Do returning minutes matter in the Big East?

The second in our preseason Mind the Gap series, looking at the coming changes in the Big East.

There's good reason to get excited when a team is returning a whole lot of talent and most of their minutes to a squad - especially when that team also has some talented young pups in a recruiting class to fill the gaps. Familiarity speeds up the process of a team gelling, whether that's in learning their defense or in terms of playing off of each other on offense.

But not all returning minutes are made the same. So, this is an addendum to Monday's post on returning minutes in the Big East - a look at the pitfalls of predicting the basketball future based solely on returning minutes and how to start determining the quality of the minutes coming back to the team.

First, some handy dandy tables.

In Monday's post, there is a table with returning minutes/ points/ rebounds (go back and check it out if you haven't seen it yet). All well and good, and it points out some serious work to be done for teams like West Virginia, Rutgers, Seton Hall, and obviously St. John's. And the difference between the three stat categories also show where each team is bringing back veteran talent on the whole. It also hints to the quality/ tendency of the players who have left the roster.

But what does that tell us about the quality of the league next year? Some, but not everything. Consider...

Big East returning minutes, the past two seasons

Coming into the season…
Season
Ret. Minutes
Ret. Points
Ret. Rebounds
2010-11
62.6%
59.2%
62.5%
2009-10
77.9%
77.5%
75.0%

Before the 2010-11 season, the Big East returned 62.6% of the league's minutes, 59.2% of the points, 62.5% of the rebounds. In 2009-10, the Big East returned 77.9% of the league's minutes, 77.5% of the points, and 75% of the league's rebounds. One might think that the 2009-10 Big East was a better conference... and one might be wrong by many metrics.

There are many different measures of league strength, and I contend that the 2010-2011 season in college basketball was fluke-filled and lacking in powerhouse programs, with a young North Carolina, little NCAA Tourney talent in the Atlantic Coast Conference, a weak Pac-10, a weak SEC West, and a final that featured a middle-of-the-pack Big East team in U Conn facing a Horizon league team that struggled for a solid portion of the year. There were good teams out there, but a lot of bad teams as well that made the NCAA Tournament. And then there was the Virginia Commonwealth Rams, which was somewhere between the two extremes and got hot at the right time in the NCAA Tournament.

Why that meandering diversion? Because the Big East was very successful, but the winning can be written off because the Big East was simply the tallest of the Smurfs in the NCAA.

With that caveat out of the way, here is how the Big East fared. First, median Pomeroy ranks for the league:

Median ranks, Pomeroy stats
Season
Pomeroy 
AdjO 
AdjD 
2009-10
0.8710
112.7
93.9
2010-11
0.8848
111.7
94.6

The 2009-2010 conference was a little better by the median adjusted offensive points scored and adjusted defense points allowed weighted for opponent quality (if you need a primer on Pomeroy's stats, read here), but not radically different. Let's say you think the quantitative method is a little junky, and all the strengths in the world mean nothing when a team loses in the second round to Butler. How about some NCAA outcomes, since the Tournament is the pinnacle of the game we love?

At the end of the year in 2009-2010, the Big East had 8 NCAA tournament teams, 1 #1 seed, 5 top-4 seeds, 2 sweet 16 teams, and 1 final four team (West Virginia).

In 2010-11, the Big East had 11 NCAA tournament teams, 1 #1 seed, 4 top-4 seeds, 2 sweet 16 teams, and 1 Final Four team (National Champion Connecticut).

Kind of the same results, despite having fewer returning minutes in 2010-11. The players in 2010-11 were slightly older; median playing time-weighted experience for Big East teams was 1.89 years in 2010-11 and 1.68 years in 2009-10.

Not much difference in the two years on a league-wide level, despite different levels of returning minutes.

Team-by-team returning minutes, past two seasons

On the team level, returning minutes are a mixed bag. In some cases, the loss of an impact/ high-usage player was a factor in a team's move up or down in the standings. And coaching changes aren't always smooth; sometimes offenses take a little while to catch up, or defenses take time to gel under new management.

Last year, the leaders in returning minutes were St. John's, Pittsburgh, and DePaul, with Seton Hall, Georgetown, and Villanova. Of that group, only St. John's and Pittsburgh improved. Pitt only lost Jermaine Dixon, and St. John's lost Anthony Mason Jr.; the two players shot an effective field goal percentage under 43% and were not high-usage players.

DePaul and Seton Hall both had coaching changes; but Georgetown and Villanova returned much of their core. Both both teams lost their leading scorer who took up a lot of possessions - Monroe used over 27% of the possessions while on the court, and Reynolds took 26.5% of possessions.

Meanwhile, the National Champions Connecticut returned 43.6% of their minutes along with 36.1% of their points, losing most of their rotation (including the inefficient Jerome Dyson). Louisville lost half their minutes, and dominated with a team-oriented style.

Age helps teams improve as well. St. John's and Notre Dame were nationally extreme in the number of seniors they played. But Seton Hall was old, as well, and that didn't help them... and neither did the wealth of returning players they brought back to South Orange. They only lost Eugene Harvey, but they didn't improve on the court.

Do returning minutes mean ANYTHING, then?

Returning minutes do have some meaning.

But they have to have a context. All minutes are not the same. A player who takes up a lot of possessions - meaning he ends lots of plays with a shot, free throws, or a turnover - is a bigger loss than a player who defers to others in the offense. Losing a player who is so accurate of a shooter or rebounder that he is an outlier also hurts more than an average shooter/ average rebounder.

