Welcome to Year 2 of the official UWDP college basketball computer projections! Tomorrow is Pac-12 media day so I thought I’d get this
I’ll try to keep the mumbo jumbo to a minimum. There have been some changes made to the methodology but they’re for the better. If you want to see how I did last year, check out this article here*. I use KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin (EM) as the output for the projections.
First, a brief overview of what goes into them. Rather than attempt to project how a team does as an entity I instead try to put a value on how good a player is expected to be on a per minute basis. That number is based upon three things: their recruiting ranking, their grade level, and their past performance. It’d be a great story to have a team full of 3-star underclassmen win a national title but that’s very unlikely to happen. Bringing back guys with plus skills and athleticism who are older than their competition is consistently the best way to have a good team.
But it isn’t everything. Coaching can make a difference. It’s incredibly difficult though to put a numerical value on how much of success is because of a coach’s defensive system, or weight training regimen, or offseason development plan, etc. Instead I take the difference between how I projected a team would do and how they actually did and call that the effect of coaching. The longer a coach is tenured, the more data to work with, and the more weight is given to that variable.
Washington currently projects to have an EM of 20.37 in 2018-19. Great. But what does that mean?
Here’s some further context. Last season that number would’ve been good for 18th in the country. I have the Huskies 12th but I only include what I consider to be the “Power 6” basketball conferences. So they’d likely also be behind programs such as Gonzaga (boo), Nevada, and maybe Cincinnati or Wichita State.
But every team that had an EM over 20 last season made the NCAA tournament as a 6 seed or better. On a yearly basis, getting to that threshold should be the baseline for a truly successful season.
In order to better set expectations let’s look at how teams that have had a similar projection have fared during the regular and post seasons. There are 39 teams over the past 7 years that have had a prediction within Washington’s range:
- 3 have missed all major postseason tournaments (7.7%)
- 4 missed the NCAA tourney but made the NIT (10.3%)
- 15 were eliminated on the first week of the NCAA tourney (38.5%)
- 12 made it to either the Sweet 16 or Elite 8 (30.76%)
- 5 made the Final 4, with 2 winning the National Title (12.8%, 5.1%)
I don’t know about you but I’m pretty okay with about a 5 in 6 chance of making the NCAA tournament. This team barring a miracle doesn’t have national title upside but it isn’t unreasonable at all to think they could get to a Sweet 16.
Given all of the talent returning, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I have Washington with 2 of the top 5 player ratings in the conference and 4 of the top 17. Noah Dickerson tops the conference as a 4 star senior who was an all-conference level player last season. He would’ve finished behind Reid Travis but Travis decided to transfer to Kentucky rather than remain at Stanford and I fully support his decision.
Jaylen Nowell comes in at 5th in the conference as a 4 star sophomore who shouldered a heavy offensive burden. His player performance rating was just barely behind Noah Dickerson but fell a few spots because of the difference between sophomores and seniors. Matisse Thybulle comes in at 11th as another 4 star senior. Honestly, that’s probably low but it’s very difficult to capture his defensive impact properly.
The way the projections ended up makes it very clear that there are 4 tiers to the conference at least for now. Oregon and Washington are at the top. My projection for 5 star players takes into account that there have been some busts but if Bol Bol and Louis Kingt play well enough to be one-and-dones then this underestimates them. I personally would put them at the top as they have a higher ceiling but probably a wider range of possible outcomes than Washington.
Next, the L.A schools are also in a virtual dead heat with Arizona hot on their trail (not a shocker given the climates involved). All three of these programs have substantial talent but all come in with something to prove. The goal for all of them should be to make the NCAA tournament but the odds are at least one of them will fall short.
