Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The RSCI Sophomores

Sunday I presented the stats for the RSCI Top 20 Freshmen. Today I want to look at the RSCI Top 20 Sophomores who stayed in school. Among the RSCI Top 20 from last year, 8 have already left for the NBA:

1 Derrick Favors
2 John Wall
3 DeMarcus Cousins
4 Avery Bradley
6 Xavier Henry
8 Lance Stephenson
10 Tiny Gallon
20 Daniel Orton

Here are the numbers for the returning players: (Use the scroll bar at the bottom of the table and scroll right to see all the stat categories.)

Last years 5th ranked recruit John Henson has seen his playing time and per-game totals increase from last year. But his overall efficiency is still not great, and that free throw percentage is still hideous. The key for the Tar Heels is that he has become a dominant rebounder on both ends of the court.

Last year’s 7th ranked recruit Renardo Sidney has finally debuted.

I had high expectations for last year’s 9th ranked recruit Kenny Boynton to take a big leap forward this year. But his shooting has not improved from last year, his assists are down slightly, and that’s a bad thing because Florida has not reached the hard part of their schedule yet. Unless Boynton improves in SEC play, he is on pace to have a slightly worse year as a sophomore than as a freshman.

11th ranked Washington Husky Abdul Gaddy has become a star this season. Despite taking shots at the same rate as last year, he is now making a ton of them and his assist rate has jumped significantly as well. In fact his assist-to-turnover ratio is one of the highest in a BCS conference.

With JayVaughn Pinkston suspended for the year, Mouphtaou Yarou has become a much more important post player for the Wildcats this season. Yarou was considered a long-term project when he went to Villanova, and while he still has moments where he looks confused, he has improved his aggressiveness, and his defensive rebounding fills a critical need for the team.

Dante Taylor continues to get a puzzlingly low amount of playing time for Pittsburgh, but his numbers have been getting better. Everyone talked about how he was going to be the next Pittsburgh monster on the offensive boards, and we’ve seen flashes of that this season. But he is playing too much against the other team's backups for me to trust that that efficiency rating is for real.

Last year’s 14th ranked recruit Ryan Kelly still is not playing much for Duke, but he’s shown a much better shooting touch so far.

With too many turnovers and horrific free throw shooting, last year’s 15th ranked player, Wally Judge, is struggling.

Lost in Kemba Walker’s magical season is the improvement Alex Oriakhi has shown this season. The reason UConn was picked so low in the pre-season was because neither Walker nor Oriakhi were dominant last year, but that has obviously changed.

While Florida St.’s Michael Snaer has found a little bit of a shooting touch early this year, he still turns it over way too much to be an effective offensive player.

It feels to me like Mason Plumlee is playing a lot better than last year, but maybe he has just had a few more highlight reel plays. In reality, his biggest improvement has been on the boards.

Villanova’s Dominic Cheek was actually ranked higher than Maalik Wayns in the RSCI rankings last year, and so far he’s having a better sophomore year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tristan Thompson and Josh Smith’s Biggest Weakness, (Not Free Throw Percentage)

We are getting far enough in the season that I thought it was worth reviewing the stats for the RSCI top 20 freshmen.

Despite Harrison Barnes dramatic game-tying three, North Carolina still lost on Saturday. And despite a 16 point performance from the super-hyped freshman, we know that Barnes full-season numbers are still disappointing. (That’s right folks, we are a month and a half into the season and Harrison Barnes still has the worst eFG% among the top 20 recruits. Yikes.)

But what else have we learned about the marquee freshman class this year? See the next table. You will have to scroll to the right to see all the categories.

Josh Selby just came back so it is too early to say anything about him. And Enes Kanter is still ineligible. But everyone in the RSCI top 10 is getting playing time. The same cannot be said for players ranked 11-20. Fab Melo, Reggie Bullock, DeShaun Thomas, and Patric Young are barely breaking the lineup for their teams.

