Monday, February 16

PASE Projections and the Tar Heels

I was reviewing the Basketball prospectus today and they had a good article about a custom PASE formula. The author used it to determine the success of teams vs their O Eff, D Eff and Pythag rankings (pre-tourney) in the NCAA tournament. While it looks at all teams as a whole, it's interesting to see how their D Eff and Pythag seem to correlate well with success or failure in the tournament.

There is a list of common traits the author pulled to show successful teams since 2004 at the bottom article, shown here:

We hit all those markers except for two: pts allowed <> 88.8. While it is likely impossible that we'll get PPG allowed below 64.2, it is possible to get our D Eff down below 88.8. The author notes that 2 of the last 5 champs hit all the criteria (ignoring the last trend, at least 2 straight NCAA bids).

This raises many questions for our team. I am projecting that we will maintain the marks we are currently hitting (esp. with the second half of our schedule giving us easier games). My hope would be that our D Eff improves throughout the season and Roy uses the rest of the season to focus on our defense (I'm looking at you two, Bobby and Tyler). Our D Eff currently sits at 88.8. If we can reduce the number of points scored against us per 100 possessions by at least .1, we'll be in better shape once the tournament starts.
As you can tell, this is not difficult, it just requires a sustained effort.

Of course, there are critiques to be made with this formula. I'm sure there are other statistical measures that can indicate how successful a team is but the author didn't include. There may be some random stat out there that does a much better job of correlating regular season performance with tournament performance. Since that stat remains to be seen, we'll give the author the benefit of the doubt. Also, there's no real way to look at how teams match up against each other player to player. That certainly matters because every team has a style it's vulnerable to that other teams don't have to worry about.

On a final note, UConn is one of the few teams that's close to hitting all the marks here. Defensively, they are better than the Heels but are just shy of the O Eff numbers they are looking for here. Memphis is also hitting 8/9, lacking in the O Eff dept by a bigger margin than UConn. It would appear that if UConn can boost their O Eff while holding other stats to current levels, they are a near lock to make the final four and could very well be the favorite.

Wednesday, February 11

Previewing Duke

Even up in Wisconsin, I'm having a hard time containing my excitement for tonight's game. As usual, this should be a great game as Duke hosts the Heels. There's disagreement between the AP Polls and Ken Pomeroy's ranking system, hardly surprising, but popular opinion favors the Heels.

The latest spread has the Heels at -1.5, up from -2 at opening. The O/U is 156, suggesting the winning team will need at least 79 points to win. Ken Pom favors Duke at 81-76 and gives us just under a 1/3 chance of winning. Duke is coming off a big overtime win over Miami, 78-75 and the Heels recently cruised over UVA 76-61. Although many in the media have brought up the bad Duke loss at Clemson, they ignore the importance of the comeback against the U, where Duke was down 15 before tying the game with 10 minutes to play and winning in OT.

Greg Paulus has also been named the starting point guard, likely because of Nolan Smith's recent slump in production. Historically, Paulus has done well against the Heels, especially as a 3 point threat. This leaves Duke with four legit 3 pt shooters: Singler, Henderson, Scheyer and Paulus. Given the Heels' difficulties with high screens and pick & rolls, I hope everybody knows how they're supposed to play different screens. Given Duke's irritating ability to get opponents to pick up cheap fouls, Deon, Tyler and Ed better be careful when they switch on high screens. I predict we'll see a lot of pick and rolls that result in kickouts to the corner.

The Blue Devils also rebound well for a team known for perimeter and slashing play. If anybody recalls the BC game, they'll remember it's entirely possible for the Heels to have a difficult time on the boards. By sending everyone for rebounds, BC got a lot of boards and thereby gave us few transition opportunities. I wonder if Coach K will send lots of bodies to the boards to get more offensive rebounds or have people get back to stop the break. Methinks it will be a combination of the two to keep us on our toes.

Anybody else, feel free to post your thoughts/comments about tonight's game.

Sunday, February 8

What's Demonizing the Deacs?

