Way Too Early NEC RPM Projections

Another offseason means another chance to use returning-possession minutes (RPM) to try and predict the upcoming college basketball season. Returning possession minutes are a really useful tool for understanding about how much talent a team has returning. The formula is also really simple: The sum of Minutes % * Usage % for every player.

Last offseason I ran RPM projections in April. Unfortunately that proved to be a wee bit too early, because rosters can (and did) fluctuate. For instance, Central Connecticut lost Kyle Vinales before the season started, which sent the Blue Devils into a tailspin. Otherwise though the projections weren’t bad (especially considering in past seasons only about 40% of a team’s strength could be predicted by RPM projections). Here’s a look at what RPM projected and where teams actually ended up:

2014-15 RPM Projected Rank, Team – Actual Rank

  1. St. Francis Brooklyn – 1
  2. Saint Francis U. – 5
  3. Central Connecticut – 10
  4. Bryant – 3
  5. Robert Morris – 2
  6. LIU Brooklyn – 7
  7. Sacred Heart – 6
  8. Mount St. Mary’s – 4
  9. Fairleigh Dickinson – 9
  10. Wagner – 8

It’s possible that Saint Francis U. was a bit overrated because of just how much the Red Flash had returning last season (94%)—but Rob Krimmel’s team did finish tied for fifth and at 222nd in KenPom, had their best finish in the history of the metric (since 2002).

Despite personnel losses, Glenn Braica's Terriers project to be at the top of the NEC again.
Despite losing Brent Jones and Jalen Cannon, Glenn Braica’s Terriers project to be at the top of the NEC again.

Also, Mount St. Mary’s was severely underrated. Part of that was the introduction of Lamont Robinson into the lineup. The 5’7″ wonder used nearly 24% of the Mount’s possessions while he was on the court, helping make up for the loss of a trio of talented seniors. The other factor was Byron Ashe’s ability to go from using around 16% of the team’s possessions in 2013-14 all the way to 24.6% last season, while remaining an efficient offensive player. What Ashe did in conference play as a volume scorer (119.1 offensive rating while using 22.3% of the team’s possessions) was probably the biggest reason Jamion Christian’s team fought off any RPM regression.

This season though the Mount has a higher RPM than any other team in the NEC at more than 70%. It’s one of the reasons that Christian’s team looks like a lock for the top two. Here are the current RPM numbers for the NEC for 2015-16, according to projected rosters:

  1. Mount St. Mary’s: 72%
  2. Wagner: 66%
  3. Bryant: 61%
  4. LIU Brooklyn: 60%
  5. Robert Morris: 54%
  6. Saint Francis U.: 53%
  7. Sacred Heart: 50%
  8. St. Francis Brooklyn: 49%
  9. Central Connecticut: 49%
  10. Fairleigh Dickinson: 46%

When projecting how a team will perform though it’s also important to remember where that team is coming from. A good team that loses half its talent may be much better prepared to fill in gaps, whereas a bad team that brings back most of its roster could benefit (another year of experience, etc.) or could falter. When you combine performance last season with the projected RPM this is how the NEC standings shake out:

Team – Projected KenPom Rating

  1. St. Francis Brooklyn – 0.398
  2. Mount St. Mary’s – 0.394
  3. Robert Morris – 0.387
  4. Bryant – 0.342
  5. Saint Franics U. – 0.337
  6. Sacred Heart – 0.317
  7. Wagner – 0.302
  8. LIU Brooklyn – 0.302
  9. Fairleigh Dickinson – 0.212
  10. Central Connecticut – 0.192

The projections for the top three teams aren’t that surprising. They’re NEC stalwarts, though the three get to this point in different ways. St. Francis Brooklyn and Robert Morris both had strong 2014-15 seasons and even though both teams lost about half their production, they bring back enough to rate as contenders. Mount St. Mary’s on the other hand is helped by how much talent is returning. For the NEC these projections for the top team represent a ranking right around 200 in KenPom and there’s no clear favorite heading into next season.

