Hello, friends. With football season revealing itself to be a pit of despair and the preseason AP Polls upon us, I felt it prudent to turn some attention to the landscape of the best basketball conference in the country, the Big 12. The depth and quality of teams in the Big 12 will be on display again this season, with 4 teams in the AP preseason top 25 and two more receiving votes.
First, a brief note about why you should care about preseason polls, especially the AP poll. Ken Pomeroy, the god-king of modern basketball analytics touts preseason polls as the unbiased assessment of team potential and quality. While, of course, the positions jostle, the AP poll performs well in predicting a college basketball champion:
The end result is that it provides a better picture of the state of college hoops before the season begins than any single person or algorithm could produce. It’s informed groupthink at its finest.
Six times the preseason #1 has won the national title compared to three for the top-ranked team at the end of the regular season. The preseason #1 has made it to the title game a total of 10 times compared to just six for the final #1. It’s stunning to me that armed with 25-30 games of additional information, the writers’ ability to identify the nation’s best team* gets worse!
KenPom ranks teams himself, and his pre-season projections are up over at his site. The general numbers are free of charge, but the $20 subscription is worth every penny if you have any interest in the nuts and bolts of basketball analytics. KenPom’s preseason rankings factor in a team’s recent history, recruiting, and returning experience, among others.
Beyond top 30 talent, though, the computer is “blind” to newcomers, which works in TCU’s favor: nine of TCU’s fifteen roster spots turn over, and all but two of those are automatic upgrades. Replacing Vlad and Kenny will prove difficult, but the other seven spots enhance depth immediately. TCU also receives a rare injection of talent mass in the form of 4 redshirt freshmen, all waiting in the wings and learning the system for a year. The Frogs start the season ranked 34th in KenPom’s ratings, but if he factored in the marginal depth upgrade, TCU would sit firmly in the top 30. A top 30 ranking is nice, but in the ultra-competitive Big 12, it’s nothing new.
The Big 12’s average margin (offensive efficiency - defensive efficiency) ranks first out of all the conferences, reflective not only of the elite talent (Kansas projects 4 points higher than any other team in the nation), but also the immense breadth of quality teams in the Big 12: all 10 teams start the season in the top 65, 8 in the top 40, and 5 in the top 25.
West Virginia (10)
Kansas State (12)
Iowa State (25)
Texas Tech (26)
Oklahoma St. (62)
TCU’s out of conference schedule follows Jamie Dixon’s usual strategy of tune-up games, but the Frogs do have plenty of chances for RPI boosting.
Notable TCU OOC Opponents:
Fresno St. (110)
Eastern Michigan (113)
Projected to be in top four of conference (KenPom Rank) (* winner):
Cal St. Baskerfield
Fresno St. (110)
Eastern Michigan (113)
TCU is projected to win all but the SMU out of conference matchup , and the Frogs have a slight edge in a home toss-up vs. Florida in the mid-season Big 12-SEC Challenge. Couple that with the projected 8-10 in conference, and the Frogs are looking at a predicted 18-12 at the beginning of the season.
Last season, the Frogs reached 21-10, and so an 18 win regular season might feel like a letdown, although it will more than likely get the Frogs back to the tournament. In terms of overall schedule difficulty, the Frogs have 18 projected A - tier games, 3 B-tier games, and 9 non-ranked games.
A-Tier: Projected record of 6-12
B-Tier: Projected Record of 3-0
Non-Ranked: Projected Record of 9-0.
The story of TCU’s season will be two-fold: Can the Frogs take care of business when they need to, and how many conference wins can they steal? If they merely meet projections, a tournament bid is likely, but stealing or tossing out a few conference wins on either side could induce substantial variation in seed line.
In terms of the conference, the Big 12 will yet again have a variety of styles sure to cultivate national attention. Contrary to football memes/national perception, the Big 12 leans defense heavy once again in basketball.
Projected Team Styles 2018 (Offense National Ranking, Defense National Ranking):
- Offense-leaning: Iowa State (#19, #35), TCU (#20, #57)
- Defense-leaning: West Virginia (#25, #4), Kansas State (#21, #10), Texas (#24, #15), Texas Tech (#39, #14), Baylor (#52, #32)
- Balanced: Oklahoma (#56, #55), Oklahoma State (#62, #63)
- Next-level elite talent deserving of their own category all season: Kansas (#2, #1)
As the season opens next Tuesday, we’ll see how this projections adapt and adjust to a deep conference full of contenders. It wouldn’t surprise me to see these rankings totally flip (a la Texas Tech 2017-2018) or teams to adjust their emphasis as they work out the early season kinks.