Back in August, we unveiled our preseason Top 180. While a significant portion of our top 25 closely aligned with the consensus views of the AP and Coaches Polls, there were notable deviations too. Some large ones. Let’s delve into these differences and share our perspectives on where we diverge from the voters of the AP and Coaches Polls and why.
Last year: Kenpom 18
Is Coach K making a surprise return from retirement? I’m struggling to understand Duke’s 2nd place preseason ranking, particularly when stacked against a team like Purdue. Purdue retains nearly their whole roster, which includes the Player of the Year and a season that’s among the most impressive individual seasons in NCAA history. Purdue stood tall at 5th in NET and 7th in KenPom winning the Big Ten regular season and Tournament in arguably the best conference in the nation. Whereas Duke was lagging 18th in Kenpom in a 7th ranked conference that was the ACC.
While no one denies Kyle Filipowski‘s potential, stacking him up against post-behemoths like Zach Edey, Hunter Dickinson, and Ryan Kalkbrenner paints a contrast. Our ADJeff rankings, which factor in Efficiency vs SOS, has Filipowski nationally ranked 20th. Very good but not at the same dominant level of a college player as those on the 1st tier. Could he improve sure, but at this point that is more speculative and projecting players and coaches that haven’t hit that level. We know what Purdue and Edey are.
I’ve seen Tyrese Proctor garner All-American mentions which makes no sense. His stats—a 12.8 PER, .504 true shooting percentage, and only a +6 NET rating—are questionable. There is nothing exemplary about those stats, in fact they are very poor in a down ACC. Jeremy Roach only had marginally better numbers; it’s a stretch to see him as a nationally dominant lead guard either.
Jon Scheyer has some big shoes to fill and remains unproven at the helm. While the recruiting class was commendable, we’re in the midst of the Covid era, an era where many rosters are flush with 5th and 6th-year players nearing their mid 20s and it’s harder to win with teenagers. Scheyer hasn’t demonstrated an ability to lead anytime to that level in college basketball much less those depending heavily on freshmen. Recruiting talents like Brandon Miller is the exception, not the rule in the current climate. He was also older and more ready at 20 years old than the typical freshman in the covid super senior era.
If Coach K was still orchestrating from the sidelines, the top 5 ranking would make sense based on his storied legacy. He’s not though and the only history we have is very limited of Scheyer. With what squads like Purdue, Creighton, and Marquette are returning—a proven talent pool that outshone Duke last year—I have doubts. Placing Duke anywhere near the top 5 from both talent and coaching angles seems optimistic. Ranking them around 10th feels more appropriate.
Last Year KenPom: 23rd
Maryland is bringing back Jahmir Young, who, based on stats, stands as the nation’s 2nd best guard in the nation in our model. Not to mention Julian Reese is arguably the most underrated player in the country. Considering the stats they’ve posted against this level of strength of schedule, it’s undeniable how impressive they were. The only key player Maryland lost was Hakim Hart from a team that was 23rd in KenPom last year. With their top 2 most important players coming back and fewer continuity concerns, it’s baffling to me that they aren’t even in the top 25. I’m not the biggest Kevin Willard fan but they should be Top 20.
Last Year KenPom: 32nd
Being completely left out of the AP Poll and only placed 39th in the Coaches’ Poll seems like a significant oversight to us. Johni Broome is the top statistical player returning in the SEC. Add to that returning starters like Jaylin Williams and KD Johnson. They’ve also landed Chad Baker-Mazara, the top JUCO player in the nation in our rankings, and Denver Jones, who averaged 20 points per game in CUSA. It’s worth noting that Chad Baker-Mazara had an impactful stint at San Diego State before spearheading his JUCO team to the national championship game last year. While there might be some uncertainty around the point guard position, I wouldn’t count out Bruce Pearl, especially when he has a talent like Johni Broome on the roster. By our assessment, they should definitely be among the top 25 teams. To not have them in the top 40 of the other polls is one I will be very interested in watching play out.
Last Year KenPom: 27th
Sure, it’s Kentucky, but are people overlooking the fact that they lost Oscar Tshiebwe from a team that barely made the top 30 last year? Now, they’re replacing a former National Player of the Year with Tre Mitchell and some freshmen essentially, and suddenly they’re ranked 16th? That calculation is hard for me to follow.
Yes, they have a talented freshman class, but it comes from a notably weaker draft year and class overall by the experts. How is this any different from Kentucky’s usual recruitment? Last year for example. If they find a couple of freshmen recruits on par with Carson Wallace and J. Toppin whom they lost. They’re just balancing out their previous losses.
