Friday, September 13, 2013


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Friday, August 23, 2013

Psychology of Marshall Henderson

Yesterday, Ken Pomeroy sent out several tweets about Oakland's Travis Bader. At this point, no one should be surprised that Travis Bader showed no signs of having a hot hand. Pomeroy showed that Bader's 3P% actually went down after making a shot, likely because of overconfidence leading to poor shot selection.

At this point, study after study has made the numbers behind the hot hand pretty clear. Someone who shoots as frequently (and as well) as Bader is obviously going to make a bunch in a row multiple times in a season. Still, there is just no evidence that these streaks go beyond what we would expect from random variation.

Pomeroy's tweets inspired me to take a different look at this topic. I decided not to look any further at if the hot hand actually exists, but instead to look at if the perception of the hot hand actually influences decision making. With this in mind, what better player to take a look at than Marshall Henderson?

Last season LeBron James tweeted that Marshall Henderson had, "The greenest light in basketball history!!" LeBron was pretty accurate with his tweet. Henderson finished just one three point attempt shy of tying David Holston's record for the most in a season (stats going back to 1998).

Henderson's has a reputation for being a streaky shooter with virtually no conscience on the court. I decided to leave that first part aside. I pretty much already knew what the numbers were going to say about his "streaky" shooting. I think the more interesting thing here is his conscience. The question being: Did Marshall Henderson play differently depending on his most recent result?

The numbers emphatically answer this question:

This table is simply Henderson's decision making, NOT his results/efficiency. Henderson was surprisingly a completely different player depending on what he had done last. After making a three, his next used possession was another three point attempt 72% of the time. After missing a three, his next used possession was another three point attempt just 38% of the time. Statistics say that Henderson wasn't actually hot or cold during these times, but that doesn't mean perception still doesn't play a MAJOR role. 

After missing a three, Henderson turned into more of an aggressive "playmaker". He stopped taking so many outside shots and instead drove to the rim at a higher rate, drew fouls at a higher rate, assisted at a higher rate, and turned the ball over at a higher rate.

After making a three, Henderson was a one dimensional player. This seems like it might be valuable information for opposing defenses. I think it's safe to say that defenses also react to the "hot hand" by giving less space. Clearly Henderson felt they didn't adjust enough, he let 91 threes fly out of his 126 total plays following a made three.

Finally, the middle/white row shows Henderson's decision making on his first used possession of a game or after being subbed back into a game. These numbers are a near perfect middle ground. Think of this row as the "rational" Marshall Henderson. Have those last three words ever been used together? By rational I mean that emotion is (probably?) less likely to significantly influence his play.

We think of Marshall Henderson as someone "who is never afraid of shooting from anywhere on the floor". This seems to simply off based. The hot hand might not exist, but players believe in it. Even Marshall Henderson has a conscience.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

2013-14 College Basketball Top 25 Preseason Rankings

It's August 11th, which means college basketball is right around the corner!

I'm kidding... sort of. The first games can't get here soon enough so I decided to take a stab at the top 25 teams entering the 2013-14 college basketball season.

1. Kentucky Wildcats
In Chad Ford's top 100 prospects for the 2014 draft class, seven (7!!!) of the top 30 players listed are members of this Kentucky squad.  Loaded is an understatement. (ESPN Insider Alert)
What will Randle do?

2. Louisville Cardinals
In most years, when the defending national champions only lose two of their top eight players, they enter the year favorites to repeat... This is not like most years.  The Louisville and Kentucky storyline is shaping up to be the marquee story entering what could/should be a hallmark year for college hoops fans.
What will Russdiculous do for an encore?

3. Kansas Jayhawks
As Jon Rothstein says, "Death, taxes, and Kansas winning the Big 12." The players may change, but Bill Self, Kansas, and winning do not. I think you can count on these Jayhawks to be Big 12 champs once again with Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden leading the way.
What will Wiggins do?

4. Michigan State Spartans
Having only lost graduating Senior Derrick Nix, these Spartans have a lot of ammo at Tom Izzo's disposal. The question that's begging to be asked: will either Adreian Payne or Gary Harris take "the leap" and emerge as their go-to guy?

5. Arizona Wildcats
How second year players Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley carry on the momentum they created with their strong finishes last year, will determine much of this Wildcats teams faith.  T.J. McConnell is a big-time pickup to run the show for Sean Miller's squad.  Is Aaron Gordon as good as they say, and will he play the 3 or 4?

6. Florida Gators
A KenPom favorite from last year who lose their top three scorers, this squad should be underrated entering the 2013-14 season.  I expect Patric Young to take a big step forward this year.  Couple him, the well-rounded play of Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yuguete's stifling defense and a strong incoming freshman class and Billy Donovan's crew won't go down without a fight.
Without their top 3 scorers from a season ago, can this offense remain potent?

7. Duke Blue Devils
Duke also loses their top three scorers from a season ago but have standout freshman Jabari Parker to lead the way.  I think the key question is without the shooting of Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly, will Duke's offense be able to be nearly as efficient? Rasheed Sulaimon needs to build on his strong freshman season.

8. Oklahoma State Cowboys
In Marcus Smart I trust.  Smart has gambled on himself before and won, and I expect him to do much of the same this year.  Smart and LeBryan Nash form as formidable a duo as we will see in college hoops next season.  Will the men in Stillwater be able to dethrone their rivals in Lawrence?

