Saturday, January 30, 2010

Big East Efficiencies -- Husky Offensive Rebounding?

A Quick Look at the Big East Composite...
I have been tracking several conferences this season, scraping Ken Pomeroy's web site on a regular basis (thank you Ken you provide a wonderful resource for D1 ball...) for his possession-based, game-by-game, results. While Pomeroy keeps track of the conference teams in a very nicely organized conference page, that page does not tell me much about how any team is doing in conference -- the stats are overall -- all regular season games included. I understand the argument against looking only at (for example) conference games -- the sample is too small, the schedule is unbalanced, the timeframe is too restricted, etc. etc. etc. -- all of which are valid points. There are, however a few good points to be made for looking only at conference games at this point, but I will try not to arrive at any grand conclusions...

RecordPoints Per Poss.
West Virginia520.7141.1310.9650.166
Notre Dame440.5001.1141.146-0.032
Seton Hall350.3751.0351.083-0.048
St. John's260.2500.9180.994-0.076
South Florida350.3751.0231.124-0.101
Conf. Avg.1.0501.0490.001
Conf. Std.0.0850.0660.124

First stop is the won-loss record & Points Per Possession (ppp), ordered by each team's offensive and defensive ppp differentials. The differential is the remainder when I subtract a team's offensive efficiency (points per possession scored on offense) from their defensive efficiency (points per possession yielded by the defense). The mean for conference games is about 1.05 (rounding yields a slight difference in offense and defense, as it does for many of the four factors stats in the tables below) points per possession, the mean for D1 is about 1.00.For the most part things appear to be ordered, more or less, as they should (that is, by winning percentage). Winning teams cluster at the top of the table, while teams with losing records cluster at the bottom. Note how the conference clusters into (very roughly) six tiers. With just under 44% of the conference games played, things will change over the next three weeks.
Top Tier (green highlight) -- Villanova, West Virginia and Syracuse -- no surprises here, these three have been the talk of the conference since early December, if not the preseason. Everything seems to be on track, note how their differentials are well ahead of the rest of the conference; there is some separation between Syracuse (ranked #3 here) and Louisville (ranked #4). What was working for these three in the out of conference part of the season continues to work for them in the front end of their conference schedules.
Near Elite (yellow highlight) -- Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette and Pittsburgh are clustered at the next level. Three of the four, the Ville, Pitt and Marquette, have had to integrate many new faces (and styles?) this season. Louisville's offense did not appear to miss a beat, but the defense is lagging. As they considered the loss of Williams and Clark, how many Cardinal fans thought defense would be the problem this season? These squads have flaws, Marquette and Georgetown have shallow rotations and limited scoring and possession options. Louisville seems to be searching for a floor leader, someone the staff can trust. Pitt is a solid program, but like Louisville, has players who were complements to their stars and leaders last season. Growing into new roles (for Pitt, that means a a young front court) will take even more time. Someone among these four will nail down the #4 seed for the Garden Party in March. Louisville may be rounding into form like earlier Coach Pitino squads (albeit a bit more slowly, see Saturday's 77-74 loss at WVU), and along with Pittsburgh which has seen the harder part of their schedule already, might be favorites for me. Marquette is swimming against a heavy current, though their win at Connecticut helps. Lacking depth, especially in the front court has to be a problem for the Golden Eagles going forward. The unexpected road loss to DePaul was ugly.
Fence Sitters (orange highlight) -- Connecticut and Cincinnati are surprises, unpleasant ones to be sure. Both were picked to finish higher than the middle spots in the conference, but both have shown problems (see the next two tables). At this point in the season fans have to wonder if the Huskies and Bearcats are coming or going. For Cincinnati, learning to win road games against lesser (conference) opponents is important, not only for conference seed, but for the Selection Committee as well.
Hanging On (blue highlight) -- Providence, Notre Dame and Seton Hall. all entered the season with hopes and fears. Right now the fears appear to be in control. Of the three teams, only Providence lost significant offensive and defensive presence with graduation/eligibility, the others looked for and found (maybe...) missing pieces to a winning season.
Any Other Conference... (violet highlight) -- St. John's and South Florida have to wonder what it takes to win in the Big East. Note the Bulls' offensive efficiency is comparable to Seton Hall's and better than Connecticut's, but a porous defense has sabotaged an upward move. And for the Johnnies, long known for stingy defense, the offensive bugs continue. Compare St. John's defensive efficiency to Georgetown's and Cincinnati's; even an average offense would translate into two, possibly three more wins. Maybe Dwight Hardy should start and be given a Jeremy Hazell-type green light.
Waiting for Godot or the end of the season, which ever comes first (red highlight) -- DePaul and Rutgers have lost contact with the rest of the conference. The efficiency differentials confirm what the won-loss records suggest. DePaul has already "started" on next season, as interim coach Tracy Webster is no doubt looking at the roster and who is playing hard at this point. Hill's buyout is 1.8 million dollars. In the face of a recession that is certainly hitting the Garden State pretty hard, the question is which is more painful, eating a 7 figure contract (and then negotiating another one with his replacment), or sit by and watch the program dissolve as buyout clause matures to something more palatable?

