Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

January 10, 2011

Hang with me

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 7:50 am

So far, 2011 has been less than stellar for yours truly. I’ve been sick twice, back-to-back. This latest malady is walking pneumonia and is likely to keep me down for at least another few days. In addition, the only computer I have that can open the Excel files that comprise NBAPET was in the shop for a week, which left me unable to do fantasy projections or PBP Roundups.

I’ve got the computer back and as stopgap, I uploaded the fantasy projections that I share each week with Kevin Pelton for his Sit/Start pieces. This is not the full upload with game-by-game projections and the rotations are a little out of date. I’ll try to get a fresher file up later today, but I can’t offer any assurances on that.

For the next few days, my contributions will remain sporadic so, I ask you to hang with me until I get back to full strength. Unfortunately, I have no back-up.

Illinois’ historically insane shooting

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:00 am

By now you’ve no doubt heard that Illinois is off to a pretty hot start in Big Ten play in terms of shooting the ball. But until I took a closer look at what constitutes “normal” for major-conference games, I didn’t fully realize just how preposterous Bruce Weber‘s team has been. Seasoned Illini-watchers tell me the always-fretful Weber has actually started wincing visibly each time his players sink yet another three. It’s almost as if the coach knows this is too good to last.

The coach is right. Illinois has recorded two of the best shooting performances seen in major-conference play over the past five-plus seasons.

What is with the Big Ten this year?
Best effective FG percentages, 2006 through January 9, 2011
Major-conference games only

1.  Illinois (vs. Northwestern, Jan. 6, 2011)    80.7
2.  West Virginia (vs. Rutgers, Jan. 31, 2007)   80.4
3.  Illinois (@ Iowa, Dec. 29, 2010)             80.2
4.  Arizona (vs. Stanford, March 7, 2009)        80.0
5.  UCLA (vs. Arizona State, Dec. 31, 2009)      78.6
6.  Iowa (vs. Michigan, Feb. 4, 2006)            78.6
7.  NC State (vs. Florida State, Feb. 15, 2006)  78.4
8.  NC State (vs. Virginia Tech, Feb. 18, 2007)  78.1
9.  Ohio State (@ Indiana, Dec. 31, 2010)        77.6
10. Oregon (@ Cal, Feb. 9, 2008)                 77.6

Not bad for a team that lost to UIC, right? Also note that three of the best ten shooting performances of the past five-plus years have come from the Big Ten over the past two weeks. No wonder teams league-wide are scoring a robust 1.09 points per possession in conference play. Don’t be fooled by the slow pace — if you like offense this year’s Big Ten is for you.

Now, precisely how ridiculous is it for Illinois to be shooting this well? Think of it this way. Since 2006 and including last night’s games, there have been four instances of a team recording an effective FG percentage of 80 or better in major-conference play. That’s four times out of 3138 games. In other words you should expect to see an 80 eFG happen once for every 785 major-conference games played — keeping in mind that in any entire season there are just 621 major-conference games. 

And yet Illinois fans have seen it happen twice in three games. It is historically insane.

BONUS “I know what your’re thinking” note! I have to admit that when I started looking at outstanding shooting performances, I was a little dubious about the whole exercise. Surely I’d find a bunch of blowouts recorded by home teams. Who really cares how many shots a team makes in the last couple minutes when they’re ahead by 20?

That aptly describes the Illini’s 88-63 win over Northwestern in Champaign last week, certainly. But I was surprised to find how often these incredible performances were actually necessary for most or even all of the 40 minutes. In their win on the road against Iowa, for example, Illinois won by just ten points despite a night of historically absurd shooting from the field. By the same token last year’s game between UCLA and Arizona State at Pauley Pavilion, cited in the table above, ended with the Bruins winning 72-70. But my favorite example is last year’s game between Nebraska and Kansas State in Manhattan. The Cornhuskers couldn’t miss, recording an effective FG percentage of 72.9, a level of marksmanship which puts them in the 98th percentile of accuracy. But Nebraska lost 91-87, as the Wildcats went to the line 40 times. Not every gaudy eFG number comes from a blowout.

January 5, 2011

Huskies Equipped to Survive Loss of Gaddy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 11:38 pm

Losing a starter is never a good thing, but the Washington Huskies should remain the favorite in the Pac-10 conference even after sophomore point guard Abdul Gaddy was lost for the season with a torn left ACL sustained in practice on Tuesday. While Gaddy starts, he’s part of a relatively even timeshare with Venoy Overton, who played the stretch run during last week’s overtime win at USC. Lorenzo Romar may want to keep Overton in a reserve role, where his energy can change games, but the senior is capable of ramping up his playing time to help cover the loss of Gaddy.

