Preseason Rankings May Reveal Final Four Destiny

Posted by William Ezekowitz on February 12th, 2016

With March right around the corner, teams that rank highly in the Top 25 are daring to dream of a magical run to the Final Four in Houston. Because the NCAA Tournament is so matchup-based, it makes sense that most observers can’t realistically pick their favorites until Selection Sunday. But what if there were data that allowed us to eliminate a few upstarts before we even saw the brackets? Well, there are ways to do that. One oddity of college basketball is how important and even predictive the preseason rankings are. Nate Silver uses them as one of the tools in his formula for picking winners, a fact that should nearly legitimize them by itself. But the argument behind it makes sense: Preseason rankings are a good way of measuring the overall roster talent of a team (because what else are we going to rank teams on before we see them play?), so teams that were ranked in the preseason Top 25 should generally be accepted as talented teams. But how predictive are they when it comes to the Final Four?

Using data stretching back to the 2003 Final Four, we looked at the average Preseason and Pre-Tournament rankings of every Final Four team. For the purposes of getting an actual number for an average, we changed “not ranked” to “35,” which was somewhat arbitrary but seemed about right given that several teams just missed out in the “also receiving votes” category, while others came totally out of nowhere (Note: if we had used a higher number, the averages and standard deviations would have both been slightly higher, but not much would have otherwise changed). Here are the results:

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Shockingly, preseason rankings appear to be just as predictive of which teams will make the Final Four as pre-Tournament rankings. This makes us wonder why we even bother with that pesky regular season! But are preseason rankings truly destiny? Iowa, Xavier, Oregon and West Virginia all figure to be in and around the top 10 for the rest of the season, but none of that group were in the Top 25 when the season started. Could teams like these make the Final Four? The short answer, according to historical trends, is probably not. Since 2002, only four teams have ever made the Final Four after being unranked in the preseason but ranked after the regular season (this distinction is important, as it eliminates such Cinderellas like George Mason and VCU), and only one team has done it since 2006. In fact, since the 2012 NCAA Tournament, there have been just seven teams to achieve the rare feat of being unranked in the preseason but in the top 10 at Tournament time — interestingly, none of those teams has made it past the Sweet Sixteen.

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Three Thoughts From Kansas vs. West Virginia

Posted by Chris Stone on February 10th, 2016

Entering February, it looked like KansasBig 12 title streak was in serious danger, as the Jayhawks brought three double-figure road conference losses into the season’s shortest month. Now, with a few fortuitous bounces — i.e., Kansas State’s upset of Oklahoma over the weekend — and last night’s home win over West Virginia, Kansas is, along with the Sooners and the Mountaineers, part of a three-way tie atop the Big 12 standings at 8-3. One of those teams will suffer its fourth loss on Saturday in Norman when Oklahoma welcomes Kansas in the rematch of early January’s triple-overtime classic. Before that, though, let’s consider a few thoughts from the game last night that deadlocked those three teams into the top spot.

Landen Lucas delivered in Kansas' 75-65 win over West Virginia. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Landen Lucas delivered in Kansas’ 75-65 win over West Virginia. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

  1. Kansas could use that Landen Lucas more often. Without freshman Cheick Diallo living up to his considerable preseason hype, head coach Bill Self has struggled to find production out of the center position. He has started four different players there this season, but Lucas’ Tuesday night performance (nine points, 16 rebounds, four blocks) will likely solidify his role in the starting lineup. Matched up against all-Big 12 candidate Devin Williams, Lucas delivered the best performance of his career. Although it is both unfair and unlikely to expect the junior to post similar numbers again, Self only needs a modicum of production going forward from his center spot. Lucas showed last night that he can deliver. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Power Rankings: West Virginia Is Finally Here Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 5th, 2016

