Surprise! Experienced Wichita State tops summer BPI update

Originally Published: July 27, 2017
By Seth Walder | ESPN Analytics

Gregg MarshallAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesGregg Marshall is returning most of the minutes from a squad that BPI ranked No. 15 to end last season.

Now this is a shocker.

ESPN's college basketball BPI has taken its initial stab at ranking the Division I programs and at the very top of the list is ... Wichita State?

Indeed, with a couple months to go before the season, the Shockers outrank the usual suspects often found atop these lists.

Digging into the situation, it's apparent why BPI is so fond of Gregg Marshall's squad. Wichita State, despite being a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2017, actually finished the season -- by BPI's measure -- as the 15th-best team in the country. And it did so as a team that hardly played its seniors at all, so the Shockers are bringing almost everyone relevant back. In BPI's mind, that's huge. Returning so many minutes after a strong season is a big reason why BPI considers the Shockers to own the fourth-strongest offense and defense in the country, which helped them edge out the likes of Louisville and Villanova in overall BPI.

For now, anyway.

One factor not considered in preseason BPI 1.0 is transfers, which can have an impact. Wichita State lost guard Daishon Smith, who started 12 games last season, and bench forward Eric Hamilton.

Those transfers could ding the Shockers a bit, but right now BPI believes this is the strongest team Wichita State has fielded entering a season since 2007-08, as far back as the index stretches. The Shockers have a BPI rating of 12.17, meaning they are 12.17 points better than the average team on a neutral court.

If you're new to college basketball BPI, a primer can be found here. The short version, however, is that it is a predictive model of team strength that incorporates a variety of factors including the past performance of the coach and players on the roster, recruiting rankings, and the percentage of minutes returning.

BPI will also produce season projections, but those cannot be completed until schedules are finalized.


Powerhouses outside top 10

As noticeable as Wichita State at the top is, it's pretty jarring to see a few of the teams ranked outside of the top 10. That group includes perennial contenders Kentucky and Duke, who are 13th and 14th, respectively, in this first installment of preseason BPI.

The Wildcats, per usual, are turning over the vast majority of their minutes from a season ago. While that is a strike against most teams, the model recognizes the high-level recruits -- including six five-star players -- that John Calipari is bringing to Kentucky.

That being said, BPI still thinks Kentucky's defense will, relatively, be a weakness, ranking that unit 30th.

Duke is essentially a mild variation of the same case. The Blue Devils lost plenty of minutes (just not as many as Kentucky) and are replacing those players with well-rated recruits (just not as well-rated as Kentucky's).

Ultimately, BPI's issue with Duke is the same -- defense -- but to a greater extreme. Coach K & Co. rank 106th in defensive BPI while the Blue Devils' offense is second, behind only Notre Dame.

Keep in mind that preseason BPI describes the current strength of a team, and is not a prediction of how a team will ultimately end up.


Big 12 battle

The Big 12 is both strong and close at the top, with West Virginia, Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas all ranking between sixth and 10th in BPI.

Though the Big 12 did have four top-25 BPI finishers a year ago, that group included Baylor and Iowa State (instead of Oklahoma and TCU) and they weren't tightly packed at the top.

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The Sooners, in particular, are surprising to see so highly regarded after their 11-20 record a year ago. So what happened with Oklahoma?

For starters, last season the Sooners faced the most difficult strength of schedule in the country. So right off the bat, BPI knows Oklahoma was better than its 11-20 record sounds. Still, OU finished last season only 69th in BPI, so what else is going on?

The answer is continuity. Though guard Jordan Woodard, who spent more time on the court for the Sooners than anyone, is gone, he is the only player among their top eight in minutes per game from last season to have departed. The Sooners lost two bench players to transfer as well, but by and large this team is intact.

Plus, the model knows Oklahoma is adding five-star recruit Trae Young to its ranks.


No longer on top

The two teams in last season's title game have their work cut out for them to get back to where they were. North Carolina ranks 26th in this initial version of BPI after finishing last season third in the metric and winning the national title. Gonzaga, which lost to UNC 71-65 in the national championship game, is 60th.

Both teams are expected to turn over roughly half their minutes from last season. But Gonzaga, which finished first in BPI at the end of last season (surely a comforting consolation after losing the championship!), dropped farther because of a couple of factors. First, BPI believes the players the Bulldogs are returning aren't as good as those the Tar Heels are bringing back, especially on offense. Second, the combination of quality and quantity of UNC's 2017 recruiting class far outpaces Gonzaga's. And finally, Roy Williams' teams historically have played better basketball on both ends of the court than Mark Few's.

A look at the current state of the BPI top 50 is below:

Paul Sabin contributed to this report. 

For more from ESPN Analytics, visit the ESPN Analytics Index

Seth Walder

ESPN Analytics

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