Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Ranking of Every Bearcat Team Since Bob Huggins (Revisited)

I posted this a couple of years ago in an article responding to the media’s absurd trashing of Huggins’ legacy in defense of Mick.  Inevitably it would come down to both lost early tournament games.  My point was you don’t have to trash Huggins to support Mick.  The bottom line is Huggins consistently produced better teams and Bearcat fans want to see Mick get to at least that level.  In the process I created a ranking for every Bearcat team since Huggins arrived and grouped them into tiers.  I have updated it adding the last two teams.

I have included the 2018 Bearcats at the bottom of The Great Seasons.  Despite the Nevada loss I consider it a great season and the kind of season we need more of from Mick.  They were 13-6 in Q1/Q2 games and finished #4 in kenpom adjusted efficiency.  They won the regular season and conference tournament titles.  They did everything but make a run. 

I have this year’s team as another good, but not great Mick team.  I have them in the middle of the good Bearcat seasons.  Great record, including a great record in close games.  Second in the conference and won the conference tournament against a top ten Houston team.  That’s a nice accomplishment.  They were also probably not quite a top 25 caliber team and lost in the first round of the tournament.  There is enough back next year that there is hope UC can have a Great Season.  A second great season in four years would be a huge deal for Mick and the program, especially if they make a run in March. 

I said this two years ago when I wrote this article but it bears repeating: “Mick’s achievement of sustained success is probably undervalued by many, but it ultimately cannot be the peak for UC basketball …In a one game and out tournament things can happen, the key is putting together great teams that are real contenders… eventually you will break through.” Next year is another opportunity with an experienced team returning a potential first team All-American. They need to take advantage of it.

Here’s how I would rank every Bearcat season by accomplishments of the team since Huggins came to UC (I bolded the seasons where Mick is coach):

The Great Seasons: 
1992- Final Four, Regular Season Champion, Conference Tournament Champion, Four Seed in the Tournament.
2000- Ranked Number 1 most the season, Undefeated Regular Season Conference Champions, 1st in the RPI, 10-2 against the RPI top 50, 19-3 against the RPI top 100… just a dominating season.  2 seed in the tournament.  Second round exit after Kenyon injury.
1993- Elite Eight, Conference Regular Season Champions, Conference Tournament Champions, 2 seed in the tournament
1996- Elite Eight, Conference Regular Seasons Champions, Conference Tournament Champions, 2 seed,
2002- Conference Regular Season Champions, Conference Tournament Champions, 1 seed, RPI #3, 8-2 v. RPI top 50, 17-3 v. RPI top 100. #2 kenpom adjusted efficiency (first year he kept that stat).  Second round exit. 
2018- Conference Regular Season Champions, Conference Tournament Champions, 2 seed, 6-5 Q1 games, 7-0 Q2 games.  #4 kenpom adjusted efficiency (49 offense, 2 defense).  Second round exit. 

The Very Good Seasons:
1999-  Only 6 losses, Regular season champions, 3 seed in the tournament, won great Alaskan Shootout over Historically great Duke team.  Made round of 32.  8-3 vs. RPI top 50, 12-4 over top 100.
2012-  Clearly Mick’s best overall season despite a disappointing start.  4th in a loaded Big East, Conference tournament finals, sweet 16.  8-6 v. RPI top 50, 11-8 vs. top 100.  Only 31 kenpom but they were a different team once they went small.
1998- Regular Season and Tournament Conference Champions, 2 seed in tournament. 9th in Final AP Poll.
1997-  Preseason number 1, Regular Season Conference Champions, 3 seed in tournament.  Final AP Rank of 10.  Disappointing overall season, but still a really good season.
2014-  Tied for regular season conference title with defending champs ahead of eventual champs, 5 seed in tournament, 6-6 v. RPI top 50, 10-7 v. RPI top 100, tourney results disappointing, but that team ahead a really good year.  Only 27 in kenpom, but top 10 in adjusted defense.
2017-  16-2 conference record, 6 seed, 3-4 RPI top 50, 6-5 v. top 100, no bad losses, conference tournament finals, 2nd round NCAA tournament.  22 kenpom.  Top 15 in Polls on multiple occasions. 
2004-  Regular Season and Tournament Champions, 4 seed in tournament, 7-6 v. RPI top 50, 12-6 v. top 100, no bad losses.  17 in kenpom.   Maybe should be higher but hard to get 2nd round dismantling by Illinois out of head.