9. North Carolina Tar Heels
Assuming PJ Hairston can keep out of trouble, UNC will be explosive next season.  After their late season success switching to a predominantly three, and often four, guard offense, I expect them to do much of the same next year.  I think UNC, Duke and Syracuse will be battling it out all year to determine the champions of the new-look ACC.

UPDATE: Hairston suspended indefinitely, and obviously hurts the Tar Heels.

10. Connecticut Huskies
The Huskies lose no key contributors from a team that went 20-10 and surprised many in Kevin Ollie's first season.  Now that they are NCAA tournament eligible, I expect another big jump from UConn in year 2 of the Ollie regime.  Tough to find a better backcourt in the country than Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.  I am likely higher on this team than most.

11. Syracuse Orange
In recent years, Jim Boeheim's bunch has just reloaded rather than have to rebuild.  Even with the losses of James Southerland, Michael Carter-Williams, and Brandon Triche, expect much of the same from the Orange.  A frontline of CJ Fair, Jerami Grant, DaJuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas, and Baye Keita may be the best in the country.  How will this bunch fare (no pun intended) in a new conference?

12. Ohio State Buckeyes
Without Deshaun Thomas, I think a lot of pundits have this team a little too highly ranked for next season.  Unless Aaron Craft takes a major step forward offensively, Lenzelle Smith and LaQuinton Ross could be asked to shoulder a ridiculous scoring load.  However, I would not bet against Thad Matta, as all that man does is win.

13. Michigan Wolverines
Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary will keep this team competitive and afloat coming off a run to the National Championship game.  I would imagine the media polls will overrate this team at the beginning solely because of that run, but this is still a solid squad nonetheless. Nik Stauskas can flat out put the ball in the basket.

14. Creighton Blue Jays
Having one of the best, if not the best, scorers in the country coming back for their senior campaign cannot hurt.  I expect another monster year from Doug McDermott.  The Team USA Mini-Camp experience showed McDermott can score at any level. Grant Gibbs being granted a sixth year of eligibility makes this as potent a Blue Jays team in quite some time.  The key will be defensively: can this team get stops?

15. Harvard Crimson
Siyani Chambers was somewhat of a revelation last year as the Ivy League Freshman of the Year. He stepped up in a huge way after the losses of Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry.  With those two back in the fold, and Wesley Saunders having taken a huge step as a Sophomore, I expect this to be a monster season for the Crimson.  They have arguably the best Ivy League roster in recent memory.

16. Virginia Commonwealth Rams
Returning four of their top five starters, and motivated after a relatively early exit in the NCAA Tournament, I expect this VCU squad to go far when March rolls around.  Spearheading the havoc on the defensive end will be Briante Weber, and offensively, Treveon Graham, Juvonte Reddic, and Rob Brandenberg all should take next steps in their development.

17. Tennessee Volunteers
Jeronne Maymon returning to form after injury caused him to miss all of last season will be the biggest question this team has to answer.  If he is healthy, the combination of him, Jordan McRae and and Jarnell Stokes should leave the Vols fighting with Florida as the second best team in the SEC.

18. Memphis Tigers
It seems like Memphis has fallen short of expectations basically every year under Josh Pastner, but the results and stats show that is simply not true. Fresh off a 31-5, (16-0) record from a year ago, this squad heads to the AAC looking for similar success. Much of that success will rest on the shoulders of Joe Jackson and Shaq Goodwin.

19. Marquette Golden Eagles
Year in and year out, Buzz Williams' bunch is resilient.  I expect this year to be no different.  Gone to supposed greener pastures is Vander Blue, but someone must step up in Milwaukee.  Will that man be Todd Mayo or Junior Cadougan? Or post player Davante Gardner?

20. Iowa Hawkeyes
Every key player returns from last year's team.  I am a firm believer that teams that do not lose anyone from an underachieving, or not very good team, always enter the following year underrated. I think Iowa is a prime example. The Big Ten won't be as good as it was last year, and these Hawkeyes will be right there ready to make some noise, led by Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble.

21. Oregon Ducks
Is Mike Moser enough to swing the balance of power in the Pac-12 over to these guys in Eugene? Coupled with the continued development of talented freshman Dominic Artis, Willie Moore, and Damyean Dotson, I believe so. And a trend has occurred in recent years regarding the Pac 12: everyone is always so quick to state how overrated and pathetic the conference is, that by the time the tournament comes around the top teams in the conference are somehow underrated. As the case in three of the past four years, with Oregon last year, and Washington in 2010 and 2011.

22. Wisconsin Badgers
Annually, two things usually occur regarding these guys: they are one of the computer's favorite teams/darlings due to their style of play, and the media underrates them at the beginning of year.  Still trying to figure out how or why the ladder occurs, considering this team has never finished worse than fourth in the Big Ten during the Bo Ryan era. Bo Knows Basketball.

23. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Kevin Pangos will need to take that next step and establish himself as a legitimate WCC POY candidate for this Bulldogs team to make a deep run in March.  Not landing either Mike Moser (UNLV) or Josh Davis (Tulane) as potential transfers who were interested in heading to Spokane hurt this team as they lack front court prowess.

24. Indiana Hoosiers
This team loses an awful lot from one of the nation's best teams a year ago.  Can Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey become two of the top players in the Big Ten and lead the charge? Noah Vonleh needs to be able to adapt to the college game quickly if Indiana intends to compete with the forces at the top of this conference.  Lots of questions to be answered in Bloomington.

