Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Previewing Saturday, November 10th

 Please go back and check out my two-part preview for November 9th here and here.

Saturday, November 10th is the second day of the 2012-13 college basketball regular season. And while Saturday is usually the biggest day of the week, and will be for the rest of the season, November 10th will be a down day. With Friday being the season kick-off, only a few games got bumped to Day Two. Of those, only two are really worth much of a watch:

Elon at Butler (2 PM) - Technically, this game is part of the Maui Invitational. But it's getting increasingly silly that these tournaments add these extra meaningless games. The Maui Invite is an eight team tournament that will take place in Maui, on national television, in mid-November. The fact that each of the eight teams is playing a home game against a cream puff a week or so before that tournament, in a game that will in no way decide whether they get to go to Maui or not, and that will not be nationally televised seems... silly, to say the least.

But that doesn't matter, because this is a chance to check out what I view as a very underrated Butler team that is beginning its first year in the Atlantic Ten. They were underwhelming last year, but only lose Ronald Nored and Chrishawn Hopkins (and considering how awful Hopkins was last year, and how many shots he took despite not being able to hit any of them, that latter loss might be a little addition by subtraction). Butler is loaded in the paint with proven quality players like Andrew Smith, Khyle Marshall and Kameron Woods.

The question mark for Butler is on the perimeter, particularly with the loss of Nored. Jackson Aldridge was last year's stud recruit, but he had a very underwhelming freshman season. Roosevelt Jones played well last season, but he's more of a wing than a shooting guard. Rotnei Clarke is a big transfer from Arkansas, and he'll be very good, but he's not a point guard. Brad Stevens knew where his team's weakness was and loaded up on guards in his 2012 recruiting class, led by Kellen Dunham. I'll be curious to see if Chris Harrison-Docks gets some playing time, despite being the lowest-rated of Butler's 2012 recruits, simply because he's the only other real point guard option behind Aldridge.

If Aldridge can develop into one of the better point guards in the A-10 then Butler will be a Top 25 team. If not then they might be stuck on the bubble all season. Elon isn't much of a test (they only went 9-9 in the SoCon last year), but this is still the first chance to see this new Butler team.

SIU-Edwardsville at #15 Missouri (4 PM) - There are warning signs all over this Missouri season. I think they're a Tournament team, but nowhere near the 15th best team in the country. Last year's team was basically Mike Anderson's team - packed full of experienced players who were experts at Anderson's system. They lose five of the players from their seven man rotation, and a sixth (Michael Dixon) has not been practicing with the team and is suspended indefinitely. Laurence Bowers comes back from injury, and they add a few transfers (Jabari Brown, Keion Bell, Alex Oriakhi and Earnest Ross), but this is basically going to be a totally new team. The freshman most likely to make an impact is 6'9" Stefan Jankovic, though there are no true blue chippers in Haith's 2012 class.

Like most people, I just want to see what this combination of Missouri talent looks like. But unlike most people, I'm not hopeful. The complete list of really successful teams thrown together with a bunch of transfers consists of:     . They'll win this game easily, but it will still be an opportunity to see what the team looks like in live action.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Opening Night Preview, Part 2 of 2

This is the second in a series of posts previewing the opening week of the college basketball season. The opening day of the season is so packed with great games that I've split it up into two posts. For Part I please click here. This is Part II.

There are two types of games in the opening season that I'll be talking about. First, there are just going some great games - quality teams going against each other. Second, it will be the first chance to watch some teams and players that I'm very interested in seeing. It won't even matter if they're paying a cream puff - I still want to get that first chance see them play. Without further ado, let's get this going:

(all times eastern)

#9 Syracuse vs #20 San Diego State (8 PM, Fox Sports) - There are going to be three carrier games this year. Ohio State vs Marquette is the first to tip off, and this is the second. The third is Georgetown/Florida, which is discussed a bit lower in this post. That said, these games aren't necessary gold mines. This game suffered all sorts of financial problems and was at serious risk of being cancelled before some late work by both schools and Fox Sports to put the game on, although many of the other festivities that were intended to go along with the game have been cancelled.

