College Hoops is Back—the Top 10 Teams

This year’s college basketball season looks to be one of the most competitive ones in recent history.  Fear of an NBA lockout kept many of last season’s top underclassmen from making the jump to the next level.  Add to that an influx of young talent in a strong freshman class, and you get a season that promises to be quite fun.

We (GoHornsGo90 and Reggieball) decided to try to put together our version of a preseason top 10.  It turns out we had a few disagreements, but somehow managed to arrive at some sort of consensus.  These disagreements were helpful though, as it allowed us to work through some of the issues that we see with the various teams.

College hoops is back, which means it's a good time to stake a stab at ranking the preseason Top 10 teams.

First, it's worth saying a bit about our ranking approach.  We used a few pieces of information to guide us.  It is hard to not be biased by the AP preseason rankings, so we admit this bit of biasing up front.  Additionally, we used a simple tool called the "mindless predictor rank."  The mindless predictor is based on research from last summer.

Basically, it is possible to correlate a team's success with two factors:  the number of minutes of playing experience that the players on that team had accumulated in previous seasons, and the amount of minutes a team gives to former RSCI top 30 ranked recruits.  Using the results from that article, our mindless predictor formula is Rating = {minutes of experience} + 1100 x {number of RSCI top 30 players}

We used this formula to calculate ratings for each of the AP top 25 teams,as well as some of the top AP vote getting teams that fell out of the top 25.  Using these ratings, we sorted things to give the mindless predictor rank.

Then we took that information, used our gut feelings, wild guesses, and extrapolations about what might happen, and argued over the rankings. We both agree on certain teams (North Carolina) and disagree on others (Connecticut and Louisville). We have tried to capture some of the sources of our disagreements in the discussion below, without having to show you too much about how the sausage gets made.

And with that, let's get to the Top 10 teams, after the jump...



1. North Carolina
AP rank = #1
Mindless predictor rank = #1
Minutes of experience = 8730
Players from the RSCI top 30 = 8

What we like: They are the preseason #1 in the AP, and in our mindless system as well.  They return a ton of talent.  No one stacks up top recruits like Roy Williams.  They will play hard at both ends of the court, will run and gun on offense, will take care of the ball, and will rebound.  Tyler Zeller runs the floor like few guys who are seven feet tall and is hard to stop in the post.  Harrison Barnes has loads of talent, and probably struggled with unrealistic expectations last year before coming on toward the end of the season in a big way. Kendall Marshall is the best floor general in the country and will be the most important player on the team. John Henson is a swatter in the post next to Zeller, and the Heels add super recruit James McAdoo to bolster what has often been a thin front court. Fellow super recruit P.J. Hairstonprovides the long-range bombs that would have been UNC's only weakness this year. This team is sickly deep with talent everywhere but at the PG spot, where Marshall MUST stay healthy. We both agreed that North Carolina belongs at #1.

What we don't like: Although they are the consensus number one choice, it is important to remember what North Carolina was like last year.  By the Kenpom.com ratings they were the #12 team in the country.  This is really good, of course, but it is not like this team has a previous history as some sort of dominant juggernaut.  We are expecting a very competitive season this year, so it doesn't seem likely a single team will be holding the #1 spot for the entire season or anything like that.  If North Carolina had one weakness last year, is was that they struggled knocking down shots.  Of their returning players, only Zeller was really efficient in terms of shooting percentage from the floor.  They were basically aroundthe NCAA median when it came to effective field goal percentage (a useful composite of two point and three point shooting percentages).  And they really struggled shooting the three.

2. Kentucky
AP rank = #2
Mindless predictor rank = #10
Minutes of experience = 6151
Players from the RSCI top 30 = 5

What we like: You might have heard somewhere that John Calipari is a good recruiter. Freshman Anthony Davis is perhaps the most talented player in the country.  Coach Cal also returns a couple of key players from last season's Final Four team.  Doron Lamb is a dangerous scorer and Terrance Jones is expected to be one of the better all-around players in the country at combo forward.  Freshman Marquis Teague at PG should be at least as good as NBA first round pick Brandon Knight and fits the dribble-drive offense much more soundly than Knight. Kyle Wiltjer and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will provide some serious talented depth to a UK frontcourt that, like UNC, has consistently lacked in that department over the past few years. This is the nightmare that people have been hoping to avoid from a Calipari coached team-yet another number 1 recruiting class that combines with a few of the sophomores from the class before who didn't enter the draft.  Another thing you also have to like about a Calipari-coached team is that you know they will work hard on defense.

