Reigning Final Four teams, preseason polls and recency effect

The ACC held its media day this week, and the assembled members of the press caught my eye by picking Syracuse to finish second in the league behind Duke. That struck me as a tad rosy for a team that lost three starters from a group that outscored the Big East by just 0.07 points per trip last year.

If indeed the ACC’s pollsters are viewing the world through Orange-colored glasses, my first ad hoc speculation was that this might be due to recency effect. Maybe the voters are thinking back to the incredible defense this team played on its way to the Final Four — and not of the more normal D this same team played during the Big East regular season.

That in turn led me to wonder whether past Final Four teams have been overrated in ensuing preseason league media polls. It turns out the answer to that question is a somewhat qualified yes….

                    Predicted league finish   Actual

Kentucky, 2012-13            1st               2nd
Kansas, 2012-13              1st               1st
Louisville, 2012-13          1st               1st
Ohio St., 2012-13            3rd               2nd
Connecticut, 2011-12         1st (tie)         7th
Butler, 2011-12              1st               3rd
Kentucky, 2011-12            1st               1st
VCU, 2011-12                 3rd               2nd
Duke, 2010-11                2nd               2nd
Butler, 2010-11              1st               1st (tie)
Michigan St., 2010-11        1st               4th
West Virginia, 2010-11       5th               4th
North Carolina, 2009-10      2nd               6th
Michigan St., 2009-10        1st               1st (tie)
Connecticut, 2009-10         3rd               6th
Villanova, 2009-10           1st               2nd
Kansas, 2008-09              3rd (tie)         1st
Memphis, 2008-09             1st*              1st
UCLA, 2008-09                1st               2nd
North Carolina, 2008-09      1st               1st
Florida, 2007-08             3rd, East         4th, East
Ohio St., 2007-08            3rd               5th
UCLA, 2007-08                1st               1st
Georgetown, 2007-08          1st (tie)         1st

* Coaches' preseason poll

When you scoop up the past 24 teams that have completed a post-Final-Four season, the preseason media (and one group of coaches one year) overrated teams 10 times, predicted the correct finish 10 times (with nine of those 10 being correct first-place predictions), and underrated teams just four times. So, based on the admittedly narrow slice of experience offered by the past six years (curse you, hard-to-find mid-aughts preseason media polls!), here’s what reigning Final Four teams can expect at the following year’s media day:

There’s a 79 percent chance the preseason media poll will either: a) rightly peg you as the league champion, or b) overrate you. “None of the above” — in this case a second-place finish or better in the ACC for Syracuse in 2014 — occurs just 21 percent of the time.

I’ll have roughly 18,000 words to say on the topic of this year’s ACC at ESPN Insider next week, but for now let me hazard the following: If you want a pretty fair statistical analogue to what the Orange bring to the table this season, you could do worse than Baylor last year. On paper the preseason 2012-13 Bears match up fairly well with the preseason 2013-14 Orange in terms of performance the previous season and levels of returning possession-minutes.

Not that I expect Syracuse to follow in BU’s 2013 footsteps and miss the 2014 NCAA tournament. Far from it. (As it happens Baylor was significantly better than its 9-9 Big 12 record indicated.) But I will be surprised if Jim Boeheim’s men finish second in the ACC.

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