Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Projecting the 2015 NCAA Tournament

Although news of transfers out and grad transfers in seems to come in every day, I'm ready to consider the T-Rank preliminarily done. So I've got a projected rank of all 351 teams, and projected conference champions. That lets me project the NCAA tournament. Here is is!

1 Louisville
1 Kansas
1 Wisconsin
1 Arizona

Louisville is a bit of an outlier as my projected overall #1 seed. The thing with Louisville is that they've finished first in adjusted efficiency each of the last two seasons. So their base "program rating" is easily the best. They are losing one of the best college players ever, Russ Smith, but got a nice surprise when Montrezl Harris decided not to go pro. So they return enough minutes and enough power to project as number one. I doubt they will be the best team in the country next year, but it would be foolish not to project them as a top-ten team.

2 Kentucky
2 Duke
2 North Carolina
2 Florida 

With the Harrison twins returning, everyone is slotting Kentucky in at number one, again. They'll certainly be loaded with talent, and T-Rank projects Aaron Harrison to be the single most impactful player on any major conference team. But they do lose their best player (Randle), and their incoming recruiting class isn't quite as good as last year's. Moreover, Kentucky's overall results the last two years—remember that they were an 8-seed last year, and lost in the first round of the NIT the year before—make T-Rank a little skeptical. If Kentucky had lost any of those close games they played prior to the Final Four, I don't think anyone would be quite so gaga about them next year.  Still, they obviously have the talent to win the national title, so number five seems about right as a projection.

If I were doing these projections, I'd probably put Duke on the 1-seed line instead of Louisville, probably ahead of Arizona as well. Duke will again be relying on a stellar recruiting class, and the game against the Badgers in Madison should be a doozy.

Speaking of Arizona, they should be quite good again next year, but the somewhat unexpected departure of Nick Johnson to the pros tempers expectations somewhat.

No reason not to expect Florida to be good again. They lose an epic senior class that went to three Elite Eights and a Final Four, but they'll just reload under Billy Donovan.

North Carolina brings back a lot of young players, and adds another nice recruiting class. It figures to be one of their up years.

3 Michigan St.
3 Virginia
3 Wichita St.
3 Iowa St. 

As discussed previously, Michigan St. comes out a bit high on the T-Rank. That said, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Michigan St. get a 3-seed next year. It's questionable whether Branden Dawson can be "the man," and State lacks "stars" behind him—but they have a bunch of good players, and bunch of guys who got good minutes last year because of all their injuries. I can't help thinking that they are due to get a little lucky next year.

Wichita State should remain a very good team. They lose Cleanthony Early, but Fred Van Vleet and all the other major contributors return. That said, don't expect them to go 18-0 in the Missouri Valley again, because the conference should take a major step forward next year. T-Rank projects that Northern Iowa, Evansville, and Illinois State should all take big leaps next year, as they all return the bulk of their young rosters. 

Fred Hoiberg solidified next year's roster with the addition of grad transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones from UNLV. They also add Jameel McKay, a juco who committed to Marquette last year then immediately decided to transfer, and Abdel Nader, a transfer out of Northern Illinois. Of course you never know how a transfer-heavy team will come together, but by now Fred Hoiberg gets the benefit of the doubt.

4 Texas
4 Gonzaga
4 Michigan
4 Oklahoma 

T-Rank was pretty much alone in predicting that Texas would be good last year, and it continues to like the Longhorns. Everybody is on to them now, as they return everybody from a ridiculously young team that made the NCAA tournament. 

Oklahoma is another team on the rise under Lon Kruger, and they return most of their key contributors. They are a darkhorse to make some noise in the Big 12. 

5 Ohio St.
5 Pittsburgh
5 Villanova
5 VCU 

Villanova is projected to win the Big East, and VCU is projected to win the A10. Ohio St. is a bit of a mystery team, but I'd never bet against a Thad Matta team. They bring in an impact grad transfer (Anthony Lee, from Temple) and the Big Ten's most highly touted recruit (D'Angelo Russell).

6 Kansas St.
6 Illinois
6 Utah 

SMU is expected to continue its rapid rise under Larry Brown, as they return most of their young talent and add possibly the best player in the class of 2015, Emmanuel Mudiay.

