Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

January 31, 2011

Everything slow is new again

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:45 am

Last week the teams then ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation, Ohio State and Pitt, achieved something remarkable stylistically. Together the Buckeyes and the Panthers averaged a preposterously slow 57 possessions per 40 minutes in the four games they played during the week. Are success and a glacial tempo related? Could DePaul win a Big East game if only they’d hold onto the ball until they saw single digits on the shot clock?

Well, no. Actually big scary Goliaths at the top of the national polls are being dragged against their wills into these snail-fests by would-be Davids. And, truth be told, the Davids seem to be onto something. Last Monday Notre Dame won at Pitt 56-51 in a 48-possession affair that was the slowest game in D-I so far this year. Five days later a Northwestern team that entered the evening 3-6 in the Big Ten very nearly beat the No. 1 team in the nation, losing at home to Ohio State 58-57 in a 49-possession game.

You can blame all this rampant and faddish slow-ball on Fighting Irish head coach Mike Brey. He started it, and what’s more he’s unrepentant. It all began last February, and’s Dana O’Neil was the first to document what happened. On February 18 ND was 6-8 in Big East play. Luke Harangody was sidelined with an injury, Brey’s defense was giving up points by the boatload (allowing 1.13 points per trip in Big East play), and the Irish were at risk for not making the NCAA tournament.

While having dinner with Brey around this time, Notre Dame assistant coach Anthony Solomon mentioned that his 1984 Virginia team had reached the Final Four as a No. 7 seed (in a pre-shot-clock 48-team field) thanks in part to a very slow pace. Light bulb, Bob’s your uncle, here we are. The Irish D improved dramatically at the new slower pace, and Brey’s team ripped off five consecutive wins. It was enough to get them into the dance, where they lost 51-50 to Old Dominion in the first round.

I’ve already suggested that the 1984 Cavaliers fall squarely under “Rather be lucky than good,” but be that as it may teams keep offering amazing testimonials to the giant-killing properties of going really slow. My working assumption is that these properties are more psychological than strategic in their power. Not that I underestimate the power of psychology. On the contrary, if you can freak out your highly-ranked opponent by making them play D for 30 seconds every single time down the floor, by all means do it. If I had to peddle slow-ball at a coaching clinic my Troy McClure sound bite would be: “Psychology is strategy!”  

But the notion that an overmatched team can increase its chances of winning by limiting the number of possessions, while sound as a pound conceptually, is begging to be grossly overstated. Yes, if Ohio State and Northwestern play 500 possessions on a neutral floor the Buckeyes are very, very likely to kick the Wildcats’ butts, whereas 50 possessions on NU’s home floor gives Bill Carmody‘s team a much better shot at attaining an unnatural and evanescent state of affairs: scoring more points than OSU. But variance in performance, not tempo, is the key variable. Performance in the major conferences right now takes in everyone from Texas to the aforementioned DePaul Blue Demons. Tempo, by stark contrast, is fenced in pretty narrowly by custom on the high end and the shot clock on the low.

I also suspect we hear about 100 percent of slow-ball’s successes but none of its failures. In a dress rehearsal for their upcoming Ohio State clash, Northwestern lured already slow Wisconsin into a slow-even-for-the-Badgers 50-possession game in Evanston on January 23. Bo Ryan‘s team (very slowly) ran the Wildcats out of the building, winning 78-46.

Which is all well and good, but of course if teams ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the nation keep losing or coming really close to it in sub-50-possession games, opposing coaches will go slow no matter what John Gasaway says. (I know, the nerve.) When that happens it may be time to visit a proposal bruted about the Prospectus break room by my colleague Kevin Pelton and look at shaving another five seconds off the college shot clock. Until then, enjoy all the passes.

John offers his thoughts very slowly on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. You can contact John by clicking here. College Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 is now available on Amazon.  

January 28, 2011

Wow, Michigan and Indiana are good

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:05 pm

When two nationally ranked Big Ten teams lose to two teams who are not, it is said the ranked teams suffered bad losses. Then again I’m more of a glass-half-full guy. I say the unranked teams scored remarkable triumphs last night. A salute to Michigan, who won at Michigan State 61-57, and to Indiana, who won at home against Illinois 52-49.

