Russ Smith may not have won over the hearts of America during the regular season like Trey Burke, but statistically speaking he was the best player in college basketball. For all the slack that Louisville fans were given from opposing fan bases for loving Pomeroy’s rankings, the man sure did know what he was talking about. Not only did he rank Russ Smith, a player who lead his team to a title, as his player of the year but he also had Louisville as the #1 team in the country in his poll for a solid stretch of the season. One could even argue that his rankings were more plausible than the AP Poll, after all the AP Poll had Gonzaga #1 at the end of the regular season.
Here are the Top 10 players according to the kenpom system:
1. Russ Smith, Louisville, Jr. (kPOY rating=2.636)
2. Trey Burke, Michigan, So. (2.194)
3. Cody Zeller, Indiana, So. (1.991)
4. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State, Jr. (1.841)
5. Mason Plumlee, Duke, Sr. (1.817)
6. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga, Jr. (1.809)
7. Doug McDermott, Creighton, Jr. (1.761)
8. Otto Porter, Georgetown, So. (1.660)
9. Victor Oladipo, Indiana, Jr. (1.546)
10. Mike Muscala, Bucknell, Sr. (1.476)
Also here a tidbit from Pomeroy’s blog post announcing Russ Smith as his player of the year:
It is my honor to announce that Louisville’s Russ Smith is the winner of the 2013 kenpom.com Player of the Year award. Smith posted a 109 offensive rating while using a whopping 32 percent of Louisville’s while he was on the floor. He also played a key role in the Cardinals’ defense, which was rated the best in the land in adjusted defensive efficiency.
After looking at shot chart data from last offseason, it seemed like a reasonable conclusion that it would benefit Louisville if Smith shot less this season. Smith did shoot slightly less, but mainly he elevated the Cardinals by making more of his many two-point attempts, approaching the D-I average in shots within six feet (53.7% vs. the national average of 54.5%) and two-pointers outside of six feet (33.5%, exactly the national average). Overall, Russ raised his two-point accuracy from 37.9% last season to 45.8% this season.
Why wasn’t Russ considered for any other national awards? This is a difficult question to answer. It’s interesting that Russ Smith’s offensive numbers are nearly identical to Evan Turner’s 2010 season (109 ORtg/32% usage for Smith vs. 109/35% for Turner) Turner was consensus POY, while Russ couldn’t make second team All-American. Two things that I think voters failed to consider were Russ’s production at the free throw line and his low turnover rate.
Of course, Russ continued to make a bunch of crazy decisions, and that was largely held against him. But at 6-0, 165, you’d probably never consider it a good idea to attack the rim if you made rational choices, so perhaps that character trait is overrated. While Russ’s field goal percentage was somewhat poor, the fact that he earned 276 free throw attempts and made 80 percent of them was a less-than-obvious benefit of his aggression.
And it was a huge benefit. Part of the reason he was ineffective against Michigan was that he playing a team that didn’t foul. Smith drew an estimated 6.7 fouls per 40 minutes this season, ranking 17th in the country. He was one of two players in the top 20 listed at 6-3 or shorter.