The Good Seasons:
2001- Regular Season Conference Champion, Sweet 16, 5 seed in tournament, 2-4 Vs. RPI top 50, 9-5 vs. RPI top 100.  4 losses outside RPI top 100.  Nice break in tournament, but not a great overall season.
2011- 6th in loaded Big East, 2nd round of NCAA tournament, team that put UC back in the NCAAs, 21st in kenpom.  7-9 v. RPI top 50, 8-9 v. RPI top 100, no bad losses. 
2005- 2nd round NCAA tournament, 4-5 vs. RPI top 50, 9-6 v. top 100.  7 seed in NCAA tournament.  19 kenpom. 
2019- 2nd outright in AAC Conference, Conference tournament champions, 5-4 Q1, 8-1 Q2, one awful loss to ECU.  As of today 31 kenpom (43 offense, 28 defense).  First round exit. 
2015-  Round of 32, 6-4 v. RPI top 50, 9-8 v. top 100.  Only 43 kenpom.  8 seed.
2016-  First round exit, 5-5 v. top 50, only 7-10.  32 kenpom.  9 seed.  Team seemed close, but as we know lost a ton of close games. 
2013-  First Round Exit, 5-10 vs. top 50, 9-12 v. top 100.  40 kenpom, 10 seed.
1995- Conference Tournament Champion, 7 seed, 2nd round exit. 
1994-  Conference tournament champions, First round exit, 8 seed.  25 in final AP poll.
2006 (AK’s year)-  NIT quarterfinals (lost when players suspended), 4-8 vs. RPI top 50, 11-11 v. top 100, 44 kenpom. 
2003-  First Round Exit, only 17 wins (against 12 losses), 3-6 v. RPI top 50, 8-9 v. top 100,  36 kenpom

OK Seasons:
2010- NIT second round, 3-11 RPI top 50, 8-16 RPI top 100, kenpom 68, great start, team not quite ready.
1991-  NIT, 18 wins, 10.62 Strength of Record According to Sports Reference
1990-  Huggs first year, NIT, 20 wins, 7.19 SOR According to Sports Reference.
2009- 1-9 v. RPI top 50, 7-12 v. RPI top 100.  86 kenpom