We like Justin Edwards too, and of the freshmen around the nation he is 20 years old and in a better position to compete. He’s also not bringing the value of Tshiebwe and what he did for that team. Edwards averaged 17.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 57.8 percent from the field in high school last year and is widely regarded to be Kentucky’s best projected player this season. Aaron Bradshaw 12.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game as a senior. These are two of the frontline guys tasked with replacing Tshiebwe and Toppin.
This approach hasn’t been as effective for Calipari recently, especially in this covid era of super seniors where many teams boast seasoned players approaching their mid 20s. Kentucky might lack the experience to square up against such seasoned competition with 19 year olds.
Tshiebwe’s absence alone is a significant gap to bridge people are vastly underestimating IMO. He wasn’t as good last year as he was 2 years ago but he still put up 16.5ppg and 13.7rpg and a 30.9 PER and an incredible +32 NET rating. He wasn’t the issue for why they underachieved and without him they probably aren’t an NCAA team last year. That’s certainly a big hole in the lineup to replace. I don’t see it who is making up that kind of value.
Last Year KenPom: 42nd
N’Faly Dante stands out as one of the nation’s most overlooked talents, serving as a cornerstone for Oregon. The team also welcomes back Jermaine Couisnard and Keeshawn Barthelemy, and with the addition of Kario Oquendo, a former 15ppg scorer from Georgia, they’ve secured a strong perimeter lineup. Throw in two of the top incoming freshman recruits, who aren’t being asked to carry this team, and you have a formidable team build.
This is a team that fits and makes a lot more sense than fellow Pac-12 team UCLA who did make the Top 25. Oregon will have the best player on the court in most games they play all season in our model. That’s value they start with, with Dante most nights others will have to overcome. He and Johni Broome are top 5 values in our model. We would like to see Dante play a few more minutes to max that, and I believe Dante will now that Ware is in Indiana.
Last Year KenPom: 45th
Boogie Ellis and Isaiah Collier are impressive; their pairing likely ranks among the top backcourts in the nation. However, the frontcourt situation raises concerns. Most premier teams in this version of college basketball covid era possess experienced standout big men. Competing with the best becomes challenging if you can’t match the value of elite bigs like N’Faly Dante, Oumar Ballo, and Branden Carlson they will see in the Pac-12 and Johni Broome OOC.
Aday Mara is on our radar as a potential lottery pick for the 2024 draft. Paired with Adem Bona, there’s undeniable talent on the roster. However, the hitch is that they occupy the same position. Neither seems to be strong shooters, and there’s limited support around them, even if one attempts to play them concurrently. Plus, both are still in their teenage years. Given the current era, relying on such young players can be challenging. While I believe Cronin is an excellent coach, I’m not sold on the fit or the perimeter players for this team. Lazar Stefanovic, possibly their most reliable non-post player, posted a 13 PER for Utah last year. Ranking them in the top 25 seems ambitious when the team’s success hinges on players like Stefanovic and a handful of freshmen to handle the ball and make decisions.
Last Year’s KenPom: 34
While not technically ranked Virginia did receive a lot of of votes in each poll. We have an enormous amount of respect for Tony Bennett and what he is able to do with less sought out players, but we can’t see it this year. Bennett is very dependent on the pack line defense a system that had been taught over years before. In the portal era it’s less ideal for a constant stream of transfers in an out.
Virginia’s last two KenPom ranks are 72nd and 34th. This isn’t vintage Virginia anymore as far as we can see. The team from last year took heavy losses losing 5 of the top 7 players. That included two former All ACC performers in Clark and Gardner. The top returner is Reece Beekman who averaged 9.5ppg, 5.3apg with an 18.2 PER. He graded out poorly in our model. This is a team that will need a to rely heavily on transfers this season and they also graded out poorly. Dante Harris was inefficient for a bad Georgetown team, Jacob Groves average 6.8ppg for an Oklahoma team that was barely top 40, Andrew Rohde started in D3 and Jordan Minor was dominate but in arguably the worst conference in America (that was around 30th). There is a big difference in that and for instance Jayden Gardner who was one of the best players in the AAC which was 7th or Armaan Franklin or Ben Vander Plas level transfers. You trust the coach and system, but only to a point in our opinion.
|4||Michigan State||4||Michigan State|
|15||Texas A&M||15||San Diego State|
|17||San Diego State||17||Baylor|
|19||North Carolina||19||Texas A&M|
|23||Saint Mary’s||23||Saint Mary’s|
*ADJeff is a rating of returning players’ efficiency. There are other factors we consider in our rankings like continuity, coaching, freshmen, fit etc.