How do you project a college basketball season?
Preseason polls are an average of perceptions -- of teams' returning talent and key additions, and their coaching staff's ability to convert it all into wins. Sports Illustrated's preview-issue rankings have always relied on that human-perception model, but this season, we've opted for something more scientific. Economist Dan Hanner has spent four seasons working on a statistical projection model that works from the bottom up, projecting advanced statistics -- including offensive rating, possession usage and rebounding rates -- for all Division I players, and using the results to project overall team performance. Hanner's model simulates the season 10,000 times, accounting for fluctuations in individual performance and health, and ranks teams according to their median performance. We'll reveal the entire 1-351 team rankings on Nov. 4 in SI and on SI.com, and in the lead-up, examine the model's most interesting individual-stat projections.
This is the first season Hanner, working with SI's Luke Winn, has attempted to forecast (and publish) raw points-, rebounds- and assists-per-game totals for every player in the top 11 conferences. The player projections are based on many factors: past advanced-statistical performance in the context of more than a decade of player data; the predictive power of recruiting rankings, both on immediate freshman performance and longer-term development; the quality of teammates and coaches; specific coaches' playing-time distribution tendencies; the estimated pace at which a team will play; and intel from coaches on how their rotations will be structured, which helps us better understand how many minutes and shots will be available to each player.
The first data-drop includes SI's projection of the nation's top 100 scorers according to raw points per game, as well as lists of the top 20 high-usage, high efficiency scorers, the top 20 rebounders, and the top 20 assist leaders. In the coming days we'll roll out our forecast of the top-scoring freshmen, the top-scoring transfers and the biggest breakout scorers. (Remember that these numbers exist within a team context; you won't find any Kentucky players here, because their proposed platoon system -- in which 10 players could each play around 20 minutes per game -- led to our system capping their top scorer, Aaron Harrison, at 11.4 points per game.)
|4||DaVonte Lacy||Sr.||SG||Washington St.||19.4||112||27|
|6||Jarvis Summers||Sr.||PG||Ole Miss||18.8||114||27|
|9||Georges Niang||Jr.||PF||Iowa St.||18.4||114||28|
|10||Olivier Hanlan||Jr.||PG||Boston College||18.2||113||28|
It was only four seasons ago that a BYU senior shooting guard was the nation's leading scorer and most talked-about player: Jimmer Fredette. The Cougar who could take that crown this season is far less famous: Tyler Haws, who was the country's sixth-leading scorer in 2013-14, on a team that lost its NCAA tournament opener to Oregon. Three of the players ahead of Haws graduated, one turned pro early and the other, Antoine Mason, transferred from Niagara to Auburn, where we forecast a scoring drop-off due to the increased level of competition. Haws' high-volume shooting tendency, reasonable efficiency and BYU's fast tempo makes him the most likely No. 1. The other prime contenders are also senior two-guards from the West Coast. Stanford's Chasson Randle (2) is another under-the-radar star who may have to shoulder a bigger offensive load now that Cardinal co-star Dwight Powell is in the NBA, and Oregon's Joseph Young (3) is a high-efficiency shooter/transition scorer on a roster that was decimated by transfers and player-ineligibility issues.
|11||Jerian Grant||Sr.||PG||Notre Dame||18.1||124||26|
|12||D'Angelo Harrison||Sr.||SG||St. John's||18.0||114||26|
|13||D.J. Newbill||Sr.||SG||Penn State||17.8||106||27|
|16||Brandon Clark||Sr.||PG||Santa Clara||17.4||112||27|
|17||Jared Brownridge||So.||SG||Santa Clara||17.4||118||23|
|18||Brad Waldow||Sr.||PF||Saint Mary's||17.4||120||27|
|19||Marcus Paige||Jr.||PG||North Carolina||17.2||120||22|
|20||Marcus Foster||So.||SG||Kansas State||17.2||105||27|
Notre Dame's Jerian Grant (11) is somewhat of a forgotten man after missing last season's final 19 games due to an academic-related suspension. Grant was allowed to re-enroll at the school and, assuming he's the same player we saw early in '13-14, should battle with Boston College's Olivier Hanlan (10) and North Carolina's Marcus Paige (19) for the ACC scoring title. Santa Clara, meanwhile, looks poised to have the country's highest-scoring backcourt duo in senior point guard Brandon Clark (16) and sophomore shooting guard Jared Brownridge (17).
