(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Basketball Statistics (Are Fun)

Some of my fellow bloggers have picked up on Ken Pomeroy's outstanding blog, which focuses on college basketball stats, and I recommend that you take a look at it. I'm especially interested in today's topic, which is turnover efficiency. Basically, teams that rate the highest in this category turn the ball over the least per possession. And what you'll find is always worthy of discussion.

But I don't think it tells the entire story. Sure, it's an interesting stat, and perhaps a helpful one, but I think the following stat would be a better measure of a team's success -- turnover per possession differential. Because I would venture to guess that the most successful teams in the country have the biggest differential (i.e., Duke turns the ball over x times per possession less than its average opponent). After all, if you examine Ken Pomeroy's numbers for turnover efficiency, some of the teams at the top (Drexel, IUPUI) aren't exactly higher-echelon teams. I wonder which teams would rank at the top if you measured the differential.

Why? Because a high-octane team might turn the ball over more per possession than a low-octane team, but if that high-octane team plays a stifling defense, then it also will force more turnovers per possession and therefore make the other team's turnover efficiency a whole lot worse (whereas the low-octane team might not force as many turnovers because it plays a ball-control offense). As John Wooden once was quoted as saying (it's in the blue book about him), "The team that wins will actually make more mistakes"). I think that measuring turnover efficiency differential might help prove what Coach Wooden was talking about.

I'm glad that Ken Pomeroy is on the scene proposing useful metrics about measuring college basketball performance, and I hope he keeps on coming up with his yardsticks. It's all good stuff.

As for my metrics, when I look at college basketball results, before looking at the score, I always look at the assists total. To me, this is a measure of how fluid a team was on offense and how well it spread the ball. I find that much more often than not, the team with the higher assists total wins. When that team doesn't win, it's because it turned the ball over a lot, got killed on the boards or just shot terribly. Usually, though, a team with more assists wins the game because it did move the ball better, which also could mean that the other team didn't defend better, which also could mean that the team with more assists shot better precisely because they got their teammates more and better open looks. Okay, so this isn't the most eloquent discourse, but I do wonder what the bloggers out there who focus on this type of stuff would think of the hypothesis.

At any rate, check out Ken Pomeroy. And remember, according to this blogger, you win by spacing the ball well on offense, shooting at least 35% from behind the arc, not getting killed on the boards and playing good defense. Is that enough?

Depends on your team, depends on the opponent.

Which is why, at the end of the day, the games have so much meaning.

Discussing the numbers is great, but they don't do you much good while you're team is involved in a barn-burner against a conference opponent.

That said, Ken Pomeroy helps us understand the pathology of the game a whole lot better.


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