Utah is also climbing under Larry Krystowiak. Along with SMU, they were one of the better teams not to make the tournament last year, and they should be better next year.

Illinois is anyone's guess next year. They've got some transfers coming in (though Groce recently suspended Darius Paul for the year) and some talent coming back. I don't think Groce is a very good coach, but I'm often wrong about these things.

Speaking of bad Illinois coaches, there's Kansas State.

7 Colorado
7 Minnesota
7 Iowa
7 Northern Iowa 

Colorado is an interesting team. Spencer Dinwiddie went pro, but everybody else returns. They were decent even after his injury last year, so they could continue to improve next year.

Iowa and Minnesota follow on Illinois' heels as mediocre Big Ten teams. As with Illinois, this seems like a best-case scenario for both teams.

There's Northern Iowa, evidence of the MVC resurgence I mentioned above. They return just about everybody, and Ben Jacobson has a history of success, so they are T-Rank's pick for the at-large out of the MVC.

8 Syracuse
8 San Diego St.
8 North Carolina St.
8 Nebraska 

Once again, the T-Rank doesn't like Syracuse. But Syracuse has the same question marks as they did going into last year -- a lot of turnover, and who will play point guard? They struck gold with Tyler Ennis, and this year they'll likely be counting on a freshman again, 4-star recruit Kaleb Joseph. But Boeheim is one of those coaches who just wins, of course.

Nebraska checks in as an 8-seed. It will surprise no one, of course, if they are better than Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. They've got some legacy issues keeping their T-Rank down, although I made some major tweaks this year largely to account for teams like Nebraska that have really turned a corner. Sometimes a team like Nebraska turns out to be a flash in the pan, but Coach Miles's record of success is pretty remarkable.  

9 Baylor
9 Notre Dame
9 Alabama
9 Butler 

Butler figures to rise again in the Big East, fueled by some transfers. But their T-Rank still reflects some Brad Stevens mojo, so they'll be interesting to watch next year. Importantly, they'll get Roosevelt Jones back from injury next year. 

10 BYU
10 Connecticut
10 Mississippi
10 Colorado St. 

BYU is a tough team to figure with all the missions, and they lost grad transfer Matt Carlino (to Marquette). But this is about where they seem to be every year. UConn loses a lot, and the rather unexpected departure of Ryan Boatright Deandre Daniels to the pros is an unexpected hit. Colorado State is kind of the mirror image of Nebraska — they had a down year last year, but have a solid history to buck up their T-Rank. But it's questionable whether Larry Eustachy can maintain what Tim Miles built.

11 West Virginia
11 Columbia
11 Oklahoma St.
11 UCLA 

UCLA has suffered a wave of defections, and they're a tough team to figure. West Virginia has young returning talent but suffered a gut punch with Eron Harris's decision to transfer. 

The big surprise here is Columbia, which T-Rank projects as the Ivy League champ over Harvard. This is anomolous, of course. But Columbia returns everybody from a solid young team (#123 in Kenpom last year). I will be rooting for them!

12 Miami FL
12 Florida St.
12 Stanford
12 Harvard 
12 Murray St.
12 UC Irvine

Harvard sneaks in as the last at-large despite Columbia's surge. Stanford is probably underrated here, largely because they have been better than their statistical profile the last couple years. Miami and Florida St. give the sunshine state something to hope for.

13 Green Bay
13 Stephen F. Austin
13 Georgia St.
13 Siena 

It's all automatic qualifiers from here down. Green Bay is again projected to win the Horizon, with Cleveland St. a close second in the projections. Overall, this would be a pretty scary set of 13-seeds.

14 Denver
14 New Mexico St.
14 Toledo
14 Louisiana Tech 

15 Lafayette
15 Radford
15 Stony Brook
15 Northeastern 

16 Florida Gulf Coast
16 Montana
16 Wofford
16 St. Francis NY
16 North Carolina Central
16 Alabama St.


Here are the top ten teams, as projected by the T-Rank, that missed the field:

Saint Mary's
New Mexico

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