And losing a player who misses a lot of shots but is on the court for extended periods has an effect if the next player happens to be efficient/ able to get lots of quality shots up.

I don't have a single minutes- and possession-weighted number to give you for each team, though Bamamarquettefan at Cracked Sidewalks has done some deep, strong work in concocting a Value-Add formula for individuals that seems to hold up to math scrutiny. But extending it to teams - and using it to denote how much quality a single team is losing in the offseason - still requires the smart questions, like:

  • Will the players be better or more exposed with extended time on the court? (Markel Starks and Dante Taylor come to mind.)
  • Can the four- or five-star player improve his game to match his incoming ranking a year ago? (Like Vander Blue. And Dante Taylor.)
  • Which newcomers will take another players' spot? (DePaul has some dead weight; and some of Louisville's guys better put in some extra time in the gym.)
  • Will a player regress? (Which does happen. I mean, what happened to Dominic Cheek's shot last year? Or Vincent Council?)

We will start the team by team Mind the Gap series by Friday. Look out for it, and feel free to comment and discuss!

Complete team-by-team tables with changes in efficiency margins for 2010-11 and 2009-10, below.

"Chg EM" is the change in efficiency margin. The efficiency margin is the adjusted offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) minus the adjusted defensive rating (points given up per 100 possessions); the change in efficiency margin is the current years' difference/ margin minus the previous years' margin.

 

Coming into the 2010-11 season

Big East 2010-11
NCAA seed
Record
Chg EM
Ret. Minutes
Rank, Min
Ret. Points
Ret. Rebounds
Cincinnati
6
(26-9,11-7)
8.3
63.7%
8
60.9%
66.5%
Connecticut
3
(32-9,9-9)
9.9
43.6%
15
36.1%
40.9%
Depaul
(7-24,1-17)
-4.8
82.2%
3
77.8%
67.7%
Georgetown
6
(21-11,10-8)
-8
66.3%
5
52.6%
65.7%
Louisville
4
(25-10,12-6)
4.9
50.0%
13
43.5%
57.2%
Marquette
11
(22-15,9-9)
-2.4
51.3%
12
52.6%
56.3%
Notre Dame
2
(27-7,14-4)
5.5
59.2%
9
57.8%
62.3%
Pittsburgh
1
(28-6,15-3)
7.4
84.4%
2
86.0%
88.7%
Providence
(15-17,4-14)
-4.1
48.4%
14
44.9%
48.2%
Rutgers
(15-17,5-13)
8.1
64.8%
7
56.1%
59.5%
Seton Hall
(13-18,7-11)
-0.5
80.9%
4
85.5%
83.0%
South Florida
(10-23,3-15)
-7.8
42.0%
16
36.6%
50.8%
St. John's
6
(21-12,12-6)
3.1
89.5%
1
91.0%
87.5%
Syracuse
3
(27-8,12-6)
-4.3
53.6%
11
52.0%
50.9%
Villanova
9
(21-12,9-9)
-4.2
66.0%
6
62.5%
68.1%
West Virginia
5
(21-12,11-7)
-6.7
55.9%
10
52.3%
49.8%
Big East
62.6%
59.2%
62.5%

 

11 NCAA teams/ 1 #1 seed/ 4 top-4 seeds/ 2 sweet 16 teams/ 1 Final Four team/ Nat'l Champ

Coming into the 2009-10 season

Big East 2009-10
School
NCAA seed
Record
Chg EM
Ret. Minutes
Rank, Min
Ret. Points
Ret. Rebounds
Cincinnati
(19-16 ,7-11)
1.9
77.9%
3
77.5%
75.0%
Connecticut
(18-16 ,7-11)
-16.3
38.9%
15
36.8%
35.6%
Depaul
(8-23 ,1-17)
3.4
68.0%
6
60.6%
67.3%
Georgetown
3
(23-11 ,10-8)
4.7
68.5%
5
67.7%
69.8%
Louisville
9
(20-13 ,11-7)
-10.8
54.8%
9
55.2%
45.5%
Marquette
6
(22-12 ,11-7)
-2.6
39.4%
14
34.3%
45.7%
Notre Dame
6
(23-12 ,10-8)
1.7
47.0%
11
53.2%
61.6%
Pittsburgh
3
(25-9 ,13-5)
-9.4
42.6%
13
33.4%
32.1%
Providence
(12-19 ,4-14)
-0.6
36.0%
16
34.0%
24.0%
Rutgers
(15-17 ,5-13)
-0.5
52.5%
10
54.8%
58.0%
Seton Hall
(19-13 ,9-9)
0.7
75.6%
4
83.8%
73.3%
South Florida
(20-13 ,9-9)
8
64.9%
7
69.7%
61.9%
St. John's
(17-16 ,6-12)
9
91.9%
1
95.3%
93.4%
Syracuse
1
(30-5 ,15-3)
3.4
44.5%
12
41.2%
52.8%
Villanova
2
(25-8 ,13-5)
-2.8
63.1%
8
61.7%
51.6%
West Virginia
2
(31-7 ,13-5)
1.4
80.3%
2
78.0%
87.4%
Big East
77.9%
77.5%
75.0%

8 NCAA teams/ 1 #1 seed/ 5 top-4 seeds/ 2 sweet 16 teams/ 1 final four team

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