Terrence Jones is scoring at an incredible rate thanks to his very high usage rate, and he is still posting a respectable 108.5 ORtg. But Kyrie Irving and Jared Sullinger have been simply unbelievable. Not only have both players been scoring machines -- they have been ridiculously efficient. Too bad Irving is injured, because I would love to see what kind of numbers he could have put up over the full season.

Also, Irving was clearly posting amazing numbers, but very few freshman guards can put up great assist to turnover ratios. Brandon Knight and Joe Jackson have had decent starts, but neither has a winning assist to turnover ratio at this point.

Also, no one has noticed Joe Jackson’s poor shooting this season because Memphis has played pretty well, but like many freshman point guards he needs a lot of possessions to get his points. Jackson’s free throw touch suggests his shot might come around, but right now only Harrison Barnes has a worse eFG%.

You might assume because Texas point guard Cory Joseph has been so quiet offensively that he is doing a great job feeding his teammates. But Joseph’s assist numbers are not that great, and his turnover rate is still too high for him to be considered an elite point guard at this stage. Still, you cannot question his heart, hitting that huge game-winning jumper against North Carolina. In fact, Joseph’s rare three point shots have been his biggest asset so far.

You’ll notice in the table that I post the raw Block and Steal numbers instead of Block or Steal rates. I just don’t know what to make of a block rate for a player who barely plays, so I prefer to see the total numbers on the season. Not only has Terrence Jones been fabulous at swatting the ball, he has been great at grabbing steals too.

OK, but now what did I mean by the title of this post? What is that big weakness for Texas’ Tristan Thompson and UCLA’s Josh Smith. You might have thought it was Thompson’s free throw percentage, and that is abysmal. But I think Thompson's 93 free throw rate and his ability to foul out the interior players for the other team is still pretty valuable even if he is not making his free throws. (Texas might want to take him out when they get to the one-and-one though.)

No, the thing that jumps out to me on this page is how Tristan Thompson and Josh Smith have been horrible defensive rebounders. Despite both players crashing the offensive boards, both players have been ridiculously passive on the defensive end. Thompson has been one of my favorite players because of his offensive tenacity, and his basket in the final minute of the North Carolina game was huge. But those are the kind of numbers you put up when auditioning for the NBA, not when you are trying to win a Big 12 championship. Thompson’s defensive rebounding rate has to improve or Texas is going to get crushed in Big 12 play.

There is a reason Jared Sullinger and Terrance Jones will be contenders for national freshman-of-the-year. They work hard on both ends of the court. Thad Matta and John Calipari would not accept anything less. I wish I could say the same thing for Rick Barnes, but recent Texas' collapses suggest otherwise.


I think it is a cliché when the game announcers say, “These guys are playing like this is an NCAA tournament game.” I would say that 85% of college basketball games between high major teams are played at an NCAA tournament level. That is why I love college basketball. But finals week brings out the worst in a lot of teams. This is one of the few weeks in the season when seemingly only a handful of teams are playing at their peak performance.

The other cliche I love is when the game announcers decry the death of the mid-range jumper. There are two goals in basketball, to get lay-ups and to get wide open three pointers. The mid-range jumper is dead because it is a terrible shot. And yet so many announcers seem to miss this obvious fact.

Georgetown coach JT III is the master at getting his team to get lay-ups. And while I did not think Georgetown looked sharp when returning from finals, their offensive philosphy was the difference in Saturday's game. Anytime an opponent lacks a little bit of focus, a little bit of attentiveness, Georgetown's offense becomes a lay-up line. On Saturday, Georgetown overcame their “finals hangover” by simply taking the ball to the basket.

Illinois on the other hand did not. Illinois has been a great offensive team this year. They have so many offensive options, I wondered how Demetri McCamey would keep them all happy. But not one player looked confident on Saturday. How could every single rotation player look passive at the same time?

