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January 11, 2013, 11:09 AM ET
Tuesday Truths for a realigning world

by John Gasaway

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.

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