What we don't like: The mindless predictor system is less enthusiastic about Kentucky.  (Can something be both mindless and enthusiastic?)  We worry about a team of freshman and sophomores in a year where college basketball is loaded with strong and talented teams of upperclassmen.  How will these kids transition to the college game?  Last season, we saw two freshman with high expectations:  Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger. Sullinger was perhaps the best player in the country, while Barnes struggled with his shot at the outset of the season.  You don't know how these guys will do in college until you see them play.

3. Syracuse
AP rank = #5
Mindless predictor rank = #5
Minutes of experience = 9860
Players from the RSCI top 30 = 3

What we like:  Last year, Kenpom.com had Syracuse at #11, and they have almost everyone back, including key playmaker Scoop Jardine, experienced combo guard Brandon Triche, and star small forward Kris Joseph.  This is a good and experienced squad that adds two RSCI top 30 freshmen (Michael Carter-Williams and Rakeem Christmas).  Syracuse is a team with size that will defend the rim.  We hope Fab Melo takes a big step forward in the middle of that zone this year, although the reviews on his improvement so far have been less than stellar.  And when Scoop throws a lob to Fab for a dunk, is that one of the best name combinations ever? Sophomores C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters are budding stars.

What we don't like: Zone defense, and all the problems that it brings with it.  Syracuse can get bounced by a less talented team that chases rebounds down and attacks their zone effectively with a full week of practice in the tournament.  This has happened at a high clip in the Big Dance lately. In addition to that, Syracuse is simply not a good three-point shootingteam.  All of their starting perimeter CAN shoot, but they're slashers at heart.  Same goes with the primary backups.  Makes it hard to come back from large deficits, as well as allowing defenses to collapse in the paint against you and stagnate your offense.

4. Ohio State
AP rank = #3
Mindless predictor rank = #15
Minutes of experience = 6952
Players from the RSCI top 30 = 3

What we like
:  This is a team with some phenomenal front line talent.  Jared Sullinger is obviously great, and sophomore combo forward Deshaun Thomas is a player who should have a breakout season.  William Buford was a key player for Ohio State last season, and he returns as well. He's a pure scorer from all over the court.  Aaron Craft should step forward in his second season as a floor general and defensive stopper.  They were the best team in basketball last year, return their best player, and add a solid recruiting class

What we don't like: Despite returning their best player, Ohio State will have to make up for a great deal of lost production from last season's team.  David Lighty was one of their major ball ballhandlers and playmakers.   Jon Diebler was perhaps the most dangerous shooter in all of college basketball. He was #1 in the NCAA in TS%, and shot better than 50% from three. That is a big loss that is not easily replaced.  Diebler had a true shooting percentage 0.72 last season.  The player expected to take many of his minutes this year is Aaron Craft, who last season had a true shooting percentage of 0.577.  Ohio State as a team last year had a trueshooting percentage of 0.589, but if you take away Diebler's contribution the rest of the team had a true shooting percentage of 0.569.  This is still a good total, but the difference with and without Diebler amounts to roughly 2 points per 100 possessions.  (In case you couldn't tell, that was Reggieball).  Dallas Lauderdale is also gone.  His defensive presence in the middle will be missed, and will have to be replaced by freshman center Amir Williams. Ohio State played at an elite level on defense last year, but will they do that again without Lauderdale guarding the rim?  He had a 10% shot block rate on his own.  No one else on that team really blocked shots, although Sullinger has supposedly slimmed down and can contribute to that area better this season.  Finally, not all of Ohio State's studfreshman class made it past the Clearing House.

5. Connecticut
AP rank = #4
Mindless predictor rank = Unranked
Minutes of experience = 6012
Players from the RSCI top 30 = 2

What we like:  We like Jeremy Lamb. His game is very solid-he can do a little bit of everything.  Kind of a Richard Hamilton player in that he probably isn't going to be a superstar, but will drop 20 on you without you knowing it's occurring. And we like Andre Drummond to become the next great Connecticut big man.  He's a freak of an athlete at center, and nobody in the country does more with those guys than UConn.  The best Jim Calhoun teams are big and physical inside, with intimidating rebounders and shot blockers.  Connecticut has talent at every position (including Texas favorite DeAndre Daniels), and has some real size inside.

What we don't like
: The mindless predictor does not like Connecticut.  Let's be honest, while Connecticut won the NCAA tournament last season, they had a pretty up and down year.  They won the tournament in a year where most of the top teams busted out.  If Connecticut had not made their tournament run last year, would they really be rated as high as they are by the AP?  Kemba Walker carried a huge load on offense, was the unquestioned team leader, and finished the first book of his life (no, that is not a joke. And he graduated from UConn in three years...) last season.  He is gone.  We are not crazy about Shabazz Napier, with his 0.507 true shooting percentage, getting more shots as a result.  Just because you play as a young guy behind a superstar does not make you the next superstar by default. Chris Duhon says "hi." Calhoun has a history of letting his guards become black holes on offense.  Think of guys like Khalid El-Amin and Jerome Dyson.

