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The (under)Achievements of UW Basketball

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An examination through data of exactly how badly UW MBB underachieved recently under Lorenzo Romar

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

Shortly after the firing of Lorenzo Romar, I published an article examining the relative level of talent and experience found at each of the Pac-12 schools to try to assess how badly Washington underachieved during the last stretch of Romar’s tenure. You can revisit that article here. Using the numbers it appeared that UW should have been the 4th best team in the Pac-12 over the past 7 years but instead was just 9th in total wins. I could have left things there but those of you that have read my work over the past year have probably figured out that isn’t my style. I understand that this article could be construed as beating a dead horse but I put a lot of time into doing the research and I think the numbers are interesting so try not to get too crazy in the comments section please.

I am on the record as having been in the “give Romar one more year” camp, however the results of that initial foray made me consider changing my mind. I still needed more data though. So I went through the same process and came up with composite talent and experience ratings for every Power-5 team over the past 6 seasons (2011-12 to present). I switched from 7 to 6 years because ESPN’s recruiting ranking database only goes back to 2007 and it made it hard to find some of the 2011 numbers.

A quick refresher about the numbers. The talent portion of each team’s composite rating comes from an average of Scout and ESPN’s star rating of a given recruit coming out of high school. To adjust for experience I added a 0.5 for each year they’ve completed in college. A freshman 5-star recruit would be a 5.0 (5+0) while a senior 3.5-star recruit would also be a 5.0 (3.5+1.5). The measure of success is Kenpom’s efficiency margin which is opponent-adjusted and tempo-adjusted. A total above a 25 has legitimate Final Four aspirations, a 15 is about a bubble team, a 5 is a fringe N.I.T team, and anything below that means you were close to the bottom of your conference.

Looking at individual seasons explained 41.7% of the variation between teams but by taking the average for every school over that period, that number was raised to 57.4%. Take a look at the graph below.

Avg. KenPom Efficiency Margin and Composite Talent/Experience Rating 2012-2017

A chart of programs by the average talent/experience composite of their teams and their average KenPom efficiency margin

All of the Pac-12 schools are in blue and Washington is in the bottom center. The graph shows that there’s a clear upper echelon of college basketball right now. No power-5 team had an average efficiency margin between 20.75 and 23.5 which separates the elite (Arizona, Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, North Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin) from everyone else. If you include all schools then Gonzaga and Villanova get added to that list as well. It also seems to show a clear 2nd tier made up of: Baylor, Iowa State, Syracuse, Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana, and Oregon.

You’ll note that the trend line looks pretty good. There are a few outliers here and there but most schools are in a clear band around that line. That means we can use the distance between the dot and the trend line to figure out which schools have been significant over and under achievers. A school that is above the line can be considered an overachiever and one below the line can be considered an underachiever. So where does Washington fall on that list? Below are the bottom-10 teams from across power-5 conferences.

10 Biggest Underachieving Teams from 2012-2017

Team Avg. KenPom Avg. Composite Over/Under
Team Avg. KenPom Avg. Composite Over/Under
USC 5.42 3.83 -5.63
Arizona State 7.19 3.99 -5.84
Stanford 12.18 4.39 -5.87
NC State 12.08 4.40 -6.04
Georgia Tech 6.83 3.98 -6.09
Illinois 10.56 4.29 -6.16
Virginia Tech 4.73 3.84 -6.39
Washington 7.25 4.10 -7.15
Mississippi State 2.39 3.73 -7.4
Rutgers 0.07 3.67 -8.99

The numbers once again bare out what most people have thought. That over the last 6 years, Washington has done as little with as much as any team in the country. Rutgers may be the biggest underachiever (and it wasn’t particularly close) but Washington was 63rd out of 65 teams during that span. That’s bad. It’s interesting to note though that the Pac-12 in general appears to underachieve quite a bit compared to other conferences. Four of the bottom 10 teams came from the Pac-12. Here’s the full list of Pac-12 schools.

Pac-12 Over/Underachievers 2012-2017

Team Over/Under Rank
Team Over/Under Rank
Oregon 3.36 13th
Colorado 2.73 17th
Utah 2.71 18th
Arizona 2.37 21st
California 0.49 29th
Washington State -3.51 47th
Oregon State -4.34 49th
UCLA -4.47 50th
USC -5.63 56th
Arizona State -5.84 57th
Stanford -5.87 58th
Washington -7.15 63rd

No Pac-12 school made the top-10 overall and more than half the conference ended up in the bottom third of all schools. It could be that the recruiting services tend to overrate kids coming to Pac-12 schools or it could be that the Pac-12 is just home to really bad coaching. Or both.

So far, we’ve looked at how the Washington program has done under Lorenzo Romar and concluded that it has underachieved significantly. But many programs have had multiple coaches during that period so it isn’t a 1-to-1 comparison to put Romar up against those schools when trying to determine how much of it was on him. We’re going to repeat this exercise but look at coaches rather than schools. To give enough time for a coach to make an impact I’m only looking at coaches with at least 3 years at their school over the past 6 years.

Avg. KenPom Efficiency Margin and Composite Talent/Experience Rating 2012-2017

A chart of coaches by the average talent/experience composite of their teams and their average KenPom efficiency margin

The top is almost unchanged since unless there’s a retirement, schools doing really well keep the coach they have. The movement comes towards the bottom of the graph where several coaches had results that either moved them up the coaching ladder hierarchy or got them fired. Let’s focus on the bottom of the list and the biggest underachieving coaches.

10 Biggest Underachieving Coaches 2012-2017

Coach Team Over/Under
Coach Team Over/Under
John Groce Illinois -5.87
Mark Gottfried N.C State -6.17
Bruce Pearl Auburn -6.44
Lorenzo Romar Washington -7.08
Brian Gregory Georgia Tech -7.56
Ernie Kent Washington State -8.02
Rick Ray Mississippi State -8.25
Kim Anderson Missouri -8.32
Jeff Bzdelik Wake Forest -10.18
Eddie Jordan Rutgers -15.74

Romar fares a little bit better here but not by much. He leapfrogs a few coaches (including good old Ernesto) but still checks in at 55th out of 61 coaches. No matter how you slice it, UW and Lorenzo Romar have been in the bottom 10% nationally in getting the most out of the players that they’ve put on the court. We’re already at 1,000 words so I’ll divide this up into a second part. Next week, I’ll use the above data to take a look at the difference between next year’s team with Romar, Porter, and the rest of his class versus Hopkins and the current team to give an idea of what expectations should be and could have been for next season.