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February 22, 2011

Mini-TA: Johnson to Toronto

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 9:30 pm

Since the Carmelo Anthony trade is not yet official (and may now include Kosta Koufos and a second-round pick, forcing me to rewrite all 2,000 words … or not), our first finalized deal of deadline season is a minor one. The Chicago Bulls sent forward James Johnson to the Toronto Raptors Tuesday afternoon in exchange for the Miami Heat’s 2011 first-round pick, acquired by the Raptors as part of the sign-and-trade deal that sent Chris Bosh to Miami. Toronto also dipped into the trade exception created by that move to add Johnson without sending out any salary in return.

For one brief moment, Johnson seemed to be getting it in his second NBA season. He had eight points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks on October 30 against Detroit, offering the hope he might work his way into Tom Thibodeau‘s rotation. Instead, other than one other aberrant game (12 points at Phoenix on November 24), Johnson has been invisible ever since. He recently spent time in the D-League and has played less than four minutes since the calendar turned.

It’s too soon to write off Johnson, but there’s not a lot of evidence thus far that he’s an NBA contributor. For a team like the Raptors, Johnson is a worthwhile gamble. Toronto has been giving a bunch of young guys a shot–Alexis Ajinca, Julian Wright–which is basically the idea for a rebuilding team. The question is the cost. It’s tough to say whether there were other suitors for Johnson, but he obviously was providing nothing to the Bulls, who surely coveted the trade exception provided by moving his salary as they seek to deal for a starting shooting guard. Is it possible that by Thursday Chicago would have been desperate enough to move Johnson with nothing in return?

Instead, the Raptors surrendered a first-round pick. It’s possible, as DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony notes, that this reflects pessimism about the 2011 Draft, especially late in the first round–when contracts are still guaranteed no matter how many first-round-caliber talents are out there. But those picks can always be sold to cash-flush teams in need of young talent (see Knicks, New York), so I’m not sure that’s an adequate justification. If the market reflects that 2011 first-round picks are no longer as valuable as usual, I’ll change my tune.

The Bulls now turn their attention to making another trade, and an extra first-round pick could help in that pursuit. Johnson was a failed draft pick, but this is a decent save.

February 21, 2011

All-Star Box

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 11:48 am

The Shootaround will return on Wednesday, after there are some real games to dump into the NBAPET database. For today, we’ll just leave you with a Shootaround-style box score from the NBA All-Star game. Just for fun.

ALL-STAR BOX SCORE

WEST 148, EAST 143

EAST (0-1)..........PLY%  USG   PCP  +/-   GR  WEST (1-0)..........PLY%  USG   PCP  +/-   GR
james,lebron.........67%  28%  0.66  + 2 34.1  bryant,kobe..........61%  39%  1.20  + 4 26.7
allen,ray............36%  21%  0.66  - 3 13.6  durant,kevin.........63%  29%  1.33  - 7 22.7
rondo,rajon..........43%  10%  1.10  - 9 12.3  gasol,pau............51%  19%  1.33  +10 11.9
stoudemire,amare.....58%  29%  0.43  + 3 10.5  paul,chris...........59%  10%  2.03  + 3 11.5
rose,derrick.........62%  16%  0.42  + 3 10.1  westbrook,russell....29%  30%  1.04  - 3  8.7
johnson,joe..........43%  18%  0.71  +10  9.9  griffin,blake........31%  11%  2.51  - 9  8.1
pierce,paul..........23%  30%  0.42  - 9  8.2  williams,deron.......37%  14%  1.43  + 7  7.4
howard,dwight........44%   9%  0.48  - 9  5.6  ginobili,manu........43%  15%  1.14  + 4  7.1
bosh,chris...........44%  21%  0.26  - 4  4.2  anthony,carmelo......47%  15%  0.97  +11  6.8
garnett,kevin........16%  12%  1.16    0  4.0  nowitzki,dirk........30%  17%  1.10  + 9  5.2
wade,dwyane..........42%  23%  0.30  -15  3.8  duncan,tim...........24%   8%  1.63  + 5  3.2
horford,al...........22%   8%  0.22  + 6  1.1  love,kevin...........24%   8%  1.20  - 9  2.4
PACE: 121.8         ORTG eFG%  oRB%  TO% FTA%  PACE: 121.8         ORTG eFG%  oRB%  TO% FTA%
East...............117.4 .545  .320 .172 .101  West...............121.5 .504  .415 .123 .094