Anyway, the rankings next to these two teams tell you all you need to know about tuning into this one. San Diego State is a team that I, and many in the statistical community, view as underrated, even at #20. They were overrated last season, but were young and return almost all of their top players, led by Chase Tapley and Jamaal Franklin. In fact, the only starter that they lose (Tim Shelton) can be immediately replaced by St. John's transfer Dwayne Polee. Steve Fisher's 2012 recruiting class is led by 6'8" Winston Shepard.

Syracuse, on the other hand, is a team that I think is a little overrated where they are. They just lost a ton of talent from last season: Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph. The two key returners are Brandon Triche and CJ Fair. To me, there are two huge question marks for this team. The first is whether players like Rakeem Christmas, Baye Keita and Michael Carter-Williams, who played efficiently in short minutes last season, can play as well in extended minutes this season. The second is just where the Syracuse offense is going to come from. Triche is the only backcourt player that we know will be good. Michael Carter-Williams will probably be the starting shooting guard, but he wasn't much of a scorer in his freshman season. The only other backcourt option, as far as I can tell, is Trevor Cooney, a 2011 recruit who took a redshirt year. That's a pretty thin backcourt for a team that depended so much on transition offense last season.

#3 Kentucky vs Maryland (8:30 PM, ESPN) - This is part of the Barclays Center Classic, and will be the first chance (for me at least) to see what that new arena looks like. This is also the chance to see what is now a rite of fall - the brand new Kentucky roster with the brand new set of McDonald's All-Ameicans. This year's group? Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley. Also throw in transfer Ryan Harrow and Kyle Wiltjer, the one returner from last season. If anything Wiltjer is probably going to be the most underrated player on this team. He didn't play a ton of minutes last season, but he was awfully good (he's 6'9" and shot 43.2% on threes, 81.5% at the line). The face of the team (and the hair), however, will be Nerlens Noel. This will be the first chance to see him in action.

As for Maryland, this will be the first chance to see Year 2 of the Mark Turgeon era. Do-everything star Terrell Stoglin is gone to the NBA. A very underrated loss is Ashton Pankey, who had a superb freshman year but transferred to Manhattan. This will be a team with a ton of decent players, but I'm not sure there are any elite players. 7'1" Alex Len looked like a massive project last season. Pe'Shon Howard had a great start to his freshman season but has been pretty mediocre in the 1.5 seasons since. Evan Smotrycz? It wasn't like he starred at Michigan. Nick Faust is probably the returner with the most potential, but he struggled pretty badly as a true freshman.

The future of Maryland lies with a very strong 2012 recruiting class led by big man Shaquille Cleare and swing forward Jake Layman. Two years from now these guys might be the core of an ACC contender. But for the time being it's hard to see Maryland as anything more than a bubble team.

Georgetown vs #10 Florida (9 PM, NBC Sports Network) - This is the third and final of the carrier games, and it will be an interesting measuring stick game for both teams. Florida is a team that I think is underrated at #10. They are my preseason pick to win the SEC. Patric Young is poised to be one of the most dominant big men in the nation, and he's flanked by two tremendously underrated forwards: Will Yeguete and Erik Murphy. And while Bradley Beal and Erving Walker were two high profile losses, the reality is that the most efficient guard Florida had last season was Kenny Boynton. Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin will give the Gators three proven quality guards. There isn't even going to be a lot of pressure on 2012 recruits like Braxton Ogbueze, who will only need to play complementary roles on this deep team.

Georgetown lost their three most important players from last season: Henry Sims, Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark. The best returner is Otto Porter, and he'll be flanked by Nate Lubick, who was very good as a freshman but seemed to plateau as a sophomore. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, a 6'3" shooting guard, is JTIII's top 2012 recruit. He and Markel Starks will probably be the starting backcourt, although their relative inexperience won't be a huge hurdle in an offense that doesn't really rely on guards to create offense. Henry Sims was basically a point-center last year, if there is such a thing. Nate Lubick is probably the front court player best fit to play that type of role this coming season, though he wasn't half the player Sims was last season. It will be curious to see just how JTIII figures this all out. If he can even keep this game close then I think that's a success for them.

