Wednesday, July 15, 2009

WUG 2009 -- Looking at the Efficiencies

Offensive & Defensive Differentials
John Gasaway subtracted each team's defensive efficiency (points per possession given up) from their offfensive efficiency (points per possession scored) as a measure of relative team strength. In conference play, where round robin (or nearly round robin) play is common, the measure can be extremely useful, but when applied to international tournaments the measure can be problematic. For the World University Games the men's field contained teams from 24 countries. The organizers divided the field into 8 pools of 3 - 4 teams each and used a 2 or 3 game preliminary round to (very roughly) separate the top half of the field from the bottom half. The teams from round one then "repooled", winners with winners, losers with losers, to sort out the top and bottom quarters for the "final placing" round(s). Ranking the teams by their offensive/defensive differential does follow the eventual placement (last column in the table)...sort of.

SquadWLPct.Eff DiffPlace
United States610.8570.293
Russian Fed620.7500.052
So Africa060.000-0.4125
UA Emirates150.167-0.5524

Not surprising, each team's efficiency differential correlates more closely with their winning percentage than it does their final ranking in the tournament. But that is the nature of FIBA tournaments.

If Only...
The vagaries of international tournaments can produce interesting, if not especially accurate, results. The initial pool assignment appears almost random. The second "preliminary" round pitted Serbia and the USA, projected even before the tournament began as the two strongest teams in the field, in their 4th game, even before the medal round(s). With the medal rounds the tournament becomes more like a single elimination tournament (think NIT/NCAA here), though the teams do "play out" for places 3 - 8. The USA and Serbia would have met for the 2nd time in the tournament (and the third time in less than 2 weeks) had the Americans weathered the Russian's 4th quarter push in their semi-final tilt. Like the NCAAs, their fortunes turned on a single point (and considering the USA's 4 point win over the Russians the week before, a good set of adjustments on the part of the Russians). The largely uncompetitive final medal round games (USA blowout of the Isrealis and Serbia's blowout of the Russians) confirm what the efficiency differentials suggest -- there was a separation between the teams at the top of the field (Serbia, USA, Lithuania) and those in the next group.

Notes & Observations
1. Mexico is an outlier in the placement. The Mexicans started the tournament badly, dropping 2 decisions in their 1st preliminary round. The saving grace was their blowout (113-54) of the United Arab Emarites. Placed in one of the "losers" pools for the 2nd preliminary round, the Mexicans managed 2 successive wins, including a 2nd blowout game (versus Korea, 118-87), to close out their play. Two of their 3 losses were by 5 points or less.
2. Finland also stands out as an outlier. The Finns were pooled with the USA (and Korea) for the 1st preliminary round. Hammered by the USA, Finland was able to return the favor with Korea (a team that finished, appropriately it appears, 22nd with a differential of -0.15). Repooled with the USA, Serbia and Greece for the 2nd preliminary round, they dropped a tough 8 point game to the Serbs, but recouped narrowly against the Greeks (70-66), they then scraped by in their semi-final game (classification for 9-12 place) to the Ukrainians 67-62, only to get blow out by the Canadians in their classification final, 88-63. Finland may have finished the tournament with an even record (3-3), but they found themselves on the wrong end of 2 of the 3 blow out games they played.

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