GLOSSARY
+/- (Plus-Minus) Raw data is from official box scores from NBA.com.
GR (Game Rating) Reflects a player’s Points Created total, or the portion of his team’s offense for which he gets credit based on his box score line. This number is then adjusted for estimated defensive performance based on box score counterpart productivity. GR is pace-adjusted so you can compare players from game to game.
PCP (Points Created Per Possession Used) An estimate of each player’s points created per possession used, a measure of offensive efficiency. The stat accounts for a player’s entire box score line, not just the scoring categories.
PLY% (Play percentage) An estimate of the percentage of a team’s possessions on which the player was on the court.
USG An estimate of how many of those plays a player used by shooting, going to the line or committing a turnover, with a portion the team’s offensive rebound total subtracted.
TEAM STATS
PACE: Estimated possessions in the game.
ORTG: A team’s points per 100 possessions.
eFG%: Team’s shooting percentage with an extra half-point added for each made three-point field goal.
oRB%: Percentage of a team’s misses that they retrieved off the offensive glass.
TO%: Percentage of a team’s possessions resulting in a turnover.
FTA%: Percentage of a team’s possessions resulting in a trip to the foul line.

Getting Washington off our backs

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:26 am

Each year it seems like there’s one conference race that stands out for its ability to serve as an analytical litmus test. Last year it was the Mountain West that did the honors. While New Mexico won the regular season championship, per-possession stats indicated BYU was best. Also San Diego State and UNLV appeared by those same stats to be about as good as the Lobos. And it turned out none of this mattered very much. All of the above were gone before the tournament’s second weekend rolled around.

This year that litmus test is brought to you by still another league that conveniently enough plays a round-robin schedule.

How do you seed a group like this? 
Through games of February 20, 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.  Washington      10-5     72.2    1.13     0.99   +0.14
2.  Arizona         12-2     68.9    1.10     1.02   +0.08
3.  UCLA            10-4     66.5    1.03     0.99   +0.04
4.  USC              7-7     63.7    1.01     0.99   +0.02
5.  Washington St.   7-8     68.9    1.00     1.00    0.00
6.  Oregon           7-7     66.6    0.99     1.00   -0.01
7.  Cal              7-8     67.3    1.10     1.12   -0.02
8.  Stanford         6-9     65.5    0.98     1.01   -0.03
9.  Oregon St.      4-10     69.6    0.93     1.04   -0.11
10. Arizona St.     2-12     64.6    0.97     1.11   -0.14 
 

On Saturday Arizona beat Washington 87-86 in Tucson, thanks to a decisive and rather emphatic last-second block by Derrick Williams. It was a great game between the Pac-10’s two top teams, one that showcased what each team does very well. For the Wildcats Williams, Lamont Jones, and crew combined for 11-of-18 shooting on their threes. That’s nothing new. This year in Pac-10 play ‘Zona is hitting 44 percent of their threes while limiting conference opponents to just 26 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Meanwhile Washington was making their twos: Matthew Bryan-Amaning scored 24 points on 12-of-19 shooting for the Huskies. Both teams scored quite efficiently in this 75-possession game. 

The question looming on the horizon is how to seed these teams for the NCAA tournament. There’s still basketball to be played between now and then, of course — Arizona has to make a road trip to play USC and UCLA — but it seems likely that per-possession performance will be somewhat at odds with the Pac-10’s final standings, a la the 2010 Mountain West. What then?