In Big Ten play the Wolverines have been your proverbial hot-or-cold outfit. Either their shooting’s been really good (vs. Penn State, vs. Ohio State) or it’s been sub-par (every other game). Last night it was really good, as John Beilein‘s group hit over half their twos and 48 percent of their threes against the Spartans. And as for the Hoosiers, apparently when they’re not sending the opponent to the line 30-plus times their D is every bit as un-overmatched as I thought it might be. The Illini failed to reach 50 points in a 60-possession contest. Yes, truly Michigan and Indiana are on a rampage.

I’ve been at pains over the past few seasons to emphasize that wacky losses happen even to the best teams, and we shouldn’t necessarily run around screaming with our hands above our heads when they do. That being said, to me what’s notable is not that Michigan State and Illinois lost last night but that their losses felt so very much in character. These weren’t bad losses, they were emblematic performances. They felt just.

Look at it this way. Seen from sufficient elevation, the Spartans, even now, should be just fine. They’re .500 in the Big Ten with 10 games yet to be played and they have the talented and Final-Four-tested trio of Kalin Lucas, Draymond Green, and Durrell Summers. I fully expect MSU to put a couple wins together at some point and trigger lots of “They’re back!” talk.

But I want to be rightly understood at the outset as not buying into that talk when it occurs. This offense is too weak and it has been consistently weak. Relative to their conference peers the Michigan State offense is the functional equivalent of Oklahoma State‘s or Arizona State‘s in league play, and no one’s perched attentively atop lookout towers in Stillwater or Tempe waiting for those moribund outfits to catch fire. It’s beginning to appear that expectations for scoring should be similarly modest in East Lansing. Tom Izzo‘s misfortune is that he’s now lost enough players from last year’s team so that figuring out which absence is the crucial one has become a parlor game. Is it Raymar Morgan? Maybe Chris Allen? Korie Lucious? Who had the secret sauce? Apparently someone did.

As for the Illini, I’m just glad my fellow Illinois alum and downstater Will Leitch was snowed in and thus saved from having to witness this 49-point whimper in person. Speaking of in-person appearances, six days ago I sat 15 feet away from Bruce Weber during the Illini’s 73-68 loss at home to Ohio State. My own preference, admittedly subjective and incorrigibly biased, would be that a coach in the January of his eighth season who’s been given a team that returns all five starters from the previous year wouldn’t feel the need to scream second-by-second instructions to his players for 40 minutes. They should probably know what to do by now. 

My working assumption going forward will be that there are three and only three Big Ten teams good enough to merit our serious attention. 

What a shock, Wisconsin looks freakishly good on paper 
Through games of January 27, conference games only
Pace: Possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession  Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                     W-L     Pace    PPP    Opp. PPP   EM
1.  Wisconsin        5-2     56.3    1.19     1.03   +0.16
2.  Ohio St.         8-0     64.3    1.14     1.00   +0.14
3.  Purdue           6-2     64.9    1.16     1.04   +0.12
4.  Illinois         4-4     63.0    1.10     1.03   +0.07
5.  Minnesota        5-3     61.6    1.10     1.07   +0.03
6.  Penn St.         4-4     59.9    1.09     1.08   +0.01
7.  Michigan St.     4-4     61.8    1.04     1.05   -0.01
8.  Northwestern     3-6     64.7    1.07     1.15   -0.08
9.  Indiana          2-6     63.3    1.07     1.15   -0.08
10. Michigan         2-6     59.4    1.05     1.18   -0.13
11. Iowa             1-7     66.8    0.97     1.13   -0.16

If Wisconsin is serious about living up to this incredible look they will win tomorrow at Penn State. So far Ohio State’s been the only team in the conference that can be counted upon to reliably export its swagger outside the cozy confines of their home arena.    

John also does pre-mortems on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. You can contact John by clicking here. College Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 is now available on Amazon.  

January 26, 2011

Record attendances are killing Syracuse

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:05 pm

Last night Seton Hall entered its game at Syracuse with arguably the worst offense in the Big East (one as bad as DePaul‘s), while the Orangemen could claim perhaps the league’s best defense (one as good as Cincinnati‘s). The result of a collision like that should be easy enough to predict.

Should be, but wasn’t. The Hall erupted for 90 points in 73 possessions, as they laid a 22-point mugging on the home team. This startling result has variously been attributed to a lack of effort on Syracuse’s part, the Pirates’ surprising accuracy from the field, and, perhaps most intuitively, a Chipotle curse. Plausible explanations all, but working with a team of eager young Prospectus types in white lab coats I have come up with the true source of Jim Boeheim‘s woes.

