Each week this season, I'll select my top 25 teams as part of ESPN's Power Rankings, and to get that ball rolling in 2015-16, we decided to do something we've never tried before: Rank every team in the nation.
Basically, we wanted to see if we could cook up a labor-saving hack that would mimic some of what the best computer-rating systems spit out. Toward that end, we calculated how much returning experience each Division I roster will have this season. The level of returning experience (measured in terms of possession-minutes) combined with how good a team was last season makes up the lion's share of these rankings for a given program.
Obviously, there will be exceptions to this rule. Duke and Kentucky have little returning experience, but I expect both teams will fare pretty well this season, and I've ranked them accordingly. Still, for the large portion of Division I that doesn't typically benefit from impact freshmen, there's something to be said for the value of returning experience. These rankings are more or less based on that suspicion.
With 351 teams included, there's a good deal of information presented here, so I won't delay with a tedious introduction. Still, I can guess the most likely questions I'll receive in response to these rankings. Here are some answers that may come in handy:
"John, I am amazed and astounded by how accurately you ranked my favorite team. Please tell your editor on behalf of college basketball fans everywhere that you're a genius. Can you be our president?"
Let's just say I'm looking seriously at my options for 2016. If I do run, it'll be on a platform of fewer timeouts and a lavish star-studded retirement ceremony for the RPI.
"No, seriously, why is Kansas your choice for No. 1?"
I suspect we're all suffering from a recency effect where Bill Self's group is concerned, and our most recent exposure to the Jayhawks was when they looked like a bunch of sick frogs in the rain against Wichita State in the round of 32. Hey, I saw that game, too, and, yes, it gives me pause.
But on paper, this is a standout roster even without Cheick Diallo, who hasn't been cleared to play by the NCAA. Self returns the nucleus of a rotation that won a major-conference title, and if Diallo does become eligible at some point, I like this team's chances even more.
"Why is Maryland so low?"
"Low"? Banish the thought. The Terrapins are in the top 10, and I think that's as good a default launch site as any for what is clearly an unprecedented situation. We've just never seen a team go 16-2 in games decided by single digits one season and then land two impact transfers and a one-and-done-level freshman the next. At the moment, the human pollsters love the Terps, whereas all trustworthy laptops, including mine, are highly suspicious of Mark Turegon's men. I expect those opinions will converge as basketball is actually, you know, played.
"What is 'percentage of returning possession-minutes'?"
People, we've been over this!
Enough talk. On to the list!