Thursday, September 30, 2010

Returning Minutes and PWP -- the A-10 Going Into 2011

How Many Bids?
Though speculation at the midpoint of the Atlantic 10's 2010 regular conference season had as many as five, teams "in" or "right side of the bubble" for the NCAA Tournament, only three (Richmond, Temple and Xavier) were eventually invited. Seeded at #5 (Temple), #6 (Xavier) and #7 (Richmond), two of the three exited quickly, but Xavier did manage to go to the Sweet Sixteen where they bowed out to Kansas State after two overtimes. I developed an aerial that mapped the offensive and defensive efficiencies of the conference back in July which strongly suggested the conference had a number of very competitive teams last season. In addition to the three NCAA-bound teams, the conference also sent two to the NITs where Rhode Island ran to the semi-final round (eliminated by North Carolina) and Dayton won it all (beating North Carolina). Two were also invited to the CBI post season tournament, and ironically both were eliminated by the same VCU team that won the championship. George Washington was eliminated in the first round, while St. Louis eliminated three teams (Indiana State, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Princeton) before being eliminated by VCU in the championship series (0-2 in best of three). The aerial below maps returning minutes for the 2011 season each team's overall Pythagorean Winning Percentage (PWP) as determined by their play throughout the season against the conference averages for both. The table below lists the schools alphabetically, with percentage of returning minutes and PWP, along with the difference between the school's percentages and the average for the conference.

Pct. (n * 100)Difference (n-Avg)
George Washington75.366.5+10.4-0.8
La Salle49.952.2-19.0-15.1
Rhode Island60.782.6-4.2+15.2
Saint Joseph's53.549.4-11.4-18.3
St. Bonaventure58.159.6-6.8-7.7
St. Louis82.774.4+17.8+7.1
Std Dev11.4022.24

The Atlantic-10's conference-wide PWP average, 67.3, reflects a good out of conference winning percentage versus all opponents. The conference may schedule it's share of cupcakes, but with a conference representative in virtually every early season invitational tournament, not to mention annual home-away series with teams from most of the five "above the red line" conferences, the average PWP is a fair reflection of where the conference ranks in the D1 pecking order. As preparation for a longer look at the A-10's prospects going into the 2011 season, I decided to map each team's PWP and percentage of returning minutes into a scatter chart...

And judging from the distribution of the teams, I would suggest the answer to ESPN's lead-in question (rhetorical most likely, for the headlines) to their Summer Shootaround article (posed again above -- "How many bids?") is "At least as many as 2010, but if not more, then most certainly better seeds" -- if there are no surprises. The scatter chart shows five teams in to the upper right quadrant, where teams that return more than the conference average for minutes and had a higher than conference average PWP last season, are mapped. While the scatter chart is no guarantee of results (everyone still has to play the games, that's the fun of the season, right?), it is a visual that can provide a quantitative perspective as a counterpart to the flurry of predictions. In "above the Red Line" conference, teams in the upper right quadrant generally perform at or better than the previous season (conference record, rank), while teams in the lower left (returning minutes and last season's PWP less than the conference average, a double hit that suggests performance will lag) generally perform at or below their previous season's conference record/rank. The distribution also suggests competition in the Atlantic-10 will be tough next season as so many winning teams return large percentages of their playing time -- teams that won last season return players who know how to win. Questions of talent aside, that should indicate it will be even more difficult for freshmen-led teams to break through next season. There are a number of questions with particular programs...

About Charlotte
When a team that maps into the "Above Average" quadrant has a new coach, it almost always means their former coach moved on to (bigger and better...) things. Not so with the 49ers, who fired the winningest coach in their program's history and turn to a Thad Matta assistant coach to take up the program reins. The fan-base was supportive of AD Judy Rose's decision to terminate Bobby Lutz, and bring in Alan Major as his successor, a response that suggests the desire for change was widespread. That the program suffered no significant post succession transfer losses suggests the players are on board. If Bobby Lutz had moved on to another head coaching job (he landed on the Iowa State staff as an associate head coach, a situation that should benefit both Lutz and newbie Head Coach Fred Hoiberg) and Coach Major had head coaching experience (leading a winning program) before moving over to Charlotte, predicting good things for the 49ers in 2011 would be a no-brainer. As it is, arguments that Charlotte will finish in the A-10's upper division are persuasive. The key for Charlotte will be if Coach Major addresses the 49ers defense (their Achilles Heel last season), find a good successor to the point guard position and avoid the temptation to retool the offense (it was good in 2010).