The problem here is clearly the propensity of Syracuse fans to show up in great numbers every time Villanova comes to the Carrier Dome. Last year the attendance at the Nova game was 34,616, the largest ever attendance for an on-campus game. The Orange, who entered the contest with a 26-2 record, somehow managed to win that game but from that point on they finished the season on a 4-3 fizzle. Same thing this year. Since 33,736 fans showed up at the Dome for last Saturday’s game, the Cuse has gone 0-2 while allowing opponents to score 173 points in just 137 possessions. People of Syracuse, NY! For the love of Boeheim, stop showing up en masse already!

As bad as the Syracuse D’s been over the last 80 minutes of game-clock (and it’s been bad enough to join the Big Ten — hiyo!), this team actually has issues on both sides of the ball. Boeheim’s men are shooting well enough, as always, but this season both the offensive rebounds and the trips to the line have dried up rather emphatically. If the Orangemen don’t get points from their first shot from the field, they don’t have a lot in the way of a Plan B.

The Cuse’s shocking slide into mediocrity may take some of the luster off this “seven ranked Big East teams” business. Indeed for all the talk of a deep Big East where you can never take a night off, the league appears to be at some risk of losing contact with its two-team elite. It’s only January, of course, but right now there’s a lot of space between Nos. 2 and 3.

As the Orange fall 
Through games of January 25, conference games only
Pace: Possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession  Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                     W-L     Pace    PPP    Opp. PPP   EM
1.  Pitt             7-1     64.0    1.17     0.99   +0.18
2.  Villanova        5-1     67.3    1.15     1.00   +0.15
3.  West Virginia    4-2     65.3    1.09     1.00   +0.09
4.  Louisville       4-2     70.5    1.09     1.00   +0.09
5.  Marquette        4-4     66.0    1.17     1.09   +0.08
6.  Connecticut      5-2     64.5    1.06     0.99   +0.07
7.  Syracuse         5-3     66.5    1.06     1.03   +0.03
8.  Cincinnati       4-3     63.4    1.00     0.98   +0.02
9.  Notre Dame       6-3     62.0    1.06     1.06    0.00
10. Georgetown       3-4     62.8    1.07     1.10   -0.03
11. Rutgers          3-4     64.7    1.04     1.08   -0.04
12. St. John’s       4-4     65.9    0.98     1.03   -0.05
13. Seton Hall       3-6     67.8    0.96     1.01   -0.05
14. S. Florida       1-7     63.6    1.00     1.11   -0.11
15. Providence       1-6     71.5    0.99     1.11   -0.12
16. DePaul           0-7     68.6    0.92     1.17   -0.25

BONUS “On the other hand” note! Great win on the road last night from Connecticut, who beat Marquette 76-68. The Huskies still aren’t nearly as impressive to laptops as they are to humans (they’re ranked higher in the nation than they are in the per-possession Big East), but performances like last night’s are closing that gap fast. 

John also lets “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacies run amok on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. You can contact John by clicking here. College Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 is now available on Amazon.  

January 21, 2011

Washington Gets Statement Win Over Arizona

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:51 am

SEATTLE – The Washington Huskies have established themselves as the favorite in the Pac-10 and reached No. 6 in the Pomeroy Rankings despite something we would not expect of a power-conference team. Entering Thursday’s showdown for first place in the conference against the Arizona Wildcats, Washington had beaten no opponent rated better than No. 52 (USC) by Pomeroy.

Aside from last Thursday’s stumble at Stanford, the Huskies have dominated lesser competition, but they lost three close games to the ranked teams on their non-conference schedule–Kentucky and Michigan State in the Maui Invitational and Texas A&M in College Station. So it was that Washington took the floor at the newly renamed Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion with something to prove. It wasn’t always pretty and it certainly was not easy, but the Huskies did just that with an 85-68 victory that improved their record to 6-1 in conference play.

A late explosion for 16 points in the final 5:14 crept Washington’s total up toward the nation’s second-best scoring average (87.1 points per game), but it was an offensive slog for the Huskies for much of the night. They missed good looks from beyond the arc, shooting 7-of-23 (30.4 percent) on threes and failed to take full advantage of their 31 free throw attempts, making just 20 of them. Still, three factors helped Washington pull away in a game that was back and forth until the closing minutes.