But even Illinois seemed to recognize this, and instead of settling for the normal slew of jump shots, Illinois did try to get the ball inside. But Illinois-Chicago did a fabulous job denying the paint. Even on live-ball turnovers, Illinois-Chicago always seemed to have two guys back defensively. Dare I say it? UIC looked quite similar to Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin team (and their head coach is a former Bo Ryan assistant.) Forget the jump shots, it was these lack of transition baskets, on a day when Illinois forced 19 turnovers, that was the difference in the game. The net result was Illinois putting up an 83.4 ORtg against a bad defensive team. Illinois had yet to post an ORtg under 100 over the whole season, but despite numerous steals, they could not put the ball in the basket. There are few words to describe the feeling of losing when your team is favored to win 98% of the time. You can blame the “finals hangover” all you want, but this is an extremely difficult loss to get over.

And it also proves the old axiom. My blog posts are proportional to how my team’s fare. If Illinois wins, I probably provide 50 words on Alabama’s continued struggles, Gonzaga finally winning a big game, and LSU’s solid performance (in a home loss.) Instead, I commiserate with my wife, the Washington Capital’s fan. The Capitals once had the best record in the NHL, but they have lost eight in a row. Bah humbug.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fatal Flaws?

With the caveat that the numbers are still early, and not all schedules are equal, let’s see what fatal flaws we can uncover for various teams while playing around on

Lack of Height

You cannot teach height. But teams cannot play an immobile 7 foot center and expect good things either. Teams have to play their best players. So now that we have a little better idea who is receiving playing time, which teams are lacking size inside? Keep in mind that even though height is not everything, as Ken Pomeroy established long ago, height is a key predictor of a team’s long term defensive performance.

Lack of a single quality big man

No BCS team is shorter in the middle then Oregon, for whom the tallest player on the court if often 6’6” tall. (See EJ Singler and Joevan Catron).

Among BCS contenders, Virginia Tech might be the shortest team in the middle, deploying 6’8” Victor Davilla and a bunch of 6’7” players when he goes to the bench.

Lack of depth in the middle

In terms of BCS depth, Providence probably has the least with only 6’8” Bilal Dixon playing major minutes inside. Based on their strength at guard, Providence's best strategy may be to play a 4-guard lineup.

Among contenders, Purdue has the biggest issues in the middle with only JaJuan Johnson providing reliable minutes inside.

Honorable Mention

Michigan, St. John's, Seton Hall

Also, when Donte Smith and Maurice Jones are on the floor, USC has one of the shortest backcourts in the country. (At least USC has a couple quality big guys.)

No Bench

You can win in the NCAA tournament without depth thanks to the frequent TV timeouts. But over the course of the season, a lack of depth will usually come back to haunt a team. Either foul trouble or injuries can lead to a string of losses.

No BCS team has a shorter bench then Virginia Tech. While starters have played 69% of the minutes for most teams this year, Virginia Tech’s top 5 players have played 84% of the minutes.

Among elite team’s, Kentucky is the team with the least depth. Kentucky’s top 5 play 78% of the team’s minutes.

Honorable Mention

USC’s top 5 play 81% of the minutes. Iowa St.’s top 5 play 79% of the minutes. And Notre Dame’s top 5 play 78% of the minutes, which is nothing new for Mike Brey.


BCS leagues are actually notoriously younger than non-BCS leagues because they get the kind of high school talent that can play right away. But it helps to have some seniors to lean on when the going gets tough.

No BCS team plays a rotation with less experience than Michigan. With no seniors, and a pair of freshman playing key roles, Michigan is as young as it gets.

Among contenders, UConn is the youngest with Kemba Walker leading a cavalcade of underclassman.

Honorable Mention

You might choose the Kentucky Wildcats here. After all, they do play a lineup with three freshman. But Kentucky is not really one of the youngest teams in a BCS league. The other four rotation players, DeAndre Liggins, Darius Miller, Josh Harrelson, and Eloy Vargas are all upperclassman. Memphis, NC State, LSU, Providence, Wake Forest, Auburn, South Carolina, UCLA, and Georgia Tech are all playing younger rotations than the Kentucky Wildcats.

Too Much One-on-One Play

You might not think it matters to share the ball. A team like Kentucky can run the dribble-drive and score one-on-one, right? Well, last year's elite Kentucky team shared the ball quite a bit. Team's that don't share the ball eventually tend to fall apart like last year's South Carolina squad.

