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Mid-Major Leaderboard Madness: Fun with small sample sizes

San Diego State is the best team in the country. Really.

NCAA Basketball: Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

This blog post is simple: I am looking at Ken Pomeroy and Bart Torvik’s fantastic statistical databases to find some fun mid-major leaderboard trivia. They do this on Effectively Wild all the time!

All stats and graphs are taken on December 5, 2019, before games have been played. I encourage everyone to buy a KenPom subscription or use Bart Torvik’s insanely granular website. Also, I understand that the sample sizes for these stats are very small.

San Diego State is the best team in the country, and I can prove it with math.

The public is not ready for San Diego State to take over this college basketball season. On most ratings systems, they are hovering around the 25-30 range. They didn’t even make the AP top 25 this week, despite yet another resounding win over Colorado State. But by one metric, San Diego State has been the best team in the nation: Elo rating.

Elo rating, for those unfamiliar, is a performance-based mathematical ranking system that is based on winning/losing ratings points based on the outcome of an event. It’s actually quite simple, but I’ll save everyone math headaches because the main upshot is that San Diego State is the No. 1 team on Bart Torvik’s 2020 season Elo rankings.

Yes, San Diego State’s wins have earned it the most Elo points thus far, although they are not far ahead of Maryland and Louisville. The team with the highest Elo rating has won the NCAA Tournament in every year since 2015 Kentucky lost in the Final Four, so you can just pencil in the Aztecs for the Natty already.

The Chuckers

Antoine Davis of Detroit-Mercy and Jomaru Brown of Eastern Kentucky shoot a lot. The problem is, they’re not shooting very well at all. Despite nearly reaching a 42.5% usage rate, Davis and Brown have both been horrendously inefficient. Instead of some numbers, here’s a chart of every single college basketball player plotted by usage and o-rating (the average player gets used 20% of the time and has a 100 o-rating, as one can see on the chart:

Davis and Brown are extreme outliers, Brown especially so. No one in the country has taken more shots for less payoff than Brown. Hopefully Brown can start shooting better because right now he’s taking 6 threes per game and only making 29.3% of them.

I’ve included last year’s chart below, featuring the immortal Chris Clemons for context. He didn’t come close to the 40 mark for usage, and his scoring efficiency was well above average. What a gem. By the way, Clemons is shooting 39.1% from three for the Rockets and still only getting 9.1 minutes per game. That’s a travesty. We need an injunction to get him on the Knicks so he can shoot 100 times per game.

Thus, we can conclude that being Jomaru Brown’s teammate is not as fun as one would hope.

Some Stats About An Undefeated Delaware (And Other Parties)

It is December 5th, and Delaware is undefeated. This is real. Projected to land in the bottom half of the CAA, Delaware has won its first nine games, including tough road wins against Lafayette and St. Francis (PA). They’ve risen from a preseason KP ranking of 256 to a current ranking of 152.

Using Torvik’s T-Rank, the change is even greater. The Blue Hens have jumped a staggering 139 spots in just nine games.

Here’s a ranking of all the biggest risers in college basketball this season:

Delaware, Yale, UMass, and William & Mary have all risen more than 100 spots in the rankings since the start of the year. Most impressive. They will have to put in even more work to keep up with last year’s biggest risers (Samford rose 193 spots, and Murray State rose 173), but this has been a crazy start to the season for those four teams.

The Fun Police

One of my favorite concepts in soccer are “Fair Play Awards”, which give players/teams a nice medal/trophy for committing the fewest yellow and red cards. American sports do not have this—nobody cares if you commit more fouls as long as you win the game. Teams have to do something particularly egregious, like smashing a helmet down on someone’s head, to even get a mention from the press.

Crazily enough, the Fair Play Award system is used for actual, tangible benefits in soccer. From 1995-2016, the least penalized leagues in Europe were given extra qualifying berths into the Europa League, a huge reward. Now the award is given out in as a 50,000 euro cash prize for each team to be used for “fair play or respect-themed projects”! Imagine if an NBA or NFL team got a cash bonus for committing fewer penalties!

In honor of this, I looked at the best and worst teams based on fouls called (not fouls drawn). The most disciplined team appears to be Virginia, which leads college basketball in fewest free throws allowed (Weber State and Nebraska are second and third). Okay, that’s no fun. Let’s look at the best players by fouls called:

Congrats to Noah Locke and Brian White for refusing to foul. Considering they both play over 50% of minutes, that’s an astonishingly low number of fouls called per 40 minutes. Also, it’s freakin’ hilarious that Brad Calipari is third.

But enough about the goody-two-shoes contingent. Who leads in most fouls called per 40 minutes through this young season (against D1 opponents)?

Lavar Batts Jr. of UNC Asheville and Leslie Nkereuwem of Longwood are just lapping the field, averaging nearly a full foul per 40 minutes more than Tre King in third. Nkereuwem has fouled out of his last three games despite only playing 49 minutes total!! Batts Jr. and Nkeureuwem should just lean into the brand and try to hit the mythical 10 fouls called per 40 minutes, enough to get them fouled out of a game twice.

However, that data set filtered out anyone playing less than 40% of their teams minutes. If we drop down to the more generous >20% minutes filter, we get this list:

Cossy Kowouto...what are you doing, my guy? For context, in the Delta Devils’ game against Central Michigan, Kowouto fouled out in just nine minutes of play. Incredible stuff. He should try to get to 15.

By the way, in case you were wondering, the most prolific season in terms of fouls called in the T-Rank database (still only against D1 schools) was Jayme Miller’s 2008 campaign with Cal State Northridge. Miller played in over 40% of his team’s minutes and averaged 9.2 fouls called per 40 minutes, which is hilarious. He fouled out 10 times that season.

Using the more generous 20% minutes requirement, we arrive at Stephen Sargent of VMI, who appears to have only played so he could draw fouls. He averaged 12.7 fouls called per 40 minutes, a ludicrous sum which indicates that this was definitely a strategy imposed by the coaching staff. Every 3.5 minutes the 7-foot Sargent was on the court, he committed a foul. Sorry Stephen, we barely knew ya.

I’ll probably come back at various points during the season and produce some more Stat Blasts for everyone. Thanks for reading!