Morris: Top-rated players make for top-rated teams

rmorris@ thestate.comOctober 31, 2013 

Top 25 College Poll  Basketball

Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari has plenty of talented players at his disposal.



    1. Louisville

    2. Kentucky

    3. Michigan State

    4. Michigan

    5. Oklahoma State

    6. Duke

    7. New Mexico

    8. Kansas

    9. Virginia

    10. North Carolina

    11. Baylor

    12. Gonzaga

    13. Arizona

    14. Connecticut

    15. Arizona State

    16. UCLA

    17. Ohio State

    18. Washington

    19. Memphis

    20. Syracuse

    21. Boston College

    22. LSU

    23. UNLV

    24. Florida

    25. Marquette

MOST OF US who vote in either The Associated Press weekly college football or basketball polls face a great deal of uncertainty in filling out our preseason ballots. Frankly, most pollsters employ a lot of guesswork.

For each of the past three years I have removed a lot of that conjecture. Instead of scouring four or five college basketball magazines and essentially throwing darts at the board, I devised a formula to determine my best 25 teams in the preseason.

The formula is just that, a formula. It has flaws, starting with the fact that I rely primarily on the player ratings of one magazine. I have no idea how Lindy’s Sports College Basketball magazine rates its players, but it is the only one I know of that lists the top 25 players in the country at each of the five positions.

I am making a great assumption that Lindy’s hires someone to figure out which players should be rated and in what order. It does appear that Lindy’s does its homework, otherwise how would Torrey Craig, a 6-foot-8 senior for USC Upstate, be rated the 13th-best small forward in the country?

Whatever Lindy’s system, it works for me.

Once I get the magazine — usually in mid-October — I can begin assigning point values to each player and team. The top point guard in the country, Marcus Smart, earned 25 points for his Oklahoma State team and the No. 25 point guard by Lindy’s, Tim Frazier, earned 1 point for his Penn State team.

I do the same for each of the five positions and come up with a total for each team that has a rated player. Or, at least that is how I did it the previous two years. This year, Kentucky forced me to tweak the formula.

Lindy’s does not rate freshmen among its top players at each position, and we all know Kentucky has corralled perhaps the greatest recruiting class in college basketball history. Some believe Kentucky could win the national championship relying primarily on seven freshmen.

So, it did not make sense to leave Kentucky out of my rankings. Instead, I again relied on Lindy’s, which rates the top 100 incoming freshmen. Because freshmen have such a huge impact on college basketball, I decided to use the same 25-to-1 points system for the top 25 incoming freshmen.

I also determined that junior college transfers could have an impact at some schools, but I restricted those point allocations to only the top 10 incoming JUCO transfers. The only noticeable impact was for Louisville, which signed 5-foot-11 point guard Chris Jones, the nation’s top JUCO transfer according to Lindy’s, out of Northwest Florida State.

Actually, the 10 points garnered by Jones pushed defending national champion Louisville to the top of my preseason rankings. Louisville also has the second-highest rated shooting guard in Russ Smith (24 points), the 11th-best shooting guard in Wayne Blackshear (15 points), the 11th-best small forward in Luke Hancock (15 points), the seventh-best power forward in Chane Behanan and the 17th-best power forward in Montrezi Harrell (Louisville).

All totaled, Louisville finished with 92 points, edging out Kentucky’s 84 points. Kentucky had the fifth-best center in Willie Cauley-Stein (21 points) and four of the top incoming freshmen in power forward Julius Randle (No. 2), swingman James Young (No. 6), point guard Andrew Harrison (No. 8), and small forward Aaron Harrison (No. 25).

A couple of surprises jumped out in my final rankings, most notably New Mexico at No. 7 with three players who ranked among the top-five nationally at their respective positions and No. 9 Virginia with three players who ranked among the top-10 nationally at their respective positions.

One other tweak I made to the formula was for the bottom three spots. By my count, UNLV, Colorado and Virginia Commonwealth tied for the 23rd spot with 29 points each. But only UNLV among the trio had three top-rated players.

My thinking was that a team with three top-rated players was probably better than a team with a pair of top-rated players. So, I moved Florida (27 points) and Marquette (25 points) -- with three rated players each — into my final two Top 25 spots and knocked out Colorado and VCU, each of which had two rated players. Wichita State had 26 points, but only two players, so it was left out as well.

The formula is not perfect, but it does eliminate a lot of the guesswork. Next year, I am hoping to tweak it further by incorporating some sort of coaching category. If you know anyone at Lindy’s tell them to begin rating the top 25 coaches every season.

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