Monday, January 12, 2009

Experience is over-rated, just ask UNC

Quite possibly the most over-rated factor in college basketball is experience. It is easy to point at Mike Conley and Derrick Rose and show that the best teams can be led by freshman. But that’s not really what I have in mind here. My point is that from scanning the Pomeroy player data, it is surprisingly difficult to find examples of players who become significantly more efficient from year-to-year.

I say this having watched Chas McFarland put Wake Forest on his back at the end of the UNC game. I still can’t believe he finished that fast-break (after the Hansbrough missed three) without someone from UNC catching him and stopping the ball. McFarland had a 101.4 efficiency rating last year and he’s up to 114.8 this year.

But the reality is that most players don’t change fundamentally over 4 years. Most senior stars were also good young players, but they simply took on a larger role over time. Coaches like to say that players become more consistent over time, but the efficiency is usually there to some degree from an early stage.

That's not to say it isn't valuable to have a veteran team. A veteran team may be less likely to panic in a close game, or panic after a big run by the opponent in a road game. But are experienced teams fundamentally more efficient? Let’s look at one piece of data.

Here are the 15 most experienced teams in BCS conferences according to Providence, Notre Dame, Marquette, Auburn, Miami (FL), UConn, LSU, Stanford, Baylor, South Carolina, Texas, Villanova, North Carolina, Nebraska, and Oklahoma St.

Here are their current Pomeroy Ratings (Overall Rank, Offense, and Defense) through Saturday’s games and the same rankings last year.

Miami (FL)
This Year Rnk 26, Off 23, Def 43
Last Year Rnk 39, Off 40, Def 62

This Year Rnk 7, Off 2, Def 24
Last Year Rnk 22, Off 17, Def 41

When people give credit to experience, Miami and UConn are what they had in mind. But both teams got blown out at home in the conference opener, showing experience isn’t everything.

Notre Dame
This Year Rnk 44, Off 4, Def 166
Last Year Rnk 28, Off 22, Def 42

Under Mike Brey, Notre Dame has always been a better offensive team than defensive team, but the drop off in defense this year seems a little ridiculous. The 140.5 defensive number against North Carolina really hurts the overall statistics, but so do efforts like 113.8 against a terrible DePaul team.

This Year Rnk 31, Off 59, Def 21
Last Year Rnk 43, Off 61, Def 34

This Year Rnk 30, Off 13, Def 69
Last Year Rnk 42, Off 15, Def 105

Baylor and Villanova are both showing some improvement across the board, but both teams are in the range of last year.

This Year Rnk 17, Off 7, Def 48
Last Year Rnk 11, Off 24, Def 10

Marquette actually lost some size due to Ousmane Barro’s graduation. Does that explain the drop-off in defense?

By the way, see all the Big East teams on this list? That’s why people are calling this the best conference ever. They have enough returning stars to get people excited, but according to Pomeroy, Sagarin, and the RPI, the Big East isn’t the top conference this year.

This Year Rnk 79, Off 177, Def 34
Last Year Rnk 121, Off 64, Def 198

Quantez Robertson and Kovortney Barber have suddenly become horrible offensive players. Auburn is still bad this year, but in a new way.

So given the above, should it really be a surprise that North Carolina is basically performing about the same as last year?

North Carolina
This Year Rnk 3, Off 3, Def 15
Last Year Rnk 4, Off 1, Def 19

North Carolina is a dominant college basketball team, and the odds on favorite to win the national championship. It is arguably deeper than last year’s team, but what can depth add to a team that was already one of the deepest in the nation? Even the Jordan Bulls didn’t win all their games.

I guess my punchline is that even though we should expect great things from North Carolina due to their experience, without a new player suddenly becoming the greatest defensive player of all time, it is hard to see how they could dramatically improve from last year’s team.

Perhaps the greatest reason to pick them in the pre-season was the lack of incoming talent in this year’s freshman class. But college basketball has a way of developing new super talented teams. And with Wake Forest and Duke proving to be super-heavyweights, they won’t have to leave the ACC for a real challenge.

Talent and Coaching

So if teams don’t get better solely based on experience, the biggest key to winning is talent. (Just ask Rick Pitino what it was like to coach the Celtics.) But you also can’t overlook the value of coaching. Mike Montgomery has done wonders in a brief time at Cal. And plenty of other coaches (See Tubby Smith) have turned around stagnant programs.

I didn’t include the following experienced teams in the above analysis because they all got new coaches, but the numbers show some improvements:

This Year Rnk 77, Off 78, Def 90
Last Year Rnk 74, Off 60, Def 95

This YearRnk 84, Off 64, Def 127
Last Year Rnk 92, Off 122, Def 76

South Carolina
This Year Rnk 48, Off 86, Def 37
Last Year Rnk 88, Off 70, Def 109

Oklahoma St.
This Year Rnk 38, Off 8, Def 118
Last Year Rnk 57, Off 65, Def 59

And I didn’t include the following teams because they all lost at least one key contributor. (I.e. DJ Augustin, the Lopez brothers, and Alex Maric). Thus, even though these teams have a highly experienced core, the drop-off in performance was to be expected.

This Year Rnk 27, Off 69, Def 14
Last Year Rnk 9, Off 3, Def 36

This Year Rnk 39, Off 36, Def 53
Last Year Rnk 12, Off 25 , Def 15

This Year Rnk 67, Off 136, Def 33
Last Year Rnk 34, Off 78, Def 13


Who throws a shoe? Honestly. Darren Collison’s shoe fell off and Daniel Hackett threw it up into the crowd to get it off the court. Part of me thinks this shouldn’t be legal, but USC was on offense, and Hackett didn’t want one of his teammates to trip over it.

Taj Gibson picked up three fouls in the first 6 minutes of the game. Tim Floyd trusted Gibson with 2 fouls and Gibson responded with one of the dumbest fouls I’ve seen in awhile, throwing a UCLA defender aside trying to get an offensive rebound.

I love guard-oriented teams. UCLA may not be as consistently dominant as last year, but the upside is still there. Westbrook was absolutely phenomenal at the end of last year, but if I’m a UCLA fan, I really am glad I get to see Darren Collison for another year.

Favorite non-vital play: Jrue Holiday made a freshman mistake and got caught in the air with the basketball and no angle for a shot. He responded by bouncing the ball off the USC defender below him and then he grabbed the ball back while coming down. Sweet. (And he didn’t even hit the USC player in the face.)

DeMar DeRozan has discovered the art of the two point jumper. Hey, if you can’t make three pointers, it’s a good shot to have.

Did Drew Gordon take a cheap shot on a USC player? The refs say no, but he clearly swung his arm in a dangerous way for no reason. I’m guessing this is going to be discussed heavily in LA. That is if people like to argue about college basketball when its 80 degrees in January. Sigh.

Absolutely suffocating half-court defense by USC turned this game around. If it wasn’t for a few timely steals, UCLA would really be struggling.

Again, suffocating defense by USC. UCLA gets called for a shot clock violation while leading by 3 with 1 minute left in the game. But UCLA holds on to win. Great game.

Final Random Notes

Minnesota went 9 for 9 on threes against Penn St.

People have been raving about Taylor Battle and all I can say is, “I agree”. Hard to imagine a player looking better while his team gets blown out by 20. Battle had 19 points and 9 assists, 3 offensive rebounds, and a pair of steals. And he has an efficiency rating of 121.0 on the season. I sure wish the rest of the Penn St. team was good enough to get him in the NCAA tournament.

Hey new format for some of the Pomeroy pages. Cool.