College basketball doesn’t have a czar, thank goodness. (But if I can’t garner more votes for the non-existent post than a former announcer on this list I’ll have to make sweeping changes to my staff, starting with my pollster and PR chief.) Then again it pays to prepare for any eventuality. Should Jay Bilas or Bob Knight or someone else stage a putsch tomorrow, I will advise our new czar or czarina as follows with regard to seeding this season’s wacky Pac-10 entrants.

Define your terms.
Is seeding in the NCAA tournament a reward for this season’s accomplishments or is it an attempt to create a new season? A little of both, I suppose. Speaking purely as a fan I find pleasure in both paradigms on Selection Sunday. Certainly it’s nice to see a team gather around a big-screen TV and learn it’s a 1-seed. The man-hugs that ensue aren’t saying, “Thank goodness we’re being seeded correctly based on a projection of our future performance!” Instead they’re saying, “We earned this.” Then again one of the coolest things about the selection committee is its ability to instantly debunk the dumbest polling results that have bugged us all season. Usually there’ll be a top-15 or even top-10 team that’s at last given a lower and much more proper number next to its name. In such cases the committee appears to be taking more of a new-season approach. 

Define your teams.
Again, this state of affairs could change over the coming days as Arizona plays two road games (Washington finishes with three home games), but right now the Wildcats and the Huskies are extreme cases that look even more extreme due to their proximity to one another. Usually a team that outscores its opponents by 0.14 points per trip, as Washington has done, would be expected to have the 12-2 record that Arizona has. Conversely a team that on average is 0.08 points better than their foes on each possession, like the Cats, will customarily go 10-4. Both teams are almost equally unusual, just in opposite directions. 

Know that the seed you give a team impacts the opposing team(s) in the bracket.
That sounds blindingly obvious, but in the case of a team like Washington it’s arguably the material point. Probability favors Lorenzo Romar‘s team on a neutral floor to a much higher degree than is normal for the third-place team from perhaps the nation’s fifth-best conference. If anything I’m a little less concerned about fairness for a team like this than I am about fairness for the teams around them. Granted, insisting that we seed Washington as we would any other third-place team from the fifth-best conference is a perfectly defensible position. (Man, I already sound like Bilas is czar.) There’s a cost to be paid for that position, however, and it’s borne by the team that has to play the Huskies when they could be playing any of three weaker opponents on UW’s seed line.   

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here. Book: now available on Amazon.

February 18, 2011

Reggie Miller and the Hall of Fame

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 6:45 pm

Among NBA analysts, I would consider myself an exception in terms of my all-encompassing basketball fandom. One of the things I like about writing for Basketball Prospectus is the ability to sprinkle in some college analysis along with my NBA coverage, and I spend my summers writing about the WNBA. If there were more hours in the day, I’d probably follow women’s college basketball and the European game just as closely. It makes sense, then, that I’m one of the last holdouts to the concept of a single, pan-basketball Hall of Fame even as friends like John Hollinger and M. Haubs of The Painted Area have been beating the drum for an NBA-only Hall for years. Bill Simmons, of course, centered his entire book around the concept. I find something endearing about gathering the legends from all the different levels of basketball for the annual induction ceremonies at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, with Bob Hurley, Sr. following Karl Malone.
Even if I don’t want a new Hall, I certainly do join the chorus advocating sweeping reform to the Hall of Fame induction process. For one, the various groups (pro players, pro coaches, college coaches, international players/coaches and female players/coaches) should each have their own separate selection committees, with appropriate experts in each field. There is no reason the wildly different groups should in any sense be seen as competing against each other, which isn’t fair to any of the groups.

As Hollinger notes today, a revamped selection process could lead to the same kind of Hall of Fame debates we see in baseball. Granted, the NBA has never been either as respectful of its history or as consumed with career numbers as baseball, but the basketball process by its very nature produces very little discussion. The exception is only when someone is clearly snubbed, as is the case with Reggie Miller. Eligible for the Hall for the first time this year, the NBA’s former all-time three-point leader was excluded from a list of finalists that includes players Maurice Cheeks, Chris Mullin, Dennis Rodman, Ralph Sampson and Jamaal Wilkes.