West Virginia is a basketball team. A very solid basketball team, in fact. A team whose hallmark is to press the life out of opponents. A team that scores easy baskets off turnovers. A team that makes its fans cringe when it clangs jump shots off odd parts of the backboard. The Mountaineers started 4-0 in Big 12 play playing the good ol’ West Virginia way before losing back-to-back games at Oklahoma and at home to Texas. In the four games since those defeats, it appears that we’re seeing a different West Virginia team. Not only have the Mountaineers gone 3-1 in that span, but their three-point shooting has improved (35 percent in their last four games; 31 percent for the year) as well as their free-throw percentage (73.4 percent in their last four games; 66 percent for the year). Tuesday night’s win at Iowa State marked the first time a team other than Baylor or Kansas has defeated Iowa State in Ames since the start of the 2012-13 season. Bob Huggins‘ team now finds itself in a first-place tie with Oklahoma with nine games still to play. The Mountaineers are very good and they can no longer be ignored.

Bob Huggins has won 711 games as a Division I coach. I feel like we don't say that enough. (Associated Press)

Bob Huggins has won 711 games as a Division I coach. We don’t say that enough. (AP)

  1. Oklahoma — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “With most of the focus understandably on Buddy Hield’s National Player of the Year campaign, the evolution of junior guard Jordan Woodard — arguably the most improved player in the country this season — hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Having shed his responsibilities as the primary ball-handler, Woodard’s turnover rate has declined eight percent while maintaining his assist rate. It’s also opened up his own offensive game. Woodard is shooting 51 percent from deep and has already made 51 threes, more than he made in his first two seasons combined. Every good superhero needs a sidekick, and Woodard is filling that role nicely.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  2. West Virginia — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: Jonathan Holton‘s loss was Devin Williams‘ gain, at least in Monday’s win at Hilton Coliseum. Williams has been terrific all season long, but the absence of Holton — the Mountaineers’ second-leading rebounder behind Williams — due to a violation of team rules indirectly led to Williams pulling down a career-high 18 rebounds in the big win in Ames. – Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 02.05.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 5th, 2016

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  1. Oddly, just one Big 12 matchup on tomorrow’s five-game slate will pit top-half teams against one another, but it should be an entertaining one as first-place West Virginia plays host to Baylor, an outfit among the league’s three second-place teams. The main area to keep an eye on in this game will be the battle on the glass, especially on the Mountaineers’ end. West Virginia sports the Big 12’s top offensive rebounding percentage in league play (grabbing 38.6 percent of its misses), while Rico Gathers leads a Baylor back line that leads the conference in defensive rebounding percentage (holding opponents to one shot 73.1 percent of the time). Mountaineers forward Jonathan Holton will miss his third game due to suspension, so Devin Williams will likely have to follow up his strong outing against Iowa State with another one on Saturday.
  2. Jawun Evans’ excellent debut season for Oklahoma State was paused Wednesday night when the freshman suffered a shoulder injury during the first half of the Cowboys’ game against Texas Tech. Evans sat the rest of the night out, and as Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman writes, the Pokes can ill afford any kind of extended absence from their current and future floor general. Evans’ backup, sophomore Tyree Griffin, doesn’t look ready to take on full-time point guard duties, but if Evans’ injury turns out to be serious, he’ll have no choice but to try to adjust.
  3. Texas‘ emergence has been one of the league’s hottest topics this week, but they’ve mostly been getting it done against a relatively shaky set of Big 12 foesJeff Haley of Burnt Orange Nation examines the road ahead as tomorrow starts a key stretch where the Longhorns will face some of the best competition the Big 12 has to offer. Put simply, we’re going to learn a lot about the Longhorns very soon. Tomorrow’s opponent, Texas Tech, is a team that’s already beaten them once, and next week comprises road tilts in Norman and Ames. Your move, Shaka.
  4. Kansas State coach Bruce Weber had a tough time bottling up his frustration with the officiating crew during his team’s loss to Kansas Wednesday night. The Wildcats were whistled for 14 fouls in the first half, and there were a handful of calls just before halftime that contributed to the Jayhawks building a 10-point halftime lead. While a few calls could have easily gone Kansas State’s way, that was unlikely to happen with the young Wildcats playing on the road in a crazed Allen Fieldhouse.
  5. Big 12 administrators are currently meeting in Dallas to consider a number of potential moves. Most prominently included in the proposals are expansion and reinstating a conference championship game in football, but an interesting (if comparatively minor) item on the docket is the idea of launching a third-tier sports network akin to those utilized by the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC. While it would obviously need to be financially viable in order for the league to move forward, we wouldn’t object to any development that would make it easier to catch all the Big 12 hoops action out there.
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RTC Top 25: Week 11 Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on February 1st, 2016

