The population of men’s Division I college basketball rosters as a whole in 2022 may be older than it’s been at any time since first-year students were granted athletic eligibility in the 1970s. If this is indeed the case, the geriatric shift has been brought about by allowances in eligibility granted in response to the pandemic.
Indeed, it’s possible we already started seeing the consequences of this demographic adjustment last year. With the benefit of hindsight, Baylor looked pretty old last spring even for a national champion in the one-and-done era not named “Duke” or “Kentucky.”
The pandemic may have expanded our definition of “old” National champions, average age weighted by minutes (AAWM)
2012 Kentucky 19.7
2013 Louisville 21.7
2014 UConn 21.7
2015 Duke 20.1
2016 Villanova 21.1
2017 North Carolina 21.6
2018 Villanova 21.2
2019 Virginia 21.4
2021 Baylor 22.3
Age on March 1 of title season
Poor Gonzaga. The Bulldogs arrived at the 2021 title game sporting a very late-2010s-looking AAWM of 21.0, doubtless thinking it was business as usual in the world of college basketball actuarial tables.
Wisconsin is ranked No. 11 in the AP poll and the Badgers are currently being projected as an NCAA tournament No. 3 seed by the bracket hive mind. Greg Gard’s team has achieved this lofty status in spite of the fact that this very same group barely cracks the top 30 at KenPom and, indeed, has outscored its Big Ten opponents by an average of just 0.6 points per game over the course of 11 outings.
What can account for this disparity? Start with the usual February suspects, such as Wisconsin’s almost Providence-like wizardry in close games. The Badgers are 12-1 in contests decided by single digits, with the only close loss coming at the hands of the aforementioned clutch Friars.
It is also the case, however, that Johnny Davis and his mates are actively and wantonly deceiving our eyes. When you watch a Wisconsin game or when a studio analyst breaks down some UW half-court sequences at the intermission, it’s possible that neither of you will remark upon the fact that Gard’s charges recorded hardly any turnovers. Yet that very fact is a significant ingredient in how the sausage gets made in Madison. The Badgers own the lowest turnover rate of any major-conference team in league play, and that allows them to attempt an exceptionally high number of shots.
Everyone says ritually that “Chris Beard’s doing a heck of a job,” and that he’s in line, should he wish, for a gig with any of the bluest of the blue-chips when those opportunities avail themselves. Everyone’s exactly right, just not necessarily, in 2021, for the reasons everyone’s saying.
A traditional video search of half-court sets for the heck of a job that Beard’s doing, for example, will by itself prove insufficient. This particular Texas Tech team can’t throw the ball in the ocean from a rowboat and in fact can be found down in the 200s nationally for effective field goal percentage.
Likewise, the vaunted no-middle defense in Lubbock has this season become the no-misses D. The Big 12’s shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc against these guys. Yes, that’s mostly outside of the Red Raiders’ control, and, no, that level of accuracy’s not likely to continue. It’s just tough to name streets after a defense that’s clocking in right at its league’s average in conference play while down the road in Waco another D entirely is, when it gets to play, appointment viewing for the hoops gods.
Recently I dropped in on a Division II practice and spoke with an analytically woke head coach who had two urgent messages for me. First, shot volume is great. Second, what happened to Tuesday Truths?
Let’s focus on that first highly perceptive part. Shot volume is just one half (how often you shoot) of one half (offense) of basketball, but it is, by far, the 25 percent of the sport that garners the least attention. It is this imbalance in explanatory bandwidth and not any silver-bullet features of the metric itself that is unfortunate. (It is no silver bullet. Ask Notre Dame.)
If you want to know how it’s possible, nay conceivable, that Illinois (still!) might wear home uniforms in its first-round NCAA tournament game despite being the least accurate team from the field in Big Ten play, our good friend X’s and O’s can’t solve that riddle alone. An awareness of shot volume can help.
As always, one of the most intriguing takeaways from these numbers is how the hoops gods seriously do not give a flying fig how you get the job done. Shot volume’s a stylistic buffet, and everyone’s invited. Whether you love offensive rebounds or choose to fear them the way early civilizations dreaded mirrors and solar eclipses, the bottom line on volume can turn out exactly the same…. Continue reading →
Shot volume is just one half (how often you shoot) of one half (offense) of basketball, so it’s not the alpha and omega of the sport by any means. Then again, it’s rather under-discussed.
You can’t show shot volume on YouTube or Synergy, coaches can’t diagram a play specifically to get an offensive board, volume doesn’t get “chess match” heuristic privileges, and avoiding turnovers is supposed to occur as a matter of course.
That’s all well and good, but, just like with shooting accuracy and defense, some teams are exceptionally good at shot volume. If we want to understand these teams, we should consider the frequency with which they attempt shots.
