If there’s one stat site that every college basketball fan should visit and take serious it’s KenPom.com. He takes away any true bias based on the algorithms used for offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, tempo, luck and strength of schedule. That’s all broken out individually and then wrapped together for the overall ranking.
KenPom (short for Ken Pomeroy the creator of the site) came out with his first rankings of the season and some people (read: fans) will likely be angry. While his stats during the season are the best, his preseason ones sometimes leave a little to be desired based on how he takes transfers and freshmen into consideration—at least in this writer’s opinion.
For that reason there could be a couple of teams that have been greatly undervalued.
Right off the bat, two stick out in general with Maryland at No. 24 and Cal at No. 47. Personally, I have both in my Top-10 and predict that both will win their conferences, so you can see where the argument is on this end.
However, other teams that are undervalued at first glance are Iowa State (No. 19), Dayton (No. 65) and Iona (No. 84).
Let’s focus on Cal and Maryland, though, as the most undervalued teams per KenPom’s first rankings. Obviously the reason for this is the lack of projections of the freshmen and transfers—both of the teams have a heavy amount of those—who will play and be stars on the team.
There’s also the way KenPom rates Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon.
He’s not a good offensive coach per KenPom. In fact he pretty much stinks as an offensive coach at every stop. Looking at past history of Turgeon on KenPom (subscriber only) his team has never finished in the top-25 in adjusted offensive as a head coach. He’s come close just once, finishing 26th while at Wichita State in 2005.
Just a hint: Things have changed since 2005, and one of them isn’t Turgeon becoming a great offensive coach.
Since Turgeon has taken over Maryland, the Terps have been awful from inside the arc, ranking inside the top-150 in the country just once in two-point percentage. That combined with the influx of new players, causes the Terps to fall in the rankings. They were ranked low last year in KenPom too. The Terps never really climbed into the top-20 and finishing ranked 32nd despite a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Sometimes, the KenPom rankings don’t tell the whole story…
Cal, in the meantime, is grossly undervalued despite returning three key starters in junior guard Jabari Bird, senior guard Tyrone Wallace and junior guard Jordan Mathews. All three players are multiple year starters, which should give KenPom enough to bump them up the rankings. Also, the talent of freshmen Ivan Rabb (power forward) and Jaylen Brown (small forward) isn’t being taken into consideration.
Let’s start with Brown, who very well may go down as the best player Cal had since Jason Kidd, even if he just plays one year.
He’s that good. The freshman is 6-foot-7, 200 pounds with freakish athletic ability. He picked the Bears over Kentucky and Michigan, just to let you know who else was in on him. Brown, by the literal definition, is a slasher and will look to hammer down dunks each time he drives. He’s strong enough to absorb contact and get and-1’s, which will obviously benefit Cal. The biggest advantage to Cal having Brown on its roster is the fact the Bears can go small, playing Brown at the power forward spot, and spread the floor offensively. He has the size and strength to play with other power forwards in college basketball, similar to an Alex Poythress at Kentucky. If he can develop a more consistent jumper, he’ll be a First Team All-American by the end of the season.
Then there’s Rabb, the second big grab for Cal heading into the 2015-16 season. He’ll provide the toughness Cal needs in the post, especially with what the Bears return at the guard spots. Rabb isn’t afraid to make a game ugly, and that’s meant in the most positive way. He’s already shed body fat and is getting stronger since he stepped foot on Cal’s campus, and Cuonzo Martin will use him as the key cog in the paint. In fact , he’ll be the only cog in the paint as the Bears will run a one-in, four-out offense thanks to Rabb’s ability to control the paint by himself. On top of that, he runs the floor extremely well for his size, and that skill will only be better now that he the shed body fat. That allows the Bears to play up-tempo with three shooters and a guy who can beat anyone off the dribble in Brown.
On the flip-side if you want to see a team that’s over-valued just look at Wisconsin at No. 8 in the country, per KenPom. This is a byproduct of the way the Badgers play the game and how KenPom appreciates that type of style—something we see with Virginia too.
Both teams are extremely efficient on the offensive side of the ball to make up for the lack of tempo, giving them a higher oEFF (offensive efficiency) scoring for KenPom. This is mostly due to the slow tempo that Virginia and Wisconsin play at, which helps limit turnovers and increases shooting percentages—both key components for KenPom’s theory. The highest tempo Virginia has played with under Bennett was in 2010 (they had 63 possessions per 40 minutes) which was good for 317th in the country.
The Badgers are projected to be the eighth best offensive team in the country, despite losing Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker— which is almost impossible to imagine. Bo Ryan has never finished worst than 50th in KenPom rankings at Wisconsin, but it’s hard to believe that this team as one of the eight best teams in the country right now.
The tempo factor is the same for the Badgers as it is for Virginia, which is why KenPom loves them. The fastest Wisconsin has played under Ryan was in 2006 with 66.7 possessions per 40 minutes. Virginia is projected to be third in the country despite losing Justin Anderson. He missed the season last year and the Cavaliers fell to the second worst oEFF scoring for NCAA Tournament teams.
When all is said and done, here’s the takeaway…
While I personally love KenPom, his preseason rankings are to be taken with a bit of caution. Come December be prepared to see how teams are truly valued, because that’s what really matters.