College basketball is one of those sports where no development should really surprise anyone. Things can change on a dime and unexpected occurrences are the norm. For example, the way in which the conference season has played out for #25 Duke has been a shock to the system. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad dropped to 4-4  in ACC play last Monday when it was toppled by #16 Miami (FL) on the road. A road loss to the Hurricanes is nothing to worry about on its own, but grouped with losses to Clemson, Notre Dame and Syracuse, it is part of a more troubling trend. Things have a chance of improving this week, as Duke figures to be the favorite in a trip to Georgia Tech on Tuesday and at home with NC State on Saturday. On the contrary, a loss in either of those games would put Duke dangerously close to the bubble. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

RTC25 02.01.16

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Big 12 Q&A: Previewing The SEC/Big 12 Challenge

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2016

The SEC and Big 12 regular season races are taking shape, but the leagues take a break on Saturday for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. This year’s format has all 10 games on the same day and gives the SEC a rare mid-season chance to measure itself against arguably the best conference in the country. It’s also a penny from heaven for teams like LSU and Vanderbilt that are desperate for marquee wins, if they can take advantage. The Big 12 microsite’s Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) was nice enough to catch us up on the Big 12 and preview a few of Saturday’s match ups.

Kentucky will face something familiar in Lawrence: a team that has struggled to find consistent front court production (Photo: KUSports.com).

Kentucky will face something familiar in Lawrence: a team that has struggled to find consistent frontcourt production (Photo: KUSports.com).

It’s almost February and Kansas hasn’t locked up the regular season title. What gives? Is the Jayhawks’ streak actually at risk? 

CS: Very much so. Kansas is now 5-3 in Big 12 play despite having played only the seventh toughest league schedule so far. Bill Self and company still have to travel to Baylor, Oklahoma, and Texas before the season is up. Recent numbers from KenPom suggest the Jayhawks now have only a 10 percent chance of winning at least a share of a 12th straight regular season title. Honestly, that sounds about right.

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Big 12 M5: 01.25.16 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 25th, 2016

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  1. Kansas is struggling a bit right now. I don’t think that’s a large statement to make. Traveling to traditionally noisy road environments (West Virginia, Oklahoma State) only to come away with losses isn’t the biggest deal but when an undermanned-yet-solid Texas team had a real chance of pulling the upset at home, there might be something more to this recent rough patch. Accordingly, Bill Self tinkered with his lineup and rotation on Saturday after tinkering with it Tuesday against the Cowboys. Still, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they dropped another road contest to a really good Iowa State team later tonight but I’d like to think Kansas fans would sound the alarms if they laid another egg.
  2. Speaking of the Cyclones, Iowa State will host Kansas tonight in a match-up that has become the Big 12’s premier tussle over the past four years. As a line of tents wrap around Hilton ColiseumSteve Prohm has finally been able to build trust and encouragement with his veteran-laden team. It’s more intimidating than it is easy when you think about it. A situation where the players are good, have a years-long way of doing things and then all of a sudden, a new guy is hired from the outside. The players weren’t likely to revolt or be outright disrespectful to Prohm but there did remain a possibility that, while they knew he was successful at his previous stop, Cyclone players could have ran things they way were accustomed to for years under Fred Hoiberg. At last, the coach and his players are mentally one. The implications of this fact now radiate throughout the Big 12.
  3. My main complaint, well the nation’s main complaint, with West Virginia is that they shoot the ball like a 30-second shot isn’t sufficient for their kind of offense. And then a game like Saturday’s comes along. The Mountaineers were already shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from the perimeter and still trailed Texas Tech by four with under a minute to go. Then, the (TarikPhillip-ing occurred. The junior guard owned the last minute of play when he nailed a three-pointer, converted an old-fashioned three point play, made a dunk and tacked on two of his final three steals on the day. Most bench players don’t get that much activity playing 20 minutes and Phillip did all that — and still finished with 20 points. Because of his effort, West Virginia maintained their four-way tie for first place in the Big 12.
  4. Texas Tech was feisty in their home loss to West Virginia despite learning that sophomore big man Norense Odiase broke his fourth metatarsal bone in his right foot following Tech’s win over TCU and will be in a cast for the next three weeks according to Tubby Smith. Odiase had been growing as a more consistent low-post threat while also adding a jump shot to his arsenal. He was averaging 9 points and 4.4 rebounds in just 19.5 minutes per game. With Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State as Tech’s three of their next five games, a presence like Odiase’s will be sorely missed in games that will determine their worthiness of an at-large berth.
  5. As Oklahoma‘s dream season rolls on, the athletics department announced late last week one of its faces of the program is coming home. On March 1, Blake Griffin will ride into Norman, as the Sooners take on Baylor, where his No. 23 jersey will be retired. March 1 will almost assuredly be even more emotional as the jersey ceremony coincides with Senior Night where Sooner fans will say goodbye to Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Ryan Spangler and the rest of the senior class. I have a strange feeling the Lloyd Noble Center will be filled to capacity that night.
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The RTC Podcast: There’s Still Time Edition

