Is San Diego State a legitimate title contender? Their similarities to last season’s Texas Tech team suggests the answer might be “yes.”
Texas Tech’s run to the national championship game last season may have been a bit surprising, but no one will be underestimating a Chris Beard coached teams going forward.
The Red Raiders have had success with the “Chris Beard formula,” which has consisted of using the transfer market to bring in talent and experience. This approach is illustrated by KenPom’s “minutes continuity” and “experience” metrics.
Minutes continuity measures a team’s composition of minutes played from one season to the next. If a team has seven players play most of the minutes, and the same seven see a lot of playing time again the following season, the team is likely to rank highly in minutes continuity. Experience measures a team’s experience. A team largely made up of upperclassmen on the roster will rank higher in the metric than a team with mostly underclassmen.
The Chris Beard formula has tended to produce teams that rank high in terms of experience and low in minutes continuity. The incoming transfers are often upperclassmen, bringing experience, but the fact they are new to the team has hindered the team’s continuity.
The “Texas Tech Profile”
The Red Raiders have clearly had success with this approach, but it’s worth exploring how teams with similar profiles have fared as well. Going back to 2007-08 (as far back as data goes), 63 teams have finished top 150 in experience, below 200th in minutes continuity AND made the NCAA Tournament.
Three Beard teams made the cut, including 2018-19 Texas Tech (3-seed, Championship Game), 2017-18 Texas Tech (3-seed, Elite 8) and 2015-16 Arkansas Little Rock (12-seed, Round of 32).
Within this group of 63, 10 fit the “Texas Tech profile,” which includes teams that meet two additional criteria.
1. Had at least one “new transfer contributor” – at least one new transfer that played at least one-third of the team’s minutes (equates to roughly 13 minutes per game)
-Texas Tech has had had two “new transfer contributors” each of the last two seasons
2. Not ranked in the preseason
-Texas Tech was unranked in the preseason in both 2017-18 and 2018-19.
3. Single-digit seed
-Texas Tech was a 3-seed in both 2017-18 and 2018-18 seasons.
Here are the 10 teams:
Not every one of these teams had tournament success, but along with the two Texas Tech teams, both Wichita State and Nevada significantly outperformed expectations. On the whole, these 10 teams averaged 1.80 tournament wins versus an expected 1.13 based on their seeding (insert typical small sample size disclaimer).
If one only includes the teams that REALLY fit the “Texas Tech profile,” the group’s tournament performance looks even better. Of the 10 teams, there are eight that entered the NCAA Tournament ranked in the KenPom top 30 (Texas Tech was 12th in 2017-18 and 9th in 2018-19).
On the whole, these eight teams averaged 2.25 tournament wins versus an expected 1.20. Maybe it’s just a fluke, but is there any potential explanation for why these teams have exceeded both preseason and NCAA Tournament expectations?
Clearly, not every team that brings in transfers finds success. Even for some of the successful teams above, the transfers weren’t huge contributors (e.g. 2017-18 Houston). But when this approach works (e.g. team earns single-digit seed), perhaps the influx of talent and experience can produce some special outcomes.
Is there any real predictive value for the above analysis? It’s unclear, but the findings are interesting nevertheless. Are there any teams this season that meet the criteria of the “Texas Tech profile”?
This Season’s “Texas Tech Profile” Teams
Although Texas Tech brought in two more transfers in Chris Clarke and TJ Holyfield this season, the Red Raiders surprisingly don’t make the cut. Although the team ranks 316th in continuity, it’s only 294th in terms of experience. Its preseason number 13 ranking disqualifies it as well.
Cincinnati and Yale are both potential tournament teams that are close to the “top 150 experience – below 200 continuity” threshold, but not quite there yet.
Cincinnati: 34th experience, 189th continuity
Yale: 48th experience, 192nd continuity
Neither team was ranked in the preseason, but the Bearcats have two transfer contributors in Jaevin Cumberland and Chris Vogt, while the Bulldogs have none. Even if Cincinnati’s continuity ranking ends up exceeding 200th, it’s unlikely to be a single-digit seed (or top 30 in KenPom).
Stephen F. Austin (the team that beat Duke at Cameron) meets the initial criteria, ranking 52nd in terms of experience and 270th in continuity. It wasn’t ranked in the preseason and has Gavin Kensmil as a new transfer contributor. But like Cincinnati, it’s unlikely to earn a single-digit seed (or top 30 in KenPom).
Auburn checks a lot of the boxes. The Tigers rank 69th in terms of experience, 265th in continuity and are in a strong position to earn both a single-digit seed and top 30 KenPom ranking (currently projected as a 3-seed and ranked 30th in KenPom).
The Tigers fail two criteria. The team was ranked 24th in the preseason and lacks a new transfer contributor. Rather than incoming transfers, the Tigers’ low continuity has been driven by losing three players to graduation and two others (Jared Harper, Bryce Brown) early to professional basketball.
There is one team, however, that checks ALL the boxes: San Diego State.
The Aztecs rank 49th in experience and 245th in continuity, driven by the impactful transfers of Malachi Flynn, Yanni Wetzell, and KJ Feagin. The Aztecs were unranked in the preseason and will almost surely enter the tournament as a single-digit seed and top 30 KenPom teams (currently projected as 1-seed and ranked 5th in KenPom). Check, check, check.
You’re welcome San Diego State fans. It looks like the Aztecs will be performing above expectations in March. Enjoy the ride.