The news this week that Dayton Flyers forward Obi Toppin won both the Wooden Award and the Player of the Year Award as the best player in college basketball got us thinking, since some of the voting is done by the same misguided pollsters that constitute the laughable Associated Press Top 25 poll.
We know that KenPom.com efficiency ratings are the best way to determine the national champion, proving that select criteria have been hallmarks of 18 of the last 19 teams to win March Madness. We saw that borne out again this week, in terms of major media outlets choosing their virtual champs for the tourney that didn’t happen this year.
Why not apply KenPom sabermetrics to the national POTY awards in basketball? We’re going to do that right now, dating back to 2011 as that is as far back as KenPom data goes for analyzing player performance at the highest analytical level currently possible.
- 2011: AP winner Jimmer Fredette of BYU was third in KenPom, behind Jared Sullinger of Ohio State and Kemba Walker of Connecticut.
- 2012: AP winner Anthony Davis of Kentucky was fourth in KenPom, behind Draymond Green of Michigan State, Thomas Robinson of Kansas, and Sullinger.
- 2013: AP winner Trey Burke of Michigan was second in KenPom, behind Russ Smith of Louisville.
- 2014: AP winner Doug McDermott of Creighton was third in KenPom, behind Smith and Shabazz Napier of Connecticut.
- 2015: AP winner Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin was first in KenPom, marking the only time the two parties agreed on the POTY.
- 2016: AP winner Denzel Valentine of Michigan State was fourth in KenPom, behind Brice Johnson of North Carolina, Malcolm Brogdon of Virginia, and Buddy Hield of Oklahoma.
- 2017: AP winner Frank Mason of Kansas was sixth in KenPom, behind Josh Hart of Villanova, Jock Landale of St. Mary’s (CA), Johnathan Motley of Baylor, Caleb Swanigan of Purdue, and Nigel Williams-Goss of Gonzaga.
- 2018: AP winner Jalen Brunson of Villanova was second in KenPom, behind Trae Young of Oklahoma.
- 2019: AP winner Zion Williamson of Duke was seventh in KenPom, behind Jarrett Culver of Texas Tech, Ethan Happ of Wisconsin, Carsen Edwards of Purdue, Cassius Winston of Michigan State, Brandon Clarke of Gonzaga, and his own teammate at Duke, RJ Barrett.
- 2020: AP winner Toppin was fourth in KenPom, behind Luke Garza of Iowa, Devin Dotson of Kansas, and Markus Howard of Marquette.
On average, then, the AP winner finished “3.6th” in KenPom player ratings, with only one season where the AP voters got it “right” in terms of understanding and valuing players accurately. The largest disparities occurred with “name” players from blue-blood programs in 2017 and 2019.
It’s good to see the AP winner in the Top 10 of KenPom player ratings, though, in every season for the last decade. With Mason and Willamson being the huge outlying winners above, most of the AP winners were at least in the Top 5 on KenPom.
What does this tell us that we don’t already know? Not much, except the AP voters really don’t trust a lot of sabermetrics yet or even acknowledge them as legitimate, and considering how long it took other professional sports bodies—like the Baseball Writers Association of America—to come around to modern statistical analysis, we can’t expect AP to learn any time soon, really.
This is just more fodder for the argument that the AP polls and voters should just be ignored now. There are better resources out there today for sabermetric sports analysis.