This season’s preseason rankings included a better prediction for a team’s pace that was primarily based on the head coach’s history. The prediction used up to five seasons of a coach’s past to project tempo for this season. In the case of new head coaches, the model just regressed the team’s previous season pretty heavily back to the D-I average.
In addition to providing a better prediction, it provides a better starting point to find the coaches that have changed their style the most this season. The average error on the tempo predictions has been about 1.7 possessions to this point, but not all of the predictions were spot on. (Technically only one was: St. Bonaventure is currently 0.005 possessions off of its projection, which makes Mark Schmidt’s club the most predictable team this season.)
Some teams have deviated quite a bit from what was expected. Among coaches with previous D-I experience, these five have changed the most this season.
5. Morehead State, -6.3 poss/40 minutes (Sean Woods). In Woods’ previous seasons none of his teams ranked lower than 112th in tempo. This season: 336th. Before the season, Woods went on record as saying he finally had the personnel to play a style he wanted to play, but that statement was more focused on the defensive end. Deceleration aside, the offensive style hasn’t otherwise changed much. Like the typical Woods’ team, Morehead is a below-average shooting team that makes up the difference on the offensive glass.
4. Liberty, -6.4 (Ritchie McKay). The model looked at each coach’s last five seasons regardless of how long ago that happened to be. McKay took six years off from head coaching before returning to Liberty this season but he was reasonably close to the mainstream in terms of pace when we last saw him on the Flames’ bench. In the interim, he was as an assistant at Virginia and so one can understand if his philosophy was influenced by his time under Tony Bennett. That and the limited talent he inherited are probably contributing to the change here.
3. Fairfield, +6.8 (Sydney Johnson). Johnson’s introduction to head coaching was at Princeton and that stint involved teams that were near the very bottom in the land in terms of pace. His Fairfield teams have been a little faster, but still, just two of his previous eight seasons have featured a team ranked in the top 300 in tempo. The Stags have gone 9-31 in the MAAC the past two seasons, and so one might see why Johnson was motivated to try something new. He points to an offseason epiphany for the change.
2. Washington, +7.4 (Lorenzo Romar). Lorenzo Romar has a history playing at very fast pace, but over the last three seasons he got away from that, ranking 183rd, 71st, and 133rd. But with an influx of freshmen capable of getting up and down the floor, Washington is back to pushing the pace. The Huskies rank second in terms of offensive possession length, in a top four that includes Linc Darner, Dan D’Antoni, and Duggar Baucom. Given the increased depth, Romar promised that this season’s team would return to the uptempo style that coincided with UW getting to six NCAA tournaments over an eight-year stretch. The promises of a faster pace are often empty, but in this case, Romar delivered.
1. Maine, +7.7 (Bob Walsh). This is Walsh’s second season as a D-I coach, so it’s not like we have a ton of data on his tendencies. While his teams at D-III Rhode Island College were on the fast side, there was little from his days coaching the Anchormen that suggested UMaine would play at one of the fastest paces in the country. Like McKay, Walsh didn’t inherit much in his first season, but his 3-27 team ranked 97th in tempo. Armed with only that information, the computer couldn’t anticipate that the Black Bears would rank third in tempo this season. Maine’s coming off an 87-possession doozy against New Hampshire last night. Nevermind, they trailed by 24 at one point in the second half. They scored 43 points in the final ten minutes and got as close as six before losing. It had to be fun to watch.