1. An Underrated Defense
The Huskies’ potent attack has overshadowed the fact that they are effective at the other end of the floor as well–tops in the Pac-10, in fact. Arizona managed just 46.5 percent effective shooting from the field. The length of 7’0″ Aziz N’Diaye presented Derrick Williams some problems in the early going, and while the nation’s most efficient high scorer put up 22 points, it took him 15 shot attempts, seven free throws and three turnovers to get there. Washington has had a tough time keeping quality opponents away from the offensive glass, but did an excellent job of rebounding Thursday, especially when Lorenzo Romar called for a zone defense to try to neutralize Williams. The Wildcats secured but 20.6 percent of available offensive rebounds. The defense is good enough to keep UW in games where shots aren’t falling, which is why they have yet to be out of any game they’ve lost entering the final minute.

2. Wing Options
In the first half, it looked as if the problem that cropped up against the Cardinal might be problematic again for the Huskies: The need for a guard besides Isaiah Thomas to be effective at both ends of the floor. The loss of Abdul Gaddy to a torn ACL has made this a potential issue when none of the team’s shooting guards–starter Scott Suggs, high-scoring freshman Terrence Ross and the slumping C.J. Wilcox–is shooting the ball well and Venoy Overton drifts out of control. After halftime, it was Overton who stepped forward, energizing the home crowd with his feisty defense and a pair of end-to-end layups. When Overton picked up his fourth foul, Ross stepped in to provide some timely point production. He had six points in a span of three and a half minutes as Washington extended its lead from a perilous six to a comfortable 13.

3. Thomas the Maestro
Gaddy’s injury has actually proven something of a blessing in terms of allowing Thomas to step into more ballhandling duties. He has proven more than capable, conducting the Huskies’ offense and making the right decision time and again, whether that means calling his own number or setting up teammates beyond the arc or at the rim. For the second consecutive game, Thomas went for 20-plus points (22) and double-digit assists (10), a feat few point guards in the country can match on a regular basis. Thomas also collected six rebounds and, best of all, turned the ball over just once in 35 minutes of action.

BONUS HOWLAND NOTE: Technically, only Sean Miller‘s fourth timeout was a true “Howland”–one called when the next stoppage of play will result in a mandatory TV timeout, thus rendering any momentum-stopping value largely ceremonial–but it was not an impressive display of timeout stewardship by Arizona’s coach. Miller called a pair of first-half timeouts, then used his third after the first possession back from the break. That meant Miller’s Howland left him with just one stoppage of play for the final 11:15 of the game. He was powerless to stop the Washington run that proved decisive in the last five and half minutes.

January 19, 2011

Camby Injury Will Hurt Blazers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:54 am

A day after Brandon Roy underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees in an attempt to salvage his season, the Portland Trail Blazers got more bad news on the injury front. Center Marcus Camby tore the medial meniscus in his left knee during Monday’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves and will need arthroscopic surgery of his own–becoming the fifth Blazer to undergo knee surgery this season alone. Camby figures to miss somewhere between four and eight weeks, a period that could be devastating as Portland chases a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

To try to estimate the impact on the Blazers’ record, let’s take a look at a potential frontcourt rotation in Camby’s absence. I would expect LaMarcus Aldridge to play somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 minutes a night, with 14 of those coming in a small frontcourt with him at center alongside Dante Cunningham. Joel Przybilla, still working his way back from a torn patella tendon that sidelined him at the start of the season, is unlikely to be able to ramp his minutes up beyond 20 per game. That leaves 14 minutes in the middle for Sean Marks, with Cunningham playing the remaining 22 minutes at power forward.

Here is how the various combinations of those players have performed on the floor this season, per

Combo                    ORtg     DRtg      Net    Min

Aldridge/Przybilla       91.0    100.0    - 9.0     15
Cunningham/Aldridge     104.1    103.4      0.8     14
Aldridge/Marks          108.1    113.2    - 5.0     11
Cunningham/Przybilla    103.5    101.4      2.0      5
Cunningham/Marks         90.6    114.1    -23.5      3

Aldridge/Camby          110.5    107.9      2.7      -
Cunningham/Camby        104.8    104.5      0.2      -

If you weight by minutes played and add things up, this simple estimate shows Portland getting outscored by five points per game. That’s surely a bit pessimistic. The big issue is that Aldridge and Przybilla have yet to click this season, struggling to score. That combination is likely to improve both because Przybilla is getting healthier and because it will mostly be playing with the Blazers’ starting five. The small frontcourt has been reasonably effective (more so than Cunningham and Camby), but Portland has struggled badly whenever Marks has been on the floor. Even 14 minutes a game for the Kiwi big man figures to be problematic for the Blazers. Nate McMillan could reduce that number by playing more smallball in favorable matchups.