Posted by BHayes on January 22nd, 2016

Welcome back to another edition of the RTC Podcast, hosted each week by Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114). In this week’s show, the guys talk about many still-evolving teams’ best friend: time. With more than six weeks left before Selection Sunday and elite teams difficult to find, we dig in to which teams are building towards March success and, on the other side of things, those squads who need to right the ship quickly. The full rundown is below, and make sure to subscribe to the pod on iTunes so that you’ll have it as soon as it releases each week.

 

  • 0:00-10:54 – Big 12 Madness
  •  10:54-16:37 – ACC Concerns
  •  16:37-22:28 – Michigan  State losing streak/Big Ten Talk
  •  22:28-29:02 – Lack of Great Teams
  •  29:02-38:25 – Weekend Preview
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Big 12 M5: 01.20.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2016

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  1. It’s tough enough to win on the road, but it’s even tougher when the home team makes 52.4 percent of its three-pointers. Kansas learned this fact in its 86-67 loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater Tuesday night, but this was more than just a fluky shooting performance from the Pokes. Oklahoma State outscored Kansas in the paint 22-12 and outrebounded them 38-31, marking the upset as a true team effort. Freshman Jawun Evans continued his quest for conference Freshman Of The Year Honors, turning in his third straight solid performance with 22 points, six rebounds and eight assists to lead the Cowboys. The highly-touted recruit on the other side, Cheick Diallo, made his first career start, but was part of the largely ineffective Jayhawk back line. The victory marked the Cowboys’ third consecutive home win over Bill Self’s team, whose struggles continue to leave the door open for a team like Oklahoma or West Virginia to end their Big 12 title streak.
  2. To that point, the 4-1 Mountaineers will look to avoid falling back into a tie with Kansas and Oklahoma tonight when they host Texas. As successful as West Virginia has been with its pressure defense, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s more familiar with that style of play than Longhorn coach Shaka Smart. We all know about Smart’s success with VCU, but on top of that, he actually consulted West Virginia during last season’s NCAA Tournament when the Mountaineers prepped for their Round of 32 tilt against Maryland (which they won 69-59). West Virginia is favored by a comfortable 12 points tonight, but Texas’ stingy offense, which currently sports the Big 12’s lowest turnover percentage in league play, could make this one closer than Vegas thinks.
  3. Don’t look now, but the roller coaster that is Baylor basketball is on the rise entering tonight’s home game against Kansas State. While the Bears aren’t typically mentioned among the squads with a shot at ending Kansas’ regular season conference title streak (nor should they be, necessarily), they’re tied with West Virginia for first place thanks to some excellent recent shooting and its great rebounding, which has been consistent all season. Meanwhile, Bruce Weber‘s team is still looking for dependability on the offensive end, especially when it comes to shooting. They’ll carry a frosty 47.3 percent team eFG% into the Ferrell Center tonight.
  4. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish spent some time learning how Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm has managed during Prohm’s up-and-down debut season in Ames. The progression of Iowa State’s campaign to this point has been a little wilder than most expected. Prohm faced some tough criticism after the team’s 1-3 start to conference play, but wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma have put him and the team back on track. While Prohm knew the fierce expectations of the job going in, he’s learning firsthand that following a local icon with a team built to win now is no easy task when it comes to pleasing a die-hard fanbase.
  5. CJ Moore of Bleacher Report took an in-depth look at the rise in the number of one-and-done players entering the NBA Draft and wonders if the 2016 Draft (along with other factors, including but not limited to the NCAA’s recent extension of the declaration window) could turn the tide back towards more players returning to school. While age is still a key factor in the minds of evaluators, at least one pro scout told Moore that there’s still some good value in being able to project a player with four years of college experience under his belt (like Buddy Hield), as opposed to raw freshmen who may have higher upsides but also bring with them a wider swath of possible outcomes.
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Big 12 M5: 01.18.16 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 18th, 2016