Shot volume index for tournament teams
Turnover percentage, offensive rebound percentage, and shot volume
Conference games only: ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, American, WCC
We live at a time of televised analytic plenty, yet, somehow, you still see rebound margin numbers flung up on the screen during this or that telecast in 2019. That makes me grit my teeth at the blatant luddite behaviors on display, of course, and, well, I’m right to do so. Rebound margin really is meaningless, an ersatz and mislabeled tribute paid to teams that alter shots yet refuse to go for steals and/or charges (with all of the above, preferably, transpiring at a fast pace).
In partial defense of my well-intentioned graphic-making brethren and sistren, however, I will additionally confess to the following. I’ve been mulling just how peculiar rebounds really are for a while now, and (this may say more about me than about rebounding) I’m still not sure I’ve found solid ground on this particular subject.
Here’s what I think I think….
I’m not a fan of whole-season rebound percentages in college basketball
Leave it to the sport’s endearing and enduring idiosyncrasies to overturn perfectly sound axioms regarding sample size. Continue reading →
Jack Salt says this taking more shots than your opponent stuff really works. (Matt Riley/UVA Media Relations)
There are exciting developments afoot in the fast-paced, glamorous, and paparazzi-laden world of shot-volume studies.
Ever since the appearance of the shot volume index (SVI) a couple years back, the metric’s been dominated by one team: North Carolina. This hegemony has led casual fans and, yes, even texting coaches to infer something like the following:
Great. Want to put up a lot of shots? Be a storied program with six national titles and incredible athletes who form possibly the best offensive rebounding collective in the history of the sport. Hey, thanks, John! I’ll be sure to put that on my whiteboard tomorrow!
O, how the mighty have fallen….
Shot volume index (SVI)
Turnover percentage, offensive rebound percentage, and shot volume
Major-conference games only, through January 27
The UNC legacy notwithstanding, getting more shots is about way more than just second chances. Actually, it’s mostly about first chances. You can’t get an offensive board if you’ve already committed a turnover. Continue reading →
Where did Victor Oladipo’s 2013 came from? (Yes, this was a miss. Still.)
In the coming days I’ll post a piece at ESPN.com that purports to rank major-conference coaches on how well they’ve performed in terms of player development over the last eight years.
This might therefore be an appropriate moment to offer the following disclaimer: I’m not really sure to what extent, in the most literal and causal sense, coaches develop players.
More importantly, no one, to my knowledge, is sure on that score. I suppose what we mean by a seemingly benign and straightforward compound noun like “player development” is actually something more like “developing your players’ naturally increasing ability to score and prevent points even faster than opposing coaches do.” That’s quite different than young players merely improving measurable NBA combine-variety skills.
The analytic nut to be cracked is that all college players get better at combine-variety skills. These are athletes between the ages of 18 and 20-something, they’re going to improve naturally and at a fast rate. You did slash are doing so too at that age. Continue reading →
There’s something to be said for combining a very low turnover rate with normal (or even below-average) offensive rebounding, a la Villanova. Conversely, other teams may be underperforming by four or even five points per game due to a sheer lack of scoring chances. (Bill Streicher, USA Today Sports)
Over the past couple years, I’ve started wondering whether the manner in which our brains are hard-wired is conspiring with the inherent nature of basketball to keep us from recognizing how important it is to generate a lot of shot attempts.
Consider the Premier League. A proper appreciation of shots that had a chance to go in but didn’t for Arsenal or Chelsea constitutes a rudimentary level of “well, duh” analysis. In that setting, shots on goal are a really big deal. They’re tracked closely and dissected individually by the studio talent after the match.
In basketball, however, attempted shots are the fabric of the game itself. Attempts in this sport are numerous, unremarkable in isolation, and, indeed, most of them (56 percent, give or take) are misses. Shots that don’t go in aren’t exciting visually, they’re never featured in highlights, and each miss represents a failure, of sorts. Continue reading →
Villanova has succeeded to a degree that is seen in post-Wooden college basketball only once every decade or so, and that success, of course, comes with some very serious role-model responsibilities.
There’s just one problem. Holding up the Wildcats as a paragon of How to Win in 2018 and Beyond turns out to be more easily proclaimed than promulgated. It’s difficult if not impossible to find any discretionary schematic, stylistic, and/or demographic characteristic wherein Jay Wright’s men rate out as No. 1 the way they so clearly do in terms of bottom-line results.
Take the scheme on offense. Villanova has indeed performed remarkable feats using it, and, in the 2018 afterglow, this usage is being depicted as decade-plus-long reign of laudable (if not mandatory) NBA awareness, one dating all the way back to the four-guard Wildcat lineup that reached the 2006 Elite Eight.
Those memories aren’t incorrect so much as incomplete. For, in the early years of this decade, the Wildcats consistently ranked outside the top 100 nationally for three-point attempts and, on occasion, put paint-shooting-only 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-11 types at both the 4 and the 5 spots. All it got Nova in between 2011 and 2013 was a 54-45 record and zero NCAA tournament wins. Going small has clearly been the correct choice for Wright, but his is far from the only small-ball team in Division I. Continue reading →