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The Ghost of Basketball Future

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What will be under Coach Hop and what might have been under Coach Romar?

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how badly UW underachieved during the past 6 seasons under Lorenzo Romar. You can check out that article here. That is in the past now. Today, we’re going to focus on the future. Or rather futures. Because the only thing more fun and less certain than making predictions is to compare those predictions to an alternate hypothetical timeline where Lorenzo Romar didn’t get fired. Once again, I know many people have moved on from even mentioning Coach Romar’s name. I respect and understand that but it took a few months to do the research that went into these articles so stay strong and we’ll be focused entirely on reality moving forward soon.

The argument for those of us who wanted to give Romar one more year was that this year’s team would be so transcendent that even if they underachieved they would likely still make the tournament and probably do quite well in it. Now that we have slightly more accurate data, we can figure out what realistic expectations should have been for a Romar-led 2017-18 squad centered on Michael Porter Jr.

The numbers for each player below represent how much they contribute to the team’s talent/experience composite rating. The higher the number, the greater the contribution. The factors include what a player’s average star rating was coming out of high school, their class standing (sophomores get a bump over freshmen etc.), and the percent of minutes played. A 5-star freshman who played 100% of their team’s minutes would get a composite rating of 1.0. A 4-star junior who played 100 of their team’s minutes would also get a composite rating of 1.0.

Projected 2017-18 UW Talent/Experience with Romar’s Recruiting Class

Player % of Minutes Average Stars Composite Rating
Player % of Minutes Average Stars Composite Rating
Matisse Thybulle 76 4 0.76
Michael Porter Jr. 75 5 0.75
Noah Dickerson 72 4 0.72
David Crisp 75 3.5 0.675
Sam Timmins 50 3 0.35
Carlos Johnson 44 2.5 0.308
Blake Harris 35 4 0.28
Daejon Davis 35 4 0.28
Jaylen Nowell 35 4 0.28
Total 4.391

Using an estimate for the minutes breakdown, that team would have been about a 4.4 on the talent/experience scale which translates to an expected efficiency margin of 18.0. This year, 18.0 would’ve gotten a team ranked 29th overall and put them between #6 seed Creighton and NIT champion TCU. About 57% of teams that finished close to a 4.4 in their total rating ended up making the NCAA tourney.

However, we learned from the previous analysis that Romar’s teams over the past 6 seasons underachieved their efficiency margin by about 7.0 per year. With the Romar adjustment factor of -7.0 it leads instead to an efficiency margin of 11.0. This season an 11.0 would have been 68th overall; behind #13 seed East Tennessee State and ahead of NIT semi-finalist Central Florida. Of the range mentioned above, only 6/37 finished with an 11.0 or below and only one of those made postseason play (NIT).

Just to be fair, we’ll also take a middle ground approach. In this scenario, Romar learned some lessons from this year’s disaster and cut the number in half to only underachieve by about 3.5. There have been 10 power-5 teams to finish with an efficiency margin within 0.2 of a 14.5. Five of those teams made the NCAA tournament (two won a game), three of those teams made the NIT, and two missed all postseason play. This past season’s Indiana team had almost exactly the same talent and efficiency margin as this hypothetical Washington team and they went 7-11 in conference and missed all post-season play. Despite a top-5 recruiting class, the truth is that the most likely scenario for a Romar-led team in 2018 was a spot squarely on the bubble.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Time to shift gears to predictions that at least have some chance to come true. What should the expectations be for the current Husky squad led by Coach Hop?

Projected 2017-18 Talent/Experience Rating with Current UW Team

Player % of Minutes Average Stars Composite Rating
Player % of Minutes Average Stars Composite Rating
Matisse Thybulle 80 4 0.8
David Crisp 80 3.5 0.72
Noah Dickerson 70 4 0.7
Jaylen Nowell 60 4 0.48
Sam Timmins 50 3 0.35
Carlos Johnson 55 2.5 0.385
Dominic Greene 30 3 0.24
Devenir Duruisseau 30 2 0.18
Nate Pryor 40 2 0.16
Total 3.995

Using an estimate of the total minutes played by each player, the composite talent and experience rating of this year’s team is almost exactly a 4.0. For a nationally average coaching staff, that would translate to an efficiency margin of 12.75. Last year, that total would have been ranked 57th. That spot falls between Alabama and Tennessee, two SEC middle of the road teams that missed the NCAA tournament. While not great, it is still better though than the total above for a hypothetical 17-18 Romar-led squad that underachieved as badly as the past six seasons.

For a coach in his first year, average is probably asking slightly too much. Hopkins has coached for a long time and learned under one of the best but this is still his first year as “the guy”. Let’s use the same underachievement factor that we did under the Romar middle ground scenario of -3.5. Considering that Jim Boeheim had a -2.75 over the last six seasons it seems reasonable to think that Hop will do slightly worse. (For those who think that Boeheim number seems off, Syracuse has missed the tourney 2 of the last 6 years and had the lowest efficiency margin of any team to make the final 4 in that period during their run in 2016.) This scenario would drop the prospective efficiency margin down to 9.25 which last year would’ve been ranked 77th just behind #13 seed Bucknell.

Just for fun, let’s throw in a “Chris Landon should be tarred and feathered for ever doubting the greatness of Mike Hopkins” scenario. Suppose that Coach Hop is the kind of hire that Dana Altman has been for Oregon. In his first year in Eugene, Altman overachieved his projected efficiency margin by almost 2.0. That kind of an increase would lead to a 14.5 efficiency margin or the same place as our middle ground scenario for Lorenzo Romar.

2017-18 Projected Finish with Romar vs. Hopkins

Coach Scenario Efficiency Margin Proj. Ranking Tourney Status
Coach Scenario Efficiency Margin Proj. Ranking Tourney Status
Lorenzo Romar Average Coach 18 29th NCAA #7 Seed
Lorenzo Romar Bad Coach 14.5 44th NCAA #10 Seed
Lorenzo Romar 2012-17 Romar 11 68th N.I.T
Mike Hopkins Good Coach 14.5 44th NCAA #10 Seed
Mike Hopkins Average Coach 12.75 57th N.I.T
Mike Hopkins Bad Coach 9.25 77th None

If you take away only one thing from this article, don’t let it be that I guaranteed we’d be a top-75 team next season. However, I think it’s a lot more likely that the Dawgs bounce back next year than some might think regardless of how good of a coach Hopkins actually is. Human factors are real and numbers can’t explain everything. But last year’s team was so much worse than they should have been.

Over the previous 5 seasons, only 11 schools underachieved by as much as UW did last year (-13.16). Those teams improved relative to expectations by about 7.0 in their efficiency margin the following year. And the only reason that number isn’t higher is that Eddie Jordan at Rutgers might be the worst coach in the history of college basketball (underachieved by -8.35, -15.94, and -15.31 in his 3 seasons there). Teams just don’t consistently perform that much worse than their potential very often. Again, unless they’re Rutgers.

There’s a non-zero chance that either the players on last year’s team are infinitely worse at basketball than objective talent evaluators thought or that Romar irrevocably damaged them but the odds seem good that UW will be better next year. Not NCAA tournament better, but quite possibly NIT better.