I know John Gasaway thinks the most interesting team in the country from an analytical perspective is Detroit, but I have another nominee.
Trivia question: What team has the highest probability of an undefeated season according to the current kenpom.com projections? Duke? Second place. Ohio State? Kansas State? Gonzaga? Memphis? All wrong. At 1.14 percent, the most likely team to win every game they play before tournament season is Utah State.
Quick rundown of the Aggies: Last year they finished the season ranked No. 25 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings, then pulled what you might call a reverse-Butler to end the 2010 campaign. They laid an egg against an inferior New Mexico State team in the WAC final and then, after getting an NCAA tournament bid anyway, were outclassed by Texas A&M. All-WAC point guard Jared Quayle has graduated--which is a problem, yes. But everyone else is back.
"Everyone else" includes senior Tai Wesley, who, had he been able to stay on the floor, would have deserved WAC player of the year honors over Nevada sophomore and 2010 NBA draft pick Luke Babbitt. A comparison:
%Min ORtg %Poss eFG% OR% DR% ARate FTRate FT% 2P% 3P%
Wesley 68.5 121.4 27.7 57.4 13.7 16.0 25.8 41.1 70.1 57.7 0
Babbitt 92.0 119.8 26.8 54.2 6.6 19.6 11.0 43.2 91.7 52.1 41.6
Babbitt's only significant per-possession advantage (without considering exactly how either went about making his field goals) is making a preposterous percentage of his equally numerous free throws. Wesley was more than twice as likely to grab an offensive rebound, almost three times as likely to block a shot, and--this is the one that I still can't quite wrap my mind around--more than twice as likely to record an assist. And just to show that Wesley's outlandish assist rate from the power forward spot wasn't some kind of Acie Law phenomenon (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), point guard Quayle finished behind him in assist rate. The other players 6-7 or taller who put up higher assist rates last season: Evan Turner, Greivis Vasquez, Tyler Smith, Darington Hobson, and UC Davis guard Mark Payne--and nobody else who could call himself a big man.
At the other big man spot is Nate Bendall, who likely will be off the floor or playing hurt for much of the year. A less-than-perfect Bendall would still be fine, though: on 20 percent of possessions last year he shot 56 percent from the field and 82 percent from the line while putting up strong shot-blocking and rebounding numbers.
But what really separates Utah State from the typical mid-major school is the way they can just slide in Brady Jardine, who on 22 percent of possessions last year shot 57 percent from the floor and 74 percent from the line with significantly stronger shot-blocking and rebounding numbers than Bendall's. Modou Niang--he of the 62 percent field goal shooting and eight percent block rate in 2010--will likely jump in to fill the remaining minutes.
Pooh Williams was a WAC all-defensive first-teamer last year while earning an offensive rating of 108 and using 18 percent of USU's possessions. Tyler Newbold shot 42 percent from three-point range (and finished third in the country in offensive rating) and Brian Green shot 50 percent from deep.
This team is loaded, and I fully expected to be overwhelmed by like-minded bandwagon jumpers all November long. But I've heard almost no hype, which I chalk up to the Aggies' postseason struggles more than anything else. If Butler brought everyone back (even Willie Veasley), their offense wouldn't be this good.
The Aggies are listed with above an 80 percent chance to win every game on their schedule except two. On Wednesday they visit Jimmer Fredette and BYU, and on December 4 they're playing at Georgetown. (By the way the Hoyas get a salute from me for playing mid-major royalty, with games against USU, at Old Dominion, at Temple, and at Memphis). Win one of those games and keep the status quo in-conference, and maybe Utah State will snag a seed in the top half of the bracket. Lose them, and Stew Morrill and Co. don't have any other chances to prove their mettle.
I'll be doing everything in my power to see those two games, and I'm inviting everybody to jump on this bandwagon with me. Because, with a probability of about 1.14 percent, there won't be much room at the end of the season.
Drew Cannon is a college student who wrote the WAC preview, as well as a really nifty piece called "When Top Prospects Go Mid-Major," for the College Basketball Prospectus 2010-11. You're enjoying a Basketball Prospectus Premium free preview. Find out more about Premium subscriptions and keep reading all season long.
Drew Cannon is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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