01 November 2016

2016-17 Pre-Season Expectations: Northwestern Basketball

T-minus 10 days to Year 4 of the Coach Chris Collins Era when kenpom #336 Mississippi Valley State re-ups on its nearly annual money grab and plays patsy to Northwestern at the Welsh on Nov 11.  It's an exciting time of year for wide eyed fans across the basketball world, and Northwestern fans are no different.  Conventional fan wisdom has once again NU with a very deep bench (11 deep this year limited only by that oft-vilified scholarship-hogging Vassar and medical redshirt freshman Rap Ivanauskas), and many also have NU either breaking that NCAAs cherry or at worst on the NCAAs bubble........

For us stats nerds, aside from the preseason excitement this time of year is also like christmas when kenpom unveils his annual tempo free rankings.  With this in mind, we've once again modeled NU's and its B1G bretrhen's schedules to discern what these objectives have to say about the upcoming season.  

The first bar chart below projects NU's 2016-2017 win totals for the entire season.  It is worth noting that these data are based on a 31 game schedule.  kenpom currently lists just 30 games as there is an additional TBD game (either Notre Dame or Colorado on Nov 22 as part of the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn).  We project and model that NU would be a narrow underdog for that game. 
The good news is that NU is expected to have back-to-back winning seasons with a median expected record of 18-13, 8-10.  Ostensibly this would appear to be a step backward for a team that went 20-11 and 8-10 during regular season last year, but in reality kenpom's preseason expectations have NU at #61 which is 11 rungs above last year.  The difference of course is that this season's schedule is comparatively more difficult.  That comes as little surprise as NU's 2016 schedule was -- between a cream puff laden non-conference schedule and a down B1g -- about as soft as a B1G team could have.   

Excluding outlier results NU fans can expect anywhere between a 14-17 and a 22-9 record.  That's all well and good, but the big question is what does this portend for NU's post season prospects?
The above chart summarizes the pre-season forecast for NU's B1G conference slate which will most directly affect NU's post-season prospects.  NU's most likely outcome of 8-10 would be an improvement over last year's 8-10 since the B1G isn't expected to be nearly as bad in 2017.  So while NU missed the NIT last year, an NIT would likely be in the offing at 8-10 barring a disastrous non-conference campaign.  

What about the NCAAs?  Too many variable at this point, but if schedule strength proves to be as expected and NU performs as expected in the non-conf then 10-8 strikes us as bubblicious with 11-7 as likely in.