Sunday, July 18, 2010

Can a role player catch a break?

Besides sports, I obviously have a crazy love for numbers and spreadsheets. Thus I had to smile this weekend when my wife decided to create a spreadsheet categorizing her “mostly inexpensive” shoe collection. Here’s what I’ve learned from the database so far. Sandals and flip flops seem to dominate. Also, purple shoes were always the favorite, but black shoes are just as numerous. And brown shoes have a surprisingly high count.

In basketball news, I’ve been meaning to compile the bench utilization data for some time. And I finally got around to putting it together. The next table lists the average percentage of bench minutes for each coach from 2007-2010. APBM = Average percentage of bench minutes. ( only has bench utilization data back to 2007 so we only have 4 years of data at most for each coach.) For the 347 coaches for the 2011 season, 318 of them have at least 1 year of data. Scroll up or down to see the full table.

There are not a lot of surprises in these numbers. Mike Anderson, Tubby Smith, and Bruce Pearl all give their young players a lot of playing time, in part because they use high-energy pressure defense. But it seems like a larger number of BCS coaches stick to very tight rotations. Guards are less subject to foul trouble so perimeter-oriented-teams like Marquette, Notre Dame, and Ohio St use their bench less frequently. Also, some of the back-cut systems that rely on precision and execution also rely heavily on their starters. See Herb Sendek’s Arizona St. team.

I also want to emphasize that playing your starters major minutes can be a winning strategy. As Mike Krzyzewski and Billy Donovan have shown, you can win a national title by finding a tight rotation of elite players and sticking with them. But Roy Williams has also won a national title while running an up-tempo attach and using his bench more frequently. So it is not really a question of whether fewer bench minutes is bad or good. Both can work with the right players.

The key is simply finding what works for the coach. Rick Barnes at Texas has traditionally had a tight rotation, but the embarrassment of riches last season simply led to an embarrassment of an inconsistent lineup. Barnes played his bench way more minutes than normal in 2009-2010 and the season did not live up to expectations.

I am also intrigued that many of the new coaches are such extreme outliers. Jeff Bzdelik’s precision offense at Colorado used a very short rotation and Fran McCaffery also shined with a few star players at Siena. On the flip side, Tad Boyle, Kevin Willard, Mike Rice Jr., and Dana Altman all went deep on their bench with their previous teams. Altman’s numbers are particularly stunning as he used his bench almost half the time the last three year’s at Creighton. Now part of that was the fact that Altman could not find a consistent rotation the last few years. But it also suggests that if you are a recruit and you want to play next year, it would not be a bad idea to give Oregon a chance.

In general, I wonder how important bench utilization is to recruiting and keeping players in the program. Consider these examples: Under John Thompson III, Georgetown has frequently been able to recruit star players, but has lost numerous bench players to transfers. Conversely, Minnesota has not been able to matriculate elite recruits, but Minnesota seems to find an endless supply of decent three-star prospects. Could bench utilization explain some of this? While Georgetown’s John Thompson III plays his starters heavy minutes, Minnesota’s Tubby Smith will gladly play a rotation of 11 players even in March. I think this difference can mean a lot to a recruit. If you are a star player and you go to Georgetown you are going to get major minutes and plenty of exposure. But if you are a borderline prospect, you may never get off the Georgetown bench after December. On the flip side, if you are a starter for Minnesota, Tubby Smith will not hesitate yank you if you make a couple of idiotic decisions in February. But even the weakest scholarship player will still get on the court in conference play. There is a lot that enters in a recruit's decision to choose a school, but as the July recruit evaluating period passes by, I wonder how important this type of factor can be to a recruit's final decision. Because for many recruits, playing time is the best thing a coach can offer.