The bigger change for the Huskies will be Isaiah Thomas playing regular minutes at point guard. Though Thomas is a candidate for the Cousy Award, he has almost exclusively played the two. But Thomas has improved his playmaking this season–his assist rate has improved from 19.5 to 23.3, not far behind Gaddy (24.8) and Overton (25.1)–and Washington is often more difficult to guard with Thomas at the point because that means putting another shooter on the floor. In Scott Suggs, Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox, the Huskies have three reserve wings worthy of being part of the rotation. Suggs and Wilcox boast True Shooting Percentages above 60 percent, while Ross has been prolific at average efficiency.

The downside for Romar is that he’s been able to spot Ross, Suggs and Wilcox, giving minutes to the hot hand. He may not have that luxury any longer. Washington also is at some risk in case of further injury. The Huskies now have just nine healthy scholarship players, leaving their depth precarious.

The real loss here is for Gaddy individually. After a disappointing freshman season, he worked hard to improve his shooting demonstrated significant improvement at both ends of the floor during the first two months of 2010-11. Gaddy struggled as a scorer in Washington’s sweep of the L.A. schools to open conference play. Instead of getting the chance to bounce back, Gaddy will now have to focus his energy on rehabbing for the 2011-12 season.

Jayhawks see through the Lew Perkins Fallacy. Will others?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:29 am

Kansas has hired a new athletic director, one Sheahon Zenger, who seems like a good guy. He’s 44, holds a Ph.D. but doesn’t demand “Dr. Zenger” privileges, and has even been called “Dudley Do-Right” by the chair of the search committee that brought him to Lawrence.

The Jayhawks could use a Dudley Do-Right. Zenger replaces former AD Lew Perkins, who was last seen in Unfiltered presiding over a athletic department that attracted the notice of federal investigators thanks to piles of ill-gotten cash generated by a years-long ticket scandal. 

Perkins earned $4.4 million in salary and bonuses in 2009. By contrast Zenger will be paid a base salary of “just” $450K. Will the administration of the Kansas athletic department suddenly become 90 percent less effective? I doubt it, because of what I’ve termed the Lew Perkins Fallacy:

In a sense I’m sympathetic toward KU athletic director Lew Perkins, who was apparently victimized by less than diligent due diligence. But the larger lesson to be learned here surely concerns the myth of the omnicompetent and irreplaceable leader, a myth that within athletic departments started with the basketball coaches but has now spread upward to include their bosses. Having an inflated sense of someone else’s importance probably isn’t too awful, but paying them according to that sense is.

Thus the Fallacy: If you preside over an organization that generates a lot of revenue, your compensation, no matter how absurd, isn’t absurd.

Let’s say I have an athletic department that generates a lot of revenue. It will fall to someone to lead that department. Now, you there, random Prospectus reader. If you’re a reasonably coherent sort, one who bathes regularly and stays on top of your email, I’ll wager you could hit the 50th percentile in your performance as the head of an athletic director. So I hire you.

Soon you’re pegging your compensation at five or 10 or even 25 percent of net proceeds or even gross revenue and telling me how very specialized and invaluable you are. After all, look at all this money the department is raking in. But it’s the position that’s the rare quantity, not you. Being hired into a position where your specious math is not only accepted but is actually expected is the equivalent of winning the lottery.

Perkins reportedly makes more than $4 million a year, which by my math translates into close to $2,000 an hour….Perkins could be an absolute genius in his field, but I could throw a dart at the KU faculty-staff directory, pay my random target $150K a year, and KU would see a dramatic upswing in the position’s performance-to-compensation ratio from the very first minute of my lucky carbon blob’s tenure.

With the contract that Kansas has given to Zenger, the powers that be in Lawrence announce that they have seen the light. May others be so fortunate.    

January 4, 2011

Let’s kill FG%, too

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ken Pomeroy @ 5:00 pm

It turns out both Bill Self and Frank Martin have no use for field goal percentage. I’m sure their reasons are different from mine, but I stand with them in this cause. It was 24 years ago that the NCAA painted the three-point line on the floor and while it changed the way the game is played, unfortunately it hasn’t had much of an effect on how the game is viewed.

From an analysis standpoint, the line allows us to separate a group of shots that are made 34 percent of the time from a group of shots that are made 48 percent of the time. In that regard, the line does us a huge favor, and yet there are an overwhelming amount of people that apparently prefer to lump apples and oranges together and assume it’s still good information. For instance, Louisville is taking 42 percent of its shots from beyond the arc this season while Maryland is taking 20 percent of its shots from long range. Care to guess which team has the better field goal percentage? Of course it’s the team taking more 2’s, Maryland.

