Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tom Izzo's Been Frustrated

Tom Izzo must be pulling his hair out. His teams shoot the ball well, they crash the offensive glass, and (up until this past season), they get to the line and make FTs. But every year since its last Final Four appearance in 2004-05, Izzo's teams have also turned the ball over way too much, giving the ball away on 21.8% of their possessions. 2006-07 had to be especially frustrating because, without a ghastly 24.2 TO Rate, MSU probably would have been one of the top teams in the country. They shot well, rebounded, got to the line, and defended. But they ranked 301st (among 336 D1 teams that season) in TO Rate, and it cost them.

This has to be especially frustrating for Izzo because Michigan State runs a lot of set plays. It is not an improvisational offense. So you'd figure that careless mistakes wouldn't be made.

But I think the answer to MSU's turnover problems lies with shot selection, rather than careless play.

We can see a downward trend for TO Rate as the number of 3PA/FGA (as a percentage) increases for all of Division I teams in 2007-08. Note, there are several exceptions to this, but the trend overall is clear. Shoot more 3s, decrease TOs. The theory I have for this trend isn't too controversial. Things are crowded in the paint, and they're more open on the perimeter. Furthermore, usually it's the better ballhandlers that hang out on the perimeter. The fact that more 3s are being taken suggests that the ball is on the perimeter more often with respect to these teams.

MSU in particular shows a similar trend. The last time that the Spartans had a TO Rate under 20.0 was also the last time they had a 3PA/FGA above 30%. It was also the last time MSU went to the Final Four.

Of course, being a POT has its downsides as well.

Generally, it means less offensive rebounds, and less trips to the free throw line. Some teams make that work (like Butler), but there are plenty of counterexamples at the other end of the spectrum (like UNC).

The real trick is having talent that overcomes the built-in disadvantages of a given offense. UNC might never shoot any 3s, but they also have excellent ballhandlers who don't give away possessions. Drake devoted over 45% of its field goal attempts to 3 pointers, but they also have capable offensive rebounders.

So what should Tom Izzo do? Well, maybe nothing, now that he has Kalin Lucas. As the season progressed, Lucas saw more playing time for the Spartans, replacing many of Travis Walton's minutes, and consequently replacing Walton's unsightly 31.3 TO Rate with Lucas' 19.8. But Izzo will have to figure out how to replace Drew Neitzel's minutes, who was as trustworthy with the ball as they come. Whether those minutes go to Walton, Chris Allen (17.0 TO Rate), or Durrell Summers (21.3) might determine whether the Spartans go on another deep tourney run. If the Spartans are giving away possessions next year, however, Izzo might be well-served to encourage his team to keep it out on the perimeter more. Marginal utility instructs us that the gains made in TO Rate will likely offset the losses in offensive rebounding and free throws. It worked in 2004-05, and it can work again.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Kids today

It seems that every season, there will be immediate hype surrounding college freshmen. And for some, it's well deserved. Guys like Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, and Derrick Rose are truly special players on the court. But none of these guys sneaked up on anyone. They were all highly ranked, and all of them were NBA-ready well before they stepped on campus (events that occurred through the diligent efforts of David Stern).

But what about freshmen, in general? What can the average fan expect from their team's recruits in the coming season?

For that, let's turn to the rankings. Now, there are several ranking systems out there, but for now, we'll use the Ranking Services Consensus Index (RSCI).

I've looked at the RSCI rankings and compiled some numbers for the top 100 players in the country, based on where they fell in the rankings. Now, a couple caveats: first, injuries happen. That's going to affect the numbers. The hope is that injuries happen randomly. That said, if there's a big event that really brings down the group (like an Alex Legion December transfer), I'll omit it from the numbers. The second is that some guys play on stacked teams (like Georgetown), and other guys play on teams that are a bit thinner (like NC State). Again, the hope is that with enough samples, this dilutes out. Of course, that probably won't happen, but there's a takeaway from this -- Derrick Rose's team was stacked, but he was so good that he still saw the 2nd most minutes on the team. So we can't ignore that.

For a primer on some of these numbers, go here.

Ranked 1-10:

Min%: 77.8
ORtg: 112.3
Shot%: 27.8
eFG: 54.6

The Elite. The average player from this group was a go-to guy who saw a lot of court time, and played with high efficiency. In your average BCS conference, which all of these guys (save Derrick Rose) played in, those numbers will put a player on the 1st team, if not conference player of the year.

But really, we already knew this. If a top 10 recruit is headed to your school this fall, you've already bought the jersey, envisioned the deep tourney run, and fantasized at the thought he might actually stay for his sophomore season (he probably won't, though). What about the other guys?