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  1. After two straight losses in which Iowa State gave up more than 90 points, the Cyclones picked up a 76-63 road win over Kansas State on Saturday. The lower point total was the product of both the Wildcats’ slower pace of play and a change in Steve Prohm‘s philosophy. After a slow start to conference play, Prohm explained that the Cyclones need to manage games in a way that limits the time they spend on defense. His theory is that Iowa State is so good on offense that the Cyclones would be better off spending a bit more of the game with the ball in their hands. The key, though, will still be for Iowa State to slow down opposing offenses. The Cyclones currently rank 114th in adjusted defensive efficiency–a stat which accounts for the quality of opponent and pace of play–and will be put to the test when Oklahoma comes to Ames tonight.
  2. Speaking of the Sooners, their 70-68 victory over West Virginia reopened the Big 12 race as four teams now sit at 4-1 in the conference. More importantly, though, the win may be a boon for the confidence of sophomore Khadeem Lattin. After missing the front end of a one-and-one that would have given Oklahoma a victory in Allen Fieldhouse two weeks ago, Lattin scored the game-winning bucket against the Mountaineers on a tip-in. “It was like a redemption,” Lattin told the media.
  3. Meanwhile at Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas bounced back from their loss in Morgantown on Tuesday with a 70-63 win over TCU. The Jayhawks’ two freshman big men, Carlton Bragg and Cheick Diallo, both got extended looks against the Horned Frogs. Bragg scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds in 16 minutes, but it was Diallo’s performance that turned heads. After being featured only sparingly so far this year, Diallo played a season-high 21 minutes against TCU. His nine points, nine rebounds, and five blocks gave fans a taste of what Diallo can offer Kansas going forward. The improvement of the Jayhawks’ two freshman will be a critical component come March and it’s the reason Kansas is viewed as the title contender with the most upside going forward.
  4. Baylor‘s Lester Medford continues to come up big in key moments for the Bears. The senior point guard delivered a huge second half in Baylor’s win over Vanderbilt earlier this season, and on Saturday, he knocked down the game-winning three-pointer against Texas Tech. While most of the focus has been on Kansas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, the Bears victory quietly pushed them into a four-way tie for first in the Big 12.
  5. Our final note comes from the recruiting world. Last week, four-star center Udoka Azubuike declared his intention to announce his college choice at the Hoop Hall Classic this weekend. Azubuike, who is choosing between Florida State, Kansas, and North Carolina, appeared to be leaning towards the ‘Noles, but by Sunday rumors were swirling that Florida State was out of the picture altogether. As Kansas and North Carolina picked up predictions in 247Sports’ Crystal Ball, Azubuike’s guardian announced that the high school senior would be pushing back his decision. Just the latest in a long line of strange recruiting stories, it looks like this recruiting battle will continue for a while longer.
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Big 12 M5: 01.15.16 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 15th, 2016

