Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pace: The Beilein-McCullum Effect

I decided to track pace for all Division 1 programs for the 2007-08 season, much as I had done for the 2006-07 season. The source, as last it was for the 2006-07 season, was Ken Pomeroy's website, a terrific source for statistical data for all D1 teams. At the beginning of each of the past 2 or so seasons, Ken Pomeroy has written something like " looks like the pace may be higher this season...", this season it actually happened. The raw pace at the end of the 2006-07 season was 66.85, while this season the average pace for D1 was 67.09, a very modest increase of 0.24 possessions per game. I suppose if you consider there are nearly 5,000 games played in the season, that translates into about 1,250 additional possessions this past season. I plotted Pomeroy's efficiencies over the entire season to see the "shape" of the curve. I noted in a post last August that the 2006-07 chart showed a "hump" (a rise in the average possessions) during the middle of December, the product of seasonal invitational tournaments possibly. I looked for the hump this season and while not a prominent as last season (see the blue line on the chart below), it nevertheless appears again in late December. This time it appears to be due more to a "lessening in the rate of decline" of the average possessions, rather than an actual reversal in the trend of decline. Not as pronounced, it nevertheless disappears during the early conference play, right on schedule. From late December (early January?) the decline, though gentle, is clearly present and persistent through the end of the season. The end of season average raw pace for 2007-08, 67.09, reverses a three or four season trend, but does not quite match the pace from the 2005-06 season, 67.61. In truth I think the changes are largely at the edges, and most likely do not represent a long term trend...a 1 to 2 possession, year-over-year change would be a trend. The three year numbers suggest the college is settled in at (overall) a game in which both teams play for about 67 or so possessions over 40 minutes.

The mid-December hump aside, another interesting pattern is the gentle decline that settles in as conference play begins. This is another year-over-year fixture. The large pattern may be in place, but the devil is in the details. The causes, late season player fatigue, a familiarity with playing styles that leads to more deliberate approaches to game planning and strategy, etc. -- I have nothing more than anecdotal evidence and conjecture to offer at this point. If the reasons are not clear, the trend is persistent. There was a very small rise in pace at the very end of the 2007-08 season (March 23 to April 7), surprising given that at most only 20% of the D1 teams were still playing at that point (between single round eliminations in the NCAAs & NITs, and maybe the 4 or so teams playing out the CBI series?), a number I thought would be too small to move the average even the very small bump of 2/1000 of a possession.

When I compared the average pace for Big East conference teams with the average for all D1 teams, I got a surprise (at first). Comparing those averages for the past three season:

Average Pace

All D167.6166.8567.02
Big East66.6166.1767.84

The 2007-08 season was the first (in a long while) since the Big East teams played for more possessions than D1 as a whole. When I considered the coaching changes during the last off season, the reason for the "faster" pace was obvious...though Georgetown's Princeton Offense is absolutely the most deliberate system used in the Big East, both John Beilein and Robert McCullum implemented systems that were notoriously deliberate. A comparison of the Mountaineers' and Bull's season-ending pace for the past three seasons shows the difference:

Raw Pace

South Florida64.8166.3966.80
West Virginia64.0963.6466.14
Kansas State-----67.56-----

Note the jump from the 2007 to the 2008 seasons, especially for West Virginia. I also included the pace for Arkansas (Stan Heath's last stop) and Kansas State (Bob Huggin's previous stop) for comparison. Both teams were above the D1 average for those respective seasons. While each team was below the D1 average, they were above (well above in West Virginia's case...) their previous season's average. Those Arkansas and K State pace stats suggest both the 'Eers and Bulls will "play faster" as Huggins and Heath fully install their systems with their own players.

No comments: