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Projecting the 2020-2021 Bulls Using Historical Comparisons

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Akron v Buffalo Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The National Championship game would have been this past week, so I think I’m safe to begin some premature analysis of next year. Barttorvik has released his preseason projections, and I decided to have some fun with his projected stat profiles for each of the returning Bulls. Using the basic Euclidean distance formula that you learned in middle school and Box Plus/Minus stat weightings, I created a metric that finds the most comparable player in 3 player pools:

  • UB History (going back to 2007-2008)
  • In the MAC last season
  • In college basketball last season

Before jumping into my thoughts on the comparisons, a few notes:

  • I list the similarity scores for reference, where 0 is a perfect match. In reality the closest match found was 0.133 and the most dissimilar players had a similarity score of 1.617.
  • PORPAGATU! is the metric I use for offensive efficiency as it factors in usage and quality of opponent faced.
  • The vertical axis on the radar graphs included below is the percentile that the player would have ranked nationally among players that played at least one third of their team’s minutes.
  • Some players’ most similar player in the UB and MAC player pools were themselves, in which case I list their second closest for the sake of this being a fun off-season post.
  • Savion Gallion didn’t play enough minutes to be projected.

Jayvon Graves

Jayvon Graves’ statistical profile from last year vs. his projection for ‘20-’21.

The projections have Graves improving his overall offensive efficiency while regressing in the turnover category. This is probably a reasonable assessment as players tend to increase their shooting efficiency year over year, but he may have more turnover issues as he’s relied on more for play-making with the graduation of Davonta Jordan. The projection model also has Graves regressing as a shot blocker, although I think he could maintain numbers close to this past season. Despite being a 6’3” guard he has the strength and explosiveness to play bigger than his size and be a 70th percentile shot blocker.

UB Historical Comparison: ‘15-’16 CJ Massinburg (Freshman) - Similarity Score: 0.275

Massinburg is the obvious comparison here, so much so that Graves top 3 matches were Massinburg’s freshman, senior and junior seasons. Graves plays similarly to his teammate of two years, both are efficient scoring guards, and rebound well for their position.

‘19-’20 MAC Comparison: Tyler Cheese, Akron - Similarity Score: 0.289

When you’re already a first team all-conference player, there aren’t many in conference comparisons that would be an improvement, but Cheese was a second team all-conference player in his own right and averaged 15.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 3.4 APG.

‘19-’20 National Comparison: Brandon Robinson, North Carolina - Similarity Score: 0.197

While it was a down year by UNC standards, the Tar Heels were still a top 100 team, and Brandon Robinson was a key piece averaging 11.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, and 2.4 APG.

Statistical profiles of Jayvon Graves and his comparisons.

Josh Mballa

Josh Mballa’s statistical profile from last year vs. his projection for ‘20-’21.

The projection model has Mballa making a jump in offensive efficiency which may even be understating the progress Mballa could make with how raw he still is. The model projects a slight improvement in turnovers, but some work on his footwork addressing some of the traveling problems he had will likely improve that even more. The projection also expects some regression in the rebounding and steals categories which is reasonable when he posted such elite numbers at his size. In spite of that he should still maintain high levels of productivity.

UB Historical Comparison: ‘14-’15 Justin Moss (Junior) - Similarity Score: 0.351

Justin Moss was the comparison I was expecting to see here given the rebounding and offensive efficiency numbers that Mballa posted last season. Moss had a much more developed post game and could be relied on more to get his own shot but if Mballa can make strides in that area he could be in for a monster season.

‘19-’20 MAC Comparison: Kevin McKay, CMU - Similarity Score: 0.343

This comparison highlights what a unique player Mballa is. There wasn’t really a good comparison in the MAC last season for Mballa. In spite of his monster rebounding numbers his best match was a 6’5” wing thanks to his well rounded stat profile.

‘19-’20 National Comparison: Marcus Santos-Silva, VCU - Similarity Score: 0.153

This might be my favorite comparison, Santos-Silva is another undersized 6’7” center not known for his offensive game, but finishes well around the rim and rebounds at an elite level. Last season he averaged 12.8 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.3 BPG, and 1.1 SPG.

