Friday, March 30, 2007

2007-08 Preview: Small Conferences, Part III

Big West Conference

Long Beach State ran away with the Big West this past season, but I can't possibly imagine the 49ers repeating. With their top seven scorers lost to graduation, they don't return a single player who had more than 10 minutes per game this past season. And with their coach out, this program is really in flux. UC Santa Barbara, on the other hand, will also return a lot of talent, highlighted by rising-Seniors Alex Harris and Chris Devine (35 ppg, 11 rpg combined).

Cal Poly also returns a lot of talent, although I expect that they're still a year away from being able to win the Big West. In my mind, the most returning talent resides with Cal State Fullerton. They will have the speed and size and overall athleticism to play with anybody in the
Big West. The biggest question will be trying to replace the scoring of Bobby Brown (20 ppg), but I think they can do it. Cal State Fullerton is the pick.

Horizon League

Butler, obviously, was the story of the Horizon League this past season. This strong league should get even stronger as Valparaiso joins with a lot of talent of its own. Starting with the other contenders, Illinois-Chicago returns a lot of experienced talent. UW-Green Bay brings in another good recruiting class to go with its young roster. They probably don't have enough talent yet to win the Horizon, but they are clearly an improving program.

Certainly, Wright State had an outstanding year that was highlighted by a Tourney birth. They don't lose too much to graduation, but will likely have trouble replacing the scoring of Dashaun Wood (20 ppg, 5 rpg, 4 apg). With no returning double-digit scorers, expect the offense to be more spread out next year.

Either way, nobody in the Horizon will have Butler-level talent next year. Brandon Crone and Julian Betko will be important losses, but in a small conference you are in good hands with AJ Graves and Mike Green. The rich will get even richer as Butler has the strongest recruiting class in the Horizon, highlighted by 6'7" Matt Howard (Rivals: 21 SF). I don't know if they can expect another #5 seed, but a set of good out-of-conference performances could be enough to set up another at-large bid. Of course, I'm thinking Butler won't need the at-large bid next year.

Ivy League

No discussion of the Ivy League can ever begin without the Killer-P's. Of course, it's really been the Killer-P for the past two years. Princeton really struggled this year, and is going to have to suffer through yet another coaching change. It's very rare for a non-Princeton/Penn team to win the Ivy League, but it could very well happen in 2008. Not only is Princeton out of the picture, but Penn is really decimated by graduations. Ibrahim Jaaber and Mark Zoller have been the offensive go-to guys for a couple of years. And Steve Danley will be a major loss as well. Penn probably has the best recruiting class in the conference, but they will undoubtedly take a pretty big step backwards. They will have to prove that they can continue to dominate the Ivy League without Fran Dunphy's kids.

If Penn does indeed fall out of the top spot, there are a slew of teams to look out for. Brown will have a lot of good Senior talent. Cornell has a lot of young talent that they have been nurturing, but I think they need another year before they'll have enough experience to win consistently enough in the Ivy League. An intriguing team will also be a Columbia team that has been building for years. With their good set of John Baumann, "Big Ben" Nwachukwu, Mack Montgomery and Brett Loscalzo only having one year left, they have to be considered a serious contender. But it's been so long since Columbia has been able to win the 11 or 12 games needed to win the Ivies, it's just too much of a leap to pick them.

So that leaves us with a Yale team that also has been growing for years. It's not too much of a coincidence, since the Yale and Columbia coaches are brothers. This coming year, however, I think James Jones gets the best of Joseph. They return a lot of good talent and experience, highlighted by rising-Seniors Eric Flato and Caleb Holmes. It's always a risk to select a team that's name doesn't start with a P in this conference, but for now I'm going with Yale.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

With the struggles of Manhattan and Iona, the MAAC was really thrown on its head this past season. They really got a raw deal in having Niagara stuck in the play-in game, as this conference generally deserves better than that. Marist won the regular season crown this past season, but they are really hard hit by graduation. They lose their three highest scorers and have almost 50 points per game to replace. Niagara, too, is pretty hard hit by Senior losses.

Looking at the next crop of teams, you see a lot of good sets of freshmen and sophomores. But there is a huge lack of experience. None of these teams will be really Senior-heavy, which suggests that no team will be able to run away with the MAAC. Don't expect to see any 16-2 or 15-3 teams next year. With schools like Siena and Loyola-Maryland having some of this good talent but without enough experience to win consistently, I have to fall back on one of the two historical powers.

Iona actually had a great freshman class this past year, and they were a lot better than their record. They lost a lot of close games, mostly due to a lack of experience (think UConn, but with less talent). They should be greatly improved next year, but obviously I'm not going to predict a 1-17 team to move all the way to the top of any conference. Rather, I'm thinking Manhattan. The Jaspers were up-and-down this past season without Bobby Gonzales, but they found a lot of consistency towards the end of the season. They still retain a lot of talent and should have the experience to regain the MAAC crown.