If we assume that Portland can play even with Aldridge and Przybilla together in the frontcourt, our estimated point differential for the team in Camby’s absence becomes -2.2 points per game, which seems reasonable. A favorable scenario would have Camby returning after the All-Star break and missing 14 games. Over that span, a team with a -2.2 differential could expect to go 6-8, which is only a game difference from the 7-7 we’d expect from a team that has been right around .500 this season. But that loss goes up as Camby misses more games, and the concern for the Blazers is that even an impact of two or three wins could mean the difference between the playoffs and the lottery. They are currently 2.5 games up in the race for the eighth and final spot in the West postseason.

January 17, 2011

Is Belmont possible?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:28 pm

I realize mid-January’s a tad early to begin wrangling over seeds for the NCAA tournament, but then again the situation posed by Belmont this year is not your ordinary situation. Let’s get the easy part over with.

On paper the Bruins are a no-brainer. Ranked No. 26 nationally by Ken Pomeroy, Belmont is statistically indistinguishable from the usual “They’re a Meh Big East Team, Therefore They Are Ranked” suspects, to wit: Notre Dame, Georgetown, and Cincinnati. But why pick on the Big East — the Bruins also rate out equivalent (if not superior) to the oh-so-ranked likes of Missouri, Temple, and Kansas State. After eight conference games Rick Byrd‘s team is outscoring opponents by 0.41 points per trip, which is unheard of. To find something that’s even in the same area code in terms of in-conference domination one would have to reach back to Memphis in the Calipari years. 

Now the tough part. Who’ve they beaten? Absolutely no one, and that will still be true on Selection Sunday. Belmont lost to cross-town bully Vanderbilt by nine, and they’ve lost twice to Tennessee (85-76 and 66-65). Their “best” win would probably be their 93-60 thrashing of Arkansas State on November 17. The toughest opponent on the Bruins’ remaining schedule is East Tennessee State.

You see Belmont comes out of the Atlantic Sun, the conference with the worst NCAA tournament winning percentage in the country. No current member of the A-Sun has ever won a first-round game, though these very same Bruins did give a certain blue-chip program a very good scare in 2008.

Nor can Belmont offer us any Lester Hudson types that can at least provide persuadable feature writers with a statistical hook. Byrd spreads the minutes around so promiscuously he makes Mike Anderson look like John Thompson III. True, Ian Clark‘s a solid dual-threat wing, Scott Saunders cleans the glass at both ends of the floor, and Kerron Johnson records steals like nobody’s business. But don’t hold your breath waiting for any of them to get the full Curry treatment. For the foreseeable future the Bruins will have to subsist instead on the occasional awed tweet. (Well, and this.)

I’m often asked if the selection committee “really” uses any of this Prospectus-y stuff. Belmont’s about to provide a nice test case. They have a good shot at running the table in the A-Sun, but even if they don’t they’ll exhibit a conference legacy-to-current team performance ratio that is historically out of whack. For the selection committee to treat the Bruins judiciously will therefore require a dedicated effort, one that lifts the conference room out of some very deep perceptual ruts. Where do you seed a team like this? Better still, what if Belmont loses in the A-Sun tournament? Do they (take a deep breath) deserve an at-large?

BONUS preemptive note! Another common question: “What team outside of the major conferences is set to make some noise in the tournament?” One ready answer to that for next year’s NCAA tournament is Belmont. This year’s nine-player rotation includes just two seniors.  

January 14, 2011

Live chat today at 1ET: Name the dullest team!

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:17 am

Click here to drop off questions in advance and to join the fun this afternoon. Let’s see, so far it looks like the readers want to know all about:

–The highly competitive Mountain West race between San Diego State and BYU

–“Tempo-free” and “announcers”: Oxymoron? Discuss.

–My current national POY preferences (“gPOY”?) 

Good ones! But just to show I’m a real taskmaster I’m going to give you all an extra-credit assignment. Listen up!

I’m mulling an award for the dullest member of the group of 157 teams covered by Tuesday Truths. In my vision the award would be completely automated, with no messy subjective discretion like I used for the top 25 freshmen. Because, frankly, subjective discretion is a lot of work. It fatigues me. Instead I’m aiming for Pomeroy-style “Look, tweeps, no hands!” algorithmic omniscience. So my award will go to the team that in conference play best combines a really low number for points per possession with a really slow pace.

