We hear an awful lot about a team’s “body of work” in the buildup to Selection Sunday, as though it is a uniform construct. But that body is merely an accumulation of components, each of which can vary from one another in fairly significant ways.
Freshmen are rarely the same in March as they were for a slate of games in December. Different teams progress at different rates. The quality of opponents fluctuates as the season marches on, and those foes also go through various stages in their own development. And, most significantly, teams deal with injuries that fundamentally alter both their talent level and style of play.
It’s the last of those factors that concerns us here at GK Central. It’s hard enough to evaluate a team on the basis of roughly 30 games against only a small subset of the Division I universe. It’s even more difficult when key players have been absent for major lengths of time. Can you really put your finger on a Michigan State team, for instance, that looked liked the national title favorite to start the season and then lost three key players and a bunch of games in the process? Well, we’re going to try.
To aid our effort, we turned to our team of statistical consultants -- Furman University professors Liz Bouzarth, John Harris and Kevin Hutson -- to tweak our model so that it could measure the Spartans’ performance when Keith Appling, Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne were all in the lineup as well as when any member of the group was absent. Then they tackled the same issue for Arizona with and without Brandon Ashley, as well as Oklahoma State without Marcus Smart during his three-game suspension.