It’s no secret that the offensive rebound is dying, both at the professional and collegiate levels. Barring a seismic turnaround, the offensive rebound rate in major-conference play this season will come in under 31 percent for the first time since I started doing things like tracking the offensive rebound rate in major-conference play.
This process has been in motion for years, and “inexorable” is probably not too strong a word to describe it. I’ll restate at the top what regular readers already know: I’m unpersuaded as to the wisdom of giving up on offensive rebounds. Be that as it may, it’s happening and, as the major-conference rate threatens to dip below 30 some season (very) soon, the disappearance of offensive boards is offering up some really interesting vignettes.
For instance, in order for offensive rebounds to die it’s not enough to wait patiently for the arrival of newly hired coaches who don’t like offensive boards. No, to really kill off these things incumbent coaches have to change their minds about how to play the game. Who are these newly converted coaches?
As always, I’m measuring intent (as opposed to mere inability) by looking at each team’s ratio between its offensive and defensive rebound percentages. Rutgers, for example, has a really low offensive rebound rate. Given that the Scarlet Knights are also on track to set a Big Ten record for the lowest ever defensive rebound percentage, however, it seems likely that this is simply the way the chips are currently falling in Piscataway.
Conversely the following guys have started conference play looking like they’ve had genuine come-to-Shyatt moments. Maybe that will change in the upcoming weeks, but for now these are the coaches who seem to have experienced conversions in just the last 12 months….
(Unless attached to a D-I ranking, all numbers and sweeping generalizations pertain to conference play only.)
Perhaps Groce is less a convert to the cause of offensive rebound avoidance and more a hostage to fortune. Mike Thorne and Leron Black have combined for just 16 minutes of action in Big Ten play (that being the time Thorne recorded in last night’s evisceration at the hands of Indiana), and it’s likely Groce is simply doing this season what Archie Miller did last season in a similar situation at Dayton. When your depth is gone, you pull in your horns and concede the offensive glass.
Fair enough, but Illinois hasn’t just conceded the offensive glass. The Illini have disappeared entirely. Borderline normal on the defensive boards, Groce’s team is on pace to record easily the lowest offensive rebound rate in the Big Ten’s “modern” (KenPom/Wonk) era. Coming from a conference that gave us years of Northwestern running a Princeton-inspired offense with lightly recruited Frances Pomeroy Naismith-eligble scholar-athletes, that’s saying something.
When it comes to offensive rebound avoidance, I suppose we can classify McDermott as the prodigal son. Back in his Iowa State days his teams were known to be studiously averse to offensive rebounds on occasion. Then last season at Creighton the coach seemed to give a green light, and the Bluejays’ offensive-to-defensive rebound ratio was eminently normal. At the time I thought maybe McDermott had taken note of what Butler was able to do with second chances.
I thought wrong. This season Creighton’s offensive rebounding has dipped significantly (as its defensive rebounding has improved) yet the Jays are scoring quite efficiently anyway, thanks to the Big East’s lowest turnover rate. To be sure, offensive rebounding’s a small part of a big sprawling good-news story this season in Omaha, one where Creighton’s vastly improved on both sides of the ball. And another thing that’s a small part of the same good-news story is the Jays’ transition D, which has gone from No. 44 in the nation last season (excellent) to No. 68 so far this year (excellent).
Back in 2011 Beilein appeared to take offensive rebound avoidance out for a test drive, as a Michigan team that was average on the defensive glass rebounded just 20 percent of its misses in Big Ten play. When that was followed by four seasons of normal rebound ratios, however, observers could be forgiven for assuming this particular experiment had been tried and found wanting in Ann Arbor.
Never assume. UM’s now back to a pseudo-2011 scenario, rebounding 25 percent of the chances on the offensive end while getting 75 percent of the available rebounds on D. This is a far better offense than what Beilein had five seasons ago (and if the coach is making any adjustments he is likely — and rightly — applying them to his defense), but other things have changed since 2011 as well. For starters word got out on that whole don’t-commit-turnovers move that Beilein and Bo Ryan used to keep to themselves. Now Michigan’s combining outstanding perimeter shooting with the league’s eighth-best turnover rate and its 10th-best offensive rebound percentage.
Stallings presents arguably the most intriguing conversion possibility of any coach here. He’s not dealing with any major injuries, big things were expected in 2015-16, and the year-to-year change in the relevant numbers has been striking. Vanderbilt did say goodbye to an excellent offensive rebounder in James Siakam after last season, but can that really explain why the Commodores now rank No. 73 out of 75 major-conference teams on the offensive glass in their respective conference seasons?
With each team listed here there are larger performance issue at work than just offensive rebounds, and for Vandy that issue is turnovers. The ‘Dores have coughed the ball up on 21 percent of their possessions in SEC play. Still, even when you remove giveaways from the equation entirely it’s apparent that Vanderbilt incurs an opportunity cost by surrendering on its offensive glass. Stallings’ men are scoring 1.28 points per effective (turnover-less) trip in conference play. Conversely for Texas A&M that number’s 1.34, and Vandy’s been slightly more accurate from field than the Aggies have been. The Commodores also get to the line far more often than A&M and shoot a better percentage there. More than any other single factor, the difference has been offensive rebounding.
At the risk of sounding like Syndrome, when everyone gives up on offensive rebounds no one gains an advantage on offense by not giving up. But until we reach that point there’s a performance opportunity — one that becomes more rewarding each year as offensive rebounds become more scarce — for any coach who combines normalcy on the offensive glass with good transition D.