Colson, his fifth time with at least 20 points this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Questions to Consider: Christmas Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 22nd, 2017

Other than the eight teams participating in the Diamond Head Classic, there will be a three-day break from action beginning on Sunday. Here are 10 things to watch while binging to basketball and Christmas carols on Friday and Saturday.

Texas Is a Tough Team to Figure Out (USA Today Images)

  1. How concerned should Texas be with its offense? Texas currently ranks among the bottom 20 nationally in both three-point and free-throw percentage, is 141st in adjusted offensive efficiency, and only one Big 12 team since the 2006-07 season has finished conference play with both a winning record and offense outside the top 100 (2014 Kansas State).
  2. Will the third time be the charm for Northern Iowa? Northern Iowa and Xavier met twice in a span of six days last season with the Musketeers handily winning both games. Xavier held Northern Iowa to 32.7 percent shooting on two-point attempts while forcing the Panthers’ third- and fourth-worst turnover rates last season. The one thing going for Northern Iowa? Xavier has only played one true road game so far this season (a win at Wisconsin).
  3. What will Trae Young do next? Oklahoma’s Trae Young is coming off of a 26-point, 22-assist game against Northwestern State earlier this week. The sensational freshman guard currently leads the country in both points and assists per game, and no player has finished among the top 10 nationally in both categories dating back to the 2001-02 season. Only five players have finished among the top ten in scoring and top 20 in assists over that same time period. What’s next?
  4. Has Marshall’s Dan D’Antoni found his Steve Nash? Under Dan D’Antoni, Marshall has consistently been one of the fastest-paced teams in college basketball. The high-octane offense is led by Jon Elmore. Elmore, like Oklahoma’s Young, currently ranks among the top 10 nationally in both points and assists per game. Elmore’s 23.5 PPG could see an uptick as well, as he is currently shooting a lousy 25.7 percent from three-point range — nearly 10 percent lower than his first two years at Marshall. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Weekend Preview: December 22-23

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 22nd, 2017

As you get set for the holidays, don’t miss a few must-watch ACC games before Santa comes down the chimney. (All ratings are via KenPom and statistics are through the games of December 21)

Friday, December 22

Syracuse Needs Quality Wins (USA Today Images)

  • St. Bonaventure (#60) at Syracuse (#52). This is an important game as Syracuse works to put together its NCAA Tournament resume. Normally non-conference wins over former rivals Georgetown and Connecticut would sparkle, but the Hoyas and Huskies are both down this year. Currently all Syracuse has to its credit is a win over Maryland. The Bonnies feature a wonderful backcourt of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, but, as usual, Syracuse should have a significant advantage up front. Freshman power forward Oshae Brissett has put together a three-game stretch where he has averaged 23.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.
  • Miami (#14) at Hawaii (#211). The Hurricanes are off to the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii this weekend, where they’ll play three games on a Friday/Saturday/Monday schedule. The original hope with this trip five time zones away was to gain a few more chances at quality wins to counterbalance a light non-conference schedule. Instead, Miami will get a true road game against a sub-200 team (Hawaii), followed by a match-up with either Davidson (#83) or New Mexico State (#92). A potential match-up with USC in Christmas Day’s title game has also lost its luster given the Trojans’ recent struggles. Scheduling woes aside, we continue to be impressed by the play of Hurricanes’ sophomore center Dewan Huell. The big man has started to figure it out, putting up a 123.3 Offensive Rating and 28.5 PER to this point in the season. His game is by no means a finished product (an 11.3% defensive rebounding rate and a 15.1% turnover rate are issues), but he has at least become the big man that Jim Larranaga desperately needed coming into this season.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Mid-December Blues

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 16th, 2017

With temperatures dropping across the country, nothing beats staying in and watching college basketball all weekend long. Here are 10 things to watch this weekend.