The ratings for Wagner and LIU represent significant improvements, but even with all their returning talent there’s too big of a gap between their performance last season and the favorites to make them contenders.

Instead, these ratings seem to break the NEC down into four tiers next season:

Contenders: St. Francis Brooklyn, Mount St. Mary’s, Robert Morris
Almost Contenders: Bryant, Saint Francis U.
Mid-Rebuilding: Sacred Heart, LIU Brooklyn, Wagner
Start-Rebuilding: Fairleigh Dickinson, Central Connecticut

One easy way for a team to outperform these projections is to have a key player return from injury or find a true impact freshman. A few contenders for players that could make a much more significant impact in 2015-16 include Mike Aaman (Wagner) and Marques Townes (Fairleigh Dickinson).

We’ll see if Aaman or Townes can bust these projections (or anyone really), but it’s not unreasonable given how the past few seasons have gone.

14 thoughts on “Way Too Early NEC RPM Projections

  1. So they predict St. Francis Brooklyn, who loses an all-time great player in Cannon and another 1st Team All-NEC guy in Jones, the only two guys to average in double figures, to repeat as regular season champs.

    Based on… ?

    Jewell, Fall & Sanabria are nice players. But are they top 5 in the league guys? I don’t think so.

    Robert Morris loses the Rookie of the Year & another guy who averaged 14+ ppg, and they’re #3? Pryor is likely the NEC Preseason Player of the Year (although I think he’ll have a tougher time without Jones/Reed), and Minnie has a shot to be very good. But they have questions.

    St. Francis PA loses their best player – by far – and are picked to finish 5th? And Bryant loses its best player and another key glue guy in O’Shea and are picked to finish 4th?

    KenPom is a nice, shiny metric – but the reliance on that tool on this website is a bit questionable IMO. Especially in a league like the NEC that has so many transfers and underclassmen playing big roles right away.

    Very rarely are guys waiting in the wings and waiting their turn – which makes this whole exercise pretty pointless. Look at LIU after their 3 year run for example. They had very little left on the roster in ’13-14 other than Brickman (and Boyd, but he was hurt and wasn’t scheduled to be back anyway). Reed was overrated because of the roles that Olasewere & Garner played.


    1. Thanks for the thoughts. Do you have a team you think will improve? Just out of curiosity. Historically the RPM metric has done no worse with the NEC than overall in college basketball during my testing. (For some leagues RPM is really strong, but it’s ones with high continuity such as the Ivy League.) In the NEC it can typically predict about 40% of a team’s success. There are going to be some big misses as players get hurt or unexpectedly develop, but it should perform reasonably well.

      As for the teams you mentioned. SFC thoughts: I believe Amdy Fall certainly has the potential to be a Top 5 player in the NEC. His defense is incredible and an increase in minutes this season will also help. Another player I think will perform well for SFC is Chris Hooper. I also think that Glenn Sanabria could take a leap during his sophomore season.

      RMU thoughts: The Colonials always have questions. These projections don’t know Andy Toole is an excellent basketball coach, but they do know that RMU is a consistently good program.

      SFPA thoughts: Earl Brown is more replaceable than people think. It’s going to require Rob Krimmel getting a bit more creative with his lineups and the defense will need some more work, but losing just Brown isn’t enough to drop them way down the standings.

      Also, the other thing worth noting is these projections aren’t saying any of the teams you mentioned are going to be great. In fact, this looks like a bit of down year for the NEC in terms of projections (which could certainly change if a team like MSM breaks out) with a lot of middling quality around the 180-200 range in KenPom. A season that might look a lot like 2010 without that dominant team.


      1. Fall is a great defensive player – the best in the league – and improved a lot offensively. But Cannon drew double teams all the time and Jones had the ability to penetrate and dish to Fall, who was left open a lot or at the very least with 1-on-1 coverage the majority of the time in games.

