Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dove Entrails, Tea Leaves and Returning Minutes (by Year)

Breaking it Down by Year...
Last summer I followed my original post with a break down of minutes by experience level with a number of comments about how ordering the teams by 3, 2 and 1 years of experience changed the order. The breakdown by years going into 2009-10 looks like this...

Notre Dame47.085.711.72.7
Seton Hall75.838.523.737.5
St. John's93.41.682.116.3
South Florida62.927.029.643.4
West Virginia65.942.020.138.0

Only about half of the conference teams have released "summer rosters" to this point, a little late compared to last summer, and a problem when trying to develop a clear picture of who will be available next season. The status of three players in particular -- rising junior Reggie Redding from Villanova, rising freshman Truck Bryant and red shirt junior Joe Mazzulla, both from West Virginia -- is not certain. Bryant and Mazzulla, suspended by West Virginia coach Bob Huggins several months ago, are not counted in West Virginia's numbers. Redding, the subject of a criminal complaint from Radnor Township, PA (where Villanova is located) is counted in Villanova's numbers. But that could change pending the University's decision.

Peaks and Valleys
The 0.0 percentages drew my attention immediately. I assumed the ideal for a program was an even distribution of the minutes (about 1/3 of the time for each of the returning classes), with some (minor) variation due to the unexpected/unavoidable circumstances (early exit to the NBA draft, injury/red shirt, etc.), but 11 of the 16 Big East teams going into this season can look to one of their three returning classes to contribute fewer than 20% of the minutes, with 7 programs having one class contribute less than 3% of the minutes. The distribution creates a young/old "bias" in some squads. While Georgetown and DePaul return nearly the same percentage of minutes, consider how they are distributed among the players on each squad. Had the two squads logged 9-9 records last season (and make no mistake here, I don't believe the two squads are comparable...) which would you be inclined to believe would have the better season in 2010? Georgetown's 0% senior class is unexpected, but unexpected given their 30.9/30.0/39.1 "balance" going into the 2009 season. That balance by the way, did not help them at all as the Hoyas' 15-3 2008 record dropped to 7-11 in 2009. What happened to that anticipated 30.0% "senior" class is part of a phenomena that is little noted by the media. Back in 2007 Coach Thompson brought in 3 well regarded freshmen, none of whom will finish their eligibility at Georgetown. DaJuan Summers left early for the NBA (June of 2009), while Jeremiah Rivers and Vernon Macklin both transferred out after the 2008 season. And of the 4 members of the class that entered in 2006, only Jesse Sapp finished at Georgetown. The other three, Marc Egerson, Octavius Spann and Josh Thornton all transferred. A junior walk-on, Byron Jansen, did play 2 seasons with Sapp. The number of programs with very uneven distributions however, is not unusual. In 2008, the number of squads that had a class with <20% of the minutes numbered 14. And of those who had a class contribute 3% or less, the number was also 7. One squad (DePaul!) in fact had 2 classes that contributed <20%.

So, Does Experience Matter?
If the results from last season are a reliable measure, the answer is mixed, squads with a bias towards seniors did not uniformly do better than other, "younger" squads last season, nor in some cases, were they able to improve significantly on their records from the previous (2007) season. Notable "flops" included Notre Dame, a squad that returned 85.8% of their 2008 minutes, just over half (54.3%) of which came from seniors alone, which nevertheless dropped from 14-4 to 8-10, a surprisingly large margin for a single season, especially given the experience level of the returning squad. The value of Rob Kurz perhaps? Rutgers, another squad that returned 86.1% of it's 2008 minutes, just over half of which (50.7%) came from seniors, may have improved one spot in the final standings, but actually won one fewer game in 2009, going from 3-15 to 2-16. For other squads however, luck (the dumb damned kind, not the Pythagorean kind) comes into play. Marquette fielded a squad that returned 80.1% of their 2008 minutes, fully 62.6% of those minutes coming from seniors, was 12-2 on February 25, bearing down on a 14-4/15-3 Big East record when, 4:00 minutes into their home game against the UConn Huskies, their senior point guard Dominic James went down with an ankle injury. James was essentially finished for the season (and his career at Marquette). The Golden Eagles dropped their last 4 regular season games, finishing 12-6. Pittsburgh's seniors accounted for 54.7% of the squad's returning minutes (66.3% of their 2008 minutes returned) and led the squad to an Elite Eight finish, the longest NCAA run in Coach Jamie Dixon's tenure. The Providence squad returned 84.3% of their 2008 minutes, 50.6% of those minutes comming from seniors who led the Friars to their second NIT in the last 4 years.

The converse also showed mixed results. True DePaul, returning only 49% of their 2008 minutes (and 14.9% of those minutes coming from seniors) did not win a regular season Big East conference game, but Syracuse returned 81.1% of the minutes from a 2008 squad that finished 9-9 (and out of the NCAA) with a senior contribution of 1.1% for their 2009 season. That Orange squad won 11 Big East games and ran to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAAs. The Pirates of Seton Hall returned 51.9% of their 2008 minutes (10.3% from seniors) and finished with identical records (Big East and overall) in 2009.

Still to Resolve...
It is obvious that a transfer or JUCO player is more experienced than a true (or red shirt) freshman, but how much more experienced? A red shirt freshman has (injury red shirts excepted) practiced with the team and participated in the athletic program short of logging game time. That some number of coaches value the experience of a JUCO (or a transfer) over the additional years of eligibility offered by a true (or red shirt) freshman is obvious. It is nearly self evident that JUCOs provide short-term help to a program, but balanced against the prospect of a 4 year career, is the immediate experience worth the loss of the additional 2 years?

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