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
- St. Francis Brooklyn – 1
- Saint Francis U. – 5
- Central Connecticut – 10
- Bryant – 3
- Robert Morris – 2
- LIU Brooklyn – 7
- Sacred Heart – 6
- Mount St. Mary’s – 4
- Fairleigh Dickinson – 9
- 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).
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:
- Mount St. Mary’s: 72%
- Wagner: 66%
- Bryant: 61%
- LIU Brooklyn: 60%
- Robert Morris: 54%
- Saint Francis U.: 53%
- Sacred Heart: 50%
- St. Francis Brooklyn: 49%
- Central Connecticut: 49%
- 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
- St. Francis Brooklyn – 0.398
- Mount St. Mary’s – 0.394
- Robert Morris – 0.387
- Bryant – 0.342
- Saint Franics U. – 0.337
- Sacred Heart – 0.317
- Wagner – 0.302
- LIU Brooklyn – 0.302
- Fairleigh Dickinson – 0.212
- 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.