Butler (USA Today Images)

  1. Which Paul Jorgensen shows up for Butler? In Butler’s two losses this season, Paul Jorgensen scored a total of two points on 1-of-9 shooting. In Butler’s eight wins, Jorgensen scored 10 or more points seven times. If Butler expects to beat Purdue at the Crossroads Classic today, they will need Jorgensen to contribute offensively.
  2. Will Wichita State grab another win against a Big 12 opponent? Wichita State has already gone on the road and beaten Baylor and Oklahoma State in “Big 12 action”; this weekend the Shockers will get Oklahoma at home. Wichita State will be up against the nation’s leading scorer, Trae Young, who has scored 28 or more points in each of his last six games.
  3. Is Georgetown ANY good? Jokes about Georgetown’s dead-last non-conference schedule have been flying around all season long. Saturday’s game against Syracuse is the first Georgetown opponent to have a KenPom rating in the top 200 and only the second in the top 300. Good luck, Hoyas. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Weekend Preview: December 16-17

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 15th, 2017

There wasn’t much ACC action this week but the weekend promises a double-header in the Sunshine State, an ancient Big East rivalry renewed, and a pair of huge road tests (all ratings are via KenPom and statistics are through the games of December 14).

Saturday, December 16

Syracuse and Georgetown Pick Up Their Ancient Rivalry This Weekend (USA Today Images)

  • Syracuse (#56) at Georgetown (#95). An old Big East rivalry will be renewed as Georgetown has now finished the MEAC portion of its schedule. This is the toughest test of the season to date for the Hoyas, as their 8-0 start has come against a schedule that ranks dead last nationally. Syracuse star Tyus Battle has scored 20 or more points in three straight games, as the sophomore appears to have taken the leap that many expected — his PER (15.2 to 23.6) and Offensive Rating (116.4 to 123.1) have both significantly improved from last season.
  • Virginia Tech (#28) at Kentucky (#14). In what feels like a major statement game for Buzz Williams, the Hokies will travel to Lexington to take on a young and mostly untested Kentucky team. This Virginia Tech squad plays a very similar style to Kansas, which beat the Wildcats at the Champions Classic earlier this season. The Jayhawks won that game despite shooting just 8-of-28 from distance. The Hokies (96.2 PPG), on the other hand, are the highest scoring team in college basketball and rely heavily on three-point shooting (46.8% 3FG, second nationally) while mostly playing away from the basket. If Virginia Tech wishes to pull the upset at Rupp Arena tomorrow, it will need to convert double-figure three-pointers while shooting a high percentage.

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Keep Hope Alive: The Importance of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 27th, 2017

The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee on Tuesday announced that it would provide an in-season preview of the bracket’s top 16 seeds. SEC fans outside of Lexington should not get overly excited. Kentucky will most certainly hear its name called during the first-ever event, but it is unlikely any other SEC team will. In fact, Selection Sunday — wherein, of course, 68 names are called — may not be all that much better. The snark targeted at SEC basketball is at an all-time high with Sports Illustrated predicting no more than three conference teams in the Big Dance (doubling down on that prediction again with Seth Davis’ column), the bracketology at CBS showing Kentucky little respect as a #3 seed, and even the most kind bracketologist projecting a maximum of four SEC teams partaking in March Madness. National confidence in the league is painfully low, and perhaps that makes sense considering the resurgence that has been predicted for years has not come with the requisite corresponding postseason success (aside from one program).

Could Mike Anderson hear Arkansas’ name called on Selection Sunday?

The consensus among bracketologists is that three SEC teams are safely into the field as of today – Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida. While there is some debate about how deserving Kentucky is of a #1 seed, there is no scenario that slots the Wildcats any lower than the #3 seed line. A win on Saturday against Kansas would only strengthen Kentucky’s case for a top seed. South Carolina ranks #17 in the RPI and holds wins over Michigan, Syracuse and Florida. The Gators could really use a signature win beyond those three, but they have an RPI of #11 and are the nation’s 13th-best team, according to KenPom. Beyond the top three, the question becomes which SEC teams, if any, have a reasonable chance of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Correspondingly, how important are Saturday’s match-ups in the Big 12/SEC Challenge in order to keep their hopes alive?

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