Louisiana Tech at Texas A&M (9 PM, Fox Sports) - This game is part of the CBE Classic, which is one of those early season tournaments that fixes the bracket so that the four premier teams automatically make the semifinals. I find it lame, and it always ends up with a bunch of scrub match-ups as the early part of the "tournament". But while the other teams in the tournament are playing national powerhouses like Southeastern Missouri State and Utah Valley State, Texas A&M is at least playing a real team. Louisiana Tech finished in a tie for fifth in the WAC last season (and actually played in the WAC tournament title game). I picked Louisiana Tech to finish fourth in the WAC this season, so they're no pushover.

As for Texas A&M, I'm just curious to see if I'm underrating them. Last season got off to an okay start but went down the tubes late. They lost 9 of their final 10 Big 12 games, and then proceeded to lose Dash Harris, David Loubeau and Khris Middleton. To me, they're a pretty long shot at-large team. The core of the team this season, without question, will be Ray Turner and Elston Turner. Getting Kourtney Roberson back, if he's totally healthy, will help. But this coming season, I think, will be about a transition to the next era of Aggies players. Their 2012 recruiting class is solid, led by J'Mychal Reese and Alex Caruso. Unless they look really dominant here against Louisiana Tech, I'll be more curious about just getting a look at these young players to see if Billy Kennedy's program looks to be turning the corner.

Oral Roberts at UTEP (9 PM) - I didn't pick either of these teams to make the NCAA Tournament preseason, but they're both good teams and both are heading into an interesting season. In late March, it looked like Oral Roberts was on a predictable path - they were running away with the Summit League title with a senior-laden team, and had a hot young coach in Scott Sutton. They were destined to make the NCAA Tournament, end on a high note for the seniors and Scott Sutton, and Sutton would move up to a bigger school. But Western Illinois shocked them in the Summit League tournament, Sutton turned down the coaching offers and decided to stay for at least one more year, and now takes an Oral Roberts roster with a ton of turnover to a new conference - the Southland.

The media picked Oral Roberts preseason to win the Southland. They were picked very narrowly over Stephen F Austin. Back in April I picked Stephen F Austin, and for now I'm sticking my pick. But it obviously won't take a lot for me to be convinced to change my pick to Oral Roberts. A road upset of UTEP would be a great start. Look for the inside-outside combo of Warren Niles and Steven Roundtree to be the key for the Golden Eagles.

UTEP moves into Year 3 of the Tim Floyd era. Last year's team was pretty bad (7-9 in Conference USA and 14-16 overall), but was also very young. They lose Gabriel McCulley, but all but one of the other players in their rotation was a freshman or sophomore. The key to the team will be the twin towers inside of John Bohannon and Cedrik Lang. Also look for transfer Konner Tucker, who scored 12 points per game for Sam Houston State last year, to play a big role on the wings. For all the criticisms of Tim Floyd's coaching, nobody doubts that he can recruit and he has his third straight quality class, led by 6'6" Twymond Howard and 6'8" Chris Washburn. He also has a 7'1" recruit in Matt Willms, though he seems like more of a project.

Either way, there's no question that Floyd is recruiting a lot of height. The question is if they can start rebounding better (for a tall team, they were pretty brutal on the boards last year), and if Tucker can help turn around a backcourt that struggled on the offensive end. Most people, including me, think UTEP is still at least one more year away from seriously contending for an NCAA Tournament appearance. This game can help us see if they're ahead of schedule.

Indiana State at #13 UCLA (11 PM, Fox Sports) - I think we all know that the #13 next to UCLA is kind of a joke. It was maybe possible to argue that they were going to be the 13th best team with that stud recruiting class coming in (though when has UCLA not had a great recruiting class under Ben Howland?), but we still have no idea if Shabazz Muhammad or Kyle Anderson (the two top players in the class) will even be eligible to play. And Muhammad picked up an injury as well, so he won't play for a few weeks even if he does get his eligibility restored.

I think UCLA is in good shape in the front court no matter what, with the Wear twins and Tony Parker (and whatever they can get out of Josh Smith). The biggest question mark for me is at point guard, where they lost both Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson. It appears like they're putting all of their eggs in the Larry Drew III basket, which is a hopeful move at best after the debacle he had at North Carolina. Tyler Lamb, who wasn't even particularly good last season and certainly cannot play point guard, is out for a while after knee surgery. With Muhammad out, Norman Powell seems like the only other backcourt option besides Drew. Maybe true freshman Jordan Adams? At 220 pounds he seems a bit too big to play the backcourt. UCLA is at serious risk of being very slow and very predictable on both sides of the ball.

