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Indiana men’s basketball: On minutes continuity

A key stat to keep in mind.

Syndication: The Herald-Times Bobby Goddin/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

Before a more comfortable win over Harvard, where we saw the offense start to click even in the absence of Xavier Johnson, anxiety had been building about how disjointed and confused the Hoosiers looked on the court at times.

The most obvious explanation is that this is a new team with a lot of new pieces, but considering how many of those pieces were considered elite recruits, I wondered how much of an excuse this could be.

A useful metric for understanding a team’s experience, especially with each other, is KenPom’s minutes continuity metric, which tracks “what percentage of a team’s minutes are played by the same player from last season to this season,” per the website.

Before getting into the national picture, I wanted to first see how this team, who came in with low preseason expectations from the national media, compared to last year’s roster that was picked to finish first in the Big Ten. This is what I found:

Indiana in 2023: 28.3% (259th)

Indiana in 2022: 60.1% (40th)

Clearly - and not surprisingly, minutes continuity plays a big role in preseason and early season polls. It was easy to see where Indiana was going to get its offense last year when it returned its starting backcourt and a consensus preseason All-American next to another four-year starter.

Last year, North Carolina started at the top of the AP Poll largely because it returned so much. At 69.2%, its minutes continuity rating was in the top fifteen nationally for a team that had just played in the national championship.

As we know from last year’s Heels though, minutes continuity does not directly translate to success on the court, even in the early goings of the season when they face off against teams who are only starting to gel.

To better understand the relation between minutes continuity and strong play in the early weeks of the season, I pulled the minutes continuity for the top ten of the AP Poll:

Week 4 AP Poll

  1. Purdue: 70.4% (12th)
  2. Arizona: 29.5% (253rd)
  3. Marquette: 80.9% (2nd)
  4. UConn: 42.5% (141st)
  5. Kansas: 44.6% (126th)
  6. Houston: 44.8% (124th)
  7. Duke: 66.8% (21st)
  8. Miami: 52.7% (87th)
  9. Baylor: 34.8% (211th)
  10. Tennessee: 55.4% (75th)

There are a few outliers here, notably Arizona and Baylor, but the general trend is that teams within the top 150 and better have fared well compared to the teams with less continuity. Two of the current top three teams returned almost their entire starting lineup.

It’s also worth noting that the two outliers - Arizona and Baylor - added a lot of college basketball experience via the portal this offseason in guys like RayJ Dennis and Caleb Love. Each of those players are averaging over 13 points and four assists for their respective teams.

But how does this play out over the course of the year? Let’s look at last year’s Elite Eight and Final Four to see how those teams fared in minutes continuity:

Elite Eight:

Florida Atlantic: 66.2% (26th)

Texas: 47% (145th)

Creighton: 53.9% (82nd)

Gonzaga: 66.7% (20th)

Final Four:

UConn: 33.2% (248th)

SDSU: 61% (39th)

Miami: 47.6% (138th)

Florida Atlantic: 66.2% (26th)

Here, the advantage that minutes continuity confers on teams becomes more stark. Whether it’s the product of a stronger team identity, more comfort between players through the emotional tumult of the tournament, or plain old experience paying off, it’s clear that the teams that have more guys who have played together fare better come March.

Then there’s the national champion, UConn, defying the trend not only by being the only team ranked over 200 in minutes continuity in the Elite Eight, but by winning the whole tournament. Clearly, there’s a limit to the idea that continuity = success.

What’s also interesting about that team is that it won with something of a lackluster overall recruiting class (transfers plus high schoolers combined). UConn’s 2022 class came in at 39th nationally, featuring just one four-star player in Donovan Clingan.

Instead, UConn won because it was able to integrate guys like Clingan alongside players like Adama Sanogo, while also getting contributions from guys who hadn’t played much the year before, like Alex Karaban.

This isn’t to say that Indiana has championship potential. By this time last year, UConn had already established itself as an elite team, knocking off Alabama in November.

On the other hand, the Huskies definitely had some struggles last year, including a streak where they lost six of eight between December 31 and January 25th. Twice in that span they lost to the same Xavier team that Indiana beat on the road.

I do think, though, that Indiana’s ceiling remains high and that the play we’ve seen so far is inevitable for teams that have so little continuity from season to season. Even for championship level teams working with elite talent.