Friday, December 21, 2012

Butler's Winning Blueprint

Going into last Saturday's Butler-Indiana game, the question was how would Butler's shaky defense stop quite possibly the best offense in the country. Indiana scored 1.13 points per possession, a more than respectable number but still their 3rd lowest output of the season. The gameplan for Brad Stevens was pretty  obvious and discussed all over Twitter: let Freshman guard Yogi Ferrell take long jumpers. On the season, Ferrell is 35% from 2 and 25% from 3.

Stevens chose to put the stellar defender Roosevelt Jones on Yogi Ferrell. If the gameplan was to let Ferrell shoot, then Butler conceivably could have put someone like Rotnei Clarke on Farrell, saving Jones for a more efficient offensive player. However, Stevens purposefully put Jones on Ferrell  in order to more effectively stop the Ferrell-Zeller pick and roll. The video below of the opening play demonstrates this:  

Butler chose to switch screens and use Roosevelt Jones' versatility. Although only 6'4", Jones is a very good rebounder for his height and kept a body on Zeller at all times. Meanwhile, Ferrell felt compelled to go at the bigger/slower Andrew Smith. Smith did a solid job of keeping Ferrell in front of him while still baiting him to take shots. Of course, it should be noted Jones and Smith both fouling out can probably be attributed to at times playing defensively out of position. The results?

Yogi Ferrell: 3-9 from two, 2-4 from three, 6 turnovers, used on 30% of Indiana possessions (team high)
Cody Zeller: 4-9 from two, 0-0 from three, 2 offensive rebounds, used on 21% of Indiana possessions (4th highest)

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Effects of Coaching Changes: Taking a Look at Iona

Recently, Jordan Sperber took a look at how a coaching change affects style of play.  His quality work caught the attention of Zak Boisvert, who gave us the idea to do a similar study looking at Iona. With Boisvert's idea and Sperber's guidance, I am delving into a similar post regarding Iona and the transition from Kevin Willard to Tim Cluess.

Iona, during the Willard days, struggled the first two years before going 21-10 in year 3.  The Willard led Iona teams didn’t excel in the four factors offensively, with the exception of 2009’s free throw rate, however were well above average defensively.

Under the lead of Cluess, Iona has been extremely successful at the most important category: wins.  They went 25-12 in year 1 and 25-8 in year 2, including an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament before this epic collapse.  Looking at the four factors, Iona excelled shooting and turning teams over.  Their offense has been stellar in the two full seasons under Cluess.

It’s tough to believe watching them now, but just 2.5 years ago, Iona was a slower, defensive centric team.

2008 was the fastest Iona played under Kevin Willard.  A likely reason for that is much of the personnel (upperclassmen) were used to playing at a faster pace under the previous coach, Jeff Ruland.

Something interesting to look at that I believe changes with a new coach is the bench usage.  Under Willard, Iona used their bench about as much as any team in the nation.  Under Cluess, Iona has been using their bench in the bottom third of the country.  To me, this seems contradicting.  I would assume a run and gun style would lead to more minutes for the bench. 

I believe many factors affect how a team plays after a new coach is hired.  Obviously, once a coach has settled in and has a chance to recruit the style of player he wants, “Run n Gun” or “Beilein Ball” can take place.  However, before a recruiting class or two, stats prove that personnel has a much greater influence in the short term before that coach can implement his system.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Villanova's One Dimensional Offense

After missing the NCAA Tournament in 2012 for the first time in seven years, Jay Wright's Villanova squad was looking for a bounce back year. However, the team has struggled to a 3-3 start against D1 opponents. Off the court, the Big East has continued to decline and Villanova has largely remained silent about the situation.

Villanova's offense has ranked 98th in the country in adjusted efficiency. This is relatively impressive considering their shooting, rebounding, and turnover numbers (all in the 200's). The factor keeping Nova's offense afloat has been their ability to get to the foul line. In fact, the Wildcats rank second nationally in free throw rate (FTA/FGA).

As a cynical Villanova student and fan, I assumed the extremely high free throw was simply due to competition. Basically, I thought Nova had coincidentally played teams that foul a lot on defense. I decided to look further into this by comparing the AVERAGE free throw rate of each Villanova opponent compared to Villanova's free throw rate when they played that team. The results are shown graphically below:

The graphs above show that the Wildcat's ability to get to the line does in fact appear to be legitimate. I knew going into this research that JayVaughn Pinkston and Ryan Arcidiacono were both aggressive drivers who tend to force the issue. Stats back that up, Pinkston draws 7.6 fouls per 40 minutes (23rd in the country) and Arcidiacono draws 5.2 foul per 40 minutes (352nd in the country). More surprisingly, center Mouphtaou Yarou has been very good at getting to the line this year. After a solid junior year, Mouph was expected to have a big senior year. The knock on him by the Villanova fan base has always been his inability to go up strong. Despite this reputation, he gets to the line quite a bit. The final player getting to the line often for Nova has been Maurice Sutton (albeit in limited minutes). Why teams would foul Sutton I'm not sure. Sutton is known for his defense, but doesn't have much of an offensive game in the post.

Obviously a team like Villanova that gets to the line so frequently is heavily affected by their ability to actually make the free throws. This season, Villanova has shot 71% from the line (the NCAA average is 69%). That coming off a great season from the line last year where the Wildcats shot a very high 75.4%. Currently, Nova is making 22 free throws per game. I wanted to look at the affect of FT% on points and ultimately on wins. I looked at FT%'s between 65% and 77% and how that would affect Nova's expected wins in these first six games and for the rest of the season (using pythag expectation):

The Wildcats are currently projected to 14-16 on the season given their 71% foul shooting. However, at 74% they would be projected to crack the .500 barrier and at 67% they would be projected to go 12-18. Coaches love to stress the importance of free throws. Jay Wright would have a legitimate point, because of how frequently his squad finds themselves at the charity stripe.