25. UCLA Bruins
One of the nations most disappointing teams just a season ago, returns Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and the Wear twins.  Finding a position and role for Kyle Anderson will be one of the Bruins main questions heading into the season.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Coaching Strategies

In February I looked at Bucknell's extremely conservative style of play in detail. One of the interesting ideas I took away from the post was Bucknell's contradicting strategies. On offense, they value possessions by taking care of the basketball. On defense, they allow their opponent to freely take care of the basketball by not going for steals. Here is what I wrote back in February:

"If you don't like watching teams turn the ball over, Bucknell games are the ones for you. If you think about this strategy a little deeper, it's a very odd concept. On offense, Paulsen stresses not turning the ball over and not crashing the glass (presumably to focus on getting back on defense). On defense, Paulsen forces his opponents to use the same exact strategy he uses! If Paulsen believes taking care of the ball and getting back on defense is the best way to play basketball, why does he enable his opponent to do exactly that? The answer here is probably that he believes that Bucknell can play Bucknell basketball better than their opponents play Bucknell basketball. Confusing, I know."

There's no one absolutely correct way to coach a basketball team. There's a trade-off involved in every four factor. For example, you can increase your shooting percentage by being more patient and passing up looks to get a better shot. However, this would in turn increase your turnover percentage. The Dave Paulsens and Bo Ryans of the world choose to make their opponent play their brand of basketball. In this post, I tried to quantify the top 10 most "consistent" coaches in the country and the top 10 most "contradicting" coaches in the country (i.e. - Paulsen).

First, I looked at teams in the top 100 in both offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency in the 2013 season. I didn't want talent to be a major factor and the coaches of bad teams aren't a good fit for this analysis. With 61 eligible coaches remaining, I simply subtracted each four factor defensive ranking with the corresponding four factor offensive ranking. By adding together the absolute values of these four differences, I developed a very basic metric to measure coaching consistency. If my explanation is confusing now, the charts below should clear things up visually.

In 2013, Bill Self had the most consistent strategy and Bo Ryan had the most contradicting. It should be noted Bucknell did not qualify, because their offense was not in the top 100.  The tables help visualize the concept. Take a look at Kansas' coloring on offense and defense in the four columns. KU's offensive and defensive ranks are essentially the same. Now look at Wisconsin. Where there is green there is red and where there is red there is green. The list of most consistent coaches is loaded with coaching stars: Bill Self, Tom Izzo, Tom Crean, Mark Few, Brad Stevens, etc. However, it's by no means a bad thing to be on the right. John Beilein nearly won the national championship with a contradicting strategy (first in the country at not fouling, 329th in drawing fouls!) and Bo Ryan has had amazing success with his style of play. If anything, this shows how many different ways there are to win at the college level.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Season Recap

I had a blast researching and writing at Hoop Vision this season. With the 2012-13 season in the rear view mirror, I put together a post of some of the best content from the site this season. I'll be back with new stuff in mid to late May looking at both the NBA Draft and general basketball research. I have several exciting opportunities for next season in the works, so there might be more information on that in the near future. Regardless, Hoop Vision will absolutely be kept alive going forward in some capacity.

In case you missed it the first time around or just want to refresh your memory, here are some of the season highlights at Hoop Vision:

General Basketball Research

Monday, April 8, 2013

Michigan vs. Louisville

With just over an hour left until the final college basketball game of the 2013 season, I give you one last look at Michigan and Louisville. Michigan comes in with the number one ranked offense in the country, Louisville comes in with the number one ranked defense in the country. Obviously the reason Louisville is favored is their "weakness" (offense) is better than Michigan's "weakness" (defense). Weakness is in quotes, because this is relatively speaking. It's difficult for a team to make it this far with a truly big weakness on either offense or defense.

John Gasaway explained how Louisville's offense has been really good in the tournament to date. I took a look at how both teams have done game by game this season on their weaker side of the ball. Tournament games are in blue:

Louisville's offensive performances in their five NCAA tournament games have been some of their best of the year. Michigan struggled some on defense against Kansas and they will need to be great tonight in order to cut down the nets.

Enjoy the show!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Keys for Wichita State

Earlier this week I wrote about what I call opponent "compatibility". I basically wanted to know if there was any evidence for bad matchups beyond simply the general strength of the two teams. Now, I decided to use that same sample to take a look at the Louisville-Wichita St game today. My sample includes every game from the 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 season. It also has 2013 games from up until the first week of March.

I started my analysis by looking at defenses over the five years that force turnovers between 26 and 29 percent of possessions. Louisville is right in the middle of these teams at 27.5%. I identified 508 games where there was a defense with this high of a forced TO%. The following is a histogram of the TO% these defenses forced in the 508 games:

Obviously, 25%-29% is the most likely outcome. Overall, we have a very symmetrical distribution. The next step was to look at the result of game TO% on offensive efficiency. We would expect the lower TO% to be better for the offensive (higher points per possession), but it should be noted that there are correlations between the four factors themselves. In other words, a good TO% is more likely to be good at shooting, rebounding, and getting to the line than a bad TO% team. With that in mind, here's how offenses fared against pressure defenses:

The final step for this post was to look at the best offensive performances against high turnover defenses. Basically a visual look at how teams in Wichita State's position tonight have been successful:

In every single case, the offense shot the ball at a high percentage. There has been a lot of focus on if Wichita State can take care of the ball against the Louisville pressure. However, the recipe for success for teams in the Shockers' position has been to get hot from the floor and keep the TO% on a manageable (low to mid 20s) level. Easier said than done against Louisville.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Do Matchups Matter?

