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UConn men’s basketball ranked no. 21 in KenPom

The rankings give rise to a level of expectations that are a welcome return for this program.

NCAA Basketball: Connecticut at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The start of basketball season is so close you can taste it. But at least some rankings are out and the fun can already begin.

The first AP rankings were released about a week ago, one day after stats guru Ken Pomeroy of KenPom.com came out with his 2022 preseason rankings. For the first time in years, preseason expectations are mounting for this year’s men’s hoops squad.

Associated Press, KenPom, and Big East coaches like UConn

UConn was 24th in the AP Poll and 21st in KenPom, both were good for second in the Big East behind Villanova. The Huskies were also picked to finish second in the league in the conference’s preseason coaches poll.

While the AP Poll is voted on by the media, KenPom’s rankings are based on a formula that measures efficiency across the Four Factors, which are briefly explained in this old article:

Effective field goal percentage (eFG%) - this is the same as field goal percentage, except that three-pointers count as 1.5 made shots to account for the additional points earned.

Turnover percentage - turnovers divided by the number of possessions.

Offensive rebound percentage - offensive rebounds divided by offensive rebound opportunities, which is measured by offensive rebounds plus opponent’s defensive rebounds.

Free throw rate - measures a team’s ability to get to the free throw line: free throw attempts divided by field goal attempts.

These factors combine to form an offensive efficiency rating, and a defensive efficiency rating based on opponents’ performances in these factors. From there we get an overall rating.

The Huskies are ranked 35th in offense and 22nd in defense to start the season. Their ranking coincides with the no. 21 KenPom ranking the Huskies held at the end of last season, their highest finish since ending 2014 at no. 9. 2016 was the next closest year, at 26th.

They ended the 2020 season 52nd, so the progress thus far continues at a significant pace.

UConn also has some upside which the data may not recognize since Akok Akok didn’t play much last year. If any freshman or other unknown talents are able to break out that can also lead to a higher-than-expected finish.

Either way, it is encouraging for this UConn program, now going into its fourth year under Dan Hurley, to be garnering respect from media and analytics people alike.

Villanova is still a heavy favorite

Here’s how the rest of the Big East shook out in KenPom (Out of 357 division 1 teams):

Villanova: No. 9 (AP rank: No. 4)

Xavier: No. 26

Seton Hall: No. 50

St. John’s: No. 51

Creighton: No. 53

Butler: No. 55

Georgetown: No. 76

Providence: No. 85

Marquette: No. 87

DePaul: No. 140

So far it looks like this is UConn and Villanova’s league, with a large edge to Nova. There are always teams that exceed expectations, but at this moment UConn and Villanova are significantly ahead of their next closest contenders. Four teams are ranked in the 50s, then another three teams in the top-90 represent a decent low-end slate before DePaul in the basement.

It’s no surprise the Wildcats enter the season as favorites. They’re ranked 7th in offensive efficiency and 37th in defensive efficiency and have been a dominant force in the new Big East since its formation. Villanova has won the conference regular-season title outright six out of the last eight years. In those two years they didn’t win, they tied for first and came in second. They have an elite coach in Jay Wright and also return a co-Big East Player of the Year in fifth-year senior point guard Collin Gillespie, who was also just named an AP preseason first-team All-American.

Looking around the rest of the league, some of the most intriguing squads are Xavier and St. John’s.

Xavier returns almost everyone of note, led by scrappy guard Paul Scruggs and bruising forward Zack Freemantle, the latter of which topped the conference in rebounding with 8.9 per night. The Musketeers played very well at times last year, blowing out tournament team Oklahoma on a neutral site early in the year and then handling Creighton at home in late February. The problem has been consistency for them, but they do have the talent to emerge as a tournament team this year.

As for St. John’s, they have the Big East resident pest in Posh Alexander who will continue to terrorize opposing ball handlers and will likely take home the outright Big East Defensive Player of the year award in 2022 after sharing it with Whaley last year. The Johnnies also return conference-leading scorer Julian Champagnie. The challenge for head coach Mike Anderson this season is getting enough out of his other players to be a competitive team.

The UConn Blog will be previewing the upcoming season with a closer look at the conference and non-conference opponents as well.