"Who are the top seniors in women's college basketball?" - The Boxscore Wins Method

This is the first in a series of posts regarding the Boxscore Wins method, so lovingly detailed here by David Sparks.

Basically, the Boxscore Wins method is a "win estimator" - something like Win Shares in both baseball and basketball.  It takes a team's wins (or lack of wins) and attempts to divvy those wins up among all of the players on the team.  In short, if a player does 20 percent of the work on the team, she should be credited with 20 percent of the team's win total.

Since Draft Day is coming up for the WNBA, my goal was to grab all of the season statistics for all of the "major conference" teams in women's basketball, divvy up the wins for Duke and Baylor and Tennessee and all 70 or so other teams among the players on those teams, and determine which student-athletes had the most wins.  Using this method, for example, would Maya Moore of Connecticut be the leader among college players in terms of wins assigned to her, or would some other team beat her for that honor?

Spark's method is a quick-and-dirty way to assign wins to players, but it has some flaws to it.  First, Boxscore Wins depends on the number of games a team plays.  If Player A gets 4.2 of her team's 15 wins, and the team's record if 15-10, but Player B gets 5.0 of her teams 20 wins, and that team's record is 20-10, then is Player A better than Player B by this metric?

The fix is simple:  equalize games played to 30 games by multiplying the final answer by (30 / games played).  Player A gets 4.2 * (30/25) = 5.04 wins based on a 30-game schedule.  Player B has only 5.00 wins, so Player A moves ahead.

The second problem is strength of schedule - this would be a perfect (or more perfect) method if every win was the same.  However, not every team plays the same schedule.  According to the Sagarin Ratings Connecticut has played the toughest schedule; many of its 36 wins at the time of its writing are very dear. Wisconsin-Green Bay, on the other hand, has a strength of schedule ranked at #147; many of its 34 wins are sort  This is one of the reasons I've limited to the six major conferences, assuming that they'd play similarly tough schedules - which means that Xavier's top seniors won't appear on the list below.

The third problem - and most significant one, in my view - is that the system undervalues point guard contributions.  This should be no surprise; there really isn't a good method to evaluate point guards (at least not a single-value metric) and Boxscore Wins is no exception.  The system only projects one point guard to be worthy of a first round pick, where most mock drafts have two or three point guards going in the first round.  If I recall correctly, the weighting factors for the Boxscore Wins systems are based on professional men's basketball, where point guard play is at a higher level, and therefore judged with a less forgiving eye in the method.  Therefore, the Boxscore Wins system is particularly tough on point guard play in women's basketball.

Enough of that.  Keeping all of the above in mind, here is the list of the top seniors in women's basketball by the Boxscore Wins Method, normalized to 30 games.  (Note that Final Four stats are not included as of this writing.)

1.  Maya Moore, Connecticut, 8.71

If Connecticut played a 30-game season, Maya Moore would be assigned 8.71 of Connecticut's resulting wins by this method.  This is what you'd expect, so the method passes the smell test in that it returns the best player at the #1 position.  Furthermore, Moore is far ahead of the player at #2.

2.  Victoria Dunlap, Kentucky, 6.61

Most people have Dunlap among the top five players in whatever Mock Draft has been posted to the internet.  Most Mock Drafts have Liz Cambage at this spot, but it would be a little complicated to evaluate Cambage using this method.  Would you use WNBL statistics?  Is the level of play there comparable to the best of NCAA Division I?

3.  Jantel Lavender, Ohio State, 6.40

No surprise there.  Given Ohio State's post-season play, and Lavender's role in getting them there, it's not implausible to see Lavender as a Top Five player.

4.  Danielle Adams, Texas A&M, 6.28

Again, no surprise there, and Texas A&M making it to the Final Four gives the Aggies more wins, and the bulk of those wins can be apportioned to Adams.  With the win over Stanford, this number will move up.

5.  Tierney Jenkins, Alabama, 5.91

Here's our first big surprise.  I don't think Jenkins has been on a mock draft in any round.  It would be easy to overlook her - the Univeristy of Alabama website only has a summary of her accomplishments up to her sophomore year. (Something tells me that the women's basketball team isn't a high priority at the University of Alabama.) 

She finished the season with 15.4 points per game and 10.9 rebounds per game. In addition, she was a first-team All-SEC player.  (Along with Dunlap).  She was also a member of the All-Defensive Team. (Along with Dunlap.)   Alabama's generally low standing among the major conference teams undoubtedly caused Jenkins to be overlooked.

6.  Amy Jaeschke, Northwestern, 5.60

This isn't a surprise - many people have Jaeschke at least in the second round if not in the first.  Remember, we're missing both Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips from Xavier from this list, since we are only looking at seniors from the traditional major conferences.

7.  Kachine Alexander, Iowa, 5.48

Another player who hasn't been seen on any mock draft in any round.  ESPN's Graham Hays called her the "best inch-per-inch rebounder in the country" at just 5 feet 9 inches tall.  She was an honorable mention AP All-American, scoring 14.5 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game - almost a double-double a game from a player definitely shorter than six feet.  Alexander was not only on the All-Big Ten team but the All-Big Ten Defensive Team.  Without deliberately attempting to form a pun, her lack of height might be the reason that most draft lists have passed over Alexander.

8.  Kalisha Keane, Michigan State, 5.48

Another player not seen on many lists.  She was named the Big Ten Player of the Year, above Jantel Lavender of Ohio State.  She averaged 16.1 points per game for the Spartans this year.

9.  Carolyn Swords, Boston College, 5.37

No surprise.  Swords is usually projected into the second round, since you have to squeeze Cambage, the two Xavier seniors, and sometimes Courtney Vandersloot of Gonzaga into the first round.

10.  Kayla Pedersen, Stanford, 5.11

Most mock drafts have Pedersen higher than this.  Which leads to an interesting question - because a player has a high percentage of her team's wins attributed to her, could that player have had even a *greater percent* if she so desired?  Or to ask it another way, do some players have a high rank because there's just no other player on their team that's capable of performing at their level and therefore those players are asked to do it all?  Kayla Pedersen is surrounded by great players at Stanford who can pick up the slack.  Tierney Jenkins of Alabama has no such advantage.

And now, for fun, let's provide a virtual draft-level list of seniors to conclude the post:

11.  Angel Robinson, Marquette, 5.07
12.  Ify Ibekwe, Arizona, 4.90
13.  Danielle Robinson, Oklahoma, 4.90
14.  Devereaux Peters, Notre Dame, 4.85
15.  Melissa Jones, Baylor, 4.81
16.  Kelsey Bolte, Iowa State, 4.78
17.  Brittany Spears, Colorado, 4.74
18.  Kayla Alexander, Syracuse, 4.65
19.  Alex Montgomery, Georgia Tech, 4.59
20.  Liz Repella, West Virginia, 4.49
21.  Jasmine Thomas, Duke, 4.40
22.  Jeanette Pohlen, Stanford, 4.31
23.  Felicia Chester, Depaul, 4.29
24.  Courtney Ward, Florida State, 4.14
25.  Madina Ali, West Virginia, 4.09

Coming soon:  The top players in the junior class.