Today was Christmas for college basketball analytics nerds like myself as Ken Pomeroy released his projections for the 2019-20 season. For the uninitiated, Pomeroy has been spitting out college basketball analytics for almost two decades now and they are the gold standard upon which all other basketball projection systems aspire. They are intended to be an entirely predictive metric and do not factor in how difficult or not a team’s schedule will be or the number of wins they will accumulate.
The Huskies have generally under performed in Pomeroy’s rankings since Coach Hopkins arrived on Montlake and that has fed into their current spot for this year. Washington starts out the season ranked #52 overall and 5th in the Pac-12.
That ranking is based off a combination of team performance over the last several years, the performance of the current players on the roster, and 4-star or better incoming freshmen.
Washington largely strikes out on the first two counts. In Coach Hop’s first season the Dawgs ended up just 98th overall despite earning an NIT at large bid which suggests a ranking somewhere between 60-75th based upon their resume. Then last year despite making it to the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament they wound up just 48th in KenPom’s rankings. Compounding that is the exodus of seniors plus Jaylen Nowell which saw the Dawgs lose 5 of their top 6 scorers.
The reason that Washington only fell a few spots from the end of last year is that they added Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels and incoming 5-stars are weighted proportionally because of their expected instant impact potential.
The other Pac-12 schools were ranked: (1) #24 Arizona, (2) #30 Oregon, (3) #37 Colorado, (4) #48 USC, (6) Oregon State #73, (7) Arizona State #89, (8) Stanford #90, (9) UCLA #107, (10) Utah #114, (11) Washington State #163, and (12) California #178.
In general, teams in the 35-50 range are usually bubble teams for the NCAA tournament so the rankings would suggest that Pomeroy anticipates Arizona and Oregon to make the big dance with Colorado, USC, and Washington all having a shot but with less certainty.
While it can be fun to argue with a computer, the biggest reason I enjoy seeing the full Pomeroy rankings are that it gives me a better sense for the overall strength of the Washington basketball schedule. Two years ago the selection committee moved to the quadrant system in order to better weight how important a road win is versus a home win. The NCAA will ultimately use the NET rather than KenPom rankings but it still gives us a first look at how many chances for good wins are out there. Here’s the breakdown for the number of opportunities the Huskies are slated to have in each category in reverse order:
Quadrant Four- 6 games
Washington State #163 (89% win expectancy), California #178 (90%), Montana #189 (91%), Eastern Washington #192 (92%), Mount St. Mary’s #256 (95%), Maine #336 (99%).
Coach Hopkins has generally been pretty good about avoiding the Q4 games which are much more likely to hurt your resume than to help them. This year the game against Maine is the only one which falls into the truly terrible category. Obviously, there’s nothing you can do about the two Pac-12 quadrant four games.
Quadrant Three- 9 games
Arizona State #89 (77%), Stanford #90 (78%), UCLA #107 (80%), South Dakota #129 (85%), Seattle #133 (86%), Ball State #135 Neutral (78%), San Diego #154 (89%), @Washington State #163 (73%), @California #178 (74%)
These are all games which the Huskies should theoretically win when we look back at the end of the year. Dropping one of these isn’t going to kill Washington’s chances of making the tourney. They got in despite losing the road game at Cal as a #9 seed. But if you lose more than one in this category it means you need to overperform in the toughest games on the schedule.
Quadrant Two- 6 games
USC #48 (61%), Oregon State #73 (69%), @Arizona State #89 (54%), @Stanford #90 (55%), @UCLA #107 (59%), @Utah #114 (61%)
It would be nice to see a couple of the games in Q3 move up to this category but this isn’t a terrible amount for the Q2 rung of the ladder. In order to make the NCAA tournament a team usually needs to go at least .500 in this grouping so 3-3 would be the bare minimum to expect for this set of games. Hopefully they would be able to hold serve at home and then split the road games. You could see a second round Diamond Head Classic game wind up in this category as well.
Quadrant One- 8 games
Gonzaga #9 (40%), Baylor #13 Neutral (34%), Tennessee #19 Neutral (38%), Arizona #24 (53%), @Arizona #24 (28%), Oregon #30 (55%), @Colorado #37 (32%), @USC #48 (37%)
In addition to these listed above there’s a decent shot they also get a game against a #29 Houston team at the Diamond Head Classic which would make for 9 opportunities. I think a 4-5 mark in those 9 games provided they also keep up strong performance in the lower level ones would be good enough for an NCAA tournament berth. Something more along the lines of 6-3 would be necessary for them to challenge for a high seed once they get there.
If you add up all of the percentages it makes for a projected 20-9 record and 11-7 mark in conference. This also excludes 2 games that aren’t yet on the calendar because they’re part of a tournament so let’s call it 21-10. Last year in a down Pac-12, Arizona State snuck into the First Four by going 22-10 (12-6). Depending on the exact combination of wins it’s possible that 21 would be enough to get them in but Coach Hopkins will need to once again surpass KenPom’s expectations to get back to the NCAA tournament for the 2nd year in a row.