The following is my entry for Stat Geek Idol. The contest is run by Check out some of the entries from last year's competition here.


There are 347 teams in Division I college basketball. The nature of the sport allows for all different kinds of styles of play. Every team has varying player personnel and coaching philosophy. College basketball analysts are given the tough task of forecasting the end result of games featuring contradicting styles. It seems undeniable that, in some cases, certain teams can be bad matchups for other teams. Still, quite frequently analysts just say what sounds good. To illustrate this point, let’s look at a first round matchup from this year’s NCAA tournament:

The four factors (shooting, rebounding, taking care of the ball, and drawing fouls) are a very good way to assess style of play. The Minnesota-UCLA matchup featured the best offensive rebounding team in the country (Minnesota) and the 263rd defensive rebounding team in the country (UCLA). A smart analyst would point this compatible Minnesota strength and UCLA weakness out, but what does it really mean for the expected outcome of a game? On one hand, Minnesota should kill UCLA on the offensive boards, possibly creating a huge advantage for Minnesota. On the other hand, Minnesota kills just about everyone on the offensive boards. UCLA wouldn't be able to stop the lethal Minnesota rebounding attack regardless, so maybe this is a waste of an opponent weakness for Minnesota.

Essentially, the question I am asking here is simply: If you are really good at one of the four factors, would you rather play a team that is normally good at defending that factor (strength on strength) or really bad at defending that factor (strength on weakness)? At first thought, strength on weakness feels like the right choice. The goal of the following analysis is to try to answer this question.

Part 1: The effects of opponent on each four factor

To begin this study, I compiled a sample size of every single Division I college basketball game from 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. Games from 2013 (up until around the first week of March) were also included. I wound up with exactly 26,000 games to draw conclusions from.

In order to look at what happens when a {good/bad} offensive {eFG/TO/OR/FTR} team played a {good/bad} defensive {eFG/TO/OR/FTR} team, I had to define what exactly good or bad means. I decided that any team in the 90th percentile or better of a given four factor was “good” at that skill and any team in the 10th percentile or worse of a given four factor was “bad” at that skill.

NOTE: Good/bad is just the opposite for defense (i.e. - you want your opponent’s eFG% to be low)

The next step was to use these definitions of good and bad to find instances of strengths meeting strengths, weaknesses meeting weaknesses, and so on in the 26,000 game sample. First, let’s take a look at what happens when a good shooting team plays a good defensive shooting team:

The above table shows that there were 409 games where a good offensive eFG% team played a good defensive eFG% team. The offense averaged an eFG% of 54.5% on the season. However, when they played a good eFG% defense, that number decreased to 49.8%.

I did this same analysis for all types of matchups and all the four factors. The results are below:

There is a lot going on here, but the two biggest takeaways are:

1. Bad vs. bad brings out more good than good vs. good brings out bad. Basically, when two bad teams at one factor play each other, the offense improves a lot. When two good teams at one factor play each other, the offense does not diminish quite as much.

2. The defense controls FTR the most and eFG% the least. If you look at the percent change column, an offenses ability to get to the foul line changed a lot depending on the defense. On the other hand, an offenses ability to make shots did not change nearly as much. This is consistent with past research on similar topics.

Part 2: The effects of style on efficiency

Part 1 showed exactly what happens to the individual four factor based on opponent, but that is only so helpful in determining if there is evidence for good/bad matchups. The more important thing to look at is the effects of style on points per possession. Let’s go back to UCLA-Minnesota. Say UCLA decided that they needed to make an extra effort to keep Minnesota off the offensive glass. This decision might come at the risk of a different four factor. Maybe UCLA focusing on defensive rebounding diminishes their ability to create turnovers. This idea wouldn’t show up in the part 1 results, but it would show up in points per possession.

To look at the effects of efficiency, I first calculated an expected points per possession using simply the ORtg (adjusted for schedule) of the offense and the DRtg (adjusted for schedule) of the defense. This expected PPP was made without looking at matchups or style of play at all. Then, the expected PPP could be compared to the actual PPP. If the two numbers significantly differ, that means that mismatches in four factors can give us more information on which team will most likely win the game.

As you can see, matchups had virtually no effect on the actual points per possession of the game. I was able to predict PPP by simply using the offensive and defensive averages extremely effectively. Here are the final key takeaways from the tables above.

1. Four factor matchups don’t increase prediction accuracy. If we once again go back to Minnesota-UCLA, this means that we shouldn’t have looked too far into the offensive rebounding advantage. Simply looking at which team is better efficiency wise is adequate.

2. FTRate had very little effect on the points per possession of an offense. If you look at the Actual PPP column, there is not much change in general. This particular study indicates the eFG% is the most important four factor, followed by OR%, TO%, and finally FTR.


It would be foolish to say that specific matchups have no effect on the outcome of a basketball game. It doesn't mean that matchups can’t possibly matter just because this study shows no evidence for it. However, the study does indicate that it may not be wise to focus too much on the compatibility of the strengths and weaknesses of opponents. Trying to breakdown strength and weaknesses may be a futile activity. Simply put, the best way to predict the winner of a game appears to be just picking the better of the two teams.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Highs and Lows of LaQuinton Ross' Weekend

LaQuinton Ross sent Ohio State to the Elite Eight with a three pointer against Arizona. Just type his name into Google and you can pick from tons of articles that tell you that. However, Ross was involved in an equally as crucial three pointer that played a tremendous role in sending Wichita State to the Final Four. Ross' shot may have gotten the attention of the media, but his defense went virtually unnoticed (to my knowledge).