Indiana State isn't likely to pose much of a challenge. They lose four of the top six minute earners off a team that only finished 8-10 in the Missouri Valley last season. And they don't have the personnel to take advantage of UCLA's lack of backcourt talent and depth. But this game will give a chance for us to check out this UCLA roster as they get ready for their first big test: Georgetown on November 19th.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Opening Night Preview, Part 1 of 2

Whether you realize it or not, the college basketball season is underway. Many teams have already played their first exhibition, and we're getting ready for the first regular season games on Friday, November 9th.

A lot of time has passed since the Final Four. Feeling a little rusty with your players and teams for the coming season? Have no fear. I've got you set with a two-part preview featuring 12 games to keep your eye on just on the first day. Part II will be posted tomorrow. And I'll continue to have another preview post each day this week.

Let's get this thing going (all times eastern):

#14 Michigan State vs UConn (5:30 PM, ESPN): The regular season technically gets underway at noon, when a few games will tip-off. But the slate that early is... a bit soft, to say the least. The most interesting early game is Houston vs Florida A&M, just because I think Houston is a long shot bubble team and would like to see what they look like in action, though I doubt Florida A&M is much of a test. If you're a college basketball fan, you're probably starting your season with this Michigan State/UConn game. Get on the couch and get ready for close to 8 straight hours of college basketball, starting with this one.

Michigan State played in the Carrier Classic last season, and this game will be almost as cool. It's going to be played at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, played in front of close to 3000 enlisted soldiers.

Now as for the game itself? I don't think it's going to be particularly competitive. Michigan State is one of five really elite teams in the Big Ten, and Tom Izzo always has them ready to play early in the season. And UConn is in a major transition season without a permanent head coach, without a chance at the postseason, and without the depth of talent that Jim Calhoun had in his many years in charge. That said, UConn is still going to have a pretty darn good starting five, led by Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Napier is probably the biggest wildcard of the returners, with so much talent but so much inconsistency in the past. Also keep an eye on star recruit Omar Calhoun, a 6'5" shooting guard.

Michigan State returns a whole bunch of players you'll remember, of course, led by Keith Appling, who will be the team's primary ball handler. A player I think can step up and be one of the better bigs in the Big Ten this season is Branden Dawson, who was very active in the paint as a freshman off the bench last season. And Spartans fans will be keeping an eye on Gary Harris, a 6'4" freshman who has been getting a lot of offseason hype. Michigan State's depth, coaching advantage and toughness should lead to a relatively easy win, but there will be a lot of talent on the floor. College basketball fans are required to give a really good excuse to skip this one.

#4 Ohio State vs Marquette (7 PM, NBCSN) - Speaking of the Carrier Classic, it's back... on the NBC Sports Network. Well, actually there are three of them this year. Huh. Anyway, this should be a good, competitive game. Ohio State is probably slightly overrated at #4, but they're definitely a contender to win the Big Ten. As for Marquette, I was pretty surprised to see just how far off the Top 25 they were in the preseason Coaches Poll. I think they're definitely underrated. Yes, Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom were their two best players last season, but they will also get Chris Otule and Davante Gardner back from injury and have two young perimeter players with a ton of potential in Vander Blue and Derrick Wilson. A key for Marquette with their style of play is always on the wings, and the development of Jamil Wilson and 2012 recruit Steve Taylor will play a large role in the amount of success they have this season.

Ohio State loses the most dominant big man in the Big Ten in Jared Sullinger, but otherwise their losses from last season are light. William Buford never developed into the player I thought he had the potential to be, and will be fairly easily replaced. The face of the team will probably be Aaron Craft, who appears to be heading down the same path as Draymond Green (two years of me talking about how great and underrated they are, followed by two years of the media hype growing to nauseating levels). I hope I'm wrong about that, though, because I really do enjoy watching Craft play.