The Four Factors -- Offense and Defense
When I compiled Oliver's four factors for the conference teams (conference games only), I found more than a few surprises waiting in the data...

Offensive Factors
West Virginia63.149.816.141.727.9
Notre Dame66.850.313.832.140.9
Seton Hall68.744.512.534.630.3
St. John's66.543.620.033.429.1
South Florida67.346.819.236.546.0
Conf. Avg.67.649.518.534.735.6
Conf. Std.

Villanova's strong offensive showing comes from a combination of efficient field goal conversion (#2 behind Georgetown) and getting to the free throw line (about once for every two field goal attempts, best in the conference). The most surprising stat in the table however is Connecticut's offensive rebounding rate. Not only is it among the lowest in conference games (#13), but is incredibly low historically for the Huskies. Pomeroy's overall offensive rebounding rate for Connecticut, 35.7, overstates the Huskies' effectiveness on the offensive glass. Granted the Big East is a rebounding conference (note the conference average for offensive rebounds, 34.7%, is above the D1 average of about 33.3%), but historically Connecticut has ranked among the best in conference in this category, and the decline, a nearly 10 point drop from OOC play, cannot be attributed solely to the conference competition. Connecticut typically has a dominant center and strong rebounding from the #3 and #4. While Gavin Edwards and Alex Oriakhi are ranked in Pomeroy's Top 500 for offensive rebounding, neither is a Top 100 (Charles Okwandu might fit the bill, but he draws very few minutes). And Stanley Robinson, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Ater Majok are no better than average (offensive) rebounders for their position. The lack of offensive rebounding virtually guarantees that missed field goal attempts (Connecticut is struggling there too, note their eFG%, ranked #6/7 in the conference for field goal efficiency) will become opposing team possessions. Pomeroy's overall ratings page shows the Huskies with an offensive rebounding rate of (about) 35%, still low for Connecticut, but not

Defensive Factors
West Virginia47.820.932.339.7
Notre Dame50.514.237.129.9
Seton Hall54.021.533.745.4
St. John's47.220.131.639.9
South Florida50.716.639.934.6
Conf. Avg.49.618.634.635.9
Conf. Std.3.342.724.167.40

Not Your Father's Wildcat Defense
In past seasons the Wildcats posted bad field goal numbers, but compensated by forcing higher than average turnovers and limiting second chance points. The 'Cats are doing a much better job with field goal defense, but they have eased off of turnovers, and are "giving points back" at the free throw line -- note the FTA/FGA for defense is nearly the same as for offense. Over the past 3 - 4 seasons the 'Cats have used the free throw line to gather 20% - 35% of their game points, which has translated into a 5% - 15% point advantage. This season the points taken and given at the free throw line Rebounding is about the same as prior seasons.

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