With 2:30 left in the game, Ohio State had nearly completed their comeback. Wichita State was up three and had the ball. Ohio State was really one stop away from getting in great position to win the game. Wichita State broke the pressure and with 17 seconds left on the shot clock had the ball pulled out:

In the photo above, you can see the start to Wichita State's high pick and roll. Ross is circled and at this point is in reasonable guarding position on Tekele Cotton considering the context of the play.

Continuing on with the play, off of the pick and roll Ross does the right thing by sinking into the lane. It looks like he had the defensive assignment of showing on the roll man. His job is to be in a position where he can make the pass to the roller difficult while also being able to close out on his actual man. At this point in the play (above), Ross is in position to do just that.

The pick and roll ultimately proves unsuccessful for Wichita State. Ohio State switched the screen and Deshaun Thomas winds up guarding Fred Van Vleet (the ball handler). It appears that Wichita State is content with simply spreading the floor and letting Van Vleet create as the shot clock winds down. However, before Van Vleet looks to make his move, this happens:

Maybe somebody reading this can shed light on what exactly Ross is doing in the GIF above. The pick and roll is over, so he should be closer to the passing lane between Van Vleet and Cotton. He points at a screen occurring behind him and then right after points at his man (Cotton). I think he just got mentally lost on the floor and pointed at Cotton only to realize at the last second that was his man.

The point here is not that Ross is a bad defender. Obviously this one play does not define Ross as a defender or as a player in general. The real point is the focus on offense over defense. In my opinion, Ross' defensive blunder was just as important as his offensive heroics. However, the two plays were not treated close to equally in the analysis of Ohio State's weekend performance.

A Few Parting Thoughts on FGCU

Florida Gulf Coast University captivated the nation en route to being the first ever 15 seed to go to the Sweet 16.  A conversation I had a while back with Iona College assistant coach Zak Boisvert, piqued my interest in wanting to look into the numbers about tempo and its effect on win percentage.  In other words, if the game tempo is closer to your pace than your opponents do you have a better chance to win?  I thought Florida Gulf Coast would be a great case study.

In games where the tempo was played closer to Florida Gulf Coast's style than their opponents, they went 9-1 on the year.  In games where the pace was closer to their opponents than their own, they went 8-4.  When the opponent had a pace very similar to FGCU, they went 7-6.  As the chart indicates FGCU sped teams up to a faster pace than they averaged in both wins and losses.  This shows no evidence for the basketball cliche that controlling tempo wins games.

I was just perusing through their numbers, and also found their turnover discrepancy interesting.  It likely is this way for most teams, but FGCU had an 19.0 turnover percentage in wins, and a 25.2 turnover percentage in losses.  They went 1-5 this year in games where they had a turnover percentage of 25 or higher.

Regardless, it was an awesome run and one that I will most definitely be telling my kids about.  With three 15 seeds winning first round games the past two years and one getting to the Sweet 16, maybe next year is the year we see a 16 seed beat a 1 seed.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Davante Gardner: Zone Buster

Syracuse's 2-3 zone last night looked invincible versus the number one offense in the country. Indiana had scored more points per possession than their opponents (on average) give up in every game this season until Temple and Syracuse. Syracuse's defensive dominance had people wondering why a team would play anything other than zone. I went back and looked at Syracuse's defensive performances throughout the season. Sure enough, their worst of the year (allowing 1.21 points per possession) came to none other than Marquette.

It seems like a no-brainer to zone Marquette. Buzz Williams' squad is having one of the best offensive seasons ever for a team that shoots the three ball so poorly. Marquette ranks 19th in offensive efficiency in the nation despite shooting just 30.5% from three on the season. In theory, a 2-3 zone forces an offense to make deep shots. Marquette doesn't have the personnel to consistently knock down threes, but they do have Davante Gardner. Gardner is one of the most unique big men in the country. He is listed at 290 pounds, shoots 84.4% from the foul line, and can euro step. He also just happened to have his best performance of the season against the Orange in February.

Gardner went a perfect 7-7 from the field and went 12-13 from the foul line against Cuse the first time around. He also had just one turnover and four offensive rebounds. Gardner is a zone killer in the paint. His big body and nice touch disrupt what the Orange try to do defensively. First, let's look at the most obvious impact Gardner has against the zone: Occupying space.

In the photo above Gardner seals his man and clears out the lane. The result of this play was actually a basket for Jamil Wilson (the other guy posting up down low). Gardner constantly makes contact with the zone, clearing space in the process for others to work.

The following is a look at the three ways Davante Gardner is a zone buster:

1. Inside Finishing

If you want to know about Syracuse's shot blocking abilities, just ask Cody Zeller. Last night nothing came easy for Zeller and Indiana. However, Gardner is effective in a much different manner. He doesn't rely on athleticism as much as strength and a great touch. When Gardner got the ball down low against the zone, he used his body to prevent being blocked and to get to the foul line.

2. Offensive Rebounding

The zone is notoriously susceptible to second chance opportunities. Gardner is 89th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage. In the first meeting, he got four offensive rebounds from his positioning and strength. Maybe the most important aspect of his offensive rebounds is the ensuing put back. Gardner was able to clear space and get easy baskets down low off Marquette misses.

