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Dreaming big next season? Experience did matter for mid-majors in 2016-17

Surprise, surprise. Marginally.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Four-NC Central vs UC Davis Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Want to get a jump start on finding out which mid-majors will grab those precious auto-bids next season? Look for the ones loaded with juniors and seniors.

At least that’s what the 2017 NCAA Tournament field would suggest.

KenPom — in all his/its greatness — lists an “experience” figure for every college basketball team, which spits out the average “class” level of the players getting minutes for the given team. Since that’s a terrible explanation, here’s a description from the source:

Experience

– The experience value is in terms of years of college experience where a player’s eligibility class is assumed to determine this. For the purposes of the calculation, a freshman has zero years of experience, a sophomore has one year of experience, etc.

– Like the average height calculation, the experience calculation weights the experience of each player on the roster based on minutes played. Players that have played less than 10% of their team’s minutes are not included.

So a team that has seniors playing all of its minutes would have an experience value of 3.0. A team that has nothing but freshmen would have an 0.0. Last season, NC Central was the most experienced team in the country per the metric with a value of 2.91. That makes sense since junior Pablo Rivas, who averaged 18.4 minutes per game, was the only non-senior part of the rotation.

Does more experience make it more likely a team will play in the NCAA Tournament? That would seem to still be the conventional wisdom, especially on the mid-major level where there isn’t a Kentucky-type disruptor.

In terms of NCAA bids in 2016-17, the answer was yes.

The average experience value last season of all 351 Div. I teams was 1.70, and the mean was 1.72. The average value for the 68 teams that made the NCAA Tournament was slightly higher at 1.81. And for the 27 teams that we consider to be mid-major, the average value was even higher at 1.96.

Here’s the breakdown:

Mid-majors in the 2017 NCAA Tournament

Team League Experience (rank) Experience (average years)
Team League Experience (rank) Experience (average years)
NC Central MEAC 1st 2.91
New Orleans Southland 5th 2.58
ETSU SoCon 7th 2.53
Winthrop Big South 31st 2.21
UC Davis Big West 32nd 2.2
Dayton A-10 (at large) 35th 2.18
VCU A-10 (at large) 39th 2.16
Middle Tennessee C-USA 50th 2.11
UNC Wilmington CAA 57th 2.08
Troy Sun Belt 59th 2.06
Princeton Ivy 65th 2.03
Texas Southern SWAC 73rd 2.01
Saint Mary's WCC (at large) 82nd 1.98
Iona MAAC 94th 1.93
Vermont AE 95th 1.93
FGCU ASUN 127th 1.84
North Dakota Big Sky 128th 1.83
Gonzaga WCC 134th 1.83
Rhode Island A-10 142nd 1.8
South Dakota State Summit 148th 1.78
Jacksonville State OVC 151st 1.78
New Mexico State WAC 152nd 1.7
Nevada MWC 199th 1.64
Kent State MAC 209th 1.62
Mount St. Mary's NEC 260th 1.47
Bucknell Patriot 269th 1.43
Northern Kentucky Horizon 291st 1.3
Average 1.96

The narratives in this list are all over the map.

The “season’s never lost” rally came from teams both young and old. Two of the least experienced teams — Northern Kentucky and Kent State — were considered surprise winners, to varying degrees, of their respective league tournaments. Troy was also a surprise but had plenty of experience. And two final non-favorites — South Dakota State and Jacksonville State — were right in the middle.

Bucknell dominated its league without any seniors getting more than 8.7 minutes per game. NC Central, as mentioned before, dominated its league with essentially all seniors. And there are “higher” mid-major teams on both ends of the list, such as Nevada skewing younger and Dayton/VCU skewing older.

So there’s nothing in here to run to Las Vegas with, but it does show that more experience made it marginally more likely for a mid-major to play in the NCAA Tournament last season. That’s especially the case when compared with the power conference teams that got bids. The average experience value for that group was just 1.6655, broken down here:

Power conference teams in the 2017 NCAA Tournament

Team League Experience (rank) Experience (average years)
Team League Experience (rank) Experience (average years)
Iowa State Big 12 6th 2.53
Arkansas SEC 18th 2.33
Notre Dame ACC 54th 2.09
Wisconsin Big Ten 58th 2.07
Butler Big East 61st 2.05
West Virginia Big 12 68th 2.02
Florida SEC 71st 2.01
Michigan Big Ten 80th 1.99
Baylor Big 12 102nd 1.91
UNC ACC 103rd 1.91
SMU AAC 112th 1.89
Vanderbilt SEC 126th 1.84
Kansas Big 12 136th 1.81
Seton Hall Big East 137th 1.81
Oregon Pac-12 153rd 1.78
Virginia Tech ACC 158th 1.77
Villanova Big East 163rd 1.75
Creighton Big East 166th 1.74
Cincinnati AAC 175th 1.72
Northwestern Big Ten 183rd 1.7
Xavier Big East 184th 1.7
Marquette Big East 192nd 1.67
Kansas State Big 12 217th 1.61
Louisville ACC 223rd 1.59
Virginia ACC 231th 1.56
Purdue Big Ten 232nd 1.56
South Carolina SEC 233rd 1.56
Oklahoma State Big 12 238th 1.54
Miami (FL) ACC 262nd 1.46
Duke ACC 266th 1.45
UCLA Pac-12 272nd 1.43
Wake Forest ACC 275th 1.4
Providence Big East 277th 1.39
Minnesota Big Ten 300th 1.27
Florida State ACC 306th 1.25
Maryland Big Ten 315th 1.17
Arizona Pac-12 321st 1.14
Michigan State Big Ten 323rd 1.12
USC Pac-12 326th 1.07
Kentucky SEC 340th 0.96
Average 1.6655

One might say that this is all well and good, but the real value would be breaking this down for each year that KenPom has data on. Since that’s behind my limited capabilities, I’ve enlisted a friend of the blog to help out. We’ll hopefully have that infinitely more useful information soon.

Thanks to KenPom.com for this data and the vast majority all of my college basketball knowledge.