Early this week someone asked me what I thought had happened to Wake Forest. This was just on the heels of their abysmal performance at Miami that left them at 1-3 over their last 4 and able to slay such giants as Duke and UNC, but unable to handle the ACC's cellar dwellers such as Georgia Tech.

About the Deacons, an opinion you'll likely hear a lot of, is that the Deacon's inexperience is a main cause for their inconsistency. This is not untrue, as the ACC is a tough conference (#1 in RPI) where if you let up for any game, especially on the road, almost any team can beat you. The Deacons are indeed inexperienced, with their main contributors (Johnson 15.7%, Teague 23.2%, Aminu 16.5) all being underclassmen and using over 50% of their total possessions. Similarly Wake ranks 274th in "Experience" on KenPom, with an average of 1.32 years (this is of course weighted by minutes played). Though they have some upperclassmen, Senior role player Harvey Hale and Juniors who play large parts (McFarland, Williams, Smith), this team thrives off of the three underclassmen. So Wake Forest is young and inexperienced, this isn't news to anyone. They played a soft non-conference schedule (Non-Conf SOS 269th) that didn't quite let anyone get a really in depth look at how their young talent would react to adverse situations and mold into a team. Younger players typically have more drastic ups and downs than older ones (see Wake's 292nd consistency rank), and obviously this has positive ramifications. If Wake were insanely consistent, they may have never played well enough to beat UNC or Duke. However, the opposite side of that coin is that often times the Deacons play way under their potential other games (see VATech, GT, Miami).

Ok, we can all agree that Wake is inexperienced and inconsistent, but specifically how has this let them down and resulted in losses? Jeff Teague feels that teams have begun to game plan against him and shut him down, not untrue but I don't think this is the main issue. It's certainly doesn't help to have a point guard who takes 14 shots to get to 15 points (average over the last 3 games), but against Duke he only scored 11 points (2 assists) and they somehow managed to win. That is because the true cause for their recent slide is defense. Looking at the Deacon's last 8 games they're 5-3 (ACC schedule +BYU who I'll include because they're of roughly comparable ability and skill to the slightly above-average ACC team, such as Miami). In their 5 wins they gave up only a 94 defensive efficiency, and not against many offensively inept teams (UNC averages 123, Duke 115, BYU 116). In the 3 losses they've allowed a 109 defensive efficiency, to the likes of Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Miami (110, 98, and 115 respectively). Wake's reputation is and was built on defense. Much like the Tar Heels, a lot of their offense comes from fast breaks created off forced turnovers and missed shots. The Deacon's offense may not have been operating at full capacity in those 3 losses, but if so it's only because their defense didn't set it up for easy buckets. When their defense is working, the Deacons have many more fast breaks and easy baskets, as evidenced by their torrid pace in wins (79.2 poss/game) when compared to the pace at which they've played their losses (71.0). At a deeper level, why is the Deacon's defense failing? Their tightly packed zone forced opponents to take jump shots. This is in line with one of the most famous talking points of basketball "don't foul jump shooters". Wake's zone doubles down low without fouling and forces opposing teams to take jumpers. In their wins the Deacon's opponents average a 33.3* Free Throw Rate (FTA/FGA) practically identical to Wake's season average (33.5). In the 3 losses, their opponents have a 54.9 Free Throw Rate. That rate of fouling is way too high to succeed playing a zone defense built around forcing poor shots and playing staunch defense on the easy ones.

Obviously there are other statistical discrepancies in their wins and losses, but I feel those (FG%, Offensive Efficiency, Offensive and Defensive Turnover Rate) are mainly effects of the Deacon's main issues, sloppy zone defense that results in fouling opponents too frequently. The Deacons are suffering from the problem that has seemingly plagued the Roy Williams-led Tar Heels every February/March for the past 6 years, consistently being able to put forth the effort it takes to play high level defense.

*Take out the UNC game (the foul line frequenting Heels posted a 51.4% FTR) and this number drops to 28.8.