Anonymous said...

The Horizon League in with the "small conferences" and not the "Mid-majors"? You're an idiot. Try doing some homework next time, you might gain some credibility. Here, since I'm feeling generous today...

Jeff said...

As I've stated several times, the separation of the conferences is totally subjective and totally irrelevant. In my mind, 2006-07 was the first time the Horizon has been better than the WCC is atleast half a decade. Remember that even if the Horizon-minus-Butler is better than the WCC-minus-Gonzaga, Gonzaga is still a Major Conference team by itself, getting bluechip recruits. Almost every season they're an at-large bid, so if they lose the conference Tournament the WCC gets 2 bids. The Horizon has gotten two bids few and far between since Xavier left.

As I've also said, I won't move conferences around because of one year. If the Horizon is still better than the WCC the next two years then I'll move them to a Mid-Major. I just don't feel like moving conferences up and down every year.

It's totally meaningless how they're separated anyway, it just affects what order I post it here.

Anonymous said...

The MAAC will come down to Siena or Loyola. They will be picked one two in the MAAC. Manhattan loses one starter but really needs some outside shooters to be competitive. Siena’s freshmen class was by far the best in the MAAC last season those 4 freshmen plus Super soph Kenny Hasbrouck will lead the Saints to the MAAC title.

Anonymous said...

The Horizon league is not a major conference, but not a mid-major? You are certainly an idiot. The Horizon League has averaged a conference RPI of 14.5 in the last 9 years. Has the BEST tournament record outside of the 6 BCS conferences, and is the only non-BCS conference to have a team in the Sweet 16, 3 out of the last 5 years.

Jeff said...

I understand that you are a Horizon League fan, and that statistics can be manipulated to say anything, but you can't possibly argue that the Horizon League's successes over the past 10 years are as solid as the A-10, Colonial, Missouri Valley, Mountain West or WAC. Those conferences are consistently ranked higher by everyone. That's really not debatable.

The only conferences you can argue are the MAC and the WCC. The Horizon was probably better than the WCC this past year, and approximately on par with the MAC. Like I said before, if that trend continues, I'll move the conferences around in future years.

But as I also said before, this is really making much ado about nothing. Who really cares how I ordered the conference previews? It will have nothing to do with the ranking of teams in the BP65.

Anonymous said...

Jeff wrote: "I understand that you are a Horizon League fan, and that statistics can be manipulated to say anything, but you can't possibly argue that the Horizon League's successes over the past 10 years are as solid as the A-10, Colonial, Missouri Valley, Mountain West or WAC. Those conferences are consistently ranked higher by everyone. That's really not debatable."

Say what??? It's not debatable that the WAC and CAA rank HIGHER than the Horizon League on a consistent basis? Boy are you deluding yourself. Pray tell exactly WHO is consistently ranking the CAA higher than the HL over the last ten years. And using what criteria exactly? You've stated that stats can be manipulated in any way, but conveniently provided no evidence to back up your own claims. So in what ways are you measuring the WCC, MAC, CAA, and even WAC to be a tier above the Horizon League... over the last 3, 5, or even 10 years?

And I love the comment you made about the HL receiving "two bids few and far between since Xavier left". Yeah, like how bout in '98, when they got three bids? And how is that even an intelligent argument to make considering how many FEWER times the MAC and CAA have received multiple bids over the last ten years than the HL?

Love the cherry-picked "Gonzaga Argument" for the WCC being above the HL though, Mr. "statistics can be manipulated". Now that's what I call manipulating a stat for the sake of an argument.

And by the way, regarding your statement:

"...the separation of the conferences is totally subjective and totally irrelevant."

You were dead on with the first part... based on the facts, YOUR seperation of them IS totally subjective. But where you messed up is the second part, since it's obviously no longer irrelevant once you DO seperate them... not to mention say:

"it just affects what order I post it here."

Way to go.

P.S. You must have more than one "fan" from the Horizon League in here, as I didn't make the 4th comment, and don't know who did. So obviously I'm not alone thinking you are an idiot. And your arguments are all weak as hell too. I'm guessing you're a Marquette fan.

Anonymous said...

Butler is not losing Julian Betko. Fact-check, aisle six!

Jeff said...

Please, there's no reason for namecalling. I welcome you to start your own website and see how many people call you an idiot.
Last year I had plenty of people call me horrible names for things that I ended up being right about.

Anyway, getting to the numbers, without spending a lot of time doing research I can find conference RPIs from the past 5 years. Here's where the Horizon has been:

12th, 15th, 19th, 15th, 14th

Here's the WAC:
9th, 9th, 13th, 10th, 13th

11th, 10th, 14th, 13th, 17th

15th, 12th, 7th, 12th, 10th

So, the WAC was superior to the Horizon all five years, and the Colonial and WCC had the edge 4 of the 5. The Horizon averaged 15th, the WAC 11th, Colonial 13th, the WCC 11th.

