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.