Statistical profiles of Josh Mballa and his comparisons.

Jeenathan Williams

Jeenathan Williams’ statistical profile from last year vs. his projection for ‘20-’21.

Like Josh Mballa, a spike in offensive efficiency is predicted for Williams, and like Mballa I feel we could see Williams make even greater strides. Williams still has a lot of room to grow as he gets more comfortable with handling the ball and knocking down a greater percentage of jump shots, which could allow another leap similar to between his freshman and sophomore years.

UB Historical Comparison: ‘19-’20 Jayvon Graves (Junior) - Similarity Score: 0.266

Interestingly, Williams’ top comparison was his teammate Jayvon Graves from last season. If Williams can produce at a first team all-MAC level, in addition to Graves still on the roster, the Bulls will have a strong 1-2 punch on the wings next season.

‘19-’20 MAC Comparison: Xeyrius Williams, Akron - Similarity Score: 0.314

Xeyrius Williams was a third team all-MAC selection averaging 13.9 PPG and 9.5 RPG last season for Akron. Jeenathan Williams would have to significantly up his rebounding numbers to reach that level of production but he can provide much of the same scoring and defensive impact as Xeyrius Williams with his length and athleticism on the wing.

‘19-’20 National Comparison: Aaron Wiggins, Maryland - Similarity Score: 0.211

Aaron Wiggins is of a similar mold as Jeenathan Williams, both athletic slashers that can also knock down some shots from the outside. Wiggins averaged 10.4 PPG and 4.9 RPG en route to 6th Man of the Year honors in the Big Ten.

Statistical profiles of Jeenathan Williams and his comparisons.

Ronaldo Segu

Ronaldo Segu’s statistical profile from last year vs. his projection for ‘20-’21.

Segu’s projection has his offensive efficiency and steals numbers spiking which would be huge as he looks to fill the shoes of Davonta Jordan. His assist numbers are also projected to rise, but I would expect an even larger jump. His assist rate was deflated last year by playing next to Jordan a lot, but I would expect a large jump as he takes over as the primary play-maker.

UB Historical Comparison: ‘08-’09 Rodney Pierce (Junior) - Similarity Score: 0.295

Rodney Pierce predates me as a UB fan (enrolled in 2014), so I’m interested to hear thoughts on this comparison in the comments.

‘19-’20 MAC Comparison: Anthony Roberts, Kent State - Similarity Score: 0.165

Segu’s low assist rate numbers show up in this comparison as Roberts is an off ball guard, but he was a good player for Kent this season averaging 12.7 PPG, 2.9 RPG, and 2.4 APG.

‘19-’20 National Comparison: Adam Grant, Bryant - Similarity Score: 0.133

I’m not going to pretend to know much about Bryant basketball, but Grant was a second team all-NEC selection after averaging 16.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 2.2 APG.

Statistical profiles of Ronaldo Segu and his comparisons.

LaQuill Hardnett

LaQuill Hardnett’s statistical profile from last year vs. his projection for ‘20-’21.

LaQuill Hardnett was ultra efficient last season, however he did so on very low usage. The projection has Hardnett maintaining his efficiency while stepping into a bigger role in the offense in his sophomore season. It will be interesting to see if Hardnett can stretch his game out to the three point line in the off-season. This will make it easier to play him next to Josh Mballa or Brock Bertram, and allow him to play his more natural position where he can float to the perimeter rather than being tied to the paint as the team’s post presence.

UB Historical Comparison: ‘07-’08 Calvin Betts (Sophomore) - Similarity Score: 0.217

Same as Rodney Pierce above, I’m interested to hear thought on this comparison in the comments.

‘19-’20 MAC Comparison: Sylvester Ogbonda, Ohio - Similarity Score: 0.335

I don’t love this comparison as Ogbonda was a slow footed true center for Ohio, averaging 6.7 PPG and 6.5 RPG. Ogbonda was solid for the Bobcats, but I think this highlights how Hardnett is being played out of position. Hardnett has much more offensive play-making ability than Ogbonda, and could be a defensive weapon if he could use his length to play the passing lanes rather than being forced to try to body the opposing team’s post player.

