With the phasers officially set on "National Championship," there's no sense limiting our preseason scatterplotting to the Big Ten, right? Let's go national. As a bonus, due to the disproportionately-high amount of production the conference returns from last season, we'll get a glimpse at a good portion of the Big Ten's participants, as well.
A reasonable way to get a high-level view of the relative strengths of a set of basketball teams going into a season is to take measure of (1) how good they were last season and (2) how many of the players that made them that good return for the new season. A more sophisticated model would also account for (1) how productive the returning players were on both offense and defense, (2) what the projected talent levels of incoming players are, and (3) which teams have new coaches. We're currently getting those more complex projections from Dan Hanner one conference at a time. Still waiting for the Big Ten. For now, we'll go with the simpler, more graphical approach.
The scatterplot belows compares adjusted efficiency margin and returning minute percentage (both pulled from KenPom, and accounting for transfers/early entries) for potential national championship contenders this season. I defined that group as (1) the top ten teams in adjusted efficiency last season (minus Kentucky, whose returning minute percentage of 22.9% was off-the-charts low) and (2) consensus preseason top ten teams for the upcoming season (working off Rush the Court's rankings and giving Washington the benefit of the doubt). Keep in mind that there are 300+ more data points to the left of this group.
Commentary after the jump
Clear as mud, huh? Unlike the last couple years, there's no clear preseason favorite. Last season, Kansas entered the season having posted an adjusted efficiency margin of 25.8 the prior year (not great, but solid) and returned a full 87.8% of its player minutes (off the chart above). The season prior to that, North Carolina was coming off a 36.6-adjusted-efficiency-margin year with 68.4% of its player minutes returning (not counting Marcus Ginyard, who would end up sitting out the season due to injury); that'd be straight up from Duke on the chart above, between BYU and Kansas State on the vertical axis.
This year, you've got a rim of teams surrounding the upper, right-hand quadrant where an ideally-positioned title contender would be. Moving from right/bottom to left/top:
- Duke will likely start the year at #1. They were the most efficient team in the country last season and, while they don't return a lot of player minutes, the minutes they do return are quality ones--specifically those of Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. Plus the chart doesn't reflect the addition of two potential difference-makers: freshman Kylie Irving and transfer Seth Curry.
- Wisconsin, you will be a major factor in the Big Ten race. I'm sure of it. Now get off our national-level scatterplot.
- Ohio State is an interesting case. Rarely has a team returned so little despite returning 4 of its 5 starters. You wouldn't exactly describe Evan Turner as "one-fifth of a starting lineup." With the addition of Jared Sullinger--the other potential immediate-star-level freshman among teams on the chart--and a bevy of other talented freshman, there are plenty of solid pieces in play. It'll be a matter of finding a new identity and cohesion.
- BYU, we don't really trust the adjusted efficiency numbers to fully adjust for playing in the Mountain West Conference. Don't take it personally.
- Kansas State is suffering a bit from a lack of national program branding. By falling to Butler in the Elite Eight last season, they never really hit the national radar. But, they, too, return 4 of 5 starters (and 8 of their top 11 contributors), including the all-everything Jacob Pullen. By all objective measures, the Wildcats have arguably the best looking statistical profile (or the most balanced profile between performance and experience, at least) going into this season.
- Michigan State and Purdue are both a bit back off the edge of the rim--neither was super efficient over the course of the full season last year--but are nevertheless considered preseason heavies because they each return a trio of experienced stars. I'll be interested to see how Hanner's model sorts the two of them out--and I'm guessing Ohio State will actually come out on top of his projected Big Ten standings.
- Sort of the same deal for Villanova, except that they lost their #1 experienced star (Scottie Reynolds). Still plenty of talented guards on the roster, though.
- Georgetown looks pretty good on the chart, but the one major contributor they lost was kind of a big deal--Greg Monroe.
- Pittsburgh is a popular sleeper pick to contend for the title, and rightly so: They return 7 of the top 8 players from a team that was narrowly eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by a very good Xavier team.
Morals of the scatterplot: (1) winning a national title is an entirely reasonable goal for MSU, but (2) that's a true statement for at least a half dozen teams going into the season.
Update: Apparently, I was typing this at the same moment Mr. Hanner was finalizing his Big Ten projections. MSU comes in tied at #4 (with Wisconsin), among the clump of five fairly-tightly-bunched potential powerhouses at the top of the league. Hanner rightly points out that MSU was not, in fact, a dominant operation statistically last year. He has them improving a bit this year, but more on defense than on offense. That's the opposite of what I would think intuitively--but Chris Allen and Raymar Morgan's stats were better on the offensive end, even though I think we'll miss their defensive skills more (no individual stat for "sticking with your man to prevent open shots"). Becoming more efficient on both ends of the court (since they're starting from roughly the same baseline on offense/defense) will be a necessity if the Spartans are, in fact, going to compete for a national title. You know where you can read more about that? Yeah, I bet you do.