6. Vanderbilt
AP rank = #7
Mindless predictor rank = #2
Minutes of experience = 13106
Players from the RSCI top 30 = 1

What we like
: The mindless predictor rates Vanderbilt quite high at #2, although themargin between them and the next couple of teams isn't that great. (The gulf between North Carolina and everyone else in this approach is really large.)  We certainly don't think they are the #2 team in the country.   Still, a lot of upperclassmen makes a strong case for success.  Vanderbilt has four very good and experienced players in Jeffrey Taylor, Festus Ezeli, John Jenkins, and Brad Tinsleyand complementary pieces all over the court.  This is a team that was extremely good offensively last season and can really shoot the ball.  

What we don't like: Vanderbilt was #35 in last season's Kenpom ratings.  Basically, all but one of our top 10 teams was substantially better than Vanderbilt was last season.  While they were very good on offense, they need to improve on defense (the #88 ranked defense on kenpom.com) if they want to stay in the top 10 this year.  College basketball is seemingly dominated by a handful of the same programs year after year, and Vanderbilt needs to show that they are ready to step into that upper echelon, at least for this year.

7. Florida
AP rank = 8
Mindless predictor rank = 3
Minutes of experience = 10040
Players from the RSCI top 30 = 3

What we like:  If the NCAA game is about guard play, then Florida is loaded for bear this year.  They no longer have Vernon Macklin inside, but they return Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker in their backcourt, and beast/freak/monster Patric Young in the frontcourt.  Freshman guard Brad Beal is very highly thought of and has Ray Allen written all over him.  Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario is a talented scorer and rounds out the best scoring backcourt in the country.  Florida is also the #3 team in the mindless predictor ranking.
 
What we don't like: We worry that Walker and Boynton are both undersized catapults and don't add a whole lot other than scoring.  Boynton isn't all that efficient (TS% 0.524 last year), and might end up shooting the ball too much.  Mike Rosario is taller but in the same vein as a pure scorer.  And they really lack interior depth.  They seem to have many players with similar skill sets, none of which are even remotely related to defense.

8. Duke
AP rank = #6
Mindless predictor rank = #7
Minutes of experience = 7815
Players from the RSCI top 30 = 4

What we like
:  While we were somewhat divided on our view of Duke, this team is going to be pretty good.  Seth Curry and Andre Dawkinsare the kind of super efficient guards that stat geeks love.  The (now three) Plumlee brothers provide the size inside along with Ryan Kelly.  Coach K has once again brought in one of the very best recruits (Austin Rivers, son of Doc Rivers), as well as a second RSCI top 30 guy (Michael Gbinije).  We know that Duke will be one of the very best defensive teams in basketball, simply because they are every year.  

What we don't like: We are a little surprised that Duke came out this low in the mindless predictor rank.  It just shows just how competitive this season should be.  The analysis looks at two things:  experience and the number of players who were in the RSCI top 30 in their recruiting class.  Duke scores very high in these two areas, but not as high as some other teams. 

Duke doesn't have a real point guard, so they are going to have to fake it.  They managed to fake the point guard spot after Kyrie Irving's injury last season, but this year they no longer have the good fortune of having senior jack of all trades Nolan Smith. Instead, the freshman Rivers will likely have playmaking duties, and
his priority has never been to distribute the ball to teammates.

In many ways, Florida and Duke are opposites of each other.  Florida has all the guys who want the ball in their hands and to pull up whenever they want and add a star freshman who fits Duke's style.  Duke has the spot up guys and add a star freshman who fits Florida's style.  Florida's backcourt is better (the best, most likely), but Duke's interior is deeper, has more potential, and is less of a liability.  We could easily see flip-flopping these two.

9. Pittsburgh
AP rank = #10
Mindless predictor rank = #16
Minutes of experience = 7787
Players from the RSCI top 30 = 2

What we like:  Ashton Gibbs is a fantastic shooter.  He made 49% of his three point attempts last season.  We know Pitt will be tough and physical on the boards, as Jamie Dixon's program is one of the very best when it comes to rebounding at both ends of the court.  We really like freshman center Khem Birch, yet another talented Canadian prospect. He leads a very talented and athletic frontcourt.

What we don't like: Jamie Dixon's reputation as a coach that can't win big games exceeds that of pretty much everyone else right now.  And they don't score very as high in the mindless predictor system.  Also, they are going to have to make up for the loss of the ferocious Gary McGhee and senior leaders Brad Wannamaker and Gilbert Brown. After Gibbs and PG Travon Woodall, the cupboard is pretty bare in the backcourt.