The Rebuild-

Sunday, March 24, 2019

2019 Bearcat Basketball Season in Review

Another solid season ended early in the tournament with a disappointing performance against Iowa.  I’ve given it 48 hours to try to gather my thoughts on the 2018-2019 Bearcats.  I’ve heard some describe this team as having overachieved.  I find that take to be absurd.  The Bearcats were picked second in the AAC and finished second in the AAC.  Prior to the season the Bearcats were consistently picked to make the tournament by the prognosticators and they did.  Going into the season I thought the worst-case scenario for this team was to be a bubble team and the best case scenario was to be a top 15 caliber team.  The most likely scenario was always something in between and that’s what the Bearcats became.  They were a borderline top 25 type team most the year, one that was unlikely to get past the first weekend and that’s ultimately where they ended up.  As of today they are 32 kenpom, with an adjusted offense of 47 and an uncharacteristically low adjusted defense of 30.  This team probably fits squarely in the middle of the good, not great, Cronin teams that have made the tournament. 
               There is plenty to be proud of for this team.  Their ability to get wins in close games (and luck) allowed them to finish second in a much deeper American conference.  Winning the AAC tournament by beating a top 10 Houston team is a very big deal.  The Bearcats dominated the crosstown shootout, something fans should always feel good about.  Jarron Cumberland was a deserving American Conference player of the year and likely will be a preseason All American next season.  Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome gave solid contributions their final year and often made huge shots late in games.  I think the team played close to its full potential offensively this year where other than Cumberland they really had a lot of role players who contributed well.  If this kind of season can be the floor going forward it’s an incredibly successful season.  The big issue is we need to see more seasons like last year, where they are a legitimate top 10-15 team.  There was enough this year and enough coming back that next year’s team has the chance to get to that level. 
               As I said previously, I really do think this team played to its potential offensively.  Cumberland was great and the Bearcats used him intelligently as a facilitator and scorer.  Jenifer finished the season with the 12th best kenpom offensive rating in the country.  Both Brooks and Scott had great offensive efficiency numbers, kenpom has Brooks 247 nationally in offensive rating and Scott 407.  We watch and know all of these guys liabilities, but their efficiency tells me that the Bearcats really maximized their skillsets on offense.  The Bearcats were great at protecting the basketball (26th nationally) and rebounded a ton of their misses (4th nationally in offensive rebound percentage).  They had 2 big weaknesses that bit them on offense and prevented them from being better than they were:  1.  Other than Broome they had no offensive threats off their bench and 2. Nobody besides Cumberland and Jenifer could consistently hit an outside shot.  The six other guys who took at least 10 threes all shot between 23% and 30% (only Tre Scott broke 30%). 
               However, for this team to reach its full potential it needed to have a top 10 caliber defense.  They just never got there.  Defensively they had two glaring weakness, 1. They were poor defending three-point shooters and 2. They gave up too many offensive rebounds.  In 3 of their 7 losses their opponent shot at least 50% and in 2 others they shot over 40%.  In 5 of their 7 losses they allowed teams to rebound at least 33% of their misses.  The matchup zone did its job of making it difficult to score in the paint against them, but they often overhelped off the wrong player and their recovery to shooters often seemed slow and discombobulated.  Additionally, their guards lacked size and athleticism to really contest on closeouts.  Last season someone like Jacob Evans was spectacular at recovery close outs and would block shots that shooters thought they had a clean look.  This year opposing offensive players shot over UC guards so even if they closed out well, offensive players could confidently take the shot.  Gary Clark was the best all around inside defender of the Cronin era and Evans was the best perimeter/wing defender I’ve seen at UC.  Losing those two extraordinary defenders was always going to be difficult.  They erased so many mistakes with their intelligence and abilities.  Lastly, Brooks couldn’t seem to stay on the floor.  He averaged 5.7 fouls for every 40 minutes on the floor.  When he was on the floor his impact was evident, but he has to figure out how to avoid fouls next year. 
               The good news for Cincinnati is they have a ton of experience coming back next year.  Jarron Cumberland will likely be a preseason All-American.  I expect Brooks and Scott to be all-conference caliber players.  Scott in particular was playing confidently and effectively on the offensive end at the end of the year.  They desperately need to find another ball handler to ease the pressure off Cumberland and they need to find more wing scoring.  Can Logan Johnson make a big leap?  Can Williams build on the promising offense he showed early before fading down the stretch?  Can Moore finally become a good spot up jump shooter?  Can Curtis give next year’s UC team what Cumberland gave UC his freshman year?   If those things happen they’ll be a protected seed next year. That should be the goal for them.
               I think next year they will be a 3-5 seed type team.  Their ability to be a true contender will come down finding scoring/ball handling to take the place of Broome/Jenifer, improving their three-point defense and finding a way to keep Brooks on the floor.  I have absolute confidence Cumberland will be a force again.  I have a ton of confidence that Scott will have a really good senior season.  Jenifer and Broome are nice role players, but they are the kind of guys you can replace if a couple others step up.  This team should be better next season.  Other than last years’ team and the team following the Sweet 16 team (which ended up being a bit disappointing), next year will be as confident as I have been in an incoming Mick Cronin team.  There are a lot of knowns and the unknowns aren’t huge holes that need filled.
               For the Bearcats to be a true threat they need to get back to being a top 10 defense.  If they can be top 10 kenpom adjusted defense and top 25 in kenpom adjusted offense, they can be a title contender.  The offense was better than I expected this season and should be better next season.  A drop in defense was inevitable this year as last year’s team had the best UC defense of my lifetime.  However, I did not expect to fall as far as they did.  Hopefully another year and some added length from their wings will get the defense back to an elite level.  I’m optimistic because defense has been the great constant for most of the Mick Cronin era.  If those things happen, next year could be special and UC will have a great chance at a run in March.     

