Sunday, December 12, 2010

Close Games, ACC Plus / Minus

Why when I have to travel for work in December is it always somewhere like Portland, Maine and not Raleigh, North Carolina? Answer: Because covering basketball is not my full-time job. I also have to complain for a moment about how when I stay in nice hotels I miss the free internet access that cheap hotels provide. But if I am going to be disconnected from, this is the time of the season to miss games. “Mid-December = Finals” and that means the calendar is a little less sparsely populated.

Yet even with less quality games right now, there were still plenty of incredible endings this week, most of them on Saturday:

Ending of the Week 1

Dayton trailed Old Dominion by four with 9 seconds left when Chris Johnson hit a three pointer to cut the lead to one. Dayton then went for the steal but ODU hit a home run pass over the top. ODU’s Frank Hassell put in the wide-open lay-up to extend the lead back to three with 7 seconds left. Now, trailing by three, Dayton advanced the ball and Josh Parker took a three point shot as time expired.

There are a lot of things that can happen here. The ball can go in the net. The ball can bounce of the rim. Either one of these usually results in an ecstatic reaction by one of the teams. But in this case, we saw an ending I have never seen before. The ball wedged between the basket and the backboard. I’ve certainly seen balls get stuck there before, but never on the final play of the game.

After a few seconds of puzzled expressions, ODU realized that this was as good as a normal miss. But as the ball hung snuggled against the backboard, it had a certain metaphysical absurdity to it. Dayton could take 100 shots in a row and not get the ball wedged that perfectly. But as rare as that shot was, it was not a game-tying three.

Ending of the Week 2

Washington has been hovering near the top of the Pomeroy Rankings. I find this a little odd, but it has something to do with some of their blowout wins. For example, they crushed Virginia by 40 and Virginia went on to beat Minnesota and Virginia Tech. So by any adjusted margin-of-victory calculation, Washington is going to look pretty good right now.

But for whatever reason Washington has not looked as good in big games this year. They fell to 6-3 on Sunday, and 0-3 against teams ranked in the top 50 of the Pomeroy rankings. And this ending was more puzzling than any of the others. Texas A&M led by 7 in the final 3 minutes, but the Aggies had a huge drought. And after a late steal by the Huskies, Washington had the ball trailing by one. Isaah Thomas, the quick and feisty 5’8” point guard had the ball in his hands. He seemed like the perfect player to make a play in this situation. Would he take it into the paint? Would he dish to a taller shooter for a three point shot? Would he pass to one of his bigs, cutting for a lay-up? No. Thomas randomly drove to the top of the key, and attempted an odd pull-up jumper with two Texas A&M defenders in his face. The ball was blocked back into his chest.

I know that it is often hard to get a good look at the end of the game, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what Thomas was trying to do here. But it was not the only questionable decision of the week:

Ending of the Week 3

Trailing by 3 with a chance to tie Wisconsin, two of Marquette’s players failed to exchange the ball, and un-pressured by Wisconsin, Marquette let the ball roll out of bounds.

Ending of the Week 4

Georgetown held the ball against Temple trailing by one with a chance to win at the end of the game. But instead of any of Georgetown’s three premier guards taking the shot, Hollis Thompson drove the lane and came up short. Don’t you think with the game on the line, you would like Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, or Jason Clark taking the shot?

Bonus Georgetown thoughts:

Julian Vaughn kept getting his shots blocked by Temple's interior players. That was scary because I can see that happening against certain Big East teams. On the other hand, Vaughn, normally a horrible free throw shooter, was perfect from the line.

I seem to be noticing a trend where many of Georgetown's losses involve one player having a career day. See Ohio in the NCAA tournament, Davidson in the NCAA tournament, and South Florida at the Verizon center a couple of years ago. Thursday Temple’s Ramon Moore scored 30 in the win over the Hoyas. I was very high on Ramon Moore in the preseason and I do not think his 30 point game was a fluke. But Georgetown needs someone to become a lock-down defender who can shut down a hot shooter for the other team.

Ending of the Week 5

Last week I went through the plus / minus data and saw that Brad Tinsley was the leader for Vanderbilt. I saw he had a nice assist rate, but I could count at least two or three other Vanderbilt players who I thought were more important than Tinsley. Jeffrey Taylor may be off to a slow start, but he is very mobile, and a polished scorer in the paint. John Jenkins is the oft-mentioned three-point gunner. And Festus Ezeli is emerging as a consistent post threat, which is sensational given that he has only played about four years of organized basketball. So I eagerly watched the Missouri game to see what I was missing about the Vanderbilt point guard.

And of course with my eyes trained on Tinsley, he put up his worst performance of the year, being rattled by Missouri’s pressure defense on numerous occasions. And with Vanderbilt holding the ball in a tie game, with a chance to win or go to a second overtime, Tinsley committed the only unthinkable mistake in that instance. He threw the ball away leading to a live ball steal and lay-up for Missouri’s Marcus Denmon.