One of the very underrated facets to Ohio State last season was that despite a very small rotation (Thad Matta basically only played six guys per game), they had a bunch of really good players on the bench. Guys like JD Weatherspoon, Amir Williams and Sam Thompson all have the potential to excel in extended minutes. Amir Williams, because of his size and the departure of Sullinger, will probably be the first of that trio to play a key role this coming season. Maybe the most interesting player to keep an eye on is LaQuinton Ross. The former high school prodigy had a humbling freshman season, dealing with eligibility issues and then barely getting on the court. If he can recover some of that potential he can be a big weapon for the Buckeyes.

Virginia at George Mason (7 PM) - This game will get lost in the shuffle, but it's a really interesting game for two intriguing potential NCAA Tournament teams. Virginia was a surprise success last season under Tony Bennett, and will be looking to continue moving forward. Bennett's calling card, like his father before him, is tough defense and a suffocating slow pace. Mike Scott was probably the most underrated superstar in the nation last season, and he graduates, but Virginia will be an excellent defensive team yet again. The question mark, with Scott gone, is offense. Jontel Evans and Joe Harris are the two key returners, but the real key to success will be Tony Bennett's massive recruiting class. I'm just curious to see which of those freshmen move into the starting rotation right away, and which will be projects.

George Mason loses star Ryan Pearson off of a team that brutally underperformed under new head coach Paul Hewitt. Hewitt will need a big turnaround this season or his seat will start to get warm. Hewitt has always been a coach with the reputation of a recruiter who doesn't really develop his guys and struggles to get them prepared for big games. The problem is, he's not even recruiting anymore. The additions this season include a mediocre transfer (Anali Okolji), a European (Marko Gujanici) and a lightly-regarded local high school recruit (Patrick Holloway). I have very low expectations for this George Mason team. But if some of their players made the leap over the offseason and Hewitt shocks us all with an improves Patriots team? A great start would be knocking off Virginia at home on opening night.

Miami (OH) at #6 NC State (7 PM, ESPN3) - I've made it clear many times that I'm not buying the preseason hype for NC State. That #6 ranking just seems absurd to me. Yes, it was huge that they got CJ Leslie back and they return almost everybody from last year's team... but last year's team also was NIT-bound until the ACC tournament and despite that great end to their season still reacted like this when they found out that they made the NCAA Tournament. In order for them to be even close to the sixth best team in the country their defense will need to get a lot better, and they are going to need more offensive consistency. Lorenzo Brown, in particular, needs to take the leap from decent ACC point guard to elite ACC point guard. Depth is also a concern, and they will be relying heavily on a highly-touted 2012 recruiting class. Look for shooting guard Rodney Purvis to be the most important of the new true freshman.

Other than seeing how NC State looks, there won't be a whole lot to this game. Miami-Ohio is moving into a new era as Charlie Coles retires after approximately 317 years as head coach (that might be an exaggeration). The new head coach? John Cooper, who most recently headed Tennessee State. I think NC State is overrated, but I don't think they're overrated enough to have any trouble here.

Bucknell at Purdue (7 PM, Big Ten Digital Network) - This is clearly a rebuilding season for Purdue. Robbie Hummel, Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith are all gone from a team that only finished in 6th place in the Big Ten last season, and they don't have any real hot shot freshmen coming in. But those predicting a finish near the basement of the Big Ten do so at their own peril. Matt Painter teams are always tough to play, and his roster is very young but also has a lot of talent. A key to success might be Teron Johnson, who showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman two season ago, and will need to step in and replace Lewis Jackson. Jacob Lawson won't be expected to be the new Robbie Hummel, but expectations are high for the 2011 recruit. The 2012 recruiting class is deep, as well. Look for Ronnie Johnson to potentially start in the backcourt alongside Teron Johnson.

Bucknell is a team I'm curious to see as well. They narrowly won a very competitive Patriot League last season before falling to Lehigh in the Patriot League tournament. They acquitted themselves well in the NIT and will likely be locked in another very competitive battle with Lehigh again. Bucknell, should they earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament, could be the type of scary Round of 64 opponent that Lehigh was last season. The game-within-the-game is what could be pretty epic Patriot League Player of the Year race (ever think you'd hear that sentence?) between Lehigh's CJ McCollum and Bucknell's Mike Muscala. It will be very interesting to see how Muscala handles Purdue's young front line.

