Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

January 31, 2013

Badgers prove that free throws really do matter

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:33 pm

Wisconsin is just average on offense this season, which is curious because, as always, Bo Ryan‘s team is outstanding in terms of taking care of the ball. Customarily teams with low turnover percentages have very good offenses. What’s the problem?

Reality is usually too messy to cough up one definitive answer, but this time we really do have one definitive answer. The problem is Wisconsin’s dreadful free throw shooting. Everything else is the same as last season:

Lost in translation
Conference games only — 2013 through games of January 30
PPP: points per possession eFG%: effective FG percentage
TO%: turnover percentage OR%: offensive rebound percentage

       PPP     eFG%     TO%     OR%
2013   0.98    46.5    15.4    31.3
2012   1.03    46.7    15.6    29.2

In other words Wisconsin’s shooting from the field and their performance in terms of hanging on to the rock are both virtually identical to what they were last season. Meanwhile the offensive rebounding is actually a hair better. Ordinarily the offense that results from all of the above would be the same as what you saw the year before.

But not with this team. Last season Wisconsin hit an excellent 77 percent of their free throws in Big Ten play. This season the Badgers have connected on just 52 percent of their attempts from the line in-conference.

Even with normal free throw shooting Ryan’s offense isn’t going to look like Michigan or Indiana anytime soon. But when you’re speaking of a team that plays outstanding defense (second only to Ohio State in conference play) there’s a lot to be gained from an improved offense. And right now free throws are killing Wisconsin.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

January 11, 2013

Tuesday Truths for a realigning world

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:09 am

Next week on a day that I trust you can identify correctly without any further intervention on my part, that hardy perennial known as Tuesday Truths will return for a sixth season. In other words the feature’s been around just as long as Scott Martin. (Har! No, seriously, that’s more or less correct.)

In the Truths I present what I’ve learned by tracking per-possession performance for selected teams in conference play. Which begs the question: Why track per-possession performance in conference play for selected teams?

For the same reason that any college hoops fan does anything analytically, to win the office pool. Mind you, when it comes time to fill out my bracket, I won’t always follow the Truths unquestioningly. Last season the Truths and I had a season-long knock-down drag-out tussle over what to make of Texas, for example. (Turned out I was right. Take that, snooty “analytics”!) But I do give an awful lot of credence to the counsel born of a thousand or so possessions, perfectly balanced between home and road, played against nominal programmatic equals in resources.

You may on occasion hear this kind of thing called “advanced,” where said term is shot off like a flare to warn of suspect innovations, because it is a truth universally accepted that “advanced” stats killed all the fun in baseball. You may also see this sort of endeavor placed in opposition to the wisdom gained from looking at simple wins and losses.

Nonsense. If this is advanced, so is looking at a final score. Tuesday Truths simply brings the score-keeping increment down to the level of one possession at a time. And as for good old wins and losses, this season TCU will have very few wins in Big 12 play (quite possibly none, in fact), and a ton of losses. That will result in a very lousy number for per-possession performance for the Frogs. This stuff is merely a further refinement of wins and losses.

For the 2012-13 season, Tuesday Truths will faithfully report on the per-possession doings of all six major conferences, plus the Atlantic 10, Conference USA, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, and West Coast. These 11 leagues represent Division I’s top third, and if you stick with the Truths through to early March you should have a reasonably solid evaluative grasp on all of them.

As a sneak preview, here’s the current reality presented by the Missouri Valley, a laudably proactive league that’s already played a whopping 22.2 percent of its games.

Creighton has a very good offense 
Through games of January 10, 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.  Creighton      4-0   65.6    1.28    1.03    +0.25
2.  Wichita St.    4-0   63.1    1.16    0.96    +0.20
3.  Missouri St.   3-1   59.0    1.10    0.99    +0.11
4.  Indiana St.    3-1   66.2    1.04    1.01    +0.03
5.  Evansville     3-1   62.1    1.09    1.07    +0.02
6.  Bradley        2-2   65.7    0.95    0.97    -0.02
7.  N. Iowa        1-3   62.9    0.92    1.01    -0.09
8.  Illinois St.   0-4   66.8    0.98    1.08    -0.10
9.  S. Illinois    0-4   61.9    1.06    1.22    -0.16
10. Drake          0-4   66.1    0.93    1.17    -0.24

The Bluejays have scored 336 points in just 262 Valley possessions. Greg McDermott‘s team, a lot like Greg McDermott’s son, is very likely to be statistically gaudy for the balance of the season, a gaudiness that will be doubted because of the competition. Those doubts will be well founded some of the time (scoring 1.36 points per trip against Drake is standard operating procedure for Bulldog opponents) but not all of the time (recording 1.29 points per possession against Indiana State is impressive).

As for defense, McDermott is apparently about to put his total ban on going for takeaways to the ultimate test. Creighton simply will not allow you to give them a turnover. Valley opponents have given the ball away on just 12 percent of their possessions. The sheer number of shots launched by opposing teams results in a D that looks average, even though the field goal defense in Omaha is actually better than average (and the defensive rebounding is quite insanely good, as it always is with McDermott’s teams).

