Ionescu, McCowan lead list of top-performing DI returners

Teaira McCowan has been an efficient scorer for Mississippi State. SEC photo.
Teaira McCowan has been an efficient producer for Mississippi State. SEC photo.

The 2018-2019 college basketball season began this week, bringing some amazingly-productive players back to the court. Some of these athletes were highlighted last week when the Associated named their preseason All-American team.

Academic research indicates that media awards tend to be dominated by those who score the most points. But a player’s value is about much more than their offensive production. Teams in basketball win by taking the ball from the opponent, (i.e. grabbing defensive rebounds, forcing turnovers), keeping the ball away from the opponent (i.e. avoiding turnovers, grabbing offensive rebounds), and converting possessions into points (i.e. shooting efficiently from the field and the free throw line). In sum, players contribute to wins by rebounding, grabbing steals, avoiding turnovers, and shooting efficiently. Assists, blocked shots, and personal fouls also matter a great deal. But these statistics are not as important as the aforementioned factors that directly impact team wins.

Once we understand which factors impact wins we can measure how many wins each player produces. This had been done for every woman who played Division I basketball in 2017-18.  As noted last April, the most productive player entering the WNBA draft was Gabby Williams of Connecticut. Per 40 minutes, Williams produced 0.397 wins. Given that she played 964 minutes for the Huskies, Williams produced 9.6 wins for Connecticut.  Although such a total was impressive, two players were even more productive.

Sabrina Ionescu emerged as a scoring and triple-double expert in her sophomore season. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Sabrina Ionescu emerged as a scoring and triple-double expert in her sophomore season. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The most productive player in Division I college basketball last year (women or men’s) was Sabrina Ionescu, who produced 11.1 wins for Oregon (and produced 0.329 wins per 40 minutes, or WP40). Teaira McCowan of Mississippi State was a bit better per 40 ticks (0.338 WP40), but since she played fewer minutes she produced only 10.1 wins. Of course, this mark is greater than what Williams produced for UConn.

Ionescu and McCowan top the list of most productive returning player in Power Five conferences:

  1. Sabrina Ionescu (Oregon): 11.1 Wins Produced, 0.329 WP40
  2. Teaira McCowan (Miss. State): 10.1 Wins Produced, 0.338 WP40
  3. Napheesa Collier (UConn): 8.7 Wins Produced, 0.325 WP40
  4. Megan Gustafson (Iowa): 8.1 Wins Produced, 0.309 WP40
  5. Kalani Brown (Baylor): 7.5 Wins Produced, 0.291 WP40
  6. Lauren Cox (Baylor): 7.5 Wins Produced, 0.293 WP40
  7. Tiana Mangakahia (Syracuse): 7.4 Wins Produced, 0.282 WP40
  8. Katie Lou Samuelson (UConn): 7.2 Wins Produced, 0.304 WP40
  9. Kayla Goth (Kansas State): 7.2 Wins Produced, 0.237 WP40
  10. Jackie Young (Notre Dame): 7.0 Wins Produced, 0.215 WP40
  11. Ruthy Hebard (Oregon): 7.0 Wins Produced, 0.250 WP40
  12. Anriel Howard (Miss. State): 6.6 Wins Produced, 0.219 WP40
  13. Tyasha Harris (South Carolina): 6.6 Wins Produced, 0.219 WP40
  14. Marina Mabrey (Notre Dame): 6.6 Wins Produced, 0.201 WP40
  15. Taylor Emery (Virginia Tech): 6.3 Wins Produced, 0.210 WP40
  16. Arica Carter (Louisville): 6.3 Wins Produced, 0.215 WP40
  17. Kenisha Bell (Minnesota): 6.2 Wins Produced, 0.212 WP40
  18. Minyon Moore (USC): 6.2 Wins Produced, 0.204 WP40
  19. Maite Cazorla (Oregon): 5.7 Wins Produced, 0.190 WP40
  20. Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah (Northwestern): 5.6 Wins Produced, 0.273 WP40
  21. Ae’Rianna Harris (Purdue): 5.6 Wins Produced, 0.205 WP40
  22. Mikayla Pivec (Oregon State): 5.4 Wins Produced, 0.219 WP40
  23. Jessica Shepard (Notre Dame): 5.4 Wins Produced, 0.194 WP40
  24. Kaila Ealey (NC State): 5.4 Wins Produced, 0.183 WP40
  25. Jaszmine Jones (Louisville): 5.3 Wins Produced, 0.203 WP40

Six schools have multiple names on this list, including the Ducks, who have Ruthy Hebard at 11 and Maite Cazorla at 19. Reigning national champions Notre Dame have Jackie Young at the tenth spot, Marina Mabrey at 14 and Jessica Shepard, 23rd. Baylor, Louisville, Mississippi State, and Connecticut each have two players on the list. Perhaps not surprisingly, the six schools with multiple players on the list lead both the AP and USA Today preseason polls.

In basketball, wins tend to be primarily produced by just a few players. A general rule is that 80 percent of wins are produced by just 20 percent of the players. Given this reality, if a team happens to have more than one of the players who produce large quantities of wins, it is likely to be a very good team. So it follows that the best teams have multiple top performers.