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How Do We Truly Assess The Strength of Wichita State?

So is it 46 or 127? What is the true measure of Wichita State. We look into the methodology of both Dan Hanner and Ken Pomeroy to assess which one gives us the most accurate picture of the Shockers, if either.


Take that in for a moment. Cleanthony Early is a two-time junior college player of the year, and he will be suiting up for Wichita State this coming season. He put in the effort.

But what he and the Shockers should expect in return is still to be determined. After all, the best computer minds in the college basketball analysis world can't agree on what will happen with Wichita State this season.

Let's start at the beginning though. Earlier this week, both Dan Hanner at Basketball Prospectus and Ken Pomeroy released their preseason rankings. The rankings don't agree on every team, but there were some definitive outliers.

One of those top discrepancies came from Wichita State, which was rated No. 46 under Ken Pomeroy's system, but managed to hit just No.127 under Hanner's eye. So which one is right?

We are already on the side of Hanner based on our preseason analysis. As I said in response to a tweet inquiry into my methodology, you never know what you are going to get from transfers and JUCO players until the season actually begins.

That apparently goes for computer projections too. Pomeroy gave some analysis of his Wichita State ranking Wednesday:

46. Wichita State: This is here more or less to showcase what happens when a team loses nearly all its key parts. The Shockers are assumed to drop, but not catastrophically. The MVC media picks them fourth and I've got them second, if barely so. They may be overrated by me but there are a bunch of unknowns with the Shockers this season.

Here is the weird part though. Based on what Pomeroy said about how his system treats transfers -- it basically doesn't -- you would expect Wichita State to have dropped very far in his rankings. As it was, they fell from No. 9 to 46. But if you just look at the returning minutes for the Shockers they shouldn't even have performed this well, not given the data and methodology.

Ignoring any impact from the transfers should only have exasperated a drop by Wichita State:

The weakest part of the system is clearly accounting for new players. It ignores transfers and recruits outside the top 100. (Functionally, recruits outside the top 50-75 don't have much impact in the formula.) Obviously, the majority of teams do not have a top 100 recruit coming on board.

It doesn't jibe. A fall through 10 percent of the college basketball world is a big drop for sure, but it doesn't pass the smell test when there is no production beyond what the returning players should provide (and keep in mind that top true freshman recruit Fred Van Vleet wasn't a top-50 guy), which is what leads me to believe that Hanner has the better approach to assessing the impact of transfers:

Once again historic data can give us an average level of performance for a particular category of player, in this case junior college transfers. Typically JC transfers are better than freshmen, but not quite as good as D-I transfers. A handful of JC transfers are former RSCI top-100 high school prospects who needed to get their academics in order. Not surprisingly, these JC transfers play better on average.

Hanner uses his historical data to determine how well the transfers will perform, and that is typically not well ... or at least inconsistent.

Granted there are still some gaps in the process here, which Hanner freely admits. His system is only in its second season and it is understandable that he will have some holes to fill:

For example, better programs (read: major-conference programs) get better JC recruits, but this analysis is rather rough. There are junior college player rankings available online and I may attempt to use that information in the future.

But at least factoring in a projected performance is better than no performance at all. Plus giving real minutes to players like Early should lead to a better projection than saying what is left on the roster will be all that we care about for the purposes of projections.

Now all of this will even out as the season rolls on and less and less of the previous season is factored into this year's rankings. And by the point it matters, we will have seen enough basketball to know exactly what Wichita State is doing correct and wrong this season.

Pomeroy admits that there is a lot to learn about Wichita State. Hanner admits there are issues with his system. So where does the real rating of Wichita State lie? Probably somewhere in between the two computer numbers.

If we put them right in the middle of the two estimates, that makes them about No. 86 in the country. That is still better than where I would put a team that is replacing so much of its production from last season, in a league that is one of the best 10 in the country. And that is even if you believe that Gregg Marshall's class of recruits ranks among his best ever. But I probably tend to be more pessimistic than most.

Let's say No. 86 is right. That is still outside the NCAA Tournament. That is probably outside the NIT (given the lower ranked teams that earn auto bids) although it will be close.

To get there though will require putting in the effort. Only then will the Shockers see the results.

Ed. Note: Dan Hanner did take a stab at Wichita State's situation in a post Thursday that I must have missed.