During today’s chat I’ll be accepting nominations not only for likely winners but also, and perhaps more importantly, for what to name this thing. I’m looking for something pithy, acronym-ready, and instantly explanatory. Get to work! Look forward to chatting with you later today. 

January 13, 2011

Duke’s fall, Clemson’s historically insane shooting

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:14 am

Congratulations to Florida State, 66-61 winners over No. 1-ranked and previously unbeaten Duke last night in Tallahassee. The Blue Devils will still win the ACC and don’t be “stunned” if a 1-seed still happens, but an Illinois-in-2005-variety “Can they run the table?” thrill ride lasting into March is now off the table. 

Of course losing to an inferior opponent on the road in conference play is practically a requirement for any eventual national champion. Just to (re-)touch a few bases here….

On February 26, 2006, Florida lost on the road to Alabama, a team that barely made the NCAA tournament as a 10-seed. 

On February 24, 2007, Florida lost on the road to LSU, a team that didn’t even make the NCAA tournament.

On February 23, 2008, Kansas lost on the road to Oklahoma State, a team that didn’t even make the NCAA tournament.

On February 21, 2009, North Carolina lost on the road to Maryland, a team that barely made the tournament as a 10-seed.

And of course on January 20, 2010, Duke lost on the road to North Carolina State, a team that didn’t even make the NCAA tournament.

None of which means this year’s Duke team is now a lock to win the national championship because they lost last night. But don’t bury the Blue Devils just yet.

So to me the really shocking event in the ACC last night was Clemson‘s 87-62 win at home over Georgia Tech. In that game the Tigers shot better from the field than any team has in a major-conference game for at least six years. When I wrote about Illinois’ historically insane shooting on Monday, little did I think I would need to update both the history and the insanity just three days later.

What is with 2010-11?
Best effective FG percentages, 2006 through January 12, 2011
Major-conference games only

1.  Clemson (vs. Georgia Tech, Jan. 12, 2011)    83.3
2.  Illinois (vs. Northwestern, Jan. 6, 2011)    80.7
3.  West Virginia (vs. Rutgers, Jan. 31, 2007)   80.4
4.  Illinois (@ Iowa, Dec. 29, 2010)             80.2
5.  Arizona (vs. Stanford, March 7, 2009)        80.0
6.  UCLA (vs. Arizona State, Dec. 31, 2009)      78.6
7.  Iowa (vs. Michigan, Feb. 4, 2006)            78.6
8.  NC State (vs. Florida State, Feb. 15, 2006)  78.4
9.  NC State (vs. Virginia Tech, Feb. 18, 2007)  78.1
10. Ohio State (@ Indiana, Dec. 31, 2010)        77.6

Brad Brownell‘s team shot 16-of-25 on their twos and 11-of-14 on their threes. Nor are the Tiger alone in the increasingly crowded “Accurate in or near calendar 2011” club. As seen here, four of the ten best shooting performances in major-conference play over the past five-plus seasons have taken place within the last 15 days. No, I have no idea why. But the next time an announcer bemoans the “lost art of shooting” it is your solemn duty to roll your eyes.

January 12, 2011

Hot Freaks! (Mid-Major Edition)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kyle Whelliston @ 6:54 pm

So far, there’s been Illinois’ “preposterous” effective field-goal shooting, and there’s been Wisconsin’s “amazing” turnover rate. If the Big Ten is any sort of leading indicator, this truly is the new age of the tempo-free Übermensch in college basketball. But there are other, smaller, more humble sideshow gawkables in the total Jim Rose Circus the 2010-11 season has turned out to be. Here, for your entertainment, are two.

Saint Mary’s efficiency – Most of the country last encountered Saint Mary’s in the Sweet 16, where they received one of the most unmerciful drillings in recent Sweet 16 history by the Baylor Bears. On that glum March evening in Houston, Randy Bennett’s squad managed .81 points per possession, lost 72-49, and were left figuring out how to clone the outgoing production of gregarious Omar Samhan, the 6-foot-11, double-doubling, self-described “Beast” with a rebound rate of 21.6 percent. Turns out they didn’t bother! The 2010-11 version effectively tops out at 6-foot-9, and a young rotation of three players of that exact height — sophomores Mitchell Young and Tim Williams, as well as junior Kenton Walker — have combined to grab 58.4 percent of available boards (last season: 52.9 percent) against a schedule that’s included wins over Saint John’s, Texas Tech and Mississippi State. The only black marks have been a one-point loss to BYU and a 69-55 drop at San Diego State.

