As the men’s basketball head coach search chatter continues to rise towards a boiling point, if we’re not already there yet, I thought it’d be a nice time to cool everyone off with some cold hard stats.
By now many Chronicloids and regular readers are probably familiar with my favorite college football statistician, Bill Connelly, and his wonderful SP+ analytics system he uses for predicting games and trends. One of my favorite pieces of work he puts out each offseason is his returning production rankings ($). Instead of taking the traditional approach of just counting how many starters are returning, Connelly uses a carefully crafted formula to calculate and weigh how much production and value a player is bringing back to their team. An easy way to understand how this works is if you imagine that in 2017 UofL returned 10 of its 11 starters from the 2016 offense. Sounds great right? Well what if the starter that doesn’t return is Lamar Jackson. You get the idea.
Returning production is usually a solid predictor of which teams will improve in their upcoming season. For example, heading into the 2016 season Louisville ranked 1st overall in Connelly’s returning production rankings. Guess what? That team was very good until everything blew up in our faces and got ruined. And in 2019, although UofL was coming off a disastrous 2-10 season, the Cardinals ranked 24th in returning production. That team rebounded to eight wins and a bowl win over an SEC opponent.
Last year’s returning production rankings were a bit wonky as virtually everyone across the country had large amounts of returnees due to the extra eligibility players received from the covid year. The national team average for returning production last year was 76.7%, when the normal average is 62.6%. If your team is returning 76.7% this year you’d be in the Top-25 of returning production. The amount of players we saw come back last year was so staggering that San Diego State, who ranked 98th in returning production, returned ~70% of their production. That would put them in the Top-50 this year.
So last year’s rankings weren’t quite as good of a predictor as usual since the numbers were so high across the board and we saw teams like #110 Georgia and #112 Kentucky have strong seasons. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t yet again another great predictor for how Louisville would fare, as Louisville checked in at #111 with 64% of their 2020 production returning.
We all saw how 2021 worked out for us.
But I come bearing good news as Bill Connelly updated his returning production numbers last night and your Louisville Cardinals check in at #13 in the country with 80% of their 2021 production returning. Now some of you may dismiss this when you see teams like USF, UMass, and Kansas ranked in the Top-10 and think to yourselves, “well what good does it do if you’re just returning a bunch of dog poo?” And that’s a valid point. But even if your team is dog poo, having high returning production numbers almost guarantees at least some improvement.
Louisville fans should be excited and encouraged by the numbers, but they should also look at them closely. Louisville’s offense is ranked #6 in the country in returning production as they bring back a staggering 89% from last year. Where I and many others will worry is once again with the defense as they check in at #49 with 71% returning. 71% is still a strong number, but it’s probably a safe bet that the offense will be carrying this team once again.
Friend of the site, @McMahonJust, who runs a great Louisville statistics site, mcmahonjustmoonsit.com, was kind enough to create graphic showing how Louisville’s rankings compare to last year’s:
The overall rankings and the conference rankings are both exciting, but Louisville will have its hands full as five of the Cards’ 2022 opponents rank in the Top-30, with #4 USF, #9 FSU, #11 NCST, #15 Cuse, and #29 Pitt.
Here’s the full list:
UPDATED RETURNING PRODUCTION RANKINGS— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) March 15, 2022
* Teams in green have gone up at least 2%, teams in red have gone down at least 2%.
* Team movement because of either (a) the portal or (b) teams releasing official 2022 rosters and me getting a better idea of who's returning. pic.twitter.com/VDaw9eKrOk
- Virginia, WOOF.
- UCF and Wake are gonna be pains again
- I feel a *little* better about that James Madison trap game
- Even though UofL is ranked highly in the ACC, the ACC Atlantic returns a lot of experience
Overall I’m happy to see where Louisville is in this year’s ranking, but the schedule isn’t going to be easy, especially for the win total fans are expecting from Satterfield this year. Hopefully the staff can capitalize on the talent they’re bringing back.