We’re only a week into college basketball and yet it seems like things are back to normal.
With fans back in arenas, the game has that exciting feel to it once again. And some top-five showdowns, along with a few major upsets, have made it a great week of games.
After one week, TRACR has already adjusted.
Though there’s not enough of a sample size to determine each team’s true talent level yet, TRACR’s preseason rankings gave a good estimate on where teams have stand. So far, there have not been any major adjustments.
What is TRACR? It stands for team rating adjusted for conference and roster – that means that it’s a net efficiency metric that calculates how well a team performs based on who they play and who is on the court.
Because it’s so early in the season, the model is still measuring the strength of the team from the previous season – but it’s also been adjusted significantly for how many games the team has played so ar. By 10 games per team, the model will adjust solely to this season’s performance over other teams.
Let’s highlight some noticeable TRACR trends through the first week:
LSU Comes Out Strong
The Tigers jumped to 13th in TRACR, up almost five points from the preseason ranking. They had the highest jump from the preseason out of any major conference team.
LSU was supposed to be a dominant team offensively based on how it was last season, but the defense has improved dramatically. The Tigers have held each of their three opponents this season to fewer than 60 points, and their 52.0 points per game allowed so far ranks third among Division-I teams that have played at least three games.
Granted, they have crushed weaker teams like UL-Monroe (288th in TRACR) and Texas State (204th) but they also beat a Liberty team (117th) that could make another run to the NCAA Tournament.
Darius Days has made an impressive leap – the senior averaged 24.3 points in the first three games after averaging 11.6 points last season. Add LSU to an already a solid cast in the SEC with Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and Kentucky.
Tough to Score on the Big Ten
The top three teams in defensive TRACR all hail in the Big Ten.
And despite being upset by Marquette on Monday, Illinois still stands as the best defensive team in the country. The Illini have held their opponents to 55.7 points per game so far, and Kofi Cockburn has yet to play this season.
Ranked No. 2 overall and No. 2 defensively, Michigan is as solid on both ends of the floor as any team in the country. The Wolverines beat a good Buffalo (66th) squad while also taking down Prairie View A&M (264th) with ease. Neither team shot well against Michigan, especially from beyond the arc. Opponents have shot 38.9% from the field against Michigan since the start of last season, lowest allowed by any Big Ten team.
And how about Wisconsin being the third-best team defensively? The Badgers have been one of the best teams on the defensive end historically, and this year is no exception. They are allowing 51.7 points per game this season and held Green Bay (322nd) to only 34 points. The problem for Wisconsin is its offense – the team’s 4.7 offensive TRACR is the fourth worst in the Big Ten.
Based on TRACR, the Big Ten is by far the best defensive conference in Division I (minus-10.3 on average), followed by the Big East (minus-7.6) and the Big 12 (minus-7.5).
USC Still Over UCLA
USC was a great team last season thanks to Evan Mobley, but the team still has depth and is balanced on both ends of the floor. A 2-0 start helped put them in the AP Top 25 this week. The Trojans are having some issues early on. They almost blew a 19-point halftime lead versus Temple, but they’re still shooting well from inside while protecting the rim on the other end.
UCLA has an impressive win on its resume already, beating Villanova (15th) in overtime. TRACR favorited Villanova in that game, but only with a win projection of 51.0% and by an average margin of 0.4 points. So it made sense that that game went to overtime.
While the Trojans brought back many players, the Bruins brought back even more, and those stars from the Final Four run have already impressed. Johnny Juzang is averaging 23.0 points and could emerge as the best player this year. Jules Bernard has been on fire from 3. Transfer Myles Johnson has not put up significant numbers offensively, but he has already made his mark on the defensive end.
Expect the Bruins to climb in TRACR this season, but the battle between USC and UCLA will be closer that many think.
Is George Mason Back?
It has been over 15 years since George Mason made its incredible run to the Final Four, but the Patriots have not done much over the last few years.
That may change thanks to new 33-year-old head coach Kim English, who was one of the best 3-point shooters in the county when he played for Missouri.
George Mason (90th) has made quite a leap thanks to its 3-point shooting (40.5% on the season) and defensive effort (57.0 points per game allowed, 35.8 opponent field-goal percentage). The Patriots have won all three of their games by more than 20 points.
While they still rank only fifth in the Atlantic 10 in TRACR, the Patriots have made quite a leap toward becoming a contender in that conference. Look for their game against No. 20 Maryland on Wednesday to be one of the best games of the day.
In addition to George Mason, watch out for Massachusetts in the Atlantic 10.
Graphic design by Ruben Diaz.