No BCS team shares the ball less than Oklahoma St. Keiton Page and Ray Penn get some assists, but neither is a true BCS point guard, and no one else on the team seems to pass the ball at all. Obi Muonelo and James Anderson are sorely missed.

Among national contenders, no one shares the ball less than Kentucky. Brandon Knight is not nearly as talented a passer as John Wall was last year. But there is still a lot of season left for him to develop into more of a distributor.

Honorable Mention

You would think with two very short guards, USC would pass the ball well, but they do not have many assists. This is a combination of the team’s still shaky shooting touch, and the fact that Donte Smith is a scorer, not a distributor at 5’11”.

Too Many Live Ball Give-Aways

Nothing is more crushing than giving up steals, and this flaw becomes even more fatal in conference play.

Three BCS teams are tied with the most steals given up. Baylor, Florida St., and LSU’s opponents each steal the ball 12.0% of the time. To put this in perspective, BYU only turns it over 13.7% of the time in total (including charges and balls lost out of bounds). So Baylor’s live ball turnovers almost exceed all of BYU’s turnovers.

Also keep in mind that Florida St. has the best defensive efficiency rating in the nation. Now imagine how good Florida St.’s defense would be if they were not giving up that many transition opportunities every game.

Poor Free Throw Shooting

How many teams have blown leads and lost games because they could not hit their free throws?

No BCS team has a worse free throw percentage than Kansas St. at 55%. Thank goodness Jacob Pullen is shooting 71% and has taken almost half the team’s free throws or Kansas St. would be even worse.

Honorable Mention

Arizona St. (59%), South Carolina (61%), Georgia (62%), Washington St. (62%), and Minnesota (63%) have all had their problems at the charity stripe.

Inability to Draw Fouls

This is old news for jump-shooting Illinois and Michigan. You can debate whether it is a good long-run strategy or not, but that is what Bruce Weber and John Beilein’s teams seem designed to do.

But no BCS team draws fouls at a lower rate than Alabama. And unlike Michigan and Illinois, Alabama has very little outside shooting. For a team with no shooting touch, Alabama absolutely has to start getting to the line.

The same can be said for offensively challenged Temple where Lavoy Allen and Michael Eric tend to shy away from contact in the post.

Poor Defensive Rebounding

A few years ago John Gasaway wrote about Georgetown's hideous defensive rebounding, and the Hoyas fell apart finishing 7-11 in Big East play.

This year no BCS team has a worse defensive rebounding rate than NC State. Giving up a 47% offensive rebounding rate to Georgetown was bad, but giving up a 44% offensive rebounding rate to Farleigh Dickinson was simply unacceptable, even if forward Tracy Smith is injured.

No contender has had a worse defensive rebounding rate than West Virginia. Giving up a 50% offensive rebound rate to Minnesota was bad, but giving up a 43% offensive rebounding rate to teams like American is simply unacceptable.

Honorable Mention

Texas Tech, DePaul, Oregon St., Memphis,

Bottom Line

There are a lot more flaws I could point out, none more important than a teams shooting ability. Perhaps that is a post for another day.

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.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Terrence Jones, Demetri McCamey, and Cameron Tatum?

Most Important Players?
SEC and Big Ten edition

I have been thinking so far in this young season that certain players seem indispensable to their teams. When Terrence Jones got in foul trouble in Maui, Kentucky looked like a completely different team. And when Terrence Jones fouled out against North Carolina, I was almost certain the Wildcats would lose. Similarly, when Demetri McCamey goes out for Illinois, the Illinois offense just does not move with the same crispness and continuity.

I was very curious if the numbers backed up these observed phenomenon, and luckily last spring Stat-Sheet finally made readily available the plus / minus statistics. It is probably still a little too early to draw many conclusions from these data, but that is not going to stop me from perusing what the data say so far.