|21||Evan Payne||So.||SG||Loyola Marymount||17.2||100||29|
|25||Daniel Bejarano||Sr.||SG||Colorado St.||17.1||113||26|
|26||Johnny Dee||Sr.||SG||San Diego||17.1||120||23|
|28||Le'Bryan Nash||Sr.||SF||Oklahoma St.||16.9||109||25|
|30||Juwan Staten||Sr.||PG||West Virginia||16.6||114||26|
With Doug McDermott gone to the Bulls, the Big East should have a more open scoring-title competition between St. John's guard D'Angelo Harrison (No. 12), Butler guard Kellen Dunham (15) and Georgetown guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (23). And with Oklahoma State missing its two leading scorers from last season, Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, Cowboys guards LeBryan Nash (28) and Phil Forte (36) are both projected to become 16-point-plus per-game contributors.
|34||Seth Tuttle||Sr.||PF||Northern Iowa||16.3||120||27|
|36||Phil Forte||Jr.||SG||Oklahoma St.||16.2||124||19|
The first freshmen appear! Duke's Jahlil Okafor (38), the No. 1 overall recruit in our aggregate Class of 2014 rankings, is a legit national player-of-the-year candidate. He's stepping into a perfect opportunity, with no one blocking him at the center position in the Blue Devils' rotation, two efficient point guards helping him in Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones, and plenty of shots available after the departure of Jabari Parker. UNLV's Rashad Vaughn (39) is the top talent in a huge Rebels recruiting class, and they need him to inherit the shots freed up by Bryce DeJean-Jones' transfer to Iowa State.
|41||Craig Sword||Jr.||SG||Mississippi St.||15.9||99||29|
|43||Codi Miller-McIntyre||Jr.||PG||Wake Forest||15.7||106||25|
|45||Anthony Drmic||Sr.||SF||Boise St.||15.6||118||24|
|46||Patrick Holloway||Jr.||SG||George Mason||15.5||109||22|
|47||Sindarius Thornwell||So.||SG||South Carolina||15.5||107||27|
|48||Derrick Marks||Sr.||PG||Boise St.||15.4||108||30|
Boise State, which was on the outside of the NCAA bubble last season after making the tournament in 2013, returns the projected Nos. 2 and 3 scorers in the Mountain West in wing Anthony Drmic (45) and point guard Derrick Marks (48). Utah, meanwhile, has two projected 15-plus point per-game scorers in Jordan Loveridge (50) and Delon Wright (57), who could help the Utes reach their first NCAA tournament since 2009.
Continue reading: 51-100 scorers, top rebounders and leading assist men
|53||Cezar Guerrero||Jr.||PG||Fresno St.||15.1||111||25|
|54||Sheldon McClellan||Jr.||SF||Miami (Fla.)||15.1||114||24|
|56||Anthony Beane Jr.||Jr.||SG||Southern Illinois||15.1||112||22|
Trevor Cooney (51) should be the leading scorer by default for offensively challenged Syracuse. The model projects the junior shooting guard to increase his average from 12.1 to 15.3 points per game. All-America candidate Montrezl Harrell (59) is projected to average 15.0 points for Louisville; while he's the Cards' lone frontcourt scoring threat, he'll have to share shots with the backcourt duo of Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, both of whom are projected to score 12.5 points per game.
|63||Marcus Marshall||Jr.||PG||Missouri St.||14.8||115||25|
|65||E.C. Matthews||So.||SG||Rhode Island||14.7||106||25|
|70||Ron Baker||Jr.||SG||Wichita St.||14.3||124||23|
Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky (61), one of the preseason frontrunners for the Wooden and Naismith awards, has a 15.0-point projection. While the Badgers' pace of play limits its leaders' raw point totals, Kaminsky should be regarded as one of the country's most efficient, high-usage scorers. At UConn, the system projects senior point guard Ryan Boatright (68) to average 14.5 points; freshman Daniel Hamilton and N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis are the other Huskies who could reach double-digits.
|72||Kethan Savage||Jr.||SG||George Washington||14.2||107||25|
|75||Milton Doyle||So.||PG||Loyal Chicago||14.1||98||30|
|76||J.J. Avila||Sr.||PF||Colorado St.||14.0||113||27|
|77||Pat Connaughton||Sr.||SF||Notre Dame||14.0||127||19|
|78||Aaron Thomas||Jr.||SG||Florida St.||13.9||107||25|
|79||Jalen Jones||Sr.||SF||Texas A&M||13.9||109||24|
Gonzaga point guard Kevin Pangos (73) has made a career out of efficient, moderate-usage scoring, and that should continue this season. We project him to crack the top 100 at 14.2 points per game and be the leader of a Zags offense that could have four other double-digit scorers in Kyle Wiltjer, Gary Bell Jr., Przemek Karnowski and Byron Wesley. At Michigan, our projections see wing Zak Irvin (74) making a big jump from 6.7 points per game as a freshman to 14.1 as a sophomore.