Truth be told Louisville ranks well in field goal percentage (35th) considering its self-imposed handicap. They’ve made 55.5 percent of their 2’s and 37.7 percent of their 3’s, both figures significantly above average. Maryland, on the other hand has made 53.3 percent of its 2’s and 33.8 percent of its 3’s.

The Terps shoot it significantly worse than the Cards from both zones, and on top of that, Louisville is shooting (and making) many more 3’s, shots that are worth 50 percent more than two-pointers. Yet in terms of field goal percentage, one would conclude Maryland is the better shooting team, where they rank 12th in the nation.

Hopefully you see that conclusion is garbage. Once we break it down by 2’s and 3’s, it’s clear that Louisville is the better shooting team (ignoring the quality of opposing defenses to date), and it didn’t take many words to make that point. Expect more from your college hoops analysis this winter. It’s time to reject field goal percentage, which removes important context from a team’s shooting ability, and demand the use of two-point percentage.

January 3, 2011

Bigger, better, truthier Tuesday Truths in 2011!

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:19 am

I’m pleased to announce that this year at Basketball Prospectus we’ll be expanding our venerable Tuesday Truths feature and tracking per-possession performance in league play for no fewer than 157 teams in 14 conferences. Fans of the Colonial, Horizon, and WAC, welcome aboard!

All of which raises the question, why track per-possession performance in league play? Well, here’s what I said last year:

Over the next eight to nine weeks these teams will play over a thousand possessions each. Half of those possessions will take place at home, and half of them will occur on the road. All of that basketball will be played against opponents that by conference affiliation have been designated as nominal equals in terms of programmatic resources. (Though, granted, a league like the A-10 certainly exhibits some notable diversity in terms of member heft.) And, not least, all of that basketball will take place in increasingly close temporal proximity to the NCAA tournament.

In other words, with all due allowance for injuries and funky scoring distributions, I look at these thousand-odd possessions very closely. And in leagues featuring true round-robin scheduling (Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Pac-10, and WCC, among others), per-possession performance in conference play tells me exactly how surprised I should be in mid-March when the league’s best team in tempo-free terms loses in first round of the NCAA tournament.

Enough talk, let’s look at some actual results. Your 18-game conferences have already started playing games that count. We know for instance that Connecticut has looked shaky coming out of the gate and that Wisconsin is taking fairly good care of the ball, where “fairly” is synonymous with “they have the rock on a string.” Still, of those 18-games leagues the ones that really front-load their schedules are the ones like the Missouri Valley and the Horizon who have to make room for a non-conference BracketBusters pairing in late February.

So let’s take a look at the Horizon. Some of these teams have already finished a whopping 22 percent of their conference slate.  

Very early realities glimpsed on the Horizon (har!) 
Conference games only, through January 2
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                     W-L     Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP   EM
1.  Cleveland St.    4-0     65.6    1.22    0.95   +0.27
2.  Butler           2-0     59.8    1.18    1.02   +0.16
3.  Detroit          2-1     68.4    1.11    0.98   +0.13
4.  Wright St.       2-1     64.2    1.06    0.97   +0.09
5.  Loyola           1-3     63.5    1.01    1.01    0.00
6.  Valparaiso       2-1     64.7    0.96    0.98   -0.02
7.  Green Bay        1-3     66.8    1.01    1.08   -0.07
8.  Milwaukee        2-2     68.1    0.97    1.10   -0.13
9.  UIC              0-3     66.2    0.94    1.07   -0.13
10. Youngstown St.   1-3     67.5    0.93    1.12   -0.19

Apparently Illinois‘ loss to UIC on December 18 did not presage the rise of a surprising Flames program, merely the arrival of an abysmally bad loss for the Illini. Also: Cleveland State is good. Will they continue to make 48 percent of their threes and outscore the league by a wider margin than did 18-0 Butler in 2010? Of course not! But these games are already in the books, the Vikings have played this way already for four games. Verily I say, remember Gary Waters‘ team. 

Lastly, as part of my ongoing “Detroit thinks it’s still 1983” coverage, please note that in Horizon play the Titans have devoted just 19 percent of their attempts to threes. Coach Ray McCallum Sr.’s team has nevertheless recorded a robust 1.11 points per trip in-conference thanks to excellent shooting from the field and a stratospheric free throw rate that would make even Frank Martin green with envy. I am on the record as thinking that over the long haul, North Carolina 2008 and Connecticut 2009 notwithstanding, telling opponents in advance that you’re not going to shoot threes is detrimental to your offense. McCallum is apparently going to give this hypothesis a fair test. 

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