Thursday, February 26, 2009

UCLA: Statistical Anomaly or National Title Contender?

Last year Bill Simmons identified the source of the Kevin Garnett playoff curse. Garnett plays hard all the time and thus he doesn’t have an extra gear for the playoffs. Other NBA stars give a half-hearted effort during the regular season and “take it to the next level” in the playoffs.

Sadly, we have no way of measuring effort (except perhaps watching the games). And with a few exceptions, I think the effort level in college basketball is usually pretty high during the regular season. But I can ask a related question:

Would you rather have a lights out shooting team in the NCAA tournament, or a team that is fundamentally sound?

Would you rather cheer for a team like Arizona St. that is mediocre at three of Dean Oliver’s four factors, but has a great offense because all they do is make their shots? Or would you rather cheer for a poor shooting team like Memphis that gets lots of offensive rebounds, doesn’t turn the ball over, and earns lots of free throws?

BCS teams whose offensive efficiency depends heavily on eFG%.
Ohio St.
Arizona St.

Doing the Little Things
BCS teams where the other 3 factors overcome poor eFG%.
West Virginia
Texas A&M
Virginia Tech

So which one of these things would you rather have come tournament time? Well, part of me fears being in the Swoosh group. All you need to do is have one bad shooting night and you are done. And rebounding and ball handling never really take a night off.

More Swoosh
Arizona St.
Louisville (yes, shooting is the best quality on this mediocre offensive team)
Wake Forest

North Carolina

More Little Things
Pittsburgh (off. rebounding and few TOs)
Connecticut (off. rebounding and FTs)
Duke (off. rebounding and few TOs)
Washington (off. rebounding and FTs)
Michigan St. (offensive rebounding)
Memphis (everything else)

But if you had to skew one direction over the other, lately you would choose the hot shooting team. The last four National Champions, Kansas, Florida, Florida, and North Carolina all finished the season in the top 5 in the country in eFG%. Hot shooting was the main reason they were all great offensive teams.

Fun with Anomalies

Speaking of teams with clear strengths or weaknesses, check out these statistical anomalies. (All data is from

Elite defense without defensive rebounding.
John Gasaway wondered if Georgetown could do it, but another team has.
Florida St.

Elite defense without forcing any turnovers.
And now Dyson’s out.

Good defense despite fouling like a mad man.
No two point shots for you, we will foul you if you take it inside.
Kansas St.

We’re still in the top 50 in defensive efficiency despite the fact that you are shooting lights out.
We’re fundamentally sound. And short.

Elite offense despite turning it over a ton.
Hey we’re young.

The only thing we do well is hang on to the ball.
But our adjusted offensive efficiency ranks 61st.
Seton Hall

The only thing we do well is crash the boards.
But our adjusted offensive efficiency ranks 59th.

34th in adjusted offensive efficiency, but we can’t shoot worth a lick.
No turnovers, lots of offensive boards, and a great free throw rate.

UCLA is a truly bizarre team. Their offense is good primarily because they shoot the ball exceptionally well. And their defense is decent, despite the fact that their opponents shoot the ball exceptionally well. It’s like UCLA is fundamentally sound defensively, but they don’t need to do any of the little things offensively.

One final piece of news for Bruins fans: If the streak of great eFG% teams winning the national title is going to continue, there are only two BCS teams in the top 5: Arizona St. and UCLA.