How Some Early Madness Has Impacted College Basketball’s TRACR Rankings
NFL playoffs? NBA season? Saturday night hockey? Please, it’s time for college basketball.
It’s been a great start to conference play. We’ve seen dominant performances by unlikely teams, buzzer beaters, and Top 25 games that have come down to the last possession.
How about Purdue and Illinois going into double overtime? Or Texas Tech knocking off Kansas and Baylor, only to later lose to Kansas State? And after starting the season 6-6, Oregon wins five in a row, including back-to-back road wins against UCLA and USC? This sport is madness.
TRACR (Team Rating Adjusted for Conference and Roster) tries to quantify this madness. It is a net efficiency metric that evaluates how well a team performs based on who they play. It rewards teams who beat good teams by a lot and punishes those who lose to bad ones, or even punishes them if the game was closer than expected.
Here are some trends that need to be addressed as we continue along college basketball’s crazy conference portion of the schedule.
Gonzaga’s Offensive Power
Gonzaga’s offense has been rated as the best by TRACR for a while now, but oh man has it shown its strength over the last few games. The Bulldogs (No. 1 in TRACR) have scored at least 110 points in three straight games, including a 110-84 blowout over a solid BYU squad (34th). They have averaged 106.0 points over their last five games, shooting 57.0% from the field and 42.7% from 3.
Much of this is due to Drew Timme’s dominance. He’s totaled 62 points over Gonzaga’s last two games, going 27 for 32 (.844) from the field. We saw how dominant he can be last season, but it needs to be stressed again. He’s 6-foot-10 and moves like a point guard. The rest of the team has opened up the floor more so that he can drive and dominate like he once did.
With a rating of 40.1, Gonzaga’s TRACR rating implies that the Bulldogs would outscore an average team in Division I by about 0.4 points per possession. They average 76 possessions, meaning that they would outscore an average team by about 30 points. They’ve outscored their last five opponents by 33.6 points. This is an historic offense.
SEC Down to 2 (and a Half)
There are many solid SEC teams that can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. There are six SEC teams in TRACR’s top 30 and 10 in the top 75. However, there seem to be two teams (and half of a team) that have stood out as the best in the conference.
With all due respect to Texas A&M, who is 4-0 in conference play, TRACR does not fully believe in the Aggies (70th) yet. Kentucky (No. 4) is one of those teams that has stepped above. Over the weekend, the Wildcats beat Tennessee (17th) 107-79 shooting an incredible 67.9% from the field. That was Kentucky’s best field-goal percentage in any game since November 2008 and its best in a conference game over the last 25 seasons. Entering the game, Tennessee had the second-best defensive rating, according to TRACR.
The Wildcats are more than just Oscar Tshiebwe, who leads Division I with 14.9 rebounds per game. Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington Jr. make up one of the best backcourts in the country. When Wheeler was out against Georgia, Washington had 17 points and 17 assists – those 17 assists are the most by any major conference player in a game this season.
Speaking of talented players, Auburn (No. 7) might have the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft in Jabari Smith. The 6-10 freshman has scored in double figures in 14 straight games and is the catalyst to this Tigers offense.
The only loss Auburn has this season came back in November, and it was in double overtime against UConn. At 5-0 in conference play, the Tigers seem like the team to beat out of the SEC. This is Bruce Pearl’s best team since becoming head coach, even better than the team that made the Final Four.
Lucky for the college basketball world, Auburn and Kentucky will face each other on Jan. 22. It might be one of the best games of the year. They are the two best teams in the SEC.
But there is one team that can still make a run in the conference, according to TRACR. That’s LSU (10th). Not only do the Tigers have the best defensive TRACR in Division I, but it’s not even close – their defensive TRACR of -25.9 is six points better than any other team (Arizona is second at -19.9).
The problem with LSU is its offense, which ranks 89th in Division I. While the Tigers are holding opponents to 57.0 points per game, they have only averaged 64.2 points over their last five. That includes scoring fewer than 60 points in losses to Auburn and Arkansas.
That’s why they are the half of this top 2.5 in the SEC – they still need a new dynamic offensively in order to compete against Auburn and LSU.
A few teams that were not considered to be top teams in Division I have made significant jumps over the week. TRACR includes a recency bias to how teams play, which may affect how we see a team overall but can give a better indication on how they might play coming up.
After losing four in a row – three of which were at home, Marquette (18th) has won four straight. The largest reason for Marquette’s jump was the team’s 32-point win over Providence (43rd), but a close (and somewhat controversial) win over Seton Hall (27th) has helped the team’s case. Shaka Smart may have everything in place now, especially on the offensive end. The Golden Eagles shot 52.7% from the field and 43.2% from 3 over their last four games.
It will also be interesting to see how Kansas State (32nd) does going forward. TRACR liked the Wildcats entering this weekend because despite starting Big 12 play 0-4, three of those losses came by three or fewer points. Some of that is just tough luck. Beating Texas Tech (15th), which seemed to be one of the hottest teams in the country, showed better fortune. The Bruce Weber era is not over yet!
And for mid-majors, how about San Diego State? The Aztecs (26th) have won five in a row since losing to Michigan by 14, including a 30-point win over Colorado State (62nd). They’ve held their last five opponents to 54.0 points per game and 34.5% shooting from the field. TRACR has them as the third-best team defensively (minus-19.9). Postponements, however, are affecting San Diego State at the moment, and the team has not played since Jan. 8.
Super Tuesday and More
Super Tuesday is always one to look for in the Big 12, but there are more games this week worth watching. Here is what TRACR says about some of the top games of the week.
No. 13 Iowa State (15th in AP) at No. 15 Texas Tech (18th), Tuesday, Jan. 8
Favorite: Texas Tech (57.1%)
Projected Score: Texas Tech 70, Iowa State 67
No. 8 Purdue (No. 4) at No. 22 Indiana, Thursday, Jan. 20
Favorite: Purdue (54.4%)
Projected Score: Purdue 83, Indiana 81
No. 23 Michigan State (14th) at No. 16 Wisconsin (8th), Friday, Jan. 21
Favorite: Wisconsin (69.8%)
Projected Score: Wisconsin 80, Michigan State 73
No. 4 Kentucky (12th) at No. 7 Auburn (2nd), Saturday, Jan. 22
Favorite: Auburn (50.6%)
Projected Score: Auburn 88, Kentucky 87
No. 10 LSU (13th) at No. 17 Tennessee (24th), Saturday, Jan. 22
Favorite: LSU (57.8%)
Projected Score: LSU 70, Tennessee 67
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Graphic design by Briggs Clinard.