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  1. There will be a full slate of Big 12 action on Saturday, but the biggest game of the weekend will come between West Virginia and Oklahoma in Norman. After defeating #1 Kansas earlier this week, the Mountaineers will now have a chance to pick up a victory against the #2 team in the country and create some separation atop the Big 12 in the process. Road wins are tough to come by, but West Virginia’s high-pressure defense will put the Sooners to the test, especially if the Mountaineers can create transition opportunities from turnovers and avoid their very good half-court defense. Oklahoma has been decent in protecting the ball this season, though, and the Sooners have home court advantage. KenPom likes the Sooners to win by five.
  2. In the Cyclones’ four Big 12 games this season, Iowa State’s Monte Morris has played 98.2 percent of the team’s available minutes. As a result, the Ames Tribune’s Travis Hines asked Morris how he’s holding up. The junior point guard told the reporter that he’s “perfectly fine,” and as the article notes, his statistics reflect that. Morris ranks fifth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio after leading the country the last two seasons; his assist rate is also up and he’s converting a higher percentage of his two-point looks. The real question is how he will hold up later this season. At that thought, even he admits, “I know it’s going to take a toll on my body probably later in the season, but as of right now I’m fine.”
  3. Morris and 10 other Big 12 players received recognition from CBS Sports‘ Sam Vecenie in his Top 100 (and 1) college hoops players so far this season. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield snagged the top spot in large part because of his 50/50/90 shooting percentages, one that Vecenie notes is “basically something I can only imagine Stephen Curry doing.” That’s some pretty good company for the Sooners’ senior and clear NPOY candidate.
  4. Baseball historian and statistician Bill James received his undergraduate degree from Kansas in the 1970s and is an avid basketball fan. On Thursday, he wrote about his experience attending the Jayhawks’ instant classic against Oklahoma the week before. The piece is largely focused on the atmosphere inside of Allen Fieldhouse (outside of a paragraph-long rant on Perry Ellis) and the experience the atmosphere produced. James writes, “There are just moments in life when everything is what it can be, when the energies of nearly violent opposing forces align by accident with the balance and precision of a symphony. We were there to see one of them.”
  5. To that point, home court advantage might be more valuable in college basketball than it is in any other sport. Whether it’s the raucous environments’ effect on opposing players or officials, there are few sports where teams regularly rack up 30-game winning streaks on their home floors. For that reason, Ken Pomeroy has decided to update his scheduling page to reflect the importance of home court advantage in college basketball. In the process, he produced a critique of the much-maligned RPI. The RPI doesn’t include home court advantage in its calculations when determining the quality of a win, so Monmouth, for example, will not get credit for a top 50 win for its victory over UCLA when, in reality, that road win is the equivalent of one. Although Pomeroy doesn’t discuss it directly, perhaps factoring home court advantage into the RPI would be one way to encourage more true road games during non-conference play as those losses would no longer look as bad on a a team’s resume.
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The RTC Podcast: Conference Road Games Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 14th, 2016

Welcome back to another edition of the RTC Podcast, hosted each week by Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114). In this week’s show, the guys get to work talking about the first couple weeks of conference play and whether road losses to ranked teams are issues in any meaningful way (hint: usually not). We cover that and more as we slowly turn the corner into the midseason and start heading for the down slope to March. The full rundown is below, and make sure to subscribe to the pod on iTunes so that you’ll have it as soon as it releases each week.

 

  • 0:00-9:26 – West Virginia Knocks off #1
  • 9:26-15:10 – Virginia Bounces Back vs. Miami
  • 15:10-24:42 – Maryland, Duke, Iowa State Fall on the Road
  • 24:42-31:23 Surprising Teams Early in Conference Play
  • 31:23-36:31 – Dave Rice Fired
  • 36:31-42:05 – Missouri Sanctions
  • 42:05-43:45 – Thursday Preview
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