Dayton & Rhode Island...Coming or Going?
Both teams performed well in the NIT, a tournament commonly believed to be a good stepping stone to the NCAA, especially for the teams that get to New York City. Both programs have, however, seen a good percentage of their rotation minutes (and points) move on. Rhode Island suffered a few disappointments on the recruiting trail, but Coach Jim Baron managed to recoup those losses with a number of mid and late summer recruits. While not a "returning Ram", Dan West does have a year of JUCO ball and should bring a few more points to the back court. Dayton faces a similar loss of (starting & rotation) minutes. Coach Gregory is known for his deep rotation, but having two stellar wings in Chris Johnson and Chris Wright, six additional returning squad members and an MVC transfer guard (Josh Parker from Drake) who practiced with the Flyers last season should make for a good bounce back. The Flyers have additional back court (where they lost quite a few minutes) in Juwan Staten, a freshman who, if recruiting gurus are correct, should be in the thick of the A-10 Rookie of the Year race this season (the Dagger Blog has a worthwhile interview with Staten, if you have the time).

The Situation in St. Louis
Most thought the Billikens dodged a bullet when local prosecutor Jennifer Joyce declined prosecution in a sexual assault case, but a University Judicial Committee has also heard the case and according to reports rendered a decision that the players have appealed. While details of the decision will not be announced until the players appeal has been adjudicated, rumors suggest that the Committee assessed a punishment that included a one year suspension, coupled with a ban from on-campus housing when the players return to school. A school suspension would render the players unavailable in 2011, a huge disruption to the Billiken program, which if true, would drop Coach Majerus' squad into the lower right quadrant with Dayton and Rhode Island.

Saint Joseph's Dream Class
Head Coach Phil Martelli brings the best incoming class of the conference to Hawk Hill this season. Will that group of freshmen be able to reverse the program's fortunes in 2011? They may well be, individually, better than the squad Coach Martelli put on the court last season, but with better competition the Hawks may be hard pressed to match their five conference win mark from 2010.

Observations... I reviewed the table and chart a few points came to mind:
1. The standard deviation for returning minutes was just over 11%. The standard deviation for the PWP was nearly twice that of returning minutes, suggesting there is a rather large gap in the best and worst (as measured by PWP) in the conference. A quick check of the numbers shows that Fordham, at whose variance from the PWP average, -53.3, is more than twice the variance of Xavier's 23.4, the "best" PWP in the conference. Fordham, ranked #304 (out of 347 in Division 1) presents quite a challenge for new Head Coach Tom Pecora. These Rams went 0-16 last season, a mark Coach Pecora should be able to exceed. But Fordham will probably not be competitive for #13 place in the conference.
2. Although he has upped the Bonnies' number of conference wins each year of his tenure, if the conference is as tough as I expect next season, Coach Mark Schmidt may be hard pressed to improve that conference win total (7) in his fourth season in Olean.
3. Massachusetts and George Washington should be interesting conference story lines this season. Both return a lot of minutes in programs that have struggled of late. A more competitive conference race may mean neither team shows improvement in their respective conference won-loss records, though both could actually make progress. Crucial numbers to check would include efficiency differentials (offensive efficiency - defensive efficiency) per Ray Floriani's College Chalk Talk article about efficiency differentials. For the coaching staffs though, the statistic may be too esoteric for results-oriented Athletic Directors.
4. The conference returns an average of (about) 65% of their minutes in 2011, down very slightly from their 2010 returning minutes (about 67%). The standard deviation, at just over 11, was lower than 2010's 13, suggesting there is less variance going into 2011 than there was going into 2010.

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