Welcome to my 3rd year of projecting the college basketball season. I’ll try to keep the methodology brief here. I started this work following Lorenzo Romar’s dismissal and the arguments regarding the balance between star power and experience (hint: you want both). That led me to the current model which tries to balance each player’s recruiting ranking, their on-court performance, and their grade level against KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margins. If a team consistently underperforms or overperforms compared to the projections then it is attributed to the nebulous bucket of “coaching” and each new team is adjusted based on their specific coach’s rating.
For those unfamiliar with an adjusted efficiency margin, it represents how many points better than average a team is over the course of 100 possessions. A margin in the realm of 25+ is a national title contender. 20-25 puts you in contention for a top-4 NCAA tournament seed. 15-20 usually gets you into the big dance. 10-15 is bubble or NIT. And below 10 usually means a forgettable season.
And with that let’s get into it.
This is where I duck from the rotten fruit being thrown at me. My model has the Huskies pegged as the 6th best team in the Pac-12 with a projected adjusted efficiency margin of 14.54.
Wait, wait! Come back! Let me explain!
First of all, the value of 14.54 isn’t exactly bad. Last year’s Washington team finished with an adjusted efficiency margin of 14.28. That’s essentially saying that the Huskies will be a little bit better than last year after losing 5 of their top 6 scorers. The big difference is that the rest of the conference is vastly improved. We’ll get to the other teams in a second but let’s focus some more on the Huskies.
As noted in the intro: player experience, player performance, and recruiting rankings are the heart of the model. This is not an experienced team. There’s only one senior and two juniors on the roster. Everyone else is an underclassman. Strike one.
The lack of experience directly leads to the lack of prior player performance as well. Naz Carter, Hameir Wright, and Jamal Bey played a little bit last year but they didn’t get enough minutes to demonstrate (to the model) that they’re more than average players. That’s of course because they were blocked by seniors and NBA level talent but the system doesn’t know that. Strike two.
Finally, there’s the pesky coaching adjustment. Both of the last two seasons the Huskies have ended with a much better resume in the wins column than they did in their adjusted efficiency margin. In Hop’s first season they were an NIT #5 seed which at worst should’ve put them ranked 88th (but likely better considering several bad teams still make the NCAA tournament). They finished 98th. Last year they were a #9 seed in the NCAA tournament, which suggests a top-36 ranking, but finished 48th. That means that despite having won consecutive Pac-12 coach of the year awards that Hopkins has a negative grade and a large negative at that. Especially because my system thought the Huskies would be even better than they ended up each of the past two years.
If you go in and manually give Hopkins a completely neutral coaching grade (not even a good one, just not a bad one) then it bumps Washington up to 3rd in the conference. That’s more in line with where most people’s expectations are for this team.
Of the 48 teams since 2012 to have a projected efficiency margin between 14 and 15: 5 have missed all postseason play (10.4%), 14 have made the NIT (29.2%), and 29 have made the NCAA tournament (60.4%).
Let’s touch on the individual player ratings. Isaiah Stewart is rated as the 2nd best player in the conference only behind Tres Tinkle who is a senior that put up monster stats last year. If you’re a top-5 freshman then the expectation is that you are an instant conference player of the year candidate if not an All-American.
Historically, there’s been a reasonable gap between a top-5 guy and a 6-10 ranked player which means Jaden McDaniels falls to #15 overall in the conference. Naz Carter checks in a few spots spots behind Jaden as a junior who rated very highly in his on-court performance despite not being a 4-star recruit and not starting last season. And directly ahead of Carter is the newly eligible Quade Green. While Green was given a 5-star designation out of high school he actually finished 26th in the Composite rankings for his year which is 1 spot out of tier 3 (there are 9 total recruiting tiers). Had he been ranked 25th it leapfrogs UW into 5th ahead of Arizona State. The teams are that clumped.
Here are the projected Pac-12 ranks among starters and reserves for all of UW’s players. There are 60 starters and 60 reserves so top-30 signifies above average in the conference.
Starters: Isaiah Stewart (2), Jaden McDaniels (15), Quade Green (17), Naz Carter (18), Hameir Wright (38)
Reserves: Elijah Hardy (26), RaeQuan Battle (30), Jamal Bey (34), Bryan Penn-Johnson (44), Nate Roberts (51)
As you can see in those rankings, the Huskies have what is likely the best starting 5 in the conference but the lack of previous playing time from their reserves hurts them. Jamal Bey is absolutely much better than the 34th non-starter in the conference but he played so little last year that he actually has a negative player performance adjustment.
Many experts have the Ducks rated as the top team in the conference but my model puts the Buffs on top. Colorado returns literally every major piece from last year’s roster and the combination of proven production and a heavy dose of upperclassmen gives them major bonus points. Tyler Bey, McKinley Wright, and D’Shawn Schwartz (that one’s a bit of a surprise) all grade out as top-12 players in the conference for this season which certainly helps.
Oregon has Dana Altman who’s rated as the 2nd best coach in the conference and while they have a lot of seniors, they don’t have many guys who played for Oregon last year. If I gave credit to their grad transfers for the stats they put up at non-power conference schools then they’d likely take the top spot...but I don’t. Pritchard is rated as my #5 player in the Pac-12 but the next highest is just #31. Oregon’s got one star and then a lot of above average players.
It’s a clusterf**k at spots 3-7 although there’s a little bit of separation after Washington. Arizona has a very talented roster but are missing a 1st-team all conference guy because Nico Mannion has the same issue as Jaden McDaniels. The Beavers have my #1 and #3 players in Tres Tinkle and Ethan Thompson but the rest of their starters are net below average. Arizona State has 5 above average starters but Remy Martin gets the last spot in the conference’s top-ten ratings. UCLA gets credit for their strong recruiting rankings particularly along their bench as they’re also missing a surefire all-conference candidate. USC is super top heavy with 4 really good players and then plenty of maybes.
