Monday, August 29, 2011

World University Games Wrap Part 2 -- The Teams

Final Standings & Some Possession-Based Stats
After looking at the final standings Monday night and reading a few day-after reactions, I decided to go back and process the boxscores for the teams that made it through to the quarter final round. This tournament divided the pool of team (23 total) into four groups of six each, with the intent that the teams within each assigned group would play five games, round robin style, to determine which of the three "second round" groups each team will be assigned. The first eight (two from each group) will play for positions 1 - 8, the next eight (again, two from each group) play for positions 9 - 15, the bottom two from each group will play for ranks 17 - 24. The teams then play three additional rounds to determine place/classification. Unlike the round robin format of the preliminary round, the second round pits winners versus winners and losers versus losers. After a team dropped out of the competition (before the start of play), the five remaining teams in Group B played a four game round robin, then divided (with a single team sent into the last group ). The usual quota of paradoxes and quirks surface when Team USA competes in a tournament with this particular format...


In addition to the usual wins/losses/winning percentages, I treated the eight teams that made the quarterfinal (and subsequent classification) round as a mini-conference and tracked their offensive and defensive efficiency and Oliver's four factors (see below) for both offense and defense, along with pace, (that is, possessions per 40 minutes) only in the games they played among themselves. This was typically four games, (admittedly not a large sample) the three played in the medal rounds and the one game played each group's #1 seed played with that group's #2 seed as part of the preliminary, round robin phase. In FISU (and FIBA) tournaments, wins and losses (and winning percentage) do not necessarily track with the place finishes. And this World University Game Tournament was no exception. Some of the oddities persist for the USA teams selected to compete in FIBA/FISU international tournaments.

On Offense...

Serbia, 2009 WUG Tournament winner repeated in Shenzhen, taking the gold in a run that also included a single loss. This time, the Serbs lost their second game (on August 14, 2011), a a three point, 67-70 affair with the Canadians, their Group B #2 seed. Group B had only five teams in their bracket, which explains why Team Serbia and Team Canada played eight, rather than nine, games in the tournament. After losing to Team Canada, the Serbs ran off two consecutive wins to finish secure the #1 seed in Group B, and then swept the three medal rounds games, facing Team Canada a second time, and winning 68-55, to secure the #1 rank in the tournament field, and the gold medal.

Team USA ran off five straight wins to sweep their Group D opponents, but (like their U19 compatriots in July's U19 World Championships) dropped a two point quarter final decision and finished with two wins to secure fifth place. Again, losing in the quarter finals made all the difference, as that play began the elimination phase of the tournament.

On Defense...

Looking at Team USA's four factors, this American squad posted strong, but not dominate numbers relative to the four teams that finished above them in the rankings. Comparing the overall shooting efficiency, turnover rate, offensive rebound and free throw rate to those posted in the Lithuania game, suggests where the Americans had greater difficulty in dealing with the Group C #2 seed. The American squad posted a dismal 38.1% shot efficiency versus Lithuania, coupled with an offensive rebounding rate of 26.7%, both well off their offensive numbers for the other medal opponent games. The game and boxscores identified Darius Miller with three fiest half fouls, while the Greens, Draymond and JayMychal, along with Trevor Mbakwe had four apiece by the end of the game. Lacking the consistent inside presence afforded by Mbakwe and JayMychal Green, the Americans continued to attempt three point shots, even though they compiled an abysmal 0-14 conversion rate in the second half. Draymond Green picked up two first half fouls, while Mbakwe and JayMychal Green picked up three apiece in the second half. A decimated front court, coupled with moving the offense to the outside (30 of the 67 FGAs attempted -- 44.8% of the American's total FGAs -- was far beyond the usual 31% recorded for the tournament) translated into a lower shot conversion rate and far fewer offensive rebounds.

X's & O's or Jimmys & Joes (part 2)?
The analysis/commentary that followed the U19 World Championship 5th place finish focused on squad experience ("lacked it"), the selection and development process ("star-oriented" and "not long enough to build a team"). Common sense (ie common knowledge) can betray us sometimes, as the tables above suggests the problem was not lack of offensive/defensive efficiency (signs of team cohesion) or offense/defense lack of production. The successes of U16/U17 Coach Don Showalter and Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski suggest, continuity of the squad may be a bit less important than continuity of the coaching staff. A table of the last four WUG teams built using the tryout approach.


The staff this time around was very talented, Matt Painter of Purude, assisted by Brad Stevens (Butler) and Cuonzo Martin (Missouri State, Tennessee), but also the least experienced (years of head coaching experience) of the decade. Painter's seven years (six at Purdue and one at Southern Illinois) is actually half of the staff's total. While the coaches do not take the shots nor grab the rebounds, they do design the game plans and prepare the team to play. Does the string of "one game lapses" in the U18, U19 and WUG tournaments suggest a "slide to mediocrity" as some have suggested, or problems with oppposition scouting and game planning?

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