It wouldn’t surprise me at all if any of the teams between 6 and 10 finish at any given spot within that range. ASU has some talented young freshmen who could easily outperform their ranking. Stanford’s length will give people real problems. Utah looks to be due for a down year from a talent perspective but I have Larry Krystkowiak as the best coach in the conference and he should never be doubted. OSU’s top 3 are up there with anyone so if one of their big men are able to be even 80% of Drew Eubanks then they could surge. And Colorado’s McKinley Wright could easily win conference player of the year while Namon Wright should have a very good senior season. I think it’s very likely that one of those teams surges into the top 4 but I have no idea who it’s going to be.
Finally, it’s evident that Cal and Wazzu should be bringing up the rear with Cal firmly in 11th and the Cougars last. I credit Cal with 2 of the worst 10 starters in the conference and Washington State with 3. If Cal makes a leap it’s because Justice Sueing is ready for super stardom and/or one of the teams in the next tier up really gets hit hard by absence whether due to injuries or suspensions.
The Rest of the Country
I have Duke and North Carolina as far and away the best teams in the ACC. Virginia has the best coach for maximizing talent in the country in Tony Bennett so I expect him to outperform his projected margin by a substantial amount even with that adjustment taken into account. The Huskies will play my 5th ranked team in the ACC Virginia Tech, who I have just a hair below Washington, at a neutral site in what should be a really good test (the Hokies blew out UW early on last year).
Michigan may have made the NCAA tournament final last season but I see them as essentially tied for 5th in the B1G this year after losing their best player and several other contributors. Wisconsin returns almost their entire team while Michigan State reloaded and so the two should battle for the conference title. But don’t sleep on Iowa who should have 7 upperclassmen in the rotation. Rutgers predictably brings up the rear but Purdue may be a shocker given that they were a #2 seed last season. I have Carsen Edwards as the 2nd best player in the conference but the next best Boilermaker is just 49th as they have 4 total upperclassmen and only two players who were a 4 star player coming out of high school. Washington will play Minnesota in Vancouver which will be considered a solid win if they prevail but won’t do that much to boost their resume.
The Big 12 was the deepest conference in the country last year and I expect it to continue again this season. 9 of the 10 teams have realistic hopes at making the NCAA tournament. Kansas should be far and away the favorite and they are my #2 team in the country. Oklahoma State is down at the bottom with only one senior and one 4 star player on the entire roster. Everyone else has a reasonable shot at finishing 2nd in the conference although I give the edge to Kansas State and West Virginia. 6 of my 7 highest rated players in the conference will be playing in the state of Kansas with 4 for the Jayhawks and 2 for the Wildcats.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the defending champs Villanova are by far the Big East favorites in the projections. However, it might be a surprise that they aren’t all that far ahead of the Huskies in their overall rating. That will happen when you lose almost your entire starting lineup to the draft. They’re another good bet to outperform their projection since they’ve got several guys who are really good but didn’t have the chance to show it playing behind a bunch of 1st round picks. Xavier also takes a big tumble since they lose the credit for Chris Mack’s excellent coaching over the last few years with his departure to Lousiville (plus multiple starters).
Kentucky is not only my top team in the SEC but also projected as the best team in the country. That’s partly due to the late transfer-in of Stanford’s Reid Travis who I have as the highest rated player in the country. The gap between them and #2 Florida may make it seem like the conference is weak but Florida, LSU, and Vanderbilt are all also projected to be better than Washington and therefore every team in the Pac-12. The Huskies will play Auburn, who was a top-20 team last year, in their road opener but I see the Tigers taking a step back this year as they won’t be full strength until conference play. The Dawgs also battle Texas A&M who should be substantially worse after losing a huge chunk of their rotation.
* If at the end of the season I do my look back on the projections and you notice they’re different from what you see above, I promise I’m not cheating. If prior to the season starting there’s a significant injury (such as UCLA suffered yesterday with Tyger Campbell tearing his ACL) then I will factor that into the projections. But after each team tips off for their 1st game I put my pencil down and pass the paper to the front.
You can follow me @UWDP_maxvroom for all of your UW Basketball news and notes