It’s not all tripling rebounding pleasure like Triplemint gum, it’s about the offense. The Gaels have guards that love to shoot and shoot, like senior Mickey McConnell, who converts 59 percent of his 2’s and 47 percent of his 3’s. All told, Saint Mary’s is tops in the nation in effective FG percentage (59.4), points per weighted shot (1.24), and true shooting percentage (62.3). It’s also Division I’s most efficient offense, averaging a raw 1.20 points per possession over 16 games. (The defense isn’t bad either, holding opponents to .91 points.)

And since WCC play started, they’ve put up 1.33 points per trip in a pair of conference contests down south, at Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine. SMC’s effective field goal percentage in those two games was 65.1 percent! Take that, Fighting Illini! (Or don’t… the Gaels are actually second in conference eFG behind Illinois at 68.4.) But this offense can’t be described in numbers; watch them play whenever you have a chance. Thrill to the spacing, the ball movement, the unselfishness. It’s beautiful basketball.

Missouri State’s floor percentage – The Bears totally missed out on the MVC’s NCAA party in the 2000’s, having to settle for a historic 2006 snub (a 21 RPI and 21 bucks will get you a ticket to see Yakov Smirnoff in nearby Branson) and Blake Ahearn. This past Sunday night, after a 59-56 statement road win at Wichita State, Cuonzo Martin’s team was alone in first and league-undefeated after five Valley games. Who are these guys? Well, mostly seniors… but in a departure from most great Valley teams of the past, none of the four in the starting lineup began their careers at Missouri State.

Still, experience, in whatever available form, is paying off. As of Wednesday, the Bears have had 1033 possessions and scored at least one point on 457 of them. That’s a 44 percent floor, best in the Valley, and Mo-State has maximized those possessions by taking good control of the ball too (16.4 percent turnover rate). Wichita’s profile shows that the Shockers are slightly more careless with turnovers but superior on the glass; keep that in mind during the next two matchups, the regular season finale-slash-return game at Missouri State on February 26, and the inevitable eliminator in St. Louis at Arch Madness.

January 11, 2011

Rethinking Foul Trouble

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 5:53 pm

Across sports, one of the common criticisms of coaches from the analytical community is that they are overly conservative in their decision making. In large part to avoid criticism, coaches tend not to go for it on fourth down as much as the statistics indicate they ought to, for example. If there’s a basketball equivalent, it is probably the way coaches handle player foul trouble. The argument goes like this: By taking out a player in foul trouble, coaches do exactly the very thing foul trouble threatens–rob themselves of the services of one of their better players.

A new study, however, suggests that the coaches might have had right all along. Philip Maymin of NYU-Poly, along with co-authors Allan Maymin and Eugene Shen, used play-by-play provided by to study how having a starter in foul trouble affected a team’s chances of winning the game during the 2006-07 NBA season. By using a model that accounted for score, team strength, time remaining and home-court advantage (as well as the number of starters on the floor not in foul trouble), they were able to isolate the impact of foul trouble on the ultimate outcome of the game.

Their finding, as explained in an extended abstract available now, is that teams play worse when they leave starters in foul trouble on the floor, especially during the third quarter. Why? The obvious explanation is that players in foul trouble play differently, avoiding the necessary plays–especially on defense–that carry the risk of drawing another foul. From this perspective, the issue is less about maximizing the total number of minutes the player is on the floor and more about maximizing the effectiveness of those minutes.

It would be a mistake to read too much into this latest study. It generally seems to suggest that coaches should not be particularly worried about foul trouble in the first and second quarters, except to the extent that it produces subsequent second-half foul trouble. It also operates under the rule of thumb that foul “trouble” exists only when a player has more fouls than the current quarter, so coaches who bench starters who pick up their second foul in the second quarter are still being overly conservative by this heuristic. Lastly, this kind of study is too general to apply to every situation. It’s much more sensible to bench a marginal starter than the team’s star player. Still, these results provide an interesting new perspective on how coaches should respond to foul trouble.

I’d also suggest checking out the extended abstract to see how different coaches dealt with foul trouble during the 2006-07 season, including one who gambled more with fouls than any other.

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