Last season, college basketball analytics powerhouse Ken Pomeroy's metrics thought the Terps were more lucky than truly great. This season, while just about everyone thinks the Terps are a top-five team and Big Ten favorite, Pomeroy's preseason statistical projections have Maryland as the No. 24 team in the land and the No. 6 team in just the Big Ten.
Maryland is going to be great this season. The Terps have a national player of the year candidate in Melo Trimble, five-star talents in Rasheed Sulaimon and Diamond Stone, all-conference talents in Jake Layman and Robert Carter and a really deep bench. What's not to like?
To that end, Pomeroy's ratings inspired some negative responses. A sampling:
@testudotimes @kenpomeroy ahahahhahahahahahhahahhahahahhahahhahah— Terrapin BB Uniforms (@UMd_Uniforms) October 25, 2015
@testudotimes @kenpomeroy so many things wrong with this ranking smh— Nate Cloeter (@ncloeter) October 25, 2015
But fear not. Pomeroy's projections don't signal any kind of anti-Maryland foul play, and they don't even mean Pomeroy (or, more accurately, his computer model, which does the ratings) thinks that negatively of Maryland. Let's explain.
When he released his preseason ratings in 2013, Pomeroy explained his methodology on his blog. This is what goes into generating a team's preseason positioning.
Base level of the program. This takes into account the last five seasons of data for the same unit (offense for predicting offense) and the last season for the opposite unit (defense for predicting offense). It also includes data for how much money the program has spent on men's basketball for the last three seasons. The bulk of this component is determined by the most recent season's performance of the unit.
You can make a decent predictive system just by knowing what is normal for a program. If we were predicting the Big 12 standings in 2025 (assuming the conference exists), it would be reasonably safe to say that Kansas will have a winning record and TCU will have a losing record. We can say that with some confidence even though some of the players on those rosters haven't picked up a basketball yet.
In Maryland's last five seasons, the Terps have been good exactly once: last year. They were distinctly mediocre in 2010-11, Gary Williams's last year, and stayed varying degrees of mediocre in each of Mark Turgeon's first three years. The Terps only got good last season, so their five-year offensive baseline isn't much good. (That Pomeroy's ratings last year regarded them as worse than their record is largely immaterial here.)
There is a legitimate critique of Pomeroy's model to be made here, however. As college basketball's highest echelon shifts more and more toward a one-and-done structure with top talent coming and going over a year or two (not to mention transfers), a five-year baseline index may not accurately peg the sport's best teams, which get annual makeovers.
It probably is effective for schools that retain players for the long haul, but guess what? That's not Maryland this year. In Maryland's projected best lineup, only Layman is likely to spend more than two seasons playing at Maryland.
The rest, either because of transfer eligibility rules or the NBA Draft, will be gone after a year or two. There's also the point that Pomeroy's model straight-up doesn't include transfers. That's fair, but it doesn't account for Carter or Sulaimon, two high-end talents who will start for Maryland. Carter and Sulaimon happen to be great defenders, and their absence from last year's lineup doesn't help Maryland's one-year defensive baseline, either.
Also included in the formula:
Personnel. This component handles who's coming back from last season's team and which impact recruits are being added to the roster. More impact is given to returning players from earlier classes. And minutes played by those with a high-efficiency/high-usage profile are particularly important. Recruits in the RSCI top 100 have some influence here as well, although most of the influence is in the top 50.
So, this immediately discounts new backup point guard Jaylen Brantley. He'll have an important role to play in spelling Trimble, but he doesn't count here. In fact, out of Maryland's four new rotation players - Brantley, Carter, Sulaimon and Stone - only the five-star freshman center gives the Terps any kind of bump in Pomeroy's rankings. And that's three-fifths of Maryland's probable postseason lineup and 40 percent of a rotation.
Pomeroy's data is a hugely valuable tool, as long as it's applied correctly.
Turgeon has put together this roster largely via the transfer pool, and Maryland's rise has been relatively sudden. As such, it shouldn't be surprising that Pomeroy's preseason model doesn't care for the Terps, and it shouldn't be surprising when they shoot up his rankings after a few weeks of actual games.