While researching a piece on Creighton over the summer, I spoke to Coach McDermott on the phone and, 80 percent of the way through a discussion filled with my fulsome praise of his success on offense, I asked, respectfully and diffidently, whether this zero-takeaway approach could be a limiting factor on the Bluejay defense. The coach, respectfully and diffidently, gave me the verbal equivalent of a shrug. I shrug still.

See you next week.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

January 7, 2013

Michigan has a very good offense

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:24 pm

Michigan has opened Big Ten play by scoring 189 points in just 136 possessions, which nets out to 1.39 points per trip. Object to that ridiculous figure if you wish on the grounds that the Wolverines have played “only” Northwestern and Iowa. Fair enough, but be sure to acknowledge two additional points in your objection. The Hawkeyes, for one, are the proud owners of a top-50 defense. And, anyway, John Beilein‘s team has been doing this kind of thing more or less all season long.

Whether your preferred standards of sublime-efficiency comparison are Kentucky in 2012, North Carolina in 2009, or Illinois in 2005, Michigan’s offense has to date benefited from the same kind of network effects as all those other eminences. It works like this:

You have a first-team All-American. Let’s call him Treytythonyeron Burkebrowngilchristborough. He’s having a season for the ages. But he additionally finds himself in happy proximity with another guy or perhaps even other guys who will also play in the NBA at some point.

Opposing Division I defenses that don’t have Jeff Withey, even very good major-conference ones, are simply not equipped to cope with this kind of elite multiplicity over the long haul. Naturally there will be off games, even from these juggernauts. (Ask UK fans about the 2012 SEC tournament title game.) But a coach who recruits his way to this kind of embarrassment of offensive riches has the court tilted in his favor.

Michigan’s numbers will correct downward because they won’t continue to shoot 52 percent on their threes, as they’ve done over their first 80 minutes of conference play. But the Wolverines are hardly living and dying by the three. They’re making their twos, and their 80-minute turnover rate is microscopically and West Virginia-era-Beilein-low. About once every 20 minutes or so they actually miss a shot, and on those occasions they’ve exhibited a decent proclivity toward getting that rebound.

I don’t know if Trey Burke can continue to play at this level on offense all season long, but if he does he’ll be up there on the same bleachers as Ty Lawson in 2009. And, praise-wise, that’s it, that’s all I have for any point guard. If sports actually mattered, the 15-month transformation of Burke from high school who-dat into Oscar Robertson II would have long since resulted in recruiting analysts being subpoenaed to testify before Congress.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

January 4, 2013

Unattainable

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:59 am

By rule Colorado should have won their game against Arizona in Tucson last night, but I don’t understand the people who say Sabatino Chen clearly released his shot in time. There may be a paradox in that sentence, but there’s no contradiction.

Chen’s shot constitutes one of the rarest of basketball artifacts, a play where seeing it on replay doesn’t definitively solve the riddle. This comes up more often in football (with receptions made close to the ground, for example, or quarterback sneaks at the goal line), but we’re not used to this kind of thing in hoops.

It comes down to this (courtesy of Twitter user K. Chris Cornell):

Read those pixels however you choose.

Fortunately the NCAA has made procedural provision for what we should do when we don’t know with certainty what happened. Rob Dauster already touched all the correct bases last night. The key wording is on page 91 of the rulebook: “When definitive information is unattainable with the use of the monitor, the original call stands.”

The original call on the floor was a made three, and with good reason. In real time it seemed apparent that Chen released his shot before the horn. The pixels above are anything but “definitive,” therefore the original call should have been left alone. Game over, Colorado wins.

Instead, the refs waved off the shot. The game went to overtime, and Arizona won. I understand why CU head coach Tad Boyle is livid and why he would say something petulant and aggrieved like “Get rid of instant replay,” but the truth is the Internet’s real-time outrage, confusion, errors, corrections, and eventual consensus made the case for replay convincingly, albeit unwittingly.

Deadspin had a post up instantly last night with video and a claim that the clip “clearly” showed that Chen’s shot had been released in time. But with two additional hours to scrutinize screen caps (and contemplate one-point safeties — it was a wild night), the site came back with an “update” citing Dauster and making the exact opposite (and correct) point. Since it was not clear whether the shot was really released before the clock hit zero, it should have counted because that was the initial ruling on the floor. With additional time, Deadspin got it right.

We are all Deadspin, refs included. Replay’s essential not only because it furnishes additional information but also because it comprises a ritual that confers additional time. In any event like this there’s a direct correlation between time elapsed and the quality of its analysis, whether that analysis comes in the form of a ref’s call or a spectator’s tweet. (Any weathered Twitter user knows in his or her weary bones that the quickest tweets are usually the dumbest.)

Instead of killing replay we should be telling refs: Take all the time you need, and if a pdf of the rulebook on an iPad would help, that’s fine too.

Before you sign Boyle’s Death to Replay petition, please revisit the conclusion of the 2011 Big East tournament game between Rutgers and St. John’s. Those refs threw away any possibiity of additional time for review with both hands, and the result was a true travesty. Conversely, last night’s travesty was at least arrived at in the prescribed deliberate manner. When the outcome of a game is in the balance, time is everything simply because perfect knowledge, like perfect justice, is unattainable.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

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