10. Xavier
AP rank = #14
Mindless predictor rank = #11
Minutes of experience = 11536
Players from the RSCI top 30 = 0

What do we like: If you believe that college basketball really favors guard play, then you have to like Xavier's chances.  Tu Holloway is a star.  He helps a team win in all sorts of ways.  He is highly efficient on offense (TS% of 0.602 last year on 24.7% of his team's shots), sets other guys up as a playmaker, and even chases down a lot of defensive rebounds (DR% was 13.6% last year).  He's joined in the backcourt by fellow Mark Lyons, another double-digit scorer.  7-footer Kenny Frease is a very good player down low.  Chris Mack is a hell of a coach who has a talented and experienced team that does almost everything well.

What don't we like: Of all the teams in our top 10, Xavier was the weakest last season.  Kenpom had them at #45 last year, although at least some of that was because opponents shot for a weirdly high free throw shooting percentage against them.  Also, one of us lives a mile away from the Xavier campus, and we worry that we might be overrating them a bit based on familiarity.

Teams that we didn't include, but we discussed

There were several teams that we talked about, but that didn't make the final cut.  In some cases, these were teams that we disagreed on a lot.

Louisville
AP rank = #9
Mindless predictor rank = #6
Minutes of experience = 10794
Players from the RSCI top 30 = 2 (Blackshear is not counted)

Louisville is one of the teams we disagree on the most.

What we like:  A proven coach, a team loaded with upperclassmen, and a top 30 RSCI recruit in the incoming class in Chane Behanan.  The mindless predictor thinks they will be really good, even with the loss of stud freshman Wayne Blackshear. Last year's team was ranked #14 in the kenpom ratings.  Aesthetics can be a problem with Pitino teams.  They often look pretty ugly.  But things generally work out for them.  Louisville will get it done on defense.

What we don't like: They are going to miss Terrance Jennings.  Louisville just doesn't seem talented or big enough for the top 10, especially without Blackshear.


Florida State

AP rank = Unranked
Mindless predictor rank = #8
Minutes of experience = 11096
Players from the RSCI top 30 = 1

What we like: The AP doesn't even have these guys in the top 25.  The mindless predictor put them at #8.  The chief thing Florida State has going for them is loads of experience.  Also, they have been the top defensive team in the country in the kenpom ratings in each of the last two seasons.  These guys are just damn hard to score on.  Think about the level at which Texas played on defense during last January.  Florida State has been playing defense at that level for two full seasons.  It can get a little bit ugly at times on offense.  

What we don't like
:  Zero returning double-digit scorers. This team can really struggle on offense, and the loss of Chris Singleton will be big.  Putting them in the top 10 would be a big reach.

Memphis
AP rank = #11
Mindless predictor rank = #4
Minutes of experience = 9966
Players from the RSCI top 30 = 3

What we like
: The mindless predictor likes Memphis.  The AP has them at 11.  They have a lot of experience and have three guys who were once RSCI top 30 recruits.  Freshman Adonis Thomas is very highly regarded and they return a star backcourt with Joe Jackson and Will Barton.

What we don't like
: They weren't very good last season, to be honest (Kenpom had them ranked at #87).  Last year, Memphis was a team that was turnover prone and couldn't shoot.  This is a problem.  The mindless system doesn't know that.  Do the AP voters?


Baylor
AP rank = #12
Mindless predictor rank = #9
Minutes of experience = 9683
Players from the RSCI top 30 = 2

What we like: The mindless predictor has them higher than Kentucky, Xavier, Ohio State, Kansas, and Connecticut.  Perry Jones is quite a talent, and they landed another big recruit in Quincy Miller. They will be really big inside.  The AP has them at #12.  They're verytalented, have great length and height up front, and are athletic.  Could help be on the way at guard in the form of Juco POTY Pierre Jackson and BC transfer Brady Heslip?

What we don't like
:  They were #77 last season in the Kenpom ratings. LaceDarius Dunnis gone; can anyone else on this team shoot?  And they need to fix their turnover problem.  This was not a very good team last year.  Who is going to get those big guys the ball?  Baylor is an enigma wrapped ina mystery buried in a paradox. We don't think they have the guard play to be great, but we are waiting to see some of their new guys.  Despite their size, they were only OK on defense last season (ranked #72 defensively by kenpom.com).  The next great defensive team coached by Scott Drew will be the first one.  In fact, he's really just not that great of a coach overall...


Your thoughts?  Who did we leave out in the top 10?  Who is too high?

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