The Big Ten appears to be winning the pre-season campaign for the mostly-meaningless title of “best conference” this season. They are expected to have a strong upper tier and even in terms of overall conference strength, the Big Ten may reign supreme. The conference figures to have a weak back end, but the perennial champ in this department – the ACC – isn’t going to have as much junk in its trunk as it did last season.

An additional component to this argument is that the Big Ten retains more talent from last season than any other conference in the country, or at least it should be part of the argument, because that is what the cold, hard data tells us.

Note: The figures below are given in terms of returning offense and defense (vice returning minutes). More details after the data.

        RetO   RetD   Avg
Big Ten 67.8%  70.1%  69.0%
Patriot 68.6   66.7   67.6
GWC     68.1   65.8   67.0
MWC     69.0   63.9   66.4
SoCon   67.0   63.8   65.4
MVC     60.8   67.2   64.0
AmEast  63.1   64.9   64.0
Ivy     62.6   65.1   63.9
A10     60.4   65.7   63.0
ASun    60.1   65.8   62.9
BigSth  62.3   62.9   62.6
MAAC    59.8   65.1   62.5
MEAC    58.6   65.1   61.8
WCC     58.4   64.8   61.6
C-USA   59.3   63.6   61.4
OVC     60.8   60.5   60.7
CAA     60.4   60.8   60.6
Horizon 61.9   55.7   58.8
Sthland 56.0   58.9   57.4
Summit  56.9   57.7   57.3
ACC     54.4   59.3   56.9
NEC     54.5   59.0   56.8
Pac 10  52.9   59.4   56.2
SunBelt 55.2   56.7   55.9
BigWest 55.6   55.7   55.7
BigEast 51.3   59.2   55.3
SEC     51.3   57.0   54.1
Big 12  50.6   55.4   53.0
BigSky  51.9   50.5   51.2
SWAC    46.4   55.9   51.1
MAC     44.6   50.5   47.6
WAC     36.1   43.8   39.9
Average 57.7   60.5   59.1

For those that must know, returning offense determines a player’s value by computing his points produced and scaling it by an additional factor that accounts for his efficiency and his involvement in the offense.


In layman’s terms, players that use more of a team’s possessions and are more efficient than their teammates are going to be more difficult to replace. Thus their minutes are valued more in this calculation. If you still don’t get it, it means that Gordon Hayward’s minutes are more difficult to replace than Avery Jukes on the offensive end.

To compute returning defense, each player’s value is determined by computing the simple component of Dean Oliver’s stops formula,

Stops = steals + blocks x FMwt x (1-1.07 x opp OR%) + DR + (1-FMwt)

FMwt factors in the relative value of a missed shot compared to a defensive rebound based on the team’s ability to do both. And if you have any more questions about that, you should buy Dean’s book.

The benefit of each calculation is that it correlates better to year-to-year improvement than returning minutes does.

Special thanks to John Barber for compiling returning player information. There’s actually more to discuss when it comes to the reasons a player leaves his school, which John helpfully noted for me. Obviously, the majority of the cases involve a player exhausting his eligibility. But at first glance, the remaining discretionary cases don’t seem to be correlated to conference visibility.

The only obvious trend is that players in the Ivy and Patriot Leagues don’t leave before they have a diploma. This isn’t a surprise considering those are the only two D-I leagues where a player is at his school for academic reasons more that athletic ones. Transferring from Columbia, to say, Colorado State for an upgrade in competition (or even playing time) is not worth the tradeoff of not having a degree that says “Columbia” on it. In the other 30 conference, players want to play and they go elsewhere when they can’t. In addition, their tendency to misbehave appears independent of conference affiliation. I’ll document that in the future.

And if you want team values for returning offense and defense, you’ll need to buy my book (or at least the one I contributed a small amount to).