Thursday, August 11, 2011

The 76 Classic -- A Too Early Look

Seeding the Field
The 76 Classic, along with a handful of other ESPN-facilitated early season invitational tournaments (Coaches vs Cancer, CBE Classic, Charleston Classic, Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Old Spice Classic...) released their brackets on Wednesday and Thursday. Coming as "Summer Reports" wind down and the foreign tours swing into play, this latest 2012 tease could not be timed better. Chris Dobbertean over at Blogging the Bracket has done an excellent job, and if your favorite team is in any early season invitational the best place to track breaking developments and news is on Chris' Early Season Events page.

Each invitational committee sets the brackets, and unlike the NCAA and NIT tournaments, there may or may not be any relation between the quality of the teams and who they play in their bracket. I sorted the eight team field for the 76 Classic (alphabetically they are Boston College, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Saint Louis, Santa Clara, UC Riverside, Villanova, and Washington State) by their 2011 RPI (below) to see how closely the match-ups and brackets came to an actual seed...

2011 Season2012 Returning
Boston College58211317.39.7
New Mexico66221380.878.8
Washington State82221366.954.7
Santa Clara158241462.374.7
Saint Louis175121992.896.3
UC Riverside259121983.380.3

The field contains names even the casual fan should recognize (Villanova, Boston College, Washington State, Oklahoma) with a mix of local teams (Santa Clara and UC Riverside) to go with familiar coaches (Rick Majerus). If Villanova is indeed seeded #1 overall and UC Riverside #8 (as their RPIs suggest), then the announced match-ups show some resemblance to the "seed-by-RPI" approach...with a few concessions to ratings and local attendance. Boston College loses over 80% of their minutes and (even more of their) scoring from 2011. A second seed overall in the field was too high. The organizers wanted a competitive "East vs West" final as the first round match-ups, with RPI-based seeds below suggest...

8UC Riverside
7Saint Louis
2Boston College
4Washington State
6Santa Clara
3New Mexico

...and they should get it as one of Villanova or Saint Louis (or Boston College) will most likely emerge from the upper bracket (as presented in the tournament's downloadable bracket -- the "East Bracket"? -- the first two match-ups above) to face Washington State, New Mexico or Oklahoma from the lower bracket (the "West Bracket"). A quick look at the "East Bracket", paired by first round match-ups...

2011 Adjusted
UC Riverside65.695.1106.90.206
Boston College63.9115.5103.70.755
Saint Louis65.

A basic log5 calculation using 2011 season-ending PWPs would install Villanova as a heavy favorite to beat the UC Riverside (90%) with Boston College a strong favorite over Saint Louis (69%). Villanova and Boston College will both feature (to varying degrees) changes to their 2011 rosters, in sharp contrast to both UC Riverside and Saint Louis, both of which return over 80% of their 2011 rosters. That alone should scramble those projections a bit before tip-off, as pretournament PWPs from 2012 action should bear out. Though Villanova returns about half of their minutes and (just) less than half of their scoring -- well below the percentages returned by UC Riverside, proximity to the arena is about the only advantage held by the Highlanders. The Highlanders managed a -0.083 efficiency margin in (Big West) conference play last season. A conference ranked #17 out of 34 in Division 1. The roster had one player 6-8 (forward Kevin Bradshaw) and three others at 6-7 (forwards Tyquan Brown, Elliott Berry and B.J. Shearry. Yarou, Sutton and freshman Markus Kennedy should be tough match-ups for them. Overall, the talent gap may be wide enough to negate Villanova's relative inexperience. The Boston College - Saint Louis game on the other hand, offers probably the best opportunity for a first round upset. BC's second year coach Steve Donahue is charged with virtually rebuilding the roster as he brings in a huge nine man freshman class, of whom pf Ryan Anderson, center Kyle Caudill, sg Lonnie Jackson and pg Jordan Daniels are the liked best by recruiting gurus. Of the 14 names listed on the 2011-12 roster, only five are from the sophomore (2), junior (1) or senior (2) classes. To the 90% returning roster, Saint Louis' Rick Majerus will also have Kwamain Mitchell, an All-A-10 guard noted for his clutch scoring in 2010, but suspended just before the 2010-11 season and Jake Barnett, a 6-5 forward transfer from Toledo University, who is eligible to play this season and practiced with the Billikens last season.

The "West Bracket" offers Left Coast fans a lot of familiar names and conferences. The pairings should also offer more competitive first and second round games, as any three of the four teams in the bracket can put together a two or three game run. Again I have paired the teams by first round game to make comparisons easier...

2011 Adjusted
Washington State68.5106.594.00.808
New Mexico65.9111.895.90.854
Santa Clara68.0106.9102.00.632

By 2011 PWPs, New Mexico is strongly favored to defeat Santa Clara (77%), with Washington State equally favored to beat Oklahoma (76%), those two projected to meet in the second round with the winner facing the "East Bracket" winner in the championship game. The Lobos will feature a team built around a backcourt of Drew Gordon and Phillip McDonald with a front court manned by Kendall Williams and A.J. Hardeman. The Santa Clara Broncos return nearly 75% of their scoring from 2011, will look to guard Kevin Foster, Evan Roquemore and Canadian forward Marc Trasolini to jump start their offense. Foster took a whopping 31% of the shots when he was on the court, while Roquemore posted a very efficient 109.4 points per 100 possessions last season. Washington State returns a nucleus that features guard Faisal Aden along with forwards DeAngelo Casto and Australian Brock Motum. Oklahoma may bring back more minutes and scoring, but the wildcard may prove to be Lon Kruger, hired after Coach Jeff Capel was fired last March. Coach Kruger's history at Nevada Las Vegas suggests he will push the tempo for the Sooners, rely more on three point attempts in his offense even as he clamps down on defense (his UNLV teams routinely posted defensive efficiencies ranging between 0.91 and 0.93 points per possessions. His early UNLV teams allowed about 0.98 ppp, an improvement over the Sooners' 1.01 defensive ppp in Capel's last season.

Further Reading...
The Official 76 Classic Site
where the brackets are listed.
Other Early Season Invitationals with teams, dates and sites. From Blogging the Bracket.

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