Georgia State at #8 Duke (7 PM, ESPNU) - Georgia State was one of the most underrated teams in the nation last season, and if their strength of schedule didn't suck so badly they might have actually pulled themselves into shouting distance of the Tournament bubble. But four of their five starters last season were seniors. They're going to get creamed at Cameron Indoor. This game is about a Duke team that I picked as my preseason ACC champion. Andre Dawkins will be redshirting, but they bring back a ton of talent, led by Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly. Look for point guard Quinn Cook to step in and potentially earn the starting point guard spot.

I'm also very curious to see just how much playing time Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jeferson, Coach K's two true freshmen, will get. Sulaimon was the slightly higher rated recruit (though both are blue chippers), and seems like less of a project (Jefferson needs to put on some weight if he's going to be a post scorer), but Duke is so stacked in the backcourt that it's hard to see Sulaimon earning more than around 15 minutes per game.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Post-Midnight Madness BP68

I can't recall another season in recent memory that was so wide open at the top. It's not that rare to have a season without a singular dominant team (the only time we've had that in the past seven or eight years was the 2008-09 Tar Heels), but what is rare is the total lack of certainty near the top.

Let me give you one example. The Big Ten has three teams in the preseason Coaches Poll Top 5: Indiana (#1), Ohio State (#4) and Michigan (#5). But can anybody tell me that Indiana or Ohio State or Michigan's chances to win the Big Ten are significantly better than Wisconsin or Michigan State? I certainly can't.

And in the ACC? All of the media hype surrounds NC State, but I'm not buying it. Duke is my pick, though North Carolina is a contender as well. In the SEC? The media hype surrounds Kentucky, but Florida is my pick. And could a team like Memphis or Kansas move up to a 1 seed? Absolutely. The only BCS conference with a clear favorite is the Big East (Louisville).

I had Indiana #1 overall in my two previous bracket projections, but I've decided to drop them to the third 1 seed. And it's not because of their defense, although their defense will need to get a lot better from last season for them to win the Big Ten, no matter how good their offense is. No, my problem with Indiana is not statistical in nature, but a feeling from watching them last season.

Last year they could beat anybody when they were an underdog against a big opponent. They beat Kentucky, Ohio State and Michigan State (the three top teams in the end-of-season Pomeroy ratings) at home. But when they were the favorites? Particularly on the road against mid-level Big Ten opponents? They weren't the same team. They had clunkers against Nebraska, Iowa, Penn State and Minnesota. Coming from where they were two years ago, with all the hype, and the absurdly deep and hungry Big Ten conference, I'm just not that confident that they can handle the pressure. I'm still picking Indiana to win the conference, but would not be shocked at all if they finish in fourth or fifth.

I understand the argument against Louisville. As bad as Indiana's defense was last year, Louisville's offense was equally inept. But they have room to grow. I felt like Peyton Siva disappointed last season after a breakout sophomore year. He showed flashes of brilliance last season, but was also brutally inconsistent. The same can be said, of course, of Russ Smith. The Big East media picked Siva as the conference's preseason Player of the Year. If he plays at that level then Louisville really will likely be the best team in the country. And what's very important to remember is that Louisville has the least competition of any of the other top teams in their own conference. There is no clear favorite in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 or SEC (and the Pac-12 is just terrible). But Louisville is the heavy favorite in the Big East, and they are my pick as the top 1 seed... for now.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll start to preview the opening week's games. I'll tell you what I'll be watching and why. My next bracket projection will be the W-17 BP68, which will be posted on November 18th. And yes, that means 17 weeks until Selection Sunday. See you then.


2. KANSAS (BIG 12)
2. Ohio State
2. Kentucky
2. Michigan

3. North Carolina
3. Wisconsin
3. NC State

4. Syracuse
4. Notre Dame
4. Michigan State

5. Baylor
5. Marquette

6. Alabama
6. Butler
6. Iowa State

7. Georgetown
7. Virginia

8. Tennessee
8. Miami (Fl)
8. California
8. Minnesota

9. New Mexico
9. West Virginia
9. Missouri
9. Cincinnati

10. VCU
10. Arkansas
10. St. Mary's
10. UCLA

11. Texas
11. UMass
11. BYU

12. Pittsburgh
12. Iowa
12. Illinois State
12. Temple
12. Maryland

13. OHIO (MAC)




Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Clemson,  Florida State, Virginia Tech, La Salle, Xavier, Rutgers, Northwestern, Purdue, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Akron, Northern Iowa, Colorado State, Arizona, Washington, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
St. Joseph's, Providence, Seton Hall, South Florida, Villanova, Illinois, Marshall, Toledo, Wichita State, Nevada, North Dakota State, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State, Auburn, Georgia, Texas A&M, New Mexico State