So clearly, over the last 5 years, the Horizon has been unquestionably inferior.

The reason I brought up the Gonzaga example is because my definition of "mid-major" is on perception. It is completely irrelevant (which is why, even if I'm wrong here, I can't imagine why it's something that anyone would want to debate - who cares?), but I'm just defining conferences how they are pretty much perceived. How recruits treat these schools when they get called, et cetera. The average basketball fan probably can't name a single team from the Horizon (if you spot them Butler they'll say, 'oh, they're in the Horizon? I've heard of them!') But in general, the Horizon is not in the same class.

But again, why does this even matter?

Jeff said...

Ah, I see now, there has been a thread put on the Butler message board by someone still angry about this.

Again, why do you care what order I put the previews out? It is completely irrelevant to where I rank the top 65 teams.

And as for Julian Betko, I can only go on what I'm told. He is listed as a Senior at ESPN and CBS Sportsline. Butler's own athletic website lists him as a Senior:


If you're correct that he's coming back then that would require a 6th year of eligibility, which is rare. I thank you for pointing it out, though. That's something I wouldn't know unless I was a hardcore Butler fan...

Anonymous said...

Great job proving your point about stats being easily manipulated.

Using average RPI rank over the last five years (but not last ten, two, or three) is the only quantifiable way the HL finishes behind all those other conferences. Not when using number of NCAA bids... or wins... or winning percentage... or number of Sweet 16 appearances. Or any other statistical way of comparison between conferences.
So I'm glad you ignored every reasonable, more meaningful form of measurement in place of the one lone stat that suits your needs, thereby justifying your PERCEPTION. And yours is all it is - which you are then attempting (lamely) to pass off as popular perception using your blog.

"So clearly, over the last 5 years, the Horizon has been unquestionably inferior (than the CAA and MAC)."


Jeff said...

I'll use the Sagarin ratings from the last 5 years now:

12th, 15th, 15th, 14th, 10th

9th, 11th, 12th, 7th, 12th

15th, 10th, 17th, 13th, 17th

13th, 12th, 10th, 12th, 13th

So Horizon averages 13th, WAC 10th, Colonial 14th, WCC 12th

So by this ranking you have the Horizon ahead of the Colonial and behind the WAC and WCC.

So by the two best objective ranking systems the Horizon is 3rd and 4th best out of 4. You can make an argument that the Horizon is better than the WCC, and maybe even the Colonial (although definitely not the WAC), but again - what's the point? It's completely irrelevant which order I put the conference previews out in. My ranking didn't stop me from listing Wright State as a possible at-large team, give me a break.

Anonymous said...

I think your classification of mid-major conferences is correct. We all know what a mid-major is even if there is no empirical definition. Ask 100 people what Horizon is and at least 99 will say mid-major. Mostly it has to do with the recognition level of the member schools, the overall amount of year-to-year investment in athletic programs and whether or not there is D-IA football. Some conferences like Big East are tougher to classify but most accept them as major. Atlantic 10 belongs in mid-major category. I've been a mid-major fan my whole life - no reason to get so bent out of shape about it. Trying to redefine reality may be covering up for other insecurities in life.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, just realized these are the "small conferences." I guess you are on your own defending that one. But honestly my conference is in here too - who gives a damn.

Jeff said...

Actually, if you asked 100 people what the Horizon Conference is, 99 wouldn't be able to name one team in it. If you spotted them Butler, they'd most likely say, "Oh, so is that the conference with Winthrop and Davidson?" I've actually had this conversation with professed college basketball fans at college basketball games.

My definition of Major Conferences was simple: The 6 BCS conferences. There's no way anyone can disagree with the fact that those six conferences are on a different playing field than every other conference.

As for the Mid-Majors - as I keep repeating - I just arbitrarily had to set the bar somewhere. The Horizon is probably the best conference that I labeled as "Small", and maybe they'll eventually get the Mid Major label from me. But as I've shown statistically, over the last few years they have underperformed every other conference that I have labeled as Mid-Major.

And - I feel like I'm repeating myself on this one as well - the labeling of the conferences is COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT. This website is for predicting the bracket in March. That bracket doesn't care how conferences are labeled. I judge teams on their individual merits, just like the selection committee does.

Anonymous said...

Don't count out the Purple Eagles of Niagara. The TWO returning starters are Conference Player of the Year Charone Fisher and MAAC Tournament MVP and Freshman of the year Tyrone Lewis. Also, I frequently play intramural hoops at Detroit, and I concur that the Horizon League is a "small conference"