The opening weekend for college basketball is just two and a half weeks away. With the season soon tipping off, the preseason KenPom rankings were released Sunday. I incorporate advanced statistics from KenPom in my writing a lot during the season and cannot stress enough how useful Ken Pomeroy's site is. While the more traditional RPI rankings focus on strength of schedule and quality wins, KenPom accounts for more detailed factors like point differential and home court advantage. Also, KenPom utilizes advanced statistics to predict future results, while RPI rankings only account for actual results.
As for his preseason rankings, KenPom puts a lot of weight on what a team has returning personnel-wise and the ratings of recruits/newcomers that are added to the roster. He states on his website that his thinking for preseason rankings has changed over the years from “trying to project end of season ratings to trying to predict how good a team is right now.”
With that being said, here are some takeaways from the preseason KenPom Rankings.
First let’s start with conference rankings. The Big Ten is rated 5th behind the Big 12, the Big East, the SEC, and the ACC, with the PAC-12 way behind the other high major conferences in 6th. With traditionally succesful Big Ten programs like Wisconsin, Ohio State and Indiana expected to have rebuilding year’s, it’s not surprising to see the conference begin this season in the place they are currently slotted. Last season’s final rankings for the high major conferences went in this order: Big 12, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, SEC, and PAC-12.
As for Rutgers, they are rated the worst of any team in the Big Ten at 125th. There are 351 Division I teams overall. Last season, Rutgers finished 135th, their highest KenPom rating in a season since the 2012-2013 season, the last with Mike Rice as head coach, when they finished 106th. Their average KenPom season ending ranking the following three seasons under former head coach Eddie Jordan was 216th. I’m suddenly nauseous.
In terms of high major teams ranked worse than Rutgers, there is Washington at 130, DePaul at 136, and Washington State at 246. If you count the American Athletic Conference, there are four teams with a worse ranking, including Memphis at 132 and former Big East foe, South Florida, at 242.
Moving on, here is the preseason rankings for all fourteen Big Ten Teams:
10 Michigan State
40 Penn State
78 Ohio State
I’m a little surprised that Michigan State is not rated higher because I think they are a legitimate national title contender and have a lot of key player returning. Seeing Purdue and Northwestern in the top 20 makes sense because they both return most of their major contributors from last season. I think Minnesota is going to be very good this season and should be higher.
The one ranking that surprises me the most is Penn State at 40. They do have almost their entire core of players returning, which includes several former 4-star recruits. This could be a team on the verge of breaking through this season capable of making the NCAA Tournament. However, they finished 89th in the KenPom rankings last season. This team has plenty of talent, but it remains to be seen if they can fulfill their potential this season.
As for the bottom of the conference, Nebraska, Illinois and Rutgers are all near or over the century mark. Rutgers plays them both twice this season, including Ohio State, who at 78, start at 11th in the Big Ten. How the Scarlet Knights fare against those three opponents (33% of their conference games) will have a huge impact on this season.
In regards to their non-conference schedule, the only sub-100 opponents that Rutgers will play is versus Seton Hall who are 28th (too low) and Florida State at 55th (too high). The next three highest rated non-conference opponents are East Carolina at 171, Fordham at 190, and Stony Brook at 197.
As for adjusted offensive efficiency, Rutgers has a predicted rating of 100.3, which ranks them 177th. For adjusted defensive efficiency, their predicted rating is 97.6, which ranks them at 89th. Last season, Rutgers had an adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 101.5, which ranked them 231st, while they had an adjusted defensive efficiency rating of 99.3, good for 70th.
At the end of the day, Rutgers has to prove people wrong this season by making more progress on the court and becoming a better basketball team. If they do, the advanced statistics will reflect that and perhaps Rutgers can finish in the top 100 of the KenPom rankings for the first time since the 2010-2011 season, when they finished 78th.
In terms of preseason rankings overall, Head coach Steve Pikiell was asked about being picked last in the Big Ten yet again this season and this was his response:
“Until we prove that we aren’t last, we should be picked last. I think we are a lot better than that. You have two choices, prove them right or prove them wrong. I look forward to proving people wrong and I think our players will take the same approach.”
There really isn’t anything left to say, as it’s time for this team to do their talking on the court this season, which tips off at the RAC on November 10th against CCNY.