3. Foul Line Jumper

In the high post, Gardner forces Syracuse to respect his foul line jump shot. I found four plays where Gardner's ability to either force the zone extend or knock down a jump shot led to Marquette points. The first play the zone extends and Gardner hits the open man down low. The second play Gardner starts at the high post and cuts down the lane during a baseline drive for an easy lay-up. Finally, the last two plays Syracuse doesn't get out far enough and Gardner hits both a floater and a jumper.

Marquette doesn't need a great three point shooting performance to advance to the Final Four. In the first meeting, Marquette shot just 5-21 from three and yet still posted the best points per possession total of any Syracuse opponent this season. Gardner is the straw the stirs the drink against the zone for the Golden Eagles.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Indiana's Weakness

If you were to force me to pick a team I think is going to win it all, I would likely take Indiana. On the Sweet 16 efficiency graph, the Hoosiers have the best offense of anyone and an average defense (relative to the other 15 teams). C.J. Moore pointed out recently that the Hoosiers' weakness is playing at a slow pace. Moore noted that Indiana's record is bad in games with 64 possessions or less.

I am naturally pretty skeptical of change in pace being a big factor in a team's success. Ty Lawson's UNC team from a while back is the prime example. They played at a tremendous pace, but were equally as deadly in the half court (contrary to popular opinion). Great teams tend to be great, pretty much regardless of pace. To examine Indiana, I wanted to go beyond simply looking at their record by pace. Instead, I looked at the effect of pace on offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. I wanted to make sure to account for strength of schedule. To do this I calculated AdjO and AdjD for each game as:

AdjO = (Indiana's Game Points Per 100 Possessions) - (Opponent's Average AdjD)
AdjD = (Opponent's Average AdjO) - (Indiana Opponent's Game Points Per 100 Possessions)
Note: Higher numbers are a good thing for Indiana for BOTH AdjO and AdjD

The highlighted portion of the table shows the culprit of Indiana's struggles. In games with under 65 possessions, the Hoosiers are fine offensively but have been much worse defensively. This is probably an unexpected finding, but I think there are some reasonable explanations. First, I didn't think for a second that Indiana would be a worse offensive team in slow paced games. The Hoosiers have the number one offense in the country. The number one offense in the country isn't likely to have any big weakness. Regardless of the pace of game, Indiana can score the basketball. Still, the question remains: why does Indiana's defense struggle in slow paced games? 

The convenient answer is to blame it on Jordan Hulls. He has been perceived as Indiana's defensive weakness for most of the season. This very well might be a part of it. In the half court, opponents may be able to expose Hulls as an on ball defender. Maybe a better reason is Indiana's defensive style. The Hoosiers  don't let their opponents get good looks and don't foul. They are 18th in the country in opponent eFG% and 14th in the country in opponent FTRate. However, they are very average when it comes to rebounding (152 in DR%) and turning teams over (120 in TO%). I suspect that these defensive shortcomings are more exposed in a grind it out, slow paced game.

The following shows the effects of pace on Indiana in graphical form: 

As you can see, Indiana's round of 32 game was an exception to their season performance. Indiana was very good defensively on Sunday, but scored fewer points per possession than their opponent's defensive average for the first time all season. The thing that might stand out most to me from these graphs is Indiana's defense against faster paced teams. In games over 70 possessions, Indiana's defense has been great. Like I said before, IU's offense is great regardless of pace. So in uptempo games, it's going to be very difficult to beat the Hoosiers.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Visualizing the Sweet 16

The following is a visualization of the teams and top players remaining in the Sweet 16. All statistics are full season averages (the last two games included):

1. Adjusted efficiency of remaining teams per

2. Adjusted tempo of remaining teams per

3. The offensive and defensive four factors of all 16 teams. These are NOT schedule adjusted. (Click to enlarge)

4. The top players remaining by efficiency and by usage/volume. Note: numbers are not adjusted for schedule

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Shabazz's Rebounding

Shabazz Muhammad's season ended on Friday at the hands of Minnesota. The Bruins had two big things working against them: the injury to Jordan Adams and the task of keeping Minnesota off the boards. The Golden Gophers are first in the country in offensive rebound percentage, grabbing 44% of their missed shots. On the other hand, UCLA has struggled all season long with rebounding. They rank 206th in the country in offensive rebounding and 264th in the country in defensive rebounding. At 6'6", Shabazz's personal OReb% was a solid 9.9%, but his DReb% was an awful 8.5%. To put that into perspective, Gonzaga's 5'11" David Stockton's was higher this season (9.2%).

Trying to keep Minnesota off the offensive glass had to have been a main priority for Ben Howland on Friday. The Bruins as a whole actually did a pretty good job of this. Minnesota had 10 offensive rebounds (32.4% OReb%, well below their season average). Still, if you look at the box score you will see that Shabazz had ZERO defensive rebounds in 39 minutes. That's actually pretty hard to do, you would think a ball is going to fall in your lap at some point in the game. 

How does an athletic 6'6" forward not get a single defensive rebound in 39 minutes? Well to answer that question I decided to go back and look at the film. Of Minnesota's 10 offensive rebounds, Shabazz was on the court for nine of them. The photos below highlight where Shabazz was on the court when Minnesota got their nine rebounds.

