If a monkey randomly hitting keys on a keyboard can eventually type Shakespeare then adding five rankings systems together is better than one.
Well, not quite. Still, there have been a number of comprehensive 1-351 college basketball rankings released this preseason and they each contain different nuggets of information. Most of the projections are algorithmic (KenPom, T-Rank, ESPN’s BPI and Dan Hanner and Chris Johnson’s work for Sports Illustrated), but each uses slightly different inputs and models to understand college basketball. Matt Norlander is the only reporter for a major outlet that I know of who has boldly released a human-compiled ranking of the entirety of Division I. His rankings were built off of conversations with coaches and some human intuition.
All five give us slightly different takes on the world. For instance, here is the preseason top 10 for each system. (Note: Since all of these systems have now publicly released their rankings, I believe it’s ok to recreate pieces here, but please do go check out the original rankings.)
|1||Villanova||Michigan St.||Wichita St.||Arizona||Duke|
|4||Wichita St.||Duke||Purdue||Wichita St.||Michigan St.|
|7||West Virginia||Florida||North Carolina||Kansas||Villanova|
|10||Michigan St.||West Virginia||Florida||Florida||Miami (FL)|
Thus, some randomness aside, the general consensus about the Top 10 teams in the nation appears to be:
- Wichita St.
- Michigan St.
- West Virignia
And sure, BPI might do some wacky things (see TCU at number 5 in the country), but overall it’s not that much different from its peers. BPI has a 0.95 Spearman’s rank correlation with SI’s rankings and a 0.94 correlation with KenPom. BPI and Norlander appear to disagree the most, but not by much more than T-Rank and Norlander.
Here’s a look at the consensus rankings for each of the conferences we cover. In all of the charts below Average means the average rating of the five rankings systems and Diff is the difference between the highest and lowest ranking a team received.
|St. Francis PA||230.6||99|
|Mount St. Mary’s||232.2||66|
|St. Francis NY||329.8||29|
The overall consensus expects a tight race at the top of the NEC, even if none of the teams are projected to be particularly good. Norlander’s rankings have Saint Franics U. at 177th (and FDU at 194th) the highest for any NEC team. BPI is extremely high on the Blackbirds, ranking them as the best team in the NEC at 183rd. (Not sure what’s up with that one.) The consensus from both the computers and the rankings is that Bryant is locked in somewhere around 300th in the country and Central Connecticut as one of the worst teams in Division I, but both teams have significant upside. The rankings certainly reflect the fact that the top six in the NEC will once again be an absolute dog fight.
No matter what rankings system you believe, everyone is chasing Iona in the MAAC. It’s all just a matter of degree. The Gaels are reloading and all sorts of projection systems have learned to not doubt Tim Cluess’s ability to teach offense. BPI is extremely high on Iona, ranking them 64th in the country. (That seems high.) But Iona’s average rank over 107th is certainly believable. The next tier includes Monmouth, Manhattan, and Saint Peter’s. The Peacocks are probably a bit of a surprise. Saint Peter’s lost a lot of talent and projection systems have had a hard time trying to figure out what to do with John Dunne’s team. The picture painted here is rosier than any close watcher of the MAAC projects. T-Rank is high on SPU, putting them at 117th in the nation. BPI is down on Niagara (265th), which is why the Purple Eagles aren’t rated higher in this exercise. That seems like a weird outlier, and I’d expect them to be in the thick of the MAAC race this season. On the other hand, every projection system appears to agree that Marist and Quinnipiac will struggle, placing them among the bottom 50 teams in Division I.
Surprisingly—in a league where the top three look exceedingly balanced to insiders—Yale is a bit ahead of its competition in the composite rankings. The Bulldogs are boosted by Norlander’s 73rd overall rating. They’re third in both BPI and T-Rank. Princeton has caused the biggest disagreement among the top teams. The Tigers have been ranked anywhere from 88th (KenPom) to 129th (Norlander). Penn is on a tier of its own, which should be good enough to eventually secure a spot in the second Ivy League Tournament, which comes with home court advantage for the Quakers again this season. The third tier should make for an exciting race, especially if one or more teams can knock off Penn during the season. Columbia has the highest individual rating of any team in the league’s second half (185th from BPI), but I’d rather bet on the upside of Cornell in Brian Earl’s second season.
America East appears to have a defined top two and then a bit of a mess afterward. Vermont and Albany are the clear favorites in the composite ranking with SI the most generous, as it placed the Catamounts 69th and Albany 97th. The next group is harder to figure out. UMBC, Stony Brook, and New Hampshire all have a legitimate claim to third through fifth in the league. (And some systems like Binghamton too.) The thing though the projections agree on the most? Hartford and Maine will once again be among the worst teams in Division I.
This is not where St. John’s fans want to end up at the end of the season, though the ranking is definitely skewed by SI having no faith in the Red Storm. (They’re projected 87th nationally in that system.) Though even if you ignore SI’s ranking the Johnnies still average around 61st in the country, which isn’t quite enough to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Big East has the lowest average “difference” of any conference in the nation. Every ranking system seems to agree that Villanova is a Top 10 team nationally and that Seton Hall is probably in the late 20s. (Though T-Rank has them 21st.) There’s a bit more disagreement in the second tier (Marquette, Butler, Creighton, St. John’s), but all have the potential to be contenders. And then there is Georgetown and DePaul. The Hoyas are one of the toughest teams for preseason projections to judge this season. Two systems (KenPom and T-Rank) have G’town in the top 80 teams in the country, while the other three have them at 120th or below. One difference? The value of three-point shooting in today’s game. Dan Hanner said in a tweet that his system has the Hoyas ranked 125th because “Georgetown has no 3 point shooters,” and that “if Ewing can win BE games in modern era without 3 point shooting, I think that’s a miracle.” DePaul is ranked as high as 83rd in BPI, but the composite ranking portends another tough season at the bottom of the conference for the Blue Demons.
- Hofstra: 139.8 composite rating, KenPom/BPI best at 120th, T-Rank worst at 168th
- Fordham: 192.6 composite rating, BPI best at 171, Norlander worst at 209th
- NJIT: 314.4 composite rating, BPI best at 294, Norlander worst at 339th
Want to see where everyone else ranks? Check out this spreadsheet.