Ranked 11-20:

Min%: 66.0
ORtg: 106.5
Shot%: 23.9
eFG: 54.6

This group is very solid, but it's a definite step down. Instead of carrying their teams on their backs, these guys were just merely the 1st or 2nd most important player on the court for their teams, on average. The efficiency numbers are still good, for the amount of shots taken. But the numbers aren't eye-popping. A 2nd or 3rd team all conference player, and probably a guy who, while he could use another year in college, stands a good shot of getting drafted after the season.

Ranked 21-30:

Min%: 38.6
ORtg: 105.0
Shot%: 21.4
eFG: 51.1

This group was really decimated by injuries and other off-court issues (Chris Wright, Herb Pope, Solomon Alabi, Gary Johnson were not included in these numbers). Only one of these guys saw more than 50% of the available minutes (E'Twaun Moore), which isn't to say that others didn't give solid minutes. The efficiency was still very solid, and all of these guys were on pretty good teams. But they aren't going to carry a team into the last weekend of tournament play.

Ranked 31-40:

Min%: 57.5
ORtg: 106.2
Shot%: 26.0
eFG: 51.1

And for the first time, a lower-ranked group performs a bit better than those ranked above them. Of course, this doesn't mean that, all else equal, a player ranked #35 is better than a player ranked #25. Rather, it means that in a small sample size polluted with injuries, things happen. That said, it's clear that some mistakes were made. Sitting at #22 was Jamelle Horne, a guy who's Shot% was below 15%, indicating a player who was very selective with his shots. Nonetheless, he only made them at a 45.1% eFG clip. On the other hand, guys like James Anderson and DeJuan Blair were all-conference performers.

But there's a bigger takeaway than that -- it's a bit easier to see domination now than domination down the road. Ranking 1-10 is an easier job than ranking 31-40.

Ranked 41-50:

Min%: 53.8
ORtg: 97.1
Shot%: 21.0
eFG: 46.3

At this point, we're firmly in the "Stay in School" crowd. Not a single one of these players performed at a high efficiency level while taking a lot of their team's shots. Some did one (Chandler Parsons), and some did the other (Manny Harris), and some yet did neither (Senario Hillman).

These guys will likely be pretty good next season, and they can give solid minutes as a freshman. But if you're hoping that your team's #45-ranked recruit can "step up" and "lead" your team as a freshman, it's going to be a disappointment.

For the rest, I've compiled a graph:

First, the minutes. What the graph makes clear is that for the highly-ranked players, all of them see significant floor time. Right around 15-20, however, the rest of the graph doesn't change much along with the minutes. At that point, how good the team is has a lot to do with how much they play. Like the rest of the numbers, I omitted players that didn't play very much at all, and these guys tended to show up more often in the later rankings, which is likely a cause of having their minutes slashed on better teams.

The ORtg regression shows a pretty good regression until about players ranked above 55-60. After that, there's still a downward trend, but it's a lot less stable. I think this goes to the difficulty in ranking players as they become more evenly matched than anything else.

With Shot%, we see a lot more unreliability, but the downward trend is pretty steady overall.

Unsurprisingly, eFG tracks ORtg pretty well (as ORtg is significantly driven by eFG). But there's a bit more variability.

So what can we learn from all of this? A few things, I think.
  • First, players ranked higher are, on average, better. (Shocking!)
  • The top 15-20 players in the country, at least for 2007, are a cut above.
  • The top 50 or so freshmen give efficient minutes, on average.
  • There are still a lot of quality players ranked 60 or lower, but it's pretty random. The rankings become a lot less reliable at that point.
How will this play in the coming season? Well, one thing we've been hearing is that the class of 2008 is not as good as the class of 2007. So these graphs might look a lot different after next season. The "top group" of players might not run as deep as 15-20. It might be as small as 5-10. So if Seminole fans are hoping to go to the tourney next year, the guy who will take them there is Toney Douglas, not Chris Singleton.


Welcome to Tyrone Shoelaces, a blog focused on college basketball. This blog is probably unlike most basketball blogs out there. For one, I think readers will find it to be poorly written. Secondly, I have absolutely no access. So you won't find any behind-the-scenes stories here, no trips inside the locker room, nada. And finally, there will be a lot of non-conventional numbers, and perhaps even some math.

You've been warned.

What can you expect? Probably stuff that's similar to what you see over at Basketball Prospectus, which I'm confident readers will ultimately conclude is the better site. Seriously, if you have time to read only one basketball blog, go there.

But if you have time for more than that, stick around, and maybe we can have some fun.