1. In good position but flat footed, spectating

For Shabazz's sake, I was hoping the reason for his lack of rebounding was to leak out in transition. Although this might not be an optimal strategy, it would mean there is at least an advantage to his lack of rebounding. Otherwise, Shabazz is simply very bad at the skills involved in rebounding or not hustling (or both). This first attempt shows a flat footed Shabazz under the hoop. In his defense, he has three UCLA teammates in the paint with him.

2. Boxing out

The problem with this analysis is we can't be sure of Howland's gameplan. Basketball purists are quick to teach the box out, but the fact is that's much easier said than done against Minnesota. Still, I think it's safe to say that Shabazz did a pretty good job on this possession

3. Late getting back in transition

Here Minnesota got an easy put back in transition off of Shabazz's miss on the other end. He was very late getting back, but we're not too concerned about this one in terms of rebounding ability.

4. Sort of boxing out the shooter

Shabazz was guarding the initial shooter on this one. He didn't box out immediately, but at least tried to recover after he realized the ball wasn't going in.

5. Flat footed, spectating

The ball doesn't go to Shabazz's side, but he is still pretty much just standing and watching the play unfold. This is an example of the worst scenario for Shabazz. There are obviously very few times in a basketball game where standing and watching isn't a bad thing.

6. Elevating for the rebound 

Shabazz gets his hand on this ball, but was not able to come up with it. The ball got batted out for a long rebound. By getting his hand on the ball, he may have prevented  an easy layup for Minnesota (even though they were still able to maintain possession).

7. Flat footed, spectating

Another negative play for Shabazz. He's not boxing out or going after the ball. He's not even leaking out, he's just standing and watching.

8. In good position but flat footed, spectating

More of the same here.

9. A bit more of pursuit

Shabazz took steps towards the basket to potentially grab a rebound, but the ball bounced off the rim hard. You can see in the photo he is changing his momentum to either try to continue to pursue the ball or possibly to leak out.

Obviously, this analysis is only nine plays from one game and is by no means definitive. I'll let the film speak for itself and not over generalize, but Shabazz's rebounding (and motor) might be a long term concern for his NBA career. Statistically, his rebounding numbers are somewhat similar to DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan was a pretty good offensive rebounder and a not so good defensive rebounder, but not quite as bad as Shabazz.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

High Usage, Go-To Guys Against Syracuse

As a diehard Syracuse fan, I have always wondered how opponents' go-to players perform against the Orange relative to other games and teams.  Does the vaunted 2-3 zone really make a difference in that respect?  With the help of, I set out to examine whether a significant difference exists between go-to players' performance against Syracuse compared to their seasonal averages. (Go-to consists of a greater than 28% usage rate on the season).

Teams that have a go-to guy are 4-12 and teams without are 5-14 against Syracuse this season.  There is hardly any difference in the records of how teams perform with or without a go-to guy, however there is a difference in how those players perform compared to their season averages.  

As the above chart indicates, only 5 of the 15 players had an offensive rating above their season average.  The average offensive rating of the 15 go-to guys against Syracuse was 95, their season average is 105.5.  I believe this 10.5% difference to be significant and representative of these players struggling against the zone applied by the men in Orange.


Shooting percentages, points, rebounds and assists decreased - Go-to players simply were not as effective against the zone as they were against other teams.  Some factors could include Syracuse's length, physicality, or the heightened competition.  Only 8 of the 16 games against go-to players were either Big East teams, or NCAA tournament teams.

Turnovers increased - Whether it was a result of playing a top 15 team in Syracuse, or the zone itself, the high usage guys were more careless with the ball. That extra possession could be the difference between a win or a loss.

Minutes decreased and fouls increased - I am curious as to whether it is in the Orange's game plan to attack the opponents' go-to guy.  From a common sense standpoint, this makes perfect sense.  Get their best player out of the game, and you don't have to worry about him beating you.

What To Do:

If I were creating a game plan against the Orange, I think you need to get your go-to guy involved early.  Being too reliant on the 3 ball is a risky strategy, as this game displays where the 2003 Oklahoma Sooners shot a less than stellar 5-28 from 3 point range in their Elite 8 game.  However, to beat the Orange, I think you need to establish the high post, whether it is your go-to guy or someone who can pass and hit the open midrange shot.  A scorer and distributor in the high post surrounded by 3 shooters on the perimeter and an athletic big on the baseline could be a recipe for success against Syracuse.

For what this means looking at Syracuse moving forward, the only teams with high usage, go-to players in the East region are Bucknell, Davidson, Illinois and Temple.  As a Syracuse fan, I'd be thrilled if they play any of these teams as that means they have made the Sweet 16 and avoid Indiana (Temple), or made the Elite 8 and avoid the higher seeds (Bucknell, Davidson, Illinois).

Final Four Values

The running narrative for the NCAA this season has been all about the parity at the top. Yet here we are in mid March and despite "the field being wide open", everyone is taking Louisville. Now I'm not saying this is a bad idea. Louisville may end up cutting down the nets in Atlanta. However, by picking Louisville you are forcing yourself to have a "near" perfect bracket in order to win your pool. In a standard scoring system, you generally have to get the national champion right to win it all (with an example of an exception being if Butler had won). If you are one of the few people in your pool to take a unique team to win it all, you don't have to be all that great with your earlier picks. With Louisville, however, you're going to have to somehow pick up points on other people with Louisville.

On ESPN, you can currently look at the percentage of people in the country taking any team to reach any round. I thought it would be interesting to compare the average person's picks to Ken Pomeroy's log 5 projections. This will help determining the "value" of final four picks. If a team's value is especially high, it might be worth it to take the gamble in order to attempt to position yourself better among other Louisville brackets. Obviously the log 5 projections aren't perfect. Thus, I decided to include the Vegas odds that each team reaches the final four in the table too. The Vegas odds weren't actually used in finding value teams, but they can either reinforce (or not) the log 5 rankings.

The DIFF column on the right is simply (log 5 final four%) - (ESPN final four%). The thing that jumps out is the "Florida Effect". Not only does Florida shatter the top spot for best value, but they also turn Georgetown and Kansas into bad values. There's a whole bunch of uncertainty surrounding the Gators, but if you trust log 5 (and Vegas) they are nearly a must in your bracket. Miami and Ohio State are the other two that stand out. The conference tournaments have a ridiculous amount of pull on ESPN brackets, or so it seems. Ohio State, Miami, Kansas, and Louisville are all in the top five most picked final four teams (with Indiana) and are coming off conference tournament championships. Syracuse has struggled, but they seem like a much better alternative to Indiana in the East than Miami. Finally, if you decide to go with Pitt in your final four, log 5 says you have an 11.7% chance of taking a commanding lead in your pool.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Finding an Upset: Three Pointers

Every year in the NCAA tournament, inferior team beat superior teams. Norfolk State was not a better team than Missouri, they just scored more points over a 40 minute period. The cause behind these upsets is variability. It's no shocking revelation that three point shots increase variability. The three point shot has long been known as a great equalizer.

Underdogs need to increase variability by taking riskier strategies (i.e. shooting three pointers). If each team plays at their average, the favorite will win. Threes do NOT ensure an underdog will play better, but if you're going to go out you might as well go out swinging.

To determine which tournament matchups should have the most variability from a three point shooting perspective, I looked at the percentage of three point attempts taken and allowed for both teams (the favorite and the underdog). 3PA% is different from 3P%. I am not concerned with how often a team makes threes. In one single game that number will be difficult to predict. 3PA%, on the other hand, identifies just how often threes are attempted.

Key Takeaways

New Mexico and Florida each rely the most heavily on threes of all the favorites. However, they were fortunate enough to draw opponents that don't rely on them. Florida got one of the most unique teams in the country in Northwestern State. Which leads me to my next point...

Northwestern State is an interesting basketball team. Not only do they play at the fastest pace of any team in the country, but they also don't rely on the three at all. They don't take many and they don't let their opponents take many either.

Miami and Georgetown may be the "best" bets at becoming this year's Duke and Missouri. That would make Pacific and Florida Gulf Coast this year's Norfolk St. and Lehigh. I put best in quotes, because obviously all the games we are dealing with in this analysis are long shots. However, the numbers say that Miami and Georgetown are still relatively more likely to have an off night than others top teams.

Valpo and Davidson may want to consider changing up their defenses. Marquette and Michigan State rarely take threes on the offensive end. Coincidentally, Valpo and Davidson rarely allow threes on the defensive end. However, both Marquette and MSU shoot over 50% from two. If the two underdogs want a better shot at reaching the round of 32, changing their normally great defensive strategy might be a good idea.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Selection Committee's Tendencies

Tomorrow is selection Sunday, the day bracketology ceases to matter. Personally, I have never really been into dissecting resumes for the bubble teams. Still, I decided to take a look at some of the committee's tendencies between 2006-2012. I think this information is probably more interesting than insightful, as the committee's decisions have a human element to them that are constantly changing.

First, I went to to determine the bubble teams from the past seven years. Bracket Matrix compiles the bracketology of all sites on the internet into one. I decided that if a team was picked in the field on more than 5% of all brackets but less than 95% of all brackets, then they were a bubble team. There were a few exceptions to the rule, but I think it was good enough. 72 teams fit this criteria over the seven years of data.

The first thing I wanted to do was look at the committee's reliance on RPI. I took the average RPI of bubble teams that received bids and the average RPI of bubble teams that did NOT receive bids for each year:

The graph shows that in recent years, the difference in the RPIs of the teams in and out have been very significant. This is a tricky graph to interpret and I don't necessarily think the committee has become more reliant on RPI (as the graph seems to indicate). In 2006 and 2007, teams from conferences like the Missouri Valley had figured out the RPI formula. They were scheduling games to maximize their RPI and naturally not all of them could get in. Still, the graph is a bit concerning for proponents of a reality based selection process.

Next I wanted to look at the biggest surprises according to bracketologists. Basically, which teams have bracketologist been the most wrong on throughout the year?

2006 appears to be the worst year in bracketology history. Only one of 23 people had Air Force and Utah State in the field and yet both got in. In recent years many sites are now doing bracketology, and I believe there has been an increase in both quantity and quality. I wasn't surprised to see a Seth Greenberg Virginia Tech team in the biggest snubs. 87 of 89 bracketologists had the Hokies in the tournament in 2011 despite an RPI of 62.

Next, let's look at the biggest surprises based on RPI:

Notice the conference RPIs for these teams. The snubs were almost all in weaker conferences than the most surprising bids. USC was the worst team according to RPI to get a bid in 2011. All of the RPI snubs are from 2006-2008. This makes sense based on the results of the first graph.

I can't wait for the bubble discussion to end and the actual NCAA tournament analysis to begin. However, I haven't seen much research done on the recent history of the selection committee and thought this could shed some light on that.