        Hooper is a decent player, but he’s not Jalen Cannon. He showed some flashes but also had some duds, too. I’m not sure I can see Fall increasing his scoring average from 6.7 ppg to 14-15 ppg. That’s a huge leap, and what would be required to be a top 5 player in the league IMO.

        Sanabria is also a nice player, and will likely jump up to double figures in scoring – maybe even 13-14 a game with more shots per game. But who’s going to create and get open looks for him? Sanabria was much more effective with Jones playing in the game.

        My question is – are those three the core of a championship team? I don’t think they are. KenPom has them #1 in the league – ahead of Mount, who returns basically their entire team. I honestly can’t see them as a top 3 team this year.

        I think Wagner and LIU are teams that could surprise this year. Wagner gets Dwaun Anderson back to go along with Aaman and the three freshmen guards who played a ton of minutes and should improve. LIU returns two all-rookie starters in Zanna and Hermannsson, and adds Jerome Frink, who started two years and averaged double figure points for FIU in Conference USA. Even without Fridriksson they have the JUCO transfer who played big minutes at South Alabama as a freshman – a level higher than the NEC.

        Again, as you say you never know what will happen with transfers. But in the past, most kids who have played big minutes at their prior schools continue to play big minutes and have big impacts at their new schools.

        As for SFPA replacing Earl Brown – if you think he’s more replaceable than people think, then I’m not sure we were watching the same games last year. The guy went for 30 and 10 in an OT loss to RMU, 23 & 14 in a playoff game and either made or assisted on 11 of the 26 FGs made in their loss to Bowling Green. That’s a huge void to fill.


      2. Reasonable points. The return of Anderson should be a boost for Wagner and LIU’s new talent is good.

        I should note that these projections weren’t done by KenPom. They’re my own homespun projections using a combination of RPM (returning-possession minutes) and KenPom ratings using a linear regression model based on the past four seasons of NEC data. KenPom will publish his own predictions later in the offseason. Also, you might be interested in Dan Hanner’s projections – which are constructed on a per player basis.

        Re: Earl Brown, he put up big numbers, but used a ton of possessions and wasn’t that efficient. I think his departure will force SFU to find new solutions and could be good for the Red Flash.


      3. Don’t know why the St. Francis Brooklyn program continues to be so readily dismissed by the some of the posters as past history. Glenn Braica matches up well with any of the head coaches in the NEC, knows talent, game-plans well, and is in the process of building a pretty strong program that will sustain itself. Although the SFC urban campus doesn’t include green lawns and rolling hills, it’s located in one of the “hottest” places to be right now — Brooklyn Heights. There’s plenty of talent returning, further shored up by some really impressive newcomers. And the current student-athletes apparently like the overall athletic and academic atmosphere a lot. In fact, there’s more overall interest in the school at any time in recent memory. The attention that Cannon, Jones and Company got from the local, national and international media as a “feel good” story last winter was invaluable. It’s really starting to pay dividends. Maybe the Terriers won’t win 23 games next year, but they’ll likely continue as an upper tier NEC program.


      4. Wouldn’t say dismissed. SFBK will likely win their fair share of games. But to say they’re the favorite to win the NEC this year is a stretch, even to the biggest fan out there.


  2. Good info in this article. Another player that should make some major strides is Hunter Ware for Bryant. Big recruit last year but was stuck playing behind Dyami Starks. After a year of learning the Bryant system, he should step into the starting lineup and contribute big numbers right away. It’ll be a very interesting season for the NEC for sure!


    1. I want to see Hunter Ware cut down on his turnovers next season, but I agree that he could have a breakout type season now that Starks is gone.


  3. cannon was a very good player his first three years but a superman last half of season. Jones was also good but got very good in senior year. Will someone else turn into superman for the terriers, who knows. I do not who will step up but I believe sanabria can take jones place. cannons rebounding can be replaced but his scoring who knows. sfc should be top three, rest of league looks weak.