Monday, March 18, 2019

Grading the Committee

This was probably my best year predicting the bracket. I nailed every team in the tournament.  I had half the field on their exact seed line and 63/68 within one seed line.  Honestly, the ones I missed on I’m mostly OK with as it was the committee to give a little weight to predictive metrics where they often seemed to ignore them.  In fact, I’d argue that though the committee still largely based their field on the resume factors of Q1/Q2 wins/record, they seemed to balance outliers by giving some weight to predictive metrics.  That’s good.  We should value overall performance and that sometimes isn’t just a win/loss thing.  You need to get wins.  Texas is probably an at large caliber team, but the committee appropriately left them out…it’s nice to see some adjustments that seem predictive metric driven.

For example only big misses on the bracket were Iowa (I had as an 8, given a 10), Seton Hall (I had as an 8, given a 10), Ole Miss (I had as an 11, given an 8), Oklahoma (I had as an 11, given a 9) and Northeastern (I had as a 15, given a 13).  Let’s look at these teams:

Iowa- Finished 36 kenpom and 42 Sagarin.  Predictive metrics have them about a 10 seed quality.  They struggled late in the year.  I thought their overall resume was a bit stronger, but have no issue with them as an 10.

Seton Hall-  Predictive metrics like Sagarin and Kenpom have them as one of the worst teams in the field.  They had great wins, probably the best wins among the bubble type teams that made it.  I thought their resume wins would move them up.  It wasn’t the case and I’m good with it.

Ole Miss- My biggest miss.  They were dreadful down the stretch.  Their resume looks like a bubble team and they were somehow an 8 seed.  I think this is probably the worst seed in the bracket.  Their predictive metrics aren’t even in line.  I don’t know what the committee was doing with Ole Miss. 

Oklahoma-  31 Sagarin, 38 kenpom.  They have solid wins.  I thought this was high but the predictive metrics are good so it’s not a miss. 

Northeastern- It’s just sometimes hard to differentiate some of these small conference champions.  No issue with this one either.

As far as Cincinnati’s seed, I’m good with it, though I thought they’d be a six.  I had 22 teams I thought definitively had better resumes than Cincinnati.  That means UC is starting at the 3rd 6 seed.  I had 5 other teams UC had a resume close to, where the committee could go any direction.  Those teams were Buffalo, Wofford, Nevada, Louisville and Maryland.  The committee gave Maryland and Buffalo those two six seed spots and put UC, Nevada, Wofford and Louisville on the 7 line.  This seems completely reasonable and they did UC the favor of putting them in Columbus.  Not bad and not unfair. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Final Bracket Predicton 2019

1 Seeds                Duke, Virginia, Michigan State, UNC,
2 Seeds                Tennessee, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Houston
3 Seeds                LSU, Michigan, Florida State, Purdue
4 Seeds                Kansas State, Virginia Tech, Kansas, Texas Tech
5 Seeds                Auburn, Villanova, Iowa State, Mississippi State,
6 Seeds                Wisconsin, Marquette, Cincinnati, Buffalo
7 Seeds                Maryland, Nevada, Louisville, Wofford
8 Seeds                Baylor, Iowa, Syracuse, Seton Hall,
9 Seeds                Minnesota, UCF, VCU, Washington
10 Seeds              Arizona State, Ohio State, Utah State,  Florida
11 Seeds              Ole Miss, Oregon, Temple/Oklahoma, St Johns/Belmont
12 Seeds              St Marys, Murray State, Liberty, NM State
13 Seeds              Yale, St Louis, GA State, Old Dominion
14 Seeds              Bradley, Vermont, UC Irvine, NKU
15 Seeds              Montana, Colgate, Northeastern, Iona
16 Seeds              Gardner Webb, Albeline Christian, North Dakota State/Prarie View A&M, Fairleigh Dickinson/NC Central