KenPom projections paint different picture

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
1:30
PM ET
Yesterday, RealGM’s Dan Hanner released his brand new, thoroughly impressive preseason projection system, one that uses a variety of historical data inputs to predict future performance for all 345 Division I teams.

His system poured a bit of fuel on my Michigan fire, but more important than that, Dan’s rankings represent just one more piece of information you should consume in tandem with your magazines and preseason polls. It’s important to maintain a well-balanced hoops diet.

A day later, it’s time for another hearty serving of wonky deliciousness. On Tuesday, Ken Pomeroy, whose KenPom.com is the defining tempo-free college basketball analytics page, released his first edition of rankings -- or preseason projections -- of the 2012-13 season. You can see them here.

As Ken wrote by way of explanation, “these rankings might not match what you’ve seen in any other venue.” That is true. Pretty much everyone -- including Hanner -- lists Indiana at No. 1 to start the season. In Ken’s rankings, the Hoosiers are No. 3, ensconced behind No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Ohio State. Now, Indiana fans, before you start flaming Pomeroy on Twitter, at least take the time to figure out how the system works:
The logic goes like this: If you could have one thing to predict a team’s offense, what would it be? It turns out last season’s offensive efficiency would be that thing. It does a good job of predicting offense the following season. After that, the previous season’s offensive efficiency is the next best predictor, and after that, last season’s defensive efficiency helps a bit. (Flip the script for the defensive predictors.) Those three things are the foundation of the system.

The model takes those basic stats from the past and adjusts them for returning players.

It should not come as a total surprise, then, that Indiana would rank behind last season’s two best teams, even with returning players as a model factor. As the Hoosiers themselves will readily admit, they were not a good defensive team last season. It is rare for a team with a defense so mediocre -- they finished ranked No. 64 in adjusted defensive efficiency -- to seriously contend for a national title the next season. But Indiana knows all this, and is deeper and more athletic than last season, and with all that depth and defensive focus I think it’s impossible to rank Ohio State or Kentucky over them to start the year. If anything, it merely emphasizes what we’ve been saying all along: That there are few, if any, guarantees in the 2012-13 hoops season. Everyone has flaws. Indiana, I’d wager, has the fewest. But we’ll see.

Anyway, Ken’s numbers will come up a lot in these parts over the next five months, because tempo-free statistics are crucial to understanding what our eyes tell us when we watch so many hours of college basketball. So if you haven’t already, go to Ken’s site, consider a very reasonably subscription (can KenPom live?), familiarize yourself, and have fun.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

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