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The metrics say UConn men’s basketball is still elite

Even though the Huskies have lost games and slipped in the polls, advanced metrics still love the team’s chances. Will it matter?

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Metrics definitely aren’t everything. Games aren’t played on spreadsheets and the 10 players on the court, as well as the coaches leading them, are human. They’re going to make mistakes. Even when they execute perfectly on a play, a shot can still rim out or time can just run out. At the end of the day, a basketball game has a sample size of one and this can leave room for plenty of unexpected results. Just ask Eastern Illinois, which had a 0.2 percent chance to take down Iowa on the road in December, or any of the other 12 other squads that had a chance to win under five percent at tip-off but pulled off the upset.

Despite that, advanced statistics can shed light on what teams are real and what teams aren’t. Predictive metrics help predict a relative strength of a team and how it matches up against its opponent, taking an educated guess at whether a squad is winning games in a sustainable way. They’re not infallible, but provide some extra background on a team and its resume to this point in the season.

UConn men’s basketball, despite sitting at No. 20 in the AP Poll, is solidly at No. 6 in KenPom and is at No. 7 in Evan Miya’s ratings. These ratings are less reactive to the most recent result, instead counting it equally among all the other data points that already exist. This eliminates recency bias, which is why UConn is still in the top 10. Despite the inconsistent play over the past month, there are still far more good results than bad results.

If the Huskies were 19-7 but weren’t 5-7 since Dec. 31 after a long winning streak, but instead had their defeats more evenly distributed throughout the schedule, it’s entirely possible they would be closer to the top 10 in the AP Poll, rather than down at No. 20. Tennessee, which is at No. 5 in KenPom and No. 10 in the AP Poll, is at 19-6, with separate eight-game, five-game and four-game winning streaks, rather than one big streak and a stretch with a poor record.

UConn and the Volunteers have nearly identical records and each are at 8-6 against Quad 1 and 2 NET competition, yet there’s a 10-spot difference in the AP Poll and according to TeamRankings, a 13-spot difference on the S-Curve for the NCAA Tournament, yet the teams are one spot away from each other in KenPom.

This is almost all due to the eye test and human bias. Tennessee hasn’t had the ugly stretches that UConn has, even if it has lost back-to-back home games on buzzer-beaters to inferior competition. KenPom, Evan Miya and the like take each data point as equally important and don’t read into how a team has been trending, and that’s by design. It’s a resume rating and is not forward-looking.

This gives us a clearer picture of the type of team UConn actually is and can be. Despite a six-week stretch of losing basketball, the Huskies have fallen from No. 2 in the AP Poll and KenPom to as low as No. 21 in the AP Poll, but have never fallen as far as No. 6 in KenPom, playing each of their last seven games in that spot.

Interestingly, John Gasaway noted in March 2022 that 16 of the past 19 national champions ranked in the top six at KenPom the day after selection Sunday. This includes 2022 national champion Kansas, which was slotted at No. 6 headed into the NCAA Tournament, making it 17 out of 20. UConn in 2011 and 2014 provides two of the exceptions, neither of which reached the top six, while Syracuse in 2003 entered the tournament down at No. 20.

UConn has ascended to this ranking with offensive rebounding and preventing other teams from knocking down shots. The Huskies are third in rebound percentage, grabbing an astonishing 38 percent of their misses. This creates second and third opportunities to score buckets. On the other side, UConn is No. 11 in effective field goal percentage against and is in the top 25 of both 2-point and 3-point percentage against. Its defense is aggressive and prevents its opponents from taking easy shots.

The Huskies have slipped in the polls, which bring an important factor, namely the eye test. UConn hasn’t looked like the team that was ranked No. 2 with a decent chunk of first-place votes in December. But ratings like KenPom and Evan Miya are a reminder that the team that accomplished 14-straight wins, including blowing the doors off of Alabama and Iowa State on a neutral floor, is still in there. With five regular season games before the Big East Tournament, now is as good of a time as any for the Huskies of November and December to make an appearance.