The only good to come from my discussion of Tinsley’s early plus / minus numbers was that I learned Anchor of Gold, the SN Vanderbilt blog regularly publishes plus / minus data. (This filled in the North Carolina game that Stat Sheet was missing.) The blog is also definitely worth a read if you care about Vanderbilt basketball. And no one is giving them enough credit in the SEC East this year, so we probably should be reading more about the Commodores.

But for me, the Tinsley experience was a nice reminder that all these stats are still early. I started to type up the stats for the ACC and I quickly saw more Brad Tinsleys than Demetri McCameys. Since I typed up the ACC leaders, I might as well post them, but I think I am going to move on to some other statistical reviews rather than continue this plus / minus project in the future.

ACC Most Indispensible Players
Best plus / minus (Through Sunday’s games)

Duke – Kyle Singler

Singler has always excelled because opposing big men cannot close out on his outside jump shot or match his quickness. A 6’8” lethal sharpshooter is pretty indispensable.

Georgia Tech – Iman Shumpert

No one doubts the former McDonald’s All-American, now a junior, is not vital to Georgia Tech’s chances. But he still does not look like a star to me. In the big rivalry game against Georgia, I felt like the only time I heard his name down the stretch was when he was chasing down a Georgia player from behind on a fast-break. He is good, but Georgia Tech needs him to be great.

Miami – Durand Scott

Malcolm Grant is probably the better known player, but Scott has the same PPG and APG averages this season. Grant is the better three point shooter, but Scott is much better inside the arc meaning the players are almost equally efficient.

Wake Forest – Travis McKie

I suspected one of the highly ranked Wake Forest freshmen would make a name for himself, and so far McKie is the best of the bunch. He has been rebounding, scoring, and most importantly, not missing many shots. The same cannot be said of fellow RSCI top 100 freshman JT Terrell whose horrific shooting on two point jumpers relegated him to a bench role in a recent game. Sadly few people have noticed McKie because Terrell was the Wake Forest player with the game winner against Iowa.

Everyone listed above makes a lot of sense to me as the plus / minus leader, but then things start to get a little more questionable.

Indispensible? Really?

Maryland – Cliff Tucker (Jordan Williams)

Cliff Tucker narrowly edges Jordan Williams, but I will be stunned if Williams is not the team leader in plus/minus in a few weeks. Williams is the heart of the team this year. But let’s talk about Tucker. A secondary scorer is obviously important. But I think the best thing Tucker has going for him at this point is that he does not make nearly as many bad decisions as Sean Mosley. Maryland’s guards need to stop acting like Greivis Vasquez (and trying to take the impossible shot), and just start running the offense.

Virginia Tech – Jeff Allen (Malcolm Delaney)

Shouldn’t Virginia Tech think about sitting Malcolm Delaney for a few minutes a game? Last year he played 36 minutes per game, this year he is averaging 39 minutes per game. Wouldn’t just an extra couple minutes on the bench in the second half give him a little more energy? So far he has the lowest ORtg of his career thanks to a career high in turnovers per game.

Clemson – Devin Booker

He is clearly not as good as his brother Trevor was, but on a team without a lot of depth in the paint, Booker has been important. But I don’t even think he is the Tiger’s best post player. Jerai Grant has more blocks and makes a greater percentage of his shots.

Boston College – Danny Rubin

The plus / minus team leaders reveal different players to be indispensible. For some teams, they show the star scorers. For other teams, they reveal that the backup center is a defensive liability. Sometimes they show the backup point guard does not run the show with the same smooth crispness. In BC’s case, it turns out that a non-scoring freshman wing has been the most vital player so far. How can this be? How can Danny Rubin be so important to BC’s cause? As it turns out, Rubins’ backup Danny Elmore has been a complete liability on the court this year. Rubin may not be a star, but at least he is executing the offense and defense. Danny Elmore is not.

NC State – DeShawn Painter

With Painter on bench, NC State was -15 against Georgetown. I understand that his limited experience is critical with so many freshmen. But CJ Leslie has a higher block rate and a higher defensive rebounding rate, and other player’s are more vital to the offense.

North Carolina – NA
Virginia – NA
Florida St. – NA

Five of North Carolina’s games are missing substitution data, meaning the plus / minus splits are basically useless. I’ve seen some clear errors in the Florida St. plus / minus data that I have not taken the time to fix. And Virginia’s numbers are even more screwed up thanks to that 40 point loss where all the good players played.

Presumably, there is a North Carolina blog somewhere with all the plus / minus data codified (just like that wonderful Vanderbilt blog). But given the caveats with this data, I think I am ready to move on from the plus / minus data for now.