By the numbers, that’s a ridiculous outcome. In this year’s Pro Basketball Prospectus, our Bradford Doolittle used our WARP statistic to take a look at the Hall. Of eligible players who are not yet in the Hall, Miller’s career total of 172 WARP is easily the best. In fact, just 11 players in modern league history (since WARP figures date back only to 1979-80) surpass that figure. Miller benefits from his longevity, certainly, but even in terms of peak WARP (calculated by Doolittle from ages 23 to 32), Miller is ahead of the career figures for every finalist save Mullin (and even then by an insignificant margin).

There might be an argument that Miller is not a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but there is no question he should have been a finalist. Even besides Miller’s exclusion, this is a weak group. Only Mullin had five All-Star appearances or reached the 100-WARP total Doolittle found was the typical point at which a player entered the Hall of Fame conversation. If I was making a list of five Hall of Fame finalists, I’m not sure any of this group would appear. So it goes with our current, flawed Hall of Fame.

Wins have to happen. Points don’t.

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:32 am

Where there’s a game there’ll be one win and one loss recorded. But there’s more to learn about the teams that played in that game.

Maybe both teams played superbly. Maybe both played horribly. Maybe one team alternated between playing superbly and horribly. Maybe the other team was superb on offense and horrible on defense. The scenarios are infinite, and looking at how many points were scored can help us find out what happened.

Wins are unparalleled as rewards, but they’re crude adjectives. I’m on the record as thinking that the mere distribution of wins — with due consideration for opponent, time, and place — can yield sufficient information to draw a line across the top quintile of D-I and tell the teams above this line, “You’re in!” But trying to do something as precise as sequencing an entire tournament field on an S-curve armed only with wins is a little like playing the piano while wearing oven mitts. It can be done, but the music would sound better if we freed up our fingers. 

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here. Book: now available on Amazon.

February 17, 2011

Tonight’s games

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 2:56 pm

Since there are just two games tonight and then we have the long, interminable break (well, a few days anyway) until there are more real contests, I’m going to hold off putting up another Shootaround until tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s the section with NBAPET’s take on tonight’s games. The system thinks we have a pair of close, high-quality games on tap. I tend to agree.

ON TAP

Tonight in the NBA

WTC  VIS @ HOM,  GAMETIME     NBAPET LINE    OFFICIALS
+23  sas @ chi,  8:00 PM EST [ chi by  1 ]   G.Willard, D.Jones, E.Roe
+11  dal @ phx, 10:30 PM EST [ phx by  0 ]   D.Bavetta,	B.Adams, V.Palmer

Note: WTC is a junk stat rating the "watchability" of a game,
taking into account the quality of the opponents and the
likelihood of a close game.

February 16, 2011

About That Loss…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kyle Whelliston @ 3:25 pm

On Tuesday night, Coastal Carolina lost at home to Gardner-Webb, 66-63. The Chanticleers had won their first 15 Big South games, and are the regular season champions-elect of the conference. They were riding a national-best 22-game win streak, were outscoring league opponents by .17 points per possession (1.07 to .9). The Runnin’ Bulldogs, on the other hand, had lost 14 of their last 16. Unless you pray at the altar of Grayson Flittner, this was a loss of the unforgivable variety.

Teams like Coastal, clearly superior to the rest of their one-bid conferences, walk a thinner line than most. CCU wasn’t going to make the NCAA Tournament anyway without surviving the Big South tourney (a 256 SOS guarantees that), but the selection committee will likely go ahead and find some way to punish them for getting run by the Runnin’ Bulldogs. At the very least, it could end up as the difference between a 14 and a 15.