|84||Thomas Van Der Mars||Sr.||PF||Portland||13.8||121||22|
|85||Daishon Knight||Sr.||SG||Illinois St.||13.8||98||27|
|87||Fred VanVleet||Jr.||PG||Wichita St.||13.7||130||21|
|89||Larry Nance Jr.||Sr.||PF||Wyoming||13.7||114||24|
Fred VanVleet (87) isn't forecasted as Wichita State's leading scorer -- that would be Ron Baker (70) -- but its senior point guard is projected to put up an incredibly efficient 13.7 points per game with an offensive rating of 130, while also dishing out 5.5 assists. The system has Larry Nance Jr. (89), who's coming back from a February ACL tear, regaining his status as Wyoming's leading scorer, but that's contingent on a full return to health.
|96||Adam Smith||Jr.||SG||Virginia Tech||13.6||106||25|
|98||Jerrell Wright||Sr.||PF||La Salle||13.6||110||27|
Even though SMU won't have super-recruit Emmanuel Mudiay -- he chose the Mustangs but opted for a pro deal in China instead -- it has an efficient lead guard in Nic Moore (93), who's projected to score 13.6 points per game. In order to surprise anyone in the Big Ten, Purdue probably needs a huge year out of 7-foot junior A.J. Hammons (94), but our system projects a modest 2.8-point jump from his sophomore year average, to 13.6 points per game.
Continue reading: Top efficient, high-usage scorers; leading rebounders and assist men
Projecting the most efficient, high-usage scorers
Anyone familiar with advanced stats (or really, basketball at all) knows that the top 100 scorers in raw points per game aren't the 100 most valuable scorers in the game. That's why we've broken out a separate projection chart of the 20 most efficient scorers whom the system expects to use at least 24 percent of their team's possessions, thus making them "high-usage" players.
This is where Kaminsky's value to Wisconsin really becomes evident. He's projected to use a quarter of the Badgers' possessions at a 1.259-points-per clip -- the best of anyone in the country. Okafor's All-America candidacy also becomes clearer, and this suggests that pundits should be talking more about Saint Mary's senior forward Brad Waldow in the preseason:
|rank||name||class||team||pred. volume||pred. otrg|
|2||Jerian Grant||Sr.||Notre Dame||26%||124.0|
|4||Brad Waldow||Sr.||Saint Mary's||27%||120.0|
|5||Seth Tuttle||Sr.||Northern Iowa||27%||120.0|
|9||Anthony Drmic||Sr.||Boise St.||24%||117.9|
|13||Marcus Marshall||Jr.||Missouri St.||25%||114.7|
|14||Georges Niang||Jr.||Iowa St.||28%||114.5|
|16||Larry Nance Jr.||Sr.||Wyoming||24%||114.3|
|17||Juwan Staten||Sr.||West Virginia||26%||114.2|
|18||D'Angelo Harrison||Sr.||St. John's||26%||114.1|
|20||Daniel Bejarano||Sr.||Colorado St.||26%||113.5|
Projecting the top 20 rebounders
Many of the college game's elite rebounders (Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes, Kentucky's Julius Randle, Boise State's Ryan Watkins, etc.) either turned pro or graduated after last season, and thus no player from the top 11 conferences is projected to average double-digit boards. UMass senior Cady Lalanne, who averaged 7.9 rebounds last season, is the system's top pick. Three players who made the most-efficient high-usage scorers list -- Okafor, Waldow and Northern Iowa's Seth Tuttle -- also appear among the top glass-cleaners.
|4||Steve Zack||Sr.||La Salle||8.8|
|12||Brad Waldow||Sr.||Saint Mary's||8.5|
|13||Seth Tuttle||Sr.||Northern Iowa||8.4|
|15||Kennedy Meeks||So.||North Carolina||8.2|
Projecting the top 20 assist leaders
Notre Dame's Grant isn’t just a high-volume, high-efficiency scorer: He's also projected to chase the national assist title, which makes him a strong All-ACC candidate. Christopher Anderson, a senior point guard at San Diego who averaged 5.0, 5.7 and 6.2 assists during his first three seasons, is forecasted to be the No. 1 distributor in our 11-conference sample. VanVleet's presence in the top five, combined with his low turnover rate and smart shot selection, is what makes him an All-America candidate. Duke's Tyus Jones, a five-star point guard recruit, is projected as freshman who will have the most assists -- with plenty of them expected to go to Okafor.
|1||Christopher Anderson||Sr.||San Diego||6.5|
|2||Jerian Grant||Sr.||Notre Dame||6.2|
|5||Fred VanVleet||Jr.||Wichita St.||5.5|
|6||Juwan Staten||Sr.||West Virginia||5.2|
|8||Shannon Scott||Sr.||Ohio St.||5.1|
|13||Anthony Collins||Sr.||South Florida||4.8|
|15||Alex Caruso||Jr.||Texas A&M||4.8|
|18||Marcus Paige||Jr.||North Carolina||4.6|