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Georgia Tech, Dayton, Penn State, Texas Tech, Delaware, George Mason, Hofstra, Houston, UTEP, Tulsa, Cleveland State, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Fairfield, Drake, Evansville, Boise State, Belmont, North Texas, USC, LSU, Mississippi State, Loyola-Marymount, San Diego, Denver, Louisiana Tech

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hidden Variables: Does Offensive Rebounding Help You Win?

There's been an interesting argument going around the web the past few days. Is it beneficial to crash the boards, or are teams better off getting back on defense? Kevin Pelton has a good summary of the arguments over at Basketball Prospectus.

To simplify - the argument appears to be boiling down to trying to correlate stats with winning. This seems logical, but that sentence was a lot easier to type than it is to execute. The strongest argument I've seen is this one, which points out the obvious fact that offensive rebounding percentage is a function of more than just going for offensive rebounds. Teams that are good at rebounding the ball will get more offensive and defensive rebounds, and it doesn't mean they're "crashing the boards" more.

So the breakdown that blogger did was to calculate the "expected" offensive rebounding rate for each team relative to their league average due to their relative defensive rebounding rate. Teams that were better at DR% than OR% relative to their league average were, more often than not, winning teams.

While I don't disagree with that argument, I think you can only make a limited conclusion. The fact that freely available statistics can't differentiate between "crashing the glass" and offensive rebounding makes it impossible to come to a strong conclusion either way.

I would argue that they're looking at the wrong question. I've argued for some time that offensive rebounding is about rebounding skill more than anything else. It doesn't matter how hard you "crash the glass" if you don't have elite rebounders. But at the same time, defensive rebounding is really about sound fundamentals. If your whole team boxes out then they'll almost certainly bring down the defensive rebound.

I'll explain what I mean with a series of plots. Note that each plot below including every Division I basketball team from last season. Each dot represents a team. The "Defensive Efficiency" stats are the Pomeroy adjusted efficiency, which controls for tempo and strength of schedule. Each plot includes a "best fit" line that Excel threw in there for me, with the slope and R^2 in the bottom left hand corner.

The first plot shows what seems to be a counter-intuitive conclusion, that more offensive rebounding means better defense:

Of course, more defensive rebounding correlates even more with defensive efficiency:

The conclusion from those two plots is an obvious one: better teams out-rebound their opponents, and also tend to play better defense. Good efficiency, good rebounding and good shooting all tend to be correlated. This is why we need to look at rebounding stats by comparing defensive rebounding to offensive rebounding. The way I did this was by subtracting OR% from DR% to get "rebounding differential". A team with a larger rebounding differential is better at defensive rebounding relative to how well they collect offensive boards.

The above plot tells us that greater offensive rebounding, relative to defensive rebounding, leads to worse defense. But that does not imply that crashing the glass makes you worse at defense. What it more likely means, as I said above, is that a strong defensive rebounding differential correlates with more sound, fundamental play. And sound, fundamental play correlates with lots of good stuff. For example, it means more assists and fewer turnovers on offense:

To me, these last two plots present a much stronger conclusion than anything that we can say about crashing the glass and playing defense. Offensive rebounding probably makes your defense a little bit worse, but it's impossible to say from the available data that this is certain. But a better rebounding ratio means that a team is better on the defensive glass than the offensive glass, and that tends to correlate with other "good fundamentals" stats.

That doesn't mean you can't have success if you're not good on the defensive glass. Syracuse, Marquette and Baylor are among the elite programs that have had success in recent years despite being much better on the offensive glass than the defensive glass. Syracuse and Marquette have had success with high-risk/high-reward defenses that allow a lot of easy baskets but also generate a lot of transition offense. Baylor just out-athletes their opponents.

But if you're looking to see if your team is playing sound, fundamental basketball? You want to see them preventing turnovers. You want to see them getting a lot of assists. And you want a high rebounding differential. I think that's clear.