There are a few caveats with the plus / minus numbers. First, play-by-play substitution data is still not available for every Division 1 NCAA game played. If you are talking about a top 25 team, the data is great, but as you go down to smaller schools, you tend to be out of luck. Second, you should adjust for the quality of competition. But today I am only going to compare players within a team, so that is less of an issue. Third, some people also argue for adjusting the plus / minus stats for who is on the floor. I.e., the backup center may look better than the starting center, because he plays against weaker competition. I will try to point out examples where that may matter in what follows.

SEC Most Important Player
Best Plus / Minus By Team (Through Saturday’s games)

Alabama – JaMychal Green
Arkansas – Rotnei Clarke

Fans of the SEC know how important JaMychal Green and Rotnei Clarke are to their respective teams. These are not surprises.

Auburn – Kenny Gabriel

Poor Auburn. If you only count games against D1 competition, no one on Auburn has a positive plus / minus rating. (By the way, the worst offender is Allen Payne, a 6’6” freshman forward. Payne just tends to get abused in the second half of games. Auburn’s lack of depth is forcing him to play before he is ready.)

Florida – Patric Young (Chandler Parsons)

McDonald’s All-American freshman Patric Young has been dominating as a backup forward for Florida. And that matters, because even in the SEC, very few teams have a lot of depth in the paint. But Young has not been starting, and it probably is not fair to label him Florida’s most indispensable player. Chandler Parsons has the best plus / minus among starters.

Georgia – Gerald Robinson

Everyone knows how important Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins are to the Bulldogs, but when Robinson went out in the first half of the Colorado game, Georgia fell apart. Point guard play is critical for a Georgia team that has talent, but needs to make efficient decisions with the basketball.

Kentucky – Terrence Jones

When Jones goes out, the other team almost always makes a run. The good news for Kentucky is that he has been able to stay on the court for major minutes in most games.

LSU – Andre Stringer

LSU is trying to break in a number of unknown players this year, and they may have found a point guard in freshman Andre Stringer.

Mississippi – Reginald Buckner

I would have guessed Chris Warren was the most important player for Ole Miss, but when Buckner went out of the Dayton game at the start of the second half, Dayton had a huge comeback. Maybe that was just a coincidence, but Buckner’s shot-blocking ability and defensive presence in the paint are very important for Ole Miss.

Mississippi St. – Bryan Bryant (Ravern Johnson)

First off, until Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney join the team, there is no point discussing anything. But let’s discuss why Bryan Bryant is leading Mississippi St. in plus / minus. Mississippi St. has been playing a host of ultra-cupcakes, the kind that can compete for part of a half, but eventually get worn down. And Bryant has the perfect splits. He has not been starting (when the opposition has the most energy), but he comes in and helps Mississippi St. slowly put away the little guy. Ravern Johnson is the true most important player right now.

South Carolina – Brian Richardson (Bruce Ellington)

You would have a hard time arguing that Bruce Ellington is not the most important South Carolina guard right now. He played the entire game against Michigan St. and played every regulation minute in the overtime win against Western Kentucky. But that is sort of the problem for Ellington. He has been around for all the good and all the bad in an inconsistent start for the Gamecocks. The reality is that no one is indispensable for South Carolina yet.

Tennessee - Cameron Tatum

I think plus / minus is a very important statistic for teams that use full-court pressure. The Tennessee player who gets the steal is not always the only important player on the play. And when you look Cameron Tatum’s splits this year, they have been unbelievable:

With Tatum, Without Tatum, Opponent
20, 0, Chattanooga
18, -9, Belmont
13, -9, Missouri St.
19, -14, VCU
9, 1, Villanova
24, 6, Middle Tennessee St.

When Tatum is on the floor, Tennessee looks like a different team this year. Just look at those splits against VCU! Tennessee has a lot of intriguing players from Tobias Harris to Scotty Hopson, but these stats make me want to watch Cameron Tatum a little more closely.

Vanderbilt – Brad Tinsley (All Five Starters)

Remember when I said the substitution data was poor. We do not even have player substitution data for Vanderbilt’s win over North Carolina. (Someday.) Brad Tinsley has the best numbers, but if you look at Vanderbilt, all five starters have nearly equivalent plus / minus stats.

