This week we take a look at the growing divide between analytics and basketball purists as well as the impact the West Coast has had on college basketball this season.
Last week, after the Syracuse Orange suffered a 90-66 drubbing at the hands of the Louisville Cardinals, Hall of Fame head coach Jim Boeheim turned some heads in his postgame press conference.
The 75-year-old who has been part of Syracuse’s basketball program in some capacity since 1962 directed his ire for all things analytics at Ken Pomeroy. A writer for The Athletic who is best known as the creator of KenPom.com — arguably the most-used and trusted resource for college basketball advanced stats — was name-checked by the irate Orange head coach.
During his rant, Boeheim said, “I love this…I don’t know where [Ken Pomeroy]…he’s making a lot of money — KenPom — but when you start putting in print they scored 25 percent against the zone against Buddy [Boeheim] and 25 percent against this guy, I’m telling you right now: No one in this room, nobody that’s doing KenPom knows who’s at fault when somebody scores on us.”
His message is completely right. It would be regardless of whoever the coach was that said it. The media isn’t at every practice. The media isn’t given each opponent-specific game plan. The media isn’t listening in to the tweaks and changes made in-game during timeouts. The same goes for fans or anyone else not involved in the day-by-day operations of the team.
What may look like poor one-on-one defense could be the result of a help defender not rotating in time. A wide-open 3-pointer could be due to a player ignoring the scheme and double-teaming an opposing player at the wrong time. This was essentially the point Boeheim was trying to make after the loss as he continued, “ I think I know a little bit about this game. I’ve never heard, well this guy’s 25 percent responsible for this and this guy’s 35 percent…I’m telling you I could get a kindergartener to tell you better than [the media] can tell you, who’s responsible.”
It would have been a great rant on improperly using analytics and how the numbers don’t always tell the full story. The only problem was Pomeroy’s site and statistics don’t track individual defenders. Anyone trying to do so is merely taking part in a fool’s errand. The place where Boeheim was likely getting his analytics from was the Syracuse SB Nation blog, Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician.
In that article, the writer uses Synergy Sport’s defensive tracking information. That’s where the 25 percent Boeheim repeats can be found. The story says Boeheim’s son ranks in the 25th percentile of defenders as an individual defender. They also use KenPom.com to note the team’s overall poor defensive efficiency.
As technology advances and more things can be tracked and more data collected. When used correctly it is a great help to everyone: coaches, players, media, fans, etc.
However, as time has passed, the discussion has become an either/or proposition. Either analytics are right or they are wrong. Neither is the case, the best use of these new numbers is to support or disprove choices coaches are making with their teams.
How the west was one
In the latest Associated Press Top 25 Poll, the top five college basketball teams in the country were the Kansas Jayhawks (25-3), Baylor Bears (25-2), Gonzaga Bulldogs (27-2), Dayton Flyers (26-2) and San Diego State Aztecs (27-1). Four of those five teams all play West of the Mississippi River.
With March just a few days away, there’s a lot of thought being put into which teams will earn the number one seeds in the NCAA Tournament this year. Usually, the teams that earn the highly coveted honor are aligned with the region they are placed in. The East Region is headlined by a team near the Atlantic Ocean, the Midwest Region has a team from the middle of the country lead the way, the South Region is led by a team below the Mason Dixon Line and the West Region has a team near the Pacific Ocean at the top.
If this same group of teams remains within the top five for the remainder of the regular season, we could likely see a scenario where there’s more of a West Coast flavor at the top of each bracket. Kansas (20), Baylor (20), Gonzaga (18) and San Diego State (16) have amassed a lot of Q1, Q2 and Q3 win and only the Duke Blue Devils (21) have more.
Yet, when the head of the NCAA men’s basketball committee, Kevin White, spoke about the first reveal of the top 16 seeds two and a half weeks ago, he told CBS, “There was a bit of a separation between four and five quite frankly. [The committee] clearly delineated [Baylor, Kansas, Gonzaga and San Diego State] as the top four.”
Even with three of the four losing last weekend, they all still have a legit case for being a No. 1 seed in March Madness.
The only teams who could unseat one of them are Duke, Dayton and Maryland. The Blue Devils have suffered losses to North Carolina State and Wake Forest within the last week so their case isn’t as strong as it once was. Maryland could leap up if they hold on to win both the regular-season and conference tournament in the Big Ten. Dayton has ranked ahead of the Aztecs but the Flyers’ run through the Atlantic 10 isn’t on par with what San Diego State has done in the Mountain West this season.
More likely than not, these four “western” programs will find themselves as the four top teams in the NCAA Tournament. How they are placed will be interesting. Would they really send a one-loss San Diego State across the country for their regional final? Does Baylor get the South by default? The top teams might be set in stone but questions still arise for the quartet.
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