Thursday, March 22, 2007


Contradiction 1: Big Ten Wonk correctly points out that Indiana’s offense was even better than Indiana’s defense this year. But, the fans (and sportswriters) seem to think the opposite is true.

Let’s look at Indiana’s performance against NCAA tournament teams this year. When people try to subjectively evaluate the quality of Indiana’s team, they probably put more weight on these games.

Opp.   Opp.Def.  Score   Pace  OE    DE
Butler     46   L,60-55   62   88    96
Duke        5   L,54-51   63   79.8  84.4
Kentucky   37   L,59-54   65   82.6  90.2
S. Ill.    12   W,57-47   57   99.8  82.3
Ohio St.   10   L,74-67   59   113   125
Mich. St.  14   W,73-51   63   116   80.7
Purdue     15   W,85-58   64   132   90.4
Illinois    2   L,51-43   50   84.4  100
Wisconsin   8   W,71-66   64   110   102
Illinois    2   W,65-61   64   101   94.6
Purdue     15   L,81-68   67   100   119
Mich. St.  14   L,66-58   61   93.8  107
Illinois    2   L,58-54   55   86.2  92.6
Gonzaga    80   W,70-57   66   105   85.6
UCLA        3   L,54-49   60   80.4  88.6

vs NCAA Tournament Teams       98.5  95.9
All Games                     109.5  96.1
Adjusting For Opponents       117.7  90.9

Indiana’s defense was almost exactly the same against NCAA tournament teams as it was against the other teams on their schedule. This at least partially gave people the impression that Indiana’s defense was dependable. It might not have been dominant, but the defense was still solid against the good teams.

However, Indiana’s offense was considerably worse against the NCAA tournament teams. This should not be surprising, given that Indiana played some of the toughest defensive teams in the country. (Pomeroy has another rating that says Indiana played the 3rd toughest schedule in terms of opponent’s defenses.) That said, when most fans and sportswriters see a 54 point performance, they don’t say “We looked pretty good considering we were playing the #2 ranked defense in the country” they say, “Uggh, 54 points.” And in the games that Indiana fans valued the most, Indiana had some serious offensive problems, with an unadjusted rating of 98.5.

Contradiction 2: Texas A&M is now an offensive juggernaut, but most sportswriters consider this a defense-based team.

I got the idea to write about contradictions today based on Big Ten Wonk and Ken Pomeroy’s posts on Texas A&M. First, as Pomeroy explains, Texas A&M’s defense has been steady, while the offense has risen to an elite level and many writers haven’t caught up to this fact. But, I do not think that is the entire story. Big Ten Wonk points out that Texas A&M gets the job done by shooting mostly 2 point shots and not turning the ball over. I think this is a key part of why people under-estimate Texas A&M. While productive 2 point shots are terrific for scoring points and winning games, they do not necessarily catch the attention of viewers (the way say a 6’9” Kevin Durant hitting a 3 pointer does.) While teams that score on 3’s tend to have memorable scoring binges that give the impression of offensive explosiveness, (see Ohio St. in overtime vs Xavier), a team like Texas A&M just methodically scores points which tends to fly under the radar.

Contradiction 3: Big Ten Wonk also points out that Kansas is a better defensive team that SIU, but most game previews focus on Southern Illinois’ defense.

It’s easy to blame this one on pace inflation. Kansas plays at a faster pace than most teams, so they are rarely going to hold a quality opponent in the 50’s. But, I think the quality opponent factor matters again here. Let’s look at how Kansas has fared vs NCAA tournament teams:

Opp.   Opp.Off.  Score   Pace  OE    DE
Oral Rob. 116   L,78-71   74   95    104
Florida     3   W,82-80   63   116   113
DePaul     54   L,64-57   62   91.2  102
USC        38   W,72-62   72   99.8  85.9
Boston C.   9   W,84-66   75   112   87.7
Texas Tech 52   L,69-64   64   98.5  106
Texas A&M   6   L,69-66   64   102   107
Texas       5   W,90-86   75   119   113
Texas       5   W,88-84   70   110   105
Niagara   124   W,107-67  86   124   77.5
Kentucky   11   W,88-76   65   134   116

vs NCAA Tournament Teams      109.5  100.8
All Games                     112.8  87.0
Adjusting For Opponents       119.1  81.8

Again, Kansas’ offense has been the same against NCAA tournament teams, but the defense has been much worse. Part of this is because they played strong offensive teams, but certainly in the recent big games, Kansas has not had a dominant unadjusted defensive performance. Therefore, even if the numbers from the whole season show that Kansas is a defensive machine, many people just have not seen it.

Revisiting SI Preseason Predictions, South Region
8 Ohio St. vs 19 Tennessee
NR Memphis vs 12 Texas A&M

SI under-rates Ohio St. in part because they questioned how a team with so many underclassmen would survive early in the season with Oden injured. As it turned out, Oden came back much earlier than projected, and the other freshman have played even better than expected. The article wondered whether Jamar Butler could carry the load, but the truth is that he has not had to. Butler’s scoring has fallen from 10.1 PPG a year ago to 8.3 PPG this year and his offensive ratings has slipped slightly from 118.6 to 116.2, but he has remained a role player. Instead Mike Conley has emerged as a star with a 117.1 offensive rating AND the best assist rate of any guard still playing in the NCAA tournament.

Tennessee was rated as #19 and the article said that Bruce Pearl needed a lot from freshman Ramar Smith and Wayne Chism. Both have been solid, but have hardly been stars. Whether injured or healthy, this season has been all about Chris Lofton and his offensive rating of 124.9.

Since these teams already played this season and since I had the luxury of reading Big Ten Wonk’s preview already, I offer a few more words of wisdom. Big Ten Wonk says Ohio St. should give the ball to Oden. In the first match-up of the year, Oden had 24 points. Wonk also says that Tennessee needs to hit their 3’s to stay in the game. Tennessee actually held tough in the first meeting despite hitting only 22% of their threes, but that was before OSU went on the long winning streak, and Tennessee will almost certainly have to hit their threes to win this time.

Tempo will be key. Tennessee won the pace battle in the first game, making it a 72 possession game, about 7 possessions above the Ohio St. average. That’s key because although insignificant in both cases, Pomeroy does have a stat that says OSU’s offense is worse in fast paced games and Tennessee’s offense is better in fast paced games. But be careful of the half-court fallacy. Just because OSU prefers to play good half-court defense, they should still take open looks and lay-ups when available.

Memphis was not even predicted to win the automatic bid for CUSA which is clearly the worst of SI’s pre-season predictions so far. The improvement of Chris Douglas-Roberts offensive efficiency from 105.6 last season to 116.8 this season is a big reason why Memphis exceeded early expectations.

As for Texas A&M, the SI article focuses on Acie Law (big surprise) and he has certainly been key this year. I’m shocked to see how efficient Josh Carter has been offensively this year with a 130.4 offensive rating. That’s partly because Law sets him up so well, but that’s not bad for Warren Carter’s little brother.