Big Ten Most Important Player
Best Plus / Minus By Team (Through Saturday’s games)

Illinois – Demetri McCamey

As noted in the introduction, if you want to beat Illinois, you either have to force McCamey to the bench, or deny him the ball (as Dogus Balbay did at the end of the loss to Texas.)

Indiana – Christian Watford

Watford has replaced Verdell Jones as the team’s leading scorer, and that’s a good thing. Jones continues to shoot a very poor percentage from three point range and turn the ball over a ton, meaning Watford is a much better primary offensive option.

Iowa – Zach McCabe

Why not leading scorer Eric May? He started the first and second half of the Alabama game and the Hawkeyes had a margin of –5. But with May out, Iowa outscored Alabama by 13. McCabe was mostly in for that turnaround, so he gets the nod as the plus minus leader. But no one on Iowa has proven to be indispensable yet.

Michigan – NA
Penn St. – NA

The lack of good substitution data is mind-boggling. Penn St. only has three games with substitution data. And Michigan’s biggest games Syracuse and Clemson do not have substitution data either.

Michigan St. – Kalin Lucas

I personally am a bigger fan of Draymond Green, and I was disappointed with Lucas in Maui, but there is a reason he was voted the Big Ten preseason player of the year.

Minnesota – Trevor Mbakwe

None of us really knew how well Mbakwe could play which is why we did not have Minnesota higher in the preseason. But Al Nolen deserves an honorable mention as the team’s second place plus / minus leader. Without Nolen’s defense and ball-handling, Minnesota lost to Virginia and barely defeated a Cornell team that lost a ton of players this off-season.

Northwestern – Drew Crawford

John Shurna and Michael Thompson have almost identical splits and deserve equal billing.

Ohio St. – David Lighty

Jon Diebler, Jared Sullinger, and Aaron Craft have almost identical plus / minus stats, but until Aaron Craft gains some more experience, Lighty’s ball handling is vital to Ohio St.’s success.

Purdue – JaJuan Johnson

E’Twaun Moore is second. (No surprise) The key question is who comes in third for the Boilermakers. So far Lewis Jackson has the third best plus / minus.

Wisconsin – Jordan Taylor

I am not sure Taylor is Wisconsin’s most important player, but the point guard has rarely left the floor this year, and he has been around to enjoy all of the Badger’s success.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Quick Bullets

-Richmond and Virginia Tech are quality defensive teams, so I’m sure Purdue’s offense will look better later. But Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson looks frustrated to me. At times I see a look in his eyes that says, “Can I get a little help?”

-Why does Bob Knight explain the game as if the viewers are 4th graders? “OK, so now if Purdue just holds the ball, the game clock will expire. So Virginia Tech has to foul.” Really? Really?

I wish I had more observations like these, but after I wore a tire tread across my living room floor pacing back and forth Tuesday night, I do not have anything left in the tank. North Carolina vs Illinois was very important to me, and Georgetown vs Missouri might have been the game of the year so far. And all I have are these painfully inadequate thoughts:

-During the Georgetown s Missouri game, they put up a stat that said “Missouri is on a 60-43 run” Um, how is that a run?

-I thought Doug Gottlieb explained Georgetown’s offense better than anyone I have seen in a long time. Drive, cut, and replace (meaning someone slides in where the cutter just came from.) It helps when you score 111 points. You really get to see all the ways the offense works.

-I’ve always wondered what would happen if Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, and Jason Clark all had a huge game at the same time.

-What a crazy schedule for Georgetown this year. The physical ODU half-court defense. The swarming Missouri full court defense. And now on Saturday the brilliant Utah St. offense.

-As for Illinois beating North Carolina, I feel like the Tar Heel problems are already a broken record (turnovers, lack of depth). I’d be shocked if they win many games where Tyler Zeller has foul trouble this year.

-But I also think the formula for beating Illinois is pretty clear. Force the ball out of Demetri McCamey’s hands. Dogus Balbay of Texas was able to do it, and Texas won. And for a brief while UNC was able to do it. But if Illinois is just allowed to run their stuff, with McCamey handling the ball, they can be lethal.