Coastal’s loss left a single league-undefeated among the one-bid conferences: 7-0 Princeton, halfway through their Ivy League schedule. Over the past three weeks, all the rest have gone down: Belmont in the Atlantic Sun, the Patriot League’s Bucknell, Oakland of the Summit, and Saint Mary’s (WCC) and Utah State (WAC) out west. There may indeed be an eventual Sweet 16 team (or three) contained in this paragraph, and these are the names everyone should know for March, but clean and dominant runs through their leagues would have helped a lot. As a service to these teams, here are the excuses why those single losses represent true exceptions and not potential seed-line adjustments.

Coastal Carolina (24-3, 15-1 Big South)
That loss: February 15, Gardner-Webb (H), 59-57

Throughout the Chanticleers’ unbeaten run, which dated back to the Charleston Classic in November, this mid-sized squad had always been able to rely on a jumper barrage. They’re the eighth-best field-goal shooting team in the country at 48.7 percent, despite slumping on threes at 32 percent (they make 51 percent of twos). Most specific to their attack are the efforts of 6-foot-3 junior guard Desmond Holloway, who converts 54 percent inside the arc. He was a season-worst 2-for-10 on Tuesday, and the team put in its worst group effort of the year, scoring .87 points per possession and being more useless than usual from three (1-for-9). It’s not that G-Webb stepped up their game or anything (.92 points per trip), it just turned into an off-night slog.

Belmont (23-4, 15-1 Atlantic Sun)
That loss: January 25, Lipscomb (A), 73-64

The Bruins are a year ahead of schedule yet very much possible, winning with sophomores and juniors brought on after the three-bid dynasty class. They’ve crushed Atlantic Sun opposition this season in a manner similar to CCU’s Big South romp (1.12 points per trip, .85 against), and have forced turnovers at a rate of 27 percent — only Duquesne (28 percent) does it better. But at Lipscomb — whom Belmont had beaten 88-52 in the first meeting — Rick Byrd’s team took a 15-point first-half lead but suffered a total offensive collapse in the second. The committee’s system doesn’t have room for rivalry considerations (except in discussion). But Lipscomb is six miles away from Belmont, and the Bisons have only lost to the Bruins twice in the six home meetings since both schools became Division I members, and there’s lingering resentment from 1989, when Belmont knocked Don Meyer’s 38-1 team out of national NAIA tournament consideration. Byrd coached that game too.

Oakland (18-9, 13-1 Summit League)
That loss: February 5, IUPUI (A), 100-88

You may remember Oakland from their December 9 shocker at Thompson-Boling Arena. That looked better then than it does now, and so does the 77-76 close call against Michigan State three days later. The Golden Grizzlies knew what they had to do all along however, and were stomping through the Summit — playing at a hyper-efficient 75-possession pace yet still holding opponents under a point per trip — until IUPUI rudely interrupted. At Conseco Fieldhouse, Oakland ran into the double-risk of an 85-possession game: the chance that the other team might make more shots and that the offensive rebounds from long shots might not end up in the right hands. The Jaguars shot 56 percent and pulled away late with free throws to jump into triple digits; it was a five-point game in the 80s with five minutes to go.

Bucknell (18-8, 9-1 Patriot)
That loss: January 29, Army (A), 90-70

The Bison, dormant for several years, are evoking memories of mid-decade excellence. This 6-10 sophomore named Mike Muscala even has a little Chris McNaughton in him. But the real key to the Bucknell resurgence has been spectacularly stingy backcourt play, and low turnovers (15.1 percent) have helped Muscala get lots of extra shots (22.7 points per 40 minutes, 54 percent on twos). That all fell through one January Saturday in West Point, where Dave Paulsen’s team turned the ball over 17 times in a 71-possession game (24 percent). The Black Knights edged out in front at the end of the first half, then added to it slowly and surely until it was insurmountable.

Saint Mary’s (22-4, 10-1 WCC)
That loss: January 29, Portland (A), 85-70

Emotional highs and lows can’t be measured by any tempo-free system, only their effects can. Saint Mary’s was coming off their first win at Gonzaga since 1995, sealed by a Mickey McConnell three in the closing seconds. Randy Bennett teams always makes the extra pass (or four) and get back quickly, but both offense and defense collapsed in Portland. That’s where they gave up 1.24 points per possession, and shot under 40 percent for the first time since a loss to San Diego State on Dec. 1. They didn’t have an answer for a 16-0 Pilot run out of halftime, and that was pretty much the final margin. Plus, the Gaels were playing against negative travel history: only three California-based WCC teams have swept the Northwest trip in those 15 years since they last won in Zagland.

Utah State (23-3, 12-1 WAC)
That loss: February 9, Idaho (A), 64-56

No team on this list was hurt more by its single loss so far than the Blue Aggies. Utah State always seems to put up eye-popping statistics, but Stew Morrill’s charges are an NCAA perennial in what’s been a CIT-level league this year. Running the table was not only preferable, it was necessary for any at-large chance. The wound was administered at Idaho on national television, as the Vandals dragged Utah State into a murky mess of a game. Aggie star and leading scorer Tai Wesley fouled out after double-doubling with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and the Vandals were able to something that only Georgetown had managed to do: hold an offense that scores 1.1 points per trip a full quarter-point below its average. Idaho, currently in fourth-place in the league and hovering around the .500 mark, is not Georgetown, so it’s safe to assume that this isn’t going to happen again until March.

“Just give me the damn field” 3: George Mason and Irish banks

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:18 pm

In 25 days the NCAA tournament selection committee will announce this year’s field of 68 teams. And while George Mason might still have the proverbial work to do, I trust that when the time comes the Patriots will be judged worthy of an at-large bid. Barring an unforeseen collapse, they should be judged worthy of an at-large bid. We don’t need decimal points to make this case; common sense and precedent will suffice.

Jim Larranaga‘s team is 22-5, and they haven’t lost a game since January 8. Colonial teams have won six more games than Clemson or a dead man over the last five tournaments even though the CAA’s received nothing higher than a 9-seed from the committee. In a rational college hoops world GMU will not only get a bid courtesy of common sense and precedent, they’ll also be seeded correctly thanks to a projection of their future performance.

Which brings me, naturally, to the Irish banking collapse of 2008.

If a writer as esteemed as Michael Lewis still has any use for business cards they must say “As Interesting as Malcolm Gladwell, But Open to Reality.” Like Orwell, Lewis tells us that simply using common sense is sufficient yet terribly difficult, because the people around us customarily will not be using theirs. He draws us into his confidence and says we understand things the same way. Lewis assures you that if you’d been the GM of the Oakland A’s in 2001, or the legal guardian of a preternaturally talented 18-year-old left tackle in Memphis in 2004, or an Irish bank regulator in 2006, you too would have been singular, correct, and possibly even heroic because you too have the common sense of Lewis and his protagonists.

That’s all well and good, but I can try to strike the same stance in my writing. Lewis, however, also happens to be one of the best reporters alive. His ability to pull Shavian wit and cogent epigrams out of regular folks is simply astounding. For instance in his current Vanity Fair piece on the Irish banking crisis, he gives the floor to an economics professor at University College in Dublin, one Colm McCarthy, who tells of a disastrous televised appearance made by the country’s chief financial regulator in late 2008. 

All Lewis has to do is stay out of McCarthy’s way:  

“What happened was that everyone in Ireland had the idea that somewhere in Ireland there was a little wise old man who was in charge of the money, and this was the first time they’d ever seen this little man,” says McCarthy. “And then they saw him and said, Who the —- was that??? Is that the —-ing guy who’s in charge of the money??? That’s when everyone panicked.”

I am far from panicked, but I will admit that, purely as a piece of theater, it’ll be interesting to see what happens if one of the last institutions to use reality-based information about college basketball teams is the NCAA tournament selection committee. The march of that information has been much faster than I thought it would be. Now that I’ve witnessed said march I’m on the record as believing it can’t be stopped at the selection committee’s conference room door for much longer. Meantime we should be under no illusions that there’s a wise old man or woman somewhere in Indianapolis in charge of selection and seeding. Apparently there’s not, yet.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here. Book: now available on Amazon.  

