Sunday, January 10, 2010

Who is New, Who is Better, and Who is Worse in the Big 12?

Today I thought I’d look at some of the Big 12 individual player statistics. The concern with looking at these numbers this early in the year is that individual offensive ratings are not adjusted for the quality of opponent. Thus players that played a lot of cupcakes early will look better than expected. And I suspect that many post players look better since they’ve been up against shorter non-conference teams. But let's take a look at what we can learn.

I start with a complete list of all the new players in the Big 12.

-Of the four transfers getting playing time, all are playing well. I read early on how UConn transfer and Kansas State forward Curtis Kelly was going to be a star, and I remain skeptical how he’ll perform in the tough Big 12 after posting mediocre numbers at UConn. (In fact, he nearly fouled out and played just 9 minutes in Saturday’s loss to Missouri.) But Kelly has performed well on the season to date, posting an offensive rating of 109.4. Baylor forward Ekpe Udoh, who didn’t like John Beilein’s system and transferred from Michigan has looked even better, playing 84% of his team’s minutes, posting an offensive rating of 119.1, and posting elite offensive and defensive rebounding rates. Baylor has been a fun, fast, guard-oriented team the last few years, but having a real post presence in Udoh may be key to Baylor’s success this year.

-As for the freshman, the obvious names are getting a lot of minutes and using them well from Xavier Henry to Avery Bradley. But don’t overlook the efficiency of someone like Nebraska’s Eshaunte Jones. The three point gunner is making over 50% of his threes and continuing the perimeter-oriented-tradition in Cornhusker land. And what about Texas wing Jordan Hamilton? He isn’t getting as much playing time on a deep Texas squad, but Hamilton’s combined inside and outside game make him a possible future star for the Longhorns. Finally, Oklahoma may be struggling, but not because its three freshman don’t know how to score. It’s because Oklahoma doesn’t play any defense this season.

-As for the new junior college transfers, Texas Tech’s David Tairu is a pure shooter. Not only has he made about half his three attempts, he’s earned a ton of free throws and made about 80% of them. But no one has been more important to his team’s success than Iowa St.’s Marquis Gilstrap. He’s fit in well in the Iowa St. system which lets the good scorers shoot as much as they want.

Scroll down in the next table to see all the new names. Finally, note that these numbers ignore the mid-season transfers who might make an impact. (Why? Because mid-season transfers don’t have any numbers yet.) But that doesn’t mean they won’t be key down the stretch. In particular, Christian Standhardinger of Nebraska looks like he might play a key role after leading Nebraska in scoring on Saturday.

Getting Better, Worse

Why are Kansas forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris substantially more efficient than last year? Is it the fact that sophomore year is usually the biggest jump in efficiency for players? Is it because of the addition of Xavier Henry and another weapon to double team on Kansas? Is it simply the smaller non-conference opponents allowing the Morris twins to get unimpeded looks at the basket? Who knows? But like many players, they’ve been more efficient so far this year.

Let’s break it down into different categories:

-I start with players earning more playing time. Texas A&M point guard Dash Harris has substantially cut down his turnovers and is earning free throws at an amazing rate this year while earning a 31 point jump in offensive efficiency. Now if only he would make some of those free throws. (Currently under 60%) Harris was expected to mature into the point guard role, but other jumps in efficiency are more uncertain. Is Texas Tech’s D’Walyn Roberts really that much better this year? Or is his high shooting percentage and incredible rebounding for a 6’7” player a function of playing a parade of cupcakes. Like Texas Tech’s “poll” ranking, I need to see more in conference play. Similarly, Oklahoma’s Ryan Wright seemingly couldn’t make a lay-up last year when he posted an 81.1 ORtg. Will his sudden proficiency in the paint and 104.7 ORtg continue? Lance Bowers of Missouri has been feasting on lay-ups this year bringing his ORtg all the way up to 132.2, but that isn’t even much of an increase given how well he shot last year. Bowers is one sophomore starter who should remain efficient in Big 12 play because the Missouri defense should continue to create fast break opportunities.

On the other end of the spectrum, Oklahoma St.’s Marshall Moses and Missorui’s Justin Safford have been given a larger role in the post this year, and both have been inconsistent, watching their ORtgs drop below 100. Both players are shooting at a higher rate when on the floor, so perhaps the increase in volume explains the drop in efficiency.

-Next I look at players earning fewer minutes. This is mostly players on Colorado (which now has more depth), and Kansas (which has unbelievable depth this year.) Colorado players Nate Tomlinson and Austin Dufault are playing substantially better, but they’ve been able to be more selective this year on their three point attempts. When this team gets behind in conference games and has to force some threes, I’m not sure the efficiency will stay there.

Kansas’s Tyrel Reed is a classic example of the Kansas depth. He now barely plays, but has moved his ORtg up to 128.2. Similarly Sherron Collins has really benefited from Xavier Henry’s presence. He’s been able to play less minutes, and by taking about 7% fewer possessions when on the floor, Collins has raised his ORtg over 10 points.

Texas’s Gary Johnson has also been encouraged to take substantially fewer shots, and he’s seen a 20 point jump in his efficiency rating.

But less playing time isn’t always a good thing. Texas guard Justin Mason has struggled enormously and his high turnover rate has not only killed his ORtg this year and dropped him from the starting lineup, it is threatening to drop him from the rotation completely. And let’s not even talk about what happened to Texas Tech’s Robert Lewandowski this year as his ORtg has fallen to an abysmal 70.0.

More worthy of discussion this year is the fact that Kansas center Cole Aldrich has seen the team become more talented around him, and yet Aldrich has actually become less efficient this year.

-Next I look at players whose minutes have stayed high, both last year and this year. Kansas St.’s Jacob Pullen might be benefiting from more talent around him, or the Junior might just be getting better. His 23 point jump in ORtg to 125.0 is a function of a player who has already made 47 threes this year.

I’d also be impressed with Iowa St.’s Craig Brackins 18 point jump in efficiency this year, but I have a feeling he’ll keep shooting until he gets it lower by the end of the year. But Iowa St.’s Lucca Staiger may stay efficient, for the simple reason that no one else on the team lets him shoot.

The real story though might be Texas A&M’s Donald Sloan. He’s shooting more often and making a higher percentage. His ability to move to off-guard at times thanks to Dash Harris’ emergence has made him an even more dangerous offensive weapon. (This by-the-way is exactly what Cincinnati thought would happen with Cashmere Wright allowing Deonta Vaughn to move to off-guard, but Wright hasn’t panned out.)

On the negative side, everyone wants to point fingers at Willie Warren, but he’s using about 10% more possessions this year, and he’s now the focal point of the defense, so I don’t think his numbers are terrible at all. A 10 point drop in efficiency is not a disaster, when Warren has an elite assist rate and when his teammates are all either playing well as freshman, or getting better (as in the case of Tony Crocker.) The problem, as mentioned above, is the Oklahoma defense.

-As for role players, I’m less inclined to read much into changes for these players, since the opponent and time of game matters so significantly. But Kansas St.’s Chris Merriewether was playing terrible, even before he was “bumped” by Frank Martin on Saturday. Perhaps most notable for this group is the fact that Dexter Pittman still only averages 48.3% of his teams minutes. Call it conditioning, call it dumb fouls, but the Senior forward needs to be on the floor for his team to compete for a national title.

-Finally, I list a group of players that have missed time due to injury / suspension, ect. With such a small sample, there isn’t much to say here. Brady Morningstar is good, but he isn’t 151.5 ORtg good.