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Lack of Elite NCAA Basketball Teams?

Throughout most of the 2012-2013 NCAA basketball season, the media has reinforced the notion that there is no team truly worthy of the #1 overall spot in the polls. Many have said that this college basketball season fundamentally lacks the type of elite teams that we have seen in the past. Some have even gone as far as to say that due to those assumptions and a slight dropoff in points per game, that the talent level and quality of the game as a whole has fallen off from previous years, providing reasons such as players leaving early for the NBA. While judging the overall quality of the average team is nearly statistically impossible because performance is always relative to an opponent, it is very easy to evaluate whether there has been a noticeable dropoff at the top tier of college basketball. To do so, we can use our team Ratings from the past 2 seasons.

Our ratings sometimes vary significantly from common polls or other rating methods such as RPI, but unquestionably better align with betting markets and more accurately predict game results. The difference between ratings of 2 teams is an expected point spread should they face off, with about a 3.5 point adjustment for home-field advantage when applicable. Below, we present a graph of every team's rating from the past 2 seasons, ordered by their rank in the ratings. If there had been a dropoff this season, we would expect top team ratings from this season to be a bit lower when compared to a similarly ranked team from last season. As a brief side note, we have increased all 2012 ratings slightly by 0.11 points, to counteract the fact that the 3 new teams to D-I basketball were rather poor, and our ratings for each season average 0 for all D-I teams, to make sure equivalent quality teams have the same adjusted ratings.

College basketball depth 2013

Immediately, we see that the 2 seasons' quality of teams are almost identical. Occasionally in sports there are seasons where the best team would only be 3rd or 4th best in another season, but that doesn't appear to be the case here. The are no significant deviations from the expected curve near the top teams, and in fact our 3 highest rated teams of Indiana, Florida, and Louisville are all about as good as or better than last year's top team, Kentucky. One possible explanation for the conclusion that top teams are not as good could be that the 30-60th ranked teams were slightly better than last year. Playing those teams often could then have resulted in the top teams tallying more losses. But even that deviation from 2012 was minor, and the bigger reason for the faulty conclusion is probably the usual culprit: the media likes to jump to conclusions in spite of a lack of evidence in order to make headlines and attract viewers.

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