  4. St Francis Brooklyn lost a lot to graduation. My recent discussions with several prominant recruiters see the Terriers as a deeper more athletic team than the 2014-2015 Terriers. Keon Williams , Marlon Alcindor ,Jon Doss and Dagur Jonnsson are all potentially legitimate D1 scorers. Keon Williams has big time potential according to several scouts. Jon Doss is a phenomenal 3point shooter Marlon Alcindor can shoot the three and has amazing quickness and Dagur Jonnsson is a skilled European guard he has played in several international tournaments scoring 25 + points in those contests.
    The returning members from last years team Hooper Fall Sanabria Jewel Jennifer and Hopkinson plus the new editions give St Francis and coach Braccia a solid chance to return to the league championship game in 2016


  5. St Francis Brooklyn lost a lot to graduation. My recent discussions with several prominant recruiters access the Terriers as a deeper more athletic team than the 2014-2015 Terriers. Keon Williams , Marlon Alcindor ,Jon Doss and Dagur Jonnsson are all potentially legitimate D1 scorers. Keon Williams has big time potential according to several scouts. Jon Doss is a phenomenal 3point shooter Marlon Alcindor can shoot the three and has amazing quickness and Dagur Jonnsson is a skilled European guard he has played in several international tournaments scoring 25 + points in those contests.
    The returning members from last years team Hooper Fall Sanabria Jewel Jennifer and Hopkinson plus the new editions give St Francis and coach Braccia a solid chance to return to the league championship game in 2016


  6. NEC Fan, Its not that wild to think a good program can be a contender even after losing an all time great plus a first team PG… Insert 2014-15 Robert Morris who lost an all time great scorer in Anderson and PG in Meyers Pate but still somehow they finished second in the Regular season and won the tournament. Its called rebuilding a lot of teams do it. SFBK brings back 4 players who all played major roles on the team ( Jewel, Sanabria, Hooper Fall) two who played solid minutes in (Hopkinson and Jenifer) I think that the fact that so many other teams lost key pieces and have unproven players is why a system would give SFBK RMU and Mount the top spots because each of those teams bring back players who all have had a lot of experience. Of course players will come out of nowhere and shock us thats why the games are played on the court. But when you really look at returners plus style of play and history i wouldnt argue against those three ( SFBK RMU MSM) being viewed as the upper echelon teams in this super early predictions


    1. Robert Morris returned arguably their most important player, Lucky Jones, and replaced Anderson with two lite versions of him (Reed, Pryor). That’s tough to do.

      Could SFBK add those types of impact guys? Sure – why not. Who’s to say the Icelandic kid isn’t as good as LIU’s Hermannsson was this year. Who knows how good the NYC kid sitting out is? Maybe he’s as good as Brent Jones.

      My whole point is with what is known coming back (and that is what this projection is), I have a hard time believing SFBK is the favorite. Personally I think they’ll take a step back – tough to replace two of the better players in recent SFBK history.


      1. Not to belabor a point, but think that the St. Francis Brooklyn coaching staff is feeling pretty good about their corps of returnees and the program’s ability to sustain itself next year. Of the lettermen (do they still use that term?) returning, there’s two former Junior College All-Americans (Jewell and Jenifer), the reigning NEC Defensive Player of the Year (Fall), a former First Team All-New York State Player (Sanabria), a veteran forward who most NEC observers noted as one of the effective physical players in the league (Hooper), and a former NYC PSAL scoring machine (Hopkinson). Add to the mix four new faces (Williams, Alcindor, Doss and Jonnson), who all enter Remsen Street with solid three-point shooting reps, and the Terriers have an element they did not possess last year – the ability to consistently hit the three and open things up inside. Hopefully, a year in the States may also help Olafsson get back on track as another long-range scoring option.There’s also a prominent senior contingent on the roster and that seasoning counts a lot. Williams is extremely talented and may very well be capable of following Cannon and Jones as an all-league performer at some point in his career. Alcindor is also a former NYC CHSAA scoring champ. The Terriers are looking to both Lasic and Nurse as providing a bit of the size they didn’t have last year. Overall, the Terriers look poised for another run at the Championship Trophy.


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