‘19-’20 National Comparison: Ed Croswell, La Salle - Similarity Score: 0.181

Ed Croswell is another comparison that I really like. Similar to Hardnett, Croswell is an undersized 6-7”-6’8” big man that rebounds the ball well. Both players don’t create a ton of offense on their own at this point in their career, but are efficient finishing around the rim. Croswell averaged 10 PPG and 7.3 RPG in just 21.1 MPG at La Salle this past season before transferring to Providence.

Statistical profiles of LaQuill Hardnett and his comparisons.

Brock Bertram

Brock Bertram’s statistical profile from last year vs. his projection for ‘20-’21.

At this point in Bertram’s career we pretty much know what we have in him, and the projection more or less says the same. Bertram has always put up good efficiency numbers in his limited time on the court but he’s never been assertive enough to grab more than role player minutes. Expect more of the same in ‘20-’21 with Bertram being solid for a few minutes a game as a bench contributor.

UB Historical Comparison: ‘16-’17 Nick Perkins (Sophomore) - Similarity Score: 0.277

This comparison highlights one issue with this comparison method. The statistical profiles do a good job of comparing productivity, but it doesn’t account for the player’s play style and how they go about achieving the level of productivity. This is highlighted here, Perkins shot 113 three pointers his sophomore year while Bertram shot 0 this past year and is unlikely to start doing so this year.

‘19-’20 MAC Comparison: Philip Whittington, Kent State - Similarity Score: 0.302

Bertram is very efficient in his time on the court and matches favorably with Whittington in many categories. However, Bertram does this in a role player capacity and is unlikely to shoulder a playing time or scoring load that would allow him to make an impact like Whittington did for Kent State as one of the premier post players in the MAC.

‘19-’20 National Comparison: Amadou Sylla, Tennessee Tech - Similarity Score: 0.134

Sylla averaged 5.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 0.9 BPG in just 19 MPG for Tennessee Tech.

Statistical profiles of Brock Betram and his comparisons.

David Nickelberry

David Nickelberry’s statistical profile from last year vs. his projection for ‘20-’21.

Nickelberry’s projection is perhaps the biggest differential in comparison to last season which is to be expected given his small sample size. Nickelberry would have been dead last in turnover rate among players in the country that played at least one-third of their teams’ minutes. Most notably, the model projects him regressing to the mean in that category. I, like the model, am prone to believe this was an outlier of a bad season for Nickelberry. He’s too skilled with the ball to be turning the ball over that often, however he will need to improve his decision making to make an impact next season.

UB Historical Comparison: ‘13-’14 Xavier Ford (Junior) - Similarity Score: 0.360

Before breaking out as a senior, Xavier Ford averaged 4 PPG and 3.2 RPG as a junior. Nickelberry offers more guard skills than Ford did, but figures to slot in as the back-up 4 with Gabe Grant graduating, and questions about Tra’Von Fagan’s return from injury and the usage of the two remaining scholarships.

‘19-’20 MAC Comparison: Lacey James, NIU - Similarity Score: 0.322

This is another odd comparison, as James was the starting center for NIU. James is a much better rebounder than Nickelberry is expected to be, but Nickelberry’s defensive impact blocking shots and grabbing steals is fairly similar to James. James averaged 8.9 PPG and 7.7 RPG for the Huskies last season.

‘19-’20 National Comparison: Markus Golder, Portland St. - Similarity Score: 0.178

Golder averaged 5.7 PPG, and 3 RPG as a junior at Portland State.

Statistical profiles of David Nickelberry and his comparisons.

So what does this all mean? Realistically, it’s just an interesting way to look at the pieces that will be on the team next year given another year of development. There will also be the question of how the recruits and redshirts fit into this picture.

Give me your thoughts on these comparisons in the comments below.