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A premature (but not excessively premature) 2009-2010 Big Ten conference basketball preview

OR "How did I let all this football talk distract me from producing basketball scatter plots?"

Now that I've thrown my blogging lot in with a couple football nuts, my old "basketball's WAY better than football, even in August" shtick probably doesn't work as well.  Nevertheless, I feel compelled to point out that we're now more than halfway through the long, cold college basketball offseason.  It's been 121 days since our Spartans were vanquished in the national championship game, and there are fewer than 100 days left until the basketball team suits up for the first exhibition game this November.

It's about time, then, to take a look at the lay of the land in the Big Ten for the 2009-10 basketball season.  And what better way to survey any basketball landscape than with a scatter plot?  Details and Excel-generated goodness after the jump.

Broadly speaking, any college basketball team's prospects for an upcoming basketball season are a function of three things:

  • How good they were the previous season.
  • How many of the players that made them that good are coming back for the upcoming season.
  • How many new players they have coming in likely to make a positive contribution in their first season.

The first two factors are more easily quantifiable than the third.  Scatter plot:


The horizontal axis shows the percentage of a team's minutes played during the 2008-09 season by players who are returning for the 2009-10 season.  (Notes: (1) I used Kenpom data, so players who played a minimal number of minutes last season aren't included. (2) Here's the list of nonseniors who aren't returning for next season: Jordan (ILL), Mullens (OSU), Grady (MICH), Busch/Payton (MIN), Davis/Kelly/Palmer/Peterson (IOWA), Story/Williams (IU).  Transfer list is here.)

The vertical axis shows the team's Kenpom rating from last season.  That rating is a function of a team's offensive and defensive efficiency, adjusted for schedule strength.

(Note: I'm stealing this concept from the Big Ten Geeks.  But that's what the Geeks get for not posting during the offseason.)

Dividing the scatter plot into four quadrants, you get the team groupings below.  I've included a key question for each team.

Teams that were good last year and bring back most of the guys who made them good

  • Purdue: Which version of Robbie Hummel's back is returning to school this fall?
  • Ohio State: When you only had seven guys play more than 10 minutes/game, is bringing back six of those players enough--considering you have no new incoming players?  (Note: David Lighty may be part of the answer to this question.)
  • Minnesota: Is Tubby planning on using a 12-man playing rotation?
  • Michigan: Where's that third scorer?

Teams that were good last year but lost some of the key guys who made them good

  • Michigan State: How many underclassmen does it take to replace one Goran Suton?
  • Illinois: Can Demetri McCamey harness his talent to make up for the loss of two seniors (Frazier/Meachem) who didn't have all that much talent but made the team go?  (Also: Could the previous sentence been worded any more awkwardly?)
  • Wisconsin: Is this the year we finally don't all look silly in predicting a drop-off from Bo Ryan's team?

Team that wasn't very good last year but bring back a lot of guys who will hopefully get a little better

  • Northwestern: If last year's team improved by seven games in conference play, can this year's team improve by the 2-3 games it will take to finally go dancing?

Teams that weren't very good last year and also lose some of the guys who made them not very good*

  • Penn State: How much more can Talor Battle do?  (Initial guess: Probably not everything Jamelle Cornely and Stanley Pringle were doing.)
  • Iowa: Should the word "IOWA" on the team's uniforms be replaced with "GATENS PLUS FOUR"?
  • Indiana: Can the Hooisers improve to the point they don't screw up all my scatter plots any more?

*Apologies to the NIT Champion Nittany Lions for including them with the other two teams in this category; I had to let the non-IU vertical axis midpoint fall where it may.

Accounting for the third factor, incoming players, is a fairly speculative exercise.  Based on what we know about the conference's incoming recruits at this point, it looks like Minnesota, Indiana, and Illinois can expect the biggest contributions right off the bat, with Michigan adding a potential key piece in point guard Darius Morris.

(There's a fourth factor I've skipped over--how much your returning players who didn't play much last season improve during the offseason.  But that's even harder to predict than the impact of the incoming recruits.)

Anyway, put all that together and you get the following three-months-out TOC Big Ten basketball power rankings:

  1. Purdue
  2. Michigan State
  3. Minnesota
  4. Michigan
  5. Ohio State
  6. Illinois
  7. Northwestern
  8. Wisconsin
  9. Penn State
  10. Indiana
  11. Iowa

With two potential national title contenders and up to nine teams with NCAA Tournament hopes, the conference looks to be as strong as it's been at least since the 2004-05 season (when two Big Ten teams advanced to the Final Four) and maybe as far back as the 1999-2000 season (when the conference last sent seven teams to the Big Dance).

There you go, fellow hoop heads.  Hopefully, that helps tide you over for the next three months.  And, you know, I have to say, delving back into the basketball stats like this has reminded me of something: Basketball's WAY better than football, even in August.