Among computer polls, I value only NET higher than KenPom. This preference is primarily because NET is an essential tool for the NCAA selection committee, having replaced the RPI. It stands as the current benchmark for determining what matters on Selection Sunday among computer rankings. However, KenPom has its merits; he continues to rank schools, taking into account all post-season runs. I believe this approach provides a more valuable final ranking than any other poll, capturing the essence of how teams performed during the most crucial part of the season.
At TRN, our approach to rankings is reminiscent of Jeet Kun Do. We employ metrics and have a model that ranks teams in the preseason based on players with D1 college statistical resumes. Yet, we aren’t strictly bound to our model’s output. It serves as a guidepost, but we infuse a human touch by considering factors such as continuity, coaching, freshman projections, end-of-year performance, projected improvement, team build, fit, etc. While one could attempt to quantify these elements, aspects like coaching – which significantly impacts a team – still require a human perspective. At the end of the day, evaluating peak efficiency is straightforward if balanced against the SOS, offering insights into a team’s proven potential.
Take, for instance, Leonard Hamilton as a coach. His impressive resume is undeniable, but most observers might rank him differently now than they would have 5 or 10 years ago, even though his career accomplishments remain consistent. As an example, our model ranked Villanova as the 4th best team in the nation. They boast one of the most talented returning groups, but the vast majority have never played together, and their coach remains untested. Such factors need consideration. Conversely, proven winners like Virginia and Boise State might need a bump in rankings, even if their raw talent appears less prominent on paper. They consistently seem to extract more from their rosters.
While I respect KenPom’s contributions,there are differences, especially in a preseason poll without the current data behind it. Since he released his preseason rankings, let’s discuss the major discrepancies between his list and ours, especially considering we last updated ours on September 1.
Where We Were Aligned
Our rankings align closely in many areas. For some of the more debated picks, especially when compared with the AP and Coaches Poll, our conclusions on teams like Duke (9th in KP, 10th in TRN) and Auburn (15th in KP, 14th in TRN) are almost identical. This concurrence is notworthy, especially considering the stark differences in the AP and Coaches Poll. Auburn, for instance, didn’t even make the AP’s list and only managed to secure the 39th spot in the Coaches Poll based on votes. For San Diego State, there’s a noticeable difference: while KP ranked them 29th and TRN 28th, they secured 17th and 15th positions in the AP and Coaches Polls, respectively.
Where We Diverge
Much like the AP and Coaches Poll, KenPom also ranked several teams notably higher than we did.
We’ve provided an in-depth rationale for our rankings of these specific teams. If you’re interested in a deeper dive, you can explore our detailed analysis here.
With so many new teams to discuss, let’s center our attention on them in this article.
Last year, FAU was ranked 17th in KenPom’s own final rankings. Remarkably, they are returning with essentially the same team and coach that achieved a 35-4 record and made it to the Final Four.
One could infer that perhaps there’s a belief that FAU was overvalued in his rankings last year, or they might face more losses against a stiffer SOS this season. Our ADJeff rankings also positioned them lower at 43rd, but when a team delivers a performance like FAU’s, it’s hard not to acknowledge it in a preseason rankings.
Yes, they narrowly escaped defeat in the first round, and their triumphant run could easily have been curtailed. However, it wasn’t. With their NET and KenPom rankings at 13th and 17th respectively, the norm suggests teams of this caliber tend to improve. I’m not advocating for a top 5 ranking, but placing them within the top 20 seems justifiable.
Even if one argues they overachieved, this is a classic instance where human judgment should play a role in the rankings. Would I be stunned if they ended up at 40th? Not at all. Yet, by pure logic, their past performance warrants a spot in the top 20. While I respect data-driven decisions, this is a situation where human insight ought to weigh in in our opinion.
Betting against Scott Drew, whom I consider a Top 5 coach, is a gamble. However, the current team ranks 45th in our ADJeff model, despite Jalen Bridges positioning as a top 15 value. The variance seems to hinge on the valuation of Rayj Dennis. While Dennis boasts impressive statistics, they come against a notably weak SOS – weaker, I’d argue, than what most might expect even from a MAC team.
I’m fully cognizant of Drew’s past achievements, especially when integrating transfers like Flagler and Teague from conferences akin to the Big South, given my experience running a transfer-focused site. Yet, I harbor reservations about considering this squad as a top 7 contender. Recall that they settled at 16th in KenPom’s rankings last year, and this was with the formidable trio of Keyonte George, LJ Cryer, and Adam Flagler supporting Bridges. That roster appeared both more potent and deep.
Replacing such talent is a daunting task. While history may suggest optimism, a 27th rank seems more fitting for a team undergoing such transitions.
Alabama is one team where our ranking aligns more closely with both the AP and Coaches Poll, with each placing them 24th. Ranking them tenth, however, appears quite ambitious for a squad that returns just one pivotal player from last year’s Alabama lineup: Mark Sears, who recorded 12.5 ppg, 2.6 apg, and a PER of 16.4. The team’s success this season will hinge significantly on contributions from Grant Nelson (from North Dakota State) and Aaron Estrada (from Hofstra). While undoubtedly talented, I wouldn’t categorize them as the bedrock for a top 10 team. Additionally, this year’s incoming freshman class doesn’t match the prowess of the previous cohort. Essentially, this is a revamped team, but one seemingly less equipped in terms of raw talent.
Iowa is an intriguing case. They finished 41st in KenPom last year and bid farewell to their 20ppg scorer, Kris Murray. At first glance, it’s hard to envision such a team on the ascent. Yet, they landed at 19th in our ADJeff model. Fran McCaffery has showcased his coaching prowess, and it’s worth noting that his son, Patrick McCaffery, missed six conference games, potentially affecting the team’s win-loss record. Interestingly, while Murray’s exit might seem significant, his role appears surprisingly replaceable within Iowa’s system. The trio of Tony Perkins, Payton Sandfort, and McCaffery provides a solid returning core. Furthermore, the addition of Ben Krikke, who averaged 19.4ppg and 5.9rpg in the MVC, should bolster their lineup.
Last year, Miami was our standout sleeper pick. We boldly ranked them 11th in the preseason. While they didn’t reach the top 15 position, they eventually hit their stride, reaching the Final Four and ending up 23rd in KenPom — a notably stronger performance than many preseason projections suggested. Key contributors like Norchad Omier and Nijel Pack, who we were particularly bullish on, are returning. Pack, in particular, has demonstrated the potential to play at an even loftier level than he showcased last season. I anticipate further growth from him this year. However, I must admit, I could envision this team finishing somewhat below the 18th spot we’ve assigned them. The departures of Wong and Miller won’t be easily offset, but with Omier, Pack, and Larranaga on board, 18th feels justifiable. Interestingly, our ranking is quite close to the general consensus this time, with both other polls placing them 13th. However, our ADJeff model is a tad more conservative, ranking them 29th.
In conclusion, the beauty of sports and rankings lies in their unpredictability and the myriad factors that influence outcomes. While we each bring our own analysis, expertise, and perspective to the table, it’s essential to remember that no one has a crystal ball. We all have our moments of insight as well as our misjudgments. It’s the nature of the game, and it’s what makes tracking these rankings over the seasons so captivating. Here’s to another season of discovery, learning, and the shared joy of the unexpected.