The difference in raw talent between the 9-11 schools in the conference is all pretty similar and the main difference is that Larry K is my top-rated coach in the conference while Stanford’s Jerrod Haase is the worst rated one. And Washington State is last.
Sometimes the computer spits out results you don’t agree with and that’s definitely the case here. Duke and Virginia essentially tie for 3rd place in the ACC in this model while North Carolina drops all the way to 9th. If it were possible for me to make bets with an excel spreadsheet then I would be taking out loans to make them. Why the lack of confidence though?
Last year Duke/UNC combined for 4 of the top-5 freshmen who historically are a tier above spots 6-10. This year Cole Anthony for North Carolina is the only one and the drop from being led by those guys to either tier 2 or tier 3 (but still 5-star guys) adds up. It also seems very likely that Anthony is such a transcendent lead guard that he ends up having an even greater impact than even your average top-5 prospect. Tre Jones for Duke is the only returner who played true starter’s minutes between either team. Having very few returners really hurts in this model unless you’re filling the gap with truly elite players or grad transfers.
The coaching adjustment also doesn’t give as much of a boost to any of those 3 squads as it probably should. Duke and UNC usually have such talented teams that it’s impossible for Coach K and Roy Williams to overperform leading them to have a slightly negative coaching adjustment. With less talented teams this year it seems unlikely they will underperform their resume. Meanwhile, Tony Bennett continues to have the largest coaching adjustment of anyone in the model but I cut the adjustment in half because for most coaches there’s variability in that number. Bennett’s teams are almost always above even the label of exceptional and if you gave him his full adjustment he’d be right there with Louisville.
Top-5 rated players in the conference: North Carolina PG Cole Anthony, Duke PG Tre Jones, Louisville SF Jordan Nwora, Syracuse SG Elijah Hughes, Virginia PF Mamadi Diakite.
I’m sure no one else has ever complained about this but why is blue the primary color for almost every team in this conference? Anyways, Creighton is a surprise pick at the top of the conference since almost everyone has them in the middle but they return 4 starters and are among the top recruiters in the Big East. Villanova and Seton Hall are the two consensus picks at the top of the league and that definitely checks out with the major difference between them being the track record of Jay Wright. Otherwise there is pretty clear separation between the pairs of Xavier/Marquette, Butler/Georgetown, and DePaul/St. John’s to close out the conference.
Top-5 rated players in the conference: Marquette PG Markus Howard, Seton Hall SG Myles Powell, Creighton SG Ty-Shon Alexander, Xavier PG Paul Scruggs, St. John’s SG Mustapha Heron.
The Spartans are everyone’s pick for #1 team in the country and my model definitely agrees with that. They are experienced, talented, and return most of last year’s final four team. There’s nothing to not like. Maryland and Ohio State appear set to battle it out for the 2nd spot which is in line with the consensus view that the Terps are a legitimate contender for a #2 seed this season and Ohio State will be a surefire NCAA tournament team.
Michigan and Purdue drop to the middle of the pack after being national title contenders for parts of the last few years. The Wolverines lost most of their top talent from last year and their long-time head coach while Purdue lost their star in Carsen Edwards. It’s a reasonable bet to expect them to finish better than 9th and 10th in the conference but that’s because of faith in the general track record of each program rather than the production or pure talent of the players.
Top-5 rated players in the conference: Michigan State PG Cassius Winston, Maryland C Jalen Smith, Penn State SF Lamar Stevens, Maryland PG Anthony Cowan, Ohio State C Kaleb Wesson.
Not exactly a shocker to see Kansas at the top of the heap yet again despite having their string of Big-12 regular season titles snapped last year. Washington’s opponent on Friday earns second place just like they got in the media poll. It’s slightly disheartening to see TCU bringing up the rear considering they recently beat UW in a “secret” scrimmage but the team was without Jaden McDaniels and Quade Green and we don’t know exactly what the rotations were so I’m not super worried about that result.
And given that this is the Big-12 even the worst team in the conference is generally pretty good. In recent years the 10th place squad in this conference would finish either 5th or 6th in the Pac-12 and that’s not the case this year only because the Pac has managed to improve.
Top-5 rated players in the conference: Kansas PG Devon Dotson, Texas Tech PG Davide Moretti, TCU SG Desmond Bane, Oklahoma PF Brady Manek, Kansas State SF Xavier Sneed.
There are some pretty clear tiers set up in the SEC here with Kentucky/LSU looking neck and neck behind Florida. The Wildcats have players who were ranked 11th and 12th in their respective recruiting classes. If they had been #10 it would bump up Kentucky to right on Florida’s heels. The margins are that thin but you have to set up cutoffs somewhere. Next there’s Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, and Texas A&M all fighting for an NCAA tournament berth.
Mississippi State, Auburn, Missouri, and Vanderbilt could get to the postseason with some dramatic overperformance but appear to be more in NIT territory. Auburn has the most variance with other projection systems as they’re coming off a final four appearance. But they lost their 3 best players and Bruce Pearl has a negative coach rating for the job he did prior to last year’s team.
South Carolina and Ole Miss bring up the rear. Kermit Davis at Ole Miss was vastly better than I expected last season but since it was his first my system doesn’t give him the full weight of it. If he is able to pull a second consecutive shocker off with a roster that doesn’t have a single former top-100 player on it then Ole Miss will be much higher next season.
Top-5 rated players in the conference: Georgia SG Anthony Edwards, LSU PG Skylar Mays, Florida SG Andrew Nembhard, Florida C Kerry Blackshear, Texas A&M SF Savion Flagg.
You can follow me @UWDP_maxvroom for all your Husky Men’s Basketball news and notes.