February 15, 2011

The List Rankings

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 12:14 am

Because of injury and illness, a very shortened version of The List this week. Ohio State stays No. 1 for a fifth straight week despite losing for the first time this season on Saturday at Wisconsin. Look for a complete List to return next Monday.
– John Perrotto

1-Ohio State
2-Kansas
3-Pittsburgh
4-Duke
5-Texas
6-Brigham Young
7-San Diego State
8-Georgetown
9-Purdue
10-North Carolina
11-Notre Dame
12-Wisconsin
13-Kentucky
14-Arizona
15-Syracuse
16-Connecticut
17-Florida
18-Villanova
19-Louisville
20-Vanderbilt
21-Saint Mary’s
22-West Virginia
23-Missouri
24-Washington
25-St. John’s

February 13, 2011

Texas has a very good defense!

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:27 pm

Piggybacking on Ken Pomeroy‘s post on the historically insane defense being played by Texas right now, I resolved to add an exclamation point to his headline the moment I saw the following number:

1.02

That’s the average number of points the Longhorns’ conference opponents are scoring on possessions where they do not commit a turnover (what I call an effective possession). In other words, if every team that played Texas was given a magic pill that would make it impossible for them to give the ball away, ever, those teams would still be scoring just 1.02 points per trip. That would make UT the second-best D in their league, behind Kansas. An imaginary Texas D with zero turnovers forced over 653 possessions would actually be better than 10 out of 11 real-world Big 12 defenses. 

Mindful of this, I want to pose a question. Is this the best defense we’ve seen in recent years?

Not yet. It’s only Valentine’s Day, and there’s still hoops to be played. But if the Longhorns finish the regular season with anything like the numbers they’re carrying right now, then the answer to that question will be yes. 

In particular the field-goal defense being played by Rick Barnes‘ team is little short of astonishing. No major-conference defense over the past five seasons has been able to do what Texas is doing this year. I’ll keep these lists short by including just the top three teams, but keep in mind Texas 2011 ranks No. 1, No. 2, and No. 1 on rankings that have 365 teams each (73 major-conference teams, five seasons including 2011 so far).

Best FG defenses in three categories
Major-conference games only, 2007 to now  

Opponent effective FG percentage
1. Texas 2011 (38.7)

2. Georgetown 2008 (41.9)
3. Mississippi State 2008 (42.1)

Opponent 2FG percentage
1. Alabama 2011 (39.3)
2. Texas 2011 (39.9)
3. Mississippi State 2008 (39.9) 

Opponent 3FG percentage
1. Texas 2011 (23.4)
2. Arizona 2011 (24.9)
3. Duke 2010 (24.9)

In addition the Longhorns are also pretty good on the defensive glass, pulling down 71 percent of Big 12 opponents’ misses. (At least here, however, UT is merely mortal. Kansas has actually been a little better in conference play, hauling in 72 percent of their opponents’ missed shots.) Lastly, Barnes’ team rarely fouls, which really sets the Longhorns apart in the traditionally whistle-happy Big 12.

Of course the final measure of any defense is simply how many points it allows. This season Texas is allowing Big 12 opponents just 0.84 points per possession, which is far better than what any defense from this group has recorded over the past five seasons. The only other defense to allow less than 0.90 points per trip in major-conference play was Kansas in 2007 (0.89).

Lastly, note that the Longhorns look good even in relative terms. Their D is 2.7 standard deviations better than this season’s Big 12 average, a degree of domination which is unheard of for a stat as fundamental as overall defense. No other major-conference defense from the past five seasons has been this much better than its league. Suffice it to say Barnes and his team are doing something right. If it keeps up, it will be record-setting.

John’s all about exclamation points on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. You can contact John by clicking here. College Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 is now available on Amazon. 

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