Monday, September 24, 2007

Pace Notes: Is There a Comfort Zone?

I came across the notion of a comfort zone while reading pace threads over at the APBRmetrics Board a few years ago. The idea is very commonsensical -- a team will play better at a pace (number of possessions) which matches its rhythm of play. A team will get into a flow for example, that will complement the style of play of the coach and players. Remembering the Rollie Massamino teams of the 1970s through early 1990s, the idea seemed plausible. Game announcers were fond of quoting a won-loss stat for Villanova teams when opponents were held to less than 70 points in the game. The stat was pretty impressive, a winning percentage in the .700s as I recall. And it made sense. The pace would allow the team to operate at optimum efficiency while the opponent may well feel uncomfortable playing at a more deliberate pace. I decided to start by looking at all the Big East teams, and calculating a "zone" that would be within 5% + and -, of each team's raw pace. I used Ken Pomeroy's Efficiency Stats Page to determine each team's raw pace. I then gathered the pace of each game each team played from his "Game Plan Page" for each team. A link to each team's Game Plan Page is given in the Overall Record table below:

Overall Record
West Virginia362790.75063.1
Notre Dame322480.75070.1
St. John's3116150.51664.2
Seton Hall2913160.44870.0
South Florida3012180.40065.8

The table is sorted by winning percentage. Teams which played 50% or more of their games within 5% (+ or -) of their raw pace are highlighted with lime green. It turned out to be about ½ of the conference (8 teams). The average raw pace for all D1 teams was about 66.9, so the fact that Louisville, Villanova, South Florida and Connecticut all had raw paces within 5% of the average may explain why they played 50% or more of their schedule within their comfort zone...but that begs the question of why Marquette, with a pace of 67.3 (the closest of all Big East teams to that D1 average), played only 41.2% of their schedule within that 5% zone. The table confirms there is no trend between a team's ability to "hold it's pace" and win its games. The table below marks the boundaries of each team's 5% zone, the number of games played within the zone, the percentage of that team's schedule and each teams won-loss record (with winning percentage) for games in that 5% zone

Comfort Zone
Range# of SchedRecord
South Florida65.869.162.5150.500870.533
Seton Hall70.073.566.5140.483860.571
West Virginia63.166.259.9160.4441150.688
Notre Dame70.173.666.6140.4381040.714
St. John's64.267.461.0100.323640.600

The winning percentages for Providence and Pittsburgh were virtually the same within the 5% zone as they were overall. Those teams highlighted in burnt orange (Georgetown, Villanova, West Virginia and Notre Dame) had 5% zone winning percentages less than their overall winning percentages. For those teams the comfort zone was not, apparently, very comfortable. For Georgetown, the team with the largest percentage difference, this would have translated into a -3 margin in wins. Those teams (Connecticut, Syracuse and St. John's) whose 5% zone winning percentage was greater than their overall winning percentage are highlighted in yellow. Those teams whose difference exceeded .100 percentage points (a 10% or greater margin), are highlighted in aqua. This > 10% group is the largest subset in the conference, including not only teams with winning overall percentages, but teams like Cincinnati, Seton Hall and South Florida, whose winning percentages were less than 0.500. The team who seemed "most comfortable" in their zones (as measured by the difference between their 5% zone winning percentage and their overall winning percentage) were Louisville (+17.4%), Marquette (+15.1%) and South Florida (+13.3%). For Louisville and South Florida, teams who played ½ their schedule within the 5% zone, the effect is pretty clear. That